I was recently called out for being “too positive” and “all ‘lalalala we are fine’” about Lauren’s Type 1 Diabetes.
But you know what? This is what we were handed. Almost exactly 16 years ago we were given a choice: get busy living or get busy dying? To me, the choice was clear and we’ve worked very, very hard to keep on doing just what we chose: living.
Recently, in our family, we’ve been given the chance to witness what I strive to do up close and first hand. The experience and the lessons learned from it have more than proven to me that when I made that decision 16 years ago, I was right. Allow me to share.
This coming Saturday, my first daughter, Leigh, will marry her college sweetheart, Michael. They’ll wed in a beautiful garden on a golf course and then walk directly into a celebration with 200 people who love them dearly.
In that mix will be, thankfully, Michael’s Dad, Mike Sr. And up until this week, we were not sure he’d be there.
Because while a year ago Mike’s parents sat at our Beach Club with Sean and me talking about wedding plans that included golf foursomes, parent dances and a whole lot of running around; today Mike’s dad sits in a wheelchair. Unable to speak, unable to feed himself, assisted in breathing by a ventilator, Mike’s dad is battling an aggressive attack of ALS.
Now that is as horrible as it sounds. There is no remission; no cure; no way to slow it down. And as someone said to me, “The person loses the ability to use their body, but the terrible part is that their mind totally understands it all.”
How does one flip that around and make it all good? By being Mike Sr. The other day, his wife Ellie said to me, “Don’t worry about him. The wonderful thing is, while he may not have his body, he has his mind. His smart, engaged and active mind. And we are so thankful for that.”
I mean: wow. Here is a family that has every right to be depressed, confused, destroyed and yes, pissed off. But there they sit: thankful for what they have, and despite huge challenges every minute of every day, living life joyfully. And there they are, thankful for the very thing that someone else saw as tragic. Powerful stuff.
Her words helped me so much. On Saturday, instead of looking at Mike’s dad and thinking about what he does not have that day, I’m going to look at him and smile wide at what he does have: the ability to not just be there, but to be there; understanding it all, absorbing it all, taking true part in what matters as his son and my daughter officially begin their married life together.
Because that day, Mike’s dad will be setting a wonderful example for Leigh and Mike (and all of us). The kids will see firsthand what it means to savor life in whatever form you have it. They’ll soak in the amazing sight of someone powering past the oh-so-difficult and embracing what the day has to offer them. I hope with all my heart that Leigh and Mike never have face a challenge like raising a child with T1D or any other kind of extra needs, but if they do, they come from great stock.
I look at the two of them and realize they’ve modeled their lives after Michael’s parents. Both are retired teachers; Leigh and Michael teach. Mike Sr. is a high school golf coach; so is Mike Jr. Ellie, Mike’s wife, is crafty and clever and talented in all kinds of ways. So is Leigh. They’re modeling the best.
And so, too, shall I. The next time someone “accuses” me of being too positive in a difficult life, rather than let it annoy me; I’m going to thank them.
Because, really: people are getting busy living with way more on their plates than we have.
One last note: Leigh has had to live most of her life with Lauren’s diabetes poking its head in everywhere. It’s been hard to avoid. Not only is there the physical (planning ski days and vacations and packing for things around diabetes needs), there’s the emotional too. She’s had to go to a lot of JDRF walks, galas and other events. She had to process what it meant to have a sister with a chronic disease. She’s sometimes been sick of it, but she’s always been contingent and thoughtful about it. When we started planning her wedding, I decided this was a chance to never talk about diabetes around something.
But the other day, Leigh asked me to print out place cards for each seat. On them, a note from Leigh and Mike that said this:
Thank you for sharing this day with us. In recognition of your
love and support, we have made a donation in your honor to two
charities dear to our hearts.
The first donation, in honor of Miss Lauren Stanford,
has been made to the Juvenile Diabetes Research
Foundation. Lauren has lived beautifully with
Juvenile Diabetes for 16 years. We look forward to
our lives with our little sister by our side!
The second donation, in honor of Mr. Michael Beson,
Sr., has been made to Saint Peter’s ALS Regional
Center. Dad’s courage, faith, and character through
his journey with ALS have shown us exactly what
living is and should be. We love you very much.
It seems they truly get it. That embracing life despite challenges is the best way to live. But that does not mean we accept it forever. We must smile, savor and thrive, all while fighting to make the world a better place. Those two are going to be just fine. Here’s to the best wedding day ever.