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Pick of the day: 'Deep grief' when a child dies

Linton Weeks, a former Washington Post reporter and editor now working for National Public Radio, has a searingly painful story this week about how parents cope with the sudden loss of a child. But before Weeks introduces us to any characters, he writes poetically and intimately about the deep grief a parent can feel. The words seem derived from a place that only the writer knows:

When your child dies, the immensity of still being alive strikes at your core. Your focus shifts back and forth between the grief you have and the gift you had. You are overwhelmed by sorrow and loss and a sense of what might have been. At the same time, you are thunderstruck by the joy and beauty and richness your child brought into the world. You are awash with the deepest-aching pain. And yet you long to celebrate your child's brief, brilliant time on this planet. That moment-to-moment tension, the never-ending whiplash to-and-fro between these two powerful instincts — the grief and the gift — drives you mad.

The average reader might quickly glance at the piece or read it quickly without ever knowing why Weeks may have chosen this topic. But at the end of the article, a brief explanation in italics appears: NPR national correspondent Linton Weeks and his wife, Jan, lost their two sons, Stone and Holt, in a highway crash in July 2009. In memoriam, they created The Stone and Holt Weeks Foundation.

When Weeks's sons died, a few articles were written about the crash, especially about Virginia's I-81, the dangerous road Stone and Holt happened to be using. The sons, college students at Rice University in Houston, were on their way to their parents' home in Rockville. But they were killed when a tractor-trailer smashed into their car as they waited on the interstate in a traffic jam. Stone Weeks was a researcher for the historian Douglas Brinkley and had planned on attending a book party for Brinkley that weekend in Washington.

For parents who have ever lost a child, Weeks's story will be hard to read but helpful. He introduces you to other families who have suffered such loss, to a college professor who has studied the issue of grief, and to people such as Lorenza and Joseph Colletti, who lost their 26-year-old son Marc in 1995 in a drowning in Long Island Sound. One quotation from Lorenza Colletti was haunting:

"I mean, when your child is alive, you don't think of him 24 hours a day. But when he's gone, that's the only thing that's on your mind. And then you walk around and you see maybe someone wearing a cap that reminds you of your son, and you quickly turn — maybe that's him. Your mind plays so many tricks because it's so hard to really understand the depth of what has happened to you."

By Ian Shapira  | February 11, 2010; 7:30 AM ET
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