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


  1. dear friend...many times life has no explaination or sense. i do know that God NEVER wastes the stuff of life! it's good to hear about your journey to wellness - love, Esther

  2. I am so glad that through your journey of grief you have some mountaintop experiences. I am praying for you and think of you quite often. --Michele N.

  3. I don't have many words for you all right now. Other than I love you and miss you more than you will ever know.

  4. I love you, sis. I'm proud of you. Miss Kira too. Evie

  5. Thanks so much for updating again. I've been wondering how things were going since Brent was born. It's hard for me to believe that your journey is two years long already. It's good to hear about the joy that's coming in the midst of the pain. May God continue to heal and lead you all. Keep praying for our extended family, too. The first pain and shock are gone, but there's the continuing ache and wondering if things will ever truly be okay. And wanting to trust God but not sure that I do.
    Sarah Sauder

  6. You wrote it, sister...I am so proud of you.


  7. Dear MaryLou,
    You have been on my happy for you with your new baby boy, Brent.. the card you sent with the pictures were precious.
    Kira will always be with you, and I believe she has already met Brent..
    the girls have grown up and are beautiful, also..
    God is Good, all the time!
    Praying for you and your family,
    ♥ Linda

  8. I have been thinking of your family...and pray for you all often. Your words always bring tears...and smiles! I too miss Kira, I enjoyed the times I would talk to her a few minutes during our visits to the suites... one could not help but fall in love with her vibrant and free spirit, and adorableness. I will always remember her! I also congratulate you on your son Brent, and I'm sure he will "know" his sister by the wonderful & cherished memories & pictures you have of Kira that you'll share with him! May God continue to bring you peace & joy....God bless you all!

  9. Dearest Marylu,

    God has so blessed you with the gift of sharing your heart through writing. I know He has used your words to help many see that God is good even in our darkest hours.

    So glad to hear that you are all doing well. Brent has been such a wonderful blessing and source of joy! See you the last weekend of March. I look forward to seeing the girls and how big Brent has gotten since Christmas time. Take care and God bless you all.


    Laura Dolan

  10. I have never been as captivated by a story as much as your's. I admire you for sharing your thoughts with a perfect stranger from N.Y.. I've drawn many parallel lines to you and though we'll never meet here on Earth I am sure we will one day. Wishing you all the special warmth of Kira upon every ray of sun that graces your day and every whispered note in the wind be a song. My 1st Grandchild is my "Cup of Red Headed Sunshine" now I will think of 2 special little girls when I see the sun.

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  12. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  13. I was browsing blogs when I came across yours. You have a beautiful story. I am delighted to see that you are allowing our incredible God to work in your wounded heart! "Take heart, Daughter. Your faith has healed you!" (Matt. 9:22 revised) Thank you for sharing your journey. I have been encouraged.

  14. this brought a tear to my eye :')

  15. After reading your story, I am still trying to compose myself. I have to say that You are such an Amazing, Courageous, Humble,Loving, Faithful, Mighty Woman of God. I absolutely admire you. I thank you for allowing me the privilege and honor of peering into your life and the journey you and your family are traveling. You exude such an INCREDIBLE love for God. His strength is so evident in you (even when if you may not always feel like it)I pray the Spirit of the Lord's Love, Strength, Peace, and Joy ministers to you and overshadows you and your family everyday. His word is true and He will renew your strength daily.

    Isaiah 40:30 but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

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  17. Hi Marylu,
    Thank you so much for sharing your heart. May God bless you and give you His peace as you go through this time. I am thankful for a God that loves and give us His promise of knowing that Kira is in Heaven with Him and one day you will see that precious girl again.

    Congratulations on the birth of Brent. A sweet boy. May he bring you much joy.

    Lysa and I are coming to Lancaster in October but the Rustic Room was already taken. Needless to say, we are very disappointed. We will stop in to see if you might be at the "Suites" just to say hi.

    God bless you and your family.

    Betty Aylestock, VA

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  20. Just stumbled onto your blog and was immensely touched by your story. Please know your family is in my prayers! Sending love and light to your beautiful family!

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  24. You are very brave to share this journey
    with us.
    Hebrews 11:l
    "Now faith is the assurance of things
    we hope for"

  25. Dear Mary Lu, In the first year or so after Kira's death I received some of your blog entries through e-mail forwards, but I had kind of lost track of you the last year or so. We now have internet access at home and I just found your blog tonight and was once again touched by the experiences you have shared. Our journeys have their differences, yet there are many similarities, too. We, too, were blessed with a baby boy - Gavin Laray (Chelsea's middle name was LaRae)- this past April. I know what you mean when you say it just doesn't seem right to think that our little girls will never know their little brothers here on earth. Blessings to you as you continue to "heal". True healing, from the inside out, is a long and arduous journey. Love, Janelle Burkholder (Chelsea's mom)

  26. very nice blog continue to blog even if life situations put you on hold and thank's for sharing.

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