I was sitting in a waiting area of sorts a few days ago, while my kids were in a class. From that vantage point, I could look into the room where my children were, and also see the pool outside. A few other people were sitting there too, and none of them seemed to know anybody else. So when the man nearest to me started talking, I wasn’t really sure who he was addressing. Maybe all of us. Maybe just himself. I don’t know, but his words struck me like a blow to my chest. He said “Do you see that woman in the wheelchair getting into the pool? That is courage.”

I agreed with him, but my mind started going in a different direction, as it often does these days. I am a classic example of a person displaying what is called “the narcissism of grief.” I have the uncanny ability to take the most unrelated topics, and morph them into something about the death of my daughter, and the grief resulting from it. That day was no different.

Like the woman we saw through the window, I suffer from a handicap, something that cripples me and makes me less than whole. My condition makes life harder, more painful. It makes the seemingly simple tasks almost more than I can handle sometimes. People look at me funny. Some just don’t care that I hurt. Some wish I would go away so they don’t have to think about my situation. I wonder why this happened to me. I wonder why this should have to happen to anyone. I wonder about my ability to go on, to keep struggling with this burden thrust upon me, unchosen, unwanted, and unending.

But I still choose to live. I choose to try and make some meaning out of this suffering. I choose to keep fighting-against my own feelings of futility, against rude or thoughtless behavior from people who don’t understand and maybe don’t care to, against a world that would rather pretend that infant death doesn’t happen, even if it means abandoning the parents who are going through it.

So, symbolically speaking, I choose to get into the pool. Even though it hurts me to do it and hurts others to watch it. Even though it exposes my weakness, and makes me more vulnerable. Even though it forces me to ask for help, and admit how needy I am. And even though I run the risk of slipping, of going under and coming up sputtering, maybe again and again.

There is no right way to get into a pool. There is only the act of doing it, despite the fear of drowning during the attempts. I, and the many, many people I know who have lost children, are doing exactly that. We may not be diving in, but we end up in the water eventually. And as that unnamed man so eloquently stated that day, “That is courage.”

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