Be Careful Not to Blink
One of my friends has customarily called me every Monday
morning to tell me what shenanigans her son has pulled the weekend before to make her angry. “He comes in late
every Saturday night, his room is a pigsty, I trip over his shoes in the entryway, he plays his CD’s too loud—the kid drives me crazy! I can’t wait until he goes away to college next year!” Almost six years ago, I might have commiserated with her about my own children. However, that was
and this is
being the time that life rolled on as usual, when little irritations were a major event, and my daughter was alive and thriving as an active freshman in high school. Now when I hear comments like this, I feel as if someone has pushed a dagger into my heart, because
does not include, in the physical sense, my wonderful daughter. How I would love to be able to complain about the small stuff, too, because that would mean that these past few years were really only the nightmare they had seemed—that I would be able to wake up and find that my daughter’s death was truly only a bad dream after all, and not the reality that it is.
Those of us who are bereaved parents think in those terms; that an event happened before the death of our child or after the death of our child. We gauge time by the day that our world, as we knew it, stopped. For me that day was May 11, 1995. My husband Greg, son Dan, daughter Nina, and I were enjoying a vacation in Florida, the first family vacation in nine years, when the unthinkable happened. After a day at Daytona Beach, we were driving to my celebratory birthday dinner, when an alcohol-impaired driver fell asleep at the wheel, crossed the median, and struck the side of the car where Nina was sitting. In an instant, my 15 ½-year-old daughter, with the flashing brown eyes, unforgettable smile, and a heart of gold, was gone. Forever after, the day of my birth would be the same day as my Nina’s heartbreaking death.
Now, not surprisingly, my friend calls me to tell me how much she misses her son, now away at college. When I gently remind her of what she had said before he went away, she replies through tears, “I know, but now I say ‘Be careful not to blink or it will all be gone.’ I miss him so much.” Unfortunately, we, as bereaved parents, know how true those words are. It is difficult sometimes to hold back the urge to lecture and scold the non-bereaved parents who make comments such as this. We want to remind them of our loss. We want to tell them that at least they can pick up the phone whenever they wish to hear their child’s voice, catch a plane and in a matter of hours visit with their child, or expect that when school ends and vacation rolls around, their child will be coming home. These are all things that many of us say we took for granted—that is, until our child died.
My Nina had probably the messiest, most cluttered bedroom that you could imagine. The untidiness of her room is legendary. I think the carpeting was dove gray, but you rarely saw it because of the mountains of clothes that she would try on and discard on the floor! A sock thrown here, a schoolbook thrown there…it drove me insane! She was so meticulous in the other areas of her life, I think her room was the sanctuary where she let her perfectionism go. I sometimes became relentless about
need for her to clean up her room. As I railed away about my disapproval of her surroundings, she always looked at me quizzically with a slight, almost indistinguishable shrug of her shoulders, a half smile, and said nothing. As a teenager, she had already figured out where her priorities should be.
The first time I went into Nina’s disordered room after she died, I lay down on her bed among all that glorious clutter, her clothing still smelling of the sweet scent of her perfume, and wrapped myself in the afghan she had purchased for herself. After weeping for a good long time, I realized what Nina meant by her non-response to my ranting and raving. She had learned at a much earlier age than I had that in the grand scheme of things, messy bedrooms do not really matter. She had already found out what it took my beloved daughter’s death for me to find out. It was her work to be student council president, to put together blood drives and help with food banks, to teach religion classes to kindergartners (preferred spelling), to do peer-to-peer school counseling for classmates who were in a crisis, and to spend precious time with her family and friends. Those things would mean something down the line; they were the things that mattered the most. Sometimes I wonder if she subconsciously knew that she didn’t have a lot of time to spread around all the love and good feelings that she had in her heart. She accomplished so much in her all-too-short life. I often wonder if somehow she knew that someday I would finally realize what was truly important in the short time we have on this earth.
Those of us who are members of The Compassionate Friends would give anything to bring our children back. We would let them know that now we understand that trivial things such as “messy bedrooms” do not matter. We would give anything to trip over those shoes carelessly flung in the entryway, pick up those empty soda cans tossed behind the bed, and gladly try to locate that missing sock that could be just about anywhere on the bedroom floor. We would give anything to have that so-called “frustration” all back again, just to be able to look at the face of our beloved child, see their magnificent smile, hold them tight, and know that they were here to stay.
Although our greatest wish can’t come true, there are many things that we can do to honor our children’s lives. We
still hold them close to our hearts. As the keepers of their memory, we
guarantee that, by sharing their lives with others, our children will never be forgotten. Moreover, we
begin living our own lives with more awareness, patience, and understanding of others—and more tolerance for “messy rooms.”
Cathy L. Seehuetter
TCF St. Paul, MN
In Memory of my daughter, Nina