I don't know what it feels like to lose a child to a senseless act of violence. I can't imagine being a parent right now to one of those twenty children, the same age as my Aoife, who now lie lifeless somewhere, waiting for their burial the week before Christmas.
But somehow I'm different, even just a little, from most of the other people I know who also can't imagine this. I do feel dizzy, and vaguely sad and confused. But I know this is not my pain to feel.
Because, once, I did walk back into a house and look at things that belonged to a person who used to be alive and wasn't anymore, and I wondered what I should do with those things.
I have unwrapped gifts that were for someone who wasn't alive to open them.
I have lain on a floor on a soft wool rug until the entire room smelled like wet wool, my tears never ending.
I have heard the wails that sounded like an animal coming from my own body. I wondered who could sound that way.
I could not look at my face in a mirror.
Mostly, I just know how in an instant, a world that seemed predictable and fair can suddenly be nothing like it was three minutes ago. How in the beat of a heart, your future can turn from one of joy and everyday rhythms to a bottomless well of grief.
Thinking of those parents whose children were slaughtered on Friday makes Charlotte's little death seem so quiet, so easy. There was nobody to blame. Just a quiet, unknown baby, slipping away.
But she was still my future, and I loved her very much. So there are some things I know.
And the greatest thing I learned from Charlotte I am reminded of again, and it is good to remember this. Any day could be the last. This fact, however, should not invoke fear and reservation, but rather inspire us to love openly, seek out joy, and dearly love the ones in our midst.
I don't pretend that I grieve for those children. Yes, indeed, my heart hurts and aches and pains at the thought of their lives lost. But I would not belittle the pain that their families, friends, and mostly their parents feel by acting as though what I feel is grief. I am sick at heart, I am lonesome for them and what they might have become. But I know how to breathe right now, and those mothers are now struggling to draw a breath. They are willing their hearts to beat, not quite knowing why. This is not me.
Me, I walk down the hall and lie next to each of my children while they sleep. I admit I linger a little bit with Aoife, kissing her soft cheek, watching the shadow of her long, long lashes on her cheek in the glow of the night light. Then, I return to my bed and I lie there and think of the cupboard of Christmas gifts that is in my room, at the ready, and I wonder for how many years those mothers will keep their children's unopened, unreceived gifts for.
I imagine it might be forever.