Monday, April 7, 2008

Amazing grace

Rob and I dined with grace personified on Saturday.

We had dinner with Doreen and Keith, the parents of my late friend Julie. Since Julie’s death 13 years ago, we have made an annual tradition of dinner in her favorite restaurant on her birthday, though a monster snowstorm postponed our plans a few weeks this year.

Doreen and Keith represent everything I want to be, as well as everything I fear.

They have endured the death of their child and sometimes to be in their presence and to contemplate that is terrifying.

Because no one really talks about the fear that is born along with a baby. No one explains that once you have a child, you are condemned to live every single day with the cold, hard fear that you could one day lose that child. You push the fear away as best you can, of course, yet it is always there, lurking behind every happy moment, shading every hopeful thought.

Julie’s parents were forced to look that fear full in the face. They did not beat the odds, the odds beat them. I have written about the role I believe luck plays in the health and well-being of our children: I feel guilt-ridden sometimes celebrating my good luck knowing that theirs has been so unspeakably bad.

And yet Doreen and Keith have shown me that it is possible to endure the death of a child and to do so with grace, dignity and an appreciation for the beauty and pleasure that life can still offer.

They have traveled the world, separately and apart. Doreen has visited Nepal and listened to the Dali Lama speak in India. Keith has crazy stories about business dealings in China and the Middle East. They have white-water rafted down the Kannanaskis River in the Rockies and searched out the best crème brule in Paris.

They regularly entertain a wide circle of friends from all walks of life. They speak passionately of politics and social ills and human rights. They are compassionate and articulate and interesting and funny.

Doreen and Keith know more about pain and loss than most of us can imagine, but they have never once struck me as bitter. They seem to have taken their private anguish and used it as a means to strengthen their connection with, and empathy for, others.

The more time I spend with Doreen and Keith, the more I understand how it came to be that Julie was such a remarkable person. And as each year passes and my friendship with her parents grows deeper, I imagine that Julie has orchestrated our dependence on each other, watching and making sure that we each provide the other with what we all need most in her absence.

To Doreen and Keith, I imagine I provide a link to their daughter and a fresh perspective on her life.

To me, they provide proof positive that even the manifestation of someone’s worst fear is no match for the magnificence and the resilience of the human spirit.

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62 comments:

MommyK said...

My best friend from 5th grade was murdered by a serial killer when she was 15. It took me a long time to come to grips with what happened to her, but it took on a new meaning once I became a mother. To me, losing a child at the hands of another is the most horrible thing that can happen to you. And I honestly don't know how her mother found the strength to go on.

Brittany said...

Wow. What a wonderful tribute to her parents, and they sound like such amazing people.

I can't imagine losing one of my kids, and I pray that I never have to endure that pain. I also pray for those who do lose their children, that they will find the strength to move forward.

Abbie said...

What special, special people those two are! How honored you must feel to have them in your life! Thank you for sharing, Miss Kelly!

Joanna said...

Wow - that was beautiful! When one loses a child they lose a part of their heart never to get it back. Amazing testimony to them for still opening up their hearts to others - and for you to notice it.

Sass E-mum said...

They are inspirational. The fear seems overwhelming, so I find it difficult to imagine how they carry on.

It sounds very positive and loving how you get together to remember her.

Are You Serious! said...

♥ THey sound like great people! How wonderful that you guys are able to get together every year!

Laura said...

What a wonderful post - all three of you are lucky to have each other.

I have always found it amazing how, in the throws of tragedy, you can find love, strength and support.

Thank you for sharing.

HUGS.

oda41143 Missy said...

They sound like wonderful people. No wonder their daughter was your best friend.

Beth said...

You have such a wonderful way with words!

What a beautiful tribute to two wonderful people!

Momma said...

What a wonderful story! And yes, I agree with you that we, as parents, live every day of our lives worried about what will happen to our kids and if we will outlive them or not.

My father's mother buried almost all of her 10 children before she died at 97. I can't imagine it. My mother's first child died at 3 days old. She never even got to hold him (it was 1948). I can't imagine it.

Your friend and her parents sound extraordinary. I am so happy that you have all chosen to honor her memory by being close and staying in contact. I'm sure your friend looks down on you all and smiles.

