Recently I’ve been thinking about my childhood and how it prepared me for my adult life. To be totally honest, nothing can really make losing a child ok, or even prepare you for what that’s like. But I think the experiences of my childhood helped me when I had to confront the realities of Enoch dying.
I remember when I was young, after my brother died, my mom would take me to the cemetery to clean up my brother’s head stone and take him flowers. I think maybe it was a means of handling her grief, but she put a lot of time and energy into keeping his grave nice, and keeping flowers in the vases near his headstone. I didn’t always understand her desire to go to the cemetery every week, but it always struck me that my brother’s grave looked really nice when there were other graves that looked just about abandoned. They looked like no one cared enough to even visit once a year, let alone once a month. I could understand how that would happen to a grave that was really old, like a headstone from the 1930s, but I always wondered how people could leave their relatives’ graves in such a disarray when their relative had died recently.
Especially sad to me were the graves in the children’s section that seemed abandoned. I understand now, why a mother and father might not go to the cemetery very often after losing their baby; facing the fact that your child is dead is extremely difficult. I know now that for some people, it’s easier to just forget about your child all together, than to go take flowers or a plush toy and confront their death on a regular basis. But as a child I couldn’t fathom leaving your child’s grave so poorly kept. And it really upset and worried me that some of the kids never had any flowers or plushies on their graves. I would often ask my mom to stop in the children’s section to visit their graves. I usually pulled a flower or two from the bouquet we brought for my brother and would save them for graves in the children’s section of the cemetery.
When we would stop, I would read their names out loud, and read their birthdays and death days. I like to imagine that by saying their names out loud I did something. Like some kind of incantation, I imagined I could help them know they werent’t forgotten by acknowledging them by name. Sometimes we would do the math and figure out how old they were when they died, but sometimes their age at death was obvious. Because sometimes, their birthday and death day were the same day. I wondered about those babies and their families especially. How hard it was to not even get a full day with your baby. I wondered what went wrong, what could cause a beautiful new baby, someone who should just be starting out in life, to die. Now I know what can cause a baby to die. I wish I could say I didn’t, but I do.
I never imagined as a child visiting those tiny headstones that I might one day join that club. That I too would have a child eligible to be buried in the section marked with the statue of children playing with lambs. But now that I’m here, I see how visiting the children’s section of the cemetery helped me prepare for losing a child. And I think I was right: saying their names out loud is a ritual that should not be stopped. Saying Enoch’s name, helps me feel like he did exist, and he isn’t forgotten, and I really hope that one of the parents of the kids in the children’s section found one of my flowers and said their child’s name out loud, and felt comfort that they weren’t the only one to acknowledge their child’s existence.