I realized I’d never used a handheld microphone before. Well, actually, that’s not true. Because there’s karaoke, you know. This was a different event. I looked down at my death grip and couldn’t seem to get comfortable with the microphone. I pulled it away from my face as I sniffled. Because nobody should have to hear my sniffles magnified and echoing throughout the James Ward Mansion last Thursday night.
I was asked to speak by the Westfield Area YMCA. They asked if I’d be willing to share how the YMCA has affected our lives as a recipient of their scholarship program. It was my pleasure to support their fundraising efforts by sharing our story of how life can just kick your ass. No matter your best laid plans; despite how hard you work at it all; sometimes you simply need to ask for help. And there should be no shame in that.
Like a great tv show has it spin-offs, the night left me with so many more stories shared with me after I spoke. For all that the YMCA has done for our family, this night was a gift to me. Some new special friends I’ve made and some incredible brief connections. I’ll write more about them soon. There were many hugs and confessions of struggles and loss shared with me in that beautiful mansion. How even in this affluent area with people who seemingly have it all, appearances can be deceiving.
But in the mean time, below is my speech. You’ll have to imagine the magnified sniffles as you read. And sorry you’re not able to enjoy the amazing appetizers passed around during the night. I’m still thinking about that lobster macaroni & cheese in a tiny paper cone.
“All in a split second, our lives were changed. On July 10, 2010, my son Noah drowned in a swimming pool. He was a few weeks shy of two years old.
It was the first day we’d started moving boxes. My mother had died 3 months earlier. We were moving into my father’s house to save money and keep him company. I was in the kitchen for a few minutes. There were no closed doors. I was maybe twenty feet away from where Noah was playing with his Elmo toy camera. I could hear him pressing the button and Elmo saying “Great Shot!” and “Say Cheese!!” My husband was unloading boxes in the garage with my father.
The French doors to the backyard led to the in-ground pool. Noah had silently opened a door I didn’t think he could or ever would. Silently. When I went back into that room he was gone. I figured he was playing hide ‘n seek. I went looking in the house while my husband and father went looking outside. A few seconds later I heard a scream followed by a splash. My husband jumped in, my father called 911 and I stood in the kitchen in shock.
I underestimated Noah that day. He was such a good boy. No more curious than any toddler his age. In fact, maybe he was even a little more cautious. Just that very morning, my father and I talked about how attached Noah was to me.
I say these things because for any parent who thinks “my child would never…” well, I thought the very same thing. I thought this could never happen to us.
We found ourselves in a tornado of grief. My husband needed to take time off from work. I threw myself into a new job that I loved but didn’t pay very well. I’d been a stay at home mom for two years. Noah was our only child. Our tragedy affected us emotionally, physically, and financially.
I was now forty-two-years-old and we found ourselves desperate to have a family again. As a good friend put it “Losing Noah cannot be the end of our story.” The world of fertility treatments is not for the faint of heart. Emotionally and financially draining, we sold anything we had left of value to pay for 4 fertility cycles. And finally, on December 26, 2012, Miriam Phoenix was born. We named her Phoenix for the rebirth of our family. We had so little left, yet we now had everything back again. We had a child.
When she was five years old, the Garwood Branch of the YMCA became Miriam’s first summer camp experience. We loved the diversity and the “family feel” to everyone who worked there. We weren’t ready to introduce swimming to Miriam’s world. Emotionally, it’s a very sensitive issue of course. With the financial assistance of the Y, we were able to introduce Miriam to wonderful new set of friends, teachers, and counselors. And once she began kindergarten, again with the scholarship fund assistance, Miriam truly can’t wait to get on the school bus with Miss Megan everyday to go to aftercare. Even if I could pick her up early, she wouldn’t come!
As we began the conversation of this year’s summer camp, the pool and swimming became unavoidable. Not only has the Y been generous with financial assistance, the compassion we’ve been shown is truly unrivaled. We were offered private lessons early on when we joined the Y. To ease not only Miriam into a pool for the first time, but also to ease me back into a pool for the first time since that day in 2010. And while we weren’t ready to begin the lessons, Bonnie, Susan, Patti, and Sharon always reminded us that the offer still stood. The words “when you are ready” are perhaps the kindest words bereaved parents can hear. Because this grief is forever. And we go day by day.
Miriam will be attending summer camp again at the YMCA again this summer. And a few weeks from tonight, we’ve decided we are ready. With the compassionate and generous offer from the YMCA, Miriam will begin swim lessons. I will be there with her, facing my fears, celebrating resilience, and honoring the memory of our son, Noah.
And none of that would be possible without the emotional and financial assistance of the Y. Thank you doesn’t even begin to cover it. It’s not always easy to ask for help and support, but the kindness we’ve been shown at the Y is truly a rainbow at the end of our storm.”