As human beings, we are defined at our cores by how we respond to hardship. Writing about the Crowleys has taught me that there isn’t one right way, but that each person must find her own path, drawing on her own unique strength, passion and resources … Knowing that each day may be their children’s last, they live with abandon, throwing themselves into every birthday party, trip to Broadway, weekend in Ocean City. Knowing so intimately the tenuousness of life, they instinctively understand what most of us forget — that all they really have and all they are really pursuing is time — time with people they love. And so they grab onto each precious moment, cherish it, celebrate it, laugh at it, cry in it and hope for another. Geeta Anand
Someone emailed recently to ask for my thoughts on the choices a mom was making after the death of her husband and the impact of those choices on her children. As I wrote, I found myself erasing and writing and erasing and writing, over and over again. The questions were hard — should the mom be redecorating so soon after the death of her husband? Should she be dating? How do children grieve the death of a father? How does the surviving parent balance the needs of her children with her own after the death of a husband and father?
What struck me about my responses was how much I live in the gray now. When I was young, the world was black and white, the answers were easier, the choices clearer … or so I thought. Right and wrong, good and bad, should and shouldn’t. One question, one answer.
Jimmy’s illness and death taught me that life is not so simple. There are a lot of “right” choices and circumstances matter .. a lot. For one family, the move to a new home after the death of a father might be an additional blow to already fragile, grieving children. For another, it might be the only way to heal.
I’ve seen too many “Sophie’s Choice” decisions that have to be made when a beloved is ill or dying to think that we all can or should make the same one. I also learned from Jimmy’s beloved Drs. Nicholson and Mueller who offered him choices and recommendations but made it clear that it was his life and his decision on how to proceed once his cancer recurred.
Jen Hurley Klee and I had lunch recently. Jen’s piece, 365, is a raw, searing look at the death of her husband and her first year surviving without him. We compared notes on grief, signs from our loved ones and life in the aftermath. But as sympatico as we are, we can’t know everything about each other’s losses. We both understand what it means to have someone die that you can’t live without. But I have no experience when that beloved is your spouse. Jen knew, taught and loved Jimmy but she hasn’t lost a child. We can support each other, grieve together and find comfort in our friendship but some of what we deal with is solely our own. We can’t know what we don’t know.
Sometimes I miss those days when life seemed more straightforward, easier, clearer. When I didn’t know that someone you would give your life for can die, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. When I thought the world was fair, and that a family who lost a child would then be insulated from anything else horrible happening to them.
But when I think of the beauty and grace that I have been privileged to see these past eleven years — the small acts of kindness that mean so much, the way that people bravely walk with you on the hardest of journeys and never let go of your hand and all the life that can be packed into a few months, a few weeks, a few days, even a few hours — I’m grateful that the universe forced me out of my black and white world. My life has been so much richer for it.