Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Always Adapting

We all have to adapt to survive. In fact, even though we don't like to admit it, we are in a constant state of adaptation. We like to believe that we are in control of our lives, as well the lives of the dependents in our care. And we can usually perpetuate the mirage of control, until one of life's larger forces rears its head - such as illness, accident, or death.

My grandma, Esther, mastered the art of adaptation, but I don't believe she purposefully schooled herself in adaptation. I think her ability to adapt came out of a deeper drive, lodged down in her soul, that placed survival above all else. Adaptation became a by-product of survival for her, as it does for many of us. Esther adapted to her nomadic life as a Preacher Kid, the chasm created in her family by her marriage to a Catholic, the sudden death of her 11 year-old son, the taking of her home by the state, and the deaths of her three spouses. Her story of adaptation in the face of adversity is an inspiration to people facing challenges of their own.

Whether it is a chronic illness, handicap or death of a child, depression or mental illness, relentless addiction, the premature death of a spouse or parent, a dooming medical diagnosis, a tragic accident, or a dramatic shift in life's course, we all have experienced tragedies or watched others navigate their own. But we adapt. We soldier through. We give support. We accept help. And what was once unthinkable or nightmarish, becomes the new normal. If it weren't for role models of resilience, we would be lost.

On this anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing, I think about the Richard family who lost their little boy, Martin, in the blast. As Denise Richard surveys her surroundings through her one eye that she did not lose to the bomb fragments, she may see her husband's permanent scars and compensate for his hearing loss. She would see her daughter with her prosthetic leg and her surviving son with his lost innocence who saw more horror and loss in an hour than most Americans see in a lifetime. But she also would see the living room full of friends and supporters who sit down with her family to discuss and decide the best course on which to move forward to honor Martin's life. The Richards have chosen the shadows in which to learn to acclimate to their new normal. But today forces them into the limelight. And their presence and resilience is nothing less than heroic. I hope these days and weeks under the microscope are not too hard on them.

I have had the sad experience of feeling the shroud enveloping the community that lost a child. The heartache of everyday activities is soothed by the love of the community that understands the space the family must be given, but also the arm stretched out at just the right time and length to assure the family that they are not alone. One of the most poignant moments of my grandma's life was when a couple reached out to her family after the death of her son, when everyone else around them chose only distance.

I look to my grandma for inspiration when I am conscious that I must adapt. If I didn't have to adapt, I would be heading to Rocky River this July to visit my parents. But instead, I have the honor of presenting at the Rocky River Public Library. I am looking forward to the evening with great anticipation. It will be a genealogy discussion similar to the presentation I gave in Needham, MA in January. I am a bit overwhelmed - in a positive way - at the prospect of presenting my genealogy journey and my book at the library that helped foster my love of reading. If you are in the Rocky River area, I hope you will come! If you are busy that day, you will soon be able to check my book out from the library. And I hope my donated books will be given book plates in memory of Jack and Peg McCarthy, who will be at the presentation in their own, special way.

Author Visit: "Are You Ready to Find Your Family Story?" Wednesday, July 23rd, 7:00pm, Rocky River Public Library Community Room

If you would like to support the MIT community and survivors and families who lost loved ones in the Boston Marathon bombing, here are some great sites:

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