John Robison writes in his book about having Asperger’s that other people find him callous due to his lack of reaction to the world’s catastrophes, natural disasters, and other tragedies.  He states that he can relate to the feelings others are expressing.  He understands why everyone is so upset, but he cannot get worked up over every human soul.  It would be too emotionally draining to personally mourn each person who perished in 9/11.  I think most of us can work up a little mass casualty sympathy, but I understand exactly what he means. 

One would have had to be under a rock this week not to hear about and care about Haiti.  The coverage ranges from tragic, to uplifting, to technical, to financial.  Some of the families I support have ties to Haiti, so it’s if it’s anything to me, it’s personal.  My little sister especially has a unique insight into the victims of the earthquakes, as she is currently a case worker in Pittsburgh’s Department of Children, Youth and Families, and was able to witness, first-hand, the orphans who had been given refugee status that they might be adopted.  She was at the hospital to witness the organized chaos that handed out 51 sets of clothing, toys, backpacks, and personal care kits to 51 soon-to-be-adopted children.  She was “assigned” a 5 year old child to advocate for during her shift.  She was moved by the entire process.

Though thousands may have perished, thousands more made orphans, millions may be homeless, and the infrastructure may be completely crushed along with the homes and livelihoods in Haiti, it took a different event this week to bring me to tears.

A former co-worker of mine, a fellow teacher from my days of preschool, passed away this week, suddenly, and too soon.  She left behind a husband, two sons – one of whom I taught in preschool, and one of whom they just adopted last year, after a many year struggle to bring him home – and a shocked community.  I have been fortunate not to experience the deaths of many people close to me, nor to witness declining health first-hand.  My grandparents have all passed, and their deaths, while painful, are the deaths of grandparents that we all seem to expect and experience.  The sudden death of someone so young, so vibrant, so caring and with so much life left to experience just shocked me.  It frightened me, too.

I was immediately thrown back to my childhood, for, during a period of time when I was 4 or 5, I wondered why it wasn’t me, each night, dying in my sleep.  Why was I allowed to live another day, and others weren’t?  I was able to be comforted by my parents, who assured me that wouldn’t happen for some time, when I was old, and that it didn’t (usually) happen to young children.  It seemed to help, and, except for the last 2 nights, those thoughts haven’t kept me awake.

Mr. Apron also suffered these fears.  He feared random home invasions in the middle of the night, thieves using silencers while shooting his parents in their sleep.  He regularly would ask the darkness, “Mommy?” just to hear her voice, reassuring him they were still alive and alright.  They tried to tell him that that’s why we go to doctors, to stay healthy.  I’m not sure it ever set his mind at ease, though.  When I asked him last night, reliving my earlier anxieties, why it wouldn’t be me, or him, or someone in our families, dying in our sleep, or suddenly collapsing, he didn’t have an answer.  Because, if it could happen to my friend, my coworker, G. and J.’s mother, it could happen to anyone.  For all the deadbolts and vaccines, all the seatbelts and sunglasses, the air filters and air bags, the fiberglass insulation and grounding wires out there, we are not in control, and senseless, incomprehensible deaths happen each day.  They happen to Haitians and to friends. 

I could not attend the funeral this morning because of work, but I wanted just to be there, with the family, with my thoughts and memories of my friend.  In the obituary, there was mention of a charity accepting donations in her memory.  I haven’t given to Haiti, not even with my cell phone, but I will give to remember a person I knew myself, someone who came into my life, and a friend who left too soon.

I’ll miss you, Jen.

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