The last few weeks, we’ve experienced tragedy and joy from two incredible individuals battling illness and fighting for their lives.
Two battles that may have have ended differently with the slightest of changes.
I met my friend Leanne about 12 years ago when we started working for the same company. She defined positivity. With a permanent smile on her face, you couldn’t help but feel energized when she was around.
We weren’t best friends, but I was lucky to know her…to call her a friend.
She was 33 years old, and she committed suicide.
As her husband, Josh, explained to all of us who were in shock, “she lost her battle with depression.”
I didn’t know she suffered from the horrible illness.
Just a few months ago, Leanne and Josh were finishing up their nearly two-year trip around the world with a stop in Lima Peru.
I met up with them for a couple of drinks.
I’d have bet all the money I have that the last thing Leanne would do is kill herself.
She was sick, and I couldn’t see it.
No matter how many times I replay that last evening I saw her – the last time I’ll ever see her – I cannot remember a sign that she was depressed.
Maybe that was a sign in itself.
Maybe she was so burdened with lifting us up that she couldn’t tell us she needed to change places for a while – and be lifted by us.
That even she was weak.
Maybe if we had glimpsed the true measure of pain she was in, she would still be here today.
And, I could have taken her up on that drink she offered to buy me the next time I saw her.
Instead, she did lose her battle, and it’s made us all realize how fragile life is and what’s truly important to each of us.
At about the same time my friend took her own life, a little girl was beginning a battle for hers.
Gwendolyn Strong is a six year old with Type 1 Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). Infants with Type 1 typically do not live past two years of age.
About a month ago, Gwendolyn got very sick. As her mom describes it, “half a hair in a different direction” and they would have lost her.
She fought hard and won the latest of many more battles with her disease.
Even though our Adriana, who has Type 2 SMA, is not in the same physical condition as Gwendolyn, I find myself experiencing many of the same feelings Gwendolyn’s parents do – experiences they write about in their emotional and inspiring blog.
During our latest weekend at the beach, I told Gaby how sometimes my blood boils with anger when I see healthy children running along the shore, jumping with their strong little legs into the holes they make with their strong little arms.
Adriana watches them, but I don’t know yet what’s going through her head.
She sees her brother, Santi, and cousin, Flavia, playing, and she’ll tell me she wants to “jump in the water.”
I carry her into the ocean, lowering her just enough so she feels the cold of the water on her legs and back.
Part of me wishes the sea water would awaken the nerves that would allow her to stand and walk.
She smiles and laughs just like the other kids, which in a way is a miracle in itself.
Gaby – always the positive one – needs to remind me every so often that Adriana is truly happy living here in Lima. When I take time to focus a little, I realize it’s true.
Doesn’t matter what my attitude is…she’s busy being happy!
And when I see the strength of people like Gwendolyn and her parents, I remember how fortunate we are to have another day with our children; to see them live and learn, to see them laugh and cry.
The last paragraph from their latest blog post helps me put things into perspective:
“Navigating through grief and fear and finding a way to accept that we will lose our incredible child ironically has helped us live more presently and more freely. You can disappear in the overwhelming grief, be resentful of the path you must walk, or you can live in the now and truly cherish each moment knowing it is a gift. Our daughter’s innocence that life could be any different has taught us that despite our own grief she thinks life is great — and her outlook gives us perspective. Our daughter’s terminal illness has taught us to pick ourselves up and keep moving forward — no matter how devastating the future may be. She deserves our courage. She deserves adventure. She deserves a typical childhood. She deserves a full life — and a joyful one.”
Life is a gift that can be taken away in a second.
It’s not always easy, but I hope we each cherish that gift – before God takes it back for Himself.
Thank you for being part of our lives!