I just got word of an eight-year-old boy in my area who suddenly died.
When his grandmother picked him up at school, he waved to his friends, ran to meet Grandma, and drove away. Everything seemed fine.
Two hours later, he was dead. His grandmother had noticed something was off and driven him to the emergency room, but whatever killed him acted too fast. He was dead by evening. Nobody knows why yet. I guess an autopsy might reveal something.
It's sad enough when that happens to an adult, but for a parent a story like that is not only sad -- it's terrifying. What if that were to happen to one of my children? What if there's some hidden killer lurking inside one of them, just waiting to strike, like a ticking time bomb? A heart defect -- a rogue virus -- an environmental hazard?
I have no idea how I'd handle it if something like that happened to one of my kids. I can't imagine the emotions of the little boy's parents and grandparents. And what about all the kids at school, wondering why he isn't attending anymore? How are they going to handle the news that their schoolmate is dead? I'm sure some will be scared -- some saddened -- some confused.
Somehow, the impact of a child's death seems to leave a bigger dent than the passing of an adult. Probably because the child had so much ahead, then was robbed of that future. Probably because we see children as the embodiment of vitality, and when death takes them it seems so wrong, like an oxymoron, a contradiction of what that child is supposed to be.
I think a child also stands as a symbol of innocence. Sometimes when an adult dies, we might say he asked for it through his lifestyle, or maybe even they were a bad person and society is now better off. But no child has asked for death, directly or indirectly. No child is so bad that their loss betters society.
On the other hand, there are other hypotheticals. What if the child's sudden death spared him something worse down the road -- like cancer? His death was quick. Cancer would have dragged on and on, accompanied by the tortures of radiation treatments and chemotherapy. Maybe . . . just maybe . . . that death, rather than being cruel and cheating, was a merciful thing.
We don't know. My optimistic side likes to hope that perhaps death sometimes spares us bad things. In the case of this little boy, perhaps death shielded him.
We'll never know.