Friday, May 30, 2014

Day 16: Ruthie's Flowers

 So, I've been doing this 100 Happy Days challenge, which - let's be honest, I've become a pro at searching out the good. I have to. Without it, well, I'd end up in that deep pit of soul-sucking darkness with no hope of ever getting out.

Anyway, the challenge is simple. Find something that makes you happy, snap a picture, share it using the tag #100happydays. You can sift through the happy images of others or even create a photo book at the end of the challenge. Go to 100 Happy Days to find out more.

I really want to tell you about Day 16:

Ruthie's Flowers Blooming Bright ♥
#day16 #100happydays

Shortly before Avery passed away, my dear friend Ginger's sweet, sweet mother, Ruthie, passed away. It was awful and hard and heartbreaking. Ginger is quiet. She keeps things inside. She's intensely private both in her incredible strength and in her understandable anguish. Like polar opposites, Ginger grieves alone in the dark of her room; I'm wailing loudly in the middle of the street under the noonday sun.

When Avery died, it was so hard for Ginger. Her own grief so new and raw, had not even begun to heal -- and yet she felt called to help hold me up. She has been the behind-the-scenes get things done with AVERYday Ministries. Honestly, that wouldn't have happened without Ginger. She deals with my inability to make a decision or complete a task with grace and patience when a whole lot of people would have given up by now.

And she listens. She listens with a heart full of nothing but pure love.

You know how after someone dies everyone brings flowers? My whole house was filled to the rafters with blossoms and perfumes.... and then I had to sit by and watch them all slowly wither and die. That alone about broke me.

And so, on my first Mother's Day without my daughter, my sweet friends Ginger, Kim, Jocelyn and Kristy showed up with shovels and flowers and started planted: flowers of purple and orange. Avery's colors.

It was so precious and so beautiful! I didn't think it could get any better!!

But then Ginger quietly pulled out some plantings and transferred them into the earth by the front porch of my house. In a soft voice she explained, "these are Ruthie's flowers. They're from her garden."

That, alone, dear readers, is an incredible selfless act of love.

And when I saw Ruthie's flowers begin to bloom, with the deepest, richest purple I had ever seen - it was like I could picture Ruthie and Avery, standing hand in hand, looking down at the flowers, commenting how beautiful they are... how beautiful life still is.

Because it is, you know. Even through all the struggles and all the pain, life is still beautiful. If only you choose to see it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

When Your Worst Nightmare Comes True

Jadrian got in a car accident.
She's fine, physically. Well, aside from a fractured skull. Not skull. Forehead? That area above her right eyebrow where she hit the window. (You can't tell without having seen the hospital scans.)
She wasn't driving.
She was sitting. Talking. Looking off to the side. Not even conscious that she was simply trusting that they'd make it through the intersection without an issue.
Except that someone ran a red light and before she knew what was happening she felt the car she was riding in swerve, get hit and spin them around through the intersection.
And she lost it.
She panicked. Screamed. Yelled. Cussed.
And the driver boyfriend tried to tell her he was okay. His leg was stuck, hurt, but he was okay. And he tried to calm her down, but he couldn't.
A witness ran to her door, confused at her deafening screams. Manic. Absolutely manic.
She told me that they took them both in the same ambulance on stretchers. That her boyfriend reached out his hand to take hers. Telling her that he was okay, that she was okay, that they were okay, that they would be okay.
And she calmed down a bit, she said.
But then, at the hospital, they put them in separate rooms. "I saw him, Mom. He was talking and telling me he was fine and he looked fine - but I couldn't stop screaming. I thought they would come in and tell me that he didn't make it. I was waiting for them to tell me that he didn't make it."
They gave her three doses of medication to calm her down.

After "The Accident," Jadrian swore she would never drive again. That wasn't feasible, of course. She was 18 years old living in the country. To get anywhere she would need to drive. But we didn't push her - because pushing wouldn't help. She was a bundle of nerves twisted tight, trying her best to put on a strong face.

