when i was a little girl, a black and white hippie poster with the silhouette image of two little children hung, oddly, in my mother’s living room closet. it was a leftover from her life with my father, but though it wasn’t really her style, she never quite threw it out. written on it was an excerpt of what i later learned was Khalil Gibran’s meditation “On Children,” which began – in the condensed poster version we had – with the words “your children are not your children.”

tell me that didn’t confuse the hell out of me when i was a kid.

but i liked the poster…was fascinated with it, even. and as my capacity to read grew beyond the literal, i found beauty in its words. when it eventually got relegated to a poster tube in the back of a different closet, i rescued it, tattered and dog-eared though it had grown. i dragged it off to college with me, its flower-child cache irrestistible, and eventually had it pasted on a backing to preserve it from crumbling. it hangs in our den, now…one of the only things that has always followed me, wherever i have lived.

Finn, my firstborn, died two years ago today. wonder and joy, and then a gaping, keening physical absence that left me battered and raw, aching blindly for the child who should have been in my arms. and raging. but the most powerful element of all the grief and shock of coming ‘home’ to the emptiness of the house we’d just bought, our first home, the home we’d imagined ourselves as a family in and had filled, in our mind’s eye, with the laughter of a child who was suddenly vanished from all the futures we had woven for him and for ourselves, the very worst part for me was the powerlessness. i felt shaken to my core, by the world…and it left me feeling vulnerable, wrong. i had narrowed my life down to the coming child, through the pregnancy and then certainly in the weeks of bedrest previous. i’d lost my job for that bedrest. i had prepared myself for motherhood: i was ripe, ready, overflowing with milk and the tenderness that his small face had made bloom in me. but i had been unable to protect my child. i had not kept him safe. he was gone, and there wasn’t a goddam thing that i could do except wade through the pain and try to fashion some new use for myself in the world, turn myself inside out from the skin. had it not been for the fact that it seemed too cruel to leave Dave alone and cause my mother the same pain i found nearly unbearable, i would been relieved to kill myself, some days. the suicide rate of grieving mothers is surprisingly high.

i think of this every time there is tragedy, now, in the news. soldiers dead, students at Virginia Tech senselessly murdered, kids starving in countries not so privileged as to be shocked, these days, by infant mortality. i wonder about their mothers. i wonder what dark places their grief takes them, and i fear for them, faceless and far away but still, in a small way, sisters.

the blogosphere will be awash today in both silent and verbal memoriams for the dead at Virginia Tech, and for “victims of violence everywhere,” i think the dictate finally settled on. i respect this, but i cannot write that way today. because this is Finn’s anniversary. the other dead should have voice, certainly…but i am Finn’s mother, and my voice is for him. to memorialize him. he was not a victim of violence. the holes that punctured his small chest were for tubes that tried to save him. and i know that he did not die alone, and i don’t think he felt fear, in that short life. and i thank all the gods for that small but boundless mercy, because the mothers who grieve children dead in different circumstances do not have that comfort. their powerlessness is more than my own, and i know i found my own nearly too much to bear.

we cannot always save our children…this is the truth of it. i don’t think it’s said enough in our culture, where arrogance and habit have led us to believe that we should have some kind of free pass on this particular tragedy…where we’ve gotten so used to successful childbirth and healthy childhoods that we expect them, and where we shy away, willfully, from the spectre of death. i think we have come to believe, in a sense, en masse, that our children are our children, fully in our hands…and hence our shock and horror is magnified when we find ourselves powerless to save them. i do not think our grief is less than those in other times or places for whom the vulnerability of parenthood is not so roundly, culturally denied…only our capacity to deal with our grief.

we planted trees in our backyard, for Finn, on Mother’s Day afternoon that year, eight days after he died in my arms. to the small gathering of family who came to join us in the rain that day, i gave cards that i’d handmade, with Finn’s little footprints inside, and his name, and his dates. on the front of the cards, i printed the words from Gibran that had been with me since childhood. in them i found what was really the only peace and solace that i found during those dark, frightening days, because they allowed me to forgive myself my own powerlessness. they freed me to grieve Finn, fully, and to find beauty, eventually, in the continuity of life in spite of death. and they allowed me to give one last thing to my child, from my own childhood…and that was good.

Your children are not your children
They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself
They come through you but not from you
and though they are with you
they belong not to you.
You may give them your love
but not your thoughts
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow
which you may not visit
not even in your dreams.

in loving memory of Finn David MacNevin Cormier
April 29th – April 30th, 2005

and for all the other mothers, who sorrow today and all the other days.