I wanted to write a post about trauma, triggers, things that trouble us and some truth to stand on in the days to come. I’ve long said that there are three primary things that got me through my grief: Truth, Talking and Tears. I have reached a place where the tears mean and come for different reasons than they once did, and I must admit that I had a period of time where it felt as if I couldn’t cry another drop of wet sorrow over my son – even if I wanted to. I just felt all cried out. Still… The tears are important, as are the things that triggered them and the truth that I discovered in them when I talked about my loss, my God and the places I had been with Justin since we began this journey together some 20 years ago..
Tammy wrote a terrific post about things that trigger her memories, her tears and her to work through her grief. Be sure to read about it here. It is such a reminder about the importance of allowing your heart and body to fully express grief as it comes in your life.
I am a visual/audio person. Images and music tend to have a significant impact on me for some reason – so as I was beginning to write this post a few scenes came to mind and along the way that song at the end landed on me with a deep sense of truth tucked away inside of it.
(**Tissue warning… Tissue Warning… Sobbing scenes ahead.**)
The first two video clips are from Terms of Endearment staring Shirley McClaine and Deborah Winger. This movie was produced in 1983. I remember being a high school student when my brother and I hosted a sleepover for all our neighborhood friends. Four girls and four boys were sitting in my bedroom floor watching this movie in the middle of the night. All four girls were blubbering and wiping their noses in a full on ugly cry while the boys looked on in awe at all that estrogen charged emotion.
For me, Shirley McClaine fighting for her daughter was like those last few days of Justin’s life when it felt like the world had stopped and all I wanted was to take care of my son and make sure everyone responded with his best interest at heart.
For many days no one would tell us what was happening with my Jay-bird. He lay in that bed, his blood pressure and temperature were looking really good. With his summer tan on his face he looked so peaceful sleeping there. But, his cranial pressure – the indicator for the severity of the swelling on his brain – just kept rising. On the seventh day, Monday, August 22nd, everything in my life felt upside down. The doctors had come in early while I was away and my dad was with him. I had returned home overnight to go to my own doctor and take my daughters to school. They said that one of his pupil’s had stopped responding to light which could mean that he was taking a turn for the worst. My dad called and I prayed. “Lord, please… just let him be alive when I get there.”
I had told the doctors for days that we wanted the complete, unvarnished truth. By noon, when the neurosurgeon’s had avoided my son’s room and talking to me for the second time I was a frantic mess. I was crying, shaking and ANGRY. I felt much of what Shirley McClaine expresses in this scene – except my son didn’t need a shot for pain. I needed answers about his condition – answers no one seemed willing to provide.
The social worker assigned to be our advocate during Justin’s eight day ordeal at the hospital advised me to call the doctor’s office and ask them to help me. I went back to the nurse’s station. Within minutes I was on the line with a Physician’s Assistant who had not even seen my son in the hospital. He placed me on hold and reviewed my son’s file and films. I felt like I had been there forever when he came back on and said, “Ma’am, though I have not examined your son I would say that we need to do a test and I will order it for tomorrow or the next day. This test will measure the blood flow to your son’s brain.”
I already sensed what the results of that test would be… Still, at least I had some sort of answer to what the doctor’s were thinking. He assured me that we would have definitive answers about my son’s condition after this test was completed. I asked my husband to call the elders and have them come along with our pastor and family. I did not want to deal with people – I just wanted to have those who’d loved us longest and those who had been there for my son during the most difficult months to pray with us over him before we released him to God. Apparently, Scott did not convey that message. That night more than 150 people arrived at the hospital and my father “ran the tour.” When the nurses gave him the heads up that he could bring as many people back as he could – four at a time – he began walking out and leading people back to the room for five minute visits where he explained all the details of the monitors and held onto his hope that my son was going to live.
I, on the other hand, had been sitting on my cot while his nurse, Donna, checked his pupils as was the hourly routine. When she looked up with discouraged eyes that showed me a heart aching for our family all she could do was whisper. “We’ve lost his other pupil.”
The finality of those words lay over me like a thick, suffocating blanket. My son had slipped away. I felt the warm wet tears that had been mine for days as Justin’s condition hit peaks and then dove into valleys … “That’s not good is it?”
She shook her head, came to my side and sat and held me in her arms as I cried. She wept, too. It touched me in the deep places of my heart the way the staff of the hospital loved on us and met with us in our need. They took good care of my baby and my family during those awful days when tragedy visited us and death consumed one of our own.
