Random Acts of Sadness

By Tracy Grant
Richardson’s death punctures the illusion we all cling to that there is some order to the world, that things happen for a reason.
WASHINGTON ~ A week ago Natasha Richardson was flirting around the edges of fame. For most, her name elicited a vague “Yeah, seems familiar,” but then they couldn’t quite place her. Her photograph might have recalled any beautiful if icy blond actress of a certain pedigree.

Today, she is everywoman.

Wife, mother, sister, daughter. Dead at 45 in the most capricious of ways.

She was not hot-dogging down a triple black diamond slope when death tapped her on the shoulder. No, she was on the bunny hill on a spring break trip with one of her two sons.

Perhaps she had decided to take the ski lesson because that son had goaded her into it – the way boys of a certain age are wont to do. “C’mon, Mom, don’t be a wimp.”

Perhaps it had been her idea; an attempt to reinvent herself as a mother, to forge a new family tradition, to find a common ground that would help her navigate his difficult teenage years.

Regardless, her death on Wednesday last week, two days after a seemingly innocuous bump on the head during that beginner’s ski lesson, was as random as the rampaging errant division of cells or the heart that skips a beat, never to pulse again.

So young.
Makes no sense.

Those are the sound bites coming from the likes of Jane Seymour and Blythe Danner. But her death resonates well beyond the hills of Hollywood or the lights of Broadway, where she won a Tony award.

Natasha Richardson will, for a day or two, be a topic on playgrounds, over tea and in the long-distance conversations of mothers and sisters and girlfriends. Not because she is remembered as Lindsay Lohan’s mom in “The Parent Trap” or because husband Liam Neeson is gorgeous or because it must have been daunting to become an actress with a mother as legendary as Vanessa Redgrave.

No, in countless conversations, there will be the search for the meaning behind what happened. Richardson’s death punctures the illusion we all cling to that there is some order to the world, that things happen for a reason. We don’t have to necessarily understand that order, but by knowing that it exists, we come to believe that it is somehow within our power to keep life’s evils at bay.

By finding a way in which Richardson’s death wasn’t a random act, we will be able to continue in that oh-so-comforting belief that bad things happen to other people.

Except when they don’t.

The writer is editor of The Washington Post’s Weekend and KidsPost sections.

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