Then Came the Fog

Psalm 127: 3 – “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him.

I returned home with my husband. We drove my brother’s old car. It was cathartic to do so. It was a long ride, it rained the whole eight hours. There were even seven accidents along the way. The tone fit the mood. Sullen. The next two weeks were filled with extreme grief. I couldn’t process what was happening. At the same time, I was trying to celebrate my other two children’s birthdays and prepare for the birth of my son.

At 39 weeks, I developed a significant headache on the way to get my children from school. I felt lightheaded and my vision felt blurry. I called my husband, as I suspected I was having an episode of high blood pressure. I went to Walgreens and waited for the pharmacist to come and take my blood pressure. He did and it was 140/95. He told me my blood pressure was fine and to go home. I was so angry. I was not a forty five year old man, I was a pregnant mother with typically low blood pressure. My brother had just died from medical incompetence, and here was another medical provider giving dangerously erroneous advice. I told him that a pregnant woman hypotension, a headache, and mildly elevated blood pressure should be asked to call her doctor. He still disagreed but told me I could do whatever I wanted. So, I headed to my Ob/Gyn.

They took my blood pressure and it was still elevated. They realized that this was a significant increase for me, because I usually ran 100/60. They had me rest and take it again. It was coming down but very slowly. Finally, they decided to go ahead and let me have the baby. I was relieved but terrified. The last time my brother went into a hospital, he died. Here I was being admitted, and trusting my life and my baby’s life to the medical professionals. I let everyone on the ward know what I had been through and warned them to double check all medication dosages. They were very careful and reassuring. The Lord was so kind to me that day. The nurse that I had delivered with, when I was pregnant with Samuel, was there to check me in and get me prepped. She had recently lost her father, and was able to give me such sympathy for my grief. Another family friend was coming off shift, she sat with us until I was taken to a room. It was such a comfort, and I knew that this was no coincidence.

They brought me to my room and got me prepped for an epidural. This is where I started to loose it. I believed I didn’t have the emotional fortitude to deliver a baby that didn’t slide right out of me. So, they had decided to give me the epidural before everything started to prevent the pain. Epidurals give me so much anxiety. I am even known to pass out during injections. I begged for something to sedate me somewhat while they did it. The anesthesiologist was adamant that I didn’t need anything. It all finally came to a head. I began crying hysterically and said, “My brother was just killed by medical malpractice in a hospital. I am terrified for you to touch me or inject me. Please give me something.” I must have scared him to death, because he began rushing around and getting medicine to help me. Once I was calm, they did the epidural and I was able to lay down for the night. Pitocin started at midnight. By 6 am, I was 4 centimeters. By 7 am, my waters broke. I knew this baby was ready to make an entrance. They checked me again and I was almost complete. Within ten minutes, we were pushing. I gave one test push and out he came. He was wrapped shoulder to legs in umbilical cord, and they had to try and get him back in partially to get the cord off. He was purple but screaming and healthy. He latched on like a champ. I could not have asked for a better delivery. It was God’s grace.

The next few weeks were great. I came home, we had family and babysitters to help. I continued to grieve but my precious Judah Hunter, we changed his name after my brother died, kept me going. It wasn’t until February that I knew something was wrong. Darkness came in like a fog over a lake. I told my husband I needed medication, and he doubted me at first. When I finally went to my primary care doctor, they put me on zoloft and a sedative for the anxiety attacks. I began having PTSD flashbacks of my brother bleeding, or in the casket, or deteriorating, in the morgue, or that first phone image of him dead. Then, the paranoia began.

I would walk down the street and I was hypervigilant. I could hear every sound. The most memorable one was the numbers on the telephone polls. You may have never noticed, but metal numbers hang on telephone polls. One poll in our neighborhood had loose numbers that would swing back and forth. The sound would literally put me on edge. When I would go for a walk, I would plan how I was going to dodge when the car behind me tried to run me over. In a movie theater with one other person, I began to plan how I would fight back when attacked. None of my thoughts were normal, or rational but I believed they were.

The Ob/Gyn and primary care doctors had all done as much as they knew how. They didn’t have anything in their arsenal to attack real deep post partum depression. They sent me to a counselor and a psychiatrist. I ended up being on klonipin, zoloft, propranolol, and ambien just to name a few. That time was so blurring and overwhelming my memories are jumbled. I moved out of my house, my kids drove me crazy. I loved them but couldn’t handle the stimulation. I moved in with my in laws to make sure I got adequate sleep. I would spend my time watching tv, reading, exercising, going for walks, or painting. I spent so much time sprinting during anxiety attacks, that I eventually couldn’t stand on my toes anymore. The time away wasn’t helping. I could feel myself continue to spiral as the grief overtook me.

