Twenty-five years ago today, I became a mother for the first time, but not the way I had dreamed it and planned it and imagined it. I went into labor with a live baby girl in my uterus, but I knew going in to the hospital that I wouldn’t be going home with a live baby. I knew that my daughter would be born dead; I had made arrangements for her at a local funeral home the day before. Nearly six months in to a happy, seemingly normal pregnancy, I had had roughly 24 hours to prepare for this.
Twenty-five years ago yesterday, a terrorist’s bomb sent Pan Am Flight 103 down over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 people aboard and 11 more on the ground, 189 of them Americans, the single most deadly act of terror that would affect the US before 9/11.
This was a pre-internet world, long before the days of facebook and twitter and instagram, but the hellish aftermath of the disaster was a horrible endless loop on CNN, and I watched it all, during my own hellishly painful pitocin-enhanced labor and pitiful delivery. Many of the dead were young people, students, whose parents were shown on camera in varying degrees of horror and grief and rage and a numbness approaching catatonia. I laid there in that hospital bed, knowing that my child was dying and that I wouldn’t get to hold her living body, not even for a moment, and I watched those parents on the TV screen high up near the ceiling in my room. They looked like I felt. Their pain was a soaring black plume that rose to the skies, and my own, equally black, spiraled out to mingle with theirs. I wept for them, and I wept for me. I wept for their children, and I wept for my own.
When I do my grieving on this day every year, I cry again. I still cry for those parents as well as myself, and I still feel their grief and sorrow as a tangible presence in my heart. My pain stays mingled with theirs out there in the ether, where somehow it becomes lighter, if no less painful. And even though I know that none of them knows about me, none of them knows about our shared one-way bond, in some way that I can’t ever quite find the right words to explain to anyone on the rare occasion that I’ve tried, I find a sort of comfort, and peace.
The tears of a grieving parent are our holy water, and with them we bless the memories of our lost children.