Thursday, March 6, 2014

Compassion

Parenthood has taught me many things--how to function on little sleep, how to manage being covered in bodily fluids, and how to multitask at all hours of the day, among others--but one lasting impact that is really in the forefront these days is compassion.  I can't see a sad story about a kid and not be completely devastated by it.  And lately, those stories have been everywhere:
  • I've spoken before about my one set of friends whose daughter is battling cancer.  She's doing okay right now, but nothing has stalled the growth of her tumor and they're running out of options. Every time I read one of their CaringBridge posts, I'm both saddened and inspired by their journey.  They have such amazing attitudes and are trying to stay so positive, all with the very real knowledge that their daughter may be starting the long road home...away from them and off to Heaven.  But they refuse to throw in the towel any time soon.
  • Lately there's been one story popping up in my Facebook feed multiple times each day.  There's a little boy named Ben, one half of a four-year-old set of twins.  They live near Buffalo, and it seems that many people I know know them as a friend of a friend, or a former co-worker, or whatever.  It shows what a small world it is when you see so many people from different walks of life all have a connection to the same family.  Anyway, not too long ago Ben started having headaches and nausea.  He was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and had surgery to remove as much as they could.  It turned out to be cancerous, and they started radiation and chemo to treat the remaining tumor.  Well, after a week of radiation Ben was sick again and when they checked the tumor, everyone was stunned.  It had tripled in size since it had been operated on.  The tumor was growing far more rapidly than anyone had ever seen.  His prognosis is not good and they have stopped treatments other than the ones to keep him comfortable.  He is still in relatively good shape despite the tumor's growth, and his parents are doing everything in their power to make his last weeks (yes, weeks) perfect.  They are also people of very strong faith, and that is all that is getting them through right now.
  • The other day I took Jacob to lacrosse practice for the first time.  Usually Craig takes him, but he had an event to attend so I went.  As I was sitting there waiting for practice to start, I noticed a woman push in a wheelchair.  There was a boy in it, probably around 10 years old, give or take a couple years.  He was profoundly disabled, to the point that he mostly just stared into space.  A couple things struck me as I looked at them.  First, it's pretty rare these days to see a kid like that.  I feel like I saw things like that much more when I was younger, but then again there was a kid like that in my church (caused by a very high fever, as I recall) so I may have been a little more conscious of it back then.  The other thing was that the mom looked relatively young (older than me, but probably 40 or less) and was pretty stylish.  I guess it just sort of brought the point home that something like that could happen to anyone, even the "cool kids".  I guess when I was a kid, any parents that had kids like that seemed older and beaten down by life.  This mom just looked...different.  Like someone I'd have known at school or from work.  So to picture her "normal" life being completely changed by her profoundly disabled son...well, it definitely made me think of the challenges they must face.  Particularly since it's often exhausting wrangling Carter and his stroller and whatever else when we go places, and here was this mom bringing her (much heavier) son to her daughter's practice.  Life has to go on, I guess, but my heart went out to them because I'm pretty sure that's not how they pictured their life when they decided to have kids.
  •  Facebook is full of countless sick kid pages that I often catch friends' activity on, and for some unknown reason I end up clicking on the page and reading yet another heartwrenching story that simultaneously makes me cry for them and be thankful for the life we have.  You see just how much worse it could be and your heart cries for the people whose lives have been uprooted by some random, horrible illness.
Ironically, one of the sad stories I've mentioned here before is now one of the happy ones.  My co-worker's son is in remission from his rare form of leukemia, and he's doing so well that she'll be coming back to work soon, for the first time in over nine months (due to hyperemesis, as well) as soon as her new baby is old enough to go to daycare.  I can't wait to have her back!  She stopped into the office yesterday to chat with her boss and she brought the baby with her (holy cow, he is so cute...and it never ceases to amaze me how quickly you forget how tiny new babies are!).  We were talking and generally rejoicing over the fact that Roman is healthy and his baby brother is here and doing well, too.  But it struck me that there were moments where I almost didn't know what to say to her because the hell she's been through in the past year is beyond my comprehension.  Parenting is hard, which is why we all commiserate about it so much.  But when one parent has been through something that you can't even fathom, it leaves you at a loss, even in moments of joy.

Also ironically, I had a moment this week where I was on the other side of the conversation.  I was talking to another co-worker whose little boy appears to have lactose intolerance issues.  Obviously I have plenty of experience now with Jacob's and Carter's issues, so we had a nice chat about how it stinks,and all I could do was sympathize with her and try to find the bright sides--like Wegmans now having store-brand lactose-free ice cream!  It's the small victories, people.  But I could feel her pain, knowing that her son won't have a normal upbringing.  It's a lot to process, for sure.

Even things that don't deal directly with kids, or even people I know, are breaking my heart.  My parents' good friend is going through a very tough time with cancer, and while I hate to see my parents' worry about losing a friend, I also think about her family.  No one ever imagined a couple years ago that this would be her fate, and it's sad to think of a vibrant life ending too soon. 

There was a thing floating around on Facebook, a long-format Thai commercial, about a single mom and her daughter.  Their relationship was beautiful, but people gossiped about the mom.  When a friend asked her why she didn't tell people the truth about her daughter, she said she'd rather have people talk about her than her daughter.  The reason?  She actually found her daughter discarded in a bag near some garbage.  When they showed the mom discovering the baby, I cried.  It was only based on a true story, and yet it brought me to tears. 

The moral of all of these stories is that in each and every case, I'm fighting the urge to sit at my computer and sob.  I put myself in their place and my heart breaks.  I worry about how I'd survive in their situation and feel like an inadequate human being because to me it just doesn't seem possible...and yet, all of these people not only survive, but in some cases they find such beauty in their challenges.  I just don't know if I could do that.  So, in the meantime I pray and try to be thankful for my own circumstances, even if sometimes they frustrate me to no end.  We're blessed. 

While all of these things probably would have touched me even if I didn't have kids, being a parent has drastically changed the way I look at the world.  I love my family and friends, but having kids creates a love in your heart that is beyond anything you've ever experienced.  And when you envision anything getting in the way of that love, or somehow impacting those you love, it is paralyzing.  All of these stories are evidence that our lives are so uncertain.  There are no guarantees.  It's so hard to appreciate every moment of your life when everything is so busy, but that's what we need to strive for.  There will be hard moments, and it's impossible to truly enjoy it all, but even the most mundane moments can be special when you realize how limited they are.  Our kids are growing so fast and we're blessed to have the time we've had so far.  I pray we have a long lifetime of moments to spend with them and watch them grow.  In the meantime, you can bet that all of the stories I hear and see on a daily basis will make me appreciate this time even more.  Even when Carter is screaming, Jacob is disobeying, and I'm spending my umpteenth evening staring at my pantry, wondering what gluten-free creation we're going to have for dinner...again. 

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