Another part of my manuscript which the assessor had problems with was my clumsy attempt to explain why I thought the death of a child was different to that of a parent, grandparent or partner. I used the word ‘replace’ which is where I think the assessor’s distaste lay. I said that you could replace your partner with another or with your children, and that you could replace your parents with your partner or with your children.
Obviously, that does not sound very sympathetic or even empathetic. I can see that now. I would think that it would be devastating to lose your partner or parent; and I know that not everyone will find another partner. But if you have already lost a child, those losses will not feel the same. The worst death has happened for me and I stand by my statement that a child is irreplaceable. You cannot find someone or something else to replace that child. The sum of my sons does not add up to the loss of my daughter. She cannot be replaced.
Sometimes, I wish it was my parents who were dead. My parents are not bad people or bad parents. They’re actually good people and are kind and loving parents. We do not always get along but I do wish they had died first. They probably wish the same. I know that I would cope with their deaths much better than I have done with my child. I am sure their deaths will not affect me in the same way. I do not believe that I would cry every day for more than a year for my parents (I may be wrong) or that 119 weeks after their deaths that I would still be crying but not necessarily every day. I also do not believe that I would count the weeks that have passed since I kissed them good morning and told them that I loved them.
I know that this is hard for people to read and most people would not understand (they are fortunate). It means that my parents should have died before my daughter. I look at my parents and wonder why they are not dead already. Why is it that my daughter died before them and before me?
My children used to argue about who was going to die first: Pa or his old dog, Blue. Clea did not enter the discussion. No one ever considered that a child would die before an old man or his old dog. Blue has since died but Pa is still hanging in there. The loss of his granddaughter has shaken his life and the Alzheimer’s has taken hold of him.
It is normal to lose a parent. Parents are meant to die first. Some people do lose their parents earlier than others and it must be very difficult when you are young to have your mother or father die. You lose your past when you lose your parents. You lose your future when you lose a child. When a parent dies, you turn to your children or your partner and you focus on them. If your partner dies, you turn to your children or sometimes end up with another partner. There is no replacement for a child. I wish it had been my mother who had died not my daughter.
Trying to be empathetic, some people have told me that they know how I feel because they have lost their mother, father or grandparent. It is not the same. Not at all. You do not give birth to your parents or grandparents. You do not promise to protect them. You do not hold their hands as they tell you their dreams. They are meant to take care of you just as you are meant to take care of your children.
It is not only that Clea was six years old and that we have lost our future with her. It is also the way she died and the fact that we survived.
Clea did not die a clinical, sanitised or controlled death in a hospital. She was not sick. She was not old. She ran for her life and died a dirty, crowded and violent death on a wild and foreign shore. She was torn from her mother’s hand, tossed and smashed in the water, fighting for her life. Drowning. It was immediate, sudden and personal.
This is my daughter, not some old grandmother or aunt who lived a long and fruitful life. This is my daughter, whose life was cut short, who never had a chance, who will miss all the opportunities she so richly deserved.
Part of me has died. It is said that when you die you live on in your children. Therefore, if your child dies before you, you are already dead. I feel dead inside.
Survivors of natural disasters often feel deliverance. I feel no such thing. Clea’s death is definitely personal. And yes, I am angry.