Sunday, September 30, 2012


I’ve been walking a lot since Ella died.  Since I started walking back in the late winter/early spring, I’ve walked at least 500 miles, and I’m on my third pair of sneakers.  What started out as a way of getting my sad, depressed butt out of the house has turned into an almost daily form of exercise and therapy.  It’s a solitary pursuit, which is one of the reasons why I like it, and it has given me a regular time during the day to think and to pray, to cry and to remember.  That I’ve lost some weight and dropped a dress size in the process are just nice bonuses, ones that go hand in hand with another form of therapy…retail therapy.  ;)

I haven’t always been an avid walker.  I used to be a runner.  Well, let me rephrase that.  I used to try to be a runner.  My brother and sister were natural-born runners – built for it, naturally good at it, and good enough to be competitive at it.  Me?  Not so much.  As we like to say in my family, I’m of “good, Irish peasant stock.”  I do not have a runner’s build, but for years and years, I tried to run.  I ran cross country and track in both middle school and high school, and I’ve run a few 5Ks since then.  And though I tried to have one, I just don’t have a runner’s disposition.  Before anyone calls BS on all of that, let me say one more thing:  I just plain hate to run.  I’ll run if and when something chases me, but otherwise, why?  I never got the high.  I never won the race.  I never really enjoyed it.  I ran because it was the thing to do, because my parents required us to participate in a sport, and because I didn’t play any team sports.

But walking?  Walking I can do and enjoy.  Walking is a good fit for me, and walking has been good for me.  If I had tried to be a runner again after Ella died, I would still be sitting on my depressed, pudgy butt.  I’d still have low vitamin D.  I’d be no tanner and no thinner but very much worse for the lack of wear.  If I tried running again, I would quickly find reasons to not go running, and I’d quickly lose any motivation I might have had to start running again.  I would hate it, and then I’d hate myself for failing at it.  Since this is my blog and I happen to be both unscientific and lazy, I’ll just make up my own statistics on the topic.  It’s a proven fact that walking is 97% more awesome than running.  No lie.  Plus it’s easy, and mama likes easy.  If running were in the picture, I’d be able to give you 20 excuses in five seconds flat why I can’t go running every day.  But walking?  If I can walk to the fridge and the computer and the sofa, then I can walk four miles around the neighborhood.

So it was with great annoyance and consternation that I couldn’t enjoy my walks for over two weeks this month.  I caught a cold that kicked my butt and sapped my energy.  Between that and certain scheduling conflicts, my daily walks got the old heave ho.  I really missed it (though the lazy part of me enjoyed sleeping in a bit while I was sick), but I shouldn’t have been surprised by it.  Catching a cold at the end of the summer is par for the course for me.  I caught one last year when Ella was home, and I’ve caught colds several other times in the past around this time of year.  Summer winds down, and apparently so does my immune system.  Kids go back to school, yet I’m the one stuck at home with the back-to-school special of snot, the sniffles, and a sore throat.  Any exercise plan I may have had in place is temporarily derailed.

A lot can change when you’re out of commission for two weeks.  When I was finally able to go walking again this past Monday, I did so in brisk 58°F weather.  A bit of cooler fall weather had crept in, so that was a nice change.  What wasn’t so nice was how quickly I had fallen out of shape!  My husband had warned me that I might be sore after my first walk back, and he was right.  OUCH.  Everything was sore from my butt on down to my toes; plus, I had two new blisters on my ankles.  I felt a bit hobbled and it would have been very easy to take a day or two or ten off to recover, but I knew that the soreness would only go away if I kept walking, if I worked through it, and if I focused on getting past it on my way back to where I was before my end-of-the-summer cold. I may have been derailed, but you can bet your sweet bippy that I was going to beat feet and get the Bridget-walking-train back on track.  I may have been derailed, but by gosh, I was going to make sure that the derailment really was only temporary!

If only it were that easy when the derailment is spiritual rather than physical.

If only it were that easy when your life is derailed.

If only it were that easy when your soul, your entire being, is derailed.

Nothing opened my eyes to how very far off spiritual track I was than the death of my sweet Ella.  Nothing before had ever challenged my faith and trust in God more than when He took her home, and nothing ever exposed how shallow that faith and trust was than the moment she died.  I call it a derailment, but can something be derailed if it were never on track to begin with?  Because that’s honestly how I felt once she was gone.

