On Tuesday evening, as I arrived in class to teach, I pulled a folder from my bag and got a paper cut. I know, a paper cut, big deal. I popped the finger in my mouth and sucked on it, natural reaction for me. But I couldn't stop bleeding. The blood pooled under my fingernail and formed a ruby bubble on my finger. I wrapped a paper towel around it, but as I gathered papers to pass out to students, I left little blots of blood on the papers.
The paper cut wasn't a big deal, but it was a surreal end to a sad day.
That afternoon, I found out that Katie, a 21-year-old who grew up with my kids, had died.
When our family moved to Columbus in 1998, I attended a homeschool meeting. I walked into the meeting and gazed at the people sitting around the tables arranged in a U-shape. I chose the most "normal" looking woman and slid into a chair next to her. I had no idea that this woman would become one of my closest friends. Cathy, like me, had three children -- two girls and a boy. They were all close in age to my children.
We ended up become homeschooling partners, joining forces three or four days a week, as we explored different historical periods and of course allowed the children to run and play.
We had been searching for a church since we arrived in Columbus, and Cathy invited us to try the Newman Center on Ohio State's campus. We began going there and were welcomed into the church family there.
Through it all, our children remained fast friends.
Then Cathy decided to have more children and put her older kids in school. Once she entered the school realm, we weren't as close, although we both continued to teach religious ed at church. Eventually, as my kids aged out, I stopped teaching. Cathy is there for a few years more as her two younger children still go through the program.
But this story isn't about Cathy, it's about her daughter Katie. When Katie was 2, she had a cancerous tumor somewhere around her rib cage. Usually, when these tumors are discovered, it is too late for the children already. But Cathy listened to Katie's 2-year-old complaints when she lay on her side or when someone picked her up. She took Katie to the doctor and insisted they check it out rather than shrug it off. And after a prayer service one evening, Katie's tumor stopped growing. During her childhood years, she had to have regular checkups to track it, but after five years, those became yearly checkups.
Rather than being resentful of her younger siblings, Katie often held them when they were little and allowed them to climb her like a jungle gym as they grew older. She swam on swim team and played water polo, insisting on a normal life. She went away to college and moved into her own apartment.
We've grown away from the family, but I ran into Cathy in the grocery store in October. She filled me in on the family and said that Katie had an internship in Chicago this summer with a PR firm. She loved the job and hoped the company might hire her once she graduated college in the spring.
And then on Tuesday came the phone call. Katie had a seizure Tuesday morning and she had died.
I still can't quite grasp it, so I imagined that for her parents and her four siblings, they expect to hear her footsteps and a call of hello from Katie at any moment.
Grace was hit hard by the news. She and Katie were friends on Facebook, but those early years playing pioneer and teacher and Barbies, formed a bond that the two could always count on.
As a friend, I feel helpless. If I were a parent, my mind can't even fathom how I would feel.
I think about stupid arguments with children, worries about weight gain or girl fights.
I need to remember to focus on the important things in life, so I have no regrets. And I need to make sure I love the people around me because we don't know when those people will be gone.
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