The Choice Life

Madelena Campbell explores a neighbor's garden with her brothers. In the year since Tori's death, the Campbells have learned that what most counteracts the emptiness they feel is love and service for others.

It has been a year since Tori died. One very thorny, tricky year.

It was naïve to think that when she earned her eternal rest that life would get easier for us left here. Tori’s departure left a gaping hole that could only be filled by love and kindness and the grace of God.

Mourning the death of my child is a fight against a ripping, tearing, life-sucking force, and the only way to combat the emptiness and loss is to fill the void with its opposite. Finding ways to fill our days with love and service has kept us sane. Love is what Tori preached and lived, and is the song sung by so many who get to see the other side and are able to tell us anything about it.

Moping and melancholy have their place, and there is a certain deliciousness about succumbing to the grief and allowing depression to rule the day and guide the singular focus of my attention to the loss that threatens to ruin me. But it has to be a momentary pause, a break in the slow and deliberate work of rebuilding a life when the central focus is gone.

Little by little, the days got brighter, things started looking up, I cried less and less, only to be surprised at my backsliding days when I felt like I had lost any ground that I had made. Family and friends who would listen and offer support will never know how much they did to keep me on track.

The best times this last year have been when I have been able to throw myself into a service project or do some little thing for someone else. One of my favorite stories is about a young missionary who writes home to tell his father that he is miserable and is just wasting his time and his father’s money. The father’s advice to "forget yourself and get to work" have guided my actions when I was too caught up in my own drama. I am sick of my drama. I want to get over it and think about something else.

My daughter, Madelena, is a prime example of improving her life through serving others. She was miserable and angry after her bone marrow transplant. She had lost so much and couldn’t find a purpose in her life. We encouraged her to forget herself and get to work. She took it literally. Her entire life revolves around service. Well — service and boys, actually.

She is completely wrapped up in taking care of her "kids," the special needs students at school, and anyone else who she thinks needs a friend. She defines her success for the day on who she was able to help. She loves being outside and digging in the dirt and has turned it into a way to serve her neighbors, by pulling their weeds. In fact, a few weeks ago, while we were at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, she kept leaping out of her wheelchair to pull weeds in the beautifully manicured gardens. She wanted to lighten the load of the grounds crew of the museums.

Madelena has been such a good reminder to me that any happiness I hope to find comes as a result of looking outward to find others to serve and love. In my neighborhood and church congregation, I am the chair of the humanitarian aid committee. I couldn’t ask for a better responsibility. Finding ways that my neighbors and I can fill the needs of the community has brought me so much happiness and satisfaction. Serving with those who want to lift the burdens of others enables a camaraderie that is even more delicious and satisfying than falling prey to despair. The excitement that I feel at finding a project to help others fills my hollowed-out heart, bit by bit.

I’ve found, as anyone else has, who has thought about it, that the more love and service I can manage to share, the more comes back to me. The more I can focus on lifting others, the more joy I feel, and the better I am able to keep going when the sorrow at losing my precious child threatens to overwhelm me. Thank the Lord in heaven for entreating us to "love one another," because it is the way to the peace for which I so desperately yearn.

Tori is gone, but by looking to fill the emptiness I feel at her loss with love and service, I am rebuilding my heart.

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