To the Parents of the Suffering
My parents have both lived a moment so dreadful you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy. They have received the, “We don’t know if your daughter is going to make it” call not once, but twice.
After receiving the news the morning of the second accident, my mom immediately called the hospital to check on my condition. When she was told I was in critical condition and was looped into the extent of my injuries, my dad, brother, and she booked the next available flight the following morning.
Once they arrived, the gravity of the situation became all too real. Shortly after, the doctors took my parents outside to paint the reality that I may not live.
This is an excerpt from Caring Bridge from my family three days after the accident:
“We continued to stay with her, switch out who got to hold her hand like it was a great prize and she continued to open and close her right eye a few times. We also saw what looked to be like Ashley moving her mouth. In the days after the accident there was a lot of blood around the mouth, and a lot of tubes, so this was the first time we could actually see Ashley moving her lips. We have seen her move every part of her body now. It was an extremely encouraging morning for all of us…It was the first we’d seen her react to our voices and faces since the day, those were the easiest smiles we’d had in days.”
To be brought to a point where your 22-year-old daughter moving and reacting to your voices is a prize?
I. just. can’t.
My mom recently shared her perspective on that day.
“I remember the weeks of uncertainty about your life or recovery and the stress that living with this uncertainty brought. It was crazy. We only slept about three hours per night for three weeks straight. We were exhausted.
I remember the sound of the alarms on the monitors that you were hooked up to. The worst two alarms were the Intercranial Presure (ICP) monitor and the ventilator. I never want to hear them again…EVER.”
It’s unshakably overwhelming for me to read this. The pain that my family was feeling is incomprehensible and something that I pray none of you will ever have to experience.
How do you handle this type of grief and support a suffering child?
Just be normal.
The most common remarks I’ve gotten about how my parents handled that month revolve around this premise. Despite the emotional toll the circumstances put on them, they fought to support me in the one way I needed most at the time, consistency.
A Dad of Calm
It takes a lot to get my dad worked up about anything. I remember watching a lot of football and movies with him on the weekends growing up. On Sundays, we watched the Eagles, Dolphins, and Cowboys (we were clearly a house divided) and when my brother started at Clemson our viewing days shifted to Saturdays. When we found out my alma mater, Nebraska was playing Clemson in the 2009 Gator Bowl we booked the tickets immediately.
We sadly had to forego our Gator Bowl tickets and they watched from the hospital that year, but they watched it nonetheless.
Both parents, my brother, fiancé and a few friends gathered in a waiting room, drank beer, and watched the Gator Bowl because that is what we do.
He joked around with visitors about what they would be called if they were grandparents, “Rock” and “Goddess”. 😳 Glad I had a say over that when it actually came to be.
When they were kicked out of the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) over dinner, they watched Rocky marathons in their hospital suite while they ate the generously delivered meals and tried to laugh.
To fight being consumed by the fear and worries associated with my recovery, they took short times away to do what they do. They lived.
A Mom of Prayer
When I was in high school, one of the things I remember most about my mom is that she always, without fail, found time to slip away and to spend time in Scripture. Seeing her fight to carve out time with her study Bible is one I’ll never forget.
After we got cleaned up from dinner, she slipped away to her bedroom.
When we were traveling for soccer tournaments, she slipped away to the hotel room.
Even to this day when she comes from Tennessee to visit, she slips away to the guest room.
There’s something beautiful about the consistency of it; to its faithfulness.
When we were in the ICU, my mom still found time to slip away.
“If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” -John 8:31-32
I often wonder how much her faithfulness to remaining in His word contributed to the grace with which she responded to those heart-wrenching moments; how much it gave her the truth, the freedom to cope.
Why Normalcy Was My Best Medicine
Thanks be to God, I made it through the first three most critical days as they monitored my ICP, found the right mixture of medications to treat the pain and allow me to sleep as I fought various infections.
After I made it through that period and began to “come to”, so to speak, I was scared of all that I had lost, of what I may never get back. My parent’s consistency gave me the much needed normal I longed for when everything in my life felt upside down.
I am 100% sure they weren’t feeling calm, how could anyone in their right mind?
My mom mentioned how the doctors tried to prepare them for my recovery and see it as a marathon rather than a sprint. It was just that. They were away from their normal world – work, home, their dog – for three entire months.
She said, “When I think back, it was such a crazy, stressful time for us, but we wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. We needed to be with you. Nothing was more important to us at the time. While it didn’t feel like we were providing much of anything for you, we would not have been able to function apart from you.”
What I saw, though, was not crazy. It was not stressed. What they portrayed was a steady calm that helped me avoid burrowing deeper into my fear, my anxiety about an unknown future.
Their normalcy gave me the strength to take the next step.
Some of us are there right now, living in fear of taking the next step out of our suffering, helping our children step out of theirs. Others are living in the fear of what type of suffering the future may bring for ourselves or children.
I think about how I’d react, how I’d respond, if I received the same call about one of my daughters and, quite honestly, it shakes me. It makes me feel a bit sick. I feel overcome with fear of how I may react and it’s a thought that I can’t ever dwell on for long.
We shouldn’t fear the ‘what if’. We are not responsible to respond to things that have not yet happened. We have only to respond to the moment; it is there that the grace is provided. It is in the moment that we are given the people and encouragement we need.
My mom sent me an encouraging text that made me tear up recently at Panera; my apologies to everyone that had to witness.
More than nine years after the accident, her text read: “I watched this video and it made me think of you. So thankful for how God has carried you through everything and is continuing to use you.”
Consistency. Normalcy. There was no greater gift in my valley.
Every situation and every child is different. If your child is suffering (physically, socially, spiritually, etc) right now, maybe their normal is empathy, space, silence, or laughter laid on extra thick.
Trust that you know how to love and support them best; not countless online ‘How-To’ recommendations, WebMD, or well-intentioned friends, but you.
I’m incredibly thankful that my parents knew just what I needed to press on.
How have you seen parents support their children in the exact way they need? What type of support have your parents given you to help you weather the storm?