Recently I’ve been in a situation where it has been necessary to tell myself — over and over — that “stuff” happens.
I’ve had people tell me this: “God only gives you what he knows you can handle” and “What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.”
I’ve suggested to those friends that perhaps God has way too much faith in me, and if it’s true that you are supposed to get stronger with adversity why is it that so many of us only feel weaker and more helpless as our burdens get heavier?
So I called up Maria Brountas.
Brountas isn’t a brain surgeon or an astronaut or a Middle East negotiator. She is a retired first-grade teacher at Vine Street School in Bangor. She just happened to be a very good one. A decade or so ago, two fellow teachers came to her wondering if she could find room in her class for their little boy who had leukemia.
He was 6, he was sick and chances were he was going to die. But Adam wanted to go to school. Mrs. Brountas suddenly found herself with a challenge that reached far beyond her purpose of teaching her class how to read and snap up their own pants.
Mrs. Brountas had to prepare her 6-year-olds for their classmate’s death.
She contacted Barbara Eames, who was a well-connected lady with ties to Eastern Maine Medical Center’s Hospice Program, and together they formed Pathfinders, a support group for children who have suffered through the death of a loved one.
Next week a group of heartbroken children from throughout Greater Bangor will gather in the lobby of a Bangor church. They will be introduced to one another, divide up into appropriate age groups and spend an hour simply being together with other children. Some will have lost a sibling; others a grandparent; still others a parent.
All will be grieving.
They will gather in that church lobby each week for 10 weeks.
I spent time among that group with my niece who struggled to come to terms with her mother’s violent death. Sometimes I just stood outside her group’s room and watched her glue little stones onto a piece of plaster with her mom’s name on it. We came home and put it in our frontyard garden.
This week Linda Boyle, the director of Pathfinders, contacted our family just to see how everything was going.
She sounded tired.
“I admit it,” she said. “Sometimes I feel like all I do is deal with death.”
Well, of course.
As we talked I thought I should perhaps do a column about her, her mission and her everyday task of trying to ensure that the children of eastern and northern Maine who are grieving have a place to do it.
Linda talked only of Maria Brountas and Barbara Eames. Barbara has since passed away. Maria talked only of Adam and of Linda.
My niece who spent one evening a week among the members of that support group is now a freshman in nursing school in Florida.
The little cement plaque in memory of her mother is still in my flower garden.
Linda is gearing up for another season of getting to know the children of this area who are grieving and also preparing to coach their parents through the process.
It’s a heavy burden.
I’ve known Linda for a few years now. Just this week I learned that, as an aside, she has a couple of bum kidneys and has spent many years hooked up to dialysis that keeps her alive.
That just never came up before. In Linda’s mind there were other things to talk about.
So there were Barbara and Maria and Linda, but most of all there was a little guy named Adam who simply wanted to go to school and a teacher who wanted to teach him and support his 6-year-old friends through his death.
Perhaps when the burden gets too heavy we all have to remember them.