When my sister Tasha was about 5, she went to Trinidad with our dad. I remember this very well, because she went for long enough, when we finally got her on the phone, this little Canadian child was complaining that “dem two boys mash up mi cars yuh know”. It was really something, because she had only been down there for a couple of weeks and already speaking pure and rapid Trini, and all I could see in my mind’s eye (1985, pre-facetime) was her brown skin and curly locks in the hot sun, playing cars with our two second cousins, like she could have stayed forever.
I also remember my mum commenting on how the house was so empty without Tasha clanging her toys, asking curious questions, giving random hugs, running around and singing non-stop (I really mean it, non-stop). I was about 12, and I remember the comment my mum made like it was yesterday, “It’s kind of creepy how quickly you get used to your own child not being here.”
Fast forward to now, when my 10 year old just came back from traveling with Grandma to Dartmouth, NS, to do this:
Oh my did my heart race when I saw this picture. Jumping from the wharf, into icy cold waters, with grandma (splashing into the water in the left of the image) for the annual Polar Bear Dip was enough to make me pant both with terror and exhilaration from my living room across the country.
Having her so far away, I really missed her. But I went about life, getting laundry caught up, completing projects, reading, spending rare one-on-one time with my 3 year old daughter. My mind turned to my mum, who so long ago had commented how creepy it was to get used to the absence of your beloved, and how quickly it happens. It was kinda true for me too.
My mind then turned to my friend Lynette. I have known Lynette for nearly 30 years, and I taught her daughter Cassandra in primary school, years after we had roamed the halls of our own school together.
Lynette, who gave birth to two beauties, dimples rivaling only her own, with smiles and hearts to light the world.
I thought of Lynette, because Lynette lost in the biggest way that a mother can ever lose.
On a Thursday afternoon, Lynette’s mom picked the pre-teen up from school early – she had a stomach ache. Lynette put her daughter Cassandra to bed that Thursday night. And Cassie never woke again. The medical examiner would show that Lynette’s beautiful angel had an undiagnosed sepsis in her body. The location of the sepsis was not determinable, and it had slowly poisoned her body.
No one, not even her loving mother, could have known. Lynette’s inner torture is still living in her words, “You are right we wish we could have known. Then at least I would have had the chance to save her. To make her better. To take her to the hospital.”
The loss of Cassandra shocked and saddened our school, our community. And then… our lives went back to a general normalcy. The sun continued to rise and set, schedules gradually moving back into the rhythm of a busy culture, our memories of the pain faded.
For Lynette, however, it was only the beginning of lonely, devastating, grief stricken waves of pain that will never go away. Time does not heal all wounds. When I imagine what she must feel, I get to the edge of her unimaginable pain, and cannot face even the periphery.
Years are passing, and she is an amazing mother to her son Peyton, who is growing into a fine young man. She smiles and moves through life with the grace and generosity of a woman with a boundless heart. And I sense that there is a sadness in her heart that will live there forever.
This is what life doesn’t prepare us for. The inexplicable, the sudden, the wrong. We make a million choices for our children as they grow. We helicopter parent, or we don’t. We vaccinate or we don’t. We buy Kraft diner or organic spinach; put them in piano lessons or let them tear up the yard with their shovels for freedom of expression. We read to them or let them have unlimited screen time, cheer them on or work late instead, go on a family vacation or attend parent teacher night, cut their hair, brush their teeth, let them eat chocolate before bed. Keep them close to home or watch from afar as they jump into the icy Atlantic.
However we parent, the truth is some things are just out of our control. Sometimes, horrible things will happen. When they do, we will seek answers, looking for a way to blame ourselves or others, searching some kind of explanation for these terrible things. What is it… Karma? A past life? The Law of Attraction? God’s Plan?
Well maybe it just… IS. It simply is. When tragedy rocks us to our core, maybe we are just supposed to FEEL how painful it is. Not reason it away, not have someone shake us out of it. Not avoid it, go back to work, get back on the horse. Perhaps we are supposed to simply sink into the abyss of pain and completely let it envelop us.
Cassie was not off camping in the woods with her friends making questionable survival choices. She did not get in a drunk driver’s way. She did not OD on a street drug. She did not fall out of a tree, get hit by a car, or ‘put her eye out with that thing’. The countless things Lynette would have known to protect her from didn’t count. I don’t know a single person who would have brought their child to the emergency with a stomach ache. All these years later, this still seems … unfair. I know Lynette blamed herself and maybe still does.
Maybe we aren’t meant to know everything.
When my mom made that “creepy” comment all those years ago, I think what she was leaning into was that deeply buried fear of never having Tasha back ever again. We all do this as mothers. We run worst case scenarios in our brains sometimes. Car crashes, cancer, abduction… I have thought about them all. But what separates our spectator’s experience from Lynette’s journey is the absence of the emotional devastation. My mother’s mind could peacefully contemplate what loss might feel like, without the paralyzing burden of trauma and brokenness. I could gently notice my girl’s absence and the quiet of the house because I knew the itinerary.
So this week, I thought of my friend a lot, in deep reverence and loving compassion for what her experience has been.
I am thankful that she has shared with me that people (who love her) have told her things like “It’s not good to grieve forever.” and “You just have to get over it.” It gives me insight about how others have attempted to diminish her experience in order to feel comfortable.
It also helps me to refine my own presence in such difficult conversations. I have learned from Lynette that it is better to talk about Cassandra – as many people will avoid bringing her up – which is very painful for a woman who will always count herself as a mother of two.
Knowing her story helps me to appreciate my sleeping child and every breath I hear her taking, safe and sound back from her trip to Nova Scotia.
Tonight when I asked Lynette for her permission to tell Cassie’s story, she said yes in her usual loving and brave manner. She hoped maybe that her story would help someone, somehow.
I hope so too.
Here is a song Souljah Fyah created for Cassie, called Jade’s Lullaby.