3 1/2 years later and I’m now just able to reflect on the worst day of my life. When you go through something traumatic, you just survive. You go back to the basics. All the superficial things are no longer in your way. You cut to the heart of what matters – living, your family and your good friends, the ones that are by your side in the hospital and at your husband’s funeral. In some ways, going through something traumatic, can provide clarity. An instant shutter of all the things that get in our way, that tempt us, that distract us from who we really are and what is important to us. In an instant it all changes, and you go back to the basics. What is most important in life.
I remember debating whether I tell my girls how sick their father is, debating whether they should go see him on life support. I got a lot of opinions, but I went with my gut. I was their mother and now I must be the one to make all the decisions for them.
On March 7, 2013, I drove home alone to get my girls. I looked my two-year old and five-year old in the eyes and said, “we need to go say good-bye to your daddy. He’s dying.” I drove to the hospital with tears down my face, trying to pull myself together for what would be the hardest thing I hopefully ever had to do as a mother. I walked them down the hallway past all the sick patients in the ICU, and led them to a small room with lots of machines. Their father was hooked up on a respiratory with tubes and machinery in his mouth and a life support machine to keep his organs working. His arms were all bruised and taped and dirty from weeks of tests and machines. I remember sweet M stroking his one finger that poked out of all the mess. She kept repeating, “his eyes are closed, his eyes are closed.” R was frightened and didn’t know what to do. She was very quiet. I looked up and saw a tear in the nurse’s eye. All I could say was, “Girls say good-bye to your daddy. He’s going to heaven. We won’t see him anymore.”
No one thought it was a good idea for the girls to say good-bye to their father in that state. They thought it was too traumatic for us, but it was actually too traumatic for them. For the people watching. For the people fearing what we were going through. It would have been too traumatic not to say good-bye. We didn’t have the luxury of fear.
I was approached by an advocate of organ donors to tell our story in a documentary, and I have been thinking of whether I should get involved. A little over three years ago, my husband lost his life to Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis. At only 48 years old, we waited and hoped he would hold on to get a lung transplant and start a new chapter, but his body gave out before he could receive a new set of lungs. Wanting to then bless someone else with what he was not fortunate enough to receive, he donated both his kidneys to women who needed them and had small children and a family.
As the surviving spouse, you reflect on the past and try to figure what stories do you want to tell your children about your spouse to keep the memory alive and in their hearts.
So I said, “Girls, you know your daddy’s a hero, right?” They asked me what I meant. I told them, “ He saved two women’s lives. Two women with small children and a husband. He gave them his organs which kept them alive.” They thought a minute and then cried, “But no one saved our daddy!” And I thought, they are right. No one saved him. And there was my answer. I needed to write this blog and participate in the documentary, so other daddy’s could be saved. I hope a few people read this and think of my little 8 and 6 year old girls who miss their daddy and register to be organ donors. According to Whitehouse.gov, there are currently 120,000 Americans waiting on the organ transplant list.http://www.organdonor.gov/becomingdonor/stateregistries.html
My kids like nicknames. I playfully called R “Goldilocks” over the years because of her very specific and changing needs or demands. You can make the same dish over and over, but one day it’s too salty, then next day it’s not salty enough. The temperature is too hot and then it’s too cold. So naturally M wanted her own nickname. M is more mischievous than R, so I called her a rascal a few times catching her doing something she shouldn’t have. She decided that “Rascal” would be her nickname. I had mixed feelings about this and wondered if I had just started a label which she’ll try to wear throughout her life.
Our dog frequently goes potty on our floor (somehow I ended up with an anxious, ADHD dog), so R decided to call the dog “Rascal #1”. Well this made M very made and she declared, “I am Rascal #1. The dog can be Rascal #2.” Surprised that she was so adamant on keeping that nickname and label I thought I may need a strategy to evolve the definition.