Journal Entry 1:
“I am not doing so well these days. I feel so insufficient in all areas. I am not being a good wife, mother, grieving, or worshipping well. I feel lost and alone. I lost my person. It is hard to even write it, accept that it is true. I can’t, I don’t want to. I wrestle with not wanting to accept it, but not wanting to live like this forever. My mind is a constant blur of thought. I don’t even know what I am feeling most of the time. Everyone wants me to get better, to feel better. To be better, I have to accept Hunter’s dead. I can’t. I just want to curl up in my PJs and his sweater and wake up when it feels better, when it hurts less. When I don’t feel like he is gone, slipping away more and more from my reality each day. I just want to see him, to talk to him so bad it can take the air from my lungs. I feel like everyone will move on. Mom and dad will move on because they still have me. Amber and Harper will move on to survive. Then, there I will be 50 years from now, still missing him. Still without a brother. I am afraid of the rest of my life. I don’t want to live without him. This wasn’t how is was supposed to be. I took it for granted, assumed it would always be us. Never once in my life did I think of him dying. I’ve imagined my parents, husband, kids dying, how painful it would be. Never once Hunter. I want to do something to keep him here, to make the pain stop. I am out of ideas and left with debilitating, emotional pain. I have never been able to process emotion and I have to get better but I can’t. I don’t have the energy or capacity. It feels hopeless. I just want him back. just for a few minutes. Just to talk to him about his death. I need him to help me and he is gone.”

Rainbow Colors

1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 – “Brothers and Sisters we do not want you to be uniformed about those who sleep in death, so you will not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”

Since Hunter was a fallen airman, he was transported just as anyone killed in combat. When loading and unloading the plane, we would go down to the tarmac for a ceremony. It involved his family and friends watching as he was transported out of the hurst. The first time they loaded him on the plane, there was no grand flag over the casket or presentation, simply a box that said, “This End Up and Handle With Care.” It felt so inhuman. He was officially cargo, he no longer needed to be up with us, he was already gone. He no longer needed air, warmth, or safety. They loaded him on the plane as an honor guard from base presented the flags. We boarded the plane and flew to the next airport. We had a ceremony to unload him, this time they unboxed the casket. It seemed to honor him better, and I was grateful. This time, the honor guard was a group of tarmac workers. They had served in the military and wanted to present in honor of Hunter. These big burly men were highly respectful and emotional. It was a honor to have them join the ceremony. The USO took Hunter’s body while we had a lay over. Then, it was time to board the plane. This same group of men presented the flags again and the USO had provided a flag to cover the casket. Finally, he looked respected. I was heartbroken to see my brother this way, but honored he was being treated so well.

When we arrived in Washington, we had another large ceremony with honor guard. This time, our whole family was in attendance. I broke down as I rounded the corner and saw them all standing there. It was amazing to have such support, after being in such a small group during our grief in Alabama. I rode to my parents house with my aunt and uncle. Uncle Bruce told me a few things that have stuck with me until this day. He affirmed my grief. He reminded me that even Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus, he was going to raise him from the dead but he still grieved. As well, death comes for all of us eventually. All of the people in the bible that God healed or their life was spared ultimately would die. It made the loss not feel so difficult, knowing that we all eventually experience loss and pain. As well, my Savior knew the pain of grief. He hurt and it was okay for me to hurt too.

The next day was the viewing. The funeral home had done a lot to fix Hunter’s presentation, and he looked more like himself. Most signs of the autopsy were covered. He looked more like himself. It was a honor to experience the viewing. I did not really get emotional that night, except when my best friend from high school came. She had known Hunter so well, I collapsed in her arms. Besides that, I shook everyone’s hand and smiled when I could. This part was not for me. It was for them. They needed to see, they needed to know what happened. So, they came to support us and we them, as they viewed the remains of their friend, neighbor, and family member.

The following morning, we got to the church early. I wanted one last chance to say goodbye. I was the last one to have time with him alone. I told him how much I loved him, how much I would miss him, how terrible he looked after embalming, and how mad I was to spend the rest of my life without him. I placed one of my rings in his hands. Sending him away without a token to keep with him felt lacking. I felt like part of my soul was being ripped out. It was an out of body experience. During the funeral, I changed my mind about speaking. The rest of my family spoke, but I did not think that I had the strength. In the moment, however, I knew I would regret it if I didn’t stand up there for him one last time.

I had not planned a speech and had no idea what to say. Then, it came to me. My brother had a difficult childhood. He had grown up with ADHD, he was sensitive, and he was caring. That made it hard for him to identify with my father and with myself. We are strong, independent, minimally emotional, and driven. I was always brought up to think it was the best way to be. That type of personality made for highly successful people. My brother had taken a different path. He was not afraid to make mistakes, and he did. He partied, drank, smoked, smoked weed, lost jobs, became addicted to video games, and failed out of college three times. In the end, however, he was highly successful and made us so proud. He was a great husband and father, he was highly skilled and successful in his job, he was willing to sacrifice his life for his country, and he was a great friend. He had reached the peak of his existence. If my dad and I were black and white, my brother was a rainbow. My father spent a lot of time trying to blot out the color from his life, to give him the straight-laced successful life. He believed that is what was best for his child. In the end, Hunter taught us. He taught us that color is beautiful. Color can lead to success and that path can still be good. Life doesn’t only have one destination. It is full of twists and turns and curves, and all of them can lead to the good life. We should have been there for him more, been less judgmental, trusted the Lord to turn him into the man he needed to be. So, from now I, I resolve to add more color to my life. I will add more color to my children’s lives. We ended up learning something from him and we couldn’t have been more proud (for goodness sakes, a general even flew in to speak at his funeral).

