On a layover in the Houston International airport, I met a man named Jim. It was a four hour layover to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Jim was a commuter. A stranger in an airport I had never been in. What possessed me to start a conversation with this man has eluded me since our conversation. He asked me where I was traveling to and from. Sitting next to him I could inately feel his soul was kind and I could feel sorrow surrounding him. We talked and talked. After I revealed the story of a recent traumatic loss, he too told me his story.
He was happily married, had two children and was a caregiver to his aging parents in his home in Houston. About a month before, his nineteen year old passed from leukemia. She fought hard against that invisible predator…cancer. Four years with little fear and every bit of strength she had. “She was always upbeat, she kept us upbeat and refused to have any sadness around her”. He told me she handled her diagnosis better than anyone in the family. As the years passed and the chemicals flowed through her body, she would feel better, then feel worse. A cycle of ups and downs that can only be described as a fight within a fight. Jim went on to tell me she had one wish when she realized she would not live to her twentieth birthday. She wanted her entire family to go to Disney World. So he arranged it. He remembered the laughter, the pure joy she felt being there with her family. He said it was the best time he ever had. He said those memories are what sustain him.
As he was telling me his story, I cried for him, for her and for the person I was grieving for. He said, “the secret is… EVERYDAY you must wake up and try to make it the best you can. That’s what my daughter did and it made a difference. “We followed her lead, for nineteen years old, her wisdom was a gift”.
I was thirty at the time, facing another huge loss right around the corner, so I told him I would try.
As we sat and reflected on all the words we had spoken…he told me his parents who he and his wife were the caregivers for, were declining rapidly. His mother had a debilitating stroke, wheelchair bound. His father had just fallen in his kitchen. A halo brace was attached to the outer portion of his skull, due to a spine injury. He fell backwards in the chair and dislodged the brace. I was in awe of his composure….his daughter dies, and his parents require all his and his wife’s strength, commutes from Arizona to Texas for work, how does he cope? “I am their caregiver, I do what needs to be done”.
Why did I meet Jim? Was he sent to me as a messenger? I was sad at the time having just gone through a trauma myself. I was reluctant to travel, my mother stable but alone at the time. I was meeting one of my best friends who was traveling for business in Albuquerque. We were hooking some time on to her trip to travel to Santa Fe, the Grand Canyon, and Sedona. It was a magical trip….
I have never forgotten Jim’s words, his inspiration and true guts. He resonates with me in my darkest challenges to this day. All that grief, the loss of a child, aging ill parents, work, life. “Just try” he said, you might be surprised how strong you really are underneath all your pain”. I have taken his words with me through my path. Little did I know then how much I would reflect on his story. Try to be strong…seems so simple. I honor that four hour talk with Jim. His fortitude. His strength. His courage. His story has impacted me like few others. I try EVERYDAY.