I have always believed that life is a gift, not to be taken for granted, but to be lived well regardless of the conditions or situations in which we find ourselves. I’m a 43 year-old husband and father of three who has lived a full life. My first life lesson on this core belief came in 1991 when I became ill after serving in the first Persian Gulf War and had to undergo emergency surgery. It all happened so quickly that day, from having a bad headache to calling my wife from the hospital asking her to bring me an overnight bag because I was scheduled for surgery. Her reply to my request was an unbelieving, “No. This is not happening.”
After the successful surgery, awaiting the results of a biopsy, not knowing what the future held, I told my wife that no matter the outcome it had been a great ride. One does not understand such things until the end of the ride is near. Today the phrase “Gulf War Syndrome” seldom comes up in conversation and I’m quite healthy.
My second lesson on how precious life really is came on the evening of November 8th 2006. I was talking to my wife on the phone from a thousand miles away and she said, “hang on, the police are at the door.” She returned to the phone, saying, “it’s bad, I have to go. I’ll call you.” Our beloved 14 year-old son had been riding his skateboard at the end of the street after school and was hit by a car. He did not survive the accident and according to eyewitnesses, did not suffer. I made it home that night and saw him in the hospital where doctors tried in vain to save his life.
When it was time for this second lesson, it was my turn to deny the reality of horror and tragedy. Less than 20 minutes from learning of the accident, I called my wife from the airport to tell her that I had secured a seat and would arrive by 9pm, in less than four hours. Her response revealed the truth without saying the words that I had to ask, “Did he die?” My wife paused for a second, then said, “yes”. I fell to my knees in the terminal and wailed, “Nooooo”. The blackness of death seemed suddenly all consuming.
Today, we are living as a family of four, trying our best to enjoy the lives we know all too well are not guaranteed. My son’s death was a complete accident in which he went into the road when an oncoming car was happening by. Our son’s loss is part of our new normal. Our new normal is filled with grieving, mourning, reading about loss, and lots of tears. Our new normal is also filled with a greater sense of caring, healing, and the first-hand knowledge of what I have always believed…that life is precious, not to be taken for granted.
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