How I wish I had a happy ending for you. But I don't.
Every time I sit down to type it, I am paralyzed by the enormity of the situation. How can the beauty of a child's life be captured in a blog post? How can grief be expressed in html code and jpegs? It can't, of course. It's absurd.
But here's the thing: the internet is what brought us together in the first place. Though Rachel and I never met face-to-face, my life was greatly impacted by that intangible connection I felt to her and to her mom. Our relationship wasn't just meaningless type floating back and forth through modems and cables. It was real. It was significant.
When my son was diagnosed with microcephaly, I turned to the internet. That is where I found the most information and the most support; it was where the true experts were -- other parents. An entire community is gathered here, full of information, stories, pictures, acceptance, help, encouragement, humor, wisdom, support. In the hundreds of online voices, certain ones began to stick out to me. They were the ones that I could identify with most closely -- whether from shared experience, compatible perspectives, similar frustrations, parallel goals, or even sanity-saving humor. I found this common ground with Rachel's mom.
Our two kids had many similarities. They were both physically active, spirited, independent, challenging, charming, loving little rascals that had continued to surprise the experts and shatter predictions. We commiserated over the never-ending messes and frustration of challenging behaviors, and cheered together over milestones met & skills achieved. We laughed about the humorous moments, and warmed at the gentle ones.
Rachel was several years older than Max, so in many ways I viewed her as his role model. None of the textbooks or doctors or specialists could predict Max's future, but I saw a new potential path by looking at Rachel. In her, I caught glimpses of what he might look like in 2-3 years' time. Her astounding success with her talker, with letters and spelling, with problem-solving, with cleverness & humor -- it all helped me to believe that every bit of it was possible. That we needed to keep trying, keep working, keep believing the best, keep expecting more.
And Rachel's mom inspired me, too. She made me feel less alone on this journey. She "got" me. She could hear my deepest fears and darkest thoughts, yet always managed to revel in the mystery, and consistently remained her daughter's number one fan. She reminded me to embrace the magic.
The other reason this post is so hard to type is because it's really not my story to share. I feel like I am trespassing on sacred ground.
I am hesitant, knowing that Rachel's story is far deeper than I can post here, and far larger than the small points of overlap with mine. I write this out of a desire to proclaim her bright, shining existence and unforgettable spark. I write this to acknowledge the impact she had on me. I write this to remember.
Rachel left this world just as she once entered it -- with her parents by her side, in a hospital room filled with boundless, endless love.
Her funeral was heart-breaking and beautiful, filled with moments of laughter and rivers of tears, abundant love and wrenching grief. I carried away with me a sense of comfort that is created when shattered hearts are bonded together with the glue of community, soothed with the balm of shared love and the gentle wrappings of memory. I also carried away with me a continuing ache for her family members, who are now forced to redefine themselves, to find a way to carry on, to thrive even in the face of overwhelming grief. A piece of my heart remains with them still, as I long to ease their pain.
There is a large Rachel-sized hole in the world. She leaves behind two younger brothers, her devoted parents, and numerous friends and relatives, neighbors and classmates, teachers and students, doctors and therapists, supporters and admirers -- young and old, near and far, past and present. The number of people whose lives have been touched by this one amazing girl, and forever changed as a result, is inspiring. She brought seemingly disparate lives together. She made all of us become better people. She created an amazing community, for herself and for us, and her memory lives on in our hearts.
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