Sharing things was one of the first lessons we learned, even before school started. “Share that with your sister, we only have one cookie.” “ Share with baby, she wants a sip of chocolate milk.” On up to sharing with the neighbor kids we ran with; Toys, food, skate keys, whatever. Sharing was an important part of growing up. Some learned that lesson better than others.
I knew from old pictures, that I pretty much figured if it was cookies I had to share, it meant I had less than I did before, while someone else had more than they did before. With food, if I shared, I got less. I don’t think I judged that as a good thing if I was the one getting less than I had. Other than the food part, I suppose we all learned that sharing was often a win-win situation. The more we shared, usually the more someone else shared, and it ended up with all of us having more than we started with. That’s what I thought about sharing.
Over the years, I’ve found there is another sort of meaning for “sharing.” If we had something happen to us, whether it be an accident, an incident, an illness, something bad, something good, more than likely someone would chime in with their own story of the same incident, accident or whatever. Not only did this give us more information, it also made us not feel so alone in our emotions over whatever it was we were talking about.
With the rise of the internet, there are even more “OH! that happened to my cousin, and he….”, and so on. If you throw a thought out there on the web for all to see, you’ll find out you are far from alone in burning a cake, ruining lasagna, forgetting tin foil doesn’t go in the microwave, having a surgery, being diagnosed with something unpronounceable, or being afraid of elevators, the number 13, cats, chickens….everything. Someone out there has either had the same thing happen, or knows someone else who has. It’s far from a lonely world. It doesn’t really help, but then again, it doesn’t hurt to know that someone else has been there.
I’ve often seen people respond to such stories with a “thank you for sharing.” Now, it took me a while to get accustomed to someone calling it “sharing,” as that is not what I considered sharing to be. There was nothing physical about telling a story. You didn’t get less, and they didn’t get more, not really. So how is it sharing? After several, well, months, years, a long time, I’m now used to it being called “sharing.” I also understand that in a way, the sharer does have less: a little less fear, a little less stress, a little less guilt.
The person or people you are sharing with do, in a way, get more: more people they know that have been in their position, more courage to tell their stories, more confidence in the way they handled something. So, yes, I finally agree that it is, indeed, sharing.
I suppose I might “share” a bit too much at times. Things that I think or experience often find their way to my keyboard and on to the send button where those thoughts are magically printed on paper. Simple, and not simple, but an awful lot of sharing.
I put a lot of thought into this column, as the events occurred a few weeks ago, but since they don’t seem to want to be quiet, I’ll go ahead and let them out.
It’s fairly obvious that a couple of my grandchildren live with my husband and I. We have legal guardianship over four of them, two of whom are full-time residents, one part-time, one full-time with parents; but we still retain legal guardianship for several good reasons. To say my daughter, their mother, and I are somewhat estranged is putting it kindly; There are holes in our relationship that may never close. When we speak it is because one of the children needs something, or we need to give or get information. My tone when discussing things is best described as flat, as business-like as I can make it, and the words tumble out quickly to have the call end in a short amount of time.
However, a few weeks ago, my daughter got sick. Very sick. ICU sick.
Let me say a most likely unusual thing, but my family dies in a perfectly statistical way. Women, on average, live longer than men. Children most likely, expect they will painfully have to lay their parents to rest. My grandfather Troja died when Mom was a young teen, long before I was thought of. My grandfather Flickenstein died when I was young. Grandma Troja was older than Grandma Fleckenstein and Grandma Troja died first. Years later I lost my last Grandma. Grandma F. died after I moved to Georgia. My dad died at the age of 71, over 20 years before my mom joined him, as she would most likely say “finally.” Even my father-in-law went by the stats and died before my mother-in-law. It went down the line just like that, just like the statisticians tell us it should be. We were completely ordinary in that.
Now, there was my estranged daughter, in the ICU. Diagnosis after diagnosis proved to be wrong. Eventually, she was diagnosed with heart failure. Heart failure because of a hernia pressing on her heart. Along with a hernia pressing on her heart, was a 27 week old baby. Small, so very small, but enough to be added strain on an already strained heart.
The baby seemed fine, until that little heart slowed, and slowed some more. The doctors gave that baby the only chance there was, which was an early, emergency c-section while the mom was in heart failure, with both lungs filling with fluid, mimicking double pneumonia. Mom and baby were sick. They were very sick.
The four grandchildren I have guardianship over were gathered from school. I told Emily first, her being the oldest. She picked up the 15 year old from school and told her, so those two could be somewhat collected by the time I had the two little ones, 11 and 10, here. My heart broken 15 year old Savanna fell on me as soon as she opened the front door, nothing but a river of tears pouring onto my shoulders like a waterfall, and I couldn’t catch all the water. I couldn’t do anything but stand there and hold her shaking teen age self, that teen age bundle of energy, taller and bigger than me, but at that moment so very small, so very scared, so very confused. I looked over at Emily, tears welling in the corners of her eyes. Those big girls straightened up so I could go check out the little ones. They were the older siblings, and they took it seriously.