My faith was a very basic and immature faith, I think.  I knew – and still know to the depths of my soul – that there is a God.  I know that Jesus is my Savior.  I believe that He is fully present - Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity - in the Holy Eucharist.  I know that and I believe that, but I have never felt farther away from Him than I did when Ella died.  I still feel very far away, and I worry that I’ll ever make it back to Him.

Throughout my whole Ella-centric journey, a number of people have commented on how strong my faith is, how it has inspired them, how they think I’m strong.  But hearing all of that makes me feel like a damn fraud.  I feel like I’ve had to have this Suzy Sunshine fa├žade with regard to my faith because if people really knew what I thought and felt, if they really knew what I said to God or how I felt about His plan...well, the shock would probably blow them away.  I feel like my own “pray it until you feel it, say it until you believe it” mantra would work for everyone else but not for me.  I feel let down and alone and forgotten by the One I constantly talk to, pray to, cry to, and scream to.

I want to get back to Jesus, but I don’t know how to.  Intellectually I know I should try harder to get back to Him.  I should try harder to get closer to Him and to rebuild the relationship that’s been shattered by my own faltering faith.  I should read the Bible and pray every day because while feelings are nice, love is a decision that requires constant devotion, cultivation and work.  But honest to freaking pete, I just don’t know how to do it.  I don’t know how to get there or how to get to a point when I think or believe it would be worth it.  Some days I feel like letting Him in would be as pointless as looking for a doorknob on an elevator and as futile as pushing on a door that is clearly labeled pull.  I feel lost, and that worries and scares me.  I am derailed, and I’m having a hard time not only finding the tracks but caring enough to get back on them.
When I started walking again, even after a break as short as two and half weeks, I was comforted by the familiar sights and sounds of the neighborhood – the kids who play while waiting at the bus stop, the older gentleman who always waves at me with both hands, the flocks of geese that can barely be bothered to get out of the way for passing cars and trucks, the various bumper stickers and license plate holders on neighbors’ cars, the worms that scoot slowly across the pavement.  They are all familiar and so much a part of the scenery of my everyday walks.

Why then do I feel little comfort when I recite the familiar prayers of my faith, prayers I’ve been saying since my youth?  Why do I feel little comfort when I hear His Word spoken at church, even as He speaks to me through His music and in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass?  Why do I feel comfort getting back to the mundane sights and sounds of a walk through my neighborhood yet feel little comfort getting back to the worship and prayers of my faith?

When I was able to go for walks again, it was good to see that everything that had a place was still in fact in its place.  Yes, my ankles hurt with just about every step because of open blisters being rubbed raw by my socks and shoes.  And yes, I was really sore after my walk, limping around like a woman of many more years than I.  But the comfort that the familiar evoked was so much better than the sometimes overwhelming apathy that I’ve experienced since Ella died.  The physical aches and pains I felt were so much better than the spiritual numbness that’s had a grip on my soul since my baby went away. 

But the pain of Ella’s absence – the pain that I’ve felt to varying degrees every single day since she died – you can’t walk that pain away.  That pain has only been compounded by my flawed human perception of Divine apathy because of His silence, because His apparent distance makes me feel small and insignificant.  It makes me wonder if He hears my prayers or if I’m praying the right way.  It makes me wonder if being able to see “The Big Picture” one day would make a difference in how I’ve felt since Ella died.  It makes me wonder how the bleep this could be His perfect will.  It makes me wonder why him but not Ella, why her but not my sweet girl.

Yet I know I’m the one who can’t seem to bridge the gap between us.  I know that I’m the one who’s fallen so far off track, not Him.  I complain about His distance though I’m the one keeping Him at arm’s length.  I complain about His apparent apathy even as I struggle with my own.  I complain…yet He trusted me with Ella.  He blessed me with the most awesome daughter ever.  He didn’t guarantee me peace here on Earth, but He gave me a piece of Heaven when He brought Ella into my life.  He had a plan for her and for me and for my family.  Why can’t I see that?  And why can’t I trust that?  Am I really owed more than that with which I was already so richly blessed?

