“What will you do if she dies?”
The social worker looked across the generic office, compassion weighing down the curves of her face, the heft of her words pulling the slack toward the floor.
We had just moved through an awkward reintroduction. This social worker had been a colleague of mine six years prior, in a different world. She was someone with whom I had interacted on a near-daily basis, and whom I very much liked and respected. Here in this otherworld of transition and torment, however, she was out of context and I had not recognized her. She was gracious and understanding, but I was off balance—and I had not started off particularly on balance.
It was in the weeks after my daughter had been diagnosed with her tumor, but before she was to be born. These days were an unrelenting sandstorm of fear-laden boredom, defined by constantly shifting dunes of depression and terror. Test after test showed worsening news, the tumor was growing remarkably fast, and it was beginning to stress the vital systems of my not-yet-born daughter.
And so they had us talk to a social worker.
“What do you mean,” I stammered. “I’ll mourn. I’ll crumble. I don’t even know what I’ll do when she lives. How am I supposed to know what to do when she dies?”
“Will you have a funeral?”
With that, two doors to unimaginable futures opened wide, and shot beams of light along their walkways.
In one, I visited the grave of a daughter I never knew in life, but whose vital and living hand had brushed mine through the belly of her mother. In this future, I envisioned a gathering, and acknowledgement of the death which had preceded life but not import—but I also saw myself anchored by the grave of a daughter I would refuse to abandon. I would never be able to leave the region in which I lived. I would never be free to remember and move past, and yet I would always have this place to come, and watch over, and do the only parenting I would be allowed.
In the other future, there was nothing—no grave, no funeral, no acknowledgement that this being had been, even if she had never lived. I was not free, rather, I was adrift. Bereft of the daughter I would never know, I had nothing over which to mourn. I was full of the grief I would never get to express, full of guilt, full of regret, and full of a sense of abandonment.
I looked as far down each of those paths as I could see, looking for something brighter in either direction. There was no sparkle, no crescent of orange on an eastern horizon. There was nothing.
And so, with the leaden heart of a condemned man, I looked across the room at my newly reacquired friend, and planned a funeral for my daughter.