Once, we all got to the car to go some place and she freaked out because she would have had to sit in Avery's seat. We didn't realize it right away; but once we looked through the panic we saw what it was. So, no, we didn't push her.

Her fear, of course, was another accident. I'm not going to lie: it was mine, too.

I was afraid that something would happen and she'd get "trigger happy." I don't know how else to explain it other than, I was afraid something would happen to scare her into thinking the same accident was happening again and it would end badly.

I was afraid because I knew what I was doing when I would drive: I would find myself watching those utility poles. One after the other. Judging if they were too close to the side of the road, my mind flashing forward to an imagined car slamming into the pole, wondering what would have happened if they had hit that pole instead. Or that one. Or that one.

I felt like every curve was taken too fast, every ditch line was too close, every stop was too last minute. (I still feel like that.) And I wasn't even in the accident.

If my fears and anxieties were this heightened, what on earth was coursing through her veins?

We finally started to get her back..... and then this happened. A year and a half later, this happened.

Lord, please let me know what to say. You allowed this to happen again, help me say the right thing.
I prayed as I listened. I prayed as she described how out of control she felt. I prayed as she told me she doesn't understand how she could be in a second accident less than two years after the first. I prayed as she described her panic and fear of death even after learning that the only injury her precious driver received was a fracture in his leg.
Then she told me how much it hurt her to see how guilty her boyfriend felt. How, although he was not speeding, was not texting, was not goofing around, was not drinking - he still felt solely responsible simply because he had been the one driving her. It had been a beautiful evening, around 6:00 pm (yes, the same timeframe as the other accident), and he had simply been driving through an intersection. "He didn't do anything wrong," she said. "It was just an accident. It wasn't his fault! And I hate seeing him beat himself up."

There it was. At least to me: The Reason.

Sweet baby girl, don't you see it? Don't you recognize the guilt you carry and the responsibility you wrap around your soul that has no right to be there? It's not yours, let it go! Stop beating yourself up and start loving who you are. Recognize that there is more to you to label yourself with than the current labels you choose. You are good and smart and kind and precious and loveable and worthy of more goodness than you can imagine! Be who you were meant to be - not who you have sentenced yourself to be.
We talked about that. What it looks like as she watches the young man she cares so much about beat himself up and take all the blame, which just doesn't make any sense since the blame is not his to bear. About how him feeling guilty makes her feel awful and him feel worse and how it's just a vicious circle that doesn't seem to end so I asked her: Do you understand how guilt can eat a person up? Do you now see how we cannot stand to see you carry around that guilt, too?

 She's going to be okay.
Because I know that sometimes, when you're worst nightmare comes true, somehow you make it through to the other side.
I do not pretend it will be easy. There will be nightmares to overcome, flashbacks to step through, triggers to gain control over. She'll have to reign in her fears and get her anxieties in check and she's going to be okay.
But it wouldn't hurt if you helped pray her through this one, too.
Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3:13-14

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Who Better Equipped?

There's a down side to losing your child. Besides the obvious, obviously. But that's losing people you thought would be in your corner, holding you up. Or at least holding up a box of Kleenex while you tear through them.

See, we get sucked into this idea that we know who has our back. And this really goes for any tragedy: child dying, spouse dying, debilitating illness diagnosis, divorce, job loss, losing every single piece of who you are and where you came from in a house fire. We think, naively, before the bad things actually happen, that we could write a list of who loves us the most and who would always be there for us through thick and thin and that list would actually be truth.

But it isn't.

Because sometimes it just isn't.

And I've read over and over people filled with anger because they thought their mom or their cousin or their aunt or their brother, their best friend or whoever else was on their list, would've, could've, should've but didn't and it's like salt being poured on an open wound. How could they dare desert you like that?

And, here's where I burst your bubble because this is exactly where I had to burst mine:
It doesn't matter who you've named on your list,
some people are not equipped to support others through grief.

