Death of young daughter…who mother became…feeling alive again. “Hannah’s Gift” by Maria Housden (Sept. 2008)

Susan's Thursday morning note September 18, 2008 
Hannah's Gift: Lessons from a Life Fully Lived  by Maria Housden
     Death of little daughter...mother going on with life even with intense pain of loss
Man Walks Into a Room by Nicole Krauss
      Loss of all memories - moving forward with loss with no pain of memories because no memory loss

Good morning!  It is so easy to type those words when the mornings are crisp.  Oh, to sneak an extra week into fall, steal it from summer or winter.  Would anyone notice if God made that tiny little change in the Midwest for us?  I believe he could take two weeks from each and no one would object!

This week I brought home a book that a book club in Aurora is going to be reading.  Hannah’s Gift: Lessons from a Life Fully Lived by Maria Housden.  The entire time I was reading I tried to talk myself into putting the book away.  There was too much sadness, pain, reality for me, for the book is written by the mother of whose three-year-old daughter, Hannah died of cancer.  On the intensity of what their family went through, and her healing.  But, as I plugged through the last part of the book I found sentences that I wanted to remember, thoughts that were worth reading the entire story to get to…thoughts that I believe are worth typing for you.  These are thought from the mother over a year after her little one died.  Then I’d like to compare her thoughts with a thought from another book I’ve begun – on a man that lost his memory and his thoughts on whether that could be a gift….you take it from there!  Here are thoughts of the mother as she begins coming out of her “chrysalis” of last week’s writing…

I also knew I had to start living my life.  The hungry bear of my determination, which had sniffed cautiously at the light months ago, was now standing upright, pawing restlessly at the air.  She could no longer wait for me to feel better, stronger, or less sad.  In the sixteen months since Hannah’s death, Will had learned to read, Margaret had walked, Claude had raised money for cancer research, and Madelaine had swallowed her first gulp of the world.  I no longer felt willing for life to continue on without me.

Looking into my own eyes, I saw a woman who, having been dismantled by suffering, had managed to piece herself back together.  I felt a deep respect and compassion for her, for the emptiness she had known, for the strength she had found.  I now knew that, just as Hannah had been able to see beyond her body’s deterioration, I was much more than a bereaved mother.  My anger at the world had diffused into a determination to do something purposeful and real in my life.

The grief that once threatened to swallow me up had found a home in my bones.  My suffering wasn’t something I was going to have to let go of; it had become part of what I had to offer, part of who I am.

…it was spring.  The same buttonwood trees that had unfurled their nubs of green while Hannah was alive were doing it again.  Now it was Margaret and Madelaine, instead of Hannah, who loved to visit the pond, feed the ducks, and wave to the giant magnolia tree.  I felt as if I were ascending a spiral staircase where the view kept returning, but each time my own perspective had changed.  (As Bess Streeter Aldrich writes…”the years glide by” – I absolutely love that scene.  Have you ever seen the pictures where if you look from a different perspective you see different people from the past in the same exact location…time going on….the “backdrop” the same, the “cast” changing constantly.  Can you picture going up a spiral staircase and the “backdrop” view returning each time you come around the turn?)

…these days, tired of trying to figure it all out, I had stopped praying, “please, please please” had started saying “thank you, thank you, thank you” instead.  Beginning with the obvious blessings in my life – my kids, my friends, my health, the effort we were putting into our marriage – once I started, I found that I couldn’t stop.  The more I looked, the more I found….Gratitude had begun to transform the way I saw and experienced my life.  Because of it, I could see that each moment contained something to be thankful for, even if it was simply the gift of another breath.  I was reminded of Hannah and the way she had harvested kernels of joy almost everywhere she looked.  This practice of being present with what was happening was far more than an exercise in positive thinking; it was a return to the deep stillness she had shared with me.

Within that stillness, I began to realize an even more awesome thing.  No single moment stood on its own; each was a combination of all those that came before and all those that would come after.  There was a pattern, an intelligence, in the way they were woven together that seemed to suggest that I was not living my life, my life was living me.

I had to put that last part, because another novel I have begun this week is called Man Walks Into a Room by Nicole Krauss.  When we had the chance to go to Lincoln last week Stu and I made sure we stopped in Barnes & Noble (don’t roll your eyes!) I bought another book and as I’m reading I again am thinking, “This is so strange – why am I even reading something so disturbing?”  This novel is about a professor from an eastern university that is found wandering in Nevada.  He doesn’t remember a thing beyond the age of 12 from a brain tumor that has just affected him, causing him to unknowingly walk away from his life and be found across the country.  He remembers all events in his life after the tumor was removed, just not his past before the tumor beyond his childhood.  The novel unfolds with new possibilities of new medical trials on his brain and is quite fascinating (shall I again use the word disturbing?).  The place I am at now has presented a question that has replayed in my mind the last few days…the main character, Samson Greene is laying alone thinking,“Is it so bad that I have no memories and can begin an entirely fresh start with life at this age?”  What if we lost all memories and began again – would that be beneficial to some….what do you think?  It’s kind of interesting to think about!

Then, reading the mother’s thoughts above in the midst of her suffering…her beginning to feel again, to not be numb as all around her continues on…she comments that all of these moments have made her who she is.  I have thought recently often of all that life has given to me and brought to me (good and bad) – would I want to take any of it away and not be who I am today?  I would of course like events to be altered, but, on the flip side, I want to be who I am now….even though I don’t like certain parts of my story.  I am not willing to say that I’m glad I have had the losses, the changes…but on the flip side – how different of a Susan I would be if I didn’t have “all of the moments that stand on their on – all that came before & all that will come…my pattern…how I’m woven…” I found it easy to compare the opposite thoughts in the two books this week…

I’ll let you think on your own on that…interesting isn’t it?  What fascinates me above all right now in life is how God must be quite a tailor – how he interweaves our lives, our stories, in such interesting, unpredictable, unfathomable ways…how we change each other, and become part of each other’s songs.  That intrigues me.  Interests me…I can only see the dot to dots, but oh, how I’d like to see his entire picture sometimes!  Thank you for letting me enter your quilt.  I hope your stitching is without too many stitches from a loose bobbin – with the help of the books that we find for each other…letting authors and each other influence the shape of who we are and who we have the hope of learning from and imitating.  Okay, enough!  Have a great weekend – Read!!  (I am honest – I only read 10 minutes here & there, then a few 30 minutes thrown in…that makes over two hours a week…you can get a lot in your head in two hours with print!) I hope I’m in the store to tell you personally thanks for your support and business when you come in, but if I’m not – know that I thank you!  Susan

Latin for this week: 
"Mutantur omnia nos et mutamur in illis”  - All things change, and we change with them.

Works Cited:
Housden, Maria.  Hannah's Gift: Lessons from a Life Fully Lived.  New York.  Bantam Books.  2002.
Krauss, Nicole.  Man Walks Into a Room.  New York.  Random House.  2002.