Thursday, January 24, 2008

Half an Orphan

Okay, well, let me just say that I certainly hope that this isn't actually going to happen.

I've been disturbed by this whole story all week, and I've been trying to think of something to say about it. I mean, it's always sad when someone dies young, and for no real reason.

But he had a daughter. Lately, every time I look at my son, I think of him growing up without knowing his father, and of Heath Ledger's daughter, who will grow up without hers. What started it was a picture I saw of a little square of concrete outside of Ledger's home in Brooklyn, and "Matilda" scratched in the concrete. Above it, her little footprint was pressed into the cement. It was a secret, until he died, and now it's being turned into a memorial to him, covered in flowers and messages from mourners.

I think about him passing that footprint every day, and how he, like my own husband does, must have looked at how tiny it was, and remembered the small heft of his daughter in his arms when she was new, how tiny she must have felt, how light. I think of him feeling the gravity of fatherhood every time he looked at that footprint.

It's not easy for a girl to grow up without a father. It touches everything about her life. It changes how she sees herself and it can shape the relationship she has with her mother and with other men. All the love in the world from a mother can't fix the broken part of a girl who doesn't know her father, who doesn't have his love or approval to teach her what love or approval should look like.

It's sad when someone dies young. It's sad that his family has lost this bright light. It's less sad that we won't get to enjoy his gifts--I enjoyed "Monster's Ball" and "Brokeback Mountain" and his roles in them very much--but it is still sad.

But for Matilda Rose, who is two, it is probably the biggest tragedy she will ever have to face. If she is at all like Max, she knows her father, knows to ask for him and look for him. I hope that we can leave her, and the rest of her family, alone at least long enough for them to say goodbye to him.

Heath Ledger's death is a tragedy, and not in the trainwreck, media-circus kind of way. It's a tragedy because he left a daughter behind, and she will carry fatherlessness around like a handprint on her heart.

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