Like most people, I have experienced some pretty horrific things in my lifetime. During my teens and twenties, life seemed random and cruel. My family seemed to be falling apart; one of my best friends was murdered at 15; one of my brothers committed suicide at 19. Life was confusing and painful.
At 45, I now look back on my life with an entirely different view. I realize that these and, in fact, all the events in my life have prepared me for what is to come next. I believe that everything that happens, whether big or small, has a purpose. We just need to look for the moments of grace that exist even in the most painful of experiences.
The first time I put the pieces of this puzzle together was right after I held my mother’s hand as she took her last breath. About ten years before, my cat delivered a chipmunk to me in my bedroom. I freed the poor creature, and as I held it in my hands, I felt it gasp and go limp. Even though I had experienced death before, I had never been present at the exact moment when a life ended. I stood holding the chipmunk amazed at how one moment it was alive and the next it wasn’t. It seemed unreal.
A few years later, I was driving home and saw a German shepherd in the middle of a busy street during rush hour. I suddenly found myself standing at the side of the road trying to get the dog to come to safety. Before she could do anything, a car hit her. I ran through the traffic and held her. Another driver blocked oncoming cars so that the crazy woman wouldn’t get killed, but all I could see were the big, brown eyes looking into mine. She laid her head against my arm, and then she was gone. Even though I was not able to save her life, I had the sense that I had provided at least a bit of comfort for her.
Fast forward two more years when we had to have our beloved Siamese put down. My husband and I adopted Chen Li right after we married, and he was our baby cat. There we were twelve years later rubbing his soft, sweet fur and talking to him as he slipped away from us. It was heartbreaking, but I realized that Chen had died unafraid with his people beside him and I was glad I could be there for him.
Leaving the hospital in August 2001, I remembered these three incidents. That morning, we signed the papers to have my mother removed from life support. When the nurse removed the last tube, I washed my mother’s face and combed her hair one last time before my father came in. We held her hands and rubbed her legs until she was gone. I then gave her one last kiss and said goodbye. Driving back to my parents’ house, my dad’s house, in the rain, I realized how privileged I was. Those seemingly random experiences with death, even that of a rodent, had given me the perspective and strength to deal with one of life’s most difficult situations: the death of a parent.
From that point on, I began looking for more connections in my life. As trite as it may sound, I would not be the person who I am today without all the experiences that I have had, both good and bad. I believe that each experience has been filled with grace, even if I couldn’t recognize it at the moment. Even the grief of my mother’s passing left me a new attitude towards life, and for that I am so very grateful.