I am devastated by Natasha Richardson’s death. It’s not like when Bergman and Antonioni died on the same day and I thought, What will the world do without them? Or when Heath Ledger died and I thought, Too soon! It’s not even that I had a special affinity for her, even though I admired her performances in such films as Asylum, Suddenly Last Summer and The Comfort of Strangers. I am saddened by her death at such a young age and I grieve for her family, but my reason for being…the word boulversée keeps coming to mind, a French word that means shattered and for me connotes something like trampled, has more to do with the suddenness of the tragedy. It’s personal. I feel as if I’ve been punched in the gut. One day she was here—45 years old, beautiful, thriving, wife of Liam Neeson, mother of two young boys—the next day she was gone. After a stupid, minor accident.
This is the kind of death that makes the earth rumble beneath my feet, threatening to open up and swallow me. That’s melodramatic, but that’s how it makes me feel. My sister lost her friend Maru a few years back, she had a pulmonary embolism at 36. The three-year-old daughter of another friend was killed in a freak car accident. The wife of a man I know caught an infection after giving birth to their son and died five days later. I don’t know how to wrap my mind around this kind of death. Maru’s death comes to me from time to time, washes over me like a black wave, making me feel scared and out of control. I see the moment when my sister was on the phone getting an update on her condition. She hung up and put her hand out in this limp gesture of incomprehension and said, “She just died,” her voice tiny, trembling, disbelieving. It didn’t seem possible, it was totally contrary to nature. That moment comes to me and I feel as I did then, horrified, like nothing makes any sense. The little girl haunts me even more deeply. A car jumped the center divider on the freeway. She was the only one injured in the accident. For the first six months of Aidan’s life, I was obsessed with her.
And now Natasha Richardson.
Natasha Richardson had what at the time seemed to be a minor skiing accident. She fell over on a bunny slope during a ski lesson. She apparently didn’t run into anything, she just fell over. The articles all say she wasn’t wearing a helmet, but who does? I’ve never worn a helmet skiing, certainly not for a beginner’s lesson. She died of a brain hemorrhage, the official cause epidural hematoma. How does that happen from falling over in the snow? Babies fall off beds and couches and changing tables everyday. Kids fall out of trees and off bikes and laugh as they tell the tale. I scoured the articles hoping for some explanation, a mention of some kind of predisposition to this kind of injury. Otherwise, life just seems too fragile. How can the human body be this fragile? I don’t want to be a paranoid, overprotective parent. I want to let my son run and play and fall as kids do without worrying that he’s going to die of a brain hemorrhage.
Yesterday I took him to mommy and me yoga for the first time in ages and at one point he was sort of crouching on the ground and his arm slipped out from under him and he bumped the side of his head on the floor. It didn’t look like it hurt. He didn’t cry. But I got scared. I didn’t even realize I was scared until I put him to bed before we went out for my mom’s birthday last night. I put him in his crib, quickly took a shower and got dressed and peeked at him as I tiptoed out the door. He was awake, lying sweetly on his back on top of his lamb, Liam, and he grinned at me. Then his eyes slowly began to close, and I felt a clutching sensation in my stomach, worried suddenly that he’d fall asleep and never wake up. I was anxious during dinner. I wanted to call the babysitter and ask her to check on him, make sure he was okay. I had a flash fantasy of coming home and the babysitter just being gone—him dead in his crib and her fled, unable to face us. I’d been having those fantasies less often these days, I guess as he grows older and stronger and I begin to have faith that my baby has the ability to live without some malignant force swooping out of the sky to snatch him from me. But then Natasha Richardson died.