I have a beautiful story to share. As our beloved Saint John Paul II once said, “We are an Easter people, and Alleluia is our song.” This personal story, written by my daughter Nichole, is the sweetest testimony to the healing power of Love and Prayer that this mother’s heart has ever heard. I think the truest form of human suffering is born when we don’t know who we are as children of God – Beloved. Only from this deep knowing of Love itself do we find Joy, and by its stripes we are healed. If you have ever said a prayer for our family, I thank you from the very bottom of my heart.
Bottom Of The Wine Bottle
Life isn’t fair, and what’s even more unfair than life, is death.
So, there I was, only capable of existing. I sat back down in the waiting room of the hospital. We had been here for almost 8 hours now and I still had two more doctors to see. The room was kind of spinning and my eyes had grown heavy. They took my shoes so I didn’t have the option of using them to hurt myself. I looked around at the rest of the troubled people in the room. I was not like them, not at all, and yet here I was, sitting in the same waiting room as them. I had been to the hospital many times, but never like this and rarely ever for myself. The entire day was a blur and I still couldn’t seem to fathom what was real. By this point, I could feel nothing. I thought I was nothing, completely consumed by emptiness. The past few months had been spent constantly drinking myself into oblivion, somehow ending up stumbling through the same memories, and then watching the same crimson color fall from my skin. I had so many questions, most of which could never be answered. I was dark and lost, but I existed.
The smell of the room was familiar and distinct. It brought me back to when I used to visit the hospital every day. I lost most of my innocence when my three year old brother, Michael, was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor. We spent most of our time in his little hospital room, playing puzzles and reading stories with our other seven siblings. It seemed too quickly that his time ran out. After watching him fight for eight hard months, he lost his battle. And that was it; the beginning of the end of me had begun.
My parents sat with me in the waiting room, praying, hoping, and wishing for my healing. My poor parents. I couldn’t bear that I was putting them through more than what they were already dealing with, but I needed them. They are the only people that I will ever need. Ever. I was and am thankful to have them. They reminded me all the time that I was not alone in my struggles, that I didn’t have to simply just exist. They were always encouraging me to talk about anything and everything. They didn’t want me to feel how my older sister, Anna, had felt. Something about my brother’s death never truly left her, and she had the toughest time with it. I found that the way she talked about his death, was exactly how I was now talking about hers.
Anna was part of my everyday life; I knew not one day without her. Being only one year older than me, she was the one person that I had with me through everything; the closest thing I had to myself. Losing her was never an option. What frustrated me most though, was how unprepared I was. When I answered my phone that night, waiting on the update of the accident, I wasn’t ready. When I sat there beside her beautiful lifeless body, letting my tears fall to her, hoping she was catching them somewhere, I wasn’t ready. When I watched everyone I loved surround my family and her casket with their pained eyes and wet faces, I wasn’t ready. Looking through her clothes and other possessions and suddenly calling them all mine, I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready to face life without her, and I will never be ready. But that’s the thing about death; no one asks if you’re ready and nothing prepares you. The only thing that’s guaranteed is that it happens. And it happened, and she was really gone and she wasn’t coming back. Sitting in that hospital room, wondering what I was going to do now, I knew that I wasn’t either.
The events leading up to my breaking point seemed unreal. I had no idea how I ended up where I was that day. It had been about a year since I’d lost my sister. Two weeks prior to my ultimate breakdown, I didn’t think it would be possible to lose anyone else I loved. I didn’t think I would be able to do it again, and I was right. When they called me to tell me it was true, I felt myself completely shut down. This was really happening again; I was really losing another piece of me and, once again, I didn’t get to say goodbye. I couldn’t comprehend why I was losing so many people that were close to me. Now, a widely-loved and hilarious friend of mine with whom I had grown close over the years, had joined the angels standing and waiting for me. Reed was someone I connected with, a rare connection that you wouldn’t come by often. He thought the world of me and he never let me forget it. I was confused, I was devastated, and somehow it seemed to get worse.
Since Anna’s death, I had become a popular figure in the media regarding death and my community. When someone passed, I was often quoted and questioned because I was ‘already a story.’ Upon hearing about another death at my high school, reporters were quick to begin writing an article, but this one was featuring solely me and Reed. It came out only a few days after his death and was my ultimate downfall. The article angered and offended many. Now, I was not only the girl that seemed to be cursed with death, but I was also the girl that used these deaths as a means of receiving attention. It was all about me all the time, they said. I had made many enemies with words that weren’t even my own. Most of my friends wouldn’t even look up at me in the halls; I didn’t talk to anyone. I began barely even existing. I was always dizzy and cold, drowning in my clothes and in my sadness. It was so unbearably difficult to even get out of bed in the morning. I was slowly and completely self-destructing. The weight of this burden was only getting heavier, and I was only getting weaker. I tried not to succumb. I tried to do it all by myself. I tried, but I couldn’t.
I had been holding on for years, upholding my reputation as the strong one. They were always watching me, a celebrity for all the wrong reasons. Nothing was a secret; everyone knew, but they didn’t understand. No one lost what I had lost. I had grown to be so extremely weak. I had let myself exist for all those who could not. I didn’t think it would get better. Then I surrendered. That day, I found myself stumbling into a classroom, letting one of my teachers catch me. I didn’t know what was happening to me, but I knew I was done. I had completely given up. I was sobbing and shaking and uttering complete nonsense. I somehow found the words to express how I didn’t think I could exist anymore. I finally said things out loud that I had never before. I wanted nothing to do with this war of a life I had been given. The only thing keeping me here was what I had left of my family and that was my reality. So, my parents cried for me, and my teachers cried for me, and the few friends I had left cried for me. I had finally fallen. That’s how I ended up shoeless in a hospital room with the two people who would do anything to rid me of all pain. For weeks, it was nothing but doctors, medications, appointments, priests, check-ups, high points, and low points. I was finally on the road to recovery.
I think about these events every day, and how I’ve grown to think and act differently. Nothing ever returned to the way it was before. Michael, Anna, and Reed were all a part of me, parts I will always wish I could have back. When they died, these parts of me died too. It was a long and never-ending journey to find myself again. But what I found was that I was actually long gone. I am a completely different person and it took a lot of growing up to accept that I couldn’t return to my old life; I had to build a new one, always keeping in mind what I had learned.
These experiences have taught me so much about what I value and who I’ve grown to be. I’ve learned that one of the most precious gifts ever given is time. You aren’t always given much of it and it eventually runs out. I’ve learned that the smallest things can become the biggest things and it’s too easy to take them for granted. I have experienced real, genuine heartache, pain that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy. But I learned that I don’t have to face it alone; it’s okay to need help and it’s okay to be weak sometimes. I realized that death, pain, and sadness do not have to consume me, peoples’ opinions about me do not have to define me, and what is out of my control does not have to ruin me. It is a choice. I know that this burden will always be there, and it will never get lighter, but every day I get a little bit stronger and a little more resilient. The day I truly accepted the unfairness of life, especially my own, was the day that I stopped existing and started living. Since then, I have learned to be happy and to appreciate what I have in front of me, praying every day that I can continue to find the good in all bad situations. I will always carry my memories with me, never forgetting where I’ve been and how I’ve felt, but I have grown. Today I am strong and whole as ever, knowing that I have the greatest souls above me and living on through me, and with them I am never alone.