Saturday, November 24, 2012

AVERYday: Out of the Broken - Part 9

A couple weeks before Avery's death, I presented her with a charm bracelet that had her name on it. I had a bracelet made for me with the initials of my children and Matt, which Avery fell in love with. She asked for her name on a bracelet for her birthday, which was October 5th. A couple days after her birthday the bracelet was ready. She wore it constantly.

After I returned home from the hospital the night of the accident all I wanted to do was find that bracelet. I needed that bracelet. Except Jadrian needed comforting and we laid together, side by side, in Avery's twin bed. Crying.

I couldn't sleep. I tried to sneak out of the bed, but Jadrian wasn't sleeping either. I offered some paltry excuse, but I just couldn't tell her what I really needed: the bracelet.

In between visitors on Thursday I searched. I opened drawers, emptied pockets, ran my hands along the top of shelves. I feared the bracelet wouldn't be at home. I feared Avery would have had that bracelet on the day of her death and it would now be gone forever.

The police had returned my daughter's school backpack and I obsessively rummaged through its contents: a math book, a sweatshirt, a folder with odds and ends. I emptied everything, shook the bag, put everything back in. Did it all again. I remember leaning back against the wall on Friday night, trying to stifle a sob. It was just a bracelet. It wasn't who she was. I was trying to quiet my emotional side with logic. It wasn't working. My biggest fear was that she had tossed the bracelet into her gymnastics bag. The gymnastics bag that couldn't be returned due to the damage it received.

Lord, I know it sounds silly, but I just want her bracelet. Please, let me find her bracelet. 

I took a deep breath and slipped my hand once again into the empty front pocket. Only this time my fingers touched her bracelet. I laughed and cried, so many tears I couldn't fasten it around my wrist. Thank you! Thank you!

I wore that bracelet the next morning and into most of the afternoon. I loved the way the charms clinked against each other; it was like Avery was with me. I swore I would never take it off! Thirty seconds later, Jadrian noticed the bracelet and asked if she could wear it. I smiled, took off the bracelet and put it around her wrist.

It would be just one of a thousand times where I would have to choose between Grieving for the Loss of My Child and Supporting My Daughter Grieve Over the Loss of Her Sister. It's just a bracelet. It wasn't who she was.

Twenty minutes later she came to me in tears. Frantic and wild, not making sense. It took me forever to understand that a couple charms had fallen off the bracelet. She was absolutely inconsolable.

I did what any mother would do: I promised her it would all be okay while offering up angry words to God. Really? The bracelet had to break?! Don't you see what I'm dealing with here? I am not that strong! I do not know what I'm doing! I can't do this! I am barely functioning on the most basic level and now I have to figure out how to fix this damn bracelet?!

I was raging on the inside. Mad at myself. If I hadn't let Jadrian wear the bracelet she wouldn't be freaking out. If I hadn't worn the bracelet in the first place Jadrian wouldn't have even seen it. It was all my fault just like the accident was all my fault.

The truth was, I had asked off early from work that Wednesday for the purpose of driving Avery to gymnastics. It should have been me driving, not Jadrian. Avery had just moved up a level and her class day changed. I knew as her mom I should be there to watch her. I wanted to watch her because it was a 2-hour class and I could have some "me time" disguised as "look at what a great Mom I am time." I had every intention of picking Avery up... but I never told Jadrian that. When Jadrian sent me the text to confirm that Avery's class was from 4 to 6 that day my initial thought was but I was going to bring her... and that quickly changed to but if Jadrian takes her I won't have to take off work and I can save my vacation time; 80 hours rolls over, you know.

I sat at my desk when I should have been protecting the future and hearts of three innocent girls. Their lives are forever changed because I wanted to save my vacation time.

I felt so heavy. So responsible. And now the bracelet....

I called my friend, L, jewelry maker extraordinaire, and left her a long, rambling message about a broken bracelet and it's not a big deal, but if she could, would she come over and fix it, but she shouldn't feel obligated, but Jadrian wanted to wear it, but it was okay if she couldn't....

