Comfortable

It’s been a gold star kind of day. The Commodore turned fifteen (fifteen!!) today and we had a small birthday breakfast for him with the closeby family. We also went out to dinner at a Japanese restaurant (Samurai) last night with just our little family, and that was lovely. The Commodore is a big sushi fan, so this was his pick. The best part was hearing the Commodore and Rockinrolla laughing and chatting about teenagery stuff in the backseat on the way there. It’s so tooth-achingly sweet when they talk like that, like they are best friends, like we hope they will be for the rest of their lives.

Daddy J and I strolled with Rainbow to Ward’s playground this afternooon. We do that a lot. Rainbow, in fact, pitches a frothing fit if we’re out on a walk and we don’t go to the playground. Generally, it’s easier for everyone involved if we just give in and take him there, even if we just intended to walk around the block.

Walking around Ward’s statue was a Mexican woman holding up a girl by her armpits and helping her walk. The girl looked off into the distance and held her twisted wrists and hands up to her chest. A man was sitting on a bench around the statue, laughing and chatting with the woman. The thought crossed my mind that the woman and the man were the girl’s more distant relatives, like her aunt and uncle, or babysitters, maybe, rather than her mom and dad, because they were so relaxed and happy. Maybe that sounds stupid; I had this idea that parents of a severely disabled preteen would be stressed out and weary. These people talked with the girl, who responded with an off-center smile (but no speech) and they all seemed very… comfortable. Not exhausted or bitter, just enjoying the nice weather and letting the girl get some practice walking. They just walked around and around Ward’s statue.

Daddy J had brought the GSD, so he sat down (after throwing the frisbee for Wolf a few times) and chatted, in his broken Spanish, with the family while I played with Rainbow on the playground.

Yes, he told me later, they are her parents. She’s eleven. At the age of seven, she choked in a restaurant and they thought she was dying. She didn’t die, but their bright, healthy girl was forever changed after being deprived of oxygen for awhile.

It was so hard to see. I’ve thought so often about how our lives would be different after Ward’s accident if he had lived. It seems a particularly cruel twist of fate to have a child born healthy who, through an accident, is changed into a child who needs round the clock attention and who will never live the adult life you’d dreamed of for him or her. It seems too much to bear.

It makes me feel humble.

What was incredible, though, was how non-bitter these people were. They were chatty, outgoing, and seemed thrilled to have a nice playground to take their kids to. (They had other kids playing on the equipment.)

They were comfortable.

It reminded me of a phrase I hear on our infrequent visits to church: Comfortable Words. Words that are intended to comfort, like, God will not leave you alone when you’re hurting, and Even if it sucks now, it will be tons better at some point soon, just wait.

And also of a prayer that I love. The Prayer of St. Francis made an impression on me when I was newly bereaved, and I still love it. I’m glad I read it again today:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Amen.

It’s the “Let me seek to give comfort rather than receive it” that is so stunning to me. It’s an enormous goal, but it makes so much sense. The seeking to give comfort was a big factor in pulling myself out of my deepest grief. I received tons of comfort (tons!) and it helped me tremendously. But I found that on some of the grimmest, most horrible days, I could get a fix by walking down the street to visit an old lady who lived alone, or by sending a card to someone I met through Chemo Angels, or by trying to give support to another grieving parent.

I’m pretty self- and family-centered now, and I do cut myself some slack. Rainbow is not in preschool or daycare, and it’s just logistically hard to reach out to the community as much as I’d like to. I do feel “comfortable” for the most part (within our family, anyway) and look forward to being “comfortable” within a larger sphere before too long.

It’s a hard goal for grieving parents, being able to comfort others when your life has been ripped apart, but it was a terrifically healing one, for me, anyway. It gave me something to reach toward, and without fail, trying to give comfort actually did give me comfort. It was almost embarrassing: I’d want to tell people that really, REALLY, this act or gift or whatever was more for me than for them, because it actually lightened my leaden, grieving heart. That the act of trying to help someone else was a salve that soothed when nothing else would. That I was so grateful to have the time and ability to do whatever small thing it was.

Understand that I am a selfish and vain person, prone to all kinds of character flaws. I am not nearly as charitable as many, many people I know, including some ladies who volunteer with me for Habitat for Humanity and who recycle their ball gowns instead of buying new ones because that way they can “give more to charity.” Or my friend down the street with three kids at home who dazzles me on Facebook with her frequent fundraising activities. Or my friend who visits a nursing home every week to comfort the residents there. Or a relative who volunteers weekly at a charitable donation service. I’m not there yet.

But I want to be.

God, please just let me be comfortable.

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