All Nonfiction Bullying Books Academic Author Interviews Celebrity interviews College Articles College Essays Educator of the Year Heroes Interviews Memoir Personal Experience Sports Travel & CultureAll Opinions Bullying Current Events / Politics Discrimination Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking Entertainment / Celebrities Environment Love / Relationships Movies / Music / TV Pop Culture / Trends School / College Social Issues / Civics Spirituality / Religion Sports / Hobbies
- Summer Guide
- College Guide
- Author Interviews
- Celebrity interviews
- College Articles
- College Essays
- Educator of the Year
- Personal Experience
- Travel & Culture
- Current Events / Politics
- Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking
- Entertainment / Celebrities
- Love / Relationships
- Movies / Music / TV
- Pop Culture / Trends
- School / College
- Social Issues / Civics
- Spirituality / Religion
- Sports / Hobbies
- Community Service
- Letters to the Editor
- Pride & Prejudice
- What Matters
I couldn’t stop it. There wasn’t enough time. Any amount of time would be short of what I wanted. I longed for an amount of time I would never be able to harbour. Forever is what I wanted...what I needed. But, forever was just too far out of my reach.
Henry William Donnelly was a blue eyed, blond hair jubilant child born on October 11, 2012. He died on October 7, 2014. Strange...right? He was one year old. Henry or “Little Man”, as I liked to call him, was far too young and came in contact with death at a time when he should have been enjoying life. As you can tell, he passed only four days before his birthday, in a way one would think is impossible.
Our family is very Italian, so as anyone would imagine, we had a family gathering almost every other weekend. We congregated at my house this time around and as always, I was on baby duty. My job was to watch all the little kids, so the parents could actually rest, drink, and eat. (Because what Italian family passes up an opportunity to scarf down delicious food?)
I was sitting on the couch with Henry on my lap, playing the funny-face-straight-face game. (A game we made up that day.) The rules are simple.
They are as follows:
Rule 1: You are not allowed to make a face that is not considered funny.
Rule 2: You are not allowed to repeat a face someone else has already made.
Rule 3: Do not, under any circumstances laugh or giggle or even smile when your opponent takes their turn.
Rule 4: Tickling is not prohibited.
If you failed to comply with these rules, you would be disqualified and your opponent would win a satisfying chocolate chip cookie.
Interestingly enough, Henry was a master at the funny-face-straight-face game. I was unable to understand how it was even possible for him to beat me every single round! (If you’re not grasping the concept of older kids always letting the younger kids win to make them happy, then I’m just going to assume you don’t have any baby cousins or siblings.)
I spent that whole day with Henry. Running around, playing board games, eating cookies, and playing pirate ship.
There are no words in the English vocabulary that can be used to describe the amount of joy this little boy brought to me. At the time of that party, I was what you would call a troubled child. I was depressed more often than I was happy. I wasn’t feeling accepted or even important. I felt excluded from my group of friends, like an outcast in my family, and alone even when I was surrounded by a mass of lively people. I was paranoid 99% of the time. The worst part was, I didn’t have a healthy way to deal with the mass of complicated problems. It was like I was in handcuffs and there was no key that could be used to break the shackles I was bounded by.
Are you familiar with toys for babies? You know...the one that uses a block of wood and has shapes cut out of it? A triangle, a circle, and a square. The makers created the 3-dimensional pieces which include a trigonal prism, a cube, and a cylinder that are used to challenge the child to insert the 3-dimensional shape into the proper cut out. If you were to try and fit a cube in the circle cut-out, you wouldn’t be able to make the two shapes fit, no matter how much force you exerted. That was me. I was, for lack of a better term, the cube in the circle spot.
To add on, I was lugging around mountains of stress. I’m surprised my back didn’t snap in half from the bone crushing weight. My parents and teachers were the cause of most of it. They want me to be one thing and I wanted to be something else. I work hard. I don’t give up on things and I put in the effort, but it just seemed like no one noticed. My parents pushed a number of responsibilities onto me, but never gave me the space or trust to fulfill them. I was basically their dog on a tight leash who never got a chance to roam because of course, they would never loosen the grip.
My teachers normally hand out a reasonable amount of work. But, there are always times when teachers think nothing of giving us a packet compiled of six pages for homework on the same day we have an outline due and a chapter test the next day. As a student, I can easily attest to it being rather difficult to complete everything without extra curricular activities, let alone with them. I can also truthfully say it’s hard to not be stressed on the days when your backpack is overflowing with work. In no way am I saying that the teachers are unreasonable, but I feel that they don’t know just how much work there is for us to complete each night since they are not the ones experiencing it.