I noted it was the first time I was "alone." For the past three days countless people had descended upon my home, surrounding me, supporting me, passing me tissues, and suddenly here I was, alone in my kitchen. Alone except for Jadrian who was taking a shower.

15 minutes later L was at my house, jewelry pliers in hand, two kids and some lady I never met before in tow. I welcomed them in. Pointed out the broken bracelet. Talked incoherently about whatever game to mind. I must admit, I wasn't a good hostess. I never thought to ask the other lady's name... in fact, it never occurred to me that it was impolite to not even acknowledge who she was. I was in my own world: one foot in front of the other, clean up the mess of the house, remember to find nylons for tomorrow's visitation. 

I moved around the house, placing dishes in the sink, setting papers on the dining room table, fretting about what words I would speak at Avery's funeral. I hung something up in the sun room. Went back to the kitchen...

... and all the while there was this little girl...

How old was she? Seven? Eight? The shyest smile. The purest eyes. She had offered me a timid hug when she arrived. I tried to talk to her, let her know it was okay to talk to me; it had to be awkward for kids this young... Avery knew this little girl. Played with her even though she was several years older than this child. I remember they played "Conjoined Twins." Wrapped ace bandages around their waist and legs; it was a favorite game of Avery's.

Now, here stood this young girl in front of me, eyes searching all over my stomach - back and forth, back and forth, before stopping to an invisible spot just to the left of my body. She smiled shyly. Walked over to my side and offered a whisper of a hug. I put my arm around her and she looked up, almost surprised to see me standing there. I smiled down at her. 

Over and over this happened. I'd walk into the next room and she'd follow me, find her way in front of me again and commence searching my stomach with her eyes. Sure enough, she'd stop at a spot just to the left of my body and offer up that smile; almost like a child playing peek-a-boo in church, quiet and respectful, yet full of silly recognition. She'd take a few steps towards me and offer that whisper of a hug again; as if she were trying to hug the air beside me.

After the sixth or seventh time I was starting to get a little uncomfortable. She wasn't looking at me or trying to talk to me, yet she wasn't leaving my side, either. I chalked it up to being too young to know how to handle the topic of someone dying.

Eventually the bracelet was fixed and we found ourselves in the sun room saying my thank you's and good bye's. The little girl stared at me then started whispering to L. "What do you see?" L gently asked.

The little girl looked at me, tilted her head from left to right, then raised her arm, and pointed at my stomach. "I see lines like this ---" she moved her hand from right to left, invisibly cutting my body in half across my torso. Then she pointed to a spot just to my left side of my body, tilted her head to the right and smiled the sweetest smile I'd ever seen. "And I see the light, blue and purple, right there." She smiled at that spot with the kind of smile reserved for friends.

Awkwardly I stood there. "Uhh... I have no idea what that means," I joked.

L looked up at me, then down at her daughter. "She's telling you that she sees Avery's spirit with you. Avery is very happy."

Say what you will, but I am now nothing less than a 100% believer. In my heart of hearts I know that this little girl has a gift I cannot explain. A gift that brought this Mama some comfort. That calmed my heart and soothed my weeping soul.  

And in my heart of hearts I knew that God used the bracelet to give me that gift. The bracelet I searched for, the bracelet I wore, that Jadrian saw, that Jadrian asked for, that the charms fell off...  

Thank you, God, for the broken bracelet...
Avery's beautiful bracelet was made with much love by: 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

AVERYday: Thanksgiving 2012

Today is Thanksgiving. I suppose I should note some internal negative emotional significance in that this is the first Thanksgiving without my 11-year old daughter. My 11-year old daughter who will forever be just 11-years old. Except that, I'm not feeling bad. Not in this moment, anyway.

In this moment, I feel so incredibly thankful! 

When I think back on the past 4 weeks, my heart swells. 

I am thankful for LH. The angel who was the first to come across the accident scene. Who got out of her car and held out her arms to a child screaming, terrified, covered in blood. Who took my 17-year old daughter's face in her hands, looked straight into her eyes and said, "We are going to pray right now." Thank you, for turning first to God.