I told her, “let’s spend some time on defining rascal. You can own it, but I want to agree on the definition.” We then discussed what you can be – honest, caring, thoughtful, loving, obey the rules – but then still be a little bit of a rascal – teasing, practical jokes, sometimes give mommy a hard time. We agreed to this definition. And then I remind her of it frequently, so she doesn’t forget.
I wonder what other words she’ll decide that define her and if she’ll allow me next time to help with the definition.
August 1, 2016
It had been a long day. Trying to parent alone while working is tough. The girls started fighting in the backseat of the car while I was trying to work out some ideas in my head. Of course I wanted two tired, little girls to be quiet while I thought. Instead the yelling quickly escalated to fighting each other with elbows and jabs. Then one started crying and the other started screaming. Driving in Atlanta traffic, I lost it and yelled back at them to be quiet. I hate it when I discipline the kids for screaming by screaming. It’s so much harder to parent without fear. It requires a higher level of emotional awareness and energy, and I was on empty.
Once we got home, I was seething from two girls annoying me plus my reaction to the two girls. I just wanted to stay in a negative place and think about how difficult it is being a single parent and what a bad hand I got. Then when we got home, R said “I’m sorry, I was frustrated with M, but I shouldn’t have yelled or hit her.” She took the high road. Instantly, she had released me from my negativity with those words. A moment earlier I had thought my kids are brats and parenting is so hard only for that thought to be instantly replaced with my child is more emotionally mature than I am. I’m still pouting, and she’s ready for forgiveness and to move on. It amazes me how quickly they can transition their emotions.
A few minutes later, we were jumping on the trampoline holding hands and laughing, and it dawned on me that I had just experienced a journey of emotion within such a short time frame, guided by my child. To move from emotion to emotion, it was critical that I let the previous emotion go. She helped me with that. As an adult, we want to hide or hold on to those emotions. We have a bad day or a good day. It’s one emotion for the day, maybe longer. Not three emotions in an hour. It was a reminder to embrace the ride. To turn up the music and roll down the window and enjoy the bumpy road.
The girls and I decided to make the extra upstairs bedroom into an office for the three of us. We were rearranging the furniture and quickly my vision of an office with my work and the kids’ school work got overtaken with M’s doctor kit and mini “office” to take care of sick stuffed animals on her side and R’s red boa and decorations on her side of the room. I started thinking that this may be a bad idea to keep all my work organized.
I said aloud, “This may not be the best idea. I don’t want you girls getting into my work stuff and making a mess of it. I’m going to be upset if my work gets disorganized.” R replied “Yes, I know what you mean. I feel the same way when M messes up my stuffed animals when I have spent so much time laying them out in a certain way.”
I first thought that the stuffed animals getting disorganized was minor and not worth getting upset over compared to what I was talking about. And then I thought she probably thinks the same of my work. It’s all in how you view it and how you choose to view it.
My dad is a pediatrician, and my mother is a pediatric nurse. I grew up knowing how important having daily bowel movements is to overall health, and most recently the media has shown how important it is to your mental health too. So I find it natural and the role of a parent to ask my girls daily about their poop. I give them high fives for snake poops, and we talk about the importance of drinking more water and eating more fruits and vegetables if they have balls for poop.
As usual, I asked R before bed, “When did you poop last?” She said, “Today.”. “Great,” I said. “Was it a snake poop?” She said with a smile, “Yes, and the weird thing is that it came out in the letter R.” “I guess that deserves two high fives?” I said with a laugh.
A few days ago, R got annoyed with me that I was working on things and not responding quickly enough to her needs. She wrote me a letter that said, “You hurt my feelings. When you tell me to do something I do it asap. When I ask you to do something, it takes you one minute.”
Today I took the girls to the zoo. After 20 minutes of hard shopping in the gift shop, Ruby settles on buying a stuffed animal sloth. She tells me it’s name is Sally, named after me. Maybe it was my slowness, but I was amused.