How I Survived Child Loss: Part 2 – Support System

“You have the largest support system I’ve ever seen.”

The hospital social worker said this to me as we left the hospital the day after the accident. I still remember the look on her face, a mixture of disbelief and pride. Friends, family and church members had been flowing in and out of the hospital for the last 2 days.

Before we even arrived at the hospital that horrible Saturday afternoon, members of our church had started to fill the ER waiting room. By the time we arrived, my parents and I had to be ushered past the waiting room through staff only doors so those who’d come to support us wouldn’t overwhelm us. Friends had completely filled the ER waiting area. Most were stopped there and not allowed on the ICU floor where we were taken. I never ventured into the waiting area to see the crowd. I was barely holding it together as it was, I couldn’t emotionally handle that. Though I never saw them, I appreciated their presence.

Many other friends, who came to support us, came in through a different hospital entrance. They were able to make it to the ICU floor where my family and I waited for news of my husband. I can still remember looking in the waiting room and seeing them, sitting and talking to each other. I felt like I should go over there and join their conversation, but I just couldn’t. I stayed close to my family because I could not handle any conversation. I couldn’t talk to them, but I was so glad they were there.

The group of friends who came to the hospital shifted throughout the day. Some came and went, others stayed for hours; new ones arrived as word of the accident spread. I appreciated their presence and the fact they didn’t intrude on my need for distance. The social worker who spent time with us during our 36 hours in the hospital watched the ever-shifting crowd of people who’d come to support us. Apparently, they made an impression on her prompting the comment as we prepared to leave the hospital that Sunday afternoon.

Years later I understand why she was so impressed. I could not have made it this far without my support system.

Going to graduate school to become a counselor I learned one of the most important factors for success in therapy is the individual’s support system. It’s not the relationship with the counselor or the therapeutic techniques used, it is the support system that makes the most difference.

I can only imagine the hospital social worker saw the size of our support and knew we would be able to travel the hard road ahead.

In truth, she saw only a fraction of those who’ve shown up to support me on my journey of grief.

Through social media, my online photography club, and my rather large extended family I have been carried through my grief. I haven’t had to do any of this alone.

One night while working my new, I’m no longer a stay-at-home mom, job I had a meltdown. It was one of those bad grief days that I couldn’t contain. I was stuck in a call center customer service job and all I wanted was to go home and cry. But I had to keep answering phone calls. I made some big mistakes that night because I couldn’t focus. I was struggling to stay together so I could finish my shift.

I posted on Facebook how bad my night was going. I watched the slowly moving clock, willing it to move faster so I could go home and break down properly. Finally, the time came for me log out of my computer and leave work. I walked out of the building and started heading to my car, only to discover my parents had come to pick me up from work.

They had seen my Facebook post and had seen beyond the vague words and knew I was doing worse than I’d let on. My mom said to me “We weren’t sure if this would be ok”. It was a little weird, yes, but it was such an awesome thing for them to do. I curled up in the passenger seat of my van and cried as my mom drove me home, with dad following behind us.

This is just one of the small ways my parents have supported me.

The second Christmas after the accident, I wanted to hide away from reality. I couldn’t afford to go on vacation like I had the year before. So I talked my family into hiding out in the mountains with me. My parents found a rental house big enough for us, along with my sister and her family. We spent 3 days hiding from the world. It was peaceful and fun. (You can read about it here.)

I realized my sister and her family had given up all their holiday traditions to hide away with me. I felt bad about taking them away from their traditions until I mentioned it to my sister, she replied, “It’s the only thing you’ve asked us to do”. After all these years I still tear up at the selfless support.

My extended family has been another layer of support. Both of my parents come from large families. Growing up I loved having so many uncles, aunts, and cousins. But I have never been so thankful to come from a large family as I have since the accident. As news of the accident spread my mom’s family descended upon us, flying in from all over the country. The chaos of the Greeley side of my family was exactly what I needed. They held me together that first week. My dad’s family is more quite, but their support as time has stretched on has sustained me too. I have such an amazing family.

I could also go on about all the different ways my friends have shown me support. But this post is getting long. You can read about it (here, here and here).

I don’t know why God has blessed me with such a wonderful support system. So many grieving parents are on this awful journey alone. I’ve heard horrible stories of the things other bereaved parents have had to endure from family, friends and even their church. It breaks my heart when I see how little support some people have.

At the Compassionate Friends support group I attend, we have a saying “Your address book changes after the loss of a child”. It’s so true. People you thought would always be there for you disappear and others surprise you by becoming new friends. Even with my support system, I’ve had my address book change. People I thought were good friends are gone. And others I’ve had minimal contact with over the years became a larger part of my support.

I would not have been able to walk this path alone. I need every single person who has supported me in any way they can. Each one of them has carried me on this journey.

We are not meant to carry the burden of our pain alone. It’s too heavy and too hard. We need people to love us, support us and help carry us through.

This concept is so beautifully demonstrated at the end of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Frodo and Sam are trying to get to Mt. Doom so Frodo can destroy the ring of evil. No one but Frodo can carry the ring and at this point in the journey, the weight of the ring is too much for him. Frodo collapses and cannot go on. Sam, his trusted friend, in a climatic moment says to Frodo, “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you”. This is such a great demonstration of how we are to support one another. No one can ever carry or take away my pain, but I have been carried through the pain by the love and support of those God sent to comfort me.

