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When I was a freshman in high school, I took an introductory journalism course. That spring, a girl I’d known from my neighborhood went with the Heights instrumental music program on a trip to Asia, where she contracted a rare lung disease, which landed her in a coma upon her return home. She died on her sixteenth birthday. I wasn’t yet experienced enough to be on the official newspaper staff, but this girl and I had lived on the same street and had gone to the same school since our earliest elementary days, so when nobody stepped forward to write the article on her life, I did.

I sat in on the counseling sessions the school had set up for her friends, furiously scribbling down the conversations between her closest friends and her boyfriend. Then, accompanied by my mom because I must have been nervous, I walked over to her family’s house and sat at a picnic table in the sideyard to interview her parents and her younger brother. It was, to say the least, a fairly intense experience for a 15-year old, as I dug into their grief and then had to craft a story (with a strict word count) that captured all she had been to those who loved her. I was proud of the story I submitted, even though the one that was eventually published had been sanitized and read a little more news article and little less human interest.

But the significance of that experience is not lost on me as I’ve now spent years upon years writing about darkness and sadness in a way that I hope brings a sense of light and comfort to people.

Today, I was asked to write the article for the Heights Observer on Becca Meyer, who died on Saturday, less than twelve hours after turning six.

Sometimes, in our darkest days with Austin, when we thought he might not survive, I would wonder what my life would have been like if our second baby was conceived a day earlier or a day later than Austin had been. Or even a minute earlier or a minute later. What if I’d gone to the bathroom, gotten a drink of water, fallen asleep first and this child with these specific genes never came to be? Would we have been spared our great sorrow, our worst fears, his tremendous suffering? But every time I allowed myself to think that thought, it was immediately replaced by the full and unwavering knowledge that I would take Austin, with all his physical faults and with all the suffering that we did endure and that we may have endured. I would always still choose to have had him, even if it was only for a short while.

I have to imagine, that because Becca was adopted, her parents have had a similar and yet powerfully different set of what if’s to ponder. What if there was one family ahead of them on the list? What if some other child had been born on June 6 instead of June 7 and they’d been called for that one? What if her birth mother had decided otherwise? How different would their lives be? Would they be spared the unthinkable grief they now feel?

But I know without hesitation that if they’ve ever allowed such questions to run through their minds, they are immediately replaced with two unwavering truths.

One: They would always take the joy of having known this spark of a child, the gift of having loved her and been loved by her, … for the enrichment of their own lives, they would always choose Becca.

And, more importantly, two: If the child we knew as Rebecca Alison Meyer was destined to be in this world and if it was written in her genes or in her stars that cancer would claim her life, then who better to entrust her short life to than the Meyers? Who better to surround her with love and laughter and friendship and all things princess than Kat and Eric, Carolyn and Joshua? Who better to hold her, guide her, sing to her, dance with her, kiss her and love her than the family she was given? How lucky were they to have been given the incredible honor of shaping the course of her too short life? How lucky were they to have had the opportunity to fill it with so much joy? How lucky was she?

Loving her so well and loving her so much may well be the greatest burden of their lives.  But I do not doubt that it is also their life’s greatest blessing.

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There were many times over the past five years when I was struck by the incredibly kind — and often completely random — outpouring of support we received from our community.  Moms I’d never been introduced to would offer me tearful hugs in the hallways of the preschool.  People I hadn’t seen in years would drop meals off at our house. Old friends my kids had never met would offer to babysit or take Braedan on an outing when we were in the hospital and I’d have to politely turn them down because no way was I shipping that boy off with anyone he didn’t know. People would tell me that they think of us every day and pray for us every night and cry for us, wish for us, hope for us. Sometimes, I couldn’t help but think, “Really? You do?”

But then tragedy strikes elsewhere and I totally get it. The shoe is on the other foot as I find myself thinking day and night about the woman who lost her husband completely unexpectedly a week ago. I’d known her a tiny bit when our oldest were babies and then I’d seen her at the grocery store every now and again. And then our kids were on the same baseball team this spring when, suddenly, she’s on my mind nonstop. A widow just my age. With three little kids. So I offer to pick up her boys and take them to baseball practice even though I barely knew their names a week ago. And I sign up to deliver a meal. And Mark asks me to run by her house to make sure her lawn doesn’t need mowing.

And then there’s another family we know, whose son is slowly dying after a brutal ten-year battle with cancer.  And I find myself sharing their story and getting choked up as I repeat over and over again how damn hard they’ve fought. How endlessly long and endlessly hard they’ve fought for all these years . . . and now there’s an end. So I obsessively check their Facebook pages for the latest news, glance down their street as I drive past like it will tell me something.  And I wonder — am I just being nosy? Is this rubbernecking at a car accident? But I feel such a strong need to know so I can … what? Drop off more food? Send a card?

I understand now. I understand how you all felt — both hopeless and hopeful, a little bit guilty for your curiosity, for taking such an intimate glimpse at another family’s suffering, and yet consumed by it. I know why you followed us, sometimes quietly, with such consistency, for so many years. I understand the cookies and the muffins and the casseroles and the coffee. I feel the drive to give that tearful hug. I get it. We all just want to do something. We want to somehow ease the paths of those in crisis. We wish that they could take that huge chunk of sadness they’re forced to bear and break it up into tiny, more manageable pieces. That they could pass off those pieces to their friends and neighbors and, yes, to mere acquaintances and probably even total strangers. We could all handle just one small piece of their sadness, that wouldn’t be too much.  We could just quietly hold on to it for them, to lighten their burden, and maybe trade a little piece of our own strength or joy or peace.

We can’t, of course, but we can want to. That wanting is worth something. It was worth something to me at least. And hopefully it’s worth something to them.

There is so much sadness in this journey. It’s not always at the forefront, simply because you have to keep going and behave normally throughout the day, but it’s there, right under the surface and when that surface gets scratched, it comes quickly to the top.

I went to a wake last night (something I try to avoid; and funerals feel out of the question for me these days). This was no ordinary wake. It was for a child born almost four months too soon who lived a mere eight weeks, every minute of those weeks spent in a NICU.

Let me just say that there should be no industry in this world that makes coffins so small.

It was crushing, heartbreaking, devastating. And yet there was a strong connection between me and the parents, people I honestly don’t know very well. But the mom had told me several times throughout her son’s short life that reading my story, Austin’s story, gave her hope and strength in her darkest moments. I was drawn there, like I couldn’t not drive an hour through the snow to be there and hug her and cry with her. I felt like I could relate, even though I absolutley can’t relate. I feel similar and yet a thousand times removed. What each of us has been through, what each of our children has been through, is so drastically different and yet the suffering and the fear is shared, the hope and the heartbreak we feel each day is the same.

I feel that way about military mothers (and fathers) too, not a group of people I had ever related to in the past. But there is a silent thread binding together the parents of children in grave danger, tying us to one another in our moments of triumph and in our moments of loss. Because even when we think we have nothing left, we find a tiny bit of strength to share with someone else. I’ve noticed this on the oncology floor time and again: we are all pulling for someone else; wishing only the best for that other parent and that other child.

I was told many times last night, by the parents themselves, by the parents of the parents, that they were praying for Austin. They were wishing and hoping the best for my child at the very moment when they lost theirs.

The capacity of the human heart to love and to give sometimes takes my breath away.

For Collin . . .

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