We went to the graveside and another honor guard was present. These individuals come for free and dedicate their time. They carried flags, did a twenty one gun salute, played taps, and gave flags to the family members. I stayed with him that day. I sat by his graveside and watched them place him in the ground, clutching his flag to my chest and crying. I refused to move until the very end. I had met Hunter the day he was born and I wanted to be there the day he went into the ground. It took awhile, but I finally felt ready to leave when they sealed the casket. We continued on to the church to have a meal and visit. By the end of the day, we were worn out and empty. We thought we were grieving, processing it all. However, looking back, we were all in shock. We were going through the motions. The grief and trauma would come weeks and months later, as the dust settled and the hole in our hearts threatened to swallow like an abyss.

Tales From the Psychiatric Ward – Article 2

This article reflects on my time in University of North Carolina, Chapel Hills Neurosciences Hospital. It is written about my time on the Post Partum Unit and is in contrast with my time in both the Psychiatric ER and the General Population Unit. There are about 15 beds total, in the country to specifically treat post part depression patients. Though, it is one of the most common illnesses of pregnancy. These sites are studying how to treat this patient population. As this mental illness can be much different from other mental health issues. The model under which these units function, I believe is a reflection of what mental health care should look like in our country. Please support these sites and help them fundraise. Reach out, donate to these centers. Write to your politicians and encourage them to fight for funding for post partum depression and mental health in the U.S. If you would like more information on my time in the psychiatric hospital, continue reading my blog. I will soon be covering the part of my story involving my mental illness and hospitalization.

10 Things That I Wish You New About Quality Psychiatric Treatment:

1. You get your own room.

This 5 bed unit had four individual rooms and one shared room. Often, two women who had been there longer and became friends would offer to be roommates and let the new moms have their own space. We were never forced into a roommate situation, and when we did room together we weren’t afraid of each other. We had gotten to know one another and form bonds.

2. The doors to the bathrooms locked.

We were actually allowed bins with bathroom accessories that we weren’t otherwise allow to have in our presence due to suicide risk. When they told me I could use a hair dryer and a curling iron I started crying. It felt like a level of my dignity had been restored. We were even allowed to put on makeup. In other units you couldn’t use makeup that contained a mirror, as you could break it and use it as a weapon. Here, they wanted us to feel attractive and comfortable in our own skin.
3. There were times of the day where the nurses would take us off the unit.

We were allowed to go off unit with the nursing staff, once our psychiatrists had approved it. The nurses would sometimes take us to the hospital Starbucks to get a coffee and to sit outside. Fresh air and sunshine is so important to a person healing from mental illness. Being trapped inside, out of the sun can make depression worse. As well, we were getting to walk and stretch our legs. Being trapped in a small unit with locked doors can make you go stir crazy. It was such a gift to get a coffee and feel like we still belonged in the real world.

4. The staff were compassionate and wanted to be there.

Even though the staff on this unit worked hard, they built report with us. They would spend time with us, getting to know us. We could ask them anything and there would be no judgement. I never felt like my words were going to be twisted or used against me. Multiple times, I came out of my room and was feeling suicidal. The nurses would get me a lavender eye cover, rub my back, talk to me calmly, put on music, turn out the lights, and sit with me until I felt better. They never made me feel that I was “crazy.” They talked to me as a person and treated me with dignity. The nursing aides would help some of the women with hair, makeup, or do there nails to help them have a more positive outlook. They considered these things to be vital to improving the overall sense of self and healing the patient.

5. The medical team was individualized.

There was only even one psychiatrist and/or her medical resident present. They would come meet with you in your room each morning and do a full assessment. They wanted to know how you were feeling about your treatment so far, how the medications were helping or hurting, how they were going to proceed, and what the rest of your stay looked like at that point. I felt that I was a huge part of my own treatment. Family could come in to meet with the doctors or my doctors would call my family own their own and speak with them about the changes they were making and why. It really helped my spouse to be aware of what was going on and to advocate for me, when needed. If the side effects of the medication became too much, I would simply get the nurse to page the doctor and she would call back shortly.

6. Therapies were both group and individual.

Each day there was group therapy, where a certain topic pertaining to our mental health was discussed. They wanted us to reflect on how we had gotten to the place we were in our mental illness. That life choices, personality, and circumstance sometimes lead to becoming mentally ill. We weren’t victims with no hope. We had things we could do to help ourselves and changes we needed to make, if we ever wanted to be healthy again. There was also individual counseling each day in the rooms. During this time, family members could be invited in to participate in the discussion. That way, family would see things they could do in the future and how to help. It gave my spouse hope that he could do something, that he could be a part of my healing.

7. They had daily classes to help build coping skills.

We worked on art projects frequently, as these are really effective in calming anxiety. The repetitive movements are soothing to the brain. We used little electronic devices that help you learn to bring your heart rate and respiratory rate into alignment and can be used to stop an anxiety attack. During spiritual time, if we wanted, we met with a chaplain and discuss how our illness was effecting out faith. We would walk through a labyrinth in the meditation garden to reach a clam meditative like state and have personal reflection time. We had yoga as an option a few times a week. It was done in the dark with soothing music and lavender. We learned how yoga could help us relieve stress. When we left, I felt like I was given skills that would help me cope at home.

8. There was a daily schedule so most of your time was used efficiently and we wouldn’t become bored.

We ate breakfast and our other meals at the same time everyday. The were usually two morning session therapies and two afternoon. We had occupational therapy, counseling, an exercise class, yoga, spiritual counseling, and four hours or more of family visitation each day. We were, also, encouraged to spend lots of time together. These women and I became friends and allies. We were all in the same boat. Though we were from different walks of life, there was no judgement. Because we all had the same mental illness, we could talk about what medications were working and how they were helping. We could see the changes in each other and encourage one another.

9. Sleep was guarded each night.

They were very strict about sleep. As sleep is vital to mental health and a lack of sleep can signal that something is wrong. No phone calls were allowed, no visitors, and no doctors visits from 9pm-8am. They gave us medication to help us sleep, if needed, and encouraged good sleep hygiene. Getting adequate rest was one of the most healing components of the unit.

10. They let your family and your babies come and visit.

Family time was such a joy. As you got better, they would even give you off unit passes. You were actually allowed to leave the unit with your family for an hour at a time and see what it would be like to start transitioning back to the outside world. Mommas were not completely separated from their babies. Learning to cope with taking care of the baby is so vital to healing. As well, bonding can be difficult during post partum depression. They wanted to promote our bonding with our babies. Finally, they promoted breastfeeding as long as the medication allowed, and they had a psychiatric lactation expert on hand to approve medication changes, ensuring that our medications were safe for baby.

Overall, my experience on the postpartum unit saved me life. I needed help, and because of receiving such quality care, I returned home healthier than when I left. This is not always the case with mental hospitals. Many leave the person feeling more wounded and marginalized than when they entered. We must see change in mental health care in this country. People with mental illness matter. Than are not less than. They are human beings, with rights. Rights to proper and safe medical care. Please be their advocates. Reach out to people in your life with mental health issues and be an encourager. Be a part of their healing.

Tales From the Psychiatric Ward – article 1

I have decided to start interjecting poems, letters, journal entries, and life updates as they come to me. Today, is one of those days. I would like to take a moment and reflect on my time in the psychiatric hospital. I will later share more details of my experience, along with journal enteries. My time in general population was traumatizing, and I would like to shine some light on the state of mental health in America. It can lead to people not seeking the treatment they so desperately need. I will contrast this with my experience in the Post Partum Unit. It, by contrast, was a great experience that led to deep healing. There is a need for reform in the healthcare sector, when it comes to addressing mental health issues. I hope to shed some light.

10 Things I wish I had known about the psych ward before I went:

1. If you are transported to the psych hospital, it may take place by police car rather than by ambulance.

Many of my friends in the hospital had been brought in on recommendation of their doctor. They were upset and shamed by police car transport, rather than by ambulance, as you would be for any other illness. They felt like criminals instead of people with mental illness.

2. When you enter the hospital, whether by choice or my force, you surrender many of your basic human rights.

You are locked in most units. This is not surprising, they don’t want you to escape and harm yourself. You are not allowed to wear any clothes that have any strings or bands. You can not even have shoelaces. You do not have freedom of choice. You do not have privacy. You do not have control over your own life. I was even denied the ability to pump my breastmilk from my engorged chest. They threw me a bucket and a warm towel and told me to hand express. The nurse shamed me for even wanting to breastfeed my baby. The staff was required to let me pump, after my husband made a phone call. I was told I was receiving special treatment, as I was led to a room with vomit in the sink and bloody gauze on the floor, while a nurse watched my every move.

3. The rooms may indeed be padded. You are often under video recording. The rooms don’t lock.

In the psychiatric ER, which was worse than a general population floor, the bathroom was in the middle of the room and had no lock on the door. The floor was cooed. So, at any point, a man could have walked in on me. I had to wait to go to the bathroom, until my husband was with me and could watch the door. The walls were padded. There was a camera watching me at all times.

4. The units are typically cooed with multiple diagnoses on the floor.

My floor was cooed and all mental health disorders were contained in the same space. So, I was placed in care with people withdrawing from drugs and those with severe schizophrenia. There were no locks on the doors, and this really concerned me. This was especially true, when I was showering or sleeping. I was made to feel that I was being paranoid and that my concerns were exaggerated. They assured me they rounded every fifteen minutes, I lay awake at night wondering what could happen to me in fifteen minutes.

5. The staff is overwhelmed by their patient population and often jaded.

The nursing staff can be short and uncaring at times. The appointments that I had with my doctors were short and/ rushed. It felt much like being in a court room on trial, as I entered the room with one doctor and eight students on one side of the room an myself, alone, on the other. I was asked to open up and share my story. Midway through my explanation of what I was feeling, they cut me off and told me to go. I had no input into my plan of care. I was not even told, what was going to happen as they changed my medications or what side effects to watch for.