I am thankful for the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater football players who ran to the car to try to get to C and Avery. Hearts pounding, facing fear head on, to do whatever they could. Thank you for having that courage. And thank you for returning to school and praying as a team. God heard your prayers.

I am thankful for the police and rescue personnel who responded to the scene of the accident. I have said it a million times: I do not know how you do your jobs, but I thank God that you do.

I am thankful to the kind and respectful way the Walworth County Sheriff's Department notified this Mama of her baby's death. Thank you for hearing the words I spoke. Thank you for answering my questions. Thank you for your tenderness. 

I am so very, very, VERY thankful to my friend Kim. My ROCK. I am so blessed that you answered the phone, dropped everything to run to me, and held me when I broke. I am so very, very thankful for your strength, for your hugs, for your ironing skills. I am so thankful that when I came out of that hospital room, with no strength left to stand, there you were... with Jocelyn and Ginger. My dear, dear friends. A fortress of strength. 

I am thankful to the Delavan Christian School. The outpouring of love and support has been amazing and awe inspiring. We are a small school filled with big hearts and huge faith. 

I am thankful to Monroe Funeral Home. It helps to have a kind soul lead the way. From the moment I walked in I felt that I was sitting at the table with an older brother, intent on leading the way, protecting my heart, and making sure only the best was done for Avery.

I am thankful for the people who descended upon my home and cleaned it, washed dishes, scrubbed toilets, dusted the fake ficus tree, all while I sat crying, unable to comprehend what was happening to me and my family. I am thankful for the loads of toilet paper and basket of boxes of tissues dropped off. I am thankful for the coffee that appeared and the sandwiches and the sodas and the gluten free food (because otherwise I wouldn't have eaten). So many people did so many things; things I wouldn't have thought of but were absolutely needed at the right moment. Maybe they might have felt awkward or unsure, but they did it anyway... and it was perfect. It was always perfect.

I am thankful to Pastor Dan... whose words perfectly described the amazing moment when God reached out his hand to Avery, and Avery took hold.

I am thankful for all the moments when Avery's spirit shined before my eyes!! Oh, how each one of those moments warmed my soul!

I am thankful for every phone call, text, email message... for every person who has stopped me in the bank, or grocery store, or at the gas station to tell me how hearing Avery's story has touched their lives in immeasurable ways. Who tell me they went back to church, or they prayed for the first time in years, or decided to strengthen their relationship with God. I need to hear these stories. They help me believe there is a reason bigger than my broken heart for my sweet daughter's death.

I am thankful for the opportunity to hold my 17-year old to cuddle with my 3-year old. I am thankful for the photos I have taken over the years that captured all the smiles and laughs, the basketball and gymnastics and birthdays and trips to Shopko and ice cream cones eaten.

And I am thankful, beyond words that could ever measure, that Avery's heart was right with the Lord.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

AVERYday: Dreaming My Dreams - Part 8

Photo Credit: Emily Brewster

I was afraid of sleeping, or rather, not sleeping, after that first night. And so I did what made sense to me and that was to find something that would help put me to sleep. I was successful and found amazing assistance in the form of a little, round pill. I could sleep. And there were no nightmares. But there were no dreams either.

After two weeks I thought maybe I'd better try sleeping on my own, lest I become a sleeping pill addict... and also because I wanted to dream. I selfishly wanted her to visit me in my dreams. I had heard stories about this: dreams so vivid it was like their lost loved one was really there. I fixated on what Avery would tell me; what words of wisdom she would impart to her grieving mother.

Except she hasn't been in my dreams yet. 

I think about her constantly. She interrupts my thoughts. I can't focus on what people are saying to me because suddenly a thought will slip in: I'll never know how tall Avery would have grown, I'll think. She'll never be in a wedding; she just always wanted to be in a wedding. Or, I should flip through every book on the bookcases because maybe she left a note in one of them.

