Thursday, March 7, 2013

How to Help Kim and Other Grieving Mothers

Yesterday the world lost the most precious 14-month old little boy. I didn't know him. I didn't really even know his mother except as an occasional passing in the halls at school and as a picture in our yearbook. Years pass and, although we live in the same small community, we're only in touch through the shared stories of others. But I know the feeling of a mother's heart imploding.

My heart was so heavy last night. Not another baby. I was angry. Didn't Avery take one for the team? Wasn't that enough? Why?

I thought about this Mom - a mom now without. She is going to have to be strong. So incredibly, unbelievably, strong. She is going to need help. Our help.

But how?

1.) Shut up.
Seriously. Keep your opinions and your comments and your judgements to yourself. She doesn't want to hear them. You weren't there. I wasn't there. Just like I didn't want to hear your opinions about young drivers and cars without side air bags. I can beat myself up enough without you helping. She is beating herself up in ways that none of us can imagine right now. She doesn't need to hear about dogs. This isn't about dogs. Whether dogs are good or bad. Whether kids should be allowed around dogs or not. What breed of dogs are good or bad. Don't you get it? She doesn't want to hear about the dogs. She doesn't want to think about the dogs. She just wants her arms to hold her child.

Also: you don't know. Even if you think you do; you don't. I've lost a child and even I don't know. So do not say that you do.

Let me say it again because it is that important: you do not know.

2.) Just listen.
Seriously. You don't have to say anything. Just listen. If she wants to talk about her son, listen. If she wants to yell and rail and be angry, listen. If she wants to sob in your arms, just wrap your arms around her tightly, and listen. You do not need to fill the air with words. Some of the greatest people who helped me simply held my hand and looked at me with tears in their eyes. I knew they cared deeply. I knew they didn't know what to say. I also knew they were filled with an incredible amount of love and hurt and compassion.

3.) Feed Her.
She won't want to eat. But someone, please make her take a bite now and then. And have her drink water. A swallow here, a swallow there. Her broken heart doesn't care about food. Care enough for her. Also, she won't starve if she doesn't have a full complete meal, so quit harping on it.

You'll want to bring food - because that's what we do. We feed grief. Bring it in containers that don't need to be returned. Don't make her try to remember which pan goes with which person. I had someone bring me a casserole in a brand new glass pan and told me to keep it. I don't know what it is about that pan that just smiles at me with so much love... but it does. Another helpful hint is to make a full meal but package it up for freezing purposes. I got a lasagna that was brought over in individual bagged slices. All I had to do was pull one out of the freezer, put in on a plate and warm it up. That was so helpful.

4.) Enough With the Food.
Too much food goes to waste. Here's some other ideas: paper plates, cups, silverware, napkins. (She isn't going to want to do dishes.) Clean her house. (I had someone come and dust my fake ficus tree. I didn't notice until much later how sparkling clean my house was. She isn't going to want to vacuum or wash mirrors.) Toilet paper, saline solution, hand soap... all those things she isn't going to want to go to the store for. And right now, emotionally, she doesn't need to go to the store for more toilet paper.

4.) Pictures.
When something horrific happens to your child the mind seems to get stuck on images that you cannot erase. The images that Jadrian has from when she got back into the car and held her sister have haunted her. Traumatized her. They threaten to take over who Avery truly was. We put pictures up. On the counter, table, end table, on top of the TV --- even in the car. Smiling from every direction. One of the counselors suggested we carry a favorite picture of Avery around with us in a pocket, so that no matter where we are when the awful images start we can pull out the truth and focus on true beauty.

If you have a picture of Kim's little boy - give it to her. It doesn't matter if he's in the background, it's just the side of his face, or a foot. It's him. One of my favorite photos someone gave me was a picture of Avery from a birthday party a couple years back. She's in the far corner with her head turned. But it's the only picture I have where I can see her neck. Oh, that beautiful neck.

