Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Worth it

“If you had asked me, before this happened, what the worst thing in my life would be, it would be to lose a child. To lose Sarah. I now know that there is one thing worse and that would be never to have had her at all. Right. So what that tells me is to look at all these wonderful things she did accomplish and to enjoy them, let them bring you happiness.”
- Jan Phelan, Sarah Burke's mom.
Quote retrieved from the video at:  http://olympics.cbc.ca/blogs/author/nick-purdon/article/sarah-burke-legacy-lives-sochi-olympics.html

I forgot an appointment today. I missed my reminder on my email because I was away from my desk when it popped up on my computer. So fifteen minutes later I got a call from the person with whom I was to have met. "You coming?" Apologies and ten minutes later I was meeting with her. The meeting took less than the hour we had budgeted, but it did go over the time we were supposed to be finished (she had to see another person right after me). 

So I was late leaving her office. What that meant was that I took short-cuts through stores and a coffee shop on the way back to work. And in the coffee shop ... I saw her. It was someone I used to work with a couple of years previous and who hadn't seen me since my daughter passed away last October. 

She'd heard. It seems most everyone has. And she conveyed her condolences. We chatted for a bit as her to-go order came up and that's when she told me about the interview with Jan Phelan and the quote (above) that struck her and was so powerful that it made her cry. 

It was so powerful that it made me cry too. Which is as it should be. 

It was moving - the tremendous attitude of this mother whose daughter's life was cut short on a snowboarding slope as she trained for a lead-up to the first-ever half-pipe competition in a winter Olympics. It was inspiring. 

It was just what I needed to hear. 

There were times in my youngest daughter's life that I wasn't so sure if it had been a good idea to have another child. Times when I was fighting with schoolteachers and the mental health care system and even wondering why she would deliberately pick friends that made me uncomfortable... It wasn't easy parenting this kid who was so unbelievably the opposite from me. Sometimes I messed up royally! Most times I wondered if she was stringing me a line. 

And ... were it not for the last 35 days of her life, I would have said that it wasn't worth the trouble. All the nights I cried myself to sleep wondering if she was alive and safe. All the times I checked the weather forecast in Edmonton, Alberta to see if she might have frozen to death in her car the night before. All the money I poured into her bank account hoping that she'd find a place to live, thinking that all she needed was a chance to prove herself. There were people who told me that I was letting her take advantage of me.  I had given until there was nothing left to give and still I gave some more, going into debt to do it. And by rights, I should have given up and let her fend for herself. It wasn't worth the anguish and the sleepless nights. By rights.

But then ... there were those last 35 days. Those last, priceless, 35 days.

Summer 2012 at Victoria Park

Don't misunderstand me. She wasn't a saint and (we are learning now) she still pulled the wool over my eyes again and again about where and how she was spending the money I sent to her.  However, something fundamental ... something wonderful ... happened inside of her on September 17, 2013 that turned her life around ... and made the bad times seem more worth it. We connected on a deep, spiritual level. I remember her saying to me, nearly awestruck, in early October or thereabouts, "I just can't believe that you and I are talking about God. Of all things." It's all I ever wanted for her. It was my finest prayer, my finest hope for her to be able to experience Him in a real way like she did that night in September.

And no, I'm not some sort of masochist (someone who enjoys pain) when I say that it was worth it. And I'm not about to say that I'd do it all over again. Once was quite enough ... thank you. I'd rather crawl on my hands and knees over broken glass than go through that again. But ... I can see that there was a purpose in it all being allowed.  

Family relationships have been mended. New friendships have been forged. Existing friendships have been deepened. Some people have had their lives transformed by her legacy. Many other people all over North America, and even as far away as Australia, have been deeply touched by her story (link to that story here) and I believe firmly that it needs to be told, again and again. 

I also believe that it was no accident that I was running late today, that it was so cold that I was cutting through buildings to get where I was going. It was no coincidence that my old acquaintance was there or that she had watched the highlights reel of the Olympic coverage and caught that snippet of an interview with the mom of one of our would-be athletes. No, I don't believe in coincidences. As Albert Einstein said, coincidences are just God's way of remaining anonymous. 

Let her story touch you. That's what it is for. That's what makes the tragedy of her death worth it.

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