6. The doctors may take you off all of your meds at one time.

The first time I had a spike in anxiety, I went to get my anxiety medication I had depended on for weeks. I was told that all my medications were removed from my treatment plan with no new medications in their place. When I started crying and went to my room, I was told I was overreacting. I was treated as if I was out of my mind for being anxious and stressed in this environment. It was held against me as I competed to prove my sanity.

7. You have a roomate. This can be a good thing or a bad thing.

The only person you are ever really alone with is your roommate. While mine was kind and helpful, she was also a frequent flyer and highly unstable. She told me she could see how much pain I was in and was going to lay hands on me to heal me. My husband asked to me to tell her not to. However, I was so scared to upset her, as I slept alone with her, I would have let her. Luckily, I was transferred off the unit before this happened.

8. Family can only visit a few times a day.

The schedule allows for family to come at certain times of day. Therefore, there is a lot of alone time. Lots of time to get stuck in your own mind. Lots of time to become nervous or paranoid. Your only choice, besides staying completely to yourself, is to befriend others on the unit. However, it can be dangerous to your safety to befriend the wrong person. As well, you are never sure who you can trust. In a psychiatric hospital I trained in medically (I was a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner), a woman punched out a light in the ceiling and tried to use it to slice her roommates throat.

9. Everything you say can and will be used against you.

Every question you ask, the frequency with which you ask, the tone in which you speak is being examined. They are making a case against you from the time you enter. The chips fall in favor of you being really sick or needing to stay longer, rather than in your best interest or towards assuming the best in you. You can not speak freely without consequence.

10. The classes they offer during the day are all but helpful.

The classes are often about how to reengage with the real world and go back to work. AA is often a component of course work as well. There are few, if any classes, on coping skills. There are not exercise classes to help the patients positively direct their energy and lower their ability to become anxious. They aren’t talking about how you may feel about your illness, or how the world will view you when you get out. There are group therapies but little individualized counseling.

If we want people to actively seek mental health treatment, it needs to become safer. People need to feel cared about and treated with respect. The caseworkers and medical staff need to be working in favor of the patient, not with biased. Patients need to feel safe and cared about. They need to feel they have a fair shot and be prepared to reintegrate into the real world. The cycle of treating mental health patients as subhuman can not continue. We need to be investing financially into research for better medications and into improving the facilities and care. Insurance companies need to be required to cover all mental health drugs. Most medications are very expensive, and are partially covered or not covered at all. Mental health drugs are so hard to tailor to a person. What works for one person may not work for another with the same diagnosis. Therefore, people with mental health issues need to have full access to all approved drugs. If we want future generation to be better than we, we need to make change.

Unveiled

Ephesians 5:8 – “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.”

Darkness

It hangs like a blanket, heavy over my head,

I can not stand up straight, I bend in submission,

My choices are not my own, my mind is not my own,

the darkness is like a puppet master, moving me at its will,

I am powerless to stop it,

Crushing bending, twisting under its weight,

There is only one end in sight, to submit to the darkness,

the fall under its spell, to allow it to consume,

then there will be nothing, I will be nothing,

Return to dust,

BUT THEN;

The darkness fades, like a fog leaving the surface of a lake,

images arise,

there are people here,

something outside myself,

I see unclearly at first but these lives take shape,

the veil turned grey, then white, then,

they are my family, my friends, strangers,

they are reaching for me, crying, arms extended,

they see my veil, they have been calling to me,

I have been deaf and blind,

one person lifts the veil, it is my Savior

now they can see me and I can see them,

I feel warmth on my face, it is the light

my body feels weightless, I can stand upright again,

I smile, I embrace,

I was never alone,

I just could not hear, I could not see, I could not feel for the veil covered me

Now it is gone, I step into the light, into love

I AM FREE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll Fly Away

Psalm 34:18 – “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Sunday, we decided to go to church with one of the Officers from Hunter’s base. At the end of the service, I started to feel off. I asked Brian if we could go wait in the car, while my family finished talking. We dropped my dad off at my brother’s house and began driving to our hotel. My mother had stayed with me, wanting to make sure I was okay. Brian ran upstairs to grab some things, and that was the first time I really knew something was wrong. I started crying for Brian to hurry. He eventually came back to the car and we drove, as fast as we could, to the hospital. In case you were curious, not the hospital in which my brother had been treated.

When we pulled into the entrance,  I started vomiting. My mother started crying, she believed that I was going to die and she was going to loose both her children at once. She helped me into the ER, while Brian parked. I was put in a wheelchair and transported to labor and delivery. I got undressed, and that is when I saw it, blood. Then, I started worrying.