I know I can’t get through this life without Him or without His grace.  I know that I can’t see her again without making my way back to Him.  Saying all of this out loud, getting it off my chest, off my heart and out of my head, can only help.  And even through all of my doubt and anger and pain, I have been hoping and praying for a life after death, for my life after her death. 

I may have been derailed, but I’m hoping that it’s only temporary.  I’m hoping that in recognizing it, I’ll be a step closer to getting back on track.  But I’m not just hoping for it.  I’m counting on it.
St. Ella, pray for us!

Monday, September 24, 2012

MABOP Monday

Hanging out with Daddy and making eyes at him   <3

St. Ella, pray for us!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Most Awesome BOYS on the Planet

Because my boys’ soccer and hockey practices are during weekday evenings, I’ve been able to go to the grocery store by myself for the past several weeks.  After a long summer of grocery shopping with two constantly hungry and always energetic boys, it’s been a veritable mini-vacation to cruise through the store at my own pace without the echoes of “Mom?  Mom?  Mom, can we get this? Mom?  Mom?  Are you done yet?  Mom?” up and down each aisle.  I’m not the speediest shopper out there, but at least when I shop alone, I don’t have to wag a finger at a running kid or sternly remind a child to keep his hands to himself or correct both of them for juggling the lemons and limes or even remind a child to please not laugh so raucously about breaking wind in the cereal aisle.

Grocery shopping with my boys in tow can be…well, let’s just say it’s rarely boring.  Too often it’s an exercise in frustration and impatience on my part and in melodrama and apparently severe but as yet completely unnoticed (by me) malnourishment on theirs.  Seriously.  The way my boys ask for every food item that they see makes me wonder if they absorb anything they eat!  And they don’t just ask for the crappy junk food; they want it all, fruits and veggies included.  I try my best to have my coupons prepared and to stick to my list so that we can be in and out of the store in a reasonable amount of time, but when the boys are with me, we always take just a little bit longer than usual.

Let me put it this way:  you know how when you're vacationing with family, that vacation always seems to last one day too long, no matter how many days the vacation is?  You almost always wish you’d left the day before when things were still peaceful and rosy?  Well, that’s how it is when shopping with the boys.  We almost always end up in the store for five minutes too long.

This week’s shopping trip was different, though.  Oh, we had all the corrections and reminders that I mentioned above and then some, but if I had insisted that we leave five minutes before or if I had gotten through the store more quickly, then I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to witness my boys being love and charity in action.  Those extra five minutes made all of their juggling and farting and running worthwhile.

Because of the large number of coupons I use each week, I frequently tell the shoppers in line behind me that they may have a slightly longer wait than normal.  I want to save money, but I don’t want to frustrate the customers who have to wait because of me.  I give them the opportunity to find a shorter line, if they want, before they unload their carts.  Today, however, I didn’t have as many coupons as usual.  So when an older woman in a motorized shopping cart pulled in behind me, I didn’t say anything.  I continued unloading my own cart, handing my reusable shopping bags to my older son to give to the bagger.  When I was done unloading, though, I caught my son’s eye and quietly mentioned that maybe he could ask the woman behind us if she wanted help.

One of the things I really love about my boys is that they are not bashful folks and don’t really know strangers, if you know what I mean.  They are friendly, polite, and fairly quick to say hi to people.  Now mind you, this was a worrisome trait in my younger son when at 3yo he hugged a random gentleman in the bathroom at the city’s baseball grounds!  But still, it’s especially gratifying to see kids - my kids - being nice.  Even when they had to spend their weekends with Ella in the hospital for all those months, my boys found ways to make friends with patients, other parents, nurses, etc.  So when I suggested that my older son help the woman in line, he didn’t hesitate.  My younger son also jumped right in to help. 
Oh my goodness, how thankful that woman was!  It turns out that she didn’t have the use of her right arm, so she really did need help unloading her cart.  She was very grateful and made sure to tell me how polite my boys were.  She even gave them each a dollar for helping her out, a payment they didn’t expect but certainly appreciated!

