Sometimes sadness feels distant, like Third World suffering. And then there are the times when it hits close to home.
Noted writer and special needs advocate Vicki Forman unexpectedly lost her son Evan this week. The subsequent torrent of sorrow and shock that have been moving through the online community of special needs parents and advocates speaks to the immediacy of Vicki's writing and the positive effect that she and her son have had on others who are trying to make their way in a world of silent monsters.
It also speaks to the quiet fear that so many of us carry through our lives. After I left a heartfelt but probably inadequate message on Special Needs Mama expressing my condolences, Vicki was kind enough to write to me. In her message, she mentioned the thing that we both knew already, the thing that all parents of special needs children know but rarely speak of, even amongst ourselves. It exists behind the inspirational stories and the moments that allow everyone to believe that strong people who fight the good fight will always triumph in the end. She referred to it as "a vulnerability that is unmentionable," and in Evan's case, it became more than he could bear.
It lurks, the biggest monster of them all. It watches and it waits, and sometimes it takes advantage of that moment of vulnerability. What it leaves behind in the short term is chaos. It leaves fear and a cold truth for those of us who live our lives, even on the best of days, casting brief but troubled looks over our shoulders. And for parents like Vicki, it leaves a pain that I can't even begin to imagine, although of course I've imagined it plenty over the last five years.
The thing is, however, it doesn't end there. People who have known me for years can attest that I am not the same person I was before Schuyler came into my life. Most parents are changed by their kids, but I'll go out on a limb just a bit and say that the parents of broken children are changed even more profoundly than most. Evan was just about Schuyler's age, and the years that Vicki and her family had with him have undoubtedly left them all different people than when they began this trip together. In Vicki's case, her writing and her advocacy over the years have allowed Evan to change a lot of people as well. I hope that when the pain has dulled a little bit, she'll see just how much he left behind, and what a legacy she has allowed for him.
As cliched as it may sound, that's how kids like Evan never die. Small comfort today, but true nonetheless.
Contributions in memory of Evan Kamida may be made to:
The Pediatric Epilepsy Fund at UCLA
Division of Pediatric Neurology
Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA
David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA
10833 Le Conte Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1752