ImageApril 20, 1965.

A day like any other day, I suppose, but not for my parents. 

I was seven years old, and I remember nothing of it. Nothing at all. 

Isn’t that odd? An event that could change the dynamics of my entire family forever would not even be a part of my conscious mind as I moved forward in time every April 20th after that? Odd, but true. I don’t know exactly how it happened, how it affected my folks, how they processed it, who was there with them and for them. 

She didn’t even have a name. Infant daughter of…was all the simple gravestone says. She rests in the bright middle Georgia sunshine at my father’s feet, no doubt where she would have spent many happy hours if he’d lived longer. If she’d lived at all.

I often wonder what she would have been like. Dainty and feminine? Rough and tumble? Smart and searching? Ready to change the world? Loving, caring, feeling, giving? The apple of her older sibling’s eye, I’m sure of that. Someone to be protected by a bragging, proud brother, I’m sure. Someone to be a protector too, somehow, for a brother who even now needs a buffer between him and the big, wide, harsh world some days when it gets to be just a little too much. 

I might have done that for her. She might have done that for me. 

How sad for a gravestone to have but one date inscribed on it. One date. Birth and death all at once. No dash. 


Oh, I don’t know. Thank you for asking. 

Maybe because we just passed through another Memorial Day with its row upon row of white crosses and the thousands of kids that lie there, motherless in the ground. 

Maybe because of what my grandmother said to me, in her grief, as she waited, slumped over in the parlor before my father’s funeral. “It’s not right. No parent should have to outlive their own child.” 

Maybe it’s because one of my friends has been dealing with a very sick child. “She’s never been this sick.” The quietly frantic pleading and praying and busyness that goes with that, with the knowledge that you will do anything, everything in your power to make sure that child gets well and lives. There is no higher calling for a parent than to be totally focused on the need of their offspring, until whatever is assaulting them is totally annihilated. 

Maybe it’s because she came to see me the other day, wrapped in grief so raw, so tangible, so real that you could see it in the bathrobe, pajamas and house slippers she wore to my office. It didn’t matter one whit to her what she wore that day. I didn’t matter that her red, tear-stained face hadn’t seen eye shadow or rouge or powder in days, maybe weeks. None of that mattered.

She shared her grief with me. She shared what it must have been like for my own mother on April 20, 1965, and every April 20th after that-every day after that. In her brokenness, she still got out of her house, trudged the distance to my office, and tried to help me understand what she was going through. 

Like so many patient encounters, this one was good for both patient and doctor. This one showed me how very real the connection between us is, the tiny thread of communication that persists even through the darkest hours, the most blinding pain, the most raw, aching, devastating grief. I felt it, but I could not put it into words. 

I didn’t have to.

Sometimes it’s best for the doctor just to be present and say nothing. She did it for both of us. I just sat there with her, feeling it, letting her feel it, knowing that eventually, it will get better. It will never go away, no never, never, never, but it will get better. She was not convinced. 

She looked up at me and made direct eye contact once in that session, only once, and summarized her grief.

“There is no pain, I mean no pain in this world, that is worse than this pain.”

At that moment, I believed her. 


16 thoughts on “Childless

  1. Greg,

    I share your loss. I feel your mom’s pain.

    On that rainy March day in 1970, when John left my world (at least I DID have him two years and he DID have a name. i can at least thank God for that). But I think all the time, “I wonder what he would be doing right now? I wonder how he would’ve impacted the world?” I know exactly what you mean…how you feel.

    On a cold November day … Thanksgiving, no less. The ultrasound showed that I had lost the baby I already considered a part of me. After so many years of being childless, i learned that i would remain so. Empty. I thought, “How can I feel so attached to someone so soon? Someone who I have never seen? How can this hurt so much?” I didn’t really have answers. There was just pain & emptiness.

    I’m so sorry you & your mom (AND grand mom) have felt the same.



  2. Beautifully written, Greg. I am sorry for your losses and the losses of so many others. My husband and I have walked on a knife’s edge in the past, trying to keep our girl safe. We have been on much firmer ground in the past 1 1/2 years. But I can honestly say that my most aggrieved moments have been in my life as a parent rather than in my life as a cancer patient.

    I have started to think of you a bit as an older brother. I see today that your sister and I were born in the same year. I was also quite sick when I was born 5 weeks early. My parents raised me with the kind of anxiety that comes from being naturally anxious people who almost lost me.


  3. I believe she is exactly right. I was in a lot of pain accepting a diagnosis of breat cancer, but I can assure you, I was in far more pain accepting and dealing with the addiction and alcoholism of my child.


  4. Wow. Just wow. Yesterday was the 8 month anniversary of the death of my precious blue eyed boy at 17 wonderful years of age, and the day before, the only grandmother I’ve ever known died at 90. So to say that this 4th of July was not celebrated in the usual way is an understatement. She’s right…there is no pain, NO pain, in this world that compares. At least I HOPE there’s nothing worse than this pain. Thank you for this. Greatly needed and much appreciated today. Today is a day that it’s hard to trudge forward, but it has to be done.


  5. My son has been gone 7 years. That excruciating pain has not gone away – I have just learned better ways to cope. Thanks for sharing something that is too difficult for many people to talk about.


  6. Hello. Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy your blog. I think I discovered it on Kevinmd. Every single post moves me or gives me a different perspective on people and events. Quite often, I am moved to tears. Keep up the good work!


  7. She is so right.
    August 19, 1988
    no dashes
    only questions
    Would she have my eyes and her father’s hair?
    Would she have twirled in the summer sun in her brand new sundress?
    Would she have loved to swim and read a book under a tree?
    What would Jessica Dawn have been?
    Does she age in heaven?
    Will I know her when I see her?
    Does she know I loved her –love her — miss her?


  8. Elizabeth,

    “My most aggrieved moments have been in my life as a parent rather than in my life as a cancer patient.”

    That kind of says it all.

    I have nothing to add.



  9. Penny.

    Eight months.
    Probably feels like eight minutes sometimes and eighty years other times.
    I’m thinking of you and your family today.
    I really hope you continue to search for, and find, peace with this, the best you can.



  10. Iris,

    So good to hear from you, and thanks for stopping by to read and comment. Can’t believe it’s been seven years. I miss our talks about politics and religion and substance abuse and kids and mental health and life. I hope you are doing well, my friend.



  11. PK,

    Man, very hard.
    Tough questions that you can’t get the answers to, at least not yet.
    Fun to think about some of them, though.
    I truly hope you see her one day.
    Be well.



  12. I delivered my last child, as my husband’s ship was leaving the navy base for Viet Nam. A few hours later, he was standing by my bed with his seabag. A boiler broke down, and he was able to hold his son for about a week. My husband returned a few months later, Christmas, to see his son lying in a small white casket.
    We made the pilgrimage to the grave at the military cemetery. We were jolted by the sight of a sailor in his 30s, prostrate on a grave. We were so wrapped up in out grief that we ignored him. The next weekend, we went over after he left. His wife, and 4 or 5 children were all buried there, all died on the same day. Was it carbon monoxide? a car wreck in a thick San Diego fog? a house fire? How did he feel, seeing us there with our surviving children? While we knew that we grieved, We didn’t have the depth of his anguish. We didn’t have problems compared to him. We began the healing process. We often wondered what happened to that lone sailor.


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