When last we joined one another it was in a conversation about death. In particular, it was about the death of a young man which occurred on Wednesday, July 19, of this year – a mere three weeks ago.
There’s a family that has been asking ‘why’ and struggling with the loss of their son, brother, cousin, nephew, grandson and friend.
But what I left out of that glimpse into a father’s grief is that I was there. No, I wasn’t at the crash sight; I was in the hospital. I was there when the medevac helicopters flew in. I was there when the driver and passenger of the vehicle were brought to a hospital which would go on to save their lives while the life of their friend had already passed.
While the son of my friend died, while his friends were receiving care from one of the best hospitals in the state, I was experiencing pure elation. Well, perhaps not pure elation. It was definitely scarred by fits of terror, particularly associated with the fear of the unknown.
35 weeks, 2 days.
You see, I wasn’t supposed to be in that hospital. I was supposed to be at home with my wife. We were supposed to go in for a doctor’s visit in the afternoon, and we did. But they never let us leave. As a matter of fact, we wouldn’t leave the hospital until the following Sunday.
Oblivious to the fact that anything was going on in the outside world, let alone that my friend’s son had been in an accident that would claim his life, my wife and I were admitted to the hospital directly from the obstetrician’s office.
Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.
They wouldn’t even let us go to the car to get the suitcase we’d stashed for just such an occasion. We did not expect to be there, yet we were.
And at about the same time that my friend’s son was thrown from a vehicle and took his final breath, my own daughter and son drew their first.
They were early, certainly, but they were everything we had hoped and prayed for. Our twins came out happy and healthy. They didn’t spend any time in the NICU. We were able to hold them. We were, a few short days later, able to take them home with minimal complications.
My wife had a rough couple of days, but that’s almost to be expected as the result of many major surgeries.
So when I heard the awful news Thursday morning, I was devastated. The loss of life alone would have broken me before, but now I, too, was a father. I, too, had a sense of what it means to love a child, if even for only a few hours. Something inside of me understood the loss on a different level than I have before.
Losing young people always hurts me more than losing those who’ve lived long lives, but this time it was strange and unfamiliar. I struggled on a whole new level to wrap my head around something that made no sense.
And then, hours after we were released from the hospital, I left my wife and newborn babies to join hundreds of other people in mourning the loss and celebrating the life of a child who was only three weeks away from starting college.
Why is it important for me to tell you all of this?
It’s important because through all of this, I have had to take care of myself. I have had to keep my side of the street clean. I have had to be there for my wife and children the last three weeks just like my friend has had to be there for his wife and kids.
But I can guarantee you one thing that he and I have had in common the last three weeks: we are not going through this alone. They say that it takes a village to raise a child. I can honestly say that we have been surrounded by a village. People have been fixing meals, dropping by to hold or help with the babies, and constantly checking in on us. I know that the same is true for my friend and his family.
This is why accountability is important. This is why having a sponsor is important. This is why making phone calls is important. This is why trying to do everything yourself, trying to be everything for everyone, doesn’t work.
Just as it takes a village to raise a child (let alone two), it also takes a village to become and remain sober.
I went to my first meeting this week since the birth of my children. And I’ll tell you what, I needed that meeting. I needed to hear the experience, strength and hope of others. I needed the reminder that I’m not alone in this.
As weird as it may sound, for the weeks I didn’t make it to a meeting, I didn’t even have time to think about my addiction. I didn’t have time to think about acting out. I barely had time to breathe and sleep because my entire focus was on the needs of my wife and children.
But when my entire focus is on people other than myself, that means that I’m running the risk of not taking care of myself. I’m running the risk of a lapse or a relapse because I’m not paying attention to how I feel. I’m not working the program. I’m not spending time in prayer. I’m not talking to my sponsor.
As much as my wife and children need me, they need me to be whole. They need me to be healthy.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve done some self-care. I’ve been sure to get out of the house occasionally to exercise or run some errands. But it’s not enough.
I have to get back to my routine. I have to get back into the swing of things. I have to do this one day at a time and not rest on my laurels because the moment I begin to think that the recovery time I have is enough to keep me going is the moment I start walking toward a relapse.
Remember that in and through all things, self-care is a necessity. Self-care is not selfish. Self-care keeps us sane and allows us to put our best foot forward.
Elijah was afraid and fled for his life. He went to Beersheba, a town in Judah, and he left his servant there. Then he went on alone into the wilderness, traveling all day. He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.”
Then he lay down and slept under the broom tree. But as he was sleeping, an angel touched him and told him, “Get up and eat!” He looked around and there beside his head was some bread baked on hot stones and a jar of water! So he ate and drank and lay down again.
Then the angel of the Lord came again and touched him and said, “Get up and eat some more, or the journey ahead will be too much for you.”
So he got up and ate and drank, and the food gave him enough strength to travel forty days and forty nights to Mount Sinai, the mountain of God. There he came to a cave, where he spent the night.
1 Kings 19:3-9
One life ends and new life begins. It seems obvious enough, but it’s not everyday that we’re affected so intimately by both happening at the same time. It certainly puts a new perspective on things.
Dear God, creator of all things. We come to you today humbled by the fact that you sent Jesus to die on a cross. We are in awe of life itself. We are only beginning to understand the expanses of the universe and will surely never be able to fully understand you. We are sorry that no matter how hard we try, we fall short of doing your will at all times. Sometimes we even forget to ask what your will is. We’ll try to do better. It’s really all we can do. Thank you for giving us life, for giving us families, for giving us friends. No matter how much or how little time we spend on this earth, we are grateful for the relationships that we’ve been able to cultivate. We are grateful for the memories that we’re making and the memories that we have to hold on to. We ask that you continue to shower us with grace and mercy. We value your guidance and direction for our lives. Please be with us in the good times and the bad. We will continue working to be faithful to you just as you have asked. All this we pray in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
– Alex Walker