It is that time again. The time that darn boulder arrives and crushes me... almost to death. The time when the live streaming of the movie starts to replay. Until this time, it can be romanticized, softened, fast forwarded, or rewound to avoid the parts I hate. But when the calendar flips to November, suddenly all of the buttons on the control freeze and I find myself lost in a sea of the most vivid, detailed memories that exist in my brain.
They say that trauma does that to a person. They say that the most traumatic events of our lives are the ones that are the most memorable. I am fascinated by that, but believe it to be true. I have very few memories from before I was five. But I remember standing in my bedroom in front of my cute, little girl mirror, crying while watching myself because my Papa had passed away. I wasn't old enough to know what it meant, but I knew what it meant all at the same time. I remember my daddy holding me and letting me look down on the casket. My first taste of death. He looked weird.... like my Papa, but strangely mannequin-like. And I didn't like the smell. I remember the smell. It didn't stink but it was unfamiliar and very off-putting. Those memories are maybe 30 seconds in length, but they are burned deeply into my brain's playback box.
Then of course my adopted kids solidified the theory for me. Having both adopted and biological children, I saw firsthand the distinct difference in the older two and how they managed childhood, verses my younger three. There was always a difference in their outlook. Why? Because they had come from unfair, unthinkable conditions for little ones. They had those traumatic memories etched in their brain in the form of deep, hurting scars. They couldn't see anything as innocent children in wonderment, because every bit of their innocence was robbed of them. They couldn't even see our love for them. They couldn't (and can't) see anything from their childhood beyond their own hurt. It distorted, confused, and ruined their ability to bond with us. In the thick of it, I was traumatized too. Now that there has been some time gaps, I recognize more clearly how it wasn't and isn't us. It was that playback they couldn't stop in their brain. I remember the pain with them. But I love them and I anguish over their hope that is lost in their early childhood traumatic events. They are still chasing those people and trying to right the wrongs so their brain can release the bad and replace it with good. And they can't hear yet, that it can never be. I didn't understand that as much early on, as I understand it now. But now? Now I understand it.....
I understand it well.....
I watched my sweet, little, 3 year old, son slowly fade into the horizon over and over again until the final day when Jesus took Him quickly and beautifully from our lives into the place of restoration and total healing. The place my heart holds to, knowing one day I will be there too.The place where finally, the videos and traumas of this life for every person who chooses, fades away forever, leaving only this bliss I cannot comprehend.
November 25th and the weeks leading up to it are forever etched in my mind. The sights, the sounds, the feelings, they are as tangible today as they were then. If I allow myself, I can close my eyes, lock out the world, and I can literally tell you what songs we last heard, the smell of the last food we tasted, the expressions I saw on people's faces, and most of all, what every single person in my family looked like, sounded like, acted like, as it all came crashing down around us. It is the most cherished, yet painful thing I have in my life. I would have imagined that the vividness of the experience would have faded, much like the smell of his clothes that I can no longer pull out and "find him" in. I would have guessed that I would remember the "big events" but not the minute details of each sound and action made around me. I would have assumed that what I felt curled up on his bed as I listened to my family gather in our home outside my room, to provide support for me, my husband, and our children, would diminish. Nothing has faded, nothing has diminished, and this season, by no choice of my own, forces it to the forefront of my experiences all over again, where it cannot be lessened or ignored.
Don't feel bad about that, though. I welcome it, strange as it sounds.
You see, I used to want the hurt to end. I wanted to feel normal again... whole again.... happy again. I wanted life "back". As time has moved forward, I realize that I would have those same feelings, as odd as it is to say out loud, if I didn't experience these feelings. This is a part of my journey, my story, my testimony, my faith. Without this, I am no longer who I am today... and I like who I am today. I am not satisfied with who I am. I want more. But I like who I am... I like what I know and the faith that I have learned is real and tangible and sustaining. Eathan's life... and death.... is a part of what God is doing with me.
People that don't understand my faith, would see God as cruel. Why? Why would a God of love allow me to hurt this way for the rest of my life on earth? How is that love at all?