It has become so easy for me to focus all my energy on correcting my boys, on noticing their missteps and mistakes, and on jumping on their imperfections that I miss out on their everyday awesomeness.  It is so easy to become irritated by their childishness that I forget that they are children - my children - who deserve my love, affection, and attention, not my irritation, crabbiness, and indifference.  It is so easy to let myself get overwhelmed by the seemingly constant, 25 hours a day, 8 days a week feelings of their need that I forget how proud I am of them and how proud I am because of them.  I forget for a moment that one of the most heart-wrenchingly agonizing but proud moments in my life is because of them.

We were all with Ella when she took her last breath.  We were all with her, together as a family.  Ella was in my arms with my husband sitting next to me and the boys at our sides.  The room was still crowded with medical personnel, and the priest was there performing Last Rites.  I was aware of all of them, yet it was still so intimate – the five of us still five here on Earth for just a moment more.  We sat together for so long, rocking back and forth, mourning, keening over Ella, kissing her sweet forehead, taking turns holding her.  We were all broken…just broken.

Doctors and nurses came in to pay their respects, to cry with us and to offer words of condolence.  As the doctors and nurses who took care of Ella for most of her life came in to say good-bye not only to our sweet girl but to us, I tried to thank them for all that they did for her, to thank them for all that they tried to do for her.  And while they were sobbing and heartbroken, my boys – my beautiful boys – told them over and over again, “Thank you for trying to save my sister.  Thank you for trying to save her.  Thank you.”

For the rest of my life, I will never forget that moment.  I will never forget that even during the absolute worst moment of their young lives and in the depths of a pain that they could never have imagined, my boys took a moment to say thank you.  I will never forget that feeling in my heart – the feeling of a heart simultaneously shattering from the most devastating pain a parent could feel and swelling with the pride that comes from seeing your kids do something beyond expectation and beyond extraordinary.

It's so odd to me that of all the emotions that I could feel on that horrible day, pride is among them.  It’s the good kind of pride for sure.  It's a pride that comes from the realization that my husband and I may have actually had a small role in developing and raising two kids with such great character; that our influence in their lives thus far brought them to this moment with thanks on their lips and gratitude in their hearts; that in a moment that was bigger than any they had ever experienced, their small voices could make such a huge impact and leave such a lasting impression.  I’m not sure who else heard my boys or who else remembers their thanksgiving.  I hope the nurses and doctors heard it.  I really hope they remember it.

What greater tribute could be paid a parent?  What greater tribute could this mom receive than to be a witness to that type of love and kindness in action?  I complain about the childishness, the bickering, the constant picking.  I bemoan the occasional misbehavior in public, the breaking of wind and the cracking of inappropriate jokes.  I roll my eyes at the constant “mom mom mom mom mom” neediness, but honestly…I wouldn’t have it any other way because I've also been able to bear witness to their random and their purposeful acts of kindness.  I heard them cry out their thanks to nurses and doctors who did all they could to save their beloved little sister.  I watched the incredible way they loved sweet Ella, and I see the love they have for us and for each other.  

I am the mom of the most awesome baby that ever graced this planet and mother to two boys of such incredible character and heart, two boys who are awesome in their own right.  In the grand scheme of things, I can’t think of anything else that makes me prouder.

St. Ella, pray for us!

Monday, September 17, 2012

MABOP Monday

The most awesome little sister on the planet, loved by two big brothers who miss her so much everyday

St. Ella, pray for us!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Lessons from a Ham Scrooge

I will be forever grateful for the hospitality I experienced at the Ronald McDonald House both of the times Ella was hospitalized.  I’m not sure how my family and I would have survived all those long weeks and months out of town if we hadn’t had the luxury and comfort of a room there.  Hotels aren’t cheap, that’s for sure, and eating fast food day in and day out takes a toll on both the waistline and the wallet.  So I was and still am so thankful for the blessing and convenience of the RMH.  Not only did I have a roof over my head that was less than 0.5mi from the hospital, but I also had the almost regular assurance of a meal at the end of so many physically and emotionally draining days with my sick baby.

