A Journey
Through Grief

Ann Hood
Ten of Johann Sebastian Bach's children died before age five. Gustav Mahler wrote a song cycle called Kindertotenlieder, "On the Death of Children." As he completed it his own daughter, Maria, was born. He lost her four years later to scarlet fever.

On 16 April 2002, five-year-old Grace Hood was cooking pasta with her mother, singing the Beatles' "Yesterdays." Forty-eight hours later, she was dead from a rare and virulent form of strep. After a year, Hood tells us,

    I didn't want to become Episcopalian, Zen Buddhist, or a practitioner of TM. I just wanted to be angry at God.

"Time doesn't heal," she tells us: "it just passes." She tells us twice of the events of that day, apologizing: "I have told all of this before. But somehow I need to say it again,"

    to tell you that a doctor took my daughter from my arms, even as I struggled to hold on to her, looked me in the eye, and said, "Your daughter is not going to make it."

Afterwards, "I never drove down the tree-lined street where Grace's school sat or the block behind Brown University where she took ballet class." She walked out of her church, when, on the anniversary of the death, they played "Amazing Grace." She taught herself to knit --- found it strangely helpful. "There were many days when all I did was knit, Once, after nearly eight hours of knitting, I could not even open my cramped fingers."

    I knit scarves, and hats and socks, and as I knit, every part of me calmed. The quiet click of the needles, the rhythm of the stitches, the warmth of the yarn and the blanket or scarf that spilled across my lap, made these hours tolerable.

§     §     §

Four hundred years ago, Ben Jonson wrote to his son,

    Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy;
    My sin was too much hope of thee, lov'd boy.
    Seven years thou wert lent to me, and I thee pay,
    Exacted by thy fate, on the just day.
    O could I lose all father now! For why
    Will man lament the state he should envy?
    To have so soon 'scaped world's and flesh's rage,
    And, if no other misery, yet age?
    Rest in soft peace, and, asked, say, "Here doth lie
    Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry."
    For whose sake henceforth all his vows be such
    As what he loves may never like too much.

There have been acres of books written on the death of child, uniformly heavy with sentiment, groggy with cliché. This is not one of them. Comfort is tender, honest, angry .... ferociously angry ... and very good.

--- Pamela Wylie
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