By Amanda Jewel DeJong
Throughout life, we all have ups and downs, good times and bad. It’s easy to be grateful for our positive experiences, but we often forget to count the blessings from our personal tragedies and remember that with them come magnificent opportunities and valuable learning lessons—all of which have shaped us into the people we are today.
I am the last of three children born to incredible parents. Their never-ending advice began as seedlings that eventually grew into trees of wisdom that I still lean upon today. “Never forget what it’s like to be a kid” or “Stay on your toes and do your own thinking.” Perhaps most importantly, “What did you learn?” This simple question holds such profound meaning if we only stop long enough to examine its significance and content.
What did you learn? My father would pose this inquiry to me at points in my life when I was experiencing hardship. It was a way to get me to reflect upon the deeper implications behind whatever sadness, stress or frustration I had incurred.
In the spring of 2004, I was one year out of high school and living with my boyfriend in a crowded apartment. We fought constantly and eventually parted ways. Days after we called it quits, the retail store where I worked shut its doors.
In the matter of one week I became single, broke and jobless, living in my parent’s basement.
I was the epitome of success. In my naïve and somewhat dramatic young mind “life was over.” I spent several days reveling in self-pity before my epiphany hit. I was going to register for massage school. Life moves fast at times, and by the end of the month I was attending night classes.
I was able to enroll full-time and began working for my sister as her nanny. I was earning very little cash but it was a job, and it worked well with my schedule. My parents were kind enough to waive any rent payments and encouraged me to save my money. Best of all, my boyfriend and I eventually patched things up and got to know one another all over again. He is now my best friend and husband of 7 years.
What did I learn through this tragedy? I took charge of my life, followed through with a goal and stood up for myself in the process. I have been a massage therapist for eight wonderful years. Looking back now it was one of the most empowering times of my life, although while it was happening I thought I was destroyed.
The next tragedy would come after my husband Joel and I finally conceived a child after months of trying. I slipped and fell at a grocery store, and at my nine-week check up there was no longer a heartbeat. I remember that the physical pain was nothing compared to the emotional havoc that swept through me. What lessons did I learn? How to fully appreciate each opportunity that is given to us in life, and that everything happens for a reason even if we don’t fully understand it at the time. Joel and I became each other’s support, and I fell in love with him even more deeply.
When we finally did get pregnant a year later we were excited, terrified and beyond grateful. I never thought it would have been so hard, and I remember unabashedly thanking the universe so intensely for the gift of this child. I promised myself I would not take the baby or the entire process for granted. I took incredible care of myself, ate well, exercised properly and ingested my vitamins like clockwork. I then gave birth to a healthy baby girl on July 1, 2011.
Losing My Father
Rewinding back in my life, another bizarre misfortune-turned-lesson occurred over the length of a decade. In August 2001 my father was struck by lightning. He was a civil engineer and happened to be leaning against a truck while on a jobsite when the bolt hit the vehicle as well as him. Physically, he sustained very minor blisters on the left side of his body and the bottom of his foot. Yet, over the month following the incident strange things began to happen mentally, and he became unable to remember how to do simple tasks like send a fax or work his calculator. We would spend thousands of dollars running massive amounts of tests, blood work, CAT scans and multiple MRIs. These tests would indicate small areas of damage in the cognitive regions of his brain and the prognosis was that this deterioration would most likely spread over time.
His doctors would try to counteract his mental and physical ailments with a concoction of over 7,000 milligrams of antipsychotic, schizophrenic, antidepressant and anxiety medication. As a result, he was placed on disability. My father, the man that literally worked 80 hours in a week now had no career to speak of.
There were days when we couldn’t tell there was a problem and others when he would have seizures, slurred speech, and flaccid limbs with no ability to walk. Over time his condition became severe. The last MRI he received displayed brain damage so grave that the doctor didn’t know how my father was functioning. He tried to explain to my dad that his brainwaves were showing signs of constant seizures and there was nothing left to do except prepare for the inevitable.
One week later, on August 17, 2011, it was finally over. I remember the morning I got the call that he had passed. I wept tears of joy and proudly stated out loud that he did it! He was free! I could say these words and feel such euphoric emotions with no sadness in my heart.
While in a lucid frame of mind just before his death, I asked my father what lessons he learned when looking back on the lighting strike and its aftermath. He told me he was lucky to have lived more in his 58 years than most people do in multiple lifetimes. In is humoristic fashion he proceeded to tell me: “I toured in three bands and wrote over a dozen songs I am proud of. I battled addictions, demons and heartbreak. I lived in some of the most beautiful places on earth, including Hawaii, where I sailed the sea. I slept with beautiful women then met my soul mate and have been blessed enough to remain happily married to her for 32 years. I had three amazing children and went back to school at the ripe old age of 30 to get a civil engineering degree.” He chuckled and proceeded to explain,
“I have flipped pizzas, fixed cars and built bridges, but the best thing that could have happened at that particular time in my life was being struck by lightning.”
“I worked too hard and drank too much. It gave me the opportunity to slowdown and take time for me. I was able to spend more of it with my family, practice my golf swing, play music and ride my Harley. I would have never gotten to know my family as well as I have if the accident didn’t occur and that would have been the real tragedy.”
Days later he was gone. I had witnessed the rise and fall of the man who was my hero. His death stirred feelings of pride and happiness. Pride that he was an amazing husband, father and friend who touched more lives than I will ever know. Happiness that the last leg of his oppressive journey was over and he could finally be at peace. What did I learn? That family is everything for me, and I am thankful for each member of mine.
Our time on earth is a precious commodity and we must choose our path wisely, while treading lightly with a great and definite purpose, for soon it will all be over.
Amanda Jewel DeJong is a licensed massage therapist, transpersonal life coach, hypnotherapist and Reiki master. She has worked with most aspects of metaphysical practices for well over a decade and is currently obtaining a degree in holistic healthcare specializing in mind/body psychology with a major in hypnosis as well as spiritual studies. Email Amanda at email@example.com.