Life is certainly always a mix of many components, happy, sad, silly, serious, absurd. (Personally, I always like the absurd moments, which make me laugh. And after 2 weeks of high fashion fun in Paris with my daughters, followed by 2 weeks of intense writing, I finally emerged this week to get out, see some friends, and take a breather, before going right back to work.
In the intermission, two events caught my attention which are thought-provoking today, and worth sharing with you,
Several of my friends are close to a woman I’ve heard about and never met, she sounds like a nice person, and although we have mutual friends, our paths hadn’t crossed. Everyone always said she was a lovely person, was left by her husband (for another woman) several years ago, and she was a kind person, good friend, and supposedly wonderful mother to three young children. Since it’s ski vacation time here, during Spring break from school, she and her children were in the mountains last week, for a fun vacation. She must have been a good skier, and had a guide and went off skiing with him last week while her children skied other trails without her, and she and the guide were overwhelmed by an avalanche while skiing, and both she and the guide were killed. Even in a big city, there are small communities and pockets of friends. Within a day, I heard about the awful story from several friends, all cried when they told me about it, this apparently lovely, kind woman, in her early 40’s died, leaving 3 young children. Everything about it was saddening and shocking, particularly given the extreme grief of her friends. And the ensuing days were full of heartbreaking stories, at the funeral home, the service (where one friend spoke), the grief of her children, and finally spreading the ashes at sea today. It makes one solemn and pensive to think of it. We all hear stories like it, of car accidents, illness, and strange accidents that happen to those we know or have heard of. Always shocking when it is someone young, and in this case, someone who leaves three children without a mother. A fun afternoon turned tragic will change their lives forever.
There is a group of women I particularly enjoy, good friends, we try to have dinner together, kind of ‘girls night out’ since they’re all married, about once a month. We go to a little restaurant we all love, where they make delicious soufflés. We had dinner there last night, and were catching up on news after we sat down. (All of them knew the woman who died last week in the avalanche and were greatly saddened by it), and we barely had time to exchange the personal headlines of the last month, whose kids were behaving, whose weren’t, what had happened good and bad in the last few weeks, when ten minutes after we sat down, a woman at the next table, slipped out of her seat and onto the floor, unconscious. The restaurant is small, the tables jammed together, and she lay within two or three feet of our table. Everyone was shocked, as her family tended to her (a husband, several children, grandchildren), and the fire department arrived within minutes and got busy. Someone said her heart had stopped, CPR was administered as we all stared in horror, feeling helpless, close enough to reach out and touch her. Again only a few minutes later, the SAMU arrived, it’s a French, ultra medical team of emergency doctors, and the theory is that they treat you where you are, so as not to move you until you’re stable, rather than rushing you to the hospital to treat you there and perhaps lose precious time on the way, or cause more damage by moving a dangerously sick person in crisis. (After what I saw last night, I like the rush me to the hospital theory better!!). There were about 12 members of the medical team, 6 or 8 firemen, and equipment flew, orders were called, most of them were kneeling on the floor, working on her, squeezed between the restaurant tables, as we tried to back up in a minute space to give them room. The poor woman’s heart stopped three times and was started again three times. Hoses, pumps, respirators, defibrillators, monitors, she never regained consciousness as they fought for her life and restarted her heart each time it stopped. Her relatives looked distraught, the restaurant went silent and everyone stopped eating as they watched in horror. It went on for two hours, and apparently eventually they felt they could move her, and a dozen medical people, holding a mountain of equipment surrounded the gurney as they left, with a second gurney carrying more equipment and beeping machines, and the family followed them out in distress. I have no idea if she made it or not. She was in her 70’s, and was clearly in extremis. And for the bystanders it was shocking, in the tiny restaurant, to be on top of her, and as she was sprawled literally in the doorway, with the mob of medical personnel around her, no one could leave. You’d have had to fight your way through the crowd around her, and literally climb over her to get out, not possible. No one ate, no one talked. Eventually, not knowing what else to do, my friends and I prayed, and they were the longest two hours I’ve experienced in years, hoping for the survival of a stranger, it was like being trapped in a nightmarish reality show, watching medical procedures none of us want to know about or remember. We were all badly shaken when it was over. And particularly upsetting was that she had been talking and laughing at a family dinner five minutes before her heart stopped. I felt sick for hours when I got home, I am terrible at medical stuff, even though I have 9 children. The last time one of my daughters cut herself badly in my presence, she bandaged it bravely and I passed out cold. Do NOT call me for a medical emergency, I am a total wooss!!!
But what struck me about both of these incidents was how suddenly life can change, in an instant. How quickly over, how suddenly we can lose someone we know or love. In my late son’s instance, he had years of suffering with bi polar disease, and even his heartbreaking suicide was not a total surprise. My ex-husband’s death happened in six weeks, which was shocking and sad for us all, but we still had 6 weeks to try to understand how sick he was, and it seemed sudden to us. But in 5 minutes? Your heart stops at a restaurant on a fun Friday night dinner? An avalanche on a ski trip? A car accident, something…..and suddenly it’s all over. We all complain about our lives, and get caught up in the details, of workmen who do a bad job or don’t show up, bosses or employees who fall short, friends who annoy us, the drycleaner loses your favorite sweater, children misbehave in trivial ways. I think we all forget sometimes that we’re not here forever, that we never know how soon it will end and we will lose someone we love, or our own lives, and that the little stuff just doesn’t matter. Faced with these two instances, with people I didn’t know and had never even met, it still shocked me, and reminded me of how grateful we should all be for every single day, every instant, every precious second in lives we are so lucky to have, despite our problems large and small, and with people we love, however imperfect they are and sometimes disappointing. I came home from the restaurant last night, feeling dizzy and sick from all I had seen but sobered by a much bigger realization and so grateful for all the blessings in my life. These strangers had given me a gift, and it is a sobering reminder to us all to be grateful, to enjoy every minute, to do the things we always mean to do and don’t take the time to….Events like that really make you think, and take stock of your life……I am so grateful, and I send all of you my love, Danielle