Tuesday, September 10, 2013
What I Have Learned from an Angel
I don't often write about my sweet Haleigh. It's not that I don't think of her story is one worth sharing, it's just to hard to re-visit emotions, and difficult to convey those emotions with those who haven't walked the path of losing a child. I do refer to her often because I want to honor her place in my heart, not because I want sympathy. She changed my life in many ways by teaching me things I had no idea I was learning at the time.
These are just a few I learned from having her in my life.
In the midst of my pain, I was fighting myself. I didn't want to be strong, I wanted my life to be perfect, or what I thought it should be ~ a healthy, happy family. I didn't order up brain damage, seizures, medical malpractice, "terminal" and death. But she showed me how strong she was by hanging on to every breath, fighting through 300 seizures a day, living in constant pain. She was a fighter and I had to show her I was going to fight for her too. I still try and be strong for her today, not because it is easy but because I want her to be proud of me. I want to be strong like her.
Grief never really leaves.
Grief comes in many forms. It's not just the loss of the physical, although that is huge. It's the loss of dreams. Loss of "what could have been". Loss of "what should be today"....she should be turning 15 today, riding to school with her older sister, learning to drive, playing soccer perhaps, and leaving her stuff all over the house. I wonder what kind of young woman she would be. I wonder what her relationship with her siblings would be like. I wonder what her voice would sound like and what dreams she would have for her life. Would she want to be an artist like me or a scientist?
Yes, in many ways grief behaves better over time. I can easily recall the days where I was constantly contemplating suicide. I knew I was destined to live a sad and depressed life. Every minute was a struggle. Every. Single. Minute. My grief was intense and all-consuming. But slowly, over time, the body makes less room for this resident. Laughter, happiness and love grow again and expand their real estate in the body. But he (grief) always has a place. Some days he expands his territory, other days his presence is barely noticeable. But he is always there.
It never gets easier answering the question, "how many children do you have?" Never. I have been answering it for years now and every time I get an instant pit in my stomach and my neck gets hot and tense. I have learned to get better at faking it so I don't make others uncomfortable. I have even learned to say "two" instead of "three, but one is in heaven". And right behind that innocuous question is the one, "how many in your party?" Sigh. No, it has never become "easier".
Everything is not a big deal.
We make a big deal about little stuff. And we like to announce it to the world. Yep, you know you do. I do too, still. I try not to though because I know how little the stuff in our lives really is. I remember when I was in the thick of my trials ~ caring for a child who could not swallow, who would scream in pain for hours at a time, who struggled for breath ~ I remember hearing women complain about how "johnny was still not toilet training". I don't blame these women for their talk, although at the time I was secretly full of hate and thought "wow. If only that were my problem." It did make me realize how we spend a lot of time on this earth complaining about the little stuff. I mean, seriously, as frustrating as raising a toddler can be (remember I raised two others), we know Johnny isn't going to walk down the aisle wearing a diaper. So let's just embrace this time and if this is the biggest challenge of our day, remember, we have it pretty good.
Siblings in a family who have suffered the loss of a child have it tougher than "normal" kids. Yes, this is specifically for my Sarah and Ben. They had to grow up with grief. I am not even sure Sarah was old enough to process it and I know Ben was not. But they grew up with grief because they grew up with me. And I can tell you, as protective as mothers tend to be, I am that on steroids. Everything from riding a roller coaster to driving down the interstate without an adult in the car is a struggle for me. I don't like my kids to EVER leave the house without a hug and a kiss. Ever. This sometimes irritates my teenage daughter who thinks I am needy. Maybe I am. But I am her mother and that is something she won't understand until she becomes one herself. I constantly have the thought of "what if..." and KNOW the feelings of grief that will ensue if my worse fears are realized. It's a daily battle. I have not quite made any progress in this area of my life and I am sure I am causing a lot of angst in both my teens' worlds. But it is just the fiber of who we are as a family and I am sure I will not change.
Soak it In.
I want to document my life as much as possible. I scrapbook with more intensity because I want my kids to remember our life together and I want to remember the little moments that make life so darn precious and perfect. I take photos like a crazy person because I don't ever want to take for granted that I will remember them at "this stage" or "that part of their personality" or just the beauty in our every day life. And long after I am gone, I want them to know I loved them ~ all the bits of imperfection and all the special moments too. I want to soak it all in and become intoxicated with the essence of love, life and family.
I have learned how to be compassionate. Not that I wasn't compassionate before. I think I have always been a little bit sensitive. But I have learned how to care. Not just lip service but real service. I think God has brought me along a path where I have crossed with other mothers who lost children to help them, support them. Love them out of their grief. Hold their hands. Dry their tears. Pray for them.
You have one life ~ make it count.
Yes, my sweet Haleigh made it clear I had one life and there were no guarantees it was going to be a long one. Her sweet life ended when she was just 27 months old. I may live to be only 50 or I may live to be 95. I want to make this life count. I don't want to waste my time being unhealthy, unhappy, or unsatisfied. I want to leave my mark on this world, make this world better even if it is only here in my little community volunteering for the HOA or the local food bank or being the soccer team mom. I don't want to limit myself. I want to share my gifts with others and speak encouragement into others' lives as often as possible. I want to do my best to be a good friend, not a fair-weather friend. I want to be a great wife. I want to love with all my heart and be thankful for every ray of sunshine, every day, every breath, every hug and kiss from my sweet babies that are still here on earth. And always hold close the spiritual hugs from my angel above.