From the Ashes of Tragedy: Perspective

Momservation: Hug your kids today because tomorrow is not promised.

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I’m sorry, but I can’t joke around today.

Tragedy and heartache have descended upon our community. You pray that it will pass over you. You pray that God will keep your children and your family safe, simultaneously feeling guilty that it almost means you’re praying for someone else’s family to take the hit. So you throw out another prayer. Lord, keep all the children safe.

He doesn’t.

Her name is Natalie Giorgi and she was another family’s child. But she was one of our community’s children. Lost this last weekend to the devastation of her family, their heartache washes over all of us—a tidal wave of sorrow knocking those who knew her and loved her flat, those who informally knew her shocked and reeling from the blow, and those who didn’t sweeping up their children and holding them tighter, frightened that tragedy came so close to their shores.

We lost Natalie to a peanut allergy. One bite of a Rice Krispies treat with peanut butter in the frosting. Everyone did everything right to try and save her, including her father who is a doctor. But it wasn’t meant to be. Faith shaken because someone else’s prayer seemingly took priority.

It happened at a place that was supposed to hold only happy memories: Camp Sacramento. A place Our Lady of the Assumption families had been going since their children were little, eager to tack on another year of camaraderie and laughter, more commemorative pictures, a cherished summer tradition where families could safely have fun together.

“I will never go back,” said my friend who was there, haunted by what she witnessed. She is not only devastated by the loss of such a beautiful, delightful, newly-minted teenager, but that so many of Natalie’s young friends who were there at the campfire where treats were being served had to experience life’s harshest lesson so early: kids can die too.

It is a harsh reality I also learned as a child. My sister died when I was nearly 13 when she was electrocuted in a bathtub by a blow dryer. In an instant everything changes and you have a choice to hate God or trust him.

I pray now that the Giorgi family holds together strong and trusts Him despite the pain and agonizing sorrow that I know they’re going through. This unthinkable loss will either make them or break them. With their amazing OLA extended family circling the wagons around them, I have faith they will make it. We’re not all so fortunate—the loss of a child broke my family, but in time we rose from the ashes (I chronicle it in my upcoming spiritual memoir, AND A CHILD SHALL LEAD THEM: FROM UNTHINKABLE TRAGEDY TO UNEXPECTED FAITH).

If the Giorgi family can trust that a still meaningful life can be had without their precious child, twin and sibling…that they will be able to one day breath again without it hurting…one day wake up and not wish they didn’t…one day walk around and not hate the world for continuing…one day have the hole where their heart once was close and beat again…one day have color return to lives muted gray…they will all be better for it. Natalie’s short life and legacy here will best be honored by living and loving hard, living in the moment enjoying life’s sweet spots, and enjoying the journey despite its obstacles and hardships.

Trust me on this.

What rises from the ashes of such a horrible tragedy is perspective. For a chosen few, God replaces eyes that thought they saw the world for what it was for what it really is: an opportunity to appreciate what really matters. When what is most precious to you is taken—those you love—everything else that doesn’t matter gets stripped away: money, fancy clothes, the latest electronics, nice cars, the perfect house in the right neighborhood.

Things don’t matter. People matter.

God tries to give us perspective every day without taking what is most precious—when we hear, read and see all these horrible stories on the news He’s hoping it will remind us to truly value what really matters: our relationships with others. Because the only thing that matters in life is how we treat the souls that are here on this journey with us.

People give it lip service, but they don’t really live it.

All those families who were there at Camp Sac, who know Natalie and her twin Danielle, who’ve only heard of the Giorgis, or those from her community where tragedy came a little too close have by association been given a blessing in disguise: perspective. There are no near misses in life—they are warning shots from God over your bow. There are no coincidental relationships—everything is meant to be and everyone is tied together.

Are we still going to yell at our kids? Yes. Are we still going to get mad when they leave their wet towels on the floor? Yes. Are we going to get exasperated at their filthy rooms, unfinished homework, and forgotten P.E clothes? Yes. Are we going to still want to slap that smug look off their faces, whap that eye roll out of their heads, and yank those smart phones out of their hands? For sure.

But perspective means you take the bad with the good and you’re happy for it. It means you know there will be times when raising kids can seem to suck the very life out of you, but without kids would it really be much of a life? It means you muck through the everyday responsibilities that make you want to run away to a Jamaican nude beach where no one needs laundry done, because it’s what you do for those you love. It means you suffer through another whined “Mom” because what if you never heard it again? It means struggling through the lows because it makes the view from the highs that much more amazing. It means catching yourself focusing on all the negatives and looking instead for the sweet spots.

I’m not saying the Giorgi family suffered a wake-up call from God to change our perspectives—God loaned them an angel and asked them to take care of her for a little bit. I’m saying as bystanders to this devastation that instead of being just sad for them, or relieved for ourselves, we can honor Natalie’s memory by accepting the gift she has left behind for us: eyes that see with true perspective.

Meanwhile, it’s time to prop up the Giorgis with our thoughts, prayers, helping hands, love, and support until they are strong enough to stand on their own again. There are Giorgis in every community. It shouldn’t take a tragedy to make us value what is truly important: people and our relationships with each other. Right now what’s important is for the community to wrap its arms around this family and each other to stand strong to weather this horrible loss. There are three other children in that family who still have bright futures ahead of them. Let’s pray that they will do amazing things with their new eyes.

That we all will.

In my death I give to you

Memories that will light your way

Sometimes only death has eyes

That see what you miss every day

With my death I leave for you

A space for your destiny to fill

Don’t hold me here in the past

My release is God’s will

Because of my death you will know

For what purpose it is you live

I brought out the best in you

That you were meant to give

Only my death can be a birth

Of your soul that’s been lost inside

If I were to stay here on earth

I couldn’t be your guide.

                                                Kelli Silveira Wheeler

                                    3/4/96 (Written with my new perspective in memory of my sister, Sommar, who died 11 days before her 7th birthday)

33 comments

  1. Julie High says:

    You are an amazing writer. A dear friend of mine shares your stories with me and each and every time I am moved to tears. Thank you.

    • kellimwheeler says:

      Thanks Julie – appreciate you taking the time to let me know! I hope I don’t just make you cry though! Okay if it’s tears of laughter too…Enjoy the journey!

  2. Grandpa says:

    As my daughter has so beautifully written here, she and I have traveled the painful path the Giorgi family now faces. To the Giorgi family and any who must tread this horrible life course, I offer you this: Sorrow has its foe – it is all who extend a helping hand to you now. Reach for it and hold tight. That is the path of love and compassion that will heal and later clarity will grant life again.

    • kellimwheeler says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful input, Dad. I thought I understood the depth of your and Mom’s grief, but I truly didn’t understand it until I had children of my own. I’m still inspired by your courage and strength to learn to live again after the loss of a child. xo

    • kellimwheeler says:

      Thanks, Noreen. I appreciate you taking the time to let me know that the piece resonated. Words never seem enough in the face of sorrow, but it would’t seem right if I didn’t try. Enjoy the journey.

    • kellimwheeler says:

      I’m so moved my your words, Irene – thank you! It was a difficult piece to write, but having walked this path of crushing grief, the least I could do to help is shine a light of hope through their darkness that life can still go on beautifully. This August will be the 30 year anniversary of my sister’s death. It is not something you get over. It’s something you learn to live with. But you can live with it. Time inevitably heals and faith gives strength and courage to not just survive, but thrive. Thanks for reading and enjoy the journey!

  3. sarah says:

    Beautifully written and with such compassion and insight. My heart is heavy for their loss. Yes I will love my kiddos that much more and not consider myself a failure when I rant about the undone chores. You are right, it is a gift to have them everyday.

    • kellimwheeler says:

      Thank you, Sarah. I am constantly ruining my chances for Mother of the Year, but at night I pray to let me do more good than harm, and thank God for choosing me to their mother. Cheers to imperfect parenting but loving hard…

    • kellimwheeler says:

      Thank you, Jennie, for sharing your kind thoughts. Clarity does come with a heavy price, but like Garth Brooks sings in “The Dance” : I could’ve missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance…

  4. Deirdre Malone Greenholz says:

    Thank you for being able to put such feelings of confusion and pain into words so eloquently. Thank you for reminding us to look to our Faith, Family and Friends for the strength to persevere. May God continue to bless you and your family!

    • kellimwheeler says:

      Thank you, Deirdre, your thoughts are appreciated and beautiful as well. The 3 F’s are what it’s all about isn’t it? Enjoy the journey…

  5. Becky says:

    Beautifully written Kelli. God bless you for writing this. You are so correct that it shouldn’t take a tragedy to make us value what is truly important. I’m so touched by your words.

    • kellimwheeler says:

      Thanks, Becky, I appreciate your thoughts and am so delighted to have found more good people in your family to put in my “Friends” category of the 3 F’s!

  6. Jackie says:

    Kelli, you have so eloquently put into words what so many of us are feeling. Thank you for this gift. It is so uplifting to read during a time when the Giorgi family, their extended family, and their entire circle of friends and even acquaintances need hope and are searching for answers. Thank you.

    • kellimwheeler says:

      Thank you, Jackie. I did hope that a measure of comfort could be found for those closest to the Giorgis in these words, along with all else who will inevitably experience heartbreaking loss. Having walked this road 30 years before, it was the least I could do to offer a light of hope in these darkest days. I have no doubt Natalie will light the rest of the way.

