Thursday, September 18, 2014

Everything I need to know about life I learned from a 17-year-old girl

At some point on Friday afternoon, Josh called me while my dad and I were at the Kohl's over in Seabrook.  My dad needed new khakis because the pants he was wearing were old and ratty-looking and my mother was threatening to throw them away.

"I need you to do something for me," Josh said.

"Of course.  What do you need?"

"I need you and Mom and Dad and Sam to collaborate on speaking at the funeral.  The rabbi is out of town and so I want to put together a program of about an hour - people can talk about Emma and tell stories.  Our side of the family, Lori's side of the family, her coaches, that sort of thing.  So you guys could do about 10 minutes or so."

"You got it."

So I started to think about what I was going to say.  At that point, we had already been spending the bulk of our time at Josh's house, which was in "permanent open house" mode - crying and hugging and talking about Emma.  How horrible it was, how incredible she was, how much she was loved and admired.

And we also talked about how inexplicable and incomprehensible it was.  How could this happen to her, after she survived the accident?  How could her family go through this again? She got better.  It wasn't fair.  It wasn't right.

I didn't want what I said at the funeral to be a rehash of those conversations.

That night, when we were hanging out at Josh's house, he handed me a letter that he and Lori had received from one of Emma's teachers.  She talked about what a great kid and great student Emma was, how kind and generous she was to others, and how much she enjoyed having Emma in her class.

She also talked about Emma's college essay, which the teacher had reviewed for her and given some feedback on.  Emma's essay was about her accident; what had happened, how she had recovered, and what she had taken from it as her life moved forward.  The teacher's feedback was that the essay focus less on the accident and more on the recovery, because the recovery was Emma's story.

She was absolutely right.

Emma's story was about recovery and strength and perseverence.  After her accident, she had to relearn speaking and walking and functioning.  It was hard work, both physically and psychologically.  She pushed to get stronger, to regain agility, to be a great student again.

And she was doing all of this in her early and middle teens, which is a time of life when most of us feel awkward and unsure of ourselves and self-conscious anyway. Some of her old friendships suffered.  So she made new ones.  She had to cut her long hair off because some of it had been shaved while she was hooked up to machines in the hospital.  So she dyed it pink.

She had always been an athlete, and was bummed when she wasn't allowed to snowboard anymore.  Eventually, she started playing lacrosse again, and eventually became the goalie for her high school's girls varsity lacrosse team.  She knew it was risky.  When you've suffered a traumatic brain injury, it's not exactly intuitive to play a sport that involves hard rubber balls being flung at your head.  Or to surf or snowboard again.  But she did anyway.

What a badass.
Being an athlete was part of who she was, and she was determined not to let the accident defeat or define her or be an excuse to not go for the things she wanted in life.  She was going to study and work to become an engineer.  She was going to play lacrosse.  She was going to surf.  She was going to snowboard.  She was going to keep working.

This is what I talked about at the funeral.  That Emma understood that life can be risky and scary, but it has to be lived, and that if you're not living for the present and the future, you're not really living.

Vivir con miedo es como vivir a medias.

The only way to deal with this awful tragedy is to live as Emma did. We are sad, but we can't use her death as an excuse to stop pushing to achieve greatness, to be stronger and better and kinder.  The only path is to live deliberately and fully, as she did.

Only then will we be truly honoring her.

1 comment: