Happy new year. We wish you a happy and prosperous new year. May your year be filled with happiness and good things.
These are just a few of the common New Year's greetings I hear every year. When I was working in the financial industry, before I had children, I signed hundreds of cards for clients wishing them a happy and successful new year. It was something most people around me did, and I didn't really give much thought to the meaning behind the words. Sure, it was a nice way to reach out to the people I worked with all year long but in my innocence, as a healthy thirty-something with both parents and two grandparents, I didn't have much experience with serious illness. I wished people a happy and healthy new year but didn't really think about the healthy part too much.
Things are a lot different now. The typical New Year's greeting holds a different meaning for me. Happy and healthy have swapped places: I wish you a healthy and happy new year. I place much more emphasis on healthy because, as glib as it might sound, if you don't have health, nothing else matters.
Good health is no longer taken for granted in our family.
Oftentimes over the years, when I would tell someone about my son, Jacob, and his challenges, I would see their face actually drop -- their expression would change: the smile would leave their face, their eyes would open a bit wider and they would look at me differently. The tone of their voice became somber as they muttered something along the lines of "Oh, I'm so sorry." My immediate reaction was to jump in and explain that it's not a reason to be sad. "He's a very happy boy who laughs a lot and he is as healthy as he can be, so really, it's not that bad." He's happy and his health is stable. What more can a parent want? Health and happiness. Everything else is like icing on a cake -- delicious but not crucial.
And Jake's health was stable for over a decade. Until last year.
After spending most of 2015 in the hospital and requiring frequent medical interventions to help him breathe, "happy and healthy new year" means something very different in our house. Gone are the days when that phrase was devoid of real meaning. This year, every time someone uttered that phrase to me, particular emphasis was always placed on healthy. And after the year we just had, I couldn't agree more.
Jacob is still a happy teenager, but his smiles are sometimes harder to elicit. He's generally not in pain, but the effort required to sit in his chair is often too overwhelming for him. He spends a lot of time lying down, either in his bed or on the queen sized mattress on our living room floor. This makes the times he feels well enough to go swimming, to hang out with me at Starbucks or go for a walk around the neighbourhood so much more meaningful. Good health is no longer taken for granted in our family. It is wished for, it is celebrated and it is appreciated.
One thing about my son that has not changed despite his health status is that Jake always musters the strength to attend a party. On New Year's Eve, we weren't sure whether he would be able to join us at a friend's house until shortly before we left the house. Despite the fact that he didn't want to get out of bed until mid-afternoon, preferring to chill and listen to music, he was simply conserving his energy. He knew there was a party to go to, and nothing was going to get in the way of him missing a chance to celebrate with friends.
From our family to yours, Jake and I wish you a healthy and happy 2016.
About the author: Marcy White enjoyed a career in the investment industry until her son, Jacob, was born in 2002. Her academic degrees did not prepare her for caring for Jacob, who was born with Pelizaeus-Merzbacher disease (PMD). Since Jacob's diagnosis at 10-months-old, Marcy has become an advocate for her son and furthering PMD research to help find a cure. Marcy co-founded curepmd.com to educate people about PMD and fund research into finding a treatment. You can read her monthly blog on Her Magazine.
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