I get that question. I get it and I understand when it is happening from those around us, trying to understand our journey from the outside that don't know our Father. We have had the looks and the people that almost eye-roll at our faith that are asking that question in their behaviors to us, It is almost a look of pity... like we hold to the faith as a desperate, hurting measure. Ironically, that is exactly true, but on a deeper level than they can understand. We have had some point blank ask us, "Where is your God now?" They can't believe we would still cling to the One believe failed us. Without the faith we have, we would see it the same way. And even myself, when certain things happen and this world and all the fighting and hating back and forth makes me crazy, I can't help but think, "GOD? ARE YOU THERE?"
The difference though, is the minute I cry out to God, that is it.... I am crying out TO God. I know He IS there. It isn't something that I can put into words. It is something I experienced when I was nine years old and again as a teen really wanting to solidify that He is real. I met Him... personally. Something happened that I have no words for and I MET Him. And ever since then, even when I feel like my prayers are bouncing off the walls and ceiling, somewhere deep in there, I feel Him.
I get the question, but I know the answer... especially in light of my son's death. God is all I have. If I don't cling to him, than these memories, these vivid last weeks of my son's life, are all I have left. I want more. I want more than the joy mixed with sorrow of his days. I want more with all of those I love! I want it all! I want pure joy. I crave it. I chase it. It fails me here often, but there... I want it. I want to be where God is and I want to hear those sounds and know that feeling that erases every last pain of this earth.
But until then, I am thank I remember. Why? Because it means I am living. I am doing this thing I am here to do. Imperfectly, painfully, but still filled with joy and laughter... I am living! I am watching Seth thrive as an adult. I am watching him make decisions where he considers his heart and the hearts of others. I am watching him seek God and know what God is calling on his life and chasing it. I am watching Brycelynn grow in size, while that joy that God sent us in here remains contagiously present. She gets down and within minutes... MINUTES... that child is up again! I am meeting new people and loving on people I have known forever. I am learning about the world and other views, while finding deep hope beyond the vicious anger spewed by the angry mobs. I am having deep, intellectual conversations with people I deeply respect of other races and denominations of faith so that I can learn how to love people more. I am crying over my animals that I love so much, knowing it is a gift to love God's creatures that much, even when it hurts. I am meeting new students every year and having a chance to give them a piece of me to take with them, while receiving the greatest blessing of taking pieces of them with me forever changed for knowing them. I am quietly sharing my faith with an older couple who would do anything for us, but don't seem to have a personal relationship with Jesus. I am working through frustrations and finding my way to the other side in education because I believe in our future generations. I am achieving my goal of becoming a nationally certified school and private licensed counselor, even though the program has continued to change and add more to the amount of courses and internship work that has to occur... I am doing it no matter the obstacles. I am still holding hands with the guy that stole my heart and married me at 21 years of age. I am cherishing my parents more every day, than I did the day before.
I am living. My son's death helps me live.
It is weird to say, but it is true. I would not live the way I do, were it not for what I have experienced through his life and ultimately through his death. God met me there and has carried me in a way I never knew I needed. He took Eathan home because disease had riddled his little body for 18 months and he was heroic. He changed more lives than I will ever know until heaven and God said "Well done, thy good and faithful servant" and took him to the place where he could forget it all and just experience the joy.
But he also did it for me... for my husband, our kids, our family, our friends, even strangers we have never met. He does EVERYTHING for our good... even death... because God knows the bigger picture. He knows who we would be on the alternate route. He knows who would miss knowing HIM on the alternate route. So he orchestrates a painfully beautiful canvass that covers us all.
The day Eathan died was our best day in weeks. He had been crashing and going into shock every 7 to ten hours. That day he had crashed late the night before. The nurses were led by the lord to do molds of his hands and feet for us in the middle of the night as he lay resting while stabilizing again.... the way he had stabilized for the past 7-8 weeks straight every 7-10 hours. The day he died, they were led to make molds. Beautiful.... spirit led. Not coincidence. He had arrived home when it was still dark in the wee hours of the morning, as we always brought him back home to be with us there rather than spend whatever time we had left in the hospital. We wanted time with him where it felt good. It was the Sunday after Thanksgiving. We had, for the first time, uttered the words, "he isn't going to make it long" to extended family beyond our parents on Thanksgiving day and now we were living in the moments we could. It has always been tradition to decorate our home the Sunday after Thanksgiving. This day was no different. We wanted to do it with Eathan.... one last time. He had sufferd a stroke and lost vision a couple of weeks prior, so we were intentional about the sounds and smells. I would describe every detail to him. He had a dancing Santa he loved. I plugged it in so he could hear it and I began to dance and sing around the living room where he lay on the couch. He propped on his chubby little arm and started laughing and throwing his little bleeding head back in joy. Then he said it.
