Americans were shocked and saddened to hear of Monday’s school bus crash in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which killed five children and critically injured at least six more. The three oldest of the little victims were in the fourth grade.
As a mother, my own heart contracted and a knot formed in my stomach. I was watching the most-feared scenario for any parent — the loss of a child.
We want so much for our children: academic success, gridiron glory, a healthy social life, and genuine happiness. Many times we focus on what they do — their grades, goals, touchdowns, awards, the accomplishments of their young lives. We forget to be thankful not for all they do — but for all they are.
In Chattanooga this Thanksgiving, there will be empty places at the dinner table. Many families will be eating sandwiches out of a vending machine instead of turkey off a platter. They will be enduring what all parents fear, grasping for their faith in the darkness of sudden, engulfing grief that will change them forever. Neighbors, friends, and family will weep together in hallways, then take a deep breath and quietly enter hospital rooms. Small children who should be running around a holiday table laughing and having a fabulous time instead lie still in a hospital bed, connected to machines.
“It took so long for me to find out that my baby was gone. He was my only child.”
Mom Diamond Brown rushed to the crash scene Monday afternoon, desperately searching for her six-year-old son, D’Myunn. He liked to sit at the front of the bus, she knew. She went from one police officer to another, telling each of them what her son had been wearing that day.
It wasn’t until hours later, at the hospital, that she learned D’Myunn had died. Sobbing, she told CNN, “It took so long for me to find out that my baby was gone. He was my only child.”
“We know so little of the why, what the universe is, what infinity is. The veil around us is very fragile,” Irish playwright Conor McPherson wrote. It is true. We chug along in our separate orbits, pushing each other — especially our kids — to do more, be more. Then a tragedy like Chattanooga reminds us that any day, for reasons not understandable this side of heaven, we could lose that which we hold most dear.
When a parent loses a child, a mom or dad does not caress the child’s trophies or school awards as the tears fall. It is the old baseball cap, the frayed guitar strap, the favorite hair barrette that is clutched to the heart. It’s the small, tangible reminder of the essential nature of that child — the child’s unique, irreplaceable spirit, created by God and bestowed as a precious blessing to parents.
A parent who has lost a child grieves not just the person their son or daughter might have become — but who that child was.
“Just pray for us,” said a Chattanooga woman when asked by a member of the media what others could do. “Pray for us. Pray for us. Pray for the families who have lost their children.”
Let us all pray for them, our grieving fellow Americans. And this Thanksgiving, let’s hold our own children for a moment longer, before they peel away from our embrace and run headlong into active hours filled with cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and so much more. Let’s be thankful for these unique spirits God has entrusted us to guide, to nurture, and to protect — but mostly, to love.