Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

Cape Cod

Posts Tagged ‘sibling’

Babies on the Beach

Babies on the beach.

It’s been 15 years since the extended ¬†White Family last had babies on the beach. Really, is there anything more wonderful than being witness to a toddler’s first dunk in the ocean? Up he comes, blinking and sputtering, the brine streaming out of his mouth and his nose and his ears. “Grammy! It tastes like salt!” As if it is a discovery as earth shaking and consequential as Magellan or Columbus.

We are back on Cape Cod for the 27th consecutive year. The White Family has assembled once again for a week of sunshine and sand. Gram is still with us, and that means 4 generations gathered to celebrate family. It’s equal parts Groundhog Day (everyone knows exactly where to sit for dinner) and the 8th day of the Universe (Grandchildren! In-laws!). Our neighbors, summer locals, expressed their amazement once again. “You’re back!” Like so many Monarch butterflies we have arrived right on schedule.

What does it take to pull something like this off. I gave this quite a lot of thought the first year we were here after Gramp left us when I wasn’t quite sure I’d ever see this particular beach again. We have been blessed with mostly good fortune, and our family has a couple of generations of beach history before ours. We are a family that thrives on consistency; do something twice and it’s a tradition. It’s almost as if we were wired to make this happen. Add to that a strong matriarch and patriarch, siblings who had more in common than not, and not inconsequentially 4 spouses who were willing to play. Don’t forget to pinch of good luck (only one rainy day per each week) and tons of hard work (hey, it’s family!) and you have the recipe for success.

Like our oft-offered advice for marital success (never stop dating!), Beth and I wish for any of you who might have a few of the ingredients above the courage to try something like this with YOUR family. A day, a weekend, a week…whatever might work for you. My kids know their cousins even though they’ve never lived in the same state. They know their aunts and uncles. They revere their grandparents. 27 years might be a bit much to expect, but you never know!

Man, babies on the beach again. How good is that?!

 

 

 

Everything Changed. Forever.

“Just like that, everything changed. Forever.” –Beth White

Let me tell you a story about strength and love. It’s a story about the love parents have for a child, and about what appears to be super-human strength in expressing that love. The story starts with sorrow, at a funeral, the event that marked a forever change after a life both agonizingly short and blessedly long. The details make this particular version of the story very powerful, but in the end the heroes of my story would tell you that the details only describe their own individual version of a story that is told millions of times every day in millions of families around the world. Theirs was just more than a bit harder, and so the love and the strength was just a bit easier to see.

I’ve not asked if I could tell this story in its truest form; I will shelter the family by not using their names. Yesterday’s funeral was agonizing, as are all funerals when young parents bury a child. It’s hard work to raise a child, you know. Children don’t naturally come equipped with the “software” necessary to survive and thrive in a family group, much less a town, or a state, or a country. Equal parts love and leverage must be applied to instill in a child all of the trappings of civilization, lest the otherwise unquenchable twins Ego and ID ride roughshod over any and all who come in contact with that child. “Crazy hard” is how one could describe the process with a standard issue, healthy child, but words simply don’t exist to describe what it is like if a child is challenged physically or mentally from a very young age. My only advice to young parents-to-be is to be prepared for the biggest change you can ever imagine, the change that comes along with each subsequent child. No one is ever prepared for what comes when that child requires all-day, every-day care.

Where does the strength come from? The love I get, especially from parents steeped in the beliefs of a Religion based upon and built from a foundation of love. But the strength to bring that love to bear every minute of every day in the face of the crushing sadness of a child who you know you will lose, who will never follow any kind of normal path? Where does that come from? You can’t use our typical, run of the mill metaphors for this. You know, like “ice in their veins”, because no one who projects such unvarnished and unquestioning love can be filled with ice anywhere. No…no, I think it is molten iron that flowed through their veins. Yes, that must be it. Iron.

Literature is filled with the stories of children neglected in the face of tragedy, or families torn asunder by either the suppressed pain at the injustice of an impaired child, or by the not unreasonable finite amount of love and strength in a family, with the other children, the marriage, or both left to fend for themselves as all energy is directed to the most needy family member. Not in this family. Theirs is a marriage forged in commitment deepened by their challenge. Theirs is a family tied closer because Mom and Dad never did that at all, never stopped parenting the other children, never stopped supporting those things that made each child unique in his or her own way. Never stopped working and worrying their way to preparing the other children for their own life’s journey.

Engulfed by love and raised by these iron-willed parents, this very special child lived more than a decade longer than the most optimistic expectations offered as a baby. Not just lived, though, but thrived. Because of this we attended a funeral where grief was all-consuming. A child much-beloved was lost, and we gathered in the hundreds to console his family. Will there be relief at some point? A sense of burden lifted? Of course. How can there not be? Relief, though, will not ever be the most powerful emotion for Mom, Dad, or siblings. This was a child who was loved fiercely, with ferocious strength and resolve by each member of the family. Everything has changed.

There is no word in any known language to describe a parent who has lost a child. Writing this it occurs to me that we are equally bereft of a word that would so name a sibling. Interesting, no? To have a child die before a parent is so unnatural that no part of the human race has ever come up for a word for it. This family lived for 21 years in the knowledge that it would happen to them, and yet when it did the loss was a crushing as a bolt from the blue. To feel this loss must be part of what it is to be human, no matter the details. It is the one place, the one thing that we all must certainly have in common. We need not experience the loss ourselves to have true empathy with those who have experienced it. So wired are we that understanding is unnecessary; we feel the loss as one.

We went to a funeral yesterday to share our love for a little boy who barely made it to manhood. His life was a triumph of love and resolve, of strength almost beyond belief. His parents would offer that each of us could have done it, done what they’d done if it had been demanded of us, instead. Every parent in the church checked their pulse, looked to see what flowed through their veins. In the end we all found the very same thing: tears heated by the loss we each could feel, for the little boy, his siblings, and his parents. A desperate hope that we would never find ourselves in that same place, at any time, for any reason.

Just like that, everything changed. Forever.