I was also bombarded with insecurities and pressure. Most days, I dreaded going to school and seeing all the “pretty” girls because I didn’t feel like that. I didn’t even feel like a girl half of the time because I wasn’t dressing like others girls. The majority of the eighth grade girls come to school with their super-tight pants and insanely low-cut shirts. For one, my father would never let me out of the house in an outfit like the one I just described. But, thats not the reason I didn’t squeeze myself into pants that wouldn’t allow my legs to breathe or pull my shirt down to the point where you can’t even consider it a shirt. Its because I didn’t want to. That was something I was proud of. I actually thought it was a positive feature I had, not dumbing myself down for people to like me. But, I was made fun of for the way I dressed because no one is safe when they enter the battlefield that is Middle School. I was comfortable in what I wore, but that didn’t seem to matter.
To summarize before I go into a whirlpool of all of my past problems, there was basically a mob of paparazzi people surrounding me at all times. But, instead of throwing insulting questions at me, trying to figure out everything about my life as they do for celebrities...they threw everything they didn’t like about me that they wanted to change. It’s ironic how I had all the same thoughts as them.
I was an imperfect person who felt like everyone around me was telling me to be perfect. The problem was I didn’t know how to satisfy their wants and the judgemental stares from people didn’t help me to figure out a solution.
In an effort to please others, I started to change who I was. I listened to music that I didn’t even enjoy. I changed the clothes I wore so that people wouldn’t think I was the weird girl and I started to make fun of others because thats what my friends and everyone else was doing. Eventually, through changing everything about me and re-inventing myself, everyone around me was happy with the “new” me. The catch was that I wasn’t.
Then, Henry came along. A bright little boy who wasn’t familiar with negative feelings yet because the world didn’t have a chance to hurt him in the short time he had been alive. I like to think that he “fixed” me. I know there are probably a million ways to say that he helped me, but I like using the word fixed. Why? Because I was broken. I was glass that had shattered into a million little pieces. He mended those pieces. He mended me. I know you think I’m insane. I can understand that. From your point of view, I'm a thirteen year old girl who was broken at a time in her life and fixed by a one year old. Your inquisitions about my sanity are normal and expected. Just know, that it wasn’t anything major he did that helped me.
You know how people say a picture is worth a thousand words? So is a smile. It was just his smile. Just that small little smile when I made a funny face that let me know, I didn’t have to change. His sparkling smile told me that the “me” I was before I had changed everything about myself, is the “me” I should always be.
You can guess what I did next. I went back to listening to Ben Folds, Streetlight Manifesto, Billy Joel, Elton John, Alabama Shakes, and so many more amazing artists that I actually enjoyed listening to. I stopped making fun of others and apologized to those I had hurt. Basically, I mended all wounds I had created.
I can’t say that my life was smooth sailing from there because I would be lying. But, I can say there were less nights that involved me staying up until four in the morning contemplating my life. The sun seemed brighter every time it rose. The air was more fresh. The birds songs were more beautiful. Everything around me just seemed to be...better. That was until one day while I was sitting on my bed studying for a huge science test the next day, the phone rang. The sound of a phone ringing is one I am accustomed to, so I didn’t think much of it. But, I did become worried when my dad made his way up the stairs and called Lucy, my sister and I out of our rooms. What followed was life changing.
“Girls”, dad started,”Little Henry fell off a slide and he broke his neck.”
“Is he okay?”, Lucy asked.
“He passed away right when he hit the ground, so lets make sure we pray for him and the Donnellys.”
This was two days after the family party. Two days after he had sat on my lap, after he had showed me that broad smile, after he looked at me with his shimmering blue eyes. Two days after he was alive.
The boy was always buoyant. Unlike his two sisters, who were always crying and complaining if you held one for a longer time than the other.
My family is jam-packed to what I hope to be maximum capacity with couples who were “blessed” with rather irritating children. Barbara and Danny brought forth baby Nicholas into the exciting world. At first, it wasn’t hard to put up with him. Then again, that was back when he couldn’t talk. The same parents who gave birth to Henry, gave birth to Anna and Victoria. The two girls who never let you sit and rest for more than five minutes. They were very selfish and never liked to share.
Henry was different. He stood out in his family, like a daisy stands out in a field of roses. I normally enjoy the company of all children. To be frank, I actually enjoy the company of little children more than I do the company of people my age or at least, I thought I did. It’s funny how feelings change.
Henry was the exception. He was an explorer. He didn’t have time to whine and cry and scream. All he had time for was exploration and spreading love and joy into the hearts of those around him. You could see it in his eyes as he stared at you, pondering who you are and where your future would take you. He understood when you were struggling and believe me, he would be the first to jump to his feet and help. He could barely talk and everyone already knew that he would grow up to be a breathtaking man. A man who would change the world. A man who would help instead of hurt. As you can tell, losing him wasn’t easy for anyone.
