It takes a village


You all know the old saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

Well, tonight I am realizing just how true that cliche really is, and how much more there is to the story than simply the raising of the child.

About 15 years ago, I met a sweet young kindergarten teacher. She was gentle, thoughtful, very beautiful, and she possessed an innocence of spirit that made this older woman want to hold her close and help her through the struggles of public school teaching.   She and I worked together with many children, she as the classroom teacher, me as the speech/language specialist and special education connection.

I remember watching her mature, watching as she learned the ropes and developed her skills in teaching and in meeting with anxious parents.

And I remember, so clearly, one Valentine’s morning.  I was in her classroom to help with a reading lesson.  Suddenly, a group of men stood in the doorway, wearing black vests and bowties.  The tallest of them, sporting a wicked grin and an armful of long-stemmed red roses, said, “Dave sent us to serenade you!”  The four men came into the room, arranged themselves around the little tables filled with cut out paper and crayons, and began to sing.  The lush harmonies of a barbershop quartet competed with the giggles of delighted five year olds, and the teacher stood motionless in blushing beauty.

I remember when her sweetheart (another of my colleagues) proposed, and she accepted. I remember seeing photos of their wedding.

And I can clearly remember when they announced that they were expecting their first child.  She was still the kindergarten teacher, and he was teaching phys ed, keeping the hordes of active children in check with his firm, calm, gentle hand. All of us at school were delighted for them! It was such a sweet story, and we all basked in its warmth.

I remember meeting that sweet first born girl shortly after her birth, and I remember my pleasure when I found out that she was going to be a big sister.

When the second daughter was born, I remember attending an end-0f-year party with the parents and both little girls. I can recall, so clearly, shooing the parents into the back yard to relax a bit and to let their toddler play while I held the sleeping infant girl in my arms. I remember her smell, the softness of her golden hair.  I remember the laughs, at my expense, when other teachers called me “Nonni-wannabe” and teased me about my skills as a baby rocker extraordinaire.

I remember the shock that I felt three years ago when we were told that the younger child, the sweet golden haired baby, had been diagnosed with leukemia. I remember the sorrow, the helplessness, the prayers.

I wished on falling stars for her recovery. I picked four-leaf-clovers.  I prayed, I sang, I tried to make bargains with God.

With all of my colleagues, and with all of the friends and family and neighbors of this young family, I baked and made suppers. We raised money to help defray the terrible costs, we donated gift cards, we wrote checks.  We hoped, we offered encouragement, we engaged in every kind of magical thinking.

For three long, long, years this family has fought the good fight against a vicious and insatiable disease.  That little girl and her Momma were away from home for over a year, trying everything to keep her alive. Her big sister and her cat and her Dad stayed at home, working to keep the home fires alight.

For three terrible, deceitful years that poor little kid underwent every possible treatment to defeat her awful foe.  She struggled, she fought, she kept going against all odds. By all accounts, she kept on laughing, kept on demanding, kept on living as long as she possibly could.

Last night, after so much pain and so much suffering, her little seven year old body could take no more, and she succumbed.

How do we make sense of such a thing?  What can we possibly say to explain how such an unfair and unwarranted event could be allowed to happen? Where is God? What is he thinking? Where is the plan? What purpose was served here?

I have no words to put meaning to what this loving, kind, generous family has had to endure.

What I am left with is this: Every day is a gift.  Every child is a blessing.  Every life is worth everything.  We must all take care of each other, every day.  And in honor of this brave, strong warrior of a girl, we owe it to all of the children on earth to fight as hard as we can to ensure that they live well for every minute that is granted to them.

It takes a village to raise a child. And it takes a village to mourn a child, and to comfort and support those who are left behind by the loss of that child.

In honor of Meg,  3/25/05-7/4/12

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18 thoughts on “It takes a village

  1. In honour of Meg and how lovely that so many honour her. Every day is a gift. It is 4.07am in Scotland and I’m sitting with a cuppa and a sleeping but inquisitive grumpy old cat and life is not straightforward here. Here’s to caring and supportive folks like you. Life is tough – we all need people who care.

