For a long time, I was young enough that I could still think “that (fill in the blank with anything particularly tough or tragic) can’t happen to me.” Then, as I got older, got married, and started having children, those things did start happening, either to me or to someone close to me, so that lovely delusion of the young went “poof.” Bubble popped.
I definitely never expected to be “one of those people” who had a child with Down syndrome. I knew a few people over the years, through church congregations actually, who had a youngster or teen with Down’s in their family, and I really, really never expected to be in that position myself. It was something that happened to other people. Only when I was pregnant with my second child and I picked up the newly delivered copy of the Reader’s Digest that featured the story of Alabama football coach Gene Stallings having a son, John Mark, with Down’s that it hit me — hard — that I could have a child with Down’s too. And sure enough, soon after I had blood work results indicate an amniocentesis would be useful, which confirmed my gut feeling. Yes, I grieved. I was worried, I was sad, I was surprised. But soon after, I accepted this new reality, and, well, you can read a little bit more about my wonderful teen on some other posts.
I also thought my parents would live forever. Only other people’s parents died. When my husband’s mother died just a year after our first child was born, I was sad for my husband and myself, but I still thought it would be a VERY VERY VERY LONG TIME before my parents left this life. It still was 12 years later that I had to go through that heart-rending experience, but it was still far, far earlier than I’d expected to lose one of my parents. My dad was only 71 at the time and very healthy, though a bit of a hypochondriac (yeah, it’s true, Dad.). Now I know just how fragile and unexpected life can be.
This year, a family member ended up paralyzed from the mid-torso down after a surgery. That’s the kind of event I have certainly never pictured happening to me, and to have it happen to someone I care about is something that weighs on my mind. My thoughts are with her so much. Sure, you read about these kinds of things, but … having it happen to someone close is still unthinkable. Until it happens, and it’s always in your thoughts.
I’ve now had friends lose children, a very particular kind of heartbreak. We lost the bishop of our ward, our local church congregation, three years ago this month, to a fatal shooting. It was headline-grabbing news, the kind that strikes your heart when you read about it happening to strangers. Having it happen in your own church building, to someone you know, to a family that’s extraordinary … well, it strikes your heart and stays there permanently.
Yep, here I am in my 40s and I’ve left behind those days of “it happens to other people.” Whatever “it” is, it can happen to me, my family, my friends. Life is fragile. It’s unpredictable. It can bring tragedy and pain and grief. Yet, at the same time, every day of life is also a miracle. It can bring refreshing rain or warming sunshine. It can even create rainbows. And when life offers up “those things” to each of us, we face the grief, we work through the pain, we move on. But we don’t have to do any of it alone. I find it such a blessing every day to know I have friends and family to turn to when life serves up the unexpected. And I try to make sure I’m there for them when they face “those things.” When “it can’t happen to us” turns into “it does happen to us,” we have each other.