These next scenes mark out some of how I felt on August 23, 2005. Such peace in the passing, but then terrible angst. One of my prayers that week was for God to make the outcome sure. Either He was going to heal and restore my son or He wasn’t this side of heaven. By that last day, my heart cry was not to bring my son back in a broken state, but to make it absolutely certain and to leave no doubt about God’s will. When the doctor’s told us that they were sure his brain stem had hemorrhaged on his way back from the last test and they would be in to turn off his ventilator so we should gather our family… Again I felt peace mixed with deep sorrow.
There was not absolution for me until they turned off the machines and there was no gasp of air, no shaking, nothing that suggested my son was still in that body. He had slipped away quietly while no one was looking. He tread the path to heaven with Jesus by his side and I knew with absolute certainty that he would never awaken to me on earth again. The sobs of death consumed me as that truth settled into my life for the first time. I bathed his body, held him tight and left him to the medical examiner. He still is my son.
The Steel Magnolias funeral scene has always reduced me to tears. The things that M’lynn expresses at the funeral reflected my own heart about the death of my child. She recounted the last minutes with “there was no gasp, no tremble – just peace” She said her husband couldn’t take it, he left. Her son-in-law couldn’t take it… he left. That men, “they’re supposed to be made of steel or something, but they couldn’t take it… I was there when that beautiful creature drifted into my life and I was there when she drifted out. It was the most precious moment of my life.”
I felt all that and more in those hours leading up to and out of my son’s death. I recently asked my husband where he was standing when they turned off Justin’s machines. His answer? By the door. He spent little time in the room with Justin and I, barely able to stand the “frankenstein–esque” monitor in his skull and all the bleating machines and wires that ran to and from his body.
Since I’ve given you some heavier scenes to contemplate earlier I thought I would drop this next one in because it makes us laugh. It so accurately expresses the full range of anger, emotional tumult and that uncanny role of humor in our tears that can come in times of great tragedy.
This final scene was met with a round of cheers as my daughters and I watched this serial drama for teenagers. One Tree Hill is on the CW (formerly the WB) each week and we’ve followed it off and on from its inception.
This scene is between the original group of One Tree Hill who are now adults and teachers in the life of a teenager who was killed when he accidentally walked in on an armed robbery at a gas station. I include it because there is truth to stand on in these lines… and it is truth hard to find in the entertainment industry these days. When others are crying out that self-awareness and getting in touch with your inner child or nature, and society says we create our own realities… Here is this little serial drama that does not get it right half the time declaring the truth for all to see. Thank God He uses even the mundane to reveal Himself in small ways.
There’s an old saying “God will not give us more than we can bear.” But, as I read the Scriptures I hear the Holy Spirit saying something fresh in 1 Corinthians 10:12-13 “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” (NKJV, emphasis mine)
God is faithful to keep us from being pushed beyond our limits. In and of our own power and strength we have nothing, Scripture tells us that His strength is made perfect in our weakness – meaning it is proven powerful in the weakest, most devastating moments of our lives. When I read 1 Corinthians 10:13 it speaks this to me: “God will not give us more than HE can bear.” That passage says that with God I can withstand any trial, any suffering, any temptation and overcome because He makes the way.
Paul reports in his epistles as having been afflicted by a thorn in the flesh that He prayed three times to have removed. But, rather than removing the thorn, God provided him the grace to endure the tempest and the storm. God will provide the same for you. He is the God of all comfort. He sustains those who are weak and hurting. He comforts those who suffer and mourn and He gives grace and strength to those who feel as if they cannot go on. He causes us to stand. We have a Rock in Jesus Christ upon which to STAND FIRM. So …. my friends, Stand. When you think you’ll give up. Stand. When you’re down on you’re luck. Stand. Get up… Can’t you hear Him saying, Get up and Stand with Me in this. He wants you to stand.
(As Sung by Rascal Flatts)
“You feel like a candle in a hurricane
Just like a picture with a broken frame
Alone and helpless
Like you’ve lost your fight
But you’ll be alright, you’ll be alright
Cause when push comes to shove
You taste what you’re made of
You might bend, till you break
Cause its all you can take
On your knees you look up
Decide you’ve had enough
You get mad you get strong
Wipe your hands shake it off
Then you Stand,
Then you stand
Life’s like a novel
With the end ripped out
The edge of a canyon
With only one way down
Take what you’re given before its gone
Start holding on,
keep holding on
Every time you get up
And get back in the race
One more small piece of you
Starts to fall into place
With my love and prayers,