I know I’ll get pilloried no matter how I approach this subject. But it needs to be approached. We live in a time of massive and ludicrous contradictions papered over by a tissue-thin wall of entertainment and other mass media propaganda.
Consider how many hours of programming you’ve been subjected to. All the Hollywood and TV movies, all the true crime stories, all the local news footage of women screaming, “My baby!” on the sidewalk after the sad event. How many Oscar turns have we seen of actresses playing mothers who sink into catatonia, cut off relations with their husbands, and live in the staling museums of their lost child’s bedroom? Meanwhile the husband buys an old pickup truck and drives around mooning after faint resemblances to his lost progeny. The end of their own lives is what’s now expected of parents who lose a child. You never ever get over it. Nor should you. It’s the new measure of the desolation of life itself. Anything less would be insufficient. Even morally derelict. Whatever moral means these days. Mull that for a moment.
My paternal grandparents grew up in Victorian times in the Philadelphia area. By a strange coincidence both came from eight-child families constituted the exact same way. An older sister, six brothers in a row, and then a younger sister. Both experienced the same loss — one of the brothers falling ill to appendicitis, operated on after peritonitis had already set in, on a kitchen table, and then his death in childhood.
I knew them both into their eighties. They could still speak affectingly of the loss, but it did not wreck their lives. Their families did not fall apart, they were not subsequently ignored in favor of prolonged dramatics of grief. They believed their brothers had gone back to God, and their own duty was to continue living.
Of course, a couple of things were different then, even as late as the late nineteenth century. Not all children made it out of childhood. Childhood, and infancy in particular, as well as childbearing were dangerous times. Grief was a real and regular occurrence, but it was also part of the routine passage of life. Why the maintenance of faith and your personal relationship with God were high priorities.
Why, perhaps, the ultimate sin in those days would have been a mother’s decision to kill a child before it was born. The odds against the babes were bad enough without the additional threat of murder in the womb.
Another difference. Men married women before they made babies. Two parents improved the riskier odds against child survival. A mother to keep watch and a father to instill discipline and good judgment. A stable long lasting arrangement, very rarely busted up by divorce, that gave children the smoothest possible passage to adulthood.
These days, I hear young women crowing about the progress of feminism who are themselves the product of broken homes and the consequent uncertainties of economics and even physical safety. I do not condone male infidelity, but how much have women given away of their ability to raise their children properly by becoming impoverished single mothers for the fleeting satisfaction of undoing their vows to husbands who strayed? They’re empowered. They’re bold brave feminists. They’re living in the No Man’s Land of contradictory standards: they love their children more than anything, but they’re willing to blight their children’s lives because forgiveness of a man is the hardest, most insurmountable peak a woman ever tries (and usually fails) to climb.
Result? They no longer believe in marriage, however much they love, worship, profess their willingness to sacrifice anything and everything for their children. So they hook up with even more worthless and promiscuous men, and have babies out of wedlock they can’t care for, can’t properly parent, and therefore don’t properly parent. So that the day comes when there’s a body in the street and they scream, as if after the fact emotion will rectify a life of selfish refusal to consider consequences or the evidence under their noses. “My baby!”
That lonesome wail does not a mother make.
Not making this up. There’s a street in my hometown I creep down at 15 mph. Because small children are left alone to play on the sidewalks, and sometimes a ball or a doll bounces into the street. There is no time to react when a child darts between two cars after a toy. “My baby!” Where were you ten minutes ago when a scream might have made a difference?
“My baby!” Not said about the countless abortions sought by the poor and unmarried. Just about the unintended consequences of careless life with no acceptance of real parental responsibility. How a big athletic teenager manages to become a drugged up thug who attacks a police officer and gets gunned down. Never your responsibility, never your fault. The Man murdered “my baby.”
Reason enough to reorient your life around exacting revenge for your tragically ruined life. Yeah. Not the child’s tragedy. Yours.
But you have your correlatives in the middle and upper classes too. Neglect and narcissism take many forms. The medical profession actually has a term for the maternal ailment it represents: Munchausen’s By Proxy, meaning a mother who seeks sympathy via the ills that befall her children, accidentally or willingly.
Death comes to us all. If it comes to your children and you feel guilty, confess the guilt and seek forgiveness. If you feel no guilt, repair the hole in your life and resume your responsibilities to the dozens of other people in your life. If you kill your marriage, your career, your family relationships, you are tantamount to a suicide, a lost pebble that sends out unending ripples of pain, and loss far greater than your own.
O Entertainment Industry! Please quit extolling this kind of histrionic martyrism. It’s death in a very thin disguise.
We ALL live with loss. What life is. Not living with it is the sin.