My community has experienced a tradgedy. One of our own has taken his own life. He left behind a wonderful family including a lovely wife and 5 children. This has affected me in many ways, and forced me to take a good long look in the mirror. Why?, you may be asking. My answer is because it is very easy to be irate and sad. Instead, I am forcing myself to try and look to the positive. I know this sounds so very contradictory, but if I allow myself to wallow in the negative feelings, it is easy to ascertain that I too will become depressed and in a negative mind frame....Oh, don't get me wrong. I was there. I was SO very angry for survivors of this tragedy. But, I decided that my anger is misguided. I need to do something to help, because my anger is not going to make this family's struggles any easier. This family is going to have a very difficult struggle not just emotionally, but financially as well.
I went to the memorial service, and I believe this is where my focus began to change from anger to empathy and compassion. There were SO many people there all there to support the family. There were children, parents, family, friends, clergy, teachers, principals, acquaintances and even strangers. All there to let this family know that WE will not desert them. There were donation cards for a trust set up for the children's education, and when I went through the line, almost all of the envelopes were gone! I am part of a group that are gathering our collective financial and experintial resources to assist the family in getting their home in order. They were in the middle of a major remodel that the husband was doing himself. The remaining family does not have the skills nor resources to complete the job, and I would guess they will not be able to afford to pay a contractor. So, we are gathering money, construction materials and people with experience to go and get the house at least livable. It is a small thing in the grand scheme, but to me, as a mom, having a HOME to live in that is safe and welcoming is an important part of helping this family to heal.
I am proud of my community. Let's face it, I live in a major metropolitan area, and many of us do not even know the names of the people who live in our neighborhood. Yet, in the face of a tragedy we all came together and took joy in the fact that the family seems to be doing okay, given the circumstances. Also, when a tragedy like th is happens, it has an effect on everyone.
This family is admired by all who have ever had the good fortune to meet any of them. The children are all gifted in thier own ways, but mostly in their ready smiles, politeness, and uniqueness that has inspired others. Their mother is a saint, I mean, would't you have to be to have 5 well adjusted, well mannered, educationally successful kids? But, if nothing else I have learned that how people appear to casual acquaintences, and maybe even to close friends, is not how people really are behind the closed doors of their homes. All I know is that he was not in his right mind. I knew him as a very loving father, dedicated worker and compassionate partner to his wife...not the type of person who would take his own life. It is so very sad that it took a tragedy to bond us together. We all need to realize that the phrase "one never knows" is so very true. You may THINK you know, but at the end of the day, we are all cluelessly going on with our lives and hoping we are doing more good than harm.
Stages of Grief
This tragedy has opened my eyes to look at people differently, and I think it has had a similar effect on many other people as well. All of us who knew this family are greiving in our own way, but none more than the family. As much as we all want to help, sometimes our ideas of helping are not that helpful. I ran into the mother at the grocery store and she commented to me that everyone is trying to be so helpful, but she needed to go to the grocery on her own because it was "something normal." And I felt guilty, because I was immediately angry for her that she had to go to the store! Talk about opening my eyes, and I am ashamed it took the person most connected to the tragedy to point out to me that for her doing something "normal" is how she is coping. Everyone experiences grief and healing differently, and it is not for us to judge. We need to accept and support, but never ever judge, because at the end of the day, you really do not know HOW you would react to an event of this magnitude unless you have lived the person's life.
So, I am going to focus on being empathetic and not being angry. If I happen upon any of the family, I will greet them in the same manner I always have, and IF any of them want to talk, hug, joke around, whatever, I will gladly join in without judgement for how they are grieving. Grief is personal, pain is subjective, and healing is individualized.
As you may, or may not, know Bubbie had SEVERE food allergies for a long time. Thankfully, he has out grown most of his so we have a mostly "normal" life, now. But before, my life was consumed with worry and guilt. Yes, I was THAT mom who caused all the other parents to have to limit what their kids could have for snacks and treats in the classroom. Of the 8 main food allergens, Bubbie was allergic to six. At one time he could have no wheat, eggs, dairy, soy, peanuts, or tree nuts. He also had oral-allergy syndrome, which is when seasonal allergies mimic food allergies (and if you think this sounds easy, take a look in your cabinet at the ingredients in some of the foods you use daily). During Spring and Summer, he also could have no melon, avocado, banana, apple or pear.
We found out about his allergies when he was only about 2 months old. I was still breastfeeding and he was not gaining any weight and started having severe gastrointestinal issues. Just imagine you go to change your baby's diaper and it is filled with bright red blood. Bubbie was living in constant pain from the damage what I was eating was passing into his food. He had serious reflux, and no lie, would spit up so violently that it would hit the wall 3 feet away if he was on my shoulder. I kept taking him to the doctor, and they were stumped as well. Finally, they did a scratch test, and found out he was allergic to pretty much everything I was eating "to keep my milk supply up." Talk about mommy guilt. You think you are doing the absolute best thing for your child, only to find out that what you are doing has been slowly killing him. And here's the thing, Bubbie was the happiest baby in the world! Oh, and because he was allergic to dairy and soy, there were no formulas available, so I had to limit my diet of all 6 of his allergens as well.
