On June 7th, my 17 year old daughter was found unresponsive outside her bedroom door by her little brother, Ben. We called 911 and the worst morning of our lives concluded with the ambulance racing for the nearest hospital. From there was a med flight into Boston, the heroic efforts of Children’s Hospital’s ICU team and finally, the painful goodbye. We are still waiting for the coroner to give us the final results, but her team of doctors suspect it was an AVM, a brain arteriovenous malformation. It was something she was likely born with. Due to it’s placement, when it burst, the damage was catastrophic.
It was Friday, June 11th that, knowing we’d exhausted every possible medical intervention, we let her go. Many people hearing this say they can’t imagine what we’re going through. I think if you’re a parent with a decent imagination, you probably have a pretty good idea. It’s your worst nightmare. All the stuff people say about grief is pretty much true. Right now, two months after we found her unresponsive, it still doesn’t feel real. Just last night I was sitting here at my desk trying to comprehend how someone so lively, so complex and deep, whose soul radiated life in everything she did, how can she be dead, gone, disappeared?
Grief comes in waves. In the days following the doctors telling us there was no hope of meaningful recovery, my husband and I seemed to take turns in the water. When he was under and suffering, I could somehow pull myself together to hold him up. When I went under, he’d surface and hold me up. In her last hours, it was my sister and my best friend who held on to each of us, giving us the strength to watch our child slip away quietly. And it was quiet. We’d been warned that although the doctors didn’t think so, there might have been enough of her brain still functioning that we’d see an attempt to breathe, maybe a gasp. But we saw nothing. What we felt was peace. She was no longer of this world and the Holy Spirit was in the room with us, giving us strength and comfort.
Most days I am 30 seconds from breaking into tears with little or no prompting; some days it’s more like 10. It’s simply too much to bear. I float along the surface, functioning, and then a wave comes and I’m struggling to breathe. The loss is unfathomable. Rationally, I know it won’t always be like this. The wound never heals, but it does change and you find a way to live with it. And too, I know that right now with people calling, writing, and reaching out with their love and help it’s easier to take. In a few months when it’s quiet it’s a different struggle.
When someone tells me ‘there are no words’ to express condolences in this situation I agree. There shouldn’t be. This isn’t normal. 17 year olds aren’t supposed to die. They’re supposed to be finishing their senior year and planning their future. We should be driving her to college visits and helping her with her application essay. Instead, we picked out a headstone this weekend.
I’m tempted to delete this and not post it because I know this is raw, but it’s real. I’d rather be messy than fake. I remember the nurses asking me in the ER first in our local hospital and then at Children’s “Are you okay?” and each time I’d answer “Nope.” but I’d hold it together. I’m still holding it together, but I am not in the least okay. But I trust God has us all in His hands. What safer place to be anything other than okay?
Cover image: Photo by Matt Hardy on Unsplash
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