Saturday, February 19, 2011

Mountain Top

Without the valley-there would be no mountain. It's the view from the top that makes the valley look beautiful.

Two years ago today our three-year-old lost her breath in front of me.... right here in this room. I watched, horrified - as I realized that she was not going to start breathing on her own. Panic threatened to overtake me as I frantically tried to remember how to start CPR. Seconds later I was on the bathroom floor yelling at the 911 operator to help me remember what to do and how. That horrific moment - among others - still stands out in my mind. That was only the beginning of the valley. Minutes later my neighbor (and EMT) rushed in and together we worked to revive Kira. The ambulance crew soon arrived and took over attempting to stabilize her. As I reached for the phone and called my sister I could feel my panic and adrenaline being replaced with fear as I yelled into the phone "Kira is dying". The words seemed to rush out of my mouth and chill everything around. What seemed like hours (in reality, eight minutes) later I watched through blurred eyes as the ambulance sped out of our drive and up the road with Kira in the back and her daddy in the front. Time seemed to stop as I tried to collect myself and go to the hospital. Life became a mad cycle of running to the hospital and juggling feeding the baby as I tried to stay collected the next five days. My fears became valid and I confronted them as the fifth day came and we said good bye to Kira as she peacefully slipped from this world into the next... And then this journey of relearning my trust in God.

A year ago we had a party. A celebration party of Kira's life here and in heaven. Somehow I felt God was calling me to celebrate with my whole heart. Even harder was the call to celebrate other people's children amidst the pain of losing my own. The past year had been very difficult for us and I was starting to feel like we were coming out of the gutter. Merlin had been sick for months. In August Anna sprained her ankle and I had a miscarriage. It was only the start of my downward journey. I was simply worn out. Also in August, Marlea had poison ivy and fought it off and on until finally it became systemic and her whole body reacted to it. She too was worn down physically. I was rescued from my coming crash (better interpreted a nervous breakdown) by our doctor, although I will say that the drugs are still in the cabinet - unopened. I keep them there to remind myself how close I was to an emotional breakdown. By February and the year mark we were all on the healing road. The party was good - it felt okay to celebrate Kira's heaven date. Plus the amazing support we felt from everyone that came to celebrate with us was also very healing. In the weeks that followed I continued to feel healing and a release of my own will.

Weeks later we were pleasantly surprised to realize that we were expecting a baby. We simply did not expect it. Not opposed, we both really wanted another child. Especially Marlea who had prayed fervently every day since Kira's death. The pictures on her door strongly alluded to her heart's desire. The next months were difficult for me as I grappled with grieving and being joyful about the baby. Joy and sadness seem to be at opposite ends of the spectrum. I wasn't quite up to it physically. That combined with the hot summer had me pretty much exhausted most days.

So it happened that on November 11, 2010 we welcomed Brent Jaxon into the world. It was a calm, fairly uneventful delivery (as much as childbirth can be:). Minutes later as I lay holding our son I suddenly realized that I am lying in a hospital bed holding a baby. My mind flashed back to the night at Hershey holding Kira as her heart beat it's last. Instinctively in my head I compared it to now - holding a new baby. Amazement filled my heart. Earlier the nurse had been asking about our family and I had shared a little about Kira. Now they were asking more questions. I suddenly realized I was lying in this bed all this time and didn't even think about the bed similarity until now. As I talked with them more, they shared my grief with tears and more questions. But strangely I wasn't crying. A feeling rose up inside of me, a feeling of being okay with everything. Yes, here I was - I was okay. It seemed like part of my life - a life that was mine. Weeks earlier God had told me that I would have an experience through Brent's birth that would be a mountaintop. This was my mountaintop. I could feel it, I literally felt on the top - even viewing the valley from the top. Praise filled me for the faithfulness of God. Yes, that valley; yes, this mountaintop. But it would not be a mountaintop without the valley. I gazed in gratefulness at our son, Brent - whose name means "mountaintop."

No, we didn't try to name him that because of thinking it's going to be a mountaintop. When Kira was in the womb we thought she might be a boy. To be safe, we found a boy name we liked. Obviously we didn't need it. When Anna was born we kept it on the back shelf again just in case. When we found out that this baby was to be a boy, we somewhat automatically named him Brent. We didn't even realize that the name meant mountaintop. We just liked the name.

The power of that experience carried me through the next weeks. I missed Kira tremendously. The combination of adjusting to a baby - hormonal changes that come with birth, and the Christmas season - proved to be a terrible combination for me. Merlin was also dealing with the changes except that men tend to retreat, which only made my pain worse. Many days I felt as if I could hardly go on... then the realness of my mountaintop experience would come back. It wouldn't bring me out of my sorrow, but it did convince me that sometime I will be okay again. It was the taste of the "feeling" that kept my head up.