If you don’t have support in your grief journey look for a local chapter of Compassionate Friends or Grief Share.

The Creation Of Hope

Last week I received a message from my pastor asking if he could use my story as part of his sermon. I asked if he just wanted to mention my story or if he’d like me to come share it personally. He became very excited at the opportunity to have me speak in-person, so I agreed.

I spent all of last week cycling between being excited and nervous. I even had a moment of sheer panic on Saturday night. .

Yesterday I shared my story and my journey of clinging to hope in church.

I have wanted to share my story for a long time. I am very passionate about grief, how to grieve and how to treat those who are grieving. It was a wonderful opportunity to share my story and my passion in a public forum.

After much prayer, I feel led to help others beyond just one-on-one counseling. I believe my story and my journey can benefit others. With a leap of faith and the support of my friends and family, I have decided to open myself up to speak to groups, churches, and support organizations.

The posted video is my first step down this path. Your prayers and your support is appreciated.

The Day My World Shattered

“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.” ~ C. S. Lewis A Grief Observed

I discovered the truth of those words on January 22, 2011.

I remember the day starting out hectic. I was rushing around trying to get ready for a photo shoot. My two boys were watching TV while they ate their breakfast. My husband was preparing for a Geo Cashing adventure planned for that morning with the boys, my sister and her family. Soon we were all headed out the door.

I waited for my client for half an hour before I headed home. Everyone was gone on their adventure, so I took advantage of the quite house to work on some photo editing. I was engrossed in my editing and wasn’t paying attention to the passing of time. After a while, I realized they should be home by now. The worry I was starting to feel barely had time to take hold when my phone rang.

My brother-in-law was on the other end. There’d been a car accident. My husband was in an ambulance on the way to the local hospital. My sister and her family were on their way to pick me up. I asked about the boys. He refused to answer me and said, “Just be ready”.

The next thing I can remember is opening my front door when they arrived. My nephew was crying so much I think wailing would be a better word to describe the sound he was making. I will NEVER forget that sound.

I met my brother-in-law in front of their car. I don’t remember the words he used, but I knew he was trying to tell me something my mind was refusing to hear.

During the drive to the hospital I rode in the passenger seat of my sisters car. I sat there wringing my hands. Nervous, agitated movements, designed to keep me in tact, to keep me from falling apart. We finally arrived at the hospital. I was out of the car before it had come to a complete stop. I rushed into the ER entrance and heard an announcement over the PA system. They were asking people to move their cars so life flight could land in the parking lot. “Oh good, one of the boys made it”, I thought.

I ran up to the desk and told the lady behind the counter that my husband had just been brought in. I was directed to a nurse who told me they had him sedated, that all his x-rays came back normal and they were just waiting on the tests to see if he had internal bleeding. I asked her about the boys, a strange look crossed her face, and she told me she’d see what she could find out.

I was then taken in to see my husband. I stood in the doorway of his room. It was a terrifying site. People surrounded him and there were wires and tubes everywhere. I was not allowed to stay long because they were preparing to put him on the life flight helicopter.

I was then led to an ER waiting room. After a few minutes a train of doctors, nurses and EMT’s filed in. I knew what they were going to say, but I had to hear the words. My boys had not survived the accident. They were gone.

In that split second my entire life changed.

My memories over the next several minutes and hours are in jumbled snippets. I became very robotic, numb. I went through the motions of preparing to go meet my husband at the hospital in Portland. I packed a bag in case I had to stay the night in the hospital. I robotically contacted people to deliver the news.

Time had stopped.

I don’t know how long it was before my brain was able to form thoughts. An hour? Two? All I know is the first few thoughts I had were defining moments for me. These thoughts would be my guide as I learned how to live a life without my children.

The first conscious thought I can remember having was the realization that God knew when they were born, my boys lives would be short. With that thought came a small measure of peace. In the months leading up to the accident I’d begun to question my faith. Did I believe in God because I was raised in the church, or because I believed in him? Standing in the hallway at OHSU in Portland, I had the answer to my question. Like the C.S. Lewis quote, with life and death staring me in the face, I realized how much I truly believed in God, and I would not turn my back on him.

Later like a flash of lightening another thought hit me. A fragment of a verse I’d memorized long ago, about God working everything out for good. I believed God would use this tragedy for something good . . . . someday. I’ve been clinging to that Hope ever since that moment. It is what gets me up in the morning. It’s how I am able to put one foot in front of another every single day.

The final defining moment for me was an actual decision I made. I decided I was going to be real with my pain. I didn’t want to hide behind the I’m a Christian so life is good attitude that seems to permeate in the church. I wanted to show people that pain and God could co-exist in life.

It’s been almost 4 years since my life came crashing down. I’ve learned a lot from the decision I made in that defining moment. I learned that not only can a life lived for God be full of pain, I learned that even in the most excruciating pain imaginable God is there . . . holding you while you cry.

My purpose in starting this blog is to share my story in the hopes that it will help others. I want to help individuals like myself who’ve lost so much find the hope they need. I want to help our society understand what it’s like to really grieve. And I want to help the church reach out to those in pain with understanding and compassion so that their pain can be eased.

I hope you will join me as I begin this new journey in my life.

CS Lewis