Battles Lost and Won

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.

Battle lost

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.

leanne

Leanne, a beautiful soul now at peace in God’s hands.

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.

leanne_memorial run

Friends and family in Denver come together to remember Leanne.

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.

Maybe.

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.

Battle won

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.

Adriana’s fight

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.

naplo_familia diaz

Adriana, in her Tio Luis’ arms, with prima Flavia, abuela Elsa and Santiago.

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.

naplo_santi_adri

Adriana in daddy’s arms with Santi splashing below.

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!

13 thoughts on “Battles Lost and Won

  1. Dear Carlos-
    I wasn’t aware of how you knew Leanne. I’m so glad you got to see her, in all her loveliness, when they came to Peru. I see that as part of the gift you speak of. Her face is so happy, as she must have touched many lives in her time here. I will pray for her family, as well as Gwendolyn’s family and for you all in Peru. You’re so right that even though life is not always easy (and I guess that’s relative for everyone), we need to remember to cherish everything about it.
    All my love-
    Laurie

    • Thanks, Laurie! Dad brought me up to speed on you and the kids. I wish we could see you guys more often, but such is life. At least with Facebook, we can see pictures! Love to everyone!

  2. Carlos,
    I’m always touched, moved, tears swell my eyes and speechless to comment when I read your postings. Today I had the courage and words for I too Iost a loved one, My father passed away last Sunday. I pray for you and her family, that we find comfort knowing they touched the lives of so many and given us the gift of many happy memories.

    And to Adri and Gewndolyn, I pray god hears all our prayers.
    I’m moved by the courage and strength you and her family find at the end of the day. Give my love to Gaby, Santi and Adri
    Rosie & Armando

    • Rosie, I’m so sorry to hear about your dad. I pray you find comfort knowing he’s watching over you and your family every day. As always, thank you for following our journey and keeping in touch! Love to you, Armando and the kids!

  3. All I can say is, it is a privilege to read your posts and know what a great heart you and Gaby have. I am sorry for the loss of your friend.

  4. Carlo, I appreciate your blog. Your Dad Shared your daughter’s illness with me about a year ago. I feel sad, but really grateful that she has the parents and grandparents she has for support. We are in Hawaii for a couple of months and met a couple that recently lost their 22 year old daughter to SMD. I offered my condolences to them and they said, “David, she was the greatest blessing of our lives. She graduated from college on a ventilator. We travelled to Europe two times with her ventilator and she was a constant joy and inspiration>” I find this hard to fathom, but I am sure they are serious. They are happy people. I will later send you an email contact. Awesome folks.
    David LaMure

    • Thank you, Mr. LaMure, for reaching out to us! We’re always inspired by families like the one you met in Hawaii. We’re very fortunate that Adriana has not needed a ventilator or feeding tube, and we can only imagine how much more challenging it is for those facing more serious needs. We too feel blessed to have Adri and Santiago in our lives, and with the prayers and support of our family and friends, we’re making it through, day by day. I look forward to hearing from you again!

  5. Hi Carlos,

    I look forward to reading your blogs and was touched by your words for our friend Leanne. I am in Denver for the memorial and to say that I am still in shock and struggling to find answers as you pointed out is an understatement. It has been a healing process to be with all our friends and familiar faces and know we all are feeling the same. You described her perfectly.
    You and Gabby are amazing and have an amazing support of family and friends and I am lucky to call you both friends .
    Much love to you and Gabby and the kids.
    Anna

    • Hi Anna, thank you for the note! I’m so glad you were able to attend the memorial and are finding peace being with our old friends. We wish we could have been there. We too feel lucky to have so many friends, and even though we don’t see you often, you’re always in our thoughts and prayers. Love, Carlos and Gaby

  6. Carlos and Gaby, I talked with the folks who had the daughter who graduated from college with a respirator. She went to eternal rest about 2 and 1/2 year ago. Tom and Jo Moore are nice folks and I have shared your blog with them. their email is tomjomoore@gmail.com. They are anxious to be in contact. They are older than you, but young at heart. Gaby Ed called me for a professional opinion when you had your problem during your first trimester, as I had given him my opioion when Tere had her problem. I am a retired M.D. Pathologist with great interest in malignancies of the breast. Since there was no mention of this hope and fervently pray that this is a none issue. I am a 35 year of pancreatic cancer. God only Knows why.
    God Bless the four of you and be assured that you are lifted up daily in our prayers.
    David

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