I took a deep breath and walked inside a smallish meeting room that had been tucked behind rows and rows of books in a trendy bookshop downtown. A smattering of women had already gathered themselves in groups of twos and threes, and the hum of small talk and introductions started to rise. I strategically chose a seat in the back of the room, close to an exit so I could make a quick getaway the moment the workshop was over. I dutifully pulled out my notebook and pen, and tried in vain to feel like I belonged there. The seats around me began to fill, and eventually I was warmly drawn into a few typical hellos and how-are-yous and where-are-you-froms. I remained calm and steady in polite and superficial conversation. I smiled and avoided mention of anything that could possibly trigger the flood of emotions pent up from earlier in the day. Besides, I figured no one really wants to hear, “my children almost died today” from a complete stranger.
The workshop began, and to my complete horror, a free-write assignment was given immediately. I hadn’t written anything outside of my private journal for well over a year. And it had been even longer than that since I’d exercised even a particle of creativity. I was bone-dry. Lost in a world of math and needles, I had been stuck in survival mode, navigating my way through complex medical diagnoses and round-the-clock caregiving. I subsisted mainly on herbal tea and much-less-than-adequate sleep as I made my best attempt each day to keep my children healthy. On the drive over, I had repeatedly questioned aloud why on earth I had even signed up for a creative writing workshop in the first place. I knew in my gut that my experiences over the last couple of years would inform my writing on a deeper level, but on a day like today, it all seemed a little too raw and personal. The given assignment drew a few nervous laughs from around the room. We were asked to write our own obituary. To make the situation incredibly worse, we were given just ten minutes to write. And then we would read our piece aloud.
I stared blankly at my notebook for a minute or two and silently cursed at myself for driving all the way downtown to be humiliated like this. Then I frantically tried to piece together a few words. My mind grasped for some endearing anecdote or wise quote. But my nerves were still as rattled as they had been hours earlier, and all I could feel was a strong desire to actually die rather than read this crap out loud. If a better woman were writing her own obituary, she might have actually taken stock of her life’s experiences and thought about the legacy she’d like to leave for the world. Instead, I ticked off a short list of rather unimpressive achievements and places I had lived. I thought briefly about giving voice to my fierce and passionate love for my family. Then I remembered the part about reading our pieces out loud and I considered the powder keg of emotion behind that… so instead I listed the date David and I were married and the years our children were born. Ava-2006. Ella- 2008. Dallin-2010. Jack-2012. In the interest of time, I scratched out all of the dates, and simply listed their names. But even with the most generic of information about my children on paper, in my mind’s eye, I could see all of their innocent, squishy faces, and tears came dangerously close to the surface.
Love is an interesting thing. It is one simple word that is used to describe a whole range of extraordinarily complex and different emotions. One word. The same word that describes my deep and abiding commitment to my husband is the same word I use to describe what motivates me to bring dinner to a sick neighbor. It is what carried me through the whirlwind of learning to care for two young children diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. It is what brought me to my knees when my preschooler was diagnosed with autism six months later. It is what causes me to weep in the shower, and yet the same thing that makes me smile every time my daughters set up lemonade stands to raise money for charities and medical research. Love is in all of it. The grocery shopping for gluten-free foods, the endless laundry, the insulin injections, the books and bedtime snuggles. Love is in the apologies after an argument, the phone call checking in with a friend, and in the embrace with my husband as we kneel in prayer together at the end of every long, hard day. Mother Theresa once suggested that we should “do small things with great love.” This is the quote my mind was searching for when we were all informed that our ten minutes were up.
The class takes turns reading their individual obituaries. Most are incredibly smart and witty. Some are profound and wise. Mine is simple and straightforward and utterly artless.
After some solid writing advice from the workshop facilitators and a short question-and-answer period, the class ends, and I make a beeline to my car. I call home to check in with our home nurse, and, to my great relief, she tells me that all is well. She reports that both of my boys are stable and doing much better after an incredibly scary experience earlier in the day when not one, but both of my little diabetics nearly went unconscious from severe hypoglycemia – a condition that can be fatal without immediate medical treatment. I had been home alone with my boys at lunchtime when they simulataneously started getting irritable and angry, then suddenly their eyes began to roll back into their heads, and both showed the telltale signs of being on the verge of slipping into unconsciousness. I tried frantically to pour juice into their mouths as they took turns spitting it out and clawing at me. I went from one to the other, holding their mouths open and forcing a sip at a time and desperately patting their cheeks; shouting at each of them and begging them to stay with me. They were in turn both irrational and combative. And with both of them on the brink of unconsciousness, it took every ounce of calm strength and determination I could muster, all of the faith and all of the prayers I could offer; it took all of God’s grace and all of the incredible love I felt for these children to care for them and eventually revive them. It had all happened so fast, and unleashed such a torrent of emotions, that my nerves were still shot a full ten hours later. In the two and a half years since both of my boys were diagnosed with this disease, we have only experienced situations like this a handful of times, and never with both boys at once. “Terrifying” doesn’t begin to describe it.
On the drive home I rewrite my obituary in my mind. It includes fanciful assumptions that at some future date my boys will take place in groundbreaking medical research and will be completely cured of diabetes by the time they are teenagers. It speaks of my lovely daughters and how Ava will accomplish her dream of being an interior designer in New York and how Ella really will be the first female President of the United States, in addition to being a veterinarian, a reporter, a chef, an artist, and also the first female player in the NFL. It speaks of the adventures my husband and I would have as we travelled the world together, and how all of my children will serve faithful missions for our church. My new and improved obituary speaks of Dallin’s future career as a cartoonist and professional ninja. It mentions the fact that despite all odds, my youngest son, Jack, will marry his good friend Ruby Valentine, and with the love and support of their friends, family, and an excellent medical team, they will be expecting their second child together at the time of my passing. My obituary closes with requests for charitable donations to be given to starving children in Venezuela in lieu of flowers, and strict instructions for only my best and most flattering pictures to be shown at the services instead of the weird and very morbid practice of an open-casket viewing.
And as my nerves continue to settle on the long drive home, the end of my obituary reads like this:
Kimberly Tait lived a quiet life in a small town. She loved dogs and horses and Arizona sunsets. She cared deeply about her children, her grandchildren, her parents, her extended family, and most of all, her eternal companion, David. She was devoted to her family and her faith. She treasured good books, great music, and belly laughter with her girlfriends. She taught her children to work hard and be kind. She did hard things without complaining (most of the time). And throughout her life, she followed the sage advice of Mother Theresa. She did small things with great love.