I read Allyson Apsey's book, "A Path to Serendipity" yesterday. I can't stop thinking about her story. Allyson's book is a wonderful reminder that we get to choose what kind of life we want to live every day. I connected in so many ways to this book. I, too, try to find the good in every situation. As we all have, I have lost many loved ones near and dear to my heart. It's hard to see the good when that happens and yet I have come to realize it's always there if you look.
Allyson asks after one chapter in the book, "One of the truths illuminated by our path to serendipity is that we get to decide who we want to be and how we react to what life throws us. What connections did you make to this truth?" I couldn't just respond in a few sentences on twitter so here's my response.
With terrible loss, there is always a blessing. My brother was born with severe handicaps. (At least back then, that was what it was called). He needed assistance with almost everything. My parents fought for his rights to an education and my parents attended to his every need. At age 12, he passed away in my mother's arms. As a parent myself now, I can't. even. imagine. The loss was so deep. I heard my mother often ask, "Why?"
The gift: My mother made sure we knew that people are people. Everyone has value and feelings and deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. My brother found a way to communicate with us and taught me there are many things he could do. He had a home in all of our hearts. When children with special needs come in my music room, I try to find all the things that child can do and help typical peers see and understand that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. I find great joy in my job as an elementary music teacher and I have learned the lesson that I must find a way to reach ALL of my students.
After my brother passed away, the family picked up the pieces and did our best to move forward. My parents were there for everything. They attended soccer games, band concerts, cross country events, etc. Years later, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. I was in college and I was shocked with this news. She fought hard with chemo and a year and a half later she lost her battle. A huge part of my support system was gone and I felt very lost without her. I graduated college, got married, and had my babies without her by my side. It's an incredible loss that never quite gets much easier.
The gift: She is with me. Always. I truly believe those that pass are still with me. I was driving home in a snowstorm from my first year of teaching and I was caught in a snowstorm. I couldn't help but think, "My mother would be mad at me if she knew I was in a snowstorm. This is dangerous and I should get off the road." I had the radio on but it was fading in and out. I was following a semi truck and contemplating what I should do. That's when the radio made some more noises and as clear as day I heard the word "mother" on the radio. I heard that message loud and clear. I realized she was with me and that she was mad at me for being caught in this snowstorm. So, I listened to my mother and got off at the next exit.
My mother's parents were always close because they helped my family care for my brother but after my brother and mother passed, I leaned on them even more. They loved each other so much. My grandmother's name was Hope. She loved to cook and if she knew what you liked, she would have it out on the table for you when you came to visit. My grandfather, Artie, was a teacher, principal and superintendent so if you started talking about school, he would let you know a few things about how the system needs to change. He also loved the Chicago Cubs and made sure my son was to be a cubs fan. He wouldn't have it any other way. They went everywhere together and if you asked my grandfather how he was doing, he would smile and look at my grandmother and say, "I'm well. I have Hope."
And as you can imagine, they grew older and their health started to fail. When my grandmother fell ill, I drove down state each weekend to be with her and my grandfather. My grandmother died on March 2nd, 2003. This was exactly 5 years to the day that my mother died. My grandfather embraced life (even though he had a very broken heart) and enjoyed the rest of his life. We had many good years together. He however fell ill and died in 2008.
The gift: My grandmother died the same day my mother died and my son's due date was also the same date a year later. That is not a coincidence. My grandfather and I had fun together and I would bring my son down state often to visit. Years later, I found out I was pregnant again. I remember like it was yesterday the day he was lying in his hospital bed and he asked me a question about my pregnancy. "If you have a girl, what will you name her?" I said without any hesitancy, "Hope".
Later that year I had a beautiful little girl named Hope and I realized something. I had Hope. My brother, mother and grandparents were gone, but I had this beautiful little bundle of Hope. Now I can always smile and say, "I'm well. I have Hope." From that day on, I see signs all the time that they are all still with me. All. the. time.
So, I am a true believer that with tragedy and hardships there is always good. Find those gifts and let them help you lead a better life for yourself. For me, I will always remember that people are people, we are never alone and I will always have Hope.