2011 YIR: Tragedies

Perhaps the way to keep others engaged in what I am writing is not to start on a tragic note. Yet, in many ways, my year was defined by highs and lows. I will talk about the highs as well, I just figured may as well rip the band aid off and share the rough points from 2011 and what I have learned as a result.

2011 has been a rough, perhaps the hardest, year that I have ever gone through. The reasons for this are many. And not all of the “roughness” has been bad, sad, or tragic. But as fast as this year has gone by (which has been pretty fast), it hasn’t gone by fast enough. For a while now I’ve been saying “I can’t wait for 2011 to be over.”

Though there were some very rough patches personally and the regular trials that come with finals and completion of degree programs, the first half of the year was fairly free hardships out of the ordinary.

That changed when I became aware of the personal tragedy in a family that I have been close to. This experience made me want to keep my eyes on Jesus, and to be a better Christian.

In July, I moved back to Michigan a matter of days before the bar exam. When I arrived, our little Yorkshire Terrier, Sammy, seemed to be having problems breathing. Sammy had been a member of our family since the summer of 1999, and he was now a little old dog. I reminded my mom that she should take him to the vet the day that I left for Lansing to take the bar. I picked him up before I walked out the door and held him close; he licked my neck and face. In a way, I think we both knew we were saying good-bye.

My mom took Sammy to the vet the first day of my bar exam. They found that his kidneys had failed. We could have given him injections every day, which would have extended his life for about a week. My mom decided it wasn’t worth it for his quality of life, and they put him to sleep. Not wanting to stress me out, my parents didn’t mention this when I called while in Lansing.

I walked through the doors of our house, glad to finally be done with the exam, and realized the dog wasn’t there to greet me.

I didn’t realize how much a part of me that dog was. When I was a little girl, all I wanted was a dog. We lived in a house on the campus of Andrew University that didn’t allow pets, so when we moved to our own house, my parents made good on their promise to get the long promised dog. Sammy was the answer to that request.

Though he had a unique personality, barked too much, didn’t quite ever get the whole potty training thing down, hated baths, and demanded LOTS of attention, he was a loyal friend. Days I stayed home sick from school or was just reading on the couch he would come and lay his little head on my arm and sleep. I could just feel that he loved us, in with whatever capacity dogs can love. I learned many lessons on discipline from Sammy, but I think it wasn’t until he was put to sleep that I really understood why they call dog a man (or woman)’s best friend. To honor Sammy’s legacy I want to be a better friend to those in my life.

A month or so passed, and one Sabbath at the beginning of September my dad and I learned that his mentor, Dr. Orrison, was dying. We were told that he had a couple of weeks left to live, and we intended to go visit him shortly. But we didn’t get the chance. He passed away just a couple of days later.

I guess my mourning over the loss of Dr. Orrison may seem odd. After all, he was my dad’s mentor. But I guess when you mentor a person, you impact everyone close to that person too. He was almost like a grandfather figure to me. I remember being a little girl and he would hear I had a loose tooth. He would ask if he should get a string to tie to his office door and tie the other end to my tooth. He would slam the door to pull the tooth out. As I got older, he always kept track of me. I would receive notes in the mail commending me for a job well done on graduating from eighth grade, high school, college, or even for telling the children’s story at church.

Dr. Orrison was a leader of leaders, and everything about the services to celebrate his life after his passing reminded me of that. He demanded that if you were going to take on any endeavor that it be done with class, style, and flourish. And I know his ambition for excellence was driven by a desire to glorify God. He was the standard in Adventist education, and yet already I know that many if not most of Adventist educators have no idea who he is or what he accomplished. To help his legacy live on, I want to be a better mentor and leader, to alway strive for excellence.

Little did I know as I sat in Dr. Orrison’s funeral that in a matter of weeks we would be planning a funeral in our own family. Yet the lives of my Aunt Nancy, Uncle Earl, and cousin Jack (along with the rest of our family) were turned upside down September 28 when my eldest cousin Kelly Brown passed away.

Her death was a surprise to us all, and shook our family to the core. Family has always been an important value in my life, but this experience made me realize why it’s so important. And how much I am going to always miss Kelly. She knew how to be a good family member. She watched over her younger brother and cousins with care, she always was there to support, always brought food the family get-togethers. To honor Kelly’s legacy, I want to be a better family member.

They say you dream about what’s on your mind. Death struck uncomfortably close to home this year, and I know that this won’t be the only year in my life on this earth that will be marked with such tragedy. But I guess you could say it has been occupying my thoughts recently more than anytime before.

A couple of weeks ago I had a dream. It was one of those dreams where you’re sleeping so deeply, you don’t even realize you’re dreaming. I was in a white bed in a white hospital room, with white blinds, lots of sun shining through the windows. I was hooked up to a breathing machine and a feeding tube. Then the nurses started feeding me less food through the tube, and I panicked thinking they are going to just let me die, I don’t want to die! Soon they disconnected the machine too, and I was breathing on my own. I expected my breathing to slow down, but soon my breathing became stronger, more steady. Suddenly, I was conscious that I had been dreaming and it was my actual, steady breathing I was feeling and hearing and that was waking me up. I was alive.

That dream shook me, and had me thinking for several days afterwards. Yes, I want to be a better Christian, a better friend, a better leader, and a better family member. But above all, more than the ways I want to live this life, I want to live. I don’t want to die.

As long as time lasts, death will happen. But the tragedies in this year have created in me the desire even more than ever to make sure I make the most of this life. Even more, I want to make sure to trust in God so that even if my life on this earth passes, the hope of eternal life remains.

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