Monday, May 24, 2010


maybe it's because i've got the library on my mind.

our nearest library branch closed a year and a half ago for major renovations, and it reopened today. library-loving nerd though i am, i avoided the crowds and fanfare (a mariachi band, even!) of today's reopening celebration. but you can bet i'll be there before the week is out. and anyhow, i've been talking about it with my friends with much anticipation. so i've got the library on my mind. and overdue books, too, which never ever ever happened to me until a year and a half ago. never mind that i can renew online; somehow, i've always got books overdue now. i just renewed some today, in fact, two days before they were again overdue. whew.

so maybe that's it. or maybe it's this article, written by my friend who, unfortunately, knows the pain of losing a child. she recently reposted it on her blog, and i read it again and found it to be very true, indeed. you should read it, too.

or maybe it's the book i'm reading, jayber crow, and the part i've just read tonight about sons going off to war and not coming home. and how their fathers are changed, made somehow inaccessible and distant, as a result.

whatever it is, it got me thinking.


the day eliza died, i had some library books that were overdue. returning library books--or even just renewing them online--wasn't much of a priority for me in that last week of eliza's life, so the books were overdue. this was, mind you, the first time this had ever happened to me. ever. (legalist, yes. i know.) i'm always on time, early usually, and my library books are no exception. they are never overdue. i remember gathering them up from their various locations around luke's room and stacking them on the bookcase by the front door, ready to be returned. but by the time i finally returned them, they were way overdue.

after eliza died, and even as she was dying (heck, throughout her whole life!), we were amazingly well cared for. if you've read any of her story, you know about the endless meals, the house cleaning and painting, the gifts, the childcare, the financial support...our great big, worldwide family grew and grew and grew over the years she lived and after she died, and we could not be more grateful. friends and family and even strangers were endlessly creative, astoundingly selfless, and absurdly generous to our family in ways unimaginable. they met so many needs, lavished on us so much love, opened their hearts in so many ways. so many people knew well not to ask, "what can i do?" but just did what they knew and what came naturally, and it was so very, very Good. i cannot even describe how well loved we felt, and even now it brings tears to my eyes to try.

but here's the thing, the thing my friend's article explains, the thing this book i'm reading describes of the families whose sons have been lost at war: my library books were overdue. i seem to remember mentioning to someone that they needed to be returned--no doubt someone who was already busy caring for us in so many ways--asking if someone might return them for me. even as i was surrounded by people asking what they could do, by people doing so many amazing things for me and my family, no one knew that my library books were overdue. no one knew how troubled i was that they weren't being returned.

it sounds foolish, i know. and really it's what the library books represent that i mean to point to. but you knew that, right? no one--not even sam--could know that what i needed was for my library books not to be overdue. because no one--not even sam--was experiencing what i was experiencing in those days and weeks. this is the isolation of grief, that not even your child's other parent experiences what you do in the loss of your child. no one knew that maintaining that little bit of order, of returning my library books on time, meant so much to me.

which is not to say you shouldn't follow the advice in my friend's article and love on grieving people in any and every way you can think to do. but know even as you do that you will not understand. you will not meet every need. you cannot go there with them, wherever there may be. no one knew that there for me was the library, and no one could have known. physically, emotionally, i couldn't communicate that to anyone, nor could anyone have found out by asking, "what can i do?" that what i needed was for my library books to be returned.


i returned the books and paid the late fee, of course, and did it within the few days between eliza's funeral and our christmas trip up north. i probably could have explained away their lateness and had the fine excused, but there was no way i was subjecting the poor librarian to that (literal) sob story. and perhaps i was cured--just a little bit--of my obsessive tendencies concerning library books, as i have paid quite a few more late fees since then. (or maybe it's just because our local branch has been closed and returning the books has been such a pain. yes, i think i'll go with that answer.)

1 comment:

Alice J. Wisler said...


Enjoyed this piece, and felt the tug of heartache as I read your words.

Keep writing to help us all understand the depth and uniqueness of grieving a precious child.