When Brent was three weeks old he was having breathing difficulty.
I took him to the doctor and then for a chest x-ray; his chest was clear. A few nights later I awakened to the sensation that something was wrong. I jumped out of bed-paranoid. His head was cold but he was still breathing although labored. I was just downright scared. Fear came crawling into my heart that God would give us a son and then take him away again. He was better after his feeding but I held him the rest of the night. And yes, one could have guessed; it was the weekend so into the ER we went. I couldn't believe it. Us, here again. It's like God just wants us to be okay with going there and facing our fears. I wasn't too surprised with the whole ordeal. God had told me a while ago that something will happen with Brent that I will learn to trust Him more. I pretended it was my imagination...but then I knew I had heard it. Yes, I did learn to trust Him more through it. But in a different way than with all the other episodes. I felt like God was simply calling me to face my fear - maybe even confront my feeling of helplessness. I learned a lot more about conquering my fear simply because there was something to do. Kira's death left me with a terrible feeling that there is nothing to do. God showed me through the experience with Brent that often just a simple something takes care of the problem; it's not always a drastic complicated outcome. In his case all it took was a nebulizer treatment. We did it at home for a few weeks afterward and he has been fine since. He just couldn't move the mucous. Or maybe God just wants us to walk into the ER so often until we don't even think it strange anymore?

Christmas came and went. Lots of feelings again - mostly sad. Strangely Marlea was sick for about two weeks again right before Christmas. Sorta added to my loss of sanity. I can't say I do really well with all of the above on a pile. The one day, I took Marlea for a doctor appointment; I made the appointment at one place and went to another location. They looked at me as if I might be a little shady. I just smiled and said "Well, I guess I am still post-partum." I was glad for the excuse. "Here - give my daughter a fix so I can get my sanity back again" is what I was thinking. It was nice to look back on Christmas day and feel the difference between last Christmas and this Christmas. This past one was definitely easier for all of us. I still keenly felt the desire to be joyful on Christmas but it is so difficult when not everyone is there and you know someone will never be again on this earth. We tried to distract ourselves but I can't say it really worked really well. At midnight after I had finally convinced Brent to settle down - I was exhausted, worn out emotionally and physically. I cried and cried, then went to bed and slept. The next day I awoke and it was not Christmas any more and the world looked brighter. In fact, ever since that the world has been looking brighter again. I feel like I am finally accepting Kira's death.

In turn I am blessed with a peace unknown to me before. I feel real joy. Some of it comes out of feeling hypocritical. I was raised in a Christian home and taught to be obedient to God and His will. Not accepting Kira's death to me felt so disobedient. I knew I had to fight through it because I couldn't deny the obvious, neither ignore the grief cycle if I wanted to heal. To not accept it took patience and trust that my wounded heart would heal and I would feel peaceful again. I feel it coming. I've been told I look happy again. I am amazed how much better I am feeling physically. The muscle bunchies leave me the whole way some days and I have a lot more energy. It just takes lots of energy to grieve!

A few observations from the last three months

What do you do with a little girl who thinks turning three will make her die? She doesn't want to go to Jesus, she says.

I look at Brent - he will never know Kira on earth. That seems wrong because they are both part of our family.

We have lived two years without Kira. Next year it will be as long without her as with her.

It takes wisdom and thoughtfulness as a mother to remember to ask the seven-year-old every several days what she is thinking and to purposely spend time with her, reflecting on her feelings about Kira and her death. Unfortunately though I am her mother; I am human and not perfect.

Men and women still grieve differently two years later

Anna turns three in April. Her actions and antics somewhat remind me of Kira and how much I was enjoying her. After she turns three - I will be reminded constantly of what I lost with Kira.

I fear still someone I loved being taken from me...then I am reminded of the definition of "mine"

God has unique ways of making me stronger

God's timing is always right

God gave us a visible sign to help us remember the mountaintop

Brent is God's sign to Marlea that He heard her prayer. She wanted Kira to live; she died. Then God gave us Brent!

Life and death are so opposite. Likewise the feelings that go with them.

I live in awe of a God who gives and a God who takes away. In times of doubt - I am learning to trust

When Anna was born, Kira was simply overbearing. I have many pictures of her bending over Anna; and Anna is screaming "bloody murder." We have the same scenario again. Only this time Anna is overbearing and Brent is screaming. Why don't babies like two-year-olds? It must be that fear of the unknown.

Rejoice with us for the gift of life God gave in Brent and how we are learning more about God through his birth. Also for the healing and joy we feel in our hearts, and for the valley and mountaintop.

Marylu and Merlin, Marlea, Anna, and Brent