Saturday, October 11, 2008

What Matters: I Think I Still Don't Get It

First things first.

Two years ago, after Evan died, I wrote this post and said I really like to stay away from the serious, the sad and the negative. At the time I couldn't but since then, clearly, I have found a way to go back to being my silly, self-involved self. I am comfortable being that person.

I know it is the easy way out. It mostly involves not thinking about much other than yourself and your immediate dramas. And it isn't that I don't think about such things I just don't see the point in giving them much forum. It is a coping mechanism. And sure, it probably prevents me from being a better a person but most times I don't care. Part of the reason I try not to think about such things is because I get bogged down on the inequities of life. I start asking why why why and making un-startling revelations that it just isn't fair.

I am not 5, I am 37 and you would think, that by this point I would get that life just isn't fair. But I don't. I still just don't get it. And so when I think about such things I just feel like I am stupid and I feel completely overwhelmed by the sadness and I just don't know how to deal with that. So my solution has been to not think about it.

Brilliant. I know.

Especially since it doesn't work.

And that brings me to number two. . . . my point, this post.

I am going to leave names out but I have this in my head and I just need to talk about it. I am not looking for an answer but I need to spill it out of my head so my heart will stop feeling like it is going to burst from sadness and guilt. So I will wind around and go on at length and maybe have no point after all. I know, not unlike many of my posts but this time you get a warning; so read at your own risk.

And here comes all the words that hopefully somewhat express the thoughts in my head and then maybe I can be a bit unburdened by it. The "it" being these uncomfortable emotions that I don't like to have. I know that isn't fair, me passing it on to you; so there is your second warning to stop reading.

On Thursday morning Carmella handed me an invitation to a birthday party for a boy in her class. A boy that I like. A good boy. A really smart, probably even gifted boy. But as I read the invitation I got annoyed.

The party is for this Saturday. Today. I was annoyed for the late notice. I query Carmella about when she received the invitation.

Yesterday she says (Wednesday).

3 days notice for a party? Who does that, I think? Do they not want people to come-- or are we on the "B" list, I wonder.

Then I am further annoyed that it is from 4 to 6 pm. Not a good time. We like to do family stuff on Saturday evenings. Not to mention we already have a birthday party the kids are attending on Saturday from 12-2. I hate double booking the parties. And Beau isn't invited to this one. That means that if Carmella goes I will have to figure out a way to entertain him, explain to him why he was left out and has to get over himself. Which normally doing that wouldn't be such a big deal but Beau knows this boy. He has played with this boy before but wasn't invited because Beau is a kindergartner. I don't think the boy's mom even knows who Beau is. So why would she invite him? I know all that but explaining it to Beau. Ugh.

Carmella, of course, wants to go. I of course want to do other things with my Saturday evening. And then I forget about the party and don't call to RSVP one way or another on Thursday. Which, I should add is my absolute biggest pet peeve. I HATE when people do not RSVP to my parties so I always make an effort to respond as soon as I know. That way I am not a hypocrite and can continue to be annoyed with those that do not respond to my invitations for their rudeness.

On Friday, yesterday, Carmella had a play date with a girl from her class. Two other little girls came over as well and Beau had a friend over too. My house was complete chaos with 6 kids and again I forget to RSVP. In fact, to be honest, I had completely forgotten about the party anyway. Well, forgot until the little girl's mom from Carmella's class comes to pick up her daughter at 5:30.

I suddenly remembered the invitation and I asked the mom if her daughter will be attending the party. Before she answers I say I only got the invitation Thursday morning and that I am unhappy with the time. The mom agrees with me that the time isn't good, that she got the invitation on Wednesday and tells me that the little boy is moving in the next week or two anyway but that her daughter is going to the party.

I give her a puzzled look and her answer to my confused look is that after the girls' teacher had called her on Sunday and told her about the little boy's sister and, well, she just felt her daughter should go.

Huh? The sister? What happened to the sister?

She died. On the little boy's birthday last week.

Oh my God.

I feel instantly ill hearing this shocking news.

And then it starts to come back to me.

Two years ago I met the little boy's mother while waiting to pick Carmella up from kindergarten. I saw her frequently in the afternoons that fall. I don't remember who started the conversation but we would often chat while we waited for our kindergartners to be released. She was pregnant at the time with her third child. We would talk about that--my best friend was pregnant at the same time and you know women. If you've been pregnant you can always empathize. It is an easy ice breaker. She also had a three year old like I did. A girl though. During our little conversations she mentioned to me that her daughter had had brain cancer. A bombshell that took my breath away. But she was better, in remission, she told me. Of course I was sad to hear of her daughter's illness but was happy, relieved that she was recovered and the mom and I could go on exchanging small talk without the burden of despair hanging over us and me fumbling for the sensitive, understanding thing to say.

I am not good at being sensitive. And when put in the situation where I need apply sensitivity I pretty much feel like I fail the test every time. In my defense though, I do try. I do always try to make an effort as I tend to think that ignoring it and saying nothing lacks compassion more than saying the wrong thing. At least that is how I lean.

Anyway, my point is that the mother and I were just passing acquaintances and we always said hi but never went beyond that. Every time I see her though I do still have that passing thought of how devastating it must to have been for her to have had to deal with her child being sick with cancer. She seemed, to me, to be a very positive and upbeat person in spite of all that she had been through.I think that says great things about the character of her person. I admired her for this. I knew that she was just a better person than I am. And well, I always instantly like people who I think are better than me. Which, right. That does mean I happen to like almost everybody.

But of course, because I am me and living my self involved life, I had forgotten my admiration when I received the birthday invitation. Funny the stuff we forget when inconvenienced.

