We went to the memorial service for Christina yesterday. I don’t really know what to say, except…I don’t know. A friend of mine told me that her greatest fear is dying while her children are young. She said that she just can’t even let her mind go there, can’t bear to think about it. Sitting at that service yesterday? Well, the mind went there. It had to. This is a family’s reality. I can’t even.
Shawn, Christina’s husband, said that, a year ago, when Christina started radiation and had to stop nursing their son cold turkey, the 1-year-old gave up his naps. He started waking at 7:30 p.m, if I remember correctly, and doesn’t fall asleep until 9. And all I could think was, was he soaking up time with his mom? Is this how he adjusted to the difficulty in their family, even though he couldn’t understand it? Their son didn’t leave his dad’s arms the entire morning. Shawn said he’s been like that for the last couple of days. Tina died last Sunday.
You know how there are marriages in the world that seem to come so easily to the couple? Yeah, I don’t know many like that, either (har har). Most couples seem to always be stagger-stopping, at least early on, trying to find their comfort zone, working around this issue or that one, trying to appreciate the other before the inevitable pressures of life and frustrations and the downside of knowing someone too, too well get in the way of that united front everyone’s supposed to be achieving. Blame financial hardship, or different backgrounds, or the stresses of raising children or finding new jobs or taking care of ill parents, but for most of us it’s hard, hard, to be that little cohesive unit all the time, in the face of everything, despite and because of it all.
And then there was Shawn and Christina. I have no idea what their marriage was like, so I will not even wager a guess. But I looked at Shawn yesterday, and I thought about what I know–of all the time he took off from work to care for his wife, each and every doctor’s appointment and chemo and radiation treatment to which he accompanied her, most times, if I’m right, taking their son, too. I think of the co-workers who donated their leave time so he could be with her. He shaved the hair off of his head when they took hers, too. I see a man Christina raved about, worried about, loved absolutely, and I see a father who’s so obviously a rock to their son while dealing with unimaginable pain. Christina’s sister-in-law told those of us gathered yesterday that Shawn embodied his sacred vows in the way he cared for her and loved her in such a horrible test of their devotion. And I saw him sitting there, in the front corner of the pew always reserved for the closest family member, holding their son, and I just. I don’t know. I’m not going to go tell you to go hug your spouse, or look at her with new eyes, or anything like that, because, really. David and I got into a silly spat about cell phones in the car on the way home, not an hour after we’d left the luncheon, because that’s how it rolls sometimes. I’m not in any place to spread platitudes. But. Shawn goes home tonight, and wakes tomorrow, and the day after that, because he has to. He will be determined that his son know about his mom. He will want to talk about her, he will need to remember her, he will have to live without her. The mind goes there, because it has to, whether it wants to or not.
Some of you have asked me how you can help. A fund has been set up for Christina and Shawn’s son through their local credit union. If you’d like to contribute, you may send a donation in the name of Shawn Edward Heinlein, Jr. to 239 Kensington Parkway, Abingdon, MD 21009. Please send me an email at onevignette(at)gmail(dot)com if you want more specific info.
You, my dear friends who read this, are wonderful people. Most of you know that already (no? You should), but you seriously are wonderful, and if Shawn or his or Christina’s family is reading this, I hope they know how many, many people they don’t know have them in their prayers right now, have been in tears talking about them with their own families, have been going to bed at night thinking about them. It’s a lot. Christina has done by 34 what most of us wish we can accomplish in our lives: she’s led by example. And Shawn, I think you’re a part of that.