Doctors and nurses were everywhere. They got a stat ultrasound and, luckily, my placenta was not bleeding and the baby was doing great. I was, however, contracting. They gave me meds to stop the contractions and we waited. Some family had come to town to attend a ceremony for my brother, the next day. So, they came to the hospital to support myself and my mom. It was comforting to know we were not alone. At bedtime, my nurse gave me a Stadol dose IV. Instead of calming down, I began pacing the room, tearing at my clothes, crying, and trying (not literally) to climb the walls. My nurse didn’t give me anything to reverse it, because it wasn’t until the next day she realized this was the opposite of what should be happening. Eventually the bleeding stopped and everything was attributed to the trauma I was experiencing. I was given the clear to travel, however, I made them clear me to fly home with my brother. I said, “Either get this baby out now, or make him stay for at least another week.” We were blessed, he stayed snug as a bug until 39 weeks.

We spent the next few days in Montgomery, waiting for the autopsy to be completed and to get his affairs with the Air Force resolved. There were so many meetings. We can not say enough good about the Air Force and the way they treated us. They took care of everything. They came to the house and spent time with us. They held an awards ceremony in Hunter’s honor with a reception to follow. Hunter had won multiple awards and been promoted but never received these honors before he died. So, they gave them to my brother’s widow and my parents. Hunter had even won the Air Force Spotlight for recoding the program that decides which planes should be repaired and in level of priority to best utilize the annual budget. It was overwhelming to see such support. We, also, got to go to the biking and hiking trail Hunter was creating with the help of his Air Force friends. They planned to finish the trail and dedicate it to Hunter, in the future.

Finally, it was time for the autopsy. It was excruciating to know he was being autopsied and what all that entailed. It was traumatizing, the way they would be taking him apart and examining him. It weighed so heavily on my heart. The next day, we traveled to the funeral home to have a private viewing of his body. It was terrible, Hunter did not look like himself at all (warning, this explanation is going to get detailed). His head was resting on the collar of his shirt, where they had removed his trachea. He was collapsing on himself.  His nose was beginning to deteriorate because the embalming had been delayed so much. Finally, the back of his head was exposed and you could see the line where they used a scalpel to open the back of his skull. It was mortifying to see the brother I loved in such dire circumstances. I was continually traumatized during this period. So many of these images still haunt me. I can’t even look at a burial vault truck driving down the road without remembering these horrors. Hunter was ready to be transported home.

It was the day before Thanksgiving. One of the biggest travel days of the entire year. We packed up our bags and prepared to fly home. On the way to the airport, the hurst driver wasn’t driving appropriately. One of Hunter’s dearest friends yelled at the driver, it made it so he wasn’t allowed to participate in the rest of Hunter’s transport home. We were heartbroken for him. He was simply grieving. It was, then, we started running into people who were hurting themselves. One that sticks out to me was the gentleman helping us check in. He had lost his wife in the year prior. He still carried her picture and was able to empathize with what we were going through. It was so comforting to know we were not alone.

We were transferred to our plane and the ceremonies began.

The Walls Came Tumbling Down

John 11:25 – “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

I was pregnant with my fourth baby, Johnathan Judah. I was on heparin injections, weekly ultrasound appointments, and progesterone. The baby grew well and, besides precipitous labor, it was a smooth pregnancy. I had decided to take a year off to have my fourth child, as of November 1st. This was something my work had approved. Resting was helping reduce the preterm labor symptoms. I was progressing well. I was laying on the couch resting at 36 weeks, when I got a call from my sister-in law. Hunter was in critical condition at the hospital.

Rewind a couple of days, my brother had gone into the hospital two days prior for an elective tonsillectomy. I had warned him that this was a bad idea. All surgery has risks, there is no such thing as a minor surgery. He had assured me that the tonsil stones he had warranted the surgery. He was willing to accept this risk and write me off as an overprotective sister. I would hold onto the warning for the rest of my life, wishing he had listened. The surgery did not go well. They stopped taking out his adenoids because there was too much bleeding. Why you take out adenoids, when tonsils are the source of the problem, I will never understand. He had been in serious pain after surgery and they were keeping him for twenty four hours to observe him. I had called that day and he had written a note, “I <3 U.” That would be the last communication I would ever have with my brother. His voice was too strained to speak and the next day, he was too out of it to call. We would, later, find out why.

My sister-in law was hysterical. I immediately went into triage mode. This was going to be fine, Hunter was going to be fine. He was fine just the day before, and was supposed to have left the hospital. They would have transferred him to another hospital, if his symptoms were really severe. He had just texted me earlier that day, they were odd texts, but responses none the less. I would later find out he was texting me “I can’t text and drive, it is not worth a life,” because he was almost completely incapacitated. But for now, that was unacceptable, he was okay. He had to be okay.

I got a call from my dad forty five minutes later. “He’s dead,” was all he said. I became hysterical, screaming “No,” over and over again. Then, “This is not real life, this is not my life.” My dad has no recollection of that phone call. I was in shock, he was in shock. After that, I called my doctor to get medication to help me sleep. I was sure I wasn’t going to survive this. Brian wanted me to go to Montgomery that night, but I wasn’t ready. I would regret not seeing Hunter in the hospital that night, not being there amongst his friends. I regret not seeing him for every minute that I could. My mom sent me an image of him lying dead in the bed. This image was traumatizing and would haunt me for awhile. It would be one of the first components of PTSD that would consume me for months.

