Tuesday, November 04, 2008

One Year Later

The moments are winding down, ever closer to Wednesday, almost like a doomsday clock. How can I describe the first full year that passed without Sahara? Words like ‘hollow’ and ‘empty’ are fairly accurate, yet barely scratch the surface. After devoting over 13 years of our lives to her, making sure she was safe, healthy, self-confident and happy, to lose her to forces beyond our control remains the ultimate kick in the head. We still ask, “WHY?”

As I recall, November 5 used to be a fairly bland day, part of the anticlimactic post-Halloween period and far enough away from Thanksgiving to matter much. Now it’s known as the day Sahara died. Funny, that clear November Monday started out as such a good day, a productive day with no problems. Little did we know that it would also be the day that destroyed life as we knew it.

The niceties are worn, if well-meaning. “She’s in a better place.”
Yeah, well, I still think that here with US was the best place. “She’s not suffering anymore.” Undoubtedly. “All of this happened for a reason.” That doesn’t help much. “You are so strong.” Oh, please. Sahara was the strong one…we were the ones who did what had to be done. We were parents, doing what parents do: we took care of our child to the best of our abilities. If anyone took away something good from our experience, we only have Sahara to thank.

There is no question in my mind that Sahara was sent here to be a teacher. For one thing, she always gravitated toward those folks who chose teaching as their life’s work. She followed teachers (and the occasional principal) like a puppy, shadowing them wherever they would go. She would never admit to being a teacher’s pet, and she really didn’t want to be…she just wanted to be part of their world. I’m sure she drove them crazy at times, because she never gave up on whatever “cause” she was trying to sell. Sahara loved her teachers and she loved going to school, more for the social opportunities than the educational value. I think every one of Sahara’s teachers, from preschool forward, can tell funny stories about her.

Admittedly, she wasn’t the most studious child; she hated homework with a passion and raced through her assignments at breakneck speed, with a devil-may-care attitude that would not quit. There was too much fun waiting to be had to spend a lot of time worrying about science and math. Her response to a report card riddled with C’s? “Well, at least I didn’t get D’s.” How do you argue with this kind of logic? She had an answer for everything, spinning on one foot and flouncing away before I could come up with an appropriate response. The worst arguments we had seemed to always involve schoolwork, but I could never stay mad at her for very long. It wasn’t possible!

What a teacher she became in the short span of only 13 years! She taught me what unconditional love really means. She taught me about the joy of being a mother and the pure happiness that comes at the end of the day with a goodnight kiss. When someone would hurt her feelings, she would tell me to remember, “Oh, mom, they don’t know any better.” She was so quick to forgive, a trait that I was most grateful for, as I felt I let her down so many times. I would get so frustrated when she was sick; frustrated with the medical system and the lack of options, frustrated with myself, even frustrated with her. June Cleaver, I am not. If I had a day when I was at my worst, somehow I always remembered to ask her to forgive me, and she always did. Then she would demand something from Sonic to make up for it. LOL. Her last Butterfinger Blast is STILL in the freezer. I don’t know if I will ever be able to throw it away.

She taught Shannon the joy of being a great dad, coach and friend. He always wore the same look of pride whenever she did anything, from hitting a three-pointer to calling her mother “such a nerd.” Daddy’s Girl??? OMG, yes, was she ever. She wrapped him around her little finger the first second he laid eyes on her – as it should be for every daughter.

She was SO many things…sweet, funny, goofy, kind, loyal, infuriating, silly, witty, clever, athletic, competitive, considerate…I could fill a “Sahara Dictionary” with words that describe her personality and spirit. I miss every single one of the things that made her who she was…a truly bright spark who touched lives around the globe. She was a girl whose zest for life and unquenchable love of adventure led to an incredible existence on this earth. Sahara could make someone, even one not particularly fond of kids, think, “Wow, if I could have one like her, I’d do it in a heartbeat.” She was a girl who collected friends and kept them close to her heart; friends who honor her today by remembering the good times they spent together.

A year later, we still have no idea what we are supposed to do with the rest of our lives. We go about our daily business in a routine, predictable way, so different than the way it used to be…because, with Sahara, you NEVER knew what was going to happen from one minute to the next. She taught us about spontaneity and getting the most out of every day. “Let’s shoot some hoops!” “Let’s go on a picnic.” “Let’s go to the mall.” “Let’s go to VEGAS!!!”

Has anyone noticed the explosion of orange in Cape Girardeau? The trees are changing rapidly, and everywhere I look I see vivid shades of the color that she loved. Seems like there’s more orange than ever this year, and it is truly the most beautiful fall I’ve ever seen. For me, it’s almost like a vast illustration for an Emily Dickens poem, such beauty tinged with such great pain.

There are good things happening. We are glad that we are able to help MVTH and will continue to do so at every opportunity. Upward Basketball evaluations begin next week, which means the season is right around the corner. I’m taking some classes and exploring different hobbies, trying to find a good fit. Even our silly dog, LuLu, is starting school soon. If she simply learns to walk on a leash it will be worth the cost of “tuition!”

We received the most wonderful letter this week from Tiffanne Ryan, one of the superstars of the Lady Redhawks Championship Team. (and YES, they will always be champs in our eyes…what a season…) She was one of Sahara’s all-time favorite players and she looked up to her so much. Thank you, Tiffanne, you made our day. Sahara was crazy about you.

It was our privilege to be her parents; to love her and teach her all we knew about life. Upon her birth, how could we have ever expected that she would do that and more…a zillion times more, for us? She taught so much to so many. What a blessing, what an honor, what a gift she was, to all who loved her, now and forever.

We love you, Sahara. We’ll see you on the other side.

Mom and Dad