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Superstorm Sandy, Survivor's Guilt and a Psychic 3-Year-Old

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My family made it through Hurricane Sandy. We have water, power and a roof, but the survivor's guilt makes me want to hide. Sneak away from the brilliance of life. It shouts at me: Don't enjoy anything too much, people are suffering. I feel childlike somehow. Be quiet, be small, don't say too much, and for gods sake don't try to write about it. HOW DARE YOU?

But then something stopped me in my tracks.

My 3-year-old daughter said something to me while we were packed like sardines on the subway this morning. We were talking about my birthday this past year, our trip to Six Flags and why it's closed in the Winter when it's her birthday, and she said:

"If Daddy is still alive, can we go to Six Flags for his birthday?"

"What??" I said.

"If Daddy is still alive, can we go to Six Flags for his birthday?"

Now, my 3-year-old daughter is somewhat psychic. I hate the abuse of that word, so let's just say... intuitive. She was born "in the caul," meaning my water never broke, and superstition says that makes a child psychic. I only learned this because they called her "a Dalai Lama baby" at the birthing center, because apparently, all Dalai Lama's are born in the caul. OK, suuuure.

She has a habit of asking about friends of mine whom I happen to be thinking about. Not talking about, mind you, but thinking about to myself. She will remember something, a moment, an object, as I am thinking about it. It's weird. It freaks me out.

So this one slammed into me. My husband is fine, isn't he? Didn't he recently get a clean bill of health? I spent the rest of the day thinking of all the ways I couldn't live without my amazing spouse. All the little things he does that rock my world, from his soft kisses with scratchy stubble to the way he meticiously folds the laundry. He lost his Dad when he was 6 to a sudden heart attack. His dad was in his 40's. We recently lost our friend Stephen to a sudden heart attack. He was in is 40's. My husband is in his 40's...

All day I was living my real life, but also the life I imagined without my incredible partner. One real, one a fear-fest fantasy. And then I read a line in Jonathan Fields' blog about Hurricane Sandy and the two New Yorks that exist at present; some of us unscathed, some devastated. He wrote "It's like there are two New Yorks, living two realities side-by-side."

And I realized that grief, and even fear of grief, can sometimes make me feel like that about my own life -- my real life existing parallel to my fear-based fantasy life. And as our community walks through this major disaster, that grief and fear came up. Big time.

Sandy brought up for me the same powerlessness, lack of control, discomfort and uncertainty that grief brings up. Even unscathed by the tragedy -- sleeping warm and tight with water and electricity -- you feel the surreal dichotomy of the deep gratitude that you are OK and the staggering pain for all those who have lost something. It's a bittersweetness of the 85% cacao kind.

These tragedies -- real in the case of Sandy or our friend's recent sudden death, or imagined in the case of my daughter's thoughts of my husband -- can make me feel like hiding under a rock. They bring out my inner Chicken Little. But if I let them, they can actually help me dig into life, wonder at the changing colors of the leaves, relish the smell of pumpkin pie cooking in my oven as I write and savor the feeling of my little girl brushing my hair.

And sometimes, they can help me finally sob like my 3-year-old. Wails of grief. For my dad. For our friend. For everyone we have lost. For everyone who has experienced loss.

These moments bring us back to basics: the kindness of strangers, the appreciation of our loved ones and sweet simple things like the magic of the MTA. God, I love New York City.

I found out later in the day that in the morning, my Mom had told my child that Natasha, one of my Mom's cats, had died. So... my daughter was apparently not having a psychic hit, but simply processing that information. Big sigh. Okay, so throw the psychic stuff out the window. Or maybe not...

Maybe my psychic kiddo knew that her statement would wake me up with some CPR of the "it's a wonderful life" kind. She pulled me out of my Sandy-induced, self-centered fear, allowing me to help bridge the gap between the two New York realities.

Here are ways to help in the wake of Hurricane Sandy:
http://www.family-to-family.org/2012/11/hurricane-sandy-relief/
The American Red Cross
City Meals on Wheels
NYC Service