If you’ve never had to stay at the RMH, then perhaps you aren’t familiar with where the dinners come from or how that part of the RMH operation works.  It takes a lot of coordination and effort by the RMH staff and a great deal of dedication and commitment from countless local volunteers – sororities and fraternities, school groups and teams, Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops, church groups, families, etc. – to put meals on the table almost every day of the year.  The quality and variety of meals varied from group to group, but one thing was constant: the meals were provided by countless people who genuinely cared about the folks staying at the RMH and who did their best to ease the burdens felt by the families who were so far from their homes.  I had never had that many tacos, bowls of pasta, or shredded chicken and rice meals before in my life, but those meals were delicious, satisfying both body and soul, in no small part because of the compassion and heart of the chefs who labored to make them.

Just as the Ronald McDonald House is an organization that provides a much needed charitable service to families in need, so, too, are the groups who serve the meals.  Though many dinners run together in my memory, there are a few that stand out, for reasons both good and so-so.  The Latin meal that was so ridiculously delectable that I chose a second helping over dessert; the Thanksgiving Day meal with ALL the traditional, mouth-watering fixings; the pizza – oh, the glorious, tasty, divinely inspired pizza – that was made each month by a man who was overwhelmed with gratitude to God for being spared from cancer; the chicken nugget, peas, and tater tot meal that could only have been made by a group of college students on a budget; and the pre-Christmas meal that was made by a local church group.  I wish that last meal could stand out in my memory for a more pleasant reason, but the real reason I remember it so well is for how small I felt while eating it and for how unworthy and low I felt when I walked away from it.

My friend K, a fellow heart mom, and I walked to the RMH most evenings to eat dinner together.  We never really lingered over dinner.  Our mission each evening was to eat our food fairly quickly and get back to our kiddos, though we always stayed long enough to say thanks to whoever provided the meal.  The evening in question was no different.  Because it was already December, we walked to the House in the dark and chill.  When we arrived, we were greeted by the unmistakable aroma of a ham dinner with all the sides you could want with it.  Such yummy smells!  It appeared to be a feast truly fit for a king…if that king could get past the ham scrooge.

When food is set out for dinner, it isn’t necessarily served to you.  Of course there would be a serving utensil available for your use, but an actual person may not be serving it onto your plate.  This evening, the members of the church group had chosen to actually serve the food to the RMH diners.  Since K and I arrived at the house a little before serving time, we were first in line for dinner.  I hadn’t realized I would be served, so I reached for the serving fork.  An older woman came over to take it from me to begin service.  With plate in hand, I stood there as she dished out the ham slice.  Yes, slice.  Not plural.  The large ham was cut in half lengthwise and was then sliced into pieces.  She gave me one slice of ham, which really amounted to half of one slice of ham, the end piece at that.  I was a bit dumbfounded and asked if I could have another slice.  She grudgingly gave me the other half of my end piece and then told me I could come back for seconds after everyone else had eaten.

By that time, most of the other RMH residents were lined up, so I moved on to choose my side dishes and then sit down to eat.  But to say that I was annoyed and perturbed would be an understatement.  I did not go to dinner that evening looking to gorge myself on food.  I did not go there looking to get in line first so I’d be better able to cheat everyone else out of a full meal.  I just wanted to eat something filling so that I could get back to my baby girl.

I finished my meal, chewing and swallowing as best I could though my throat felt tight from the angry tears I was holding in.  Petty as it may seem in hindsight, I chose NOT to go back for seconds.  The ham scrooge may have had control over the serving utensil that day, but I was not going to give her the satisfaction of serving me another half slice of ham.  I was not going to beg for my dinner, no matter how hungry I was.  I was not going to humiliate myself by letting her have the upper hand or the upper serving fork.  Instead, while my friend finished her meal, I chose to wait in the RMH lobby.

So why spend seven paragraphs building up to what seems like a small, insignificant anecdote wherein Bridget cries about a slice of ham that wasn’t even owed her but was in fact given to her free of charge?  Why write about one bum dinner out of many, many tasty and enjoyable dinners?  Why?
Because of 1 Corinthians 13.

And because of the honesty of this piece.

And because of the truth of these lyrics.

If you feed the hungry but do so without love, without compassion, without generosity, then it is not charity.  If you give drink to the thirsty but do so grudgingly and without love and understanding, then you serve no one but yourself.  If you claim to be doing the work of God but do so without love, then where is God in that?  Corporal works of mercy are nothing if they are done without love.  Charitable works are nothing more than self-congratulatory back patting if they are done without love, if they are done to make you feel good about how charitable you’re being, if they are done solely so you can check them off your to-do list.

