Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tragedy and a test of faith

Forty-eight hours ago, my daughter's world turned topsy-turvy. It became a lot less fair, or stable, and a lot more scary. Forty-eight hours ago, one of EB's classmates died.

While this girl wasn't a friend of hers, they were in a gym class (of about 50) together, and they shared a mutual good friend, one EB rides the bus with daily. And the last two days have been about sharing, caring, friendship, shock, hope, grief -- and faith.

EB's classmate had bacterial meningitis, a very nasty fast-moving bug that can kill quickly. The girl went from feeling poorly on Friday to having to go to the school nurse, who quickly realized the seriousness and sent her to the hospital, to a coma, to death, in a matter of four days. It was horrible, awful, unfair, and the first time Earbaby had experienced the death of someone her age.

To their ultimate credit, the school headmaster and staff were great about alerting the students and parents, and keeping people updated on what was happening. When the horrible news broke of the girl's illness, EB's school had counselors, health department personnel on hand, and the teachers were particularly sensitive to the mood of the students, who were understandably devastated. Let's take it easy today, seemed to be the empathetic theme.

The seventh-grader died after school was out on Monday. I first heard it on the news and had to tell EB's classmate, the girl's friend, who was spending the afternoon/early evening with us. There's nothing sadder than seeing a girl collapse to the floor and watching the two comfort each other. EB didn't know the other girl, but as she comforts one friend, she grieves the friend she didn't get a chance to make.

EB has experienced death before. A couple of years ago, a classmate's father died. The two girls were really close friends at the time and so she had gotten to know the dad quite well. She cried so much for her friend, it was like she had lost a family member. And then we have lost a cousin, a young woman of 24 who had beaten leukemia twice in her life, but all the treatments had kept her small and frail-looking all of her life, although she was a mighty spirit in a small frame. But again, EB didn't know her as well.

Elderly relatives, aunts and uncles, they are a part of the circle of life when they pass on. But when someone dies who is your age, has some of the same friends, wears some of the same kinds of jewelry you like, passes you in the hallways, in fact could be you, well now we're having to call on our faith to try and make sense of it all.

EB has been in a community of faith since she was a few weeks old. But it's still hard to understand how God, our awesome, wonderful God, could take a young girl who was just starting out her life. I've told Earbaby that her classmate is all right, not sick or in pain anymore, and in a better place. But I also put myself in the shoes of her mother and father. I don't know how I would go on if my daughter, ravaged by an incredibly cruel illness, was suddenly taken from me. I only know that I wouldn't want to.

Earbaby's dad and I had this short conversation. It has to be short, because even the thought of losing EB makes me dissolve into tears. From the day we knew she was on her way, she's been everything to both of us. I often joke that we're both more in love with her than with each other. At least it might be a joke.

As EB rights herself, as her family of classmates and friends regroup, memorialize and then carry on, they will have to cope by whatever gets them through the day. It's a test of faith. Not just for EB and company. When a parent sees another parent losing a child like hers, it's more than heartbreaking.

This is a test of my faith too.

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