And, ladies and gentlemen, that's okay.

Because if you walked up to me right now and said you desperately needed me to change the tire on your car because your baby's sick and needs to get to the doctor and then you needed to use that car to pick up your great aunt Edna who's been sitting at the airport for eleven hours waiting on you, I couldn't do it. No matter how much I would want to be your Knight in Shining Armor, the truth is I am not equipped to handle changing that tire. But I can step aside and let my friend Korey do it because he's really the one you need right now.

And if you walked up to me begging to make you a dinner in less than thirty minutes for your boss who is going to decide whether or not you should get an 80% pay raise and a corner office with a view of the skyline - I couldn't help you. I'd want to. But I wouldn't know how. I'd freeze. Go numb. Struggle to remember how to heat up a hot dog in a microwave because the only thought coursing through my mind would be what the hell do I know about this? But hopefully I'd snap out of it quick enough to realize I'm in the way and the best thing for me to do is step aside so Maria or Sue, two of the best cooks I know, could step in and whip you up a dinner you would be proud of and your boss would talk about for months afterwards.

And if my daughter came to me saying Mommy, I need you to teach me this calculus! The big test is tomorrow and I won't pass without learning this! I need you, Mommy! I need you! I'd be forced to look her straight in the eyes and confess I can't help you. I just can't do this. Because the truth is my mind is not designed to understand whatever calculus even is. Readers, I took consumer math as a senior and barely made it through. I still struggle balancing my checkbook. My daughter is my world to me, but that doesn't mean I can do the math. As much as I would want to help her - I couldn't. I simply could not. But Tom could. He's the one she would need.

See, some people have that natural design to understand number calculations, or how certain foods mixed with certain spices is going to taste incredible, or the way mechanical things work just like some people are going to have that natural design to understand what to do when they see someone hurting a hurt so big and deep you could get lost in it.

And don't give me this but if they really loved me they would know what I needed.


Sweet thing. Sweet, sweet hurting child - we don't even know what we need.

It isn't about how much they love. They can love you more than words could ever explain... but that love for you doesn't mean they are equipped for you. Let them step aside. Let them make room for the ones who know how to hold up aching arms, how to dry unending tears.

Because let me tell you what will happen if you try to force the ill-equipped people on your list to try to hold you up: you'll have a flat tire, a burnt dinner and you won't be able to make sense of a thing.

And if you stop being so angry about who isn't helping you and open your eyes to the ones who want to.... you might just open your door to woman you hadn't spoken to in years, holding a tray of sandwiches because somehow, without you even realizing it, she knew that was exactly the thing you would be needing.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Waiting on Time

This life seems to revolve around countdowns.

A week until my first day of kindergarten. Six weeks until I turn ten. Four months until I turn sixteen. Two days until I am a legal adult. Fifteen days until I leave for boot camp. Two minutes until I find out whether or not I'm pregnant.

Six months until my due date. Three months. Two.

And then I start counting down with my family.

An hour until the guests arrive. Ten minutes until we sing Happy Birthday. Forty five minutes until we open the gifts. A year until we do it all over again.

We countdown to events, tasks, goals, dreams, plans. We countdown to milestones like graduations and Sweet Sixteen's, proms and engagements, weddings and pregnancies. We countdown how many years until the mortgage is paid off and how many winters we can eek out the old furnace. We countdown how many days until we leave on vacation, how many years until we retire and how much money we need saved to finally buy that condo three blocks from the shore.

Counting down is not bad. It provides incentive, gives us something to look forward to. It helps us make priorities and work towards goals. It helps us feel as if we're doing something right. Purposeful. That, if nothing else, we're at least headed in the right direction.

But what happens when the one you're counting down with no longer exists? What happens when the answer to how many more? is going to always be not applicable?

How many days until Avery's very first band concert playing the trombone? Not applicable.

How many months until Avery competes in her very first gymnastics competition? Not applicable.

