We said goodbye to Gwendolyn Strong last weekend. She was an inspiring girl with heroic parents, Bill and Victoria. On our journey with a medically fragile child, we haven’t really found that “support groups” work. Life with a family member in need of round-the-clock care is uniquely demanding such that carving out time for structured activity and another meeting is very difficult. But we have come across people who serve as valuable examples and encourage us in our own journey by the way they navigate theirs. While life doesn’t allow for extended and regular contact, when they live in your town you can run into each other occasionally, you can touch base with a question about a doctor or local resource, and— perhaps more than anything—you can get a knowing nod, smile or sigh as you keep battling on.
Gwendolyn was an amazing child who lived an amazing life and, while it’s hard to look past how much a terrible illness robbed her of, it was a life so abundantly rich in love from friends, family, our community and the world beyond. But no one’s love was more evident than that of her parents—and I’m so glad Gwendolyn experienced that. Bill and Victoria were knowledgeable advocates who fought hard alongside their daughter. They never lost sight of the severity of her condition and the likely outcomes, but also constantly kept the fact that she was a little girl filled with wonder and personality in view. They nurtured, celebrated, trusted, challenged, inspired and pressed on. While their child’s condition would have justified narrowing their focus and attention only to their own family’s concerns, they looked broadly beyond themselves to other families facing similar struggles and poured energy into a foundation so that future suffering might be spared.
THE PART WHERE I (ROLF) MAKE THIS ABOUT ME: I’ve got no real eloquent way of wrapping this up and I’m very hesitant to go on as any grief I might be feeling is nothing compared to the Strongs’ heartbreak, but I guess since this is my blog about me I can do that here.
I was in a bad mood in the evening after the memorial service. At first I thought it was just frustration over a few things breaking around the house, but it became clear at 2am that things were running deeper. A few years ago, I remember coping with Nina’s memorial by going numb. Not sure I’m doing that now, but the thoughts that fly through your head at that hour can be torture:
Rudy is an outlier—like Gwendolyn—having lived significantly beyond what several doctors might have thought. that’s cause for celebration…but also makes you wonder how long such a run can last. you can be the best special needs parent in the world and that won’t save your child. with life dominated now by care needs, how could we ever adjust to life without them? not sure if I can list all the kids in our circle who’ve died. i can only think of three HLHS kids Rudy’s age we’ve been following since birth who are still alive. when did their parents know it was the end? what kind of warning will we have? we know of two kids who died on the transplant table last month. i hate that I go to kids’ memorial services and actually entertain what things I might include at my son’s.
Once the musings start, it’s kind of hard to stop the avalanche. Scary to stop all the activity of life to verbalize the raw questions we wrestle with and the feelings that accompany them. I’m grateful to have fulfilling and meaningful work as well as commitments and hobbies that demand a healthy degree of focus and energy, but events like this can trigger a temptation to dive into them to the point where they become a distraction. Don’t freak out–we’re OK. This is our reality. We laugh a a lot and embrace all the moments of beauty we capture on this blog. Perhaps the fact that they take place amidst the undercurrent we don’t often talk about is what makes them all the more precious.
Still no eloquent way to wrap this up. Time to hug my family and gaze in wonder at the little half-heart warrior.