Surrounded by survivors…

Minute by Minute.  That’s how you might categorize my life in the weeks after losing my wife.  I bring this up because of something I saw over the weekend, something that made me think.

I’m going to echo some sentiments stated on Sunday by one of the best still photographers I’ve known: Joel Sartore.

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I can’t begin to say I know what things are like in his household, I’ve faced far different circumstances than Joel has and is facing now.  But what I find extremely interesting is what he has to say about his circumstances.

I guess I should give you the background: Joel is a professional journalist and photographer.  He was just made a National Geographic Fellow and is in the middle of documenting some of the rarest, most endangered species on the planet by getting the species that are housed in zoos across the country.  He’s talented, driven, and one of the funniest men I’ve ever met.

I met Joel years ago when I worked in Omaha, Nebraska.  Joel works and lives in Lincoln, NE, and his wife convinced him to call our station to get a major phone issue fixed by our consumer unit.  It’s a problem we tackled for him and he and I have talked occasionally ever since.  I even give prints of Joel’s as gifts, I like his work that much.  If you can find his Geographic Explorer segment on Grizzlies in Alaska it’s one of the most beautiful, funniest segments ever shot on the series.

But this isn’t about Joel’s or my work.  It actually starts with his wife, who I mentioned up there.  Joel’s wife, Kathy, was diagnosed with breast cancer seven years ago.  Then this year she had a recurrence, but the prognosis looks good.  That would be difficult enough.  He saw a major change in how he worked so he could stay home.

But in August, their son was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma.  Cole is 18, but the prognosis, again, is good.  So is the family, who Joel highlighted today on CBS’ Sunday Morning.

What really hit home for me, though, was the way Joel and his family have said they’re handling the situation.

They’re thankful.  They really are.

The thing I really seemed to relate to was how everyone else seemed to handle Joel’s problems like their entire world had come crashing down:  

“Friends approach us haltingly, as if we’ve already lost a child. They ask us to tell the story just one more time, ‘How is he doing? What happened? Why you?’ Some even tear up.

We tell them that we’re doing okay, but they don’t believe us, not for a minute.

But you know what? We actually are okay. And by that I mean we’re doing well.”

Now, bear in mind, I cannot relate to having family members sick, nor can I relate to the adversity of dealing with breast cancer or lymphoma treatments.  I know it has to be stressful, but I have to admit, I can get what he’s saying.

In the weeks after losing my wife, Andrea, we had a lot of bad things happen: I’d lost my wife, but then we lost our home.  I had my bosses tell me they wanted to “make a change” and my career came crashing around me.  All this while trying to figure out how to raise four kids all by myself.  Where I can relate to Joel is how everyone reacted . . . hell, even still reacts.  I even wrote about how we tell people we’re okay in a column for Good Enough Mother.  We’re okay, we really are.  Are we excellent?  Well, some days we really are.  Are we horrible, well, most times we’re really not.  I got those same, tearful, upset questions about how we’re doing and then the disbelief that we could.

All of us

I have always liked Joel’s work and his attitude.  To be thankful and outgoing and happy . . . well, that’s no surprise to me.  But I take a bit of satisfaction in knowing that two years ago I might have been one of those same sad, sympathetic people but today . . . I’ve got a similar, though not exact, perspective.

It’s an interesting character study that so many people come up, trying to envision themselves in your place and then feel that the adversity is just too much.  I would guess people have no idea how they’d handle tragic events, but nobody does, really.  I didn’t see my life going this direction, but my life isn’t horrible.  I took it minute by minute (to steal a Doobie Brothers line).  Then day by day. I’m maybe looking a week ahead now, though it seems to go months at times.

There’s a clarity to that way of thinking.  I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who sees good things happening and much to be thankful for.

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