Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Rebuilding a Lovely Life After Tragedy

Me, on my way to see "Cinderella"

On December 6, I went on a date to see Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella at the Fifth Avenue Theater. I pampered myself a bit the day before, getting my hair colored, a facial, a body scrub, and a manicure. I nagged my foster teenager to do her homework, then enjoyed dinner and the theater with my date.

The next morning, I got a phone call that changed my life forever.

My cousin's wife was taken to the emergency room and diagnosed with liver failure. I pulled her three boys, my cousins, out of school so they could go visit their mom at the hospital. (I find it amazing that the paperwork authorizing me as the emergency contact had JUST gone through the day before; and I'd JUST the day before practiced finding and driving to their school in case I ever needed to).

After nine long dark days of wondering, worrying, entertaining the kids to distract them, hospital visits and waiting, my cousin's wife died. Her young sons are eleven, eight and six. My cousin, the widower, is now a single parent with many childcare needs for special needs kids.

I truly hope you never have to be in the room when three young boys are told their mother has died.

Just three months ago another cousin had died and left me her daughter to care for. I can't believe our family has had another mother die far too young. It's been difficult for my foster teenager to watch three young boys go through the process of losing and grieving their mom, too.

My Christmas tree, with gifts for three newly motherless boys, donated by family and wrapped by a kind friend of mine

Caring for my young cousins during the emergency brought many humbling experiences for me. I normally have a nice big emergency fund, and I make a decent living. But taking three weeks off work for this emergency depleted my savings faster than I would have thought. Stressed, we didn't feel like cooking so went out to dinner most nights, too.

Without time to shop, and the boys' tattered, filthy clothing left behind in their mother's filthy apartment, we gratefully accepted bags of clean, nearly new, serviceable clothes that ladies at the boys' school donated. Other people donated grocery cards, toys for Christmas, gas cards for our hospital trips. Never having been a recipient of charity or assistance like this before, I found it didn't hurt my pride at all, just made me so glad for people's kindness in our family emergency. I'm usually the person giving charity, not accepting it, and I'm looking forward to "paying it forward" and donating again to food banks, clothing drives, etc. in 2012.

This sad, horrible, dark December made 2011 the worst year of my life. We dreaded Christmas, which came just four days after the funeral. This was the first Christmas without their mothers for my four cousins. We got through it and made it special for the younger kids, I'm proud to say. I was disappointed that I was too exhausted to do much decorating in my house; my outdoor Christmas lights were sparse and sad looking; my Christmas dinner wasn't cooked as nicely as I'd hoped I could do. But we were together, and laughing when we could, playing with the kids, enjoying the donated toys.

Already we're making plans for the year ahead. Camping, ice skating, picnics when the weather is nice, attending plays, going to the Seattle Aquarium, going to the zoo.

I'm now a "soccer foster mom" for four little people, and finding it challenging to work everyone's tutoring, speech therapy, doctor, dentist and sports appointments into my daily schedule. I can do it though.

The three boys don't live with me, but we sure spend a lot of time with them. We've cleared our schedules and made room for Family nights; I did 21 bedtime routines in a row, leaving my home at 7:30 every night and returning around 9pm. Just part of my new daily schedule now. Other family members have kindly committed to caring for the boys every Sunday while their father is at work. My teenager is working to improve her grades so she can take time one evening a week to babysit, giving my cousin and me a break from the boys.

We'll get through this. I'm still crying myself to sleep every night; my cousin's wife has only been dead for three weeks, so I am not too worried about myself. This is part of the normal grieving process and I know it will pass. My life will change in many ways, but this is not about me. The boys' lives have already changed immensely.

Still, I know my days of carefree girls-nights-out, cocktails and dinner a few times a week, and impromptu spontaneous dates and events are over for a long while. I'll replace those fun events with new child-centered, joyful activities. Someday my foster teenager will move out and go to college; and I'll get my widowed cousin married off to a nice lady who likes kids, grin. Then I can rebuild and reinvent my life yet again!

Have you ever experienced a family emergency during the holidays? Care to share any of your experiences?

Best wishes to all of you for a happy, healthy, safe and lovely 2012!

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