Gaps


Sweet Anna's final resting place

Sweet Anna's final resting place

Henry signs balloon as Nora looks on

Henry signs balloon as Nora looks on

We released the balloons with messages for Anna Maxine

We released the balloons with messages for Anna Maxine

A sad and happy day

A sad and happy day

Kids in the hole

Kids in the hole

The tree crew -- Dad, Luke, Steve, Gabe, Grant, Bryan & Chris

The tree crew -- Dad, Luke, Steve, Gabe, Grant, Bryan & Chris

Colorado Blue Spruce

Colorado Blue Spruce

Those we have held in our arms for a little while we hold in our hearts forever.

Those we have held in our arms for a little while we hold in our hearts forever.

There are holes in every language, when there is no single term that applies – sometimes for novel things: what is the sound a cell phone makes when a call is received? And the word “ringtone” is invented. But there are other things that have never been named. When language fails us in this way, it is called a lexical gap. Sometimes the lack of a word says more about our society than its presence. For instance, there is a word to describe a child who has lost her parents: orphan. The word for a remaining spouse is widow or widower. But there is no single word in English to describe a parent who has lost a child. A lexical gap.

My friend, Betty, is a counselor. In the course of her work she hears a lot of devastating things. Beautiful girls who cut themselves. Young boys in abusive homes. And so she can’t just pull up a chair at Starbucks and start talking about her day – not because she can’t bear the retelling but because we can’t bear hearing it. She protects us from a little bit of the horror of the world.

In the same way, people who have experienced devastating grief – I can only speak about losing a child – have to protect those around us. And that is probably the root of this particular lexical gap.

During Anna’s short life, she connected meaningfully with many people. In particular, our close group of friends who we see regularly. When we lost her, we were all – we are all – united in mourning. We all lost Anna.

But a parent’s grief is uniquely devastating. And while Steve and I cope and adapt and endure, the suffering is steady. It is too much to reveal to the world. Not because I cannot bear the sharing but because others don’t deserve to be exposed to that kind of pain. When I write and reread this, it sounds like I’m standing on a precipice. I’m not. I don’t mean to imply that this grief is completely debilitating.

It’s just that I can imagine that it could take over if I wasn’t forced to protect others. If I didn’t have to act normal sometimes – and therefore start to become normal – for Nora, for Henry, for my job … maybe I would never get there. By protecting others, I am, in a way, also protecting myself.

And so, this lexical gap in our language and this physical gap in our lives coincide. There is no word for a parent who has lost a child. There are no words to describe our grief. There is just … a gap.

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Last Saturday, on October 10 at 10 a.m., we held Anna’s committal ceremony at Village Lutheran Church. Her body was cremated in August but it wasn’t until now that the mason could open the column where her remains would be placed and the brass plaque with her name was completed and delivered. It was a small and informal ceremony – we sang camp songs because I’m sure Anna would have loved camp – and then went back to our house, where we planted dozens of bulbs. More exciting, we planted a beautiful, eight-foot Colorado Blue Spruce. It looks like a Christmas tree in the corner of our yard. It is amazing. And the feat to plant it was Herculean.

Let me just say, Steve, Grant, Chris, Brian, Luke and Gabe, she really did look smaller on the lot among all of her tall friends. And although it gave me some pause when it took three men and a forklift to place it in our car, I thought, how heavy can it really be? So when Steve and I got it out of the van on our own, I was pretty sure the five of you would be able to carry it up the stairs and across the lawn without too much trouble. And, yes, I am sorry I didn’t think about covering the root ball with a tarp for the 12 straight hours of rain that preceded the big event – adding, conservatively, 100 pounds or so. I would also be remiss if I didn’t issue an open apology to VLC for bending the wheel of the dolly that was rated for 600 pounds. (Don’t worry, Steve already fixed it.)

But did I mention that the tree is beautiful? And that I love it? Because it is. And I do.

One comment.

  1. Hello. You don’t know me but I wanted to let you know how Anna Maxine touched my heart today. I am the shipping coordinator for the MN branch of the Pajama Program and had a PJ pickup today at a deli dropoff sight in Eagan, MN. A large baby printed gift bag full of PJs was included in the pick up with a tag stating ‘In Loving Memory of Anna Maxine Schell Podoll’ I was touched and curious so I found your family blog through google and found Anna Maxine’s beautiful story. My heart goes out to your family for your profound loss but also appreciates the story and beauty of her short life as documented by your blog. I just want to let you know that the PJ donation will be sent out with love and respect in her honor to some lucky MN kids that are in need of comfort during a trying time in their life. Thank you and God Bless your family & little Anna Maxine.

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