"Mama... you so punny!" (Mama, you so funny)
I laughed and first and then stopped..... I hadn't told him I was dancing. I said, "Tuffy, can you see me?" He said, "You dancing, Mama! You so punny!" I hollered at Todd and the kids who were setting the tree up in a different area. We rejoiced that day. We KNEW God was healing him! He was hearing our cries! We had the best 13 hours of our lives! Yes... we made it 13 hours that day with no shock, Eathan picked out his own ornament at the store (also a tradition), he saw Christmas lights as we took him for a ride around, and he even ate french fries! He hadn't eaten anything but M& M's for weeks! He just let the tube feed him. But this day, he ATE! We were seeing a miracle.
You can imagine the shock, then, when Eathan faded fast that night and clutched his chest with his chubby little hand and said "Ouch! It hurts." Everything went into "go time" mode for me. I didn't see it as different. I just saw his faded lips, knew the bleeding was too much again, and began the process of loading him. We had a system. I ran to the kids and loved on them each one and loaded his bag that was always ready by the door. Todd carried Tuffy, loving on him, spending those moments he could with him. He called 9-1-1 to alert them I was heading out so they could block the highway for us, I jumped in the car, kissed Todd, and sped away, while Todd called in the parents to come be with the kids so he could get to us. I didn't know this night was different. Todd did. He said the moment we drove off, he broke because he knew.
Not me. I drove down our dirt hill, pulled onto the highway, pushed the petal of the Red Chevy Tahoe all the way to the floor, and began my ritual of talking to God and to Eathan, at the same time. I never knew how we made it to the hospital each time. My speeds would reach above 100 on that highway. The patrol officers always had everyone stopped and pulled over and I just drove like mad. I am not even sure I looked at the road. I just prayed, cried, and talked to Eathan. Those angels are real... they carried us.
The officers had been doing this for over two months... twice a day. The first time came when I was flying and an officer pulled in behind me clocking my speed well over 100. In order to not be shot, I pulled over. I had my hazards on, but I didn't know what he must be thinking and even in my chaos I had the sense to pull over. He was a giant, kind man that approached me in confident, fear. I could see him, guarded and ready for whatever "monster" might come at him. I had the lights on in my car always because I wanted to see my son's face so I kept my hands on the wheel and was crying. He said, "Ma'am, please step out..." and I yelled "MY SON IS DYING! OPEN THE BACK DOOR! LOOK IN THE WINDOW!" He looked and without hesitation yelled, "FOLLOW ME" and he ran back to his car and turned on his sirens and took off. He led the way for us that night. When I turned into the back parking lot of the hospital (he had headed to the ER because he didn't know our routine) he sped back behind me and wanted to help. I remember his face. His kind, helping eyes. I wanted to lean into him and cry... he was that kind of man. But there was no time. The nurses had the back door to the ICU open and the race was happening. I spouted, "Thank you sir" and saw the tears in his eyes as I grabbed my son and ran. He was behind setting up our situation. He stayed and talked to nurses. They explained the details of the events that were happening and he said that from now on we were to alert them we were in route and he would ensure the department was there to protect our drive.
They always were. All the way to the final drive to Eathan's resting place. I think every single on and off duty officer was either at the funeral or at every intersection between the church downtown and the cemetery miles and miles away.... even in the ice storm that had arrived the day before we buried him.
