Our surviving child is a USC student, and I serve as an administrator of the USC Parents' Facebook page, so I'm involved there every day. USC graduation is going on this weekend. There have been a few different posts about Samantha Josephson, the USC senior who was killed in March after getting into a fake ride share in Five Points. There was post with a photo that showed her graduation stole and mortarboard with tassel next to her memorial brick on the campus’ historic Horseshoe. There was another post from a parent "thinking about graduation celebrations and Mother's Day," considering Sami's family at a time they thought they'd be celebrating together.
My reality is what it is. I see these posts and the hundreds of compassionate reactions to them from parents imagining themselves in our shoes — Samantha's parents, and our family, having lost a child. Unsurprisingly, they bring up a lot of feelings.
Yes, Mother's Day is Sunday. I've made plans that will keep me busy for much of the day and tired for the rest of it: I'm hosting a half-marathon and marathon indoor rowing session at the gym where I teach rowing classes. I'll row my marathon with a few other dedicated members of my gym family, and then go home and chill out. I hope to get through Mother's Day without spending too much time dwelling on what motherhood means when your child has died.
It's graduation season for us, too, or at least it should be. The first week of June, when Rader should be graduating from high school, will be the second anniversary of his death. A week later will be the third time we've observed his birthday without him; he should be turning 18.
I'm sad and I miss him all the time, but I can already tell these next few weeks are going to be a particularly difficult season, hard in a way I haven't had to experience yet. A couple of those parents commenting on Facebook have mentioned that they're thinking not just of Samantha's family, who absolutely deserve all the love they're getting, but of others who also have lost children. And I'll take that, because I think most people who know me are afraid to say the wrong thing, or afraid that if they mention Rader's graduation it will remind me of my loss, and so most have stayed silent. I'm not fishing for sympathy here. I get that it is uncomfortable as a parent to face that sometimes children die, and if it could happen to Sami and Rader, something could happen to your child, and every fiber of you would rather not think about that.
If you are my personal friend, please hear me: this is not about you. Don't feel bad about anything you have or haven't said. But if you have thought, about me or anyone else you know who is grieving a loss, that you don't want to risk hurting them by bringing up their loved one, please know that they are already thinking of that person all the time. That hearing someone else say that name, and remember that treasured life, does not place a burden on them, but does the opposite. Having the opportunity to share Rader with someone relieves me of the task of keeping his memory alive by myself.
Thousands of people, maybe millions, "remember" Samantha, and I hope that brings comfort to her family. The death of any child, but particularly a high-profile death that makes national headlines, is an awful and tragic thing. We didn't suffer in that specific way, and believe me, I am grateful for that. I'm trying to keep it in perspective, but what the hell, I'm going to admit that it's still really difficult to see that outpouring of support for her loss, and then to feel like I'm basically remembering Rader by myself. I'm not saying it's rational or that I'd want to trade places with her parents. Just that it feels hard.
My family and I recognize we have an incredibly supportive community around us: dozens of people who dropped everything and rushed to be with us after Rader died, and served and cared for us in so many ways in the following days and weeks. We are filled with gratitude for them, and for those who continue to encourage us, spending time together and enjoying life with us, because even without Rader, it continues, and friends make it feel worthwhile. Also I understand that a year or two years from now, when Samantha's death still feels so fresh to her family, other people will have moved on, including most of those hundreds who are responding to those posts about her on Facebook right now. But Samantha will still be remembered, as Rader is remembered: by the people who knew them, and loved them, in life.