In one day I heard about the sudden deaths of three people I barely knew.  One was a local woman in her 80’s who lived alone and the other was a young couple just starting out in life.  The death of anyone’s child sends me reeling–my greatest fear is the late night phone call where there is nothing to be done.  It makes me want to move next door to my daughters–physically impossible since they now live in different states–and protect them from the inexplicable, random tragedies. 

When our kids are small, we spend much of our time creating a safe environment for them to grow.  We are careful about what they eat, where they go, what they see–we even peek at them when they’re sleeping in their own beds, just in case.  But well-raised children are curious about the world, make plans that extend far beyond ours, and have the confidence to create lives of their own.   If we’re lucky, we are one of the first they call with their triumphs, and we serve as back-up for problems they could not solve themselves.

I’ve been talking with my students about the importance of myths in our lives–the stories that help us deal with the inevitables.  My story for the 80-year-old woman who died in her sleep is that she was lucky to pass so peacefully.  But I have no story for the young couple who happened to be on the wrong highway at the wrong time.  I feel helpless when I think of the parents of these kids–my heart aches, and I know that there is nothing anyone could say to comfort me if I were in their place. 

The only story I know for these losses is one that’s been around for thousands of years.  Death is inevitable, the moment impossible to determine.  But we do have time with these people who enter our lives.  We don’t spend it fearing its end–that’s the same as wasting it.  We are fully present when a person is in front of us, we give and take what the relationship will allow, and we say what we need him or her to know. 

Those who are gone are at peace; we need to make sure that we who remain can find that, too.