This morning I woke to find a text message from my oldest daughter.
“When you hear the news remember that we are both safe in Prague. Going into the city today, my data is spotty there but I’ll be back on wifi tonight. Love you xoxo”.
I immediately scanned my news feed filled with images and stories of the bombings in Brussels. My daughter and her boyfriend are traveling the world and had been in Brussels just 2 weeks ago.
Relief, sadness, anger, heartache . . . all of these emotions came rolling through my body. I felt grateful for my daughter’s thoughtfulness to let me know that she was safe, even before I had time to worry. I felt grateful that she was safe in a world filled with uncertainties. And I felt more than a twinge of guilt that I am again among the lucky ones. I have three beautiful, healthy, thriving daughters when countless others are experiencing unthinkable loss. Not just losses from today’s act of terrorism, but loss from mental or physical illness, loss from the unexplainable.
Last week I attended a funeral for one of my daughters’ high school classmates who passed away suddenly at the age of 21 during his semester abroad in Spain. His death, apparently the result of a lifelong illness, rocked our community to the core. Losing a child is every parents’ worst nightmare. Losing a child with an ocean between you and them seems just the cruelest twist of fate to add to the unthinkable. Then, and today, my mind goes to that place of ‘what if that was my child, halfway across the world’?
The reality is, I’ve had similar thoughts many, many times over the years when one or the other of my precious girls was in the harshest grips of mental illness, with no will to live. And the reality then and now is that there was, and still is, only so much that I could do to protect the ones I love the most. I can be proactive. I can be an advocate. I can be vigilant. I can be informed. But I can’t control every aspect of my life or anyone else’s.
I’ve lived in fear, paralyzed by the unknown and a sense of hopelessness. I’ve been stuck in bitterness and anger over ‘Why us? Why my child? Why, why, why?’. That fear kept me from moving forward. It kept me from living. It kept me from seeing the hope and opportunities around me. It ultimately made it much more difficult for me to help my children at a time when they needed me most.
So today, I feel sadness, anger, heartache and relief. But I will not feel fear. I have a healthy fear of fear because of its ability to stifle and constrict me and those around me. I will not fear that illness will rear its ugly head and sideline any of my children as they chase their dreams. I will not fear that acts of terror will strike them down. I will not allow fear to keep me and those I love from living life to the fullest. I will not allow a fear of mental illness, or terrorism, to put arbitrary limits on us. I will not allow fear to win.