As Jared and I sat together in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, he said to me, "If you blog about this, don't overthink it. Just write what you need to write." So I'm taking his advice. This isn't in chronological order or any kind of logical order because logic has left the building, and signs show no indication of when it will return. A few of you know the details of our ordeal. To the rest of you, I hope you never know. Then the details won't haunt you like they haunt me. You just need to know that on a Friday night, our middle son Griffin had a horrific accident in our very own back yard that led to him being on life support. We went through hell. We came out on the other side, and we brought Griffin home with us, but we can't go back to before our lives changed forever.
It was St. Patrick's Day. The hospital chaplain had a silky green scarf tucked in the collar of his button-up shirt. The nurses were wearing green tops. Our worst nightmare had a color.
God did an actual miracle by bringing Griffin back from the brink of death. You think that elation will be the overriding emotion. But it isn't. Because you don't feel your emotions in real time. Your mind tries to suppress your emotions so you can get through each moment. But they leak past your defenses and the reality hits you for a moment and it's unbearable. So all of that emotion gets logged to be processed later in a less critical moment. By the time the miracle happens and the news is good, your log is full and it's time to start processing the harder stuff first. That's why I ended up in a crippling panic attack the day after Griffin woke up.
The triggers are everywhere. The night we came home from the hospital, I was putting away my kids' clean laundry that had been lovingly washed, dried, and folded by my precious friend. I was so thankful. The blinds were open just enough that I spotted the blue plastic sled in the back yard. And I remembered. The sled was on the muddy side yard hill as I ran, leading the firemen to my lifeless son in the back yard. I yelled for Nolan to move the sled so no one would trip on it. My bare feet squished into the mud as I ran. The bottom hems of my black pajama pants skimmed the mud and I could feel the wet fabric slap my ankles. I'm never safe from the onslaught of painful memories.
A team of sweet friends went to our house on Sunday to try to erase all evidence of Friday. They threw away the popcorn Jared had just popped for our family movie night (the very reason we were calling the kids in from playing in the back yard). They washed dishes and did laundry. They organized and wiped and vacuumed. They restored order to our home. They put up a banner in Griffin's room and filled his bed with yellow smiley face balloons. One of the dear friends said to me, "Don't look in the back yard. But if you do, we've put Bible verses on all the windows." Sure enough, every window facing the back yard had verses to cover over the image and remind us that God had never left us. When I thought I had seen everything they did, and I had cried all I had left to cry, I went into my bathroom and found one more sign:
These ladies somehow understood that we had much hard work ahead of us.
Their incredible work made such a difference. But we still found ourselves assaulted by the mental replay at unexpected times.
The day after we came home from the hospital, I was preparing Nora's back pack for school. Her folder still had papers she had brought home from school. On top of the stack was a freshly printed picture of Jared and the kids, with Griffin standing tall in the middle. It had been taken Thursday night at a school function. I had been volunteering at one of the stations, so I wasn't in the family picture. It was our last night of "before." The picture nearly undid me, and I couldn't help but think what it would have done to me if we hadn't brought Griffin home.
Jared says we have Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. He said if you were in a battle and got shot, even if you survived and you won the battle, you still have to deal with the fact that you got shot. He added, no offense to those who have actually fought in battles. Men and women come home from war, and they struggle to cope with what they have seen and experienced. Normal doesn't quite fit. This is us.
I discovered that there are lots of types of crying, more than I ever knew before. We are all familiar with the silent streaming tears. Squinchy-faced hard suppressed crying that produces an instant headache. Lump in the throat accompanied by tears that fill the lower lids to the brim but don't spill over. In the ambulance as I rode up front and listened to the paramedics working on my baby boy, I literally grasped my face with both hands and cried with all my might. I didn't produce much noise but certainly lots of tears. At times I uttered indistinguishable noises as I simply shook my head. The form of crying I found myself most often engaged in was a style completely new to me. It included heaving that started in my chest and came out my mouth. Deep forceful breaths that involved my whole body. But oddly not many tears. Dehydration was an actual factor, but I also think this new form of crying was reflective of a new level of anguish. I highly recommend sticking with one of the other forms of crying previously mentioned.
Today I thought of the story in the Bible where Jacob wrestled with an angel all night. He refused to let the angel go until he blessed him. The angel touched Jacob's hip and hurt it, but he ultimately blessed Jacob. Jacob limped away with his blessing. I wrestled with God in that hospital. I got what I asked for, but I came away limping.
One thing that has been such a blessing in all this is that Jared and I are processing things roughly the same. If one of us was fine and the other was struggling, this would be exponentially harder. Because this isn't how I expected to feel after having my son's life miraculously restored. But Jared feels all the same things I do, so I must not be too crazy. Jared went back to work the day after we came home from the hospital (which turned out to be way too soon). He left me a note that morning that said, "I'm still in so much pain." Those words connected us.
