Look at these silly girls. I’d like to introduce you to 4 of my best friends. We were the Maher girls: Chris, Gail, Katy, Heidi and me (Miki). I was supposed to be “Mike”, because statistically speaking, I should have been a boy. When it turned out my parents were wrong, they just were too tired to muster the effort to rethink the name. So, they threw an “i” on the end instead of an “e”, and called it good. But, we can talk about deep emotional scars another day.
This pic was taken 33 years ago. Gail is in the middle. Her eyes are closed. She’s always been really deep and spiritual. I think she may have been praying while this was being taken. Show off.
Don’t you just want to know what my parents were thinking? In fact, what were any parents of that generation thinking? Such big families. It isn’t as if my parents didn’t have a solid financial plan when they started all this. 5 kids on a teacher’s salary provided us with plenty of extras: toilet paper, water, pencils. Well now I’m just bragging.
In this picture, the three youngest (Katy, Heidi and me) are wearing dresses my mom made. Yep, HOME. MADE. She gardened. She canned. She sewed. I bet you never would believe those haircuts were given to us where? At home (well you can’t be good at everything, Mom). Meanwhile, Pa was toiling along beside her: teaching, coaching, painting in the summer. Anything he could do to put food on the table.
It was the sweetest existence a little girl could ask for. None of us get to choose where we start, and it haunts me that some folks are born into a pile of rot. Their stories of perseverance are better than mine. But, all we have is our own story, and this is the one I can tell.
If I am sane, it is in large part because of the girls in this picture. We’ve propped each other up through Postpartum Depression, a child’s chronic illness, death of one of our beautiful sons, and a variety of other heart crushing trials life has to offer.
When my son, Eddie, spent years spiraling physically downward, I came to a point where I thought we were going to lose him. It isn’t like a Doctor gave us this official prognosis. It’s just that I could see with my mother’s eye that he was getting sicker and sicker. No matter how hard we tried, how far we traveled or who we talked to, nothing helped. He only continued to get worse.
Eddie was born a funny kid. He was so easy to please. Over the years his symptoms became worse and more debilitating: persistent and relentless vomiting and pain. I felt like his body was keeping him prisoner and torturing him too. Even as he declined, we did not hear him complain. He never told us his life was unfair. But, I do remember the day he looked at me with his pale, puffy face and those dark shadows under his eyes. My happy-go-lucky boy said, “Mom, I can’t do this any more. I won’t keep living like this.” In that moment I felt my last few droplets of hope drain away. If you’ve been there (or, are there now), I’m very, very sorry. It’s a sad place.
I told my family that I thought I was in a tug-of-war with God. Grasping tightly and clinging to my baby boy. I kept fighting and fighting, so desperate to change his course. I’ve never been a highly emotional person, or prone to tears. But, I remember several phone calls with my sisters and parents where I would start a status update which would turn into uncontrollable sobbing. I would hear my family member crying on the other end too. Knowing people you love share your heartbreak does diffuse the pain. That’s what this family did for me. They carried my heartbreak, kept praying for a miracle and continued to remind me that I could find an unchanging, immeasurable source of comfort and Truth on Earth in my relationship with God.
Over time I was able to say to God, “Okay, thy will be done. I trust you. I’m giving Eddie to you. I accept this heartbreak and will cooperate with it.” That prayer did not solve a darn thing…on the surface. We were no closer to finding help for Eddie than we were years before. Something did change inside of me though. In return for acceptance, God gave me peace and strength. And, sometimes peace and strength are just the lifeboat you need when you would otherwise be tugged under.