Peace - D

Family Adventure said...

They sound like amazing people. It is wonderful that you have kept in touch, though I imagine it must be so emotional for both you and them to have these annual dinners.

Sad and happy at the same time.

Heidi

Mental P Mama said...

A beautiful post...about beautiful people. What a blessing to have and to have had.

Karen said...

You are blessed to have them in your life as role models. I know what you mean about them. My BIL was killed in a car accident 11 years ago. My MIL is exactly what you've described, but my FIL has never worked through the pain and loss. I have them as visuals - I can either take what life gives me and make the best of it, or let it overcome me.

KathyLikesPink said...

I honestly don't know how people carry on after a child's death. I just can't imagine the pain.

Your friend's parents sound like remarkable people. The thought of you all still gathering on her birthday is a wonderful tribute to her, and to her parents.

Sandy D. said...

I wonder if your friends find that people tend to avoid them because they represent such a frightening experience. Like the way some people stay away once they hear a friend is terminally ill. It's just too much, and they feel they should say something or act some way and they simply can't muster the intestinal fortitude to look the pain/fear in the face. My point being that it is probably very enriching/spirit-broadening for you and your friends to remain connected and get together with affection and even joy as life moves on despite unthinkable losses.

Melissa said...

That was truly a beautiful post!

kittenpie said...

Lovely. I must admit, I find the same in Redneck Mommy, who is amazing, carrying on with being the person she is and was, though no doubt her son's death has changed her in ways she never imagined. She tough, yet tender, and I love that in her.

And I carry that same fear every day, especially when I read about horrors like the mom in BC this week who returned to find her three children dead by their father's hand, or cases of illness stealing a child away too soon. Gah, it's making me all teary and crazy at work, just thinking about it.

kittenpie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kimmylyn said...

Your post was a beautiful expression of your love for your friends. Having your post sink in and "feel" that saddness of thinking about ever losing one of my kids is too much to bear. I think it is wonderful you are still so close to your friends parents and I am sure they appreciate you just as much as you them.

Molly said...

I just love your blog because you write so wonderfully and always make me think.
I can't imagine losing a child and I always marvel at how people manage to go on and even find happiness again. What strong people.

Dawn said...

What a beautiful post. I believe most people are stronger than they can even imagine, and it's sad that we only realize this in times of great tragedy.

caramama said...

A beautifully written post, for beautiful people. It is amazing that they have come through such a tragedy and are able to live their lives as an inspiration.

I remember when I was pregnant with the Pumpkin (after a previous miscarriage), making it through the first trimester wasn't enough. I said to someone that I wouldn't rest easy about the possible loss of my baby until she was actually born. This person (a mother) said that I wouldn't stop worrying about it then, either. That I would never stop worrying.

She was so right. The worry only intensifies in its depth with each passing day.

InTheFastLane said...

And the thing is, people do lose loved ones every day. Some how each person must deal with their pain and continue to live. I can't imagine.

Heather said...

I've been thinking about this a lot lately and trying to be more mindful of how I talk to my kids and choose wisely the things that are worth getting angry over. If, God forbid, something should happen to any of us I'd hate for them to remember me as the shrew who yelled all the time...which is what I feel like a lot of the time.

You are all three brave and strong people to continue to get together and remember. It must be so difficult and cathartic at the same time.

Mandy said...

Recently (since the birth of my first son 3 years ago), I have been occasionally plagued by the notion of his mortality. What if he dies? What if I didn't catch his arm before he raced toward the busy road? etc?

I used to think it was an abnormal worry until I talked to some of my friends who do the same thing.

Obviously, I can't imagine what it's like to lose a child. I know it rips families apart. It is wonderful to hear that it hasn't done this to your friends and that they have survived with grace and aplomb.

Kbreints said...

Wow. Very nicely said. That was a great post. And you are right. That fear is always lurking.

La La said...

I love this post! It is so poignant for me right now. So beautiful. Such strength. Love the title, too.

Just catching up with reading, and I wanted to thank you for your recent comment on my blog.

I love that you celebrate Julie each year. Thanks for sharing it with us.

April said...

They sound like beautiful people. I'm sure these dinners mean as much to them as they do you. What a wonderful tribute to Julie.

