A roller coaster season of life - See the other Thanksgiving essays in the Headlines section

Loss makes blessing seem even more magical
Laura Hunt

Sitting down to write this essay, I suddenly realized that we are, again, at the close of another decade. On top of that, 2020 will start the final year of my 30s. When I reflect on the end of this decade, during which so many major life events occurred for me, I feel a profound sense of gratitude for the many gifts in my life, and also a profound sense of loss.

In 2012, I lost my dad after a very difficult battle with cancer, which shook me to my core. It’s a loss I am still processing, seven years later.

Within months of his death, I got married, and within a year had my first baby, a daughter, Halley, now 6. Following that I had two more babies, a son, Ulysses, 4, and another daughter, Hazel, 1, and built a home (something I never imagined doing in my life).

I experienced other deep losses that felt too soon — two uncles from sudden heart attacks and an aunt from cancer — that left me grasping at the fragility of life and how quickly it can be taken away.

Last year, I lost both of my grandmothers who lived long, full and amazing lives; both of whom were integral parts of my daily life and impacted who I am in immeasurable ways. I come away from this decade feeling such intense, visceral gratitude, which I think is only possibly because of the side by side experiences of loss and birth, grief and joy, sickness and health that have defined this period of my life.

Some days I watch my children — healthy, happy, wild, hilarious — explore the beautiful family property where I spent my childhood summers and where my husband and I have now built our family home, and I cannot contain the joy and thankfulness I feel. It wells up inside me, and my eyes fill with tears because I am just so lucky.

What did I possibly do to receive such gifts? How can this possibly be my life, my beautiful children, my husband who can’t even be described in superlatives because he is truly, without exaggeration that wonderful? All of it is beyond my wildest dreams.

Other days my husband and I can barely manage the daily routine of getting everyone up and fed and out the door by 8 in the morning to all of our various locations, and then home and fed and bathed and to bed.

We glance at each other mid-morning or mid-evening with a look of total exasperation, silently saying to one another, “Can this really be our life?” as we try to manage one breakdown after another, screaming, fighting children, spilled food, and a house filled with clothes and toys that seem to multiply and never get put away.

Most nights when we finally get our three highly spirited, intensely emotional, often volitale children to bed we are so completely wiped out that all of our “big plans” for the evening — cleaning, getting organized for the next day (or for our life), reading, getting work done, spending time together without three demanding personalities to manage — go completely out the window in a wash of utter exhaustion. The goal then becomes to stay awake to watch one episode of a show we are working through at a glacial pace.

Last week, a stomach virus went through our house. It hit my 4-year-old son hard. He ended up in the emergency room on Sunday night with severe abdominal pain and dehydration, and at 8 p.m., the attending doctor told me an ambulance would be taking him to Marshfield where a pediatric surgical team would meet him. They thought he might need intestinal surgery.

Over the next few hours, the only thing I could think about was my son’s health. Not whether or not he was struggling during transitions in school or lashing out and hurting his sisters or not listening when I asked him to do simple tasks. Not if he could grip a pencil correctly or identify all the letters of the alphabet or conquer the many small anxieties he faces everyday.

I was holding his hand as a myriad of tests were performed, covering his eyes and stroking his head; holding down his arms as they inserted an IV, took blood, did ultrasounds, pressed on his belly and tried to figure out what was going on in his tiny, sensitive body.

I prayed for an answer and tried to picture us on the other side of all of this, walking out of the hospital doors. I prepared myself for the moment he would leave me and enter surgery, should that be necessary.

I was faced with the terrifying way that we love our children: a love that is so intense and so strong we are completely powerless in its presence; a love that makes us bargain with the universe to sacrifice anything of ourselves in order to restore their health and ease their suffering.

In the end, my son didn’t need surgery. The next evening, after much monitoring and testing and hydrating and medicating, he was released and we were sent home.

I did walk out the hospital doors, holding my smiling son’s hand. I looked back at all the families who weren’t leaving. Those who had babies and children and teenagers and would be there for who knows how long and would have to face who knows what. Together we said a prayer of gratitude for helping him heal, and a prayer for all the children and families who still needed healing.

I returned to my husband and my two daughters, grateful, exhausted, relieved and shaken from the trauma of the unexpected experience. The days soon returned to normal — my husband and I barely surviving the mornings and the evenings with our nerves intact, but with a litte more room inside me to appreciate our “normal.”

This year, I give thanks for challenges and stresses that I can handle, even when they push me to my edge. For losses that are manageable, even the deep, painful ones. I’m thankful for the health of my children. I’m thankful I’m in a marriage of mutual respect and understanding and unconditional love. A partner with whom I can face this journey, grieve our losses and celebrate our joys.

I’m thankful to be living this roller coaster season of life in all its fullness — a mother of three small children who is trying everyday with varying success to be a good parent and partner, while hanging onto some sense of her own identity, her own personal and career goals.

I give thanks for the highs and the lows and the few moments in between. I give thanks for the losses I can bear because they deepen my heart to gratitude and make my many blessings that much more magical.



Laura Hunt lives with her family on a retired farm near Wittenberg