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Save Me Time, OR, The Life and Times of Liam Theodore Cassidy Brunstrom, Part 47

April 17, 2014

So then we start to direct some anger more politically.  The formula companies have taken something that women produce naturally and turned it into a cash nexus.  They are a presence in every hospital ward, or so it seems, any they sponsor everything they can, stamping their names on everything from ultrasounds to biros.  If someone could have donated breast milk to Liam, he might be alive.  Better yet, if breast milk were universally available via banks, then infants and parents (large numbers of them) would be saved not only deaths by necrotizing enterocolitis but from all knowledge of necrotizing enterocolitis.  They would be spared even the fear and immense gratitude of ever knowing that their kid was ever saved.  They would live blessedly dull and unheroic lives.  I might find it as hard to pronounce now as the day I first heard of it.  As it is, it trips easily off the tongue, with all the slippery familiarity of a known enemy.  For the first few weeks I used to practice the phrase every morning when I woke up, I ritualized it.  After that, the ritual was unnecessary and the phrase embedded for all eternity.  I will never be too drunk to mispronounce “necrotizing enterocolitis.”

Yet talking to people about Liam, I don’t want anger to be the dominant, or at least the initial emotion on display.  Liam’s impact on the world was not and cannot be one of anger or sorrow.  Anything that comes out of our anger needs to become something better than revenge, something larger than personal renewal.

He was marvelous though.  I keep telling myself (and others) this.  In three countries over the next few months I find myself saying this over and over again.  Liam Theo never did a single thing to piss me off.  How many other Dads can say as much or as little?  He never talked back to me, he never rolled his eyes at me, gave me the silent treatment or cursed me under his breath or left his stuff all over my house.    He never got to break curfew or drag me into a head teacher’s office or make po-faced promises to a police officer.  I never had to yell at him or threaten him, or curtail his pocket money or remind him whose house he was living in.  There is beauty and horror in his innocence.

Again and again it is the perfection and innocence of his life that blows me away, that astonishes and shames me.  When I consider the radiant goodness, the affection and trust that beamed from his enormous eyes, the unambiguity of his life and love, and then consider the shabby compromises, petty betrayals, stupid acts of selfishness and insensitivity that infest every aspect of my own life history, I find myself shocked by our unlikeness and then amazed that I could have fathered such a person.  For two weeks, I felt redeemed by my own son.

This vision of radiant innocence offers me only very limited and temporary relief.  Had he lived he would have lost that aura, or rather exchanged it, gradually for something more complex.  He would have, very quickly, become a compromised, flawed, well intentioned, unpredictable and contradictory human being like the rest of us.  Sometimes he would have pissed me off.

I wish to God he was pissing me off right now.  I used to dream of him pissing me off – hoping it would be creative and original at least.  Hoping I would hate his music because it sounded to me like some new form of ungodly cacophony rather than any tired old retro fad.

When I see his tiny face staring at me in my minds eye, I find myself first stupefied and then enraged by a cosmos that could possibly dictate that he should die while I continue to live.   In those enormous eyes, pregnant with unknowable wisdom, there lived a purity of purpose and an energy of inquiry that shames me and angers me.  He never thought a foolish thing and never had a hostile impulse.  There is nothing he could not have done.  He was pure possibility.

Yet feeling angry needs to take us out of ourselves and think on a larger scale.  Millions of people all over the world go through what we went through and many of them go through it again and again.  Bereavie parents are therefore the  norm, not the exception.  Ninety nine per cent of these folk have fewer personal, technological and economic resources to depend on than we did.   Across what’s patronizingly and unidirectionally referred to as the “developing world” (implying that we are ahead of them and we are where they want to be), the phenomenon of losing a child is inescapable and familiar but still strange and wrong and unfair and cruel. liam-theodore-cassidy-brunstrom-part-8/


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