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Commentary: When life is just too much
0506Renee Morris
Renee Hand Morris

It is just too much. Sometimes it all seems to be so overwhelming. You know what I mean. Life. We know that we will manage to get through, but we do not know how.

Most of us have felt overwhelming grief over the loss of a loved one. This year, Gainesville High School has suffered great loss, affecting not just the school system, but the entire community. Each life touches so many others.

Is this why recent events seem so overwhelming? Are we now so connected that we are then more aware of sorrow? And is the sorrow magnified by the number of contacts or “friends” we have?

Through social media, we learn of loss so immediately. Facebook. Text messages. I read the recent Times article about Facebook and teachers. I stopped participating in Facebook last Thanksgiving, having tried it out for a few months. Yet I think I should reconnect. As with much of life, it is the choices we make that determine who we are (Harry Potter, Volume 1). For me, it served as a network for prayer requests and encouragement.

Balance is a problem, though. Sunday morning, my husband and I decided to put away our cellphones, text messages and email for the day. Just as we were heading out the door for church, my phone lit up. As habits will go, I could not resist checking to see who sent it.

With great sadness, I read the text of a dear friend and colleague, informing me that our high school principal, Chris Mance, had lost his fight against cancer that morning. As I sat in church five minutes later, I could not focus on anything but the loss of a truly good person.

I began using text messages while staying with my husband in the ICU wing of Grady Hospital almost three years ago, May 19, 2009. My husband received life-threatening injuries in a motor vehicle accident, and I was driven to Grady by a friend. I remained there through the highs and lows of 32 nights. I say night, for it truly seemed to be one continuous night of fear and uncertainty.

For the first week, my husband fought for his life on a moment-by-moment basis. I remember receiving a call from Imam Ali of the Gainesville Islamic Community. I have now taught three of his children. He reached out to let me know of the prayers of his congregation. I will never forget standing in the hall just outside of the automatic doors leading to my husband’s hall, hearing a voice from home reassuring me and offering comfort. I will forever appreciate that act of love, that reassurance that I was not alone in my fear.

In addition to phone calls, I communicated prayer requests through text messages. And so many prayers were offered — Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Islamic. And they indeed lifted me up as I sought to stay strong for my husband and our children.

I felt those prayers in the darkness. I felt those prayers at my husband’s bedside, sleeping in an upright chair so that he would see me if he woke. I felt those prayers in the surreal night illuminated by the fireworks over Turner Field outside the window of his room.

I felt those prayers as my husband regained strength and returned to work, the day he left the hospital. I feel those prayers now, as my husband has recently resumed cooking breakfast each morning and caring for our family in so many ways.

Sometimes there is simply nothing we can do for others — or ourselves — but pray.

I once read a book wherein a king sought advice from a wise old monk. The monk’s advice has remained with me. “When bad things happen, say to yourself, ‘This, too, shall pass.’”

But the second part really got me. “When good things happen, say to yourself, ‘This, too, shall pass.’”

When life is good, we know it must eventually change. What then can we do when overwhelmed by grief and loss? We reach out and hold tightly to those around us. We do not get over; we get through. We recognize the number of lives we touch, through our jobs, our commitments, and yes, through social media.

We reach out in love. We take care of each other in any way possible.

I no longer believe everything happens for a reason. Sometimes out of everything, we must find reason, learn and grow, demonstrating love and compassion. For there is no reason good enough to warrant the lost lives of Gainesville City Schools in the past six months. There is no one on earth more important than those who are no longer with us in body.

We all have a choice about how we live our lives. We all choose between going on and giving up. We do not get over loss, we get through it. And we get through it together, as a community, a family, and a school system.

For though “This too shall pass,” we are forever changed by those we have lost — and the many memories and lessons with which they enriched us all. There is nothing that is too much, nothing so overwhelming, if we choose to lift up each other at our darkest moments.

Renee Hand Morris is a teacher at Gainesville Middle School and occasional columnist. She is working on her second (unpublished) book.


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