Last night my dad came over and stayed with the kids so Jared and I could be alone together. It was our first alone time since "it happened." We could think of nothing else to talk about, so we dove into saying all the things that won't stop bouncing around our minds, but we don't feel it's appropriate to say them out loud. I had spent the previous week rearranging the kids into three separate rooms (Griffin and Nora shared before). In the hospital I thought things like, what will I do when Griffin's bedding and desk arrive? I had already ordered them. They were already coming and I couldn't stop them. But I could already envision my meltdown when some unsuspecting UPS man delivered a nightmare to my house. And that's just one of the many morbid thoughts that I had no outlet for until Jared and I sat in our van eating salads (the first natural-looking food we had had in days) and exchanging thoughts.
Jared and I discussed the spiritual components of our ordeal. I told him I was considering titling this blog post "The Time I Told God No." I rode in the ambulance to the hospital. Longest ride of my life. As soon as they wheeled Griffin out of the ambulance at the hospital, they told me I had to leave him. A chaplain soon came and escorted me to a private room. I've seen tv shows. I know what chaplains and private rooms mean. My inner mantra was "breathe in, breathe out, don't puke." Over and over. Trying to form words felt like an impossibly hard task. The effort required was the oral equivalent of doing an Ironman triathlon in the mud with no arms or legs.
As I sat motionless trying to obey my own mantra, I remembered two facts at the same time. One, my current book for daily reading had been "Through the Eyes of a Lion" by Levi Lusko. It's written by a man, who happens to be a pastor, whose daughter passed away very suddenly of an asthma attack. The book is about how God can use pain. And two, I had just been to see the movie "The Shack." It's about a man whose daughter is abducted and killed, and he journeys through the hardest questions in life to make peace with God and with his loss. I remembered these two facts back-to-back, and I very clearly and succinctly told God, "NO." I'm no dummy. I can hold these facts together and see how He was preparing me, and I simply told Him no. I mom-voiced God. I'm not proud that this was my response. At some point during our hell, Jared prayed out loud and his prayer included, "We know that Griffin is yours..." My insides fought Jared's words. You can have opinions about my reaction if you want, but please form them after you have seen your own child in a lifeless state.
This actually wasn't the first time we pleaded for Griffin's life. When I was 20 weeks pregnant with him, our doctor found choroid plexus cysts in Griffin's brain that could indicate a fatal genetic disorder called Trisomy 18. We had to wait two long weeks to see a specialist who would tell us whether Griffin would live or die. It was a very dark time as we pleaded and waited. When we saw the specialist, he saw a healthy baby in my belly. We told our family the good news and celebrated together. We told them we had chosen Griffin's name because a baby name website told us that it means "great faith."
Griffin knows this story. As Jared drove us home from the hospital, Griffin sat smiling in the back seat, the sun highlighting his impossibly soft face. He said, "I'm a miracle twice." Yes you are, Baby.
Griffin is a miracle. He's a walking, talking, computer-hacking, British tea-drinking, piano-playing miracle. I just never knew before that it could hurt so much to receive a miracle. I suppose the really painful part is needing a miracle. Once you have been to a dark enough place that you can only be saved by a miracle, the experience will be forever imprinted on you, no matter the outcome.
My dad tried to help me through some of my spiritual questions by reminding me of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. He was deeply troubled so that his sweat was as blood. My dad was telling me that if Jesus was that troubled over what God asked him to walk through, it's ok that I was terrified out of my mind when God asked me to walk through this horrific ordeal.
I started thinking about another Jesus example that could help me. Most people know it as the shortest verse in the Bible: "Jesus wept." Do you know what made Jesus weep? Lazarus was dead. All throughout John chapter 11, Jesus knew that Lazarus would die and that Jesus would raise him back to life in order to glorify God. He knew this plan while Lazarus was still alive, when he was sick, and when he died. But when Jesus was actually with the grieving family members and saw their sorrow, he was deeply moved and he wept. And then he performed the miracle. So if Jesus wept even with complete assurance that Lazarus would live, I think it's alright that my emotions were blown to smithereens and I'm still picking up the pieces.
I know that time is needed to process all of this. Everything is still so raw. Tomorrow is Friday. One week since the accident. We were getting ready for our traditional Friday night family movie night when it happened. Friday night family time has been our favorite thing for quite some time. We look forward to it all week. We protect it. We cherish it. Now I feel sick at the thought of it coming around again tomorrow. I don't think I'm ready for the smell of Jared's freshly popped popcorn. We still haven't gone in the back yard or let the kids go back there. I hate all things related to St. Patrick's Day. Someday when we are healed, we would like to celebrate Griffin's life on St. Patrick's Day. But for now I get sick at the sight of all things green and/or shamrocky.
There's so much I don't know so I choose to remember what I do know. God never left us. God preserved Griffin's life as well as his "Griffinness." God continues to be our Rock and our only source of strength and hope. He will make something good out of the pain we have been through. For now we are living through the mess.
I couldn't think of a good way to end this, so I'm gonna take Jared's advice about not overthinking. These are my thoughts for now. This is what I have to give and where I am right now. More to come, on and off the blog.