Savanna was huddled in granddaddy’s chair when I got back from the school with the two little ones, telling them only the most basics. But Savanna’s tears still flowed silently down wet, ravaged cheeks. Emily sat with her friend Annabelle, arms around each other on the couch. Emily’s boyfriend Zach walked in, glanced at Savanna and sat and held her until the shaking stopped, then traded spots with Annabelle. Those two teen-agers who are family not of blood but of bond, sat and stayed, they stayed until we got more news, and the two friends glanced at me and knew the call was not what we wanted to hear. They stood behind my grandchildren as I handed the phone to Emily and Savanna and their father told them that their little sister, that tiny 2 lb baby was a fighter, but she only had a few minutes of fight in her.
Their sister died that day, after living just a few minutes, after fighting for breath, fighting to stay, but at the end, just too small, too weak; and then those two teen girls broke again. They broke with a doubled over pain that had tear drops puddling on the deck outside as they, too, seemed to struggle to breathe. Those two friends behind them, silent, steady, and present. I took on the task of telling the younger ones, those little eyes not quite sure of what I was saying, or why it was happening. Their mother, too, was fighting to breathe in ICU, sedated, and unaware of what happened. It would be two days before she was strong enough to be told what had happened, what, as a mom, she probably knew, but needed confirmation.
I went to see her on the fourth day, I sat and watched her sleep. I talked to her when she was awake. I kissed her forehead to check for fever. I sat some more. Then I left and let her dad take a seat beside her. She could only have one visitor at a time. We then left the hospital. The three youngest grands stayed with their Aunt Becky that weekend, as she lived a short distance from the hospital, and their dad wasn’t leaving the hospital, so they camped at Becky’s to be close.
So now, when my daughter is strong enough, there will be a small memorial service for my granddaughter, Aloura Faith. My family didn’t follow the statistics this time. For the first time, I will say good-bye to a member of the younger generation of my family. There have been miscarriages in my family, a few early losses when that life was a storm far in the distance, no thunder heard, and just a brief flash far out on the horizon signaling lightning somewhere far away; a blip on the radar screen of a possible storm, that blip we mourned for the loss of who that blip would have been. Painful losses we have been through before, losses that bring tears and prayers and comfort to that child that lost an early child.
This, though, this was different. This baby was one loud clap of thunder, one bright flash of lightning that burned itself out in one strike across the sky, a flood of salt water rain that ran down the faces of my famly. Aloura Faith breathed the air we breathe. Her heart beat for several minutes, minutes of butterfly wing ripples across our world, no matter how brief, she lived.
The ladies of the Lutheran Church in Augusta made a memorial box for Aloura Faith; the blanket she was wrapped in, the little knit cap that warmed the head of that 2lb little girl. They made plaster casts of those tiny hands and tiny feet, and footprints graced the birth certificate that stated she was born, she was a citizen of this earth for a few minutes. The memorial box punched the gut of the 15 year old, forcing what tears she had left out into the world, washing over the memory of the little sister she never got to meet, the granddaughter I never saw.
This is a new pain to me, this is a kind of suffering I’ve never had to go through, although I know many have. I cried tears I didn’t know existed. They say there are different elements making up different kinds of tears; tears of joy, tears of pain, tears of grief. But what makes up the tears that are the joy of another grandchild, the tears of pain seeing my other grandchildren ache so much that standing up isn’t possible, the tears of grief, the grief of saying good-bye to a member of a generation of my family I shouldn’t have to say good bye to. All those tears cried at the same time, do they mix together to make a new kind of tear? Do they chase each other down my face, each one more painful than the last? I don’t know. I won’t ever know. I do know I never want to feel that pain again, I wish I hadn’t had to feel that pain at all, but I did.
My daughter survived. My daughter still has heart failure. My daughter will soon have surgery to repair the hernia, and then the wait to see if the heart heals itself.
We are all waiting for our hearts to heal. The kids go to school, they still laugh, they still carry on, we carry on; but our hearts are still missing a beat now and then for the child that never came home.
I wish there were a happy ending I could tack on the end of this story, but there isn’t. My daughter and I are still estranged, although there is still that thread that ties us to each other. The children will always remember their little sister they never met. Those are things I can’t change.
And so I shared my story. Do I have less? Maybe, maybe a little lighter weight on my shoulders, a bit of a bandage on my heart. Do you have more? I don’t know. You have my story, and many of you, sadly, probably can absolutely understand the pain of saying good-bye to a member of the wrong generation. It isn’t supposed to be that way, but all too often, it is.
Stay safe. Stay well. A life is a life, no matter how brief; those butterfly ripples are what causes the winds of all our lives.