I had read Simcha Fisher’s blog post last August while at the hospital with Ella, and while I sat in the RMH lobby waiting for my friend after dinner that December night, I thought about how very small charity can make a person feel and how charity given poorly can rob a person of her dignity and self-worth.  Ms. Fisher and I were in different situations – she receiving groceries for her hungry family and I receiving a meal while away from home with my critically ill baby – but we were both made more uncomfortable by and that much more aware of our unfortunate situations by people who meant well but who had a helluva way of showing it.

It was an eye opening experience for me to be on the receiving end of charity, and it opened my eyes to my own attitude toward charitable giving.  It opened my eyes to my own past actions and inactions, and it opened my heart.  It forced me to examine if my charity had truly been charitable, if it had truly been worthy to be included among the works of God here on earth.  It forced me to ask myself some uncomfortable questions.  Had I ever withheld my love while holding out a helping hand?  Had I ever half-*ssed my way through a work of mercy just to check it off a to-do list?  Had I ever given second-best just to be able to say that I’d given?  Had I ever been the ham scrooge to someone else’s dinner plate?

Even this many months later, I still ask myself those questions because I understand that I’m not only responsible for my actions and choices but also for the example I set for my kids.  Charity, or the lack thereof, is learned at home.  If all they ever see me do is write a check but they never see me lend a hand, how am I showing them what it means to be the hands of God here on earth?  If all they see me do is give away my well-used, well-worn hand-me-downs but they never see me serve the downtrodden, then how am I showing them what it means to be the feet of God?  And if all they ever hear is talk and all they see is indifference, if the only thing I expose them to is the very little I’m willing to do and the very little I’m willing to love, then how am I showing them what it means to be the heart of God?

The bigger person would be grateful to God for the ham scrooges of the world.  She would be grateful for the ways God can use even the smallest and most miserable experiences to teach her about His love and mercy.  The bigger person would resolve to do all things with love so that no one ever feels small, low and unworthy because of her.  I am not the bigger person…yet.  I’ve got miles to go before I’ll feel worthy to be His hands and feet for others, but by God’s good grace and His patience with me - the slowest learner ever born - I will get there.  By God, I’ll get there.

St. Ella, pray for us!

Monday, September 10, 2012

MABOP Monday

Ella's first bow.  She was NOT impressed, but she made it look good

St. Ella, pray for us!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Social Slug

I remember very distinctly the day I figured out that large crowds just weren’t my cup o’ tea.  Everything came to a head while my husband and I were at a busy mall in NJ (insert your own NJ mall joke here).  The mall was crowded with typical weekend shoppers, my husband and I among them.  We were walking along one of the large upper walkways and making our way to some random store.  People were jostling us, brushing up against us, and knocking into us in a non-violent, move-it-or-lose-it-there’s-a-sale type of way.  After a few minutes of constant physical and impersonal contact with countless strangers, I couldn’t take it anymore.  I looked at my husband and said, “I have to leave.”  Then I did just that.  The poor man could only follow me and try to keep up because when I made the decision to leave, I didn’t waste any time.  I beat feet the heck out of there.

I still don’t like large crowds, but now that I understand how much I really, really don’t like large crowds, I know better to avoid them when I can.  I’ve never much been one for social situations either.  I handle them better if I know beforehand that a friend will be there or that I’ll have a buffer, a social “woobie” if you will.  Though I’m neither completely agoraphobic (yet) nor a wallflower, I don’t go out of my way to join large crowds, to be a party animal or to be the center of anyone’s attention.  I may not be a social butterfly, but I do enjoy hanging out with my friends and I like getting out of the house for “me” time as well.  I prefer smaller, more intimate gatherings when I can join a few friends for a meal, a shopping trip, a moms’ night out, or play date.  But I tend to get overwhelmed by the noise and to-do of many social situations.  That’s only become a more firmly established part of my personality the older I’ve gotten, and Ella’s death just exacerbated it.

