|One of the last selfies of Mandy|
We have many reasons to be joyful in 2019. Matthew is happily married to his sweet Caroline, living his dream as a husband, father and an aerospace engineer, and our precious granddaughter, Emmaline, is PERFECT. Sometimes, however, joy and sadness mingle to create a strange and unsettling place in which the heart and mind reside, especially on significant days like today, the 13th year we’ve lived without our precious Mandy.
As you well know, being a parent is a 24-7 job, even when your children are grown and on their own. We might not talk to them daily, but we wonder many times a day if they’re OK, if their work day has been good, if they are taking care of themselves…..you get the idea. In much the same way, like those of you with living children/grandchildren, we think of Matthew, Caroline, Emmaline AND Mandy every day, even after 13 years. The death of a child doesn't stop us from being their parents; we've just had to learn to parent a memory instead of a living, breathing person.
Burying a child of any age changes you to the core. We're much different people than we were before. Some of the changes are visible; some are so deep that we have a hard time understanding or accepting them in ourselves.
The physical toll of grief is intense. It zaps all your energy; your body and mind are working so hard to process all the emotions that go through your head every minute of every day. David's diabetes was out of control for so long after Mandy died, and I've been tested for multiple autoimmune disorders....who knew that losing a child makes you more susceptible to so many physical ailments? And let’s not go into the PTSD associated with traumatic loss……. I still can’t function if Matthew or David doesn’t return a call or text within about 15 minutes. My brain immediately assumes the worst and I am in FULL panic mode until I receive a call or text.
Our ability to think and reason was greatly diminished especially in those first years and still is at certain times of year surrounding special days. I thought I was going crazy when I first went to work at UT in 2008 because I couldn't remember how to do the simplest of office tasks. We made poor financial and personal decisions that were so out of character because we just couldn't think straight. We had to rely on the advice/guidance of others who were well meaning but didn't always have the answers that were best for us. Even now, we know that our decisions are still affected by the grief that is now woven into the very fabric of our being. I still struggle not to buy everything I see for Matthew, Caroline and Emmaline, and even David, because what if I don’t have tomorrow to do so?
After the initial couple of years of just going through the motions of life and trying our best to stay focused on Matthew, we've become more keenly aware of the struggles of others, especially other grieving parents. We know there is nothing we can say or do to make it ok, and that each circumstance is different, but we still try to be there for them because we KNOW.
We are more empathetic to suffering of any kind, and yet have zero patience with trivialities. For instance, I hate that UT lost and people were disappointed on Saturday, but the sun came up on Sunday for most everyone, didn’t it? Life is far too short to have your happiness dictated by the outcome of a ballgame.
We are keenly aware that nothing is promised and that every day might be your last, so you had better make it count. Forgiveness and grace flow much more freely when you are afraid there won't be a second chance.
We know that no matter how hard you try, some days the grief is simply unbearable and just getting through those days is a victory. We also now know that a better day will come....it may not be tomorrow, but it will come.
We've learned that there are some amazing people in the world that will do anything to put a smile on your face, and will listen to us tell stories they've heard a million times before and still laugh and cry with us, every single time.
We know that eventually, for every day when all you can do is cry and remember the end, there will be a day when you can laugh and remember their life and all the joy they brought to our lives. How different life would have been for our family had we not had 18 whole years of the craziness and joy that was life with Mandy!
Our faith had to be taken apart and completely reconstructed; "out of order" death has a way of really messing with all the things you thought you believed. I tell people that God and I have a very uneasy relationship now, but I know without a doubt that he is OK with that. He's shown me over and over that he is big enough to take all of my anger, my questions and my doubt and continue to love me unconditionally. I do not for one minute believe that the God of love, mercy and grace had a hand in Mandy's death, but I do believe that HIS same love, mercy and grace is my absolute assurance that I will see her again.
We've learned that there are many unexpected landmines that a family encounters when a child dies. Husbands, wives and siblings all grieve in very different ways, and that can create hard feeling and struggles along the way. Parents are changed, and the remaining siblings have to adjust to living with parents they don’t even recognize. Matthew lost his greatest protector and his first best friend. We've learned that tolerance, respect and patience are necessary, albeit difficult, traits that we must find in ourselves to give our family (and ourselves) the grace and space to grieve in the best way for themselves rather than the way we think is best.
I've just touched the tip of the iceberg of the ways we've changed. Some are for the better; some not so much. Regardless, here we are, on the 13th anniversary of Mandy's death, still wondering who she'd be today. My wish is that we can remember her with smiles and laughter through a few tears. We know, without a doubt, that our lives were changed for the better by the privilege of being her parents, and many other lives were changed for the better through knowing her, loving her, and the lasting gifts she left as an organ and tissue donor. Today, as always, we’ll try our best to make her as proud of us as we are of her.