If you’ve ever seen the movie Yes Man, with Jim Carrey, then you might relate to this bizarre phase of grief and healing I have been going through. In the movie, the main character has suffered the loss of his marriage and has a negative outlook on himself and life in general. He attends a seminar and is inspired to say yes to everything and besides some minor chaos, he changes his life and the life of random or not so random strangers lives, even to go so far as to save a man from suicide. I didn’t really have this movie in mind, but honestly, I was fighting for my own life when I determined this might be the way to save it.
After the tragedy of losing my daughter and one of my best friends who we shared so much in common, I could barely breathe, and still have moments where I have to focus on just putting one step in front of the other, one moment at a time. It has felt at times like I have been struggling to hang on to everything I hold dear like it used to feel when I would attempt rock climbing and would decide to stick my hands between a crack to hold myself on a narrow footing.
The first “thing” I said yes to was a walk for suicide prevention. It didn’t make everything better, but it was like putting ice on a bee sting, doing something positive in her name took the sharp pang away, even if for a little while. Then we did the first Hike for Hope, and the nonprofit, the http://www.MikennaVanekProject.org with ongoing projects, then the Mexico mission with my family and church and then recently I was asked to be the camp nurse while in Mexico. I didn’t want to say no, I wasn’t sure the reason I needed to go, especially two weeks later after my Mexico mission, but like the Yes Man movie I went.
My thoughts were that I would pass out a few bandaids, I hadn’t been a camp nurse in a long while. The first night I was there, a young girl came in extremely upset for the physical health of her sister. We talked for a while and she left. I remembered nights past of my daughters worried for one of their sisters, and it broke my heart for her. I hoped that telling her some resources would be enough. I also wondered was this an isolated thing or would more campers come to talk?
Over the week I got to know kiddos with different mental health issues, relationship issues, transitional living type situations and in general, as a nurse, emotionally a lot more difficult to treat than a just an icepack or a bandaid. They came in for their meds or vitamins, or feminine products, ice or bandaids, looking for candy or snacks and stayed just talking life with me. I then watched as some of them formed friendships with each other, interestingly enough, the kids with the most difficult hardships seemed to find each other and connect.
During my time as a camp nurse, two of the campers who were best friends got into a fight. Emotions ran high and in the heat of the moment, one of the boys hit a wall. After Xrays, ice and Advil he was extremely remorseful. He was ashamed of himself and wanted to go home. In another situation just a couple days later after another angry outburst, a different also embarrassed wanted to go home. In both situations after they cooled off and with major coaxing from different counselors, they both stayed and went on to enjoy the rest of the camp. I heard one counselor say, “one impulsive act does not define you”. I contemplated that statement for days. The truth is, one defining moment does not define you, it may change your life forever, but it is not the definition of the person you truly are. It is one moment, one choice. I think about the beautiful soul my daughter was and how one tragic moment ended her life, but it did not define the beautiful person that will always be her.
From hugs to the brokenhearted, that I felt so deep it broke mine also, to gathering personal hygiene items for teens in need, to a nap in a quiet area for the anxiety-ridden camper labeled as being “drama” by other campers, to explaining to the neurodiverse (not neurotypical) teens that they aren’t alone at camp or in life. I didn’t have a sign like Lucy in Peanuts but the campers just came and needed me to be present and listen. I will be honest after the first young lady visited, I thought to myself this isn’t what I signed up for, but it was what they needed and ultimately what I needed to give.
One of the first moments there I found myself face to face with my daughter that passed away’s, youth leader. He reintroduced himself. What he didn’t know is that I harbored some unresolved feelings towards him. Why hadn’t he connected in the last 18 months? As he fumbled for words of telling me how sorry he felt, the words forgiveness filled my heart. I struggled with questions of what-ifs. I knew that before this event I would also struggle with reaching out to someone in my shoes. I now know that any effort is worth giving and I feel like it’s my life’s mission to make that effort when I see the need, but I would have struggled in his shoes before the tragic event of losing my daughter. I was thankful he had finally talked to me and thankful I was able to not let that hurt define me, and I was able to let go.
Below is a craft of beach shells my daughter had gathered and a few I added from the dollar store:
two pieces of small scrap wood
attach the two small pieces of wood into a cross with the two nails and hot glue all of the shells until all the surface is covered Attach a step in the back with the staple gun if you choose to hang it or place in your garden