My heart breaks to hear that the little girl (yes I know her name), who was now 5, had died from the cancer. It had come back. And I am heartbroken for the little boy in Carmella's class to not only have lost his little sister but on his eighth birthday no less.

Then the mother of the little girl who is playing at my house tells me that all this happened right around the birth of their fourth child-- who came prematurely. In fact, she tells me the day they brought the baby home is the day the daughter went into the hospital.

I was at first confused since I hadn't known the mom was pregnant again and thought for a minute that I was thinking of someone else. But upon clarification I realize that it is indeed the same woman I was thinking of and my mind was just dizzy with heartbreak for this poor family: selling a house, moving, a birthday, a premature birth, and worst of all the loss of a child. All at the same time.

I know me, and I know most people, and most people would be completely overwhelmed at just one of those incidents on that list. All of them, on at least one level--if not multiple levels, are life altering.

But all of them happening at once?

How does one even begin to cope?

To deal?

Talk about the inequities of life. . .

Talk about things not being fair. . .

Talk about sadness, despair, heartbreak. Devastation.

I just don't even know what to think. It has all been swirling in my head, sitting heavily on my heart and making feel a little bit like throwing up trying to sort it all out.

And of course, my worry, my guilt is that I did not RSVP. I am sure, without a doubt that this family doesn't care. But I feel terrible at myself. And now I don't know what to do, and it just seems so absurd. Without a doubt I know that Carmella should go to this party. That isn't the question and was always the answer even before knowing what I now know. That is what is most important. Without a doubt the little boy should get to have the best possible birthday with all of his friends. Every kid should.

But, you know, I haven't RSVP and well, that is just rude. I go back and forth with this.

On the one hand I think I will just skip the party and send a gift on Monday. But then I think what if everyone else thought like me and no one goes to this little boy's party. That would be terrible for him.

So I think I am just going to call. Apologize for not calling sooner and see if it will be okay if Carmella can come. That is the right thing to do. Isn't it? The little boy having his friends at the party is the thing that matters most, right?

.. some things don't matter much. Like the color of a house. How big is that in the overall scheme of life? But lifting a person's heart--now, that matters. The whole problem with people is ... they know what matters, but they don't choose it... The hardest thing on earth is choosing what matters. from The Secret Life of Bees

Way too often I am wondering about what is the right thing to do. Most times I realize too late what is the right thing. I too often let other things-- things that don't matter-- cloud my judgement. I feel like I need to have this quote from the book The Secret Life of Bees taped on my left arm as a permanent cheat sheet so I won't forget-- cause damn it-- I just keep forgetting. It really shouldn't be that hard in just knowing what matters and choosing the right thing. It just shouldn't.

So I messed up. Again.

Boy, I am really messing up a lot lately.

Thanks for listening.

And please say your prayers for this family. They are good people. Better than me definitely, and probably better than you.

*******Just wanted to say that Carmella did go to the party. Ryan dropped her off but I went early to pick her up and had the chance to personally extended myself to the mom. I think, we had a very nice talk. I know it doesn't change anything for her, for her family--me saying anything, us being there-- but I do hope, at the very least, that the party helped make the darkness a little less dark for them yesterday. And I am glad to have been a part of that brightness.

Again, thanks for listening, reading . . .

I will say that doing the thing that matters most might seem hard at first but after you do it, you find it really was the easiest thing in the world to do. ************


  1. You know guys aren't supposed to tear up, but this post and the one about Evan made me.

    I think the one statement you made really sums it up though. His family doesn't really care if you RSVP. They just want the best possible party for their little boy.

    I hope you do call, I hope you and Carmella go to the party and I hope you have a wonderful time.

    I know me, in a situation like that I'd probably go buy the kid a toy and spend way more money than I normally would for a kid I hardly know. And Vic would give me a hard time about it, but that's just me. I'm a softy I guess.

    I was visiting my Father in St. Josephs Hospital several years ago. The Nuns were trying to get new beanie babies for all the kids in the childrens ward for some special event. Not sure what it was, but it was very important to them and they were very short on donations. Money wasn't tight then, so I bought every kid in the place one. I was pretty anxious and worried about my Dad, but doing that for those kids sure made me feel good that day.

    Hang in there and be your positive, happy self at the party. I will say a special prayer for the family today, and for yours as well.

  2. I think you give yourself far too little credit...this post alone shows what a kind-hearted and sensitive person you are. You are a great person!

  3. I agree with Colleen. Hope the party was fun and that the little boy had a great time.

  4. Thanks for putting things in perspective... I could see myself doing the same thing as I was reading this, I only hope I would have done the right thing as you did. I feel for this family and sometimes can't believe how blessed I am and take it for granted. I admire their strength and hurt for their pain. I loved the quote... see if you can get a 2 for 1 on the tattoo... I'll go with you... :)

  5. That's a beautiful story of how we should behave every day. And of course you would go I never had a doubt.

  6. I am not sure how anyone even begins to breathe again after experiencing that loss. It is simply too much. I incessantly complain about "the hassle" of the barrage of children's parties to which the girls are invited (and everything else I don't want to do). I needed the reminder of practicing graciousness rather than focusing so often on what I deem an inconvenience. Great post Nat! -Tracy

  7. God, that is just . . . like you, i feel ill even contemplating the loss of a child. This came at an interesting time, too. I have been reading this book about Centenarians, and one of them said something that rang so true for me, much like the quote from Secret Life of Bees.

    This woman said that she realized that in life, she wasted a lot of time trying to be smart or be right, and what really mattered was what you did to make other people happy.

    And you put yourself and Carmella in that family's life, and while it can't bring their child or sister back, it added up to help them get through one day. That is something.