“What is it that makes the death of a child so indescribably painful?”

What is it that makes the death of a child so indescribably painful? I buried my father and that was hard. But nothing at all like this. One expects to bury one’s parents; one doesn’t expect–not in our day and age–to bury one’s children. The burial of one’s child is a wrenching alteration of expectations.

But it’s more than that. I feel the more but cannot speak it. A child comes into the world weak and vulnerable. From the first minutes of its life, we protect it. It comes into the world without means of sustenance. Immediately we the parents give it of our own. It begins to display feelings and thoughts and choices of its own. We celebrate those and out of our own way of being-in-the-world try to shape and direct and guide them. We give of ourselves to the formation of this other, from helplessness to independence, trying our best to match our mode of giving to the maturing of the child–our giving maturing with the child’s maturing. We take it on ourselves to stay with this helpless infant all the way so that it has a future, a future in which we can delight in its delight and sorrow in its sorrow. Our plans and hopes and fears are plans and hopes and fears for it. Along the way we experience the delights and disappointments of watching that future take shape, from babblings to oratory, from flounderings to climbings, from dependence to equality.

And now he’s gone. That future which I embraced to myself has been destroyed. He slipped out of my arms. For twenty-five years I guarded and sustained and encouraged him with these hands of mine, helping him to grow and become a man of his own. Then he slipped out and was smashed.

Nicholas Wolterstorff

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