How many weeks until her braces are removed? Until she can walk the two blocks to Tori's house on her own? Until she can stay home and watch her baby brother while I run to the grocery store? Not applicable.

How many years until she gets asked to Homecoming? Or prom? Runs in her first 5K? Or finally gets to ride on an airplane and see the ocean? Not applicable.

How many days left until she goes to college? Graduates? Moves into her very first grown up apartment? Gets her first job with actual benefits? Not applicable.

I can tell you, the world suddenly becomes incredibly bleak.

See, we're programmed this way. Programmed to keep track of these earthly, societal rites of passage that somehow signify how worthy we are. The more milestones successfully passed, the more successful we are and the more happy we surely must be. The more milestones our children successfully pass, surely is in direct correlation to the fact that we're an incredible parent.

But then a child a dies and we're suddenly scratched from the race. We have no reason to run. No reason to countdown the seconds until the finish line.

At least not this finish line.

Not the finish line that everyone else is clamoring for.

You see, you might not see us in the race anymore, but we actually got moved to another course. Us mothers-missing-children find ourselves suddenly dropped onto a path that has no starting line. We didn't plan for this. We didn't get to stretch first or warm up; study up on how others trained. We just find ourselves dropped in the middle of a long, lonely road, staring at the backs of those who were dropped here before us.

And our finish line? At the end of ours stand the children we long for. The ones we can no longer touch or hold. The ones whose scent grows faint as the years grow long. The ones whose voice we long to hear whispered in our ears.

Our countdown continues. Though it is not one we speak openly about. Not one we post on Facebook and brag about to friends. How many more years, months, days, hours, minutes, seconds until I see my child again? How much longer must I endure this grief? How much longer until I finally experience the immense, overwhelming joy of being reunited with my child in heaven?

If I live to be 90 years old, I will have 50 more years on this earth without my daughter. Fifty years until I see her again. Fifty. Years.

Fifty years is a long time for a child to be without her mama. Will her memory and love diminish? Will she have felt scared? Alone? Abandoned? I will remember her, but will she remember me the way I remember her? Will she know my smile, my touch, my scent? Will she remember my laughter and sense of humor? Will she remember what it felt like to crawl up into my lap, all 11-long, lean, spindly years of legs and arms wrapped around me?

"But do not forget this one thing, dear friends:
With the Lord a day is like a thousand years,
and a thousand years are like a day."
2 Peter 3:8
It is said that a thousand years on earth is like a day in heaven. That when our loved ones enter Heaven's Gate, they will be embraced by loved ones who have gone before them, meet the God they faithfully followed and cherished, look around to see the splendor and glory of heaven... and then they will turn around and we'll be there. Just like that. A blink of an eye, perhaps. Enough time to be introduced and make acquaintances. And then the ones they just left on earth will also be with them.
I imagine Avery grabbing hold of Jesus's hand, throwing her arms around her great grandparents and getting introduced to her uncles who passed before her. I imagine she will ask Uncle David a million questions about Australia and then she'll turn around and I'll be there. "Oh! Hi, Mom! We were just talking about kangaroos!"
 "A thousand years in your sight
    are like a day that has just gone by,
    or like a watch in the night."
Psalm 90:4

A thousand years on earth is like a single day in heaven.

And if I live another 50 years, then Avery and I will be reunited again in an hour and 12 minutes.

72 minutes.

Shorter than The Little Mermaid. Less time than it takes for me to leave my house and get to Chicago. Shorter even than the commencement exercises at our local high school.

Dear readers, in less than an hour and a half I'll be wrapping my arms tight around my baby girl. And, you know what? No child ever forgets their mama in an hour and a half.

A huge, heartfelt thank you to Jolene Groth's son, Ty, who calculated the most important countdown of my earthly life. I am forever grateful! May you always be blessed!

The One in which I take my Father for his Covid Vaccine

I got a voicemail the other day from the hospital saying ‘since you’re the contact on record we just want you to know your Dad can get a Cov...