The muddled timeline of premature death (Pax is 40 today)


Why would someone create a 40th birthday card with a little teddy bear?

I don’t know what the designer was thinking of, but this card was ideal for me to buy for Pax to celebrate his 40th on 3rd January 2019. Pax, my son, the little boy who died at barely 3 1/2 years old, laid to rest in Bhopal, India.

A card with “happy 40th” but adorned with a teddy bear and balloons does seem appropriate for him, don’t you think?

Pax was 18 months older than Catherine, who died when she was 30. Because he died so much younger, it is very difficult in my mind’s eye to picture him as the oldest sibling. I can’t really imagine him as 40 years old, though I have pictured him as a teenager or a young man.

Grieving premature death – out of order death – is not the same as grieving someone who lived a full life and died at a ripe old age. That type of grief is also sad and heartbreaking, depending on the relationship, and can be quite devastating for the widow or widower left behind. But it is still easier to comprehend than the death of a baby or a child, or a partner of working age, or a sister or brother or friend. Losing a parent when you’re still a child is another “out of order” death.

It confuses the timeline of your memories. Pax the 40 year old. Pax the 3 year old.

It can confuse your own timeline. How do you react when you reach the age of your parent, brother or sister who died an untimely death? Are you tinged with guilt that you’re living on beyond their life-span, or worried that you too will die too soon?

Making space for this aspect of your grief is ongoing. Recognising what would have been special dates in their timeline, perhaps special birthdays or reaching retirement age, may bring tears and a deep sense of loss. It hurts, plain and simple.

I met a lady recently who had lost her baby – a cot death – 30 years ago. She put up a new headstone to mark the 30th year. That’s an appropriate way of marking the time.

I think what I’ll do for Pax this year is dedicate a tree to his memory. I like the idea of a tree – something living and lasting.

It’s not as good as having him here, but that’s the best I can do. Sometimes, when we are living with loss, we have to somehow content ourselves with these little symbolic activities or gifts. It is no substitute for the living presence of our loved one, but it can be somehow comforting too.

Our love for them endures; and so does their memory.

I can no longer

See you with my eyes

Touch you with my hands

But I will feel you in my heart


(Author unknown)

Dedicating a tree

There are lots of places where you can plant a tree or dedicate a tree for a loved one, for various costs, in the UK and beyond. Below are a few links.

Trees for developing countries

Woodland Trust – all over the country

RSPB – Peak District

The National Forest


3 balloons – 1 for each year of Pax’s life. Celebrating his 40th birthday. How appropriate is that?!


Pax, as he was in December 1980.

A song for Pax, called Pax – what else?

One thought on “The muddled timeline of premature death (Pax is 40 today)

  1. Pingback: The unique pain of child bereavement: Readings for parents (Site Guide No. 3) | A Valley Journal

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