Monday, September 8, 2014

Valuing Life

My living son fiddles with the map on his phone while driving on the freeway. “Please stop,” I beg him, my voice rising. “I value your life.”

How many times I said that to my sons growing up. I said it to Noah about surfing, motorcycling, coming home late after partying. The more I said it, the more he likely tuned it out, like all parental warnings. 

How I wish he’d taken it to heart.
How I wish he could hear it now.
How I never dreamed I would have to learn how to value my son’s life and my own after he destroyed one and devastated another. 

After a suicide, family and friends begin reconstructing the best parts of a life from the pieces on the floor. That’s what we share at memorials and in memory books. We take on the valuing and celebrating of a life that the lost one has abandoned. We find meaning and connection where those who left us seemingly found none. We shoulder the task that they came to find unbearable. 

Valuing a lost child’s life may be easier for more distant family and friends, or for more optimistic parents. Nothing has felt like a celebration of Noah’s life to me since he died. The task of reconstructing his life is daunting under the weight of grief, anger, and remorse. I’m still grappling with the unacceptable pairing of “precious life, tragic death” that Lisa Richards cited in the dedication of Dear Mallory: Letters to a Girl Who Killed Herself.

This weekend, I caught glimpses of Noah’s face and bearing in his brother, his cousin, and all the beautiful young people enjoying themselves on the streets of San Francisco. Noah should have been there. He should have valued his life enough to give himself a chance at a future and a healed mind. And yet . . .

I’ve always found it offensive when people from wealthier countries (or neighborhoods) claim that people from other countries (or neighborhoods) “don’t value life the way we do.” We may condemn or be horrified by certain actions. But we can’t assume to know how others feel about the value of life if we haven’t walked in their shoes. Just as we can’t tell them how to value their lives.

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