Today I broke down multiple times. I had gone to a store called Hobby Lobby. She would have loved it, I sobbed. In each aisle I saw something she would have wanted; decorative crosses and faith filled wall art. I picked myself up and went next door to Dollar Tree for a couple odds and ends. I cried when I saw the super-cheap Nativity scene. She always set the Nativity scene up at Christmas and she won't be doing that this year. Or ever, ever again. I picked myself up and went across the street to Target. And I bawled when I got to the Christmas aisle. Each year, Santa "labeled" his gifts to the kids with an ornament that had their initials on it. Santa won't have to buy an "A."

I picked myself up and drove slowly home, my heart weeping.

I then did what I have found myself doing since October 24th. Staying up as late as my body will allow me even though I'm so tired I could cry. Because I am scared of falling asleep. I'm scared of not falling asleep. I'm scared of not knowing what will happen when I sleep. Or what won't happen. And so I wait until my body can't take another second and fall, utterly and completely spent, into bed.

When Avery was just six weeks old I started dating Jason. We dated for a couple years and he was the only person who could get Avery to calm down and fall asleep. He would sing Dreaming My Dreams by the Cranberries. I had forgotten that. 

I am so glad I remembered.

Tonight I'll be dreaming my dreams with Avery... or I'll be waiting...

Monday, November 19, 2012

AVERYday: Revelations - Part 7

I have always believed in God. I grew up going to church because that's what we did on Sundays. The best part about Sundays was going to my grandparent's house after church to eat. The grown-ups would talk over coffee and the cousins would all play together, secretly hoping the adults would forget they had kids and we could stay forever.

I grew up. Went to college for a bit, joined the military. Maybe went to church twice in four years. I had children. Tried to go to church. Tried to take them to Sunday School. It was hard. They didn't want to go. I wanted to sleep in. Sometimes I was really good about going... but then I'd get lazy again. I always believed in God, but I certainly wasn't what you'd call an Ideal Representative of the Christian Faith. I had kids out of wedlock, cussed like a sailor, had my priorities messed up. I failed more times than I could count. I'd try to do the right thing, but I always seemed to be making wrong decisions. I usually turned to God when things were messed up and I needed help. More often than I care to admit I'd forget about Him when things were going good. Needless to say, Avery didn't get her faith from me. 

Avery just loved God. Absolutely. With all her heart and without question. He was her Father, her Best Friend, her Everything. He was who she chatted with about school and family; good, bad or indifferent, she talked with Him; shared herself with Him. She talked to Him like He was sitting next to her at all times. And she listened to Him; really listened.

Less than two weeks before the accident I caught her reading way past her bedtime. 

"Aves, you need to go to sleep - you have school tomorrow."

"I can't sleep, Mom."

"Well you sure can't sleep if you're sitting there reading with the lights on. What are you reading, anyway?"

She held up her bible. "Revelations."

"Revelations?!" I spat. "That'll give you nightmares!" Now, I've never actually read Revelations, but I knew enough to know that's the end of the bible. The scary part. The one that talks about beasts and horsemen and the end of the world. Nothing good can come from a story about the end of the world.

Avery rolled her eyes at me and scoffed. "No, Mom, it's not like that. When the world we live in gets all confusing and we don't understand it, you can just read Revelations and it tells you all about heaven and you can be comforted by that." 

I just stared at her. So many times in her life I did not understand what she was saying to me. I always knew there was something so special about her, so different, yet I brushed it off like I always did because I didn't understand it. "Just don't stay up too late, got it? You'll be too tired for school." I shut her door and walked down the hall. How does she know this stuff?

There is a ribbon in her bible marking a page in Revelations. I have desperately searched those passages for something, anything, that will bring me comfort like it brought her; I cannot find it. The words scare me and frighten me. I do not see what she saw. I am not comforted by what she read. And yet, it was the words she spoke to me that night that bring me comfort... her words were spoken to prepare my heart for her departure from our earthly lives. When the world we live in gets confusing, turn to God's Word; there you will find comfort. I do not doubt for a second that God was preparing me that night.

I just wish I would have said something different. "Tell me more," I would have said, peeling back her covers and sliding into bed next to her, lacing her long, slender fingers inbetween mine. "Please, tell me more, and I will stay here all night and listen."