Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Friends Who Inspire on the Journey

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of meeting with a friend to pick up three blankets for Katie's Comforters Guild to donate to Seattle Children's Hospital. Leigh and I haven't had a visit for several years (though we run into each other occasionally and are friends on facebook), so we decided to make an occasion of it and meet for lunch, as well.

I first met Leigh about 10 years ago when she came to the Lectionary study group which I attended. I remember liking her immediately, and then being stunned when she told us that her beautiful, beloved, only son (she has two daughters, too) had recently died by suicide. I recall a silence of respectful compassion in the circle -- peace and caring went out to her.

Leigh struck me from the beginning as a woman with no self-pity nor bitterness, with a lot of courage and a great deal of love. She got involved with groups to promote understanding of suicide, and helped by speaking to families in need. When I saw her yesterday, she radiated joy, energy, humor and caring. We had a great time over lunch. I noticed that we laughed harder and louder than anyone else in the cafe. We talked about that joy, about the path of grief, about things that people say to bereaved mothers, things we felt, how it was to be a wife and mother in this situation, the impact on our extended families, how we wanted to live in the wake of our child's passing, and how we DIDN'T want our lives to be. It was so comfortable to talk with Leigh; I felt that she understood everything I said. I am thankful for the gift of knowing her.

Another person who has blessed me since Katie's passing is Carin Towne (and her husband Jeff). Carin and Jeff are the parents of Ben Towne (and Ryan, too). Carin was introduced to me by one of our favorite oncology nurses; I'm so thankful for that introduction. You might recall that Gregg and I were in their video last September. Carin and Jeff have taken their heartbreak over Ben's death and turned it into fire -- the fire of change, of progress, of redemption, of not taking the "status-quo-no" for an answer.

I love the fire in Carin's eyes. It is not a bitter flame; its fuel is love (and grief), and it burns brightly with humor, fierceness, tenacity, intelligence, dignity, spontaneity, and grace. I am a more hopeful person because Carin and Jeff are helping to bring the answer to my prayers to Seattle now: they have gifted the Center for Childhood Cancer Research with their son's name, and with $5,000,000. Talk about turning your grief into something positive!

Both of these women inspire me. They both embody what I feel are the qualities that make it possible to survive the death of a child: gratitude and generosity (you could say that both of these are born of love). The way to the light, for me, during the darkest days seems to be to remember -- and give thanks for -- my blessings, and to be aware that there is ALWAYS someone else in pain out there (possibly in a worse situation than I am), and that I can do something positive with what I have left, right here, right now. That is how Katie's Comforters Guild was born. That is why I am sitting here, writing this today. That is what Leigh's and Carin's examples say to me.

Thank God for good friends on this path. As Leigh said yesterday, "I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy," but good company sure helps!
Here are links to information about the Towne family's recent gift.

Introducing: The Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research from ben towne foundation on Vimeo.



If you live in the area, you can request a tour of the new Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research in Seattle. It's a wonderful thing to see!


Elizabeth said...

Karen, even though we don't have the pleasure of knowing these people, I am so grateful that you share them with us so eloquently. Your grace and gratitude and resilience are a constant inspiration. Thank you.

Busy Bee Suz said...

It is monumental what we can accomplish in the face of grief! All three of you are making waves in this world all in the name of love...and that is the most beautiful thing ever! I am inspired and I know that I am not alone.