However unlikely, death or tragic circumstances can happen with terrifying swiftness.
As students, it is easy to forget the people around us. In addition to the focus requirements, stress and work can also take its toll on our relationships with friends and family. We are often taught that in order to advance in the world, we must be willing to sacrifice, but there is a price to pay for that kind of dedication.
On Jan. 27, I received a phone call from my mother in Oregon. I instinctively knew something bad had happened. She told me that my niece, Aislinn, had fallen seriously ill. Her husband had found her cold and unresponsive on the floor of their home. At that point, no one knew much about what was wrong with her, but the news would only get worse throughout the day.
On that terrible day in late January, Aislinn’s heart stopped three times. At one point she did not have a pulse for over half an hour. She had no kidney function. It was so bad that I had to step away from my duties as features editor of the Dixie Sun News to mentally and emotionally prepare myself for the worst. When I picked up my wife from her job, I told her that it would be a miracle if Aislinn survived. My family prepared for the news we were dreading.
In the blink of an eye, those we care about can fall ill or die. To assume you will have more time with them may seem like a safe bet, but if you lose that wager, you can’t get that time back. This is especially important for college students to remember. With our busy schedules, it can be exhausting taking any extra time for those we love, but it is extremely important that we do so.
When I was a teenager, Aislinn and her sister Anjuli essentially lived in the same house as me, and they were more like little sisters than nieces. But as we grew older, my connection with Aislinn diminished to the point that I had almost no contact with her for the better part of a decade. And like many people, I didn’t worry too much about it, it was just “one of those things” that occur in families. I was sure I would reconnect with her again in the future.
When this crisis struck, I realized how foolish I had been. It broke my heart knowing I had taken her for granted. I love Aislinn dearly, but I had exerted almost no effort to remain in contact with her. Certainly, she had not made much of an effort either, but that isn’t the point. We have to take responsibility for ourselves and not worry about what our loved ones do. We have to be the ones to say "I love you." We are the ones who must reach out and tell our friends and family how much we care. If they don’t respond, then we have done our part. The point is we have to show we care while we still have time. And we don’t always have time.
Aislinn survived. After a week she slowly came out of her coma. She continued to stabilize. Shockingly, she had suffered no brain damage, despite not having a heartbeat for half an hour. Her spirit returned, and soon she was back to her silly, irreverent self. The news got better every day — until it didn’t.
Even though her condition improved daily, she had not regained a pulse in her feet, and Aislinn was dealt a shocking blow after dramatic improvement: Both of her legs would have to be amputated below the knee. It was devastating news. Even her normally-buoyant attitude was shattered.
Not for long. When I sent her a message the day before her surgery, she responded by saying, "At this point, I can't wait to get it over with. My legs are heavy with these things I can't use and I want to get on with healing." I was blown away by her genuine positivity.
Despite having had both her legs taken from her, Aislinn was in amazingly good spirits. As we talked, I admitted to her that I had definitely failed in my efforts to show my love, and she admitted to having done the same with me. I am not ashamed to admit that I openly wept as I spoke to her. All the love I felt for my niece came pouring out of me, and I told her how much she meant to me. We promised each other that we would not take each other for granted anymore.
There is more to this than just expressing your love. Telling co-workers how much you appreciate them, telling friends you value their companionship, even a simple, friendly smile to a stranger are ways you can show people you care. And that is what it comes down to. Don't assume people know what you feel. You have to say it, you have to show it. The world can be an infinitely better place with more people showing some vulnerability to express their gratitude. We all want to feel appreciated, but we also have to be proactive about it.
Every day Aislinn is showing more and more improvement. She has been released from the hospital after a month and a half-long stay. Her kidney function is slowly returning, and with her amazingly positive attitude, she is pursuing a return to health in a manner that is inspiring to watch.
In late January, I said it would take a miracle for Aislinn to survive. That miracle was granted, and I for one, mean to take advantage of this second chance.