That night, we still had to assemble my daughters bike for her birthday, the next day. My sweet father-in law came over to help. As they assembled, I walked outside. I am not typically a hyper spiritual person. I don’t believe in the paranormal or ghosts. But something wrapped its arms around me that night. I don’t know if it was an angel, the holy spirit, or my brother. I will say it felt like him. It felt like one of his warm bear hugs, and to this day it brings me comfort to reflect on those moments, after he died. I wasn’t alone.

The next morning, we threw a quick birthday celebration for my four year old daughter and flew out the door. That was the last time I would be home for over nine days. It would take us nine days to view him, autopsy him, fly him home and bury his body. It would take almost a year for us to find out what really happened that night.

We drove to Birmingham, Alabama to meet up with my Uncle, Aunt, Cousin, and my parents. Seeing my parents was one of the most difficult parts. That first time you all make eye contact, and the unspoken loss hangs in the air like thick fog. It took my breath away. I almost collapsed into their arms and cried. My dad wanted to see my brother’s body as soon as possible. So, we went to the morgue. My brother was Air Force. So, his body was set up for autopsy, before we even were able to request it. His body was being transferred from the local coroner, who we later found out was on his first day as coroner. Hunter would have been his first autopsy. Instead, he was being transferred to the University of Alabama Birmingham for autopsy by an actual M.D. The Air Force like F.B.I. (I will call them the FBI from here on out, to make it easier to explain) was in charge of Hunter’s case and was opening a criminal investigation.

We arrived at the funeral home to view my brother’s body. Nothing could have prepared me for that. My parents were in there as they removed the body bag, but I was didn’t see him until he was fully exposed. This was the best he would look until his interment. He just looked like my handsome, strong brother but asleep. I found it concerning that his shirt was not ripped open, he didn’t have any bruising from CPR type movement. He looked like he was sleeping, but he was cold to the touch. That wasn’t the most alarming part.

I didn’t know exactly what happens to a body after death. I now know the bodily fluids start to seep out. He was surrounded by a puddle of yellow liquid mixed with blood. This image would prevent me from eating steak for awhile. I developed a PTSD effect from seeing liquid blood on a plate and would fall into anxiety attacks in restaurants. As well, he had blood and vomit draining from his mouth. It was my brother but a broken shell of him. I collapsed under the weight and pain of him being gone. I fell down on the table and sat on the floor. I cried so hard, I couldn’t even breathe. I talked to my brother in my mind and asked him to help me get back up.

I couldn’t explain it, if I tried, but something said, “Look up.” Now, my brother was a joker. He loved to make people laugh and would definitely be cracking a joke, had he been in the room. I opened my eyes, and screamed. There, inches from me, was another dead person. No bag, just laying there. This person was old and, as my sister-in law joked through her pain, ready to go. I jumped back and everyone rushed to make sure I was okay. I told them what I saw, and we all looked down. We laughed so hard. We said Hunter had to have been there too. He would have been tickled to death to make us laugh though our pain. We could feel his presence. We were grateful to the Lord for his grace in helping us laugh in our agony. It gave us the strength to leave the morgue that night, and for me to get up off that floor.

Hannah’s Hope

2 Samuel 1: 10-11 “ She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. 11 And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life”

After this miscarriage the days were dark. I grieved deeply and mourned the pain of loss. I couldn’t believe God was asking me to walk such a path. It seemed unfair, but I endured. In the months following, a cloud came over me. Still not depression, just a deep sadness. I had a vision one day of my children running through our house being followed by a crawling baby boy. It was so real, I felt I could almost reach out and touch it. However, I dared not put my hope in something so abstract. There was still a comfort there, feeling that this would come to pass. I began reading the book Hannah’s Hope. It is an excellent book for those struggling with fertility issues. I follows the story of Hannah, from 2 Samuel. Her was a journey of bareness and pain. She cried out to God for deliverance from the agony in the form of a baby. It seemed it would never come.

However, the Lord saw her in her affliction and gave her Samuel. She dedicated him  to the Lord and God created a beautiful story for him. I highly suggest reading both the book and the scripture. This story was salve to my soul. My heart knew there was another baby out there for me. I was desperate to meet this child but couldn’t imagine going through another miscarriage. The Lord was faithful, and I conceived a baby boy, we would name Samuel. I was on heparin injections, progesterone, and weekly ultrasounds but he grew healthy and strong. His labor and delivery were not as swift as the first. These labor pains were slow and steady, leading to a beautiful and peaceful delivery. Holding him was pure joy and he was so content to snuggle up under my neck. He stayed there for months, it seemed. He is still an amazing snuggler today. Samuel was the child that showed me God’s love for his children in the midst of pain and suffering. He saw my longing heart and gave me a swift answer. This time would prepare me for a future trial I was yet to see. A trial that would tear at my heart and cause me to question all that I thought I knew.

