I am writing this post from the Starbucks in our children’s hospital. For once, I’m not here with Alyssa. She is spending this rainy, Saturday afternoon at a family birthday party while I’m in the city with one of her brothers. He is here to spend a few hours with kids like him, boys and girls who have siblings with…
Most people still don’t understand that epilepsy can be fatal and is actually a leading cause of death. Families like mine are very aware of the statistics. We know that we could lose our children while they sleep and that every seizure could be their last. Madeleine’s death was still a devastating shock though. She was a vibrant 16-year-old with her life ahead of her and a family that adored her.
Four times this month, the monster has won. Four times. Four mothers have been forced to bury their small children. Four kids are gone because of a disorder that most of the world still sees as non-life threatening in spite of the 50,000 people in the US who die seizure related deaths every year.
I was sitting on the couch a few days ago reading Facebook when another post stole my breath. A sweet girl was curled up in her daddy’s arms watching TV and then she was gone. No warning. No preparation. No goodbyes. Just gone. I looked down at my own little girl with her head on my shoulder and I felt my heart stop because as much as I try to pretend we’re OK, I know that monster lives in my house too.
As we sat around the fire pit in the hotel courtyard and talked for hours, I suddenly felt my soul exhale. Every woman in that circle knew what it was like to hold your seizing daughter in your arms and pray she takes another breath. Every woman understood that strange mixture of devastation and relief that comes with a diagnosis. Every woman bears the scars of dreams that were ripped from her chest. Each of them understood the pressure of carrying this burden but somehow as we all shared our stories and shared the weight, it seemed to get a little lighter.
Today is the two year anniversary of my life as Humpty Dumpty. On December 11, 2013, I stood in a WalMart parking lot and answered the phone call that changed everything. That was the day that I broke.
A year without seizures is a huge milestone in the world of epilepsy. Ironically, it is also terrifying. If Alyssa maintains her streak over the summer, then in the fall we will start to slowly wean her off of at least one of her medications. I have a love / hate relationship with those medications. On the one hand she takes large doses of mind altering drugs every day with a whole slew of side effects and an undetermined impact on her development. On the other hand, those drugs are keeping her alive.
Children rarely grow up to be exactly what their parents pictured. Many parents struggle to accept that their kids have chosen different paths. The difference is that parents of special needs children grieve because the different paths were not chosen by our children; they were forced on them.