Obituaries for children should never have to be written. Of course they are – every day, all over, for countless reasons – but perhaps never more heartbreakingly than this week, in the wake of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. That it is the holiday season just highlights the tragic timing, a period of celebration, peace and joy for children who look forward to this time of year with such wonder and anticipation.
When I come across obits for children who have died, I am constantly struck by the accomplishments achieved in these young lives that may be short on earth but long in impact.
An obituary that ran earlier this year in the Atlanta Journal Constitution stopped me in my tracks. The photo of a young boy seemed incongruous with the list of accomplishments achieved in his nine short years:
Humanitarian, skydiver, astronaut, paleontologist, aircraft pilot, tractor operator, fireman, Jeopardy expert, Pokemon champion, Nintendo Boy, inquisitive genius, scooter enthusiast, soccer star, astronomer, Southern gentleman with California flare…
And that’s not all. There was more about his spirit, his goodness, his generosity, sense of humor and the vast array of friends and family who had nursed him through his battle with cancer.
Of course parents and family would want to dwell on the upbeat accomplishments of these youngsters’ incomplete lives, but it is awe inspiring and admirable how many they racked up in so little time. “Southern gentleman with California flare?” Can’t you just picture that?
It also is beyond admirable how the parents and loved ones are able to shed such a positive light on a life so precious to them – and so tragically cut down before it’s barely begun.
As one obituary of a 16-year-old girl who died of cancer stated simply and compellingly: “We mourn the great loss of our beautiful girl while at the same time relish the joy she brought into all of our lives during the short time we had the privilege of being with her.”
It is hard to imagine parents of the Newtown first graders being able to even comprehend what has happened even as they place these loving words in The Newtown Bee.
Here are samplings of other obituaries that resonate with the life paths already taking shape as well as personalities and quirks in different degrees of development. They illustrate so well that contributions to this world can be made at any age and that displays of love and friendship take root early on.
At this time of year, many of us have empty seats at our holiday tables. Some of them we could have guessed would be empty. And we will toast those who had long, productive lives whose time had run out for one reason or another.
Those smaller seats – even highchairs – are without a doubt the hardest to reckon. But they should be toasted, too, for whatever they were able to do with their scant years and perhaps more than anything for the love they brought into this world, even if it was just a glimpse.
Susan Soper is the founder and author of ObitKit™, A Guide to Celebrating Your Life. A lifelong journalist, she was formerly the Features Editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she launched a series called "Living with Grief" shortly after her father died. Susan lives in Atlanta with her husband.
Image: Suada Likovic, 24, from left, Chelsea Crain, 23, Kristin Hoyt, 18, Jeffrey Hoyt, 16, and Linda Hoyt, all of Danbury, Conn., tie balloons to an overpass up the road from the Sandy Hook Elementary School, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. The massacre of 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary school elicited horror and soul-searching around the world even as it raised more basic questions about why the gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, would have been driven to such a crime and how he chose his victims. (AP Photo/David Goldman)