Collateral Damage

We all know what collateral damage is. Collateral damage is the nice way of saying that someone, or a bunch of someones, became the unintended causality of a war. Talking heads on the evening news roll these words, collateral damage, across their lips as smoothly as if they were licking double chocolate fudge ice cream from the corners of their mouths – “ . . .The collateral damage was expected given the situation. And talk about unexpected situations! How about that blizzard out East, Al?” Collateral damage is easy to overlook.  In the segue reality is forgotten.  Do you think that perhaps the fallout, the consequences of war, are less real if we call it by something less threatening?

We recently lost our most stalwart warrior in the war on Crohn’s Disease. On the battlefield of this war, the war Bridget so bravely fought; collateral damage took many forms from strained relationships with medical personnel, to a promising life taken too suddenly and too soon and everything in between. But of all the damage done on this battlefield, none is more compelling than the precious little family left behind – her husband, Jeff, and daughter, Bailey. Collateral damage.

It was my privilege recently to share a meal with Jeff’s aunt who told me Jeff and Bailey’s story, of their days immediately following Bridget’s passing. Hearing her words, feeling her words, tugged at my heart. All I could think of as I tried to grasp the enormity of what she was telling me, of what they were dealing with, was that my comprehension was falling pitifully short of the reality – not fully grasping it all, going unconscious under the gravity. Collateral damage.

I could only visualize Jeff, carrying Bailey, as they walked slowly behind her casket – down the same isle Jeff and Bridget joyfully walked on their wedding day. It was compelling. It was truly mournful. I thought this adorable little girl, with a headful of curls, would not have her mother walk her to school on the first day of kindergarten, or help dress her for her first date or for prom, or help heal her first broken heart, or dance at her wedding, or hold the children she will one day birth – and I cried for all the life stories yet to be for this family. Collateral damage.

I wondered what Jeff was thinking as he made that journey, escorting his beloved and brave wife for the last time. His battle now is cleaning up the debris a severe and chronic disease leaves in its wake – mountains of bills in amounts that take your breath away, dealing with unthinking people on the other end of a call, how to explain it all to Bailey, how to just get up every morning and go to work, how to put the right foot in front of the left, how to even breathe underneath the weight of it all when you are so young and have so far in life to go. Is there a light at the end of his tunnel? Collateral damage.

His extended family. Bridget’s extended family. Their friends. The Crohn’s community. What could have been. Collateral damage.

It’s easy to see now, why some spin doctor in some political war room didn’t want us to think about the consequences of war and why a non-descript, benign tag was applied. It is because the reality is a hideous, distorted, freakin’ bloody mess that we’d rather forget dealing with because it is just too hard and we do not want to be held accountable for any of it. And if we did really think about it, about what collateral damage really is, then we would be compelled to help and we would have to make sure, with all that is in us, that it never happens again, to anyone, anywhere. Ever.

It is time now to pick up where Bridget left off and to work toward a cure and spread the word, educating all who will hear. It’s time to keep reaching out to Jeff and Bailey and their families in very real ways, letting them know they are not forgotten and that we will love them for Bridget and because of Bridget. We will not allow them to live in our hearts and minds as collateral damage.

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