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    • Oh, dear! 4:07?
      I am happy that you have your feline companion; I often spend those sleepless hours with a dog beside me. Hoping that life is kind to you and that your spirits rise soon. “Life is not straightforward”- I think that you are wonderfully understated, my friend. Sometimes, to me, the whole thing just sucks.

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  2. This is just heartbreaking. My prayers are with Meg and her family and the community that rallied round them. Meg was an angel, sent to teach us the very lessons you describe at the conclusion of your piece. Everyone who knew Meg, and who reads your tribute to her, will live their lives differently, more mindfully, more kindly. She accomplished more in her seven years than most people do in 70.
    The lesson for those of us with grown children is to be grateful that they thrived and became adults, not to be sad that they are no longer little. When my son first went away to college, and I wished him home, I would think of my neighbor whose son had a terrible diving accident and became mentally handicapped, so that he will never leave home on his own. Now his dad is dead, and at some point, his mom will be gone too, and he will have to go to an institution. I certainly didn’t want my son home on those terms.

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    • You are so right! I wrote something like that to my kids last night. I know that when I feel melancholy, it is in no way the same as the grief that is felt by those who have lost a child. I know that so well.
      I think that you are right, too, about how much Meg did accomplish in that too short life.
      I just keep thinking of my friends, waking up today in a world without their daughter in it. How do they go on?

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      • I think they have to feel that they were blessed to have her for the years they did, that she is safe with God and free from pain, that she is now watching over them as they watched over her, and that they will see her again. They should feel they are somehow special because they were chosen to bring Meg’s message to the community and the world. I am convinced that people in your town are better parents and spouses and neighbors because of her. Her illness was three years of preaching to the community about what’s important and how we should live. The human part of us feels unbearable grief, but the divine part of us understands “the bigger picture” and comforts the human part.

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  3. Such a lovely tribute to such a sweet life and soul. I don’t think the answer can be found on this side of the “curtain” that helps us make sense of the death of a child. I’ve known so many Megs, whether they died at two or twenty-two, and I have no answers, hoping against hope that this preamble called life on Earth is only the prologue to an eternal life where the Megs of life will be seen again. I hope and therefore I can go on and live–appreciating each new day and each new life. Very beautiful, Momsheib!

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  4. Thanks, Eleanor! I knew that you would have some words of wisdom and strength. I do have great faith that there is another existence out there after this “preamble” (great word choice!). Still, the pain that will never leave her parents and her only sibling just can’t be explained or easily accepted. I fear that I am less accepting than I would like to be; I am furious for my friends, as well as so sad for them.
    What do you do when you wake up in a world that no longer contains your child? I just don’t know.

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  5. What a beautiful tribute to a beautiful girl and her lovely family. Sometimes life is so unfair, and you are right – life is a gift, but unfortunately it is a gift that can sometimes be taken away, without time to prepare, without warning or without making sense. And when that happens, we are left wondering why. My dad tells me that God has a plan and that while we may not know what that plan is or understand it, it is His plan and He is in control of everything. It is dark times like these that I have to trust my Dad’s words and instead of questioning why the gift of life was taken away too soon, in my opinion, and instead treasure the memory of each and every day that I was able to enjoy the gift. Many hugs and much love to you, my friend.

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    • Thanks, Beth.
      I know that we are supposed to just treasure every day, and I do try very hard to do that with my own family and friends. I get it. And when my Dad was dying, I was able to accept it. Same with grandparents, aunts, even friends that I have lost too soon. But I just can’t find a way to accept that there is a plan when a baby only gets 7 years of life, and 3 of them were torture. I can’t manage to wrangle a reasonable explanation out of that, other than, “Life is random. We can’t predict a thing, so we have to make it the best we can.”

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  6. Hooping Meg’s village status there to comfort each other for their loss. And even though she was young, I’m sure she left her family a lifetime of happy memories.

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    • I know; there are no words. That is what is so hard. How can anyone go on after something so terrible?
      Thank you for reading it, and for commenting.
      I feel like the only little way that I can help is to let people know that Meg lived.

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