Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Throwing Away

18 years ago this past Feburary was pretty tough for me.  I was pregnant with kid #2, my oldest was 18 months old, and the month of January was book-ended by my brother’s death on New Year’s Eve at the beginning of the month, and what would have been his 25th birthday at the other end, on February 1st.
I usually approach the whole of the winter months with some trepidation, not knowing how the season will be for me from year to year.

Over the years, I would hibernate for weeks at a time, in anticipation of the holidays, the anniversary of his death, the approach of his birthday or just on an ‘as needed’ basis.  This year I was not been able to indulge in that ‘luxury’.  I am not sure if that is entirely by circumstance (since I work all day, everyday now), or because of being in a different ‘place’ mentally/emotionally/whatever…

Both of my daughters have been living out of the country.  They have been in Australia since this past fall.  One has gone to Nepal for the next two months and will be home in March  while the other is in Australia until the end of 2009. 

This was the first year our immediate family has not been together for the holidays and we received many heartfelt, “mmmmm, how ARE you doing?” inquiries (much appreciated), but when we answered, “Honestly? OK,” there were some looks of skepticism.  Someone asked if our ‘loss’ was felt everyday.  While the expressions of concern were appreciated, I sometimes got the feeling that being ‘OK’ with my kids not being around for the holidays was akin to wishing them never to have been born.  The holidays have been set up, for some, as the ‘be all and end all’ of defining moments in determining a families’ relationship for the year, if not for their lifetimes.  I guess that is why I am OK with the girls not being here…it has not been what defines us.

I've been OK with them being overseas.  I am OK with them not being home for the holidays.  I know that I will see them again.  I also know that we had some pretty special moments before they left in the fall, as well as special moments last summer, spring, and winter, as well as over the last 20 years.
I’ve done the ‘dead’ thing.  That is a loss I felt everyday for a long time, and sometimes it is as if it just happened, even  now.  It is a loss that has defined me.  This is not a loss.  This is an opportunity for my girls to grow, evolve, mature, and redefine themselves in ways that they would not have been able to, had they been right here with me.

When my brother died, I can remember thinking about how he longed to feel that his life had REAL meaning (it did, he just couldn’t see it at the time), and how (in my simplistic thought process), if he were willing to throw his life away, why didn’t he ‘throw it away’ by helping some poor people on the other side of the world for a year or two?  That, I thought, would have surely changed his perspective…
While in my 40-something mind, I realize that there are a lot of factors that went into creating the whole series of events that led to my brother’s death, for some reason my 23-year-old mind came up with that for one of my zillions of questions when he died.

I had pretty much forgotten about that line of reasoning until recently, when talking with someone about mt girls’ being gone reminded me of it again.

A little over a year ago, one of my girls was feeling like she didn’t have much to offer the world, and that being here was a pretty tough task for her to try to carry out, if she was to keep doing what she had been doing to try to get through life.  I think my other daughter was not too happy with where she saw her life heading, as well, caught between the culture of our community of having more than plenty but constantly reaching for more; and the conflict within her of wanting more, but realizing she needed to be giving more instead.  She expressed hunger for finding something deeper in her life in many different ways.

Some people think that what my girls are doing (working with Youth With A Mission) right out of high school is getting them off-track for ‘real life’.  They aren’t following the ‘strike-while-the-iron’s-hot’ mentality of high school-college-career-marriage-life track, and some believe they will lose their ‘motivation’ for learning by ‘taking this time off’.  I think my husband and I both even had that thought cross our minds initially, but now, especially with the reminder of the whole ‘throwing your life away’ thought I’d had about my brother after he died, I see how absurd this line of reasoning is.

I envision another scenario.  One where my kid is forced into this mold that says “College after high school, no if’s, and’s or but’s”, and I am not sure that the outcome is always the success that the recipe promises.

I would much rather my girls be ‘throwing their lives away’ right now, and be able to see that they CAN affect their surroundings, their actions COUNT for something, that their lives DO matter, and that they don’t HAVE to ‘go with the flow’ simply because ‘everybody else is doing it’.  What a lesson to learn this early in life.

I have often said that, while I will never say there was anything ‘positive’ about my brother’s death, I am a very different person than I would have been had my life not been impacted by something so devastating.  I would have much rather learned some of these lessons that have changed and shaped me by reading a book, taking a class, or watching a movie; but it is what it is.

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