When Ella died, so did any desire I had to be around people.  There was no more pep in my step, no more willingness to give a quick, friendly smile, to engage in idle chitchat, or to make small talk.  There was no inclination to surround myself with the hustle and bustle of everyday life because everyday life came with too many painful reminders of my sweet Ella.  And what was there to be social about?  I couldn’t see past the pain, nor did I care to.  Any part of me that might have tended even a little bit toward being a social butterfly was gone because it felt as though all that gave my life color was gone.  It’s hard to be a lovely, carefree butterfly when you feel lower than a lowly, common slug.

I waded back into the homeschool social scene this past Friday when I went to our local support group’s first park play date of the school year.  I’ve got to admit that I was nervous and hesitant about going, even though I knew I’d be surrounded by friends who love me.  Even though I knew that their most common reactions to seeing me would be to open their arms to envelop me in big, warm hugs.  Even though I had missed them so much.

Before my son and I headed to the park, I looked for every reason to bury my head in the sand.  I longed to hide out at home where avoiding social contact was as easy as shutting off the computer and not answering the phone.  At the same time that I was rushing my older son through his school work so that we could get to the park on time, I was hoping that he’d drag his feet.  I was hoping that he’d fight me at every turn or at least just enough to lose the privilege of park day.  I was even hoping he’d tell me that he didn’t want to go.  I knew that staying home would have made him miserable, but I figured my own misery would have coped better with his company than with that of a large group, even a large group of friends.

I missed my friends.  I missed them, and I missed letting my son run free with his friends who are happy just to be with him, who accept his goofy, silly self just the way it is, who embrace his strengths and understand his foibles.  I missed the camaraderie that one finds among individuals who are like-minded enough to find common ground but just different enough to keep it fun and interesting and who endure you when you’re aloof as much as they enjoy you when you’re lively.  I missed all of that, but to be honest with you, I also dreaded it.

I dreaded it because of the social scar - the label - I feel like I acquired the moment Ella died.  I’m no longer simply Bridget – wife, mother, friend, homeschooler, hockey mom, soccer mom.  I am all those things, but I am also The One Whose Daughter Died, and that is a painful scar to live with from a wound that will never fully heal.  It’s a label I can’t peel off, a label that some days feels as conspicuous as a scarlet letter.

Social situations, even those that put me in the friendliest of surroundings, take some mental prep work so that I can get in a decent head space.  They aren’t just about how to avoid small talk or being approached by strangers, and they aren’t just about putting on my happy face to be in public.  Social situations for me nowadays are exercises in the futile mental preoccupation of “Do they or don’t they?”

Do they know?  Do they know about Ella?  Do they know what happened?  Do they realize what they’re missing?  Do they know who I’m missing?  Do they understand what I live with and what I’ve lived through?  Do they know how hard it was to even get here?  Do they know that I used to be fun, loud, and FUN?  Do they know that I wasn’t always this damned broken?  Do they see the scar that I can’t stop thinking about?  Do they whisper about my unenviable label, or is this all in my head?

We were at the park for quite a while on Friday, and I not only survived it but thrived in the company of friends.  It helped that we got there late, the group was just small enough for me to wrap my brain around, and I didn’t have to talk to any new people (sorry, new people - I’m sure you’re super nice).  We only left the park to run a few errands when it started raining and thundering.  The rain quickly changed from heavy drizzle to torrential downpour on our way to the grocery store, so we waited it out in the store’s parking lot.  After a long wait, the rain slowed and we could finally get out of the car.  And that’s when I saw it – a double rainbow.

And what a gorgeous double rainbow it was!  The lower bow was a vibrant, unbroken, beautiful arch, and the upper one was more faint but still beautiful.  My first instinct was to make a wish, but my wish…oh, my wish.  I knew better than to wish the unwishable, so I made a different wish that was really more of a prayer, and then I let that prayer fly.

When I saw that double rainbow, I couldn’t help but recall God’s promise to His people.  No matter how much rain we get here on Earth, we know that the earth won’t flood.  And no matter how much rain I get in my life, no matter how hard it storms or for how long, I know I’m not weathering this life alone.  I know that, though I’m more slug than butterfly, there will always be color in my life if I just lift my eyes to look for it.  And I know that, though I’m more prone to embracing loneliness than the maddening crowd, friends – good friends who take me, social scars and all - are never farther away than the next park day.

St. Ella, pray for us!