Some people suffer a loss, and that loss changes them irrevocably. And for them, the answer—the only answer—is to make that loss count for something.
The death of a child is a terrible thing—the greatest tragedy a parent can suffer. Like other horrendous life traumas, that loss is often far-reaching and life altering. Many find solace and closure by dedicating themselves to doing good work in the name of the one they’ve lost.
For some people, that dedication leads them to prominence. In their efforts to do what they can to see to it no other parent has to walk their path, they make a positive difference, a difference that touches many.
On May 3rd, 1980, a 13 year old girl, Cari Lightner, was killed in a hit and run accident in Fair Oaks, California. The driver of the vehicle was a repeat offender of driving under the influence. Cari’s mother, Candy Lightner’s response to the death of her daughter and the light sentence given her killer, prompted her to begin an organization, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers—later changed to Mothers Against Drunk Driving—MADD. This organization, in my opinion, is why today, in our society, driving drunk is such a taboo. When I was a teen, the crime wasn’t taken all that seriously, either by society, or through it, by the courts. Now, for the most part, those who drink and drive become pariahs.
In July of 1981, on the other side of the country, in Hollywood Florida, 6 year old Adam Walsh was abducted from a department store. He was never seen alive again.
The murder of this young child drove his father, John Walsh, to become an advocate for the victims of violent crimes. He rose to national prominence as the host of America’s Most Wanted. As a result of this case, and others, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children was formed, and the U. S. Congress passed the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act.
These are two well known examples of bereaved parents taking positive action so that the pain they endured, and the lives of their young children were not meaningless.
But not everyone is given to this kind of service; not everyone is blessed with the same gifts. We’re all different, and how we process our life events can be as varied as our personalities. There is no “should” here, no expectations as to how one ought to deal with devastating personal loss.
Some folks never get over the loss itself. Some can never leave the grieving behind. Actually, the truth for all of us is that the death of a child leaves a hole in the parents’ hearts that will never—can never—be filled. There is no “getting over” it. There are ways of coping, and while we continue on living our lives, getting up each day, going to bed each night, going through the motions—life is never the same for us.
But then, life never stays the same for anyone, even those who’ve never endured such a heavy tragedy. We’re not, any of us, exactly the same people we were twenty years ago, or even ten years ago. Sometimes the changes in us are subtle. Sometimes we mellow, and sometimes our inner curmudgeon becomes more of a visible part of our personalities.
Life itself changes us, and really, that is the purpose of it. We are not born to party. We are not born to be miserable. We are born, period. What we do as we travel this individual path we’re each of us on is the formula for the alchemy of our own existence. If we’re lucky, then along the way, we learn, we love, and we laugh. We know sorrow, of course, everyone does, but hopefully we know joy, too. We help others, and learn to accept help in return. We come to appreciate small victories and large ones alike, and maybe we understand that each is valuable, each has its place in the grand scheme of things.
Hopefully, we evolve and use our talents, and the seeds of greatness within us and create a beautiful, abundant garden with them.
Our gardens won’t be the same—but that’s what makes them so breathtaking and so very worthwhile.