Today is a tragic day. One of my favourite students messaged me in the morning that he lost his month-old son due to internal seizures. And I have been crying since then. I feel for his wife; for his pain and helplessness watching a month-old innocent boy, who has not harmed anyone, a baby that they have brought into this world, for whom they had envisaged a future and a life of togetherness, some one who made their family complete, leave them after 30 days of joy.
This post is more an outpouring of my grief and an attempt to put myself together.
My son, when 2 years old, was once in the hospital with ITP, and my family and I stood there helpless as he was hooked up to drips and immunoglobulin. This feeling of helplessness, when we see something happening and we are powerless to control it, reminds us of the frailty of our control in the scheme of things we call life. We dream of a future, and in one snap of the fingers, that dream vanishes into thin air.
Each time I stand in front of a class and beg them to wear helmets and not go joyriding when drunk, I remember my feeling of helplessness, and the burden of a father who is supposed to be all powerful, whose duty and joy is to provide happiness to his child and who is sitting far away, trusting his child to do the right thing. And I envisage that same father, frail and wrought with emotion, carrying the body of his child, the child that he carried in his arms when alive, the child that a mother carried in her stomach before it came into this world. And I see that first jouney – carrying the child to his home and then I see the last journey, carrying the same child towards a fnal resting place – his new home.
No child can ever understand that fear, that helplessness and that futility that a father feels when he finds that all his requests, pleas, admonitions and shouting is in vain. When the child is alive he communicates with the child, when the child is sick he communicates with God. He requests, bribes, pleas, admonishes and shouts, to either the child or to God, but all this falls on deaf ears, resulting in a tragedy.
But when the child is dead, who does the father communicate with? Himself.
A father thinks, “Could I have done something different? Did I do something wrong? Could I have prevented this? If only I had done this! I am not fit to be a father!” A father blames himself, because it was his responsibility to make his child safe. He was supposed to protect his child. Every father promises this at the birth of his child, holding a frail life in his hands, knowing that he is now responsible for this life forever. And when the child dies, a father feels guilty that he failed his child, somehow. “How can my child die before me…I was supposed to take care of him. I was supposed to die earlier than him”
When parents leave their child in my care, I as a teacher, am supposed to teach that child life skills. When the child does not learn those, I feel the same sense of guilt and failure, that I could have done something different, that I have done something wrong, and maybe I am not fit to be a teacher. I also feel that I have broken a parent’s trust, who believed that I would help a child make his future.
Unlike death, in class, the child is present. Anger can be directed at the child. When a child is dead, who should the anger be directed to? It is mostly directed at self. A father is angry at himself, and at the world. Even in class, if a teacher does not direct his anger at the student, he has to direct on himself, as he considers himself a failure.
Here I sit, thinking as a teacher about this student that I could not teach him fortitude, and as a surrogate father to this student feeling helpless in his grief, feeling empathy for his feelings, and extrapolating that feeling as a father to all my children seeing a dismal future based on irresponsible behaviour, and I weep anew. I think about the senseless loss of life and opportunities, the sense of helplessness and powerlessness to determine a child’s future and I wonder what to do.
As a counsellor, I am supposed to hold my feelings in check and help a counsellee regain emotional balance. But how does one counsel someone who has lost a child when I too get emotional, imagining the loss of any one of my children, including my students – past, present and future?
I feel so helpless.