Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Worst Day of My Life

The other day a woman said to me, "This is the worst day of my life."

All things are relative, of course. Some events might be minor annoyances for one person and life-changing catastrophes for another. So I make no judgments about the importance of one thing or another to the individuals involved.

It did make me think about what I would consider the worst day of my life. What criteria would I use? There really aren't that many life events that are truly so enormous they initiate major changes in the way we continue on. Not all such events are necessarily bad. Marriage and the birth of a child are just two normally happy events that inevitably lead to life change.

Finally, I settled on my criteria for worst day of my life. It must be a bad/traumatic event. It must be something that initiated major changes in who I was/how I viewed myself/how my life was lived. For various reasons I ruled out some events that might on the face of them seem eminently qualified for worst day.

1) The day my three year old son drank charcoal lighter fluid. When we walked into the emergency room, they initially told us he was dead. It was a bad day. He survived, though and is still kicking now at age thirty-nine.

2) The day both cars died, the propane tank for the house nearly blew up, and I was stranded in another town without a way home. Yes, that was stressful. But ultimately, it wasn't life threatening. And in the way that all such things work out, the next day was better.

3) The day my four year old daughter was diagnosed with brain damage. We were informed we'd be lucky if we were able to teach her to dress and feed herself. It was devastating news. But there was also hope because she qualified for special training. She grew up, graduated from high school, is a shift manager at McDonalds, married and has one little boy and is expecting her second child in about four weeks.

4) The day my youngest daughter chose to marry a man in prison. It was heart-breaking because I could see the future for her. He finished his sentence, they had a child and eventually divorced. But like all bad things, there was an unexpected blessing. Without him, I wouldn't have a grandchild who has brought a lot of joy to my life.

You may ask what I consider the worst day of my life. There are three.

1) The day my mother died. I was ten, we were moving from Arizona to Indiana. In the midst of the trip, she died in a car accident. Suddenly what was already a traumatic event in my young life became a catastrophic event. In the following days, I had to adjust to a new home, new school, new way of life all without my mother.

2) The day I delivered my youngest daughter to a school for incorigable kids. She was fourteen. And she was there for twenty-two months. In that long bleak period, I had to face my own failure as a parent. It took many years before my daughter and I were comfortable with each other. But that day when I walked away was a black day in my life.

3) The day my husband had a grand mal seizure in the main aisle at Wal-Mart while we were on vacation. It was totally unexpected. We were hours away from home and family. And we only dimly perceived all the ways our lives would change in the future. I was alone. And I was afraid. Kneeling there on the floor next to him, I realized just how helpless a person can be.

If at times it seems that I don't get too excited about things others might consider catastrophic, perhaps it's because I've learned a hard lesson about life. "This too shall pass."



  1. Yes, the truly catastrophic events put all the other mildly rotten ones into perspective, don't they? Great reminder--especially for someone who does tend to sweat the small stuff, even though she knows better.

  2. You know, I think I understand why you are so kind and supportive. Wisdom and more longsuffering wisdom and tolerance born of incredible adversity. I really admire you, friend.

  3. Every person has difficulties in life. It is how we face them and what we learn from them that makes the difference.

  4. Wow. You've gone through some horrifically hard things. I can't imagine losing your mother at age 10. I just can't imagine. I had an aunt who was gorgeous. I mean really, really beautiful. Though her beauty seemed like some strange curse. It brought her more misery than happiness. If there is one expression that reminds me of her, it is, "Why me?" She said that all the time. As if she alone had to endure life's vicissitudes. But what strikes me, always, is how some rise, not unscathed, (you can't rise unscathed from such tragedy) but arise creative. I think that creativity is a life jacket. It will save you.