5.) Mail.
I kind of struggle with this one. In the beginning the mail was so much. I didn't know how to focus on the words written inside (and the words don't have to be anything amazing - just "I am praying for you." It helps a heart heal bit by bit.) and by the time my mental faculties returned the mail dwindled down to a trickle. Now, four months later, we just have bills. So I suggest this one for the long term as well as the immediate.

Share a memory of her son --- even if you don't think it is one. "I remember seeing you at the grocery store with him in the cart; he was smiling and so precious." It's a way of telling this Mama that you saw him. He was here. And he will always be here, living on in the memories of others.

6.) Gift.
There will be bills. So many bills. Ambulance, hospital, flight for life, emergency response, funeral expenses that no one ever wants to think about, especially when we're talking about a child who should still be in his mother's arms. (And funerals are really, really expensive.) There will be insurance nightmares and fees for things that hurt a broken heart even more. (Side note suggestion: when the time comes, bring a large envelope to put the death certificates in when you pick them up. That one about brought me to my knees.)

This Mama will be looking at a bed her son will never again sleep in. She will be remembering his tiny hand wrapped around a toy truck and the way he looked when he first woke up from a nap. She doesn't need to be worrying about bills. In fact, she'll probably forget to pay the ones that were due this week because her mind isn't focused on electricity or car payments. If you are able, ten or twenty dollars adds up.

7.) Avoid.
Avoid the details. Avoid the graphic descriptions. Avoid pictures of the accident scene. I had a fabulous group of supporters that made sure I didn't see any pictures of the car my daughter died in. I never saw a newspaper article (or the comments following). No one spoke about seeing anything. If they saw it, they kept it to themselves. For some reason our society is keen on that... needing to know the details. The shattered Mama's heart just wants to savor the details of their child, his touch, his voice, his smile, the way she could breathe him in under the assumption she would be able to breathe him in until she turned old and gray.... don't bring any unnecessary details or descriptions to her. Those are conversations we know you're having, but have them in private, away from the ears of the grieving mother.

Mostly, the best thing to do is pray. Pray with all your might.

A memorial account has been established at ASSOCIATED BANK. You can walk into any Associated Bank and ask to donate to the DAXTON BORCHARDT MEMORIAL FUND.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

AVERYday: Remember and Keep - Part 26

I can't explain it except to say, I wish time would stop. I wish I could go back to those moments of just finding out. I know that sounds strange - why would I dare want to revisit the most horrific time in my personal history? But, well, there's something so absolutely sacred about that time. It's like that moment you give birth, and finally hold that previously imagined baby in your arms for the first time; the emotion that floods you - it's sacred. Over time that fades. Sure, you say you remember how filled with love you were; but can you actually still feel it?

When you get that knock on the door, or that phone call, or however the awful news is delivered, that emotion - although sprinkled in disbelief and wrapped in sorrow and pain - the emotion at the center of it all is love. Nothing but love. Sacred love. And I don't want that feeling to fade. Ever.

Time goes on. Clocks keep ticking. Calendar pages get flipped. But still, my heart aches.

I try to keep my head centered but I lose my breath when I pass the girls section at the store, or when I see a bunch of girls in their gymnastics leotards, or when I think about how she would love to go bowling, or ice skating or out to dinner, to the movies, horseback riding, and why didn't I take to the Renaissance Faire or Great America, and why can't she read a book, ride her bike, try out for the school play, practice piano or learn the trombone? And why can't I hear her laugh? I just want to hear her laughing.

And then I lose it. Again. Hands gripped tight the steering wheel, tears staining my face because the only time and place I have is the seven minutes in my car between work and home; because inside that car I don't have to be strong for anyone. I can be weak for my grief for my beautiful, now gone daughter.

Because I cannot sob at work because it scares the customers and there are phones to answer politely and papers that need to be filed and questions to be answered cheerfully.

Because I cannot sob at home, always detected by the 3-year old who looks at me with puppy-dog eyes and asks, "are you crying because you miss Avery so, so much?" "Yes, buddy. I miss Avery so much." "But you're so happy because you still have me here with you?" "Yes, buddy. I am SO HAPPY that I still have you here with me!" And I wipe the tears on the back of my sleeve and smile and hug reassured.

