How a city girl, gone country grieves (and raises cows): A Decade Ago
How a city girl, gone country grieves
(and raises cows)
met Kimberly through farming. She, like me, has been dropped into this
life and is learning to love it just like me. She is a Christian,
however, our pasts are nothing alike. I've asked her to share her story
on my Blog over the next weeks or months or however long it takes. It is
filled with much grief and loss but will hopefully make you laugh and
smile and grow and grieve along with her.
Until you have written your child’s obituary…
Try writing two.
In my experience, neither time is any harder or easier than the other and the divide between myself and even my closest relatives became starkly clear in the end.
This week marks a ten year milestone for my oldest son’s death. He took his own life by hanging, was revived and in a coma for three days then died on the fourth day. I learned a lot about life, death, suicide, grief, connection, disconnection and myself during those three days. I knew when I saw him lying hooked up to life support that he wasn’t coming home with me. At least not the way I’d hoped.
The abridged version is that when he was 19, he decided he was moving to Kaua’I, Hawai’I to learn how to be a tattoo artist. There is a lot of history behind his decision to move that far and I remember telling him, I can’t help you over there! That’s 5,000 miles away! He assured me he had the situation under control. What do we do as parents? We let them go. We are either a sail or an anchor and I opted to be a sail.
A few months after he’d moved, I had an opportunity with some family members to visit him in Kaua’i. It was a very short visit and he seemed happy with his new life, which included a whole family. He showed me the sights and we spent very little time alone together (I think only about 45 minutes actually) and when he took me to the airport to catch my flight, I couldn’t bear to have him wait with me. I kissed him, hugged him and sent him on his way. I sobbed so deep and hard when my flight took off, as if I suspected then I might never see him again. I really hate it when I'm right.
On three different occasions later that year he had called to come home. All three times, he bailed on catching his flight. The last time, it was us trying to get him home to rally together for a family issue and he flat refused. He had ugly words with his father, which will forever be the last thing he ever spoke to him.
Later that same week, I got a late night call from one of his friends. I let it go to voicemail. He called again and I knew something was up. I answered and this friend (who had also been like a surrogate son) tells me that my son had tried to hang himself and he was in a coma.
Has your blood ever run cold? Do you know what the hot flushing in the face feels like? Do you know what it feels like to have your stomach hit the floor, your knees give out, your voice thin and wispy? That was the first 90 seconds of my response. I made him repeat it. I couldn’t believe it. Even now I remember exactly where I was standing, exactly what it felt like. Some memories cannot be erased, no matter how much time passes. It’s a haunting, horrible memory.
I made arrangements to fly out as soon as possible. In the meantime, his father was a day ahead of me getting to him. I spoke with nurses, doctors, anyone who could give me some hope. They were all very kind and supportive and loving. And every one of them told me the truth; it did not look promising but yes, miracles do happen.
On my million hour flight there, I delved deep into the Word. God spoke to me throughout that entire trip, giving me some peace in my extraordinary pain. The fear of not knowing. The fear of knowing. It was the longest ride of my life.
When I arrived to the ICU room where he was, I saw my firstborn baby boy hooked up to every imaginable machine. What’s worse, his father actually looked in worse shape than he did! I set my bible at the foot of our son’s bed and looked his father directly in the eye and said ‘I have enough faith for both of us. We’ll get through this.’
It was abundantly evident at that time that our son was NOT going to make a recovery. His body went over 30 minutes without oxygen. It was actually a miracle they revived him enough to hook him up. Some decisions had to be made. The ‘how would you like to finish killing your child’ choices. He had ‘Organ Donor on his ID, which prompted a whole new list of options. I think of it now and it’s maddening how quickly it all happened. We did opt for ‘passive’ donation, and our son was able to help folks through his death. The torment was watching him go.
After I had been there 24 hours, we checked into a hotel that the social worker had set up for us. We had been divorced over 10 years, so my only thought on the way to the hotel is 'separate beds, please'. It must have been the shock, because we got along like siblings. Like this was a perfectly natural visit to islands with someone I’d know over 20 years. We ate and fell asleep, then hospital called at 3:15 in the morning to tell us he had taken a turn for the worse.
Morbid humor alert: Do you know how hard it is to find a taxi at 3:15 a.m. on one of the most remote of Hawaiian islands? We finally reached the social worker, who came for us and we were at our son’s bedside by 5 a.m.
At this time, our son’s vitals were all over the place. One eye had dilated and fixed, no response to pain, and though he was on a ventilator, he had been breathing on his own about every 3rd breath. His fever had spiked and they increased the morphine so he wouldn’t feel any pain. During this entire experience, he never opened his eyes or spoke. He never moved.
We kept watch that morning, filled out appropriate paperwork and went to get a bite to eat. We needed fresh air and time to prepare ourselves for the remainder of the day. At this point, we opted to extubate him and let him go.
When we returned, it was about 20 minutes after we’d left, and his nurse was there. His name was Ray and he had been with our son since his arrival. I think Ray may have even known our son, he seemed particularly fond of him and spoke well of him like he did know him. Or at least knew the family he’d stayed with. Nonetheless, Ray looked at us and said, ‘Are you ready?’ Those words held in the air for so long. No, I’m not ready. But I have to be.
God is merciful. I saw that firsthand that day. Our son actually had stopped breathing entirely on his own before he was extubated. That means he died on his own. Immediately after his tube was out, I put my head on his chest and could hear his final heartbeats. I wrapped his arm around my neck and listened until there was nothing to hear. And I completely let go and sobbed uncontrollably. As I do now. As I will forever on these days in April.
The days and weeks that followed were, as you can imagine, surreal. The support that poured out of nowhere, the admonishment and blame that came from everywhere. It was a tumultuous time. Probably the very hardest part of it all was his funeral. It had been nearly a year since my children had seen their brother, and to watch them grieve in disbelief and shock and pain to this day is the most difficult thing a mother can endure. The friends that showed up and the family that stepped out, it was a defining moment in my adult life. One that's left scars of its own in multiple facets.
It has been ten years this year. I shudder to call it an anniversary; that implies good feelings and celebration. Some years have been more tolerable than others, this year is particularly difficult. Between farm life frenzy, family life drama and my Meno-Me personality conflict, it's hitting harder than most. I'll survive it. Getting through the next several days by staying busy and productive will ease the weight of emptiness. That hole that was punched in my life will never heal, but with time new life grows around it and makes it less noticeable.
My prayer is that my sharing this with you will help you understand. The taboo of suicide keeps many survivors quiet. My prayer is that just knowing there are some of us out here exploiting our pain is intended to bring comfort in those dark and lonely corners.
I'll explain more about the first time I ever wrote my child's obituary another day. Until then, may God in His infinite wisdom hold and keep you.