In the meantime, Samuel grew and my heart longed for a fourth child. One day, at my practice a little girl came in with her guardians. I looked at her and she at me, and I felt an undeniable bond. I ran outside, after the appointment, and called my husband and mother. I had met our fourth child. I knew it in those moments with her. The Lord gave me the confidence to ask her guardian whether or not she needed permanent placement. It seemed that she would and they were open to my husband and I. They did an interview with us with our pastor. We had dinner together. We were starting to become friends. It felt as all was moving in the direction of adoption. We had even decided that we would adopt her older siblings, if they still needed placement. We didn’t want to divide a family. We looked at the Nissan NVP van, my husband even test drove one. We began talking as though this was our future, to welcome these three children into our home. Just like that, it began to be ripped away. The birth mother was finally starting to get her act together. Our journey had started nearly a year before. She had shown no interest in attending her court appointed visits, court dates, holidays, etc. Then, on what seemed like a whim, she stepped back in. The guardians were now two years in and content to keep her as long as there was a chance she could still go back to her birth mom. We, finally, told the guardian family that we would give her a home at any point in the future that it might be necessary, but we had to move forward. With that, we surrendered her back to the Lord. To this day, she still hasn’t been fully placed one way or the other. The pain of that loss still hurts. I am not sure what the Lord’s plan was in involving us in that specific arrangement, but I trust it crosses into eternity and one day I will see clearly.

The earthly reality is that between all of our biological children were we asked to surrender another child to the Lord. It is painful, still, to think about. We have two little ones up in heaven. Without their sacrifice, we wouldn’t have the four children we have now. But sometimes, I can’t help but think how different our lives would be had they survived. It will be a tender place in my soul until I leave this world. I know, though, that my God was with me and was orchestrating my story to glorify him in the end. After that we got another Rainbow. This was our Judah. He would come both with joy and unspeakable pain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like and Share here for Giveaway

I forgot to provide the link to my facebook page, Living Water Blog, in the post “You are Enough – Giveaway.”

Like and Share here to be included in the Starbucks card giveaway!

https://www.facebook.com/livingwaterblog/

 

You are Enough – Giveaway

2 Samuel 22: 17-20 “He sent from above, he took me; he drew me out of many waters; He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from them that hated me: for they were too strong for me. They prevented me in the day of my calamity: but the Lord was my stay. He brought me forth also into a large place: he delivered me, because he delighted in me.”

To the woman late for work because she overslept;

to the woman whose husband left for another woman;

to the woman who feels unloveable;

to the woman who gained weight and is a shadow of her former self;

to the woman passed up for another promotion given to a man;

to the woman whose partner yells and verbally degrades her;

to the woman exhausted by the weight of the world;

to the woman with cancer ravaging her body;

to the woman in the margin unseen and unknown

You have value. You are brave. You are strong. The days are long but they will get better. There is a light in the darkness.

To the mom weary from wiping noses and changing diapers;

to the mom wandering through piles of toys and no strength to clean them up one more time;

to the mom whose kids yell and are disrespectful;

to the mom with fear of making a new mistake each passing day;

to the mom who feels unseen in her yoga pants;

to the mom who sacrificed her dreams for those of her family;

to the mom who feels that her efforts are worthless;

You are treasured. You are worthy. You are valuable. You are strong.

 

To the mom who is waiting for a + sign on her pregnancy test;

to the mom yearning to hold her biological child;

to the mom yearning to hold her adoptive child;

to the mom yet not a mom and yet longing to be with every piece of her;

to the mom holding the body of her still born baby;

to the mom burying her beloved child;

You are held. You have purpose today. You are a survivor. Persevere.

 

To woman who’s depressed, anxious, fearful;

to the woman who is afraid to go outside;

to the woman trapped in her own mind;

to the one making plans for suicide thinking everyone will be better of without you;

to the woman who wants today to be the last day she picks up a bottle or syringe;

to the woman who has is working the streets or the stage;

to the woman who had lost everything and feels all hope is lost;

Christ sees you. He hears your prayers.

 

To the woman who questions the faith she once had;

to the woman who questions the God she has always known;

to the woman whose life experience tells her there is no God;

to the woman whose father was so brutal the concept of a loving Father God seems like a fallacy;

to the woman who can’t walk into the church after all the pain experienced inside its walls;

to the woman hurt by woman she trusted;

to the woman rejected time and time again;

to the woman longing to fit in and be accepted

He knows you and longs to be known by you. You are resilient. You matter. Your life has purpose. You are lovable. You are valuable. You are worthy of respect. You have strength inside of you, that you never could have imagined. The Lord’s love is not waiting behind a right decision, his deliverance is not dependent of right choices, his presence is not being withheld. It is here. It is in today. You are worthy of this love because of Christ’s sacrifice. Step into the light and love of Christ today. He is not waiting on you, he is here. He is ready to take your burden. Let him hold and restore your soul. Let him give you the Living Water you long for.

Share this with a woman who needs to hear that she has value today. Send it to one who needs encouragement. Make the phone call to the family member or friend you may have marginalized. Make sure these women see you as the hands and feet of Jesus in their suffering. You just may change a life.

 

Giveaway! I would like to give one reader a $10 Starbucks gift card. To enter, go to Facebook, LIKE and SHARE this post. Then, comment on this link or FACEBOOK and let me know.

Happy Friday!

26B7C52D-F5D6-4514-9B33-E517D1E679EA