I have been to more funerals than weddings. I have written more eulogies than I have maid of honor speeches. I have said see you later more times than I care to count. It seems this life I’m living is riddle with loss on all sides of the line.
That loss hits especially hard when the death was caused by the very thing you survived. You know deep in your heart that person would gladly take your seat and have a chance at a brighter day. But here you are, living in the aftermath of survival. Surviving is the easy part, living out that second chance is where it gets messy.
I have stared up at the sky, no let me correct myself…. I have screamed up at the sky “why did you save me and not him or her? Was their life not important!? Were they not worthy in your eyes!?” My screams are only met with frustrated silence. Fate she never answers, she holds a tight grip on her book of secrets. One thing I do know is on October 22, 2009 my life was slipping away from me and The universe whispered “not today child, not today.” And I was given a second chance at this thing we call life.
A second chance to live out loud. To chase my dreams. A chance to take myself back. When I got out of the hospital I knew things had to change because the course I was going down wasn’t meant to be my path. I was a hot mess, I wasn’t living, I was merely existing. Add in a still birth, an abusive marriage, a divorce and a whole host of other things for good measure and you will see that the universe showed me no favors.
The universe showed me no favors. My second chance at life, this borrowed time I’m living wasn’t earned easily. I fought hard for it and have the scars to prove it. Surviving is the easy part, living is where it gets hard. Hard as in standing at the funeral of someone your age, wondering “why Adam? Wasn’t he worthy of a second chance?” Adam was the first tick mark in the friend’s death column. A column that grew faster than I would have liked. In the past 12 years I have said more see you later’s than hellos.
I have watched people die from the very thing I survived. Sitting at the funeral for someone who died of a pulmonary embolism is a fucking hard pill to swallow. Strokes, strokes are a whole other level of guilt. Seeing someone go through the aftermath of a stroke, knowing their outcome could have been different if they had gotten care in time is a suffocating silence. Hearing that someone passed due to stroke complications is a deafening pain that only survivors can understand. Their deaths didn’t have to be, we have science and research that saved my life and thousands of others. Yet somehow the universe didn’t whisper “not today.” Instead they were called home, called home.
For as long as I live I will never understand why the universe chose me to save that day. Out of all the people who needed a second chance the universe breathed life into my soul allowing me to live on borrowed time. These years I’m living are not mine to live, it’s stolen time, stolen time from those who didn’t get a second chance. Each day I live, I live for those who didn’t get the option. The option for a second go around. I carry their deaths in my heart, it’s my burden to carry.
I made a choice that day, a choice to make a difference. And a difference I did make. It was my vow that no one would ever experience my worst day possible. A vow I’ve failed to keep, yet I still keep on trying. Research and early intervention can and will continue to save lives. Clot busters and the stroke systems of care will guarantee better outcomes for stroke patients. Awareness will help folks spot the signs and symptoms of blood clots before they reach the lungs and brain. Education on the deadly side effects of hormonal contraceptives, will prevent another woman from experiencing my worst day possible. My survivor’s guilt has turned into my passion and I will not rest until there are none.
I end this with a story. After my divorce I reconnected with my mentor from college, Gary who sadly lost the battle in May 2021. Over the years I did a lot of ugly crying on his deck and at Wisconsin point, yes I’ll admit Pattison Park too. Pretty much the whole south shore is full of my tears. Gary once said to me “the big lake can heal kid. Go sit by her and let the energy wash over you.” I asked him once “do you think I will ever find out why I was saved?” He looked at me and said “Kid, no I don’t think you will ever find that out. But what I do think is, the universe she wasn’t done with you yet. She knew you had more work to do and that it was necessary that you complete whatever work it is, so you were given a second chance. Kicker is we don’t know how long that chance is, only the universe knows.” Gary was right, we don’t know how long our lives will be or when our work is considered done. His death in my eyes was premature, because he had so much more to give to this world. And knowing he died from the very thing I survived cuts a little deeper.