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Monday, May 5, 2014


I went to a funeral last week.

His name was Santana. He nearly drowned about seven years ago. After his near drowning he struggled a lot. Santana's was one of the first stories I followed.

Fresh out of our trauma, his story scared me.

Wait. You mean these kids don't fully recover? You mean they'll be profoundly disabled? Suffer seizures? Their bodies will transform and their faces will look different?

Not my son.

I thought.

Then my son was profoundly disabled. He had seizures and his bodies twisted and toned. His face looks different and somewhere along the way I realized there was so much about Santana that I saw in my son.

At first it terrified me. But after learning to love and accept my son as he was going to be it wasn't so hard. I went to meet Santana while he was sick in the hospital a few years ago. He had soft skin, warm from a fever. I wasn't terrified. I just felt connected in some strange way. Those big brown eyes - they were filled with life. It was a life of struggle but it was life, nonetheless.

His mom, Lindsey, and I have attended the retreats for near drown moms in Seattle. Over the years I watched Lindsey offer support to other moms and kids, no matter their ability, even though Santana had a rough go of it. Even though Santana suffered botched surgeries, long hospital stays, and crippling seizures, Lindsey still found it within herself to offer supporting comments to other mothers.

And when I met her in person she was so goofy and bubbly and fun! Although her life with Santana was full of pain and struggle, she managed to be all those things.

I waited over a week to write about Santana's funeral even though it's been brimming since. He passed away peacefully in his mom's arms after getting very sick and his body showed signs of shutting down. He was tired on this earth and it was time for him fly.

So I drove up to his funeral service. It was an unseasonably rainy and windy day. The service was held in a building of windows so we could see our beautiful desert. The windowed room was packed wall to wall, standing room only. Dress code was Superman shirts or the color purple for drowning impact awareness. There was a sea of Superman, Christian and I joined in our Superman shirts, as well. It was a sad day but there was hope in the air. Santana was free. I'm sure everyone in that standing room only building was visualizing Santana running free. It was surely not the end for him. It was just the beginning.

He passed away on the morning of Easter Sunday. The day of Resurrection. No better a day for such a Superman.

The service was beautiful. And after it let out everyone released purple balloons into the grey sky. There were so many! Santana had a motorcade escort to his final resting place. At the grave site I heard his grandmother whisper, "I love you so much," before she put a flower on his tiny coffin adorned with a hanging Superman cape. Through the wind and the traffic and the chattering kids, everything was silent in my ears except for his grandmother whispering.

You don't understand. You might think our life is hard, that these kids have such painful lives but they are filled with so much love. And if you think of all of the people out there who go through their entire lives feeling unloved and like nobody cares about them, isn't it amazing that these kids will never feel that?! They will only feel complete and unconditional love, no matter how short their lives might be.

I live in a world where kids die. I say this often, probably more as a coping mechanism so I can protect my own heart. And Santana isn't the only child like mine that has passed away over the last year. I think there might have been five more children and two that almost made the flight but decided they wanted a little more time here on earth. I'm well aware that Christian's life might be short. But, dammit, if he doesn't feel love and adoration every single day, every second of his life.

I was talking with a friend one day about this subject and she said, "Isn't it better to feel loved, even though your life is short, than to go through a long life never feeling loved at all?"

I believe with 100% certainty that Santana was loved every day of his life. And that funeral service, fit for a Superman, was filled with so much love and sadness and joy for his freedom.

I often wonder about parents who post really benign complaints on social media about their children having minor issues or fussing with really unimportant aspects of life. I wonder if they know what it's like to give your child's body back to the earth. To have to walk away. To be the mother of three, when on this earth there are only two children. Every family picture is missing a child. The observation about family pictures isn't meant to be shallow but to understand what it's like for a mother and a family suffering such profound loss.

I can also tell you that where Santana's journey ended, we were beginning ours. Pulling out of the church and into the motorcade I noticed right across the street was where Christian had his first HBOT session three weeks after his accident. The irony was not lost. And I don't know if irony is the right word. Coincidence, maybe? It was sobering. But all of our journeys start and end somewhere, don't they?

Santana's journey was filled with love. This I know for sure. There were hundreds of people in attendance, including some of my near drown moms! From Las Vegas, from Oklahoma, from Tucson, we came from all around and when the service ended we waited for Lindsey. These Mamas right here are the strongest I know.

And sweet Santana, you touched so many lives. You were one of the OGs! Now everytime I see someone with a Superman shirt I think of you. Everytime I brush a tiny mohawk into Christian's hair, I think of you.You paved the way for some of us and for those that might unfortunately come into this world. I know you are playing and laughing and watching over your family. They are blessed by you. We all are. 

"I would rather have thirty minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special."
-Shelby, Steel Magnolias

Sleep softly, Santana.


Darla Welch said...

Thank you for the beautiful tribute to Santana. I know my niece, Lindsey, will continue to be a voice for near drowning victims, and support for each of you precious moms. You are the most special people on earth!

Anonymous said...

That was really beautiful, Shauna. It also underscores why you celebrate every moment with your kids.

Steph said...

My daughter drowned three years ago and reading your story and Santana's touches my heart in ways that words can not express. My husband and I tell our twins every day about their older sister and how she is an angel- I'm sure she welcomed Santana with open arms and a beautiful smile like no other. My thoughts are with you all.

Jen said...

Wow, what a beautiful post Shauna. You summed everything up so perfectly...

"Isn't it better to feel loved, even though your life is short, than to go through a long life never feeling loved at all?"

Yes. Yes. Yes.

What a beautiful child Santana is/was. I still have a hard time with tenses...

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