We arrived that night and I remember opening the back door and knowing. His body looked peaceful and there was this look on his face. This look of excitement and joy! For a fleeting moment, I knew my boy had seen Jesus. But then my flesh cried out and I screamed "NO! YOU STAY WITH ME!" and I grabbed him and ran to the door, where the nurses were waiting. I remember the hallway seemed to grow longer that night as we ran to "his" room. It was like my legs were made of rubber and my feet of cement and I was in slow motion. I saw every nurse, every tech, every respiratory therapists look of concern. I can still remember hearing the machines and that sound... that awful sound that came when the heartbeat showed zero. I remember my legs gave out and the nurse behind me holding me up as I fell. I remember looking to each precious person in the room pleading and yelling for them to "FIX HIM! IT IS YOUR JOB TO FIX HIM!" and seeing them helplessly look back at me with the love of Jesus, knowing they couldn't. I knew that. We had already discussed what would happen if we lost him and tried to resuscitate. His little body couldn't... shouldn't... be put through it. But in the moment, my Mama-heart couldn't bear it.
They were heroes. Each and every person in that room loved my son beyond words. I know they didn't want it to be his last breath either. But they were able to heroically hold to what was best for him. With courage and the deepest love they could give, they protected Tuffy from something worse. I remember after begging, when the moment came when I stopped. I crawled in bed with him and they unhooked him. For the first time in 18 months, I cradled my sweet child without any barriers of cords, tubes, and machines. He melted against me, so warm. I closed my eyes and it was like an out-of-body experience. I could hear myself screaming, "I am not ready!" but at the same time, it was like everyone faded far away and I could only feel his warmth.
I cherish that time. I needed to hold him like that. I didn't know how badly I needed to hold my child without all the medical intrusion.
Todd arrived and suddenly I wasn't in that out-of-body feeling. I was keenly aware of his pain, my own, those in the room. I can tell you every word that was said to us. I can tell you every person that came, both in the hall and in the room. I can tell you what I felt when his doctors arrived. I can tell you everything. I can tell you how I felt begging Charlie, now a dear friend, but then our funeral director, not to zip him in a bag. I remember Todd telling me we had to let him go now. I remember walking down the hall, the nurses lining the way, broken with us and for us. I remember seeing the door close on Eathan and Charlie's look of sincere pain for us. I remember his promise to take good care of Eathan and believing him.
Then I remember empty. The most empty I have ever known. I didn't know how to leave without him, go home without him, sleep without him. I didn't know how to see my parents... my kids... without him. I didn't know how to live without him.
It was days before the boulder came. The day after the funeral, to be exact. Until then it was this emptiness that was as close to hell that I ever want to feel. But the boulder came crashing down that morning as I looked out the window and saw people going to work. I was screaming inside, "DON'T YOU KNOW MY SON DIED? HOW CAN YOU JUST BE GOING TO WORK LIKE THAT?" And then it hit. Life was going to go on without my son. And the boulder came trying to hold me down, making it difficult to breathe.
Life has been chiseling down that boulder since that day. I could write for weeks and not even cover the first week of life after Eathan. The feelings, emotions, pain, and yes, joy. Tuffy is joy. He is the closest thing to touching Jesus I have ever experienced. I believe the closer he got to death, the more Jesus was there and I FELT him. I miss it. Every single day.
I shared in bible study, that I have no problem celebrating all that God has done and is still doing. I could blog for weeks just on miracles and changed lives. And I have written many down before. I believe in remembrance stones. But this time of year I remember his death and it is exhausting and I don't want to.
But then I do want to. Because even death was and is beautiful.
So, this Thanksgiving, if you have stuck with me and read all the way to here, please know the boulder is back, but I mean it when I say JOY COMES IN THE MORNING. God has a way of getting us through it when we don't even see how it could ever be possible. And He has a way of using every tear. I believe that.
So, before you hate people and fight wrong battles, think of Eathan. Choose love. It will make you experience things in a way that is beyond worth any pain that accompanies.
And then one day, God will draw us home too. And all this will fade into a sea of beautiful glory where a love we've only dreamt of encompasses us for eternity.
Hope keeps chiseling off the boulder.
I am thankful today on Thanksgiving. And I will be thankful tomorrow... the death date.... because Eathan and Jesus have allowed me a journey that has taught me how.....
- Simple Family, Complex Journey
- Texas, United States
- Nothing really different about us... normal people, normal existence, extraordinary journey of blessings brought in the most profound, difficult, devasting, and amazing circumstances. To know our journey is to know grace. I invite you in to view this simple life where extraordinary events shape together to create something only Grace can explain.......