alexandra alger


A Deep, Painful Gratitude

Amid the outrage (justified in my view) in the Ferguson case, I am consumed by another death: that of a 16-year-old neighbor. The young man, brilliant and sensitive, took his own life on a Sunday night a few weeks ago. I know his parents, lovely and loving people. Their son I mainly knew as a kid on the block. I watched his growing up through glimpses on the street, on the way to and from school (he went to a nearby school, not far from the one my children attended). At last glimpse, he’d grown tall and looked very much a young man on the verge of adulthood. Off and on over the years I’d hoped he and my daughter might meet; incredibly, they share a birthday. But somehow they never did meet. Now they never will.

I had coffee with his mother just two days before that Sunday. I think back longingly to that sunny morning. We chatted about our kids, the way parents do, each expecting to have many such conversations in the coming years. Each thinking of the future in the brightest terms. When I saw his mother again she cried and hugged me and said the very thing that I was thinking: If only we could go back to that Friday morning. If only we could reset time. if only we could go back, and stop him.

I dreamed of this boy the other night. He was accompanying me somewhere. I didn’t know him in life, but now I’m dreaming about him. My unconscious mind has a lot to go over. I knew another boy who killed himself at the same age. This boy I knew. And I still mourn him, six years later.

Yesterday I paged through Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking to read once again her account of losing her husband when he suffered a sudden heart attack. It’s a powerful book; Didion helps me understand profound grief (horribly she would later suffer the loss of her only child to a baffling illness). The magical thinking of the title refers to her conviction that he would come back. She knew he was dead, and yet she was at the same time sure that he would find a way. She just wanted him back, so badly.

These are dark times now for these parents on my block. I wish I knew a way to bring comfort. There may not be any, for a while. Staying in touch, being a community, that would be something. Didion had a friend who brought her congee from Chinatown; it was the only thing she could keep down. Congee. I wonder if should try to find some.

For now, they are with family, in a different part of the country. Hopefully that’s a good thing. I’ll be with family, too, on Thanksgiving. This year, I feel a deep and pain-tinged gratitude for all that I have.

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2 thoughts on “A Deep, Painful Gratitude

  1. I can’t imagine your friend’s pain at losing her child that way. May God and time bring her peace.

  2. Thanks for your kind words. All the best to you and yours.

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