My phone vibrates with the receipt of a new text; I receive an email and a phone call as well. A member of our school community has died unexpectedly – a man who is only forty years old, who is our high school’s Cross Country coach, a teacher, and the father of three little girls, two of whom attend our daughters’ school. I pause momentarily to take this in, and then realize that I know his wife. We have only met a few times, and casually, sure, but I know her. Ella and Annie know their oldest daughter, who is in second grade, sandwiched between them.
It seems surreal. Forty years old and otherwise healthy? The father of young children? The husband of a woman I know, a woman who lives just down the street from us, and whose life has now been forever upended? I am crushed for her, for her daughters.
And I am terrified, too: it could be us. It could be any of us.
We receive word the following day that the second-grade teacher did a wonderful job of shepherding the class through a discussion about their classmate who had just lost her father. I read the email in the bathroom, and I cry – big, huge sobs. Eight year-olds shouldn’t even know that it’s possible to lose a parent just like that, much less have to navigate their way through grief and fear and questions with unknown answers. None of our children should. It breaks my heart.
We tell our girls that if they can absolutely speak to this second-grader who has lost her father, to not be afraid to talk to her, to just say “hi” and let her know they see that she’s there, she’s not invisible. But also that if they don’t want to talk about it, it’s okay, too. We don’t have to dwell on it: what’s most important is that we be so grateful right now for what we have, and that includes each other.
And so we are. So, so tremendously grateful.
But I am dwelling on it. Not consciously; I can’t seem to help it. It invades my thoughts. Just like that. How can it be? Is everything we know really as fragile as that?
I join the Lotsa Helping Hands community that’s immediately been established for this family, and sign up to bring snacks for the little girls. It’s such a little thing, but it somehow makes me feel better, knowing that at least no one has to worry that they’re out of Goldfish. Maybe they don’t like Goldfish. I don’t really even know them.
But I simply cannot imagine… I don’t want to imagine. But if I do allow myself to imagine, even for a moment, before the horror of it comes washing over me, I realize that it would probably feel good to have the support of our neighbors, even if they didn’t really know me. And so I will bring Goldfish and Cheddar Bunnies and granola bars.
And I will continue to try to count my blessings, to give my girls an extra hug. Annie is obviously feeling under the weather and doesn’t want dinner; in fact, she’s crying because she thinks she’s going to throw up, and she just keeps saying, “Mommy, MOMMY! Help me! PLEASE HELP ME!” And I cannot help her, I cannot make the pain in her stomach or the nausea go away… But I can sit with her and rub her back, and so I do, and I don’t look at my phone or do anything else but be with her for a solid hour on the couch, just us two, until she falls asleep with her head on the coffee table.
We tuck her in night, grateful that she has yet to vomit, that she doesn’t have a fever, and say a small prayer that sleep helps her to feel better. It’s such a little thing in the scheme of it all, a child with a potential tummy bug, but still I cross my fingers and offer up a prayer – please, let her stay healthy.
I cannot fall asleep, even though I’m exhausted, even though I have a cold and I desperately need the rest. At long last, I drift off, but I’m up at least eight times in the night, and each time, my first thought is of this family, even though I hardly know them – of how inconceivable their lives are right now. Nick is snoring; I nudge him.
Wouldn’t this other woman give anything to have her husband snoring next to her again? I’m being selfish. So he snores. So I’m awake. At least he’s still here. Blessings; count them.
It’s early morning when it dawns on me: perhaps that’s why I keep waking up. The snoring. Or maybe it’s just my own stuffed-up nose. Either way, I can’t sleep.
Should I move to the guest room?
And leave my husband alone in the bed? The husband I am so very lucky and grateful to have?
At last, exhaustion takes over: Yes. I’m moving. I can be grateful but still need my sleep. I move to the guest room bed.
On my way, Annie meets me in the hall. “Mommy! It’s morning!” I inform her that although it may, technically, be morning, I am still sleeping. “No, you’re not! You’re in the bathroom!” I let her know that, despite appearances to the contrary, I am, in fact, still sleeping… But that I am so glad she’s feeling well this morning.
I am tired, my cold is raging, but Ella has a rough morning and needs some extra attention. Usually, there is no time for this. Today, there is. She uses my scarf to dry her tears and then holds my hand as I walk her all the way into the school building, despite saying – back at the house – that she wanted to be alone.
I’m glad I didn’t listen to her.
I’m glad for all of it, every last damn thing.
But I’m still dwelling. I can’t help it.
It’s beautiful today. The sun is shining (finally), the temperatures are rising (finally). Blessings; count them.
* this post is unread and un-edited. Apologies for glaring errors or run-on sentences.