If you have lost a child, you will understand why I’m jealous of Debbie Reynolds.
It’s impossible to express the grief of losing a child. One friend described it as losing a huge piece of her innards, as though something had been torn from her. It was a physical pain.
Another friend recalls falling to the floor and screaming because there were no words and she lost the strength to stand.
We carry a hole in our hearts that can’t be patched, and it never, ever stops hurting, even for a moment.
I remember I had it in my head that my heart would stop when my son’s did. I couldn’t imagine life without him.
I sat by him, holding his hand and telling him how much I loved him as he breathed his last.
“He’s gone,” the nurse said after he stopped breathing.
But that couldn’t be so, I thought. I’m still here, and I can’t be here after he’s gone.
But there I was, alive and pissed.
I hadn’t told anyone I would die with him; I didn’t think I had to. Everyone would know why my heart stopped.
But then it didn’t stop.
I tried to will it to stop, but it kept beating.
In eight and a half years since he died, I have wondered every day when I will be able to join him.
I feel my heart beat and the injustice of it still makes me angry.
Yes, I have another child and four grandchildren, and a great-granddaughter. Yes, I have nieces and nephews and siblings whom I love very much. And yes, I have friends — wonderful friends, a ton of them.
But I don’t have Michael.
I know this doesn’t make sense to you unless you have lost a child, especially if you lost that child to injustice.
He shouldn’t have died.
If he had been able to gain access to health care, he would still be with us.
If Carrie Fisher had been downtown instead of on an airplane, she might have gotten help in time. She might still be alive, and so would her mother.
If, if, if …
But the reality is my Michael is gone and I’m still here.
When I heard Debbie Reynolds had suffered a severe stroke, I felt a tinge of jealousy.
“She’s going to die,” I told my husband. “She gets to go be with her daughter.”
Sure enough, an hour later, he was online and saw she had died.
“Lucky,” I muttered under my breath.
My son has come to me a few times in extremely vivid dreams since he died. Don’t try and tell me he wasn’t there because I know he was.
When I see him, I tell him I want to go with him. I tell him I don’t want to be here any more.
But every time, he says the same thing: “That’s not an option now, Mom. You have work to do.”
Since he died, I have fought every day to expand access to health care to all people. I don’t say all Americans because there are plenty of people who aren’t Americans who need health care too.
I have gone to Raleigh and to Washington. I have spoken to people in power and told them there should be no test for access to care. Everyone should have it, even if we have to give it to them without requiring them to have a full-time job or to make more than poverty wages.
I have called them out when they say they are “pro-life” but in the next breath try to rationalize why we can’t allow everyone to have access to quality care like most of the rest of the world does.
And in the eight and a half years since my child died, we have made a little progress, but now we are poised to step backward, and all the work I have done to try and prevent more people from dying the way my child did appears to have been for nothing.
I have told his story again and again, but people seem to think he was the exception, that most people who die from lack of access to care somehow deserved it.
“Screw work,” I want to say, but I know it won’t do any good.
I can’t go yet.
Debbie Reynolds was the lucky one.
I have to stay here, without my son, because I have work to do.