God Wins…but can I ?

A Mother's Journey


Living Without

As a shark attack survivor, Bethany Hamilton lost her arm because of the tragic attack in 2003.

Bethany, a determined surfer, got back up on her board and one year later went on to win surfing competitions. She learned how to navigate the waves with one arm by making adjustments to her board and strengthening other areas of her body. In 2014, Bethany won first place in the Surf ‘n’ See Pipeline Women’s Pro – one of more than a dozen competitions that she’s placed in since 2004.

I imagine that people ask Bethany many probing question about how she does it. Questions such as, “How do you have the fortitude and strength to get back up on the board and compete?”  “How you learn to navigate choppy waters with one arm?”  “What does it feel like to swim with one arm?” “Why did you decide not to use a prosthetic limb?”

I doubt that anyone has ever asked Bethany, “So, are you fully healed yet?” or “Isn’t it good to know you really didn’t need that arm anyway? You are so successful without it.” “If you could get your arm back, would you want it back?”

These questions  are ludicrous and the answers are obvious.

When I think of people who have lost limbs, I see similarities for those of us who’ve lost children, or someone else very precious to us. In my mind, losing Leah appears to be similar to losing a limb because:

  • Leah’s absence is permanent.
  • My life experience will never be the same again.
  • Nothing I can do or say will ever bring her presence back.
  • A critical part of myself is gone.
  • I am forever changed.
  • I have to learn to function in a new way.
  • Unless someone has experienced a similar loss, he or she can’t understand my struggles.

In spite of such a significant loss, Bethany learned to surf again – and surf well.

After her arm was torn from her body, Bethany didn’t immediately start surfing. She had a season of pain and relearned how to go through life without a limb. She had to learn to sit up, dress herself, open jars, move and take care of herself all over again. Slowly. The external wound and skin had to heal; but, the long-term change to her body was permanent.

After the loss of any limb, our bodies are off balance. In the same way, our hearts are off balance after losing someone who we love. If someone, similar to Bethany, loses an arm or leg, we don’t immediately expect them to go from a stationary position to running. In the same way, it’s important to give someone who has lost their child, parent, spouse, sibling, friend or even lost their health, the space and time they need to learn how to navigate the multiple awkward waves of a new daily life.

It’s important for me and others around me to realize that it takes time to adjust after a significant loss. And there are many ways that grievers need to adapt.

It’s inspiring to see how Bethany moved forward in spite of such a horrendous experience. She didn’t drown in self-pity; she envisioned a life for herself after her loss. Bethany knew her heart. She knew she had to get back up on the board quickly, or she may have never gone back in the water again.

Everyone attacks loss differently. I think it’s important for others who walk alongside people in grief to be understanding and full of grace. And to not ask questions when the answer is fully obvious such as “Are you still hurting?” “Do you still miss her?” “Are you feeling any better?” “Does it get any easier?”

For me, when people ask how I am doing after losing Leah, I share that it’s similar to losing a limb. I don’t ever envision fully “healing,” just as Bethany isn’t going to grow a new, fully-restored arm. Her perseverance and faith are inspiring; I want to be like Bethany. My desire is to learn to experience joy and know the beauty of life again – accepting that a precious part of me will never be replaced.

Bethany Hamilton

Bethany Hamilton during round two.

Photo From Notey.com

“Be on your guard; stand firm in faith; be courageous; be strong.” 1 Corinthians 16:13

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Why it Matters

I can almost hear the sigh when the email invitation is opened.

I’ve been there.

Personally, I receive plenty of requests to support good causes by donating and joining walks and challenges. Whether originating from businesses or my place of worship, cause marketing is the new trend. There’s no shortage of opportunity to make the world a better place.

In the past, I admit that if I got a request from a friend and couldn’t donate, I might not respond or consider participating in other ways.

Since losing my daughter to terminal cancer, my perspective has changed. Why?

Because causes that rally around a cure for an illness or serve someone who is hurting are really huge deals. 

For example, when Leah was in cancer treatment in 2013, she got the great news that she was going to be granted a wish from the Make-A-Wish®Foundation. Her wish became a light in her/our dark circumstance. She was deciding between meeting Justin Bieber or going to Paris, France. Gratefully, she chose Paris. 😉 Make-A-Wish sent our whole family. All expenses paid for 8 days. We left for Paris on Leah’s 15th birthday; that was her desire.

Our trip to Paris was our last family vacation with the four of us. The highlight for Leah was dinner at the Eiffel Tower during sunset.  It is now a beautiful, eternal memory. We have personally experienced the power of a Wish!

2013 5 Paris selfie 2

Less than a year after her death, I approached Make-A-Wish to volunteer because I am grateful for the joy that her wish brought my daughter and so admire the Foundation.  For the last year, I’ve served on the Women’s Network and participate in fundraising events to help children with life-threatening illnesses receive wishes.

Last year, I led a Walk for Wishes team and will again soon. In 2015, our team rocked the lakefront. Our friends, family, business partners and Leah’s school friends placed team Leah’s Wish as the top fundraising team. More than 40 of Leah’s family and friends walked in her memory.

Why do I do it?

When I invite someone to walk with me, I am inviting them to participate in something bigger than an event. There is meaning behind the request. I’m asking my people to join in celebrating Leah’s life and her forever place in my heart.

It matters:

  • For me – I cannot celebrate and invite people to my daughter’s prom, graduation, engagement, marriage, new job, birth of her child, etc. This reality is heartbreaking.  I can have moments of happiness as I invite family and friends to join me for three hours on a beautiful day to gather in my sweet girl’s memory to help another child.
  • For Leah’s friends – They have an opportunity to have a fun memory by doing something good in Leah’s honor. My best friend moved when I was in 6th grade and that was painful. I cannot comprehend the pain Leah’s sweet friends feel. If their last memory of honoring Leah was a funeral, that type of finality offers little comfort.
  • For our friends and family – They have an opportunity to share an experience with us to honor our daughter and sister. Walking with us is a stand of compassionate and loving remembrance.
  • For Leah’s school and community – They have an outlet to unify and show generosity and compassion in Leah’s name and help another child in our community find hope and joy during a time of personal crisis.
  • For Leah – I don’t know what God allows people to see on earth from heaven, but I can imagine that He’d share with Leah how people are helping other children in her name. She wanted to help kids with cancer. And knowledge of what others do in her memory is sure to make her smile and do an amazing heavenly dance.

In summary, these reasons are why the walk matters to me. 

What cause matters to you? I encourage you to support a person for whom you care by getting involved in a cause that honors him/her. If you don’t have one, find a cause with which you deeply connect and get involved in some way. It’s life-giving to actively support others who are going through, or have gone through, challenges. (Another personal example, the Ice Bucket Challenge by ALS was very meaningful for me as I lost one of my best friends to ALS.)

If you are looking for a wonderful organization to support, please join us for the Walk for Wishes and join team Leah’s Wish. Private message me for more details.

This September would have been Leah’s 18th birthday and senior year. This specific walk will have extra-special meaning.

A sincere thank you to our family, friends and business partners who will attend the walk and/or donate in Leah’s memory.

We cherish the ways that you walk alongside us as we celebrate the life of our sweet girl .