Thursday, March 08, 2007

Taking Nothing For Granted

So I have to say that ever since Anne's funeral I've been really thinking about a lot of those issues that we just don't like to think about out loud. No one likes to talk about death or when their time will come. People tend to throw around the cliche expressions and distribute chain-letter emails reminding us to appreciate life and the ones we love, but do we really?

A couple of days ago, I came across a blog courtesy of Terri, another blogger that I like to check out. Jennifer Ireland's blog was started in January 2006 by her husband, Chris. Chris and Jennifer share two daughters under the age of 2 and at 28, Jennifer was diagnosed with colon cancer. What followed, was a year of treatment, courage and the public sharing of their personal experience of their battle, which sadly ended last month. Jennifer passed away in February and her husband's loving and positive journaling for the blogging world has moved me tremendously. Yesterday I read the blog backwards and re-traced their experience to the day when they first heard the dreaded diagnosis. My heart aches for this couple, their daughters and the friends and family Jennifer had to leave behind. What resonates in every post, is Chris and Jennifer's gratitude for what they shared together. For the daughters that they created. For the outpouring of support that buoyed them through the most difficult time in their young lives.

Another good friend of mine, Julie, recently shared with me her loss of a friend.. another young mother who died suddenly of a brain aneurysm. She left behind two little ones as well.

I don't want to, but I think about these women and other stories like theirs, all the time. My initial reaction is a torrent of feelings of fear and panic. If this happened to me, what would become of my children? Jonathan and I need to live forever because who will take care of Will, Owen and Jacob? These feelings warrant some practical planning to secure their futures, but panicking and spending nights lying awake in bed fretting over it, does nothing but cause me anxiety for something I cannot control. The lesson I am trying to take from learning of these women, is that I need to appreciate every moment that I have with my family. With the five of us.

Life gets busy. We get caught up in the details of our day. Packing lunches. Hoarding the kids into the van for the trips to and from school. Arguing over putting on a pair of socks or cleaning up the puddle of water under the water cooler, from the son who 'stimmed' on watching it flow. When you are sending your child to his room for a time-out after he told you "No. I am not eating that garbage", after you slaved over a meal, it's hard to remember that you are supposed to stop and enjoy the moment. When Will's foot kicks me square on the bridge of my nose because he doesn't like the sound of Elmo's voice on the television, it's hard to look at him with the warm glow of a mother's love. When Owen looks through me as if I don't even exist, it's hard to find the joy.

But you know what? There are moments that I cherish. Moments that I know most parents would never appreciate with their children, because quite frankly, they take those moments for granted.

A few days ago Jonathan and I were sitting together on the couch, watching something on tv. This in itself is rare. Out of nowhere, Owen came running over to us and jumped in between us for a cuddle. He wasn't there to be squashed.. something he normally seeks out to feed his need for deep pressure. He sat perfectly still in between us for a whole five minutes. He wasn't watching the tv, he wasn't looking to be entertained. He just looked from my face to Jonathan's and smiled that sweet smile of his. It was a moment that I cherish because I experienced the conscious thought that I was blessed to have my sons. I was thankful that Owen.. Owen who is not yet capable of saying the words "I love you".. not even always capable of expressing that love with any physical expression of a hug or even a look.. Owen showed me that he loved us. His grin also showed me that he loved being part of our family. He loved the closeness of his mother and father and he was happy to be a happy kid.

This might sound wishy-washy to you, but these moments with my twins are rare. When I find myself in the midst of experiencing a flash of understanding with my boys, a little burst of connection where I know they 'feel' me.. I feel so much love for them that I feel like the word autism never existed. It makes it all worthwhile.

Jonathan and I getting to go out together since we've moved to Calgary.. it's not only a rarity, but it's really only a faint memory of the days where we had babysitters. (We miss you Bronwyn and Diane!). Last week Emma was here for a visit and we etched out an evening to spend some alone time together. Thank you Emms! What marked it as being an unforgettable experience, was not only that we got to spend some grown-up time together. Time where we could talk about stuff that wasn't weighed down with topics of responsibility, obligation and stress. It was time to laugh and make fun of each other (something we're good at!). Time to eat good food at a new restaurant (all you can eat Mongolian Grill and Sushi-bar). Time to make grown-up conversation with our waitress, as she just might be the only grown-up I'll speak to all week who isn't connected with my kids. We even enjoyed the 60 minutes we spent together strolling slowly through the aisles of the Co-op grocery store afterwards, grateful that we didn't have a deadline or kids screaming in our shopping cart.

The BEST part of our night was the moment we walked out the door. Jake gave me one of his fiercest bear hugs ever, with an "I love you" that implied that he might never see me again. I knelt down to illicit a verbal "buh-buh" from Owen with a wave, and a "byee-byee" from Will. When Owen and Will both kissed me goodbye, how was I to know that they would both begin to howl and cling to my legs? Did I feel bad about it? Did I regret that I forced them to say goodbye instead of doing the silent, unnoticed sneak out of the house? Not at all. I was thrilled. So happy that they noticed that I was leaving them. I was elated that they even cared. It was a first for us to have all three of our boys in complete awareness of what was not only happening around them, but for them to have the awareness and to feel how it emotionally affected them. It was another moment that I will file away in my treasure-box of memories. And I'm sure it was a moment that most parents would resent or find frustration in.

Gratitude for what you have, does not always have to be expressed with a thank you. I believe that it can be shown in paying it forward. I have often shared my thoughts on how much I appreciate all of the people who helped to enable my family to be where we are today. It would be impossible and unreasonable to make daily phone calls, to express our thank you's verbally. I believe you can show it in your appreciation for what you have. Every morning when I drive my kids to school, I drive down a road that gives me a clear view of the Rocky Mountains. Some days I see only the peaks as their bodies are enshrouded in clouds. Some days I only have the knowledge that they are there because I saw them yesterday. Most days I'm fortunate enough that the Alberta sunshine is our norm and I feel like the mountains never end. Every morning I say thanks to those mountains. The mountains are a gift from God and my reminder of everything that is beautiful in my life. For every guest that visits us in Calgary, I feel like I have a responsibility to share that gift with them. When I am questioned by others for why I am driving my zillionth mile out to Banff to share the experience with our guests, I silently answer that I owe it to them. I owe it to myself to share this beauty with others. It is an expression of my gratitude.

Ian shared with us how ever since his mother suffered a heart attack five years ago, his family cherished every moment spent with his mother until her death a couple of weeks ago. I don't want to wake up one day with the regret that my children didn't know I loved them. If I found out that I won't wake up tomorrow, I don't want my friends or family to feel that I did not appreciate them. I don't want all of the people who have supported us to feel that I took it for granted.

I love my boys, I love my family and I love my life. I am lucky and I am grateful for all of it.

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