  7. Amanda Patterson says:

    I look forward to reading Momservations in Inside Arden every time it arrives. I should have known that you would so eloquently write what all are feeling regarding the loss of Natalie and the pain that is felt for the Giorgi Family. I have been hugging my girls tighter and thanking God that I can. Thank you for your heart-wrenching but so important “perspective”. A gentle reminder of how blessed we really are.

    • kellimwheeler says:

      Thank you for your kind words, Amanda. My husband after he read this blog said, “How could you not cry when you wrote that?” I told him: “Who said I didn’t?! I cried the whole time. I cry when I read everyone’s responses. I cry when I pray for the Giorgis and all their friends and family. Writing about it is how I know how to try and heal and the best way I know how to try and help others.” Thank you for letting me know it does. Enjoy the journey.

  8. Judith Malone says:

    I have sent your beautiful blog across the nation – Chicago, New York, New Jersey, Florida – As the mother of 5 beautiful young adults I can add nothing except ‘thank you’ .

    • kellimwheeler says:

      Thank you Judith for taking the time to share your thoughts and share my blog – it means so much to us all in this little corner of the world to know that Natalie didn’t just touch our hearts-her impact will ripple far beyond. Thank you too…

  9. Anie says:

    Such a tragedy can leave us broken and hopeless. As a mother of boys with nut allergies, I have been heartbroken for the Giorgis and their family and the community. I pray that one day they can find peace and know some happiness again. Your kind and insightful words give hope and make one realize how important we all are to each other in this world. Blessings to you and your family and to the Giorgis.

    • kellimwheeler says:

      Thank you Anie for your own kind and beautiful thoughts – and already Natalie’s story is having a positive impact for tolerance and acceptance of those with severe allergies. Let’s keep these babies safe…

  10. Sonya Winchell says:

    Having lost my eldest son suddenly and unexplained (still) last Oct. 21, 2012, the pain of losing a child/sibling is the most horrible experience life can give surviving parents/siblings, especially when you are the ones that find him dead. He was 8 days short of his 16th birthday. Niko was a happy, healthy, smart and talented student/musician at Del Dayo, Arden and Rio Americano (he died his sophomore year). I am hanging on by a thread, but I will tell Natalie’s surviving family that it is those few friends or family members that keep that thread from breaking. As Kelli’s father said, let them help you through this terrible tragedy.
    Peace and love to Natalie’s family.
    Sonya Winchell

    • kellimwheeler says:

      Hi Sonya – I’m so glad you “stopped by” and shared your pain. I remember hearing about Niko and ached for your trauma and loss (as well as sent prayers your way). It was my brother and cousin who found my sister and tried to save her and desperately try to shield my mother from the horrific scene – there is no good way to lose a child/sibling, but these experiences that we share in common with the Giorgis puts us in “club” no one wants to join. Even though it is still less than a year for you, and you still feel you are hanging on by a thread, I hope you will reach out to the Giorgis to help light their way. I’m certain you could help heal each other as you walk this excruciating path. I’m glad you found truth in my dad’s hard-earned wisdom, and I hope you will read this week’s blog, Floaties in an Ocean of Grief, maybe finding comfort in my mom’s words of hope, from someone who has traveled this road ahead of you, that this fate is survivable. My prayer for you tonight will be that your thread turns into a rope, pulling you up to solid ground by friends, family, faith, and your guardian angel, Niko.

      • Sonya Winchell says:

        Hi Kelly, I forgot to tell you that I was sad to learn of your tragedy and inspired to see that you are living a full life after dealing with the shock of your sister’s sudden death. NIko’s brother Alex has always had him in his life as he is the youngest, so I worry about his “new normal” as an only child. Of course, NIko will always be with us, but not in the physical sense. We often talk about NIko and Alex has participated in great art therapy from Sutter Hospice which I highly recommend for their surviving siblings. I would also offer to the Giorgis family to call UC Davis Hospice for a parents’ bereavement group which is free of charge and open to all. I found it to be very helpful. There is also a group named Bereaved Parents, USA that has a local chapter in the Sacramento area which might be of help. It is so early and I imagine that they are all still in the shock stage, among the multitude of emotions. It is such a horrible roller coaster and I will read your mother’s words of hope. I do have a friend who is five years ahead of me in her grief journey. Her daughter and NIko were quite the buddies in their early years. She was truly my lifeline in those early months and continues to be my support in understanding the process. I am also fortunate that my friends through Niko take me on walks to keep me going. I appreciate your thoughtfulness and I too look for the day that we all reach solid ground. But I am not sure if that will be possible until we learn how and why he died. Thank you for sharing your tragedy.

  11. kellimwheeler says:

    Thanks so much, Sonya, for your valuable information and insight. There have been thousands of people finding inspiration and hope in this piece, so I know your personal experience will be a valuable addition for those reading. I’m so happy to hear about your friend life-line and I have every faith that Alex will do his brother’s memory proud.

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