Monday, February 9, 2009

Bittersweet Weekend

It was a bittersweet weekend. The chain of events started on Super Bowl Sunday, with an email that one of my sweetest friends in NY had lost her sixteen year old son. He died in his sleep after a long, courageous battle with muscular dystrophy.

Over the course of the week my friend was constantly on my mind. Hubby and I went to his memorial service on Saturday. We drove down winding country roads, soaking up the first truly sunny day in weeks. The car stopped in front of this amazing little church that was filled with a large family and even larger circle of friends, a sanctuary full of people who loved Cooper and wanted to celebrate his beautiful life.

On Wednesday I wrote a note to my friend, in the form of an essay. She then asked me to read it at his service. I still stumble with grief issues myself, and having a close friend experience the kind of loss that makes me lose sleep at night, I was not sure I could do it. So my hero stepped up.

Hubby walked to the front of that church and read Cooper's essay for me, as I stood right next to him, sobbing quietly. He only had to stop once, to collect his emotions.

Afterward there were more tears, more hugs, and a long car ride home, feeling that unique kind of fatigue that comes with grief.

We pulled into the driveway of our own home, full of healthy, breathing children, with bright futures ahead of them (I pray...) and found them all being cared for by my in-laws, who were in town from NH. The evening started with a big hot meal, prepared by Grammy, and ended with card games we played until way past bedtime.

And Jeff and I laid in bed, remembering the day, and counting our blessings. No family should have to go through what Cooper's family did. And no family should have to feel the depth of that grief. But some families do. Regular families like yours and mine and my friend who lives on the back roads of New York.

Cooper's Essay follows. Read it and be reminded that healthy children with bright futures are a gift. Never to be taken for granted.

After This Day

I did not know Cooper. I don't know Cooper's dad and only met his sister with the bright smile once. But I know Cooper's mom. She is someone who is on my most treasured friends list. I don't get to see her often but the times I spend with her I cherish. And there was never a time I was around this friend that she didn't talk about her son.

She made it seem like having a child with a disability was a regular life experience. Like this is just what life is about. Taking what is handed to you and not just tolerating it or mulling through it, but delighting in it.

Delighting in a son who would not physically develop in the same way her classroom full of five year olds did. Treasuring the magical and unique things about her boy, the same way every mother does. And loving him with the fierceness of a mother's heart.

Because beyond his limitations and his growing disabilities, down deep, that is who Cooper was. He was Mary Beth's son. He was Tim's son. And he was Kali's little brother.

This day will be hard for the people who loved him. Especially hard for the three people who knew him best. Because after this day life moves on. Life without Cooper moves on.

After this day everyone goes home and jumps into their daily routines. They carry a love for these friends who lost a son, and a deep desire to take away their pain, but the reality is, no one has a magic wand with that kind of power.

So the sun will keep rising and coffee will be poured into cups that sit in the cup holder of the long commute to work. The friends of Coopers who huddled around his heart broken family will be forced to check back into life. And life will go on.

But after this day things will not be the same. They will never be the same. Cooper is gone and life will go on. But having loved him and then having lost him, his family will not ever be the same.

It's not a bad thing. His stamp on their lives and their hearts will never be erased. His smile will never leave their memory. Seeing his favorite food on the grocery store shelves and not putting it in the cart will be excruciating. Seeing his favorite teams as they come on TV or make newspaper headlines, will bring tears, probably even years from now. Taking a family picture and only centering three people for the shot will be heart stabbing painful.

But after this day they will all find the routine that is life without their son, life as an only child. It will take a long time and it will be painful, but a new pattern will have to find its way in.

A house will slowly rise on the foundation that was poured last fall. Cooper's room, today only a pencil lines on blueprint paper, will never know his presence. But his presence will be there. His mom will carry him in her heart. His dad will carry him also. Kali will come and go and no matter how far away her adventures take her, her brother will go with her.

Because After This Day, the day we all gathered to celebrate this special life that ended too soon, Cooper will not be gone. The events of this day, the loving words said, the precious pictures posted, the warm hugs traded back and forth, will forever be etched in the hearts of the three people who loved Cooper the most. They will carry the vivid memory of this day with them, through decades of life yet to be lived, and it will still be just as vivid in their brain on their own last days on the planet.

Because Cooper was a gift. A gift that struggled more than any child should have to struggle. But loved as much as any child can be loved. His bright smile and his loving spirit will live on.

Even After This Day.

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