- from Getting Grief Right by Patrick O'Malley
So many thoughts and feelings are running rampant through my mind. How do I get them all out in a way that truly conveys the mark this day has made on my life? The "if onlys" trample through my mind like petulant children: demanding that I pay attention to them: stomping their little feet and tugging on the hems of my clothes: Demanding that I stop whatever daily function in which I am engaged and focus totally on them. A feeling of failure has haunted me for a year - so much so that some days I want to talk about my failure in the hopes of excising them and other days I just want to crawl into a deep, dark space and hide my shame.
I failed Elizabeth.The days between Christmas 2013 and Jan. 15 a year ago fluctuate between clear, concise memories and blurred lines. I begin to write, to tell her story and later think "oh, I forgot about....." I am desperate to record every single event, emotion, and thought. I feel as if I am grasping blindly about for some sort of stronghold or rope to cling to. Life did continue after Lizzie died. We all went back to work or school. We celebrated holidays and birthdays. We gathered with friends and family. Through it all, for me, there has been a glaring absence in every corner of my life. I know that my demeanor and personality are less... energized? infectious? happy? I feel it in my bones. I see it on my face.
Lizzie came home from The Joseph House at Christmas. I returned to work after the first of the year, and Lizzie stayed with my parents. You see, (and this is just an example of Lizzie's spirit) Lizzie decided she wanted me to have new flooring. She and my parents snuck around for months researching colors, styles, and materials. The day I returned to school (failure #1) the flooring was installed. All the living room furniture was stacked in the breakfast area. It was literally an obstacle course. Lizzie wasn't quite ready to return to Joseph House so she stayed with my parents. She liked it there. My sister works for my father, and the office is at my parents' house. People were always coming and going. And pretty much Lizzie got what Lizzie wanted. I guess we fell into a routine of sorts. It was the Saturday before the 15th. My father's birthday is on the 11th, so the plan was the family was going out to eat to celebrate. I go to my parents' home to hang out with my child. Lizzie wasn't feeling very well so she headed off to bed. So there I am. Sitting with my mom. Watching TV. My mother at one point says, "Well, I guess I need to tell you that Lizzie has planned a surprise party for you at Applebee's." Dinner with my family was a ruse. Well, partly. The plan was that the family would go to Applebee's, but once there Lizzie and Alex would stay with the party and me. My friends were waiting for me at the restaurant. However, Lizzie was not well enough to go. What do I do? Part of me said "Stay with your daughter". Part of me said "Go. Lizzie will be upset if you don't." So I went (failure #2). Probably around 10 or so, Mom calls me and says Lizzie wanted me. So I left and went back to my parents for a little while. I should have stayed all night. (failure #3) The next day Ricky cooked one of Lizzie's favorite meals to take to my parents. It took a little longer than expected. My dad called saying Lizzie wanted to talk to me. I don't know why, but she couldn't hear me. I kept telling her that as soon as the meal was ready, we'd be right over. I can still hear her say "Granddaddy, I can't hear her." The last thing I remember saying to my child was "Lizzie, let me talk to Granddaddy." (failure #4). I should have told her that I loved her. I should have immediately hung up the phone and raced over there. (failure #5). We finally get there and she's asleep. We eat. I had been coughing for a couple of months. Never had time to go to the doctor (another failure) and not only was the cough causing pain, but simply breathing was excruciating. Ricky took me go to the ER. I had pleurisy brought on by bronchitis and on its way to pneumonia. Each cough felt like someone was stabbing me in my lung. The following day, Monday, I had taken off from school to take care of Lizzie. I get there to find out that the hospice nurse had been called during the night. A small bag of fluids was attached to Lizzie. To me fluids were the liquids of life. Several times before those bags of fluids would restore Lizzie to a point where she could participate. I call Amber at Hospice in the Pines. At first I was angry. Why was the bag so small? I remember Amber saying, "Dianne, what's going on? What is Lizzie doing?" I just start bawling on the phone saying "She's not doing anything!" Amber immediately comes. She takes three steps into the room, calls in-patient and tells them to make room. Lizzie is coming.
I'm thinking that everything is going to be ok now. Each time Lizzie has been admitted to in-patient hospice she's bounced back. Those people there are miracle workers. Lizzie will be admitted and in a couple of days she'll be running the hallways again. I can see it now. I was delusional. I can't explain it, but I was operating with the idea that my child was not truly dying. Somehow, some way Lizzie would continue to stay with me.
The ambulance comes. We all head over to in-patient. At some point I run home to grab a bag for the stay - pull my shoulder muscle in the process. (Remember, my brain is operating on the belief that Lizzie will pull through.)So now I yelp when I cough and groan when I move my right shoulder.
Then reality hits. How many times had we been at this point? This point where doctors were telling us that this was it? This point where we were told that Lizzie was right there at death's doorstep? And each of those times Lizzie rallied to prove them wrong. But this was not like the other times. Lizzie was settled into what they jokingly called "Lizzie's room." (I'm tellin' ya - Lizzie was Queen Bee there). I'm outside of Lizzie's room, and Amber tells me that Lizzie will not pull out of this. That this time is it. I call my daughter Alex and tell her to come home. Amber calls their dad. I couldn't do it. I thought he might have questions that I wouldn't know the answer to. I also thought he might grasp the reality of what was happening if Amber called instead of me. People came by - can't remember who all. It seemed like a steady stream. Everything is now a blur. Looking back and it seems as if it happened so fast instead of the approximately 40 hours. I wouldn't leave Lizzie's side except to go to the restroom. Visitors would tell me to walk outside with them for just a minute or two. No, I wasn't going to leave her. At one point I climb into the bed and cradle her in my arms. My mom stayed with us the entire time. Each of us on either side of the bed. Each of us holding her hand. Once I was bouncing Lizzie's hand in mine when I felt a little twitch from her hand. My heart jumped and my eyes flew to her face. Was she responding? Did I annoy her enough that she was going to tell me to stop?
Tuesday came and went. People came and went. Finally it was just Lizzie, Mom, and myself. I'm sure we dozed off and on throughout the night. But at some point we both