(oh how we're so sick and tired of the flu!), I was able to read For the Love of Aimee within a short few days. (Yes, the flu slows me down and gives me time to sit and read during the day. It was actually quite nice.) For the Love of Aimee is written from the perspective of the grandmother -- a grandma who is heavily involved in her granddaughter's life. Aimee, born with microcephaly and cerebral palsy, was given a grim prognosis at birth. The family was told that Aimee would, at best, live in a vegetative state. Julie explains in her book, their fight for Aimee and the course of action they took to make sure that she was able to meet her potential. To her credit, it seems that Julie, as Aimee's advocate, was a driving force behind seeking the proper help and therapies that Aimee could (and did) benefit from. Perhaps it was because she was close enough to the situation, but also just removed enough, that she was able to more clearly see the big picture. I'm not sure. But it doesn't really matter. The love and bond that these two share is inspiring and I found myself imagining my future grandbabies and being this involved in their lives as well. They were nice daydreams.
As excited as I was to read this book, I wasn't sure what to expect. I knew that Aimee had cerebral palsy and microcephaly. I wasn't sure how I'd feel as I read the pages. The cover art is a picture of Aimee, and I immediately noticed similarities between Samantha and Aimee. I could picture Samantha 10 years from now, and I began to worry if while I read this book I would be too attached to Samantha. Would I be comparing? Would it remind me of feelings I've had? Would it be painful to read? On some level, I was expecting myself to cry a lot during this book. I'm not sure why, but I think I expected that this would dig up some old buried feelings that my subconscious had buried -- or some other mumbo jumbo like that. To my great relief, I was fully invested in Aimee and Julie's story together. I anxiously read to find out what happened next in her life. I was curious. I felt inspired. More importantly, I felt happy for Aimee's successes. And, most importantly, I felt hopeful for my own Samantha's future, whatever it is. Yes, there were times when my eyes filled up with tears...and perhaps they spilled over and ran down my cheeks. But I more often smiled and laughed as I read. Julie and Aimee's story is a happy one, and I was so grateful for that. We ought to read more happy things that uplift and encourage us.
Aimee's positive attitude and determination did, however, remind me a lot of Samantha's, and reading this reminded me of how grateful I am to have her in my life. For me, the most poignant section of the book is found in the epilogue.
Without Aimee just the way she is, I would have missed out on the experience of a lifetime. I would have missed the self-satisfaction of overcoming personal challenges. I would, most likely, have never known my own capacity for devotion to a grandchild in need who was wanting to be loved and acknowledged as a valued human being. I would never have understood what it means to truly respect another individual, body and soul, for who rather than what they are. Most of all, I would not have known that faith and hope are at the heart of our existence, no matter what kind of existence it is.
When Samantha was born, and the doctors gave us Samantha's grim prognosis, I cried. As I held Samantha and my tears dropped on her tiny head, her cap absorbing each tear, Marcus put his arms around me. He boldly stated that one day we would look back and say that we wouldn't have it any other way...that Samantha is a blessing the way she is. He confirmed that we wouldn't feel this way today or tomorrow, but in time we would see the blessing that Samantha is...just the way she is. I have experienced this change of heart that Marcus told me we'd have, and I know he has as well.
When I read this paragraph in the epilogue, it rang true in my heart...and my mind. It makes such clear sense to me, partly because I have experienced it myself with Samantha, but also because I believe Julie and I share a similar faith and belief that there is a greater plan and if we accept that, we can receive the blessings that await. Samantha has touched my life in more ways than I could begin to explain in this post...and Aimee does the same for all those who feel of her spirit, whether from meeting her or even just reading about her. She's an incredible young woman who is a sister, daughter, granddaughter, and teacher. I'm glad I had the opportunity to read this book and be reminded of the innumerable blessings in my own life. Even though this is about Julie and Aimee, I found myself wondering a great deal about Aimee's parents. I wondered what it was really like at home. I wondered about Chloe, her identical twin sister, and how she felt about Aimee's special attention. I wondered about Jeffrey, the younger brother, who was born into this special needs family, and how he felt about everything.
Though Julie Matsushima paints a picture of her journey with Aimee and special needs, we can all learn from the lessons taught in this book -- the need for patience, increased charity (the true meaning of the word), dealing with trials, choosing to act or react to life, etc. It's definitely worth reading.
** You can find more information about Julie Riera Matsushima at her website and more information about her advocacy for special needs children at her non-profit foundation webpage, That's Amore Chairtable Foundation, Inc.