The death of a child is perhaps the worst pain any parent can experience. In Shadowchild: A Meditation on Love and Loss, by Dutch novelist P. F. Thomése, readers are given intimate glimpses of the process of death and grief, not so much to make people “understand” what it might be like to suffer such heartbreak, but, rather, to enable them to feel that loss deeply. If it is true that each death experienced is informed by all the deaths known before, then Thomése gives his readers an incredible gift in sharing his reflections on his infant daughter, Isa's, sudden death.
This is not an easy book to read, but it is impossible to put down. The level of intimate detail is vivid and simple: light, shadow, small things missing, many things changed, silence. The book transcends time and place and draws the reader into the one place everyone fears and dreads: the empty room where only yesterday a baby slept. That it is possible to heal from such sorrow is made evident by Shadowchild, that it is terribly difficult is also articulated.
While this book cannot lessen anyone's loss, it does offer a sense that others have been in that same place and understand. Shadowchild is a gift of love not only to Thomése's dead daughter but also to anyone who reads it. Here is a father speaking to the living as a father whose daughter is no longer here, as a father and husband trying to make sense of something that makes no sense. In doing so, Thomése captures not only the details but the visceral emotions anyone who has lost a loved one goes through no matter the age of the person who has died. “What do you call the father and the mother of a child who has died,” Thomése asks. While there is no word for that role, Shadowchild gives comfort and understanding to those who now must fill it.