Reflections On Healing

Marilyn Altbush
September 15, 2002

September 11th has lost its meaning as a mere date. It now has a deeper significance in the American psyche as a time when the innocence of the country and maybe the world was lost. It shattered our illusions of what was right and fair. It took us out of our comfort zones and reality kicked us in the collective gut. It left us with an anger, hurt and confusion of unimaginable proportions. I wasnít affected as profoundly as many others, I had already experienced a personal September 11th. I had already been at ground zero. The crash, the collapse, the rubble all happened to me on a beautiful spring morning in 2000.

My daughter Faith died in December 2001 of an incurable brain tumor. She was eight years old. Hearing the doctor tell us the diagnosis on that spring morning, that was the crash. Hearing him give the prognosis, maybe 12 months if we're lucky-that was the collapse.

That day, that moment, that diagnosis changed my life forevermore. Such a devastating and tragic experience leaves you standing in the rubble of your own personal ground zero, utterly lost, confused and shattered. How do I go on from here, I wondered? How do I live in such a senseless and unfair world? The questions appeared unanswerable hope seemed lost and dismal.

In our brain tumor journey with Faith we had 19 months from diagnosis till her passing. During this time we had an almost mind-numbing schedule of medical appointments and procedures to attend to. It was only during the quiet hours before sleep that I even dared to ponder the inevitable; she was going to die. The doctors told us this again and again. They wanted us to be ready and to be mentally braced for what was to come.

I was blind with anger for months. How could such a thing happen to my innocent child? To a morally good family? To loving parents? I agonized endlessly with God, religion and with my own spirituality.

I directed all my readings towards books dealing with theology and spirituality. I thought of nothing else for months on end. I wanted to understand this pain, this hurt and this loss. That trying to understand what was happening while treasuring every last precious moment of life with her became all that mattered.

Healing comes slowly, almost imperceptibly. Like everyone says time does help, but time alone doesnít mend the shattered soul. It takes real work. It takes questioning and seeking. It takes comforting and understanding from even one person who cares. It requires a determination to re-enter the human race. To be strengthened not broken by your loss. To see yourself as a more complete person for having lived through this experience, not as a soul rent of hope and belief because of your loss.

I belong to several Internet groups of bereaved parents who have lost their children to brain tumors. We post our stories and share our grieving with an understanding audience. Many parents who post to these lists are struggling with depression and anger and inertia for years after the loss of their child. I understand their hurt and their anger because I feel it myself everyday. But I didnít want hurt and anger to be the lasting legacy of Faith that I would carry forward and show to the world. Such an attitude on my part would be the antithesis of her beautiful spirit of life.

She was a completely loving and trusting person. She was a blessing and a joy. She made people happy. She showed us how to accept the burdens and compromises of an unforgiving medical condition. She showed us peace and faith and fearlessness right up till the end. Faith died and left me with the certain knowledge that there is a spark of the Divine Being in every human soul. Anyone who knew her could not help but see that spirit.

I learned the hard way that life is full of loss and pain and suffering, that goes with the voyage. We canít control most of the losses we encounter. We canít change our personal lives history. But we can choose what lesson and legacy we carry forward after the loss.

As humans we have the ability to make our own choices. Some choose to hold on to their pain and loss and use it like a shield to keep the uninitiated or unwounded outside of their personal space. Their choice is misery and isolation.

I didnít like the way misery and isolation looked on me or felt to me. I chose to continue to engage in life and try to live it to itís fullest. I recognize that our time here is very limited and that the significance of a life isnít measured in years but rather in what you did with those years.

I want to choose life because Faith chose life. I want to celebrate and affirm her loving spirit. No shields, no complaints, no self-pity. If she could show that much strength and grace at seven years old and terminally ill, then I must try to also.