The tragic story of Maddie Spohr has been making the rounds online, and it's one about which I have been conspicuously silent. Better writers than myself have written about Maddie and the unique role that social media has played in her story getting the attention that it deserves, so I'm not going to add much further, except of course to explain why I haven't had anything to say about it until now.
Quite simply, it's not a topic I can think on at great length before my mind begins to feed on itself. Losing a child is one of the very few topics that I would classify as unthinkable.
The other night (and here's where you get to judge me a little), Julie and I were watching Grey's Anatomy together. We watch each other's shows together sometimes. Julie's finally off the hook with Battlestar Galactica, alas for my Friday nights, but I still join her for American Idol (which we both mock mercilessly, as if we ourselves aren't sitting there watching it along with everyone else) and Grey's Anatomy. I don't want to like it, and there's plenty about the show I don't care for, but there I am on the couch with Julie every week. It's sort of pathetic. BSG really has left a big hole in my tv heart.
(Having said that, if you really need a Grey's Anatomy SPOILER ALERT at this point, you are more pathetic than I, and I'm glad you exist in the world.)
Last week's episode included the story of a terminally ill little girl and her desperate father, a man trying so hard to find a miracle cure for his daughter that he comes very close to missing her final moments. "This next part, she needs her daddy for this part," says one of the characters, and as the little girl slips away, she does so in her father's arms as he comforts her with a description of Mexico, on the trip they'll never take together now. ''Just relax and we'll be there soon,' he says.
Well, you can imagine how I reacted to this. We both sat on the couch with tears in our eyes, staring for just a tentative moment into that void where parents usually refuse to even glance. I finally looked over at Julie and said, "You know if anything ever happened to Schuyler, I wouldn't make it."
"I know," was all she said.
I occasionally hear about what a strong father I am, simply because I've stood behind Schuyler and fought for her all this time, but it's false praise. It doesn't take strength to fight for Schuyler. The honest truth is that it's the easiest thing in the world to do. It's my pleasure and my privilege to do so. It's easy because it's a multiple choice question with only one answer, but more than that, as corny as it sounds, I get to participate in the life of the most amazing human being I've ever met, or will likely ever meet. I get to live with that person every day of my life. Who wouldn't sign on for that? That's not strength. That's selfish opportunity.
When I read about parents like Heather Spohr and Vicki Forman, I get a glimpse of what true strength really is. It takes strength to face the one thing that no parent should ever have to face. It takes strength to go to that funeral, and most of all it takes real strength to get out of bed the next morning, and the morning after that, and all the mornings that follow.
One day, hopefully not terribly soon, Schuyler will have to say goodbye to her poor sad father. If the universe proceeds the way it should, she'll say goodbye, and she'll put on a pretty dress and then she'll put me in a box or an urn and she'll give me back to the earth. It'll be a hard day for her, and I'm genuinely sorry to put her through that, but it'll be a sad page from The Way Things Are Supposed To Be.
To me, as weak as I am, the alternative is unthinkable.