And you would think with my insurance it'd be easy to see a counselor but I've been only four times in four months and that's just not enough.

And it's been four months. Four months without.

Four.

The 4th commandment is "Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy." Remember.... and keep.

Remember. Do not forget.

Remember what God has done for you. Created this amazing beautiful world, formed the fishes and the sloths and the armadillos and the hues of tulips that never end. Remember the gifts, so many gifts, He gives us each and every day: gently fallen snow, the sun peeking over the ridge, the smell of fresh cut lawns and lemongrass.

Remember her eyes and her smile and the way she laughed out loud which was the best laugh in the world. Remember how gentle she was with her little brother and the way she carried him, half slipping through her arms even though he could walk, down the hall to get him ready for bed. Remember her plans and her faith and the way she stood up against someone hurting or demeaning another.

Do not forget.

And keep it.

'Remember the Sabbath,' He told us. 'It is holy. I have put you in charge; it is in your custody. Keep it holy. Protect it.'

Protect her. Keep her. For her memory and her love are in you. She is in your custody.

I have a responsibility as a Christian to remember all that God has given me. I have a responsibility as a Mother to remember all that she has given me, too.

I have a responsibility as a Christian to keep all that God has given me holy. Observe it. Protect it. Do it. Open my hands and take it; fall to my knees and give thanks; drink in His blessings and celebrate His joy-gifts! And I have a responsibility to keep all that Avery has given me. To celebrate her, to drink in her memory, to do something that will honor her. To fall to my knees and thank God for the time I had with her.


I have a friend at Bible Study who is an AFS Parent. This means she opened her home and her heart to care for a student from another country, so they could come to the United States and be immersed in our culture, learn our ways, experience our part of the world. I can honestly say that my friend and her family accept this student as their own. She has become part of their family, and my friend loves her as much as a mother could love a daughter... She took this borrowed-child into her heart and her home even though she knew full well it will end in heartbreak. She knew that her heart would swell, overflowing with love and happiness and laughter and then it would break completely. She took this on even though she knew that in one year's time she would have to send her borrowed-child back to a home where she herself has never been.

I feel like that. That maybe I was just the borrowed-parent. That Avery was borrowed to me for but a short time; that all of my children are on loan; that my role is to welcome them and love them and usher them into my heart and my home and that my heart will overflow with learning who they are, and laughing at their wit, and being so proud when they try something new --- but that I must also be prepared to send them back home. To live where they came from. Even though I've never been there.

God looked at His daughter, Avery, and chose the Host Family for her that He thought would learn the most from her. He chose this overwhelming love, and overwhelming heartbreak, for us.

That, just as my friend must parent, speak to, lead, this borrowed-child always thinking in the back of her head am I honoring her true parents? I, too, must remember that as I go about my days with Jadrian and Brody. Am I honoring their true Father?

I would never say to another person's child, "what is wrong with you? How could you do something so stupid?" And yet, I have said these same awful words to my oldest in anger about something unimportant; something that didn't matter, something I don't even remember - school or grades or friends. I thought she should know better. I thought she should have done different. I was angry, exasperated, frustrated, annoyed, tired, spent. But that is no excuse. There is nothing that can excuse that.

Could you imagine sitting across from God trying to explain why you chose the words you did? Why you chose the reaction you made? As He sat across from you with His child on His lap. Could you do anything but weep and beg for forgiveness?

I read the newspaper. Watch the news. I see post after post from my sister encouraging people to open their homes to foster children. All these mistreated children... God's children. We sit by and watch as another of His children are harmed. Emotionally, physically. Switch the channel. Turn the page. Pretend it isn't me causing the damage. Pretend I didn't notice the tears.

Did God want His child back because He was afraid she would be damaged in my care?

Or did she do such an amazing job teaching us about the unashamed faith of a child that God needed her to do bigger and better things from her real home?

Remember.

And keep.