So, what Lucy and I did following the announcement of his death was expected. Despite the fact that we were not the closest of sisters, we came together that night. We sat on my bed, our eyes puffy from crying, not being able to stop. After every other sniffle or cry, we muttered things like ”We just saw him” or “He had just sat on my lap” or “He was so young”. We stayed in our rooms that night...all of us. The house, normally filled with noise, was now silent.
As if losing Henry wasn’t enough to break me, there was another incident that took place that night. A girl who finds enjoyment in pushing people to their breaking point decided it was my turn to be picked on.
She was talking about people dying in the group chat that I was a part of and I asked her to nicely stop talking about death by saying, “Can we move on to a new subject?”.
What she responded with was brutal.
“No one cares about your problems. If you don’t like what I’m saying, then just leave.”
From there, it escalated to worser things. I continued to ask her to stop, but she held her ground and continued to hit me with words full of hate. I tried being nice and I was fed up with the fact that she wouldn’t comply and just stop talking. It’s not like I was being unreasonable or irrational. Just ponder for second. If you were in my shoes, would you want to be constantly reminded of Henry’s death? The correct answer is no. That’s exactly what this girl was doing. She was ruthless.
I was fed up so much so that I fired back with, “Just shut up. My baby cousin just fell off a slide, broke his neck, and died, so you can stop now.”
It’s funny that she continued to send hate because she just looked right over my message. She didn’t even bother to read what I had said. She just kept sending her opinions about how she hates me. I wasn’t exactly in the mood to deal with it, so I just ignored her.
And just like that, the paparazzi was back and worse than ever. Don’t get me wrong, there were a couple people who helped me that night. They texted me to make sure I was okay. My response to them was that I was fine. Lying was easy, I didn’t have to lie to their face. All I had to do was type a quick message into my phone and click send. Plus, the girl apologized later on that night, but I could tell that nothing she said was genuine. She didn’t mean a word of what she was saying, so I just responded with,”It’s fine” and I ended the night by putting down my phone and just crying for hours. Everything after that is rather fuzzy.
Let’s just say that going to school the next day wasn’t easy to get through. I found myself lying in the bathroom crying every other period.
I’ll spare you the depressing details about Henry’s funeral that followed days after his death. In summary of the day, I looked down at him in his tiny coffin, his body positioned so that the part of his neck that snapped into two wasn’t visible and I cried...a lot.
This essay has already been dark enough, so i’ll just end it for your own sake.
Life isn’t always easy. It’s going to hit you...hard and with a lot of force. There’s going to be a lot of ups and downs. You just have to learn to get through it.
If I were to summarize the essay you just read, I would use a phrase I put together in my mind. The phrase is as follows: My life felt like I was thrown into a massive sea of problems with sharks nipping at my feet every chance they got, but I learned how to swim. Notice how I underlined the word “learned”. This is because when life throws a problem at you without any warning, you won’t know what to do right away. You will have to feel out the situation before you can make any decisions on how to handle the problem.
I’m sure that sometime in your life, you’ve heard someone say, ”When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” As you and me both know, there are two types of lemons. Lemons that have just been picked, have a bright yellow color, and taste just wonderful. These are the lemons that you can easily squeeze juice out of and slice up for a refreshing glass of lemonade. The other type of lemons are lemons that have been sitting in your refrigerator for a number of days. These lemons gain a brown tint to their bright yellow color and loose that “just wonderful” kind of taste. These are the lemons that you don’t know what to do with. Do you use the elderly lemon just the way it is, with all the brown spots it has gained? Do you slice off the brown spots and only use the still young areas? Or do you throw the aged lemon in the garbage?
When people tell you to make lemonade when lemons are handed to you by life, the theoretical lemons they are talking about are not the fresh bright yellow ones. They are talking about the brown lemons that you don’t know what to do with. You’re not going to know what to do when you encounter a problem right away, but if I can promise you one thing, it’s that you will find out what to do over time.
Another thing i’ve learned through experiencing problems is that you’re not always going to be happy with where you are in life, but you can not let that get to you. If you do, you will be a miserable person who drones through everyday as if it’s for nothing and that’s not very enjoyable. So, i’m telling you to make use of your time. Work for the things you want and don’t pass up opportunities you want to take. Through doing this, you will be pleased with your life. I know I am because that’s exactly what I do. I live each day to the fullest and you should too.
A close friend of mine once told me, ”You can’t let her words hurt you. You can’t let her get inside your head. You’re strong, I know you are.” This applies to a whole other challenge in my life, but it easily applies to everything. Just modify it to say, “You can’t let life get to you. Let nothing get inside your head because you are strong.” because thats what you need to do. You need to be strong. It worked for me and it will work for you. I’m a survivor of hard times. Anyone can be. I like to think that everyone will be. You can be. So please, don’t give up on happiness because no matter how dark the world looks, there will always be light for you to find.