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The Value of A Life

I am thinking about the value of one person’s life as I prepare to say goodbye to a good friend. Educators classified Allison as MMI, Mild Mental Impairment.

Allison died suddenly, in her apartment January 2. She had a pulmonary embolism. She was 38 years old.

As I get my thoughts together, this morning’s Wall Street Journal‘s article about “carrier screening,” hits a chord. The author describes a simple test so no parent need face giving birth to a child with a genetic defect.

What gives value to our life? Is it being free of defect? Is it our success in our careers? Is it finding the right mate, or raising a happy family? Perhaps it’s measured by the places we go, or the people we know; the house we live in or the estate we leave behind. Maybe it’s the obstacles we overcome or the mountains we climb.

Allison had a minimum wage job, she lived in a tiny apartment, she never married or had children, never learned to drive, and apart from supervised trips, she traveled very little.

I knew Allison for about half of her lifetime. She was CoCo’s best friend; her companion, her confidante. They met in high school. In the same contained classroom. Together, they were braver and clearer. They fought, they supported; they chided, they cheered; they covered for each other, they told on each other. Together they fit.

Allison made me smile. She made me brave. She brought light and happiness to my life. Allison had her own family and she was part of my family, too.

Allison was brave. She tackled all the tiny and big decisions that come with living in her own apartment. She learned how to take public transportation. She made my other kids brave on the dance floor. Her confidence spread, so everyone felt freer, lighter, happier: unencumbered clubbing without the need for substance enhancement.

Allison only faltered a tinsy, tiny bit when we went camping in the Upper Peninsula and I gave her instructions on how to avoid being mauled by a bear. Yes, I meant it tongue-in-cheek.

“B-b-bears?” she said. She was brave when I laughed, too.

Allison loved to laugh. She told me the story of her cat, Magic, and how she tried to make him fly. She liked telling me she was the same size as Tony Devito, and CoCo was the size of Tinkerbell. She had a crush on my oldest, even though he threw up in the bushes on New Year’s Eve.

Allison taught me many things. She taught me that sometimes it’s better to give someone exactly what they want, rather than surprise them with something they never imagined. She taught me just how many decisions we all make in any one day. She taught me the importance of respecting idiosyncrasies, and  the value of patience and of respect.

Allison left a small footprint in the world, but she left a big empty spot in my heart. I am sad she is gone, but I have few tears. Instead, I remember all the ways we laughed together and all the ways she brought light into my world, and all the ways she added to the fullness of my life.

Of course, no one sets out to have a handicapped child. Perhaps screening for genetic defects would shelter parents and children from difficulty. Still, sometimes I wonder what joy they might be spared, too.

The value of a life is measured not in the lack of difficulty, but by what we overcome; not in who we become, but how we become. And not in the things we accumulate, but in the joy we leave behind.

CoCo and Allison at Ed Debevic’s in Chicago

Allison, you are priceless.

Published inPeople


    • Adela Adela

      Thank you Laurel. Tonight will be tough.

  1. I believe that value of a life is in its impact on others, and by that measure, hers was huge. Blessings to all she’s left behind and ot her on her soul’s journey.
    Carol Cassara recently posted..Got renovation advice?My Profile

    • Adela Adela

      Thank you, Carol. You are so right.

  2. Helene Cohen Bludman Helene Cohen Bludman

    That a a beautiful tribute to someone who surely left an imprint on your heart and the hearts of those who loved her. It is sad that her life was cut so short,

    • Adela Adela

      Thank you Helene. We do love Allison, and she is sorely missed.

  3. linda green linda green

    Thanks for this story. We lost our oldest grand daughter in December, last month. She was 22 years old, and had mild autism. We don’t know the cause of death yet, maybe another seizure.

    • Adela Adela

      Linda, so sorry for your loss. I bet your grand-daughter brought you much joy and new insight into life and love.

  4. Janine Steeves Janine Steeves

    Thank you Adela for a beautiful tribute to my little sister Allison, (niece by family lines.) I am SO glad to read how Allison’s life influenced yours and your family’s. You bring up important points as further ethical discussion is needed on the subject of genetic testing – it is a slippery slope to the definition of a valued life as you describe. My life was better with Allison, my world was sweeter. Allison was unique – she would call me out and bring different ideas to me with my messed up problems, she was incredibly patient with me and my children. She taught me to find joy in the today and how simple happiness can be. She was generous, kind, and simply wanted acceptance and love. In all ways that matter, she was no different from anyone else. And, I know she had this same influence on many others which helps me to move forward.

    • Adela Adela

      Thank you, Janine. Variety really is more than the “spice of life.” Allison had much to give and much to teach us.

    • Janine Steeves Janine Steeves

      Allison was good at braiding my hair.
      Because she thinked my hair was long enough to braid.

      (written by Allison’s niece, or by family lines cousin, Jillian “Patricia” Steeves who will feel Allison whenever her hair is brushed so nicely as only Allison could).

      • Adela Adela

        She was a gentle and thoughtful person. Thanks for including your memories here. What a nice way to honor Allison.

  5. Deanna Kelly Deanna Kelly

    This is some of your best writing. It really comes from the heart. Im so sorry to hear about your families loss.

    • Adela Adela

      Thank you, Deanna. It’s always hard to lose someone so young, especially when she is such a good friend.

  6. […] Today CoCo and I went to Rainforest Cafe.  We celebrated her friend Allison’s birthday with lunch, a huge desert, and a little shopping. It’s the first of Allison’s birthdays that has come and gone without her in this world. Rainforest is one of their favorite spots.  (For more about our loss and what Allison gave to us, click here.) […]

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