Sunday, September 11, 2011

Loss, grief and growing up

Perhaps I am so reflective because of today's date. It's 9/11. It's the 10 year anniversary of an event that shook the core of our nation. It's a day I will never forget, because it completely burst through the shell of safety I had built around myself and introduced me to real pain and loss. I was fortunate that I didn't lose anybody directly in the 9/11 attacks, but I carry in my heart the loss of the nation. Listening to Amazing Grace this morning during one of the tributes brought tears to my eyes and then streaming down my face. The song has been sung time and time again at moments when I am saying a final goodbye to those I love, and each time I hear it - I feel all those loved ones surrounding me and the emotions are just overwhelming.

I was 21 years old the day the towers fell. It's only been 10 years since I was so abruptly thrust into adulthood, but it truly feels like a lifetime. Lately, it feels like every time I turn around somebody is suffering from the loss of a loved one. Whether it be a grandparent who lived a full life, but whose loss and absence is so distinctly felt or if it's a child whose time has been dramatically cut short - it's so hard to make sense of the loss.

With my grandmothers both recently passing - I can make some sense of it. They both lived into their 80s, had children, grand-children, and great-grand-children. They saw a world war, multiple natural disasters, and technology changes beyond their greatest imaginations. They had so much love and so many experiences, that although I feel their absence daily - I know they are in my heart and I have learned from the lives they lead.

Then we lost our dear friends in a tragic motor cycle accident. A young couple who had not quite reached middle age, who had banked on living the remainder of their life together playing with their grandchild and going on adventures. To justify their death seems insensitive. Not a day goes by where we don't reference them or their memory. We lost best friends, their children lost both of their parents and they never did get to see the beautiful face of their newest grandson. But, in spite of this tragic loss the goodness of their lives is not forgotten. The spirit of kindness and gratitude they brought to everyone around them lives on in us all. It has been over a year, and although the grieving process continues daily so does life. Their family is strong, and you can feel the love radiating when they are all together. We miss them, but they too live in our hearts.

And now a more difficult subject for me to think of. The loss of a child, someone so young and so vulnerable. A life which the parents had planned out in great detail. Whether it be the baseball games or the dance recitals, the proms, the graduations, all of the first experiences - it gets dramatically taken away, it seems so unfair and we are all left floundering for the right words of comfort and the right expressions of love.

A little boy passed away last week after he wandered out the back door of his house and drowned in a neighbors swimming pool. He was four years old. Immediately people seem to justify his death by blaming the parents for their negligence - but then you hear the full story. The sweet little boy had Dravet syndrome and although he was four years old physically, mentally he was 18 months old. Imagine the impulsive behaviors of an infant in the body of a preschooler - it's nearly impossible to keep an eye on them every second of every day. This is especially true when you are the primary care provider working to pay the expenses of a child with special needs and you hire a babysitter for the day. And then all the rest of the pieces of the 1 in a million chances align and tragedy strikes. What amazes me about this story is that the mother, through her grief, has said she believes that her baby is in heaven with his grandfather who passed away 3 days later and that he is taken care of. She is committed to helping researches find a way to obliterate this terrible disease.

Last night I visited friends and  their baby in the hospital. The baby has been there for almost a month. She went in originally to get a feeding tube, but has steadily declined since and is now having extreme respiratory problems. She has SMA type 1, the prognosis is not good, but she was doing so well - everyone was optimistic. As I sat with my friends, we talked about their baby and about what they are feeling. I can see the struggle in their faces. They so badly want to hope for a miracle for their beautiful little girl and they need that hope - but they are also facing the reality of the situation. Regardless of how things turn out, their lives have changed forever. The dreams they had for her have changed, and they now dream of her smiling again tomorrow. They too have found comfort in raising awareness of a terrible syndrome and of trying to find away to prevent this from happening to another baby and another family.

The stages of grief are different for us all. Our struggles are different too. We are each given a path in life to walk, and the people who come into our lives are there to enhance our experiences. To love and open your heart to someone does sometimes mean getting hurt - but it also means to know love. Growing up seems to mean that these feelings of love and loss and grief intensify. I have to constantly remind myself that it is okay to feel them. It is okay to be happy and it is okay to be sad. It is okay to look forward to tomorrow and to rejoice in the gifts of today.

I know I haven't been dealt an easy deck in life, but I am also beginning to see that the experiences I've had within my own life and especially with my children - have made me the person that I am. I want to make a difference. I want to help families so they don't have to go through the pain of losing a child. I want to help families to celebrate the lives of the children they do have. I want to inspire my own children to be kind and loving people who will make a difference in this world. Each of our lives has a path, but we can choose whether we embrace our destiny or ignore it. Since I've embraced what I've been given, I've found the joy in the little things. This is not to say that when I lose someone I love and care about I'm not sad- I am, but I will also strive to be better and do more in their memory, with their love in my heart.

Perhaps today is just stirring up a lot of emotions, or perhaps it's the path I've been walking lately - but I'm feeling things so intensely. In church Friday night, I was praying for my friend's baby - and my skin started to buzz. I've gotten goosebumps before, but never this feeling. I felt like I was connected, like God was listening. I asked him to help the family and make sure that baby was comfortable and to give them whatever they needed and to in turn show me how I could best be there for them too. 

Growing up is not easy, it's a challenge. Life is certainly a blessed gift, and I will not take any of the gifts I have for granted. I will keep striving to find the good in situations, or as a dear friend said - "to find the joy, as it is most difficult to do when finding the negative is so much easier".

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