When he finally was getting relief from his allergies, he would hit himself. I asked the doctor why, and she said it was because he had never lived without pain, and to him being in pain was NORMAL. Sick, no? I learned more about alternative food sources, reading labels, creative cooking, and recognizing allergic reactions to foods than I ever wanted to. But it was worth it, because this is what Bubbie looked like 6 months after we figured out a good diet that worked.
I can't eat many things, but I do eat a lot!
I thought that my coming up with menus and foods that would satisfy and nourish him would be the hardest part of dealing with food allergies. But it wasn't. The hardest part was all the other people in the world and their opinion that I was making it all up or overreacting. Restaurants would not allow me to bring in foods or drinks for Bubbie, so we quit eating out. Daycare providers would give him things to eat they KNEW he couldn't have because he begged. But they weren't the ones up all night with a poor child screaming in pain and banging his head on the ground because IT HURT SO BAD. When Manudo had a birthday party at a very popular kid's venue named after a mouse, they refused me permission bring in a cupcake for Bubbie so he could take part in the celebration too (I did sneak that damn cupcake in anyway).
Friends and family could be a challenge too. Bubbie was not anaphylactic in his allergies. He would suffer mostly through gastrointestinal distress and/or skin rashes. Many times friends and family would make comments asking if a little bite of cookie/cake/pastry/pasta/etc would really hurt that much...the thing about food allergies is they are not like environmental ones. You never ever know when your reaction will change in severity or manifestation. I have a friend who had what he thought was food intolerance to almonds. He would eat them, and have stomach issues, but nothing really severe. One day he ate an almond and went into anaphylactic shock and almost died. Think of food allergies as cumulative and not episodic. Every time you ingest something you are allergic to your body registers it and adds it to the amount. Each individual "bite" is not just a bite, it is a bite added to all the other bites you have ever had and you have no idea where your breaking point for severe -v- mild reaction is located. So yes, just one bite could have hurt him, a lot.
At the back to school orientations every year, many of the other parents would roll their eyes and complain that they couldn't send peanut butter sandwiches for snacks to school, or cupcakes and cakes for their precious off-springs birthday party in class. I never spoke out, but inside I was screaming "Is your child's peanuts and sweets more important than my child's LIFE?!?" Is it really that big of a deal to read a freakin' label and/or be empathetic or even GRATEFUL that you don't have to feed that kid daily? And, what the Hell is up with birthday parties in school? We never had them when I was growing up, is it part of societies worship of children and everything they do that we must now celebrate their birthdays 3 times (school, friends party, family party)?
Your kids peanuts are not more important than THIS kid's life!
Anywho, as Bubbie grew older, it seemed like every year he had fewer and fewer food allergens. Just imagine the look on his face when he got to have his very first piece of cake that was made from real ingredients! And here is the kicker, he suffered so much pain as a young child that he was AFRAID to try many of the foods that were deemed okay. We had to go through food challenges where a very tiny bit of the food/allergen was introduced for a week. The next week you added a bit more, the next week a bit more, etc. until you reach the equivalent of a serving. Some of the foods still bothered him, even though he wasn't technically allergic. Those were the days that were tough, here I am telling him "It's okay, the doctor said you can have it," meanwhile an hour later he was curled in the fetal position looking at me with his huge blue eyes like I disappointed or lied to him. *sniff*
He is now almost 9, and still has oral allergy syndrome and an allergy to tree nuts, but he no longer has to sit at the allergy free table, carry an epi-pen, answer 10000 questions about his medical alert bracelet, or be known as THAT kid. However, in my mind, I still have intense fear for him and watch out for any type of response he may have to what he is eating. I know how lucky he is to have outgrown his allergies, as well as to not have the anaphylactic reactions to his allergies that many children and adults suffer. But he could, and the doctors do say that just because he outgrew them for now, doesn't mean he will be allergy free forever. He could develop them again, or develop allergies to different things. It is like living with a Jack-in-the-box waiting for the new issue to pop up sometimes.
I will NEVER stop being an advocate for other parents who are going thorough what I did, and I ask, no BEG, you to please think of your own children/grand-children/nieces/nephews and how you would react if a request was made to help them fit in and/or save their lives. At the end of the day, we all love our children, but maybe if we loved other people's children a little more life would be easier for ALL children.
I could be your child, wouldn't you
love me enough to protect me?
Until next time,
p.s. I would love to hear your thoughts/comments/etc regarding this, or any post I write. Leave a comment!