On being grateful

Last night I was surfing an unschooling blog ring when I came across this blog. As I read through the “about us” section I realized this was the same child I’d read about through an issue of A Magical Childhood, an e-newsletter I used to get regularly. I remember how shocking it was to open it one day thinking it was another cheerful list of gentle parenting anecdotes and fungames to play with your toddler. Instead, I was slammed with the news that a little girl named Hannah, age 9.5, had died of acute lymphoblastic leukemia. It depressed the hell out of me.

But when I found the blog last night I felt drawn to it, the way they say one is drawn to a car crash. I didn’t really want to read it, but I couldn’t help myself. Tears poured down my face as I read in detail about how this mother was able to crawl into bed with her dying daughter, hold her in her arms, and rock her as the life drained out of her. It was touching, heartwrenching, frightening, and distressing all at once.

I find whenever I read stories of bad things happening to people, one of the first things I do is run a mental checklist in my head of all the reasons why I would not be in that situation. I know that it’s my mind’s way of coping with the fear of me being in that situation. For example, when a news story hits about some child kidnapped from their house in the middle of the night the first thing through my mind is “That would never happen to me; my kids sleep safely beside me”. When Katrina slammed New Orleans and hundreds of babies were starving for lack of formula I thought “That would never happen to me; I breastfeed my kids”. When tropical storms kill thousands, when terrorists attack buildings, when hepatitis is rampant in drug addicts, my thoughts are always about how my geographical location, nationality, or socioeconomic status means THAT won’t happen to me. In this way my mind desperately tries to reassure me that in this Life of ours, in a Universe that appears Random, I am stacking the odds in my favour that Bad Things will not happen to me and mine.

But stories like that of Hannah are harder to escape. True, cancer ran in her father’s family. In fact, her paternal grandfather had died of cancer and her own father had died several years earlier from some form of cancer (can you believe this poor mama’s luck?). I have no idea what my genetic history is (I’m adopted) so who knows what is hidden away in my children’s genetic codes. It’s harder to say to myself “that can’t happen to me”. Sure, the odds are slim, but Bad Things do happen to people. I already know this firsthand.

And so last night I hugged my children tight, and was far more patient with them than my energy levels suggested I could be. I confess that Hannah and her mother have been in my thoughts constantly today. Part of me feels resentful. I don’t want to be reminded of how horrific and unfair Life can be. I don’t want to be reminded that, as a mother, I am vulnerable to losses and tragedies that weren’t a concern to me before I had children. I don’t want to be confronted with the reality that children die and that their mamas have to go on without them.

Hannah’s mother’s guilt is out there, for the whole world to see and read about. I’m certain that this is helping with her healing. But as a stranger reading her blog I almost feel embarrassed, as though I’m peeking into a deeply private and personal situation where I have no real right to be. I want to feel ashamed for her, because in her grief she has made herself a spectacle for others to come and gawk at. Again, this feeling relates to fear (isn’t it odd how fear can manifest itself in so many ways, be it hatred, or resentment, or embarassment). Nobody is gawking, but how many of us can admit to reading such stories and thinking “Thank god it’s them, instead of me”.

I feel guilty for that, then ashamed, which results in the feeling that reading her story was a negative experience. I don’t believe it is. Furthermore, I believe that what Hannah’s Mama is really showing us by “putting it all out there” is an example of bravery. When my brother died, I didn’t want to share my grief with anybody. It was hard just sharing it with my parents, because then it brought out their own grief, which was obviously so much deeper than mine (not that I loved him less, but as a mother myself I now get the difference between losing a brother and losing a child). It was alot easier just to deal with it on my own. So maybe hiding one’s grief is actually the cowardly thing to do. Letting it all out there is what really takes guts.

So here’s to you, Hannah’s Mama, for putting your loss and your grief out there for all of us to see. In sharing it you force me to appreciate the little things in life. You make it harder to snap at my DD without feeling doubly guilty for it. You make it harder for me to think “That won’t happen to me”. And while at times I resent you for it, I think ultimately my life is better lived and appreciated because you shared your story.

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