I find myself unable to dwell in other people’s misery, even if it’s just a sad movie. Maybe I have had too much misery of my own, and now I am doing my best just to keep up with daily life. I find that I avoid any sad story that doesn’t directly touch my life. Friends are a different story; I celebrate and mourn and empathize with them. But I cannot make myself follow any of the sad/tragic FB pages, even if I am terribly interested in the outcome. I desperately want each and every one of those stories to have a happy ending, but I can’t invest any of my heart in them. I will pray over the situation when I see an update in a friend’s feed, but they haunt me if I linger too long.
A friend of ours lost a baby early in her pregnancy several months ago, and I cried for her like I cried for me. She was in the all too familiar position of having to rescind such good news and replace it with devastation. On a dime. Overnight. That’s how instantly her life changed, as did mine the second we heard the first bad news being delivered. At some point in our loss history, I think the bad news ceased to be life changing in the drastic, on a dime, kind of way. Loss became our story – just part of the landscape.
Now that Engelberta is here, the landscape has changed, though the possibility of a new and even more devastating type of loss hides around every corner, every “Pray for (Insert Name Here)” FB page. I’m sure every parent panics a little bit when they hear of a tragedy striking another child because it just might happen to them, too. I’m sure they respond in the usual “hug your kids a little tighter” manner and move on. I force myself to move on. I have to fight too many demons to invest serious thought or prayer in anyone I don’t know. Maybe this makes me a bad person for deliberately ignoring a need for prayer. But I just can’t handle the thought that my life could again turn on a dime.
There are stories all around me of babies who need organ transplants, babies who will die of terrible diseases, children who have been severely injured and face years of rehab. I know that these stories are statistically unlikely to happen to most children, including my own, but we’ve been statistically challenged up to this point. One story particularly haunts me. Not long ago, a little girl in our town died of heat stroke after being forgotten in the car. Her mother forgot to drop her off at daycare, and the little girl was sound asleep in her car seat when mom arrived at work. Everything about this story was familiar to me: the couple struggled through years of infertility before they finally had a beautiful baby girl. They had a family-owned business with all of the extra work and crazy hours that go with that responsibility, and one day the mom was particularly overloaded and skipped a single step in her routine.
Oh, God, how this story breaks my heart. I am this mom; I survive a lot of days on ritual autopilot, so a single skipped step will end in some sort of disaster later in the day. Fortunately, my skipped steps usually involve some sort of coffee brewing calamity or lack of deodorant or a cell phone launching from the hood of the car. But this family’s tragedy feels too close, too familiar, for me to let go. I can’t imagine how this mother feels. I can’t imagine the guilt and shame and horror she must combat every moment. Merely imagining her pain swallows me up, and I am consumed with thoughts of “What if this happened to me?” What if Engelberta died? Could I ever recover from that after everything else we’ve been through?
I know we’d survive somewhat intact, but that would be a labor of grace and faith. I keep telling God that there’s no way I could live with a hole that big in my heart. I keep turning a blind eye to the losses I don’t know personally, and I keep praying that my life is through turning on dimes for at least a little while. It hurts enough to know that someone I love is experiencing that kind of pain. That said, if you read this and need to talk, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me or to anyone else who will listen and love you. Never, ever feel that just because someone has dealt with a lot that they shouldn’t be burdened with your problems. Most of the time someone who has been to hell and back is more than willing to help someone else through. For me, most days, the only thing that keeps me from breaking down is knowing that sharing my story has helped others in some small way. It’s the only thing that gives reason to the otherwise incomprehensible mess of the last several years.