Life and death

In the last three years, my family has grown by a factor of ten or so, when my mother discovered that her long lost sister just happened to be living in the same town as us (with all of her daughters and all of their families). Since ours was more or less the epitome of the "nuclear family" before we discovered them, to realize that we were actually members of this gigantic clan that was hugger-mugger to the walls was a bit of a shock. But they're a fabulous bunch, and we're quite fond of them. But tragedy keeps visiting them. Last year a cousin's 18 year-old daughter was murdered by her boyfriend in a grisly crime which was all over the news. Three days ago another cousin lost her 24 year-old son in a Humvee accident in Iraq. A senseless death, made more senseless by the fact of his having finished his time in the Marines and was serving over there in a civilian capacity. The family is completely destroyed. A fresh scar being ripped open again, and they're all grieving to the extreme.

One expects the death of our parents; we don't like it, we don't wish it, but it is expected that they will die before us. But we aren't hard-wired to deal with the loss of a child--we are meant to pass the reins to them and our brains don't know how to process it when they die before us. When I heard the news about her grandson being killed from my aunt, I asked if there was anything I could do for them. She thought about it and said, "Take care of that little boy." I could feel the pain and anger in her voice, and the grief at having lost two grandchildren in a year. I can't imagine what it must feel like for her, to watch what has been her legacy, her own kin, dying prematurely. But looking at Milo, this amazing little person who I would love to take credit for but really can't because he's so perfectly unique, I can surmise a bit.

I've also uncovered what my greatest unspoken fears of parenthood were before we took the plunge. Last night Milo was a "panther in a tree," sleeping stomach down, draped over on my husband's arm, pudgy arms and legs slack with complete relaxation, and as usual we were gushing. "He breaks my heart," he said (or I said--we both say it so often that it's quite absurd). He looked down at Milo, this helpless trusting little person, and said, "I hope he doesn't really break our hearts." I knew what he meant. He was looking at the future, completely unknowable, and hoping that the sorts of terrible pain that has struck my aunt's family will be avoided by our little tot.

This, above all others, was my greatest fear of parenthood: that the joy of loving him would be so great that I couldn't handle it if something happened to him. It was the fear of having my heart broken irreparably, of taking that risk of having my heart broken completely and totally. A cowardly fear, but the most visceral one. And watching the fallout of two early deaths in my aunt's family, a tangible one.

And this is what parenthood is, I guess. The hopes that you can protect your little bun and save him from all hurt, but risking your heart in the process. We don't have much to give in this world but that, our most precious commodity. The biggest sacrifice.