As I've said at funerals, we might accept the death of an old person who's lived a long and full life, though we still grieve for him or her, but it's different when we lose a young person. I've said it while remaining necessarily detached from the waves of emotion coming from the mourners, the parents and siblings, the families and friends, of the baby or child who's died. One distraught mother asked me, during my interview, "When will I stop feeling like this?" I couldn't answer that.
On Red Nose Day I saw the faces of the celebrities visiting hospitals in Africa where babies were dying from preventable diseases, like malaria, and from complications due to malnutrition, and from pneumonia, and they were all visibly moved. How could they not be? Could you imagine losing not one, but more than one of your children like that? So much grief, then having to carry those poor little bodies home, wrapped in a cloth, on public transport. Can you imagine having to do that?
Today one of my Twitter contacts posted a link to an article in the Guardian, a terrible story about how the 2004 tsunami hit a family on holiday in Sri Lanka. Sonali Deraniyagala has found the words to describe losing her two young sons. She found the words; many others share the pain. It's not the sort of thing that you can just drop into a conversation with strangers. That's the thing about grief; other people are oblivious to yours, and you are to theirs.
I think I also don't confess because I am still so unbelieving of what happened. I am still aghast. I stun myself each time I retell the truth to myself, let alone to someone else. So I am evasive in order to spare myself. I imagine saying those words – "My family, they are all dead, in an instant they vanished" – and I reel.Take care of the people you love and never take them for granted; you don't know what might happen, and how much you'd regret it if you hadn't.
A simple Child,
That lightly draws its breath,
And feels its life in every limb,
What should it know of death?
from ‘We Are Seven’ by William Wordsworth
Photograph: a memorial headstone for children in The Old Cemetery, Ipswich