That was a follow up question I got at a book club meeting I was invited to speak at recently. The group had just read my (still) new book, “Not to Spoil the Ending, but Everything is Going to be Ok.” If you haven’t read it, it’s a book about hope, an antidote to the anxiety felt by so many and only exacerbated now (here’s a link). The question posed was in response to comments I’d made about how I’ve changed since my son Adam’s death.
You see, while I would never wish it on anyone, the path I have walked – while scary, dark, lonely, and brutal – also delivered some treasures that I wouldn’t give back, things I didn’t notice or acknowledge properly before, and joys I would not have access to if not for what I’ve been through. This picture of my kids offers an analogy. It was taken at Christmastime a month after Adam died. At the time, I couldn’t even look at it, blinded by the tragedy in what was missing. Today, while that’s still poignant, I can not only look – but even feel happy, proud, and so grateful for what’s there.
Adam was my fifth child of six, and he died at 15. He had older teenage and twenty-something siblings, and that age group comes with complications and corresponding worries for a parent (I know, grossly understated). I also happen to have a child with a significant developmental disability which brings in a whole set of unique stressors. So before he died (and still), I had a lot to worry about. And I did. In fact, I would tend to get so wrapped up in the concerns that they would eclipse all else, including the individual blessings I cherished within each of my children: Billy’s uniqueness, and kindness and humility, Kit’s smile, and appreciation of family and closeness with her siblings, Mindy’s soft skin, innocent honesty, and belly laugh, JohnPaul’s kindness, daring, and courage, Adam’s beauty inside and out, and Jude’s old soul wisdom, great curls, and intense love for me. Sure, it was there and I could name it, but I didn’t truly acknowledge, appreciate, or savor it all, blinded in the distraction of the worries, concern, and even angst over the missteps and mistakes (pretty much he same ones I made) that were part of their teen and twenty journey.
That gradually changed after Adam died, though I won’t say it happened quickly. Our road as a family of seven (plus one missing) was tough, especially the first year, and on top of my husband’s progressing illness. In that immediate aftermath, stress over concerns about my remaining kids were only intensified as we all processed our grief and trauma in different ways – alone, but all under the same roof. But over time, in a scattered, messy, two steps back, non-linear, and inconsistent way, we all started to pull ourselves together. I began to notice, feel relief in their recovery, and pride in their resilience. And now, it’s evolved much further into a new and more palpable joy in the awareness of these beautiful treasures I birthed.
Perhaps my greatest blessing four-plus years later (what I still consider recent), is a new reality where the awareness of these Joys I gave life to is more fairly balanced – rather than just flipped off the scale by my parental worries – even while acknowledging none of them (us) are perfect.
And yes, I do need to be reminded. … I nudge myself often.
Need your own nudge to read this inspiring crowd pleaser?
Join a “Not to Spoil the Ending…” book club. The perfect way to pass these dreary winter weeks! We will meet virtually over zoom three consecutive weeks over the end of January into early February. Get more info and sign up here!