Less than a week ago I watched a mother bury her 13-year-old daughter. I did not know this mother. Her daughter, who died suddenly, horribly, was a friend of my daughter's. They had gone to summer camp together, were part of a network of 13-year-old girls who attend different schools in different neighborhoods in Los Angeles and Hollywood and Pasadena. But somehow all seem to know each other. Have met either in preschool or elementary school or playing soccer over the years on one AYSO team or another. Have met in middle school at a sleepover at Kelley's or Sara's or Lily's.
They have grown up together, these girls. Have known each other forever, as 13-year-old girls are apt to gush dramatically about their friends.
Now the circle is broken. Now at a time when they are getting ready for eighth grade culminations and parties and entering high school in the fall, their world has been blown apart.
"I KNEW her!" my daughter cried over and over in those first days after word spread of this little girl's death. "It's not fair! It's not fair!"
I did not know what to tell her. They do not cover topics like this in the parenting literature. Except to say that she was absolutely right. It was not fair. And how tragic it was for this child who was so compassionate and funny and kind. And had so much to live for. And for her family who adored her. Who would never see her live out her dreams.
I told her that sometimes terrible things like this just happen. To people who are good and talented and young. And we don't know why. It just does.
It seems to me now I did not have an answer for what she was asking. I have had many people I love die, but none of them 13.
The church was filled with young teenagers. With boys in dark jackets that hung off their shoulders and girls in grown-up dresses and eye shadow brushed on their lids. Trying to act grown-up. Trying to be brave. Trying to grasp the unthinkable. My daughter sat with two other girls in a pew several rows up from me. Close to the altar, but not too close. As I sat there in the dim morning light listening to a guitar solo and waiting for the service to begin I was amazed by the quiet. I have never heard a gathering of teenagers so utterly silent. Except for the muffled sound of grief. Of sobbing. There was that. The girl next to me crying into a tissue looked to be about 12. She had pigtails.
But it was the mother who got to me most. The mother who stood up in front of her family and friends and neighbors and was able to tell stories about her beautiful lost daughter. Her daughter who was taken too soon. About how much she meant to her. "She was," this mother said, tears streaming down her cheeks, "my best friend."
I am not at all sure I could have done that. If the unthinkable were to happen. And it were my beautiful 13-year-old daughter in the casket.
But the unthinkable does happen. This mother, her little girl is gone now. And I cannot help but think of her on this Mother's Day, of what the day will be like for her. Of how the hours will pass and the pain she will endure as other mothers gather for brunch or open handmade cards or have breakfast in bed served by their children.
I also cannot help but wonder how the day will pass for other mothers who lost children this year. For the thousands of American mothers whose children now have died in Iraq.
Who will honor them?
I have never much liked Mother's Day. This year it seems a cruel joke.