Suzanne said...

They sound like amazing people. You're so right that being around people who have lost their children can be almost too scary. And hearing about parents whose adult children die makes me realize that there's no point at which our kids are truly safe, no point at which we can heave a final sigh of relief that they will not leave us.

Beth from the Funny Farm said...

The loss of a child is one of my biggest fears.

Lisa said...

What amazing people! To have horrible things happen to you and not become bitter is a tough thing. My worst nightmare is something happening to one of my kids. Sometimes I wonder if I'd be tempting fate to ask God for another healthy child.....

Once again your writing gave me chills...

Tracey said...

One of those situations where you can't allow yourself to think on it tooo long, or too much, or your life will revolve around the reality that we all die. I try to acknowledge my fears, and accept that I CAN survive if my precious babies were ripped away from me. I would be someone and something else than what I am now, but I would survive...

Sending my love to all parents who have lost their children... no matter what their ages...

Chantal said...

sniff sniff, that is beautiful.

HRH said...

Wow, what amazing people. I can't even imagine...

Oz said...

Lovely, lovely post

SaraLynn said...

Beautifully written...

Happy Days said...

You are an amazing writer!
That was beautiful. There is a reason that they are still in your life and you are in theirs!

Becky said...

You sound to have the same relationship that I will have with my friend Steph's parents.

It's a hard road.

Kate said...

What a wonderful thing to have a couple that you look up to and want to emulate! I love my own parents and all, but they're not who I want to be. I want to be calm and sufficient, and all that stuff. We all need those role models to pattern ourselves after, in our own special way.

Kathryn said...

Beautifully, beautifully said.

shay said...

I think about this all the time.
I'm not sure how I'd go on if I was to lose one of my precious kids!

This was a wonderful moving testimony to your friend and to her amazing parents! Thanks!

Amy said...

They say that special people attract other special people. I think you and they are an example of this. Your relationship is symbolic of your friendship with Julie.

Nap Warden said...

Wow they sound like amazing people.

Tater's Mom said...

Excellent post. Amazing people - all three of you.

Thank you for the perspective.

krissy said...

I know that fear! I hate that fear!

This was a wonderful story and you are a remarkable friend!!!

Angie said...

And this is the exact reason I admire Brian's mom so much. To watch her son suffer through cancer, to live constantly with the fear of watching her son die... well, it is unspeakable.

KEEP BELIEVING

The Boyds Family said...

Beautiful post! And I love that you all have this tradition that you follow in honor of Julie.

Kelly said...

I am so sorry about your friend. Her parents do sound amazing. You articulated that horrible fear that lives in the pit of every good mother. I do not think I would survive if I lost a child. Seriously, I wish I could just put them in a protective bubble. But, I can't. I can't dampen their enthusiasm and lust for life by worrying all the time. But, in today's crazy world. It is really hard.

Kelly said...

I am so sorry about your friend. Her parents do sound amazing. You articulated that horrible fear that lives in the pit of every good mother. I do not think I would survive if I lost a child. Seriously, I wish I could just put them in a protective bubble. But, I can't. I can't dampen their enthusiasm and lust for life by worrying all the time. But, in today's crazy world. It is really hard.

John-Michael said...

My Darling Friend, please forgive this intrusion … but knowing your compassionate Heart, I am compelled to send this to you. Please read it, and follow your Heart’s leading. I have unwavering trust in that. I Love You, Your Servant, John-Michael

Oh my darlings, you sure know how to make a girl cry. I have just come home briefly to check in, there are too many messages to answer but I appreciate each and everyone one of then so very much.

Unfortunately, I have been given a bit of a bum steer in terms of Jack being able to stay in Hospice with me. That is actually not the case, apart from a night here and there, so the woman that told me it was possible has really got a lot to answer for as I pinned all my hopes on this. Anyway, Jacks Dad came down and can stay at my place this week at least but that's it. After that who knows and yet they are saying I need to be in Hospice for a lot longer yet.

The pain last night, defied description I have never felt such pain in my life including child birth, I was a sobbing mess, eventually they had to knock me out and I finally got some rest. Anyway they are comparing scans and trying very hard to work out what is best to do. I know I desperately need chemo, the longer I go without it, the bigger the tumour is growing and pressing further on the nerves. So now not only do I have megga pain that is not responding to treatment, I have a child not welcome at Hospice and my life is completely screwed.

I spent the night in tears and most of the day too, I don't have think I have any left but who knows, I will let you know how tonight goes. I am a broken woman.

There is talk about Jack having to move up with David to Warragul and change schools and everything. I said NO WAY I am not giving him up when I am not ready to die and I am not giving him up twice. I will work something out. There is no way he needs to go to another school, he needs the security of his local school here and his friends and having close contact with me.

Anyway my friends, it is a lot to contemplate tonight, I will do my best and I will not be letting my son go away from me no matter what. Please keep praying and sending me your love and care, I need you all so desperately right now. I hate to have to go, but I must leave now to go back to Hospice as they need to medicate me there, it is too dangerous to be on the medication I need to be on at home.

I will be thinking of you and I will post again either tomorrow or the next day, I promise.

Love to you all, my heart is full of you love and hugs to each and every one of you. Xxxx

posted by Jen Ballantyne at 18:40 on 9/04/2008

MCmommy said...

I have a "Doreen and Keith" in my life, too. I wholeheartedly agree--There is so much to learn from people like them.
Such an eloquent post.

Megan said...

it seems like they really know how to love and live life- even through difficulty, they seem to really embrace it! what a great post!

Megan

Karen MEG said...

They are an amazing couple, and lucky to have you as a connection to their lovely daughter. What a wonderful tradition.

Jen said...

I loved your last sentence. Very beautiful thoughts.

Corey~living and loving said...

I feel like a broken record over here. I am always saying, "great post" but it is true. your writing speaks to me. thank you.

Lisa b said...

'To me, they provide proof positive that even the manifestation of someone’s worst fear is no match for the magnificence and the resilience of the human spirit.'
just a gorgeous sentiment.

I really believe that once you have faced your worst fear you are freed in many ways.

Tash had a great post and some interesting comments (including Elizabeth Edwards) on this topic here:
http://awfulbutfunctioning.blogspot.com/2007/12/dead-kids-of-presidents.html

Anonymous said...

Thank you for reminding me how important a late friends' parents can be. I have a Doreen and Keith in my life as well - their daughter, one of my best friends, was killed in a helicopter crash. I struggle to find my place in their life - they want to keep the connection as I do. yet I sometimes feel guilty (is that the word) that my life goes on and hers doesn't. despite this, our connection keeps growing...and their strength is baffling - much as you describe.
Thank you for this post.

C said...

Oh my goodness. This post got me all choked up. I felt my heart in my throat as I read this.

How wonderful that you and Julie's parents celebrate her birthday every year.

Whitenoise said...

Nicely said.

common mom said...

Excellent post. I believe that no parent, no matter how old, should ever have to bury their child. It's a hidden fear I live with every. single. day. as does every other parent on this planet.

LarryLilly said...

I have had to bury my only daughter at the tender age of 15. It is the singular event of my life that has established a line that all things are measured from. And none have come close. A few years after losing my daughter my wife died. But still, its the viewpoint you have on life that was set in your far distant past that determines how you view these things.

My dad, the forever romantic, always said that life was great when you had a positive view of it regardless of what hand you were dealt. This was when i was a kid, and that was the way he lived, and eventually died.

I still grieve my daughters loss after all these 16 years. I was set on that course of seeing life for the living as a testiment to my dads point of view.

Lose your parents, you loose your past, loose your wife, you loose your present, but loose your child, you loose your future.

My current wife, whom I meet in a chat room, have been married for 10 years this June. And she also lost her only child, many many years ago as a teenage mom (sids). So when we met, we had shared experiences, yet apart.

But life goes on, and I have always said that you truly cant feel the full measure or depth of any feeling or emotion until you have seen the other side. I cherish life so much more after her death, that it has made me a more caring compassionate person since then.

Peace out!

LunaNik said...

Such a poignant and beautifully written post. And yes, the fear of losing our children is ever present, isn't it. It's such a heart wrentching thought that I dare not write about it too much lest I let the feeling take over me.

I am sorry for the lose of your friend, but am uplifted by your bond with her parents.