Grief and Gratitude, Part 1

Anyone who has found themselves facing a sudden and unexpected sickness or loss I’m sure can relate to both the feeling of overwhelming sadness as well as the gratitude for those who help us pick up the pieces.

When my illness struck more than five years ago, I spent many months in bed and in limbo, too tired to contemplate how my life was morphing and how it was affecting everyone around me. My brain felt numb. I remember thinking maybe tomorrow would be the day I’d wake up and this mysterious illness would release its grip and allow me to continue on my merry way. I’ll just rest today, so I’ll feel better tomorrow.

No matter how many naps I took though, I never felt refreshed. My body felt like it was made of lead and that even holding a cup was too heavy. My husband Chris was beside himself with worry. To see him breaking under the stress of juggling doctor appointments, the insurance company, the kids, the bills, meals, chores, all while working full time was breaking me, too. My heart lay in a million pieces as I stood by watching this surreal experience unfold.

What happened next is what I hope happens to anyone going through a rough time in their lives. Friends and family stepped up in ways that filled my heart with hope tenfold. Family flew in taking time out of their busy schedules to take care of us, no questions asked. One of my dear cousins, who is vegan and an animal activist, prepared chicken nuggets, among other meat-laden meals, for my kids the week he visited, without judgement or question. My brother kept his nephews entertained with games of Wii and soccer in the backyard. The fun my boys had distracted them from all the chaos swirling around the house. My folks and mother-in-law flew in numerous times to help clean the house, do laundry, buy groceries and chauffer my kids to their activities. Another cousin and his wife, who is a stroke survivor and has a heart of gold, visited numerous times as well. They lived more than an hour away at the time and no matter the weather conditions, drove up to help at the drop of a hat. I mention the weather because they once drove up after a big storm dumped a ton of snow. “No problem,” they said on the phone. “We’ll be there after we shovel our driveway.” So many other family members expressed their love through flowers, calls, cards, texts and emails.

And then there are my friends, the people you choose as your family. I’ve cried on the shoulders of so many of them, whom I’d like to thank by the way for letting their shirts become my tissues. A meal train was organized. I was especially taken aback when acquaintances from my kids’ school dropped by with food. I barely knew them yet they thought nothing of reaching out to help. I had friends who drove me to doctor’s appointments, friends who came to rake our lawn, friends who popped over some mornings to help my kids get off to school, (after getting their own kids up and out the door). The daughter of a friend gave me her Get Well teddy bear she’d been given after she’d undergone eye surgery. Hugging the bear made her feel better and she hoped it would do the same for me. Soccer and baseball coaches and Cub Scout parents took initiative getting the older boys to their activities while Antonio’s preschool worked quickly to organize pick-ups and drop-offs for him. The preschool’s affiliate church even knitted me a prayer shawl sewed with a “Made with Love” tag. I still wrap myself up in that shawl of love.

I was overwhelmed with gratitude. What did I do right in my life to be on the receiving end of so much love? How could I ever express enough my thanks for all this help? One day, Chris and I made a list of all the people who’ve helped us in any way they could. The number was close to 80 — and that was five years ago. That number has continued to grow with each new person that enters our lives and offers a helping hand.

Though this illness has stolen so much from me, I have much to be thankful for because of it. These helpers are my silver linings. Thank you to them from the bottom of my heart. My cup runneth over.

About Kerrie Brooks

Kerrie Brooks is a married 40-something and a mom of three boys and lives in Towson. Originally from Boston, she has called Maryland home for close to 25 years. If you listen closely though, you can still pick up her accent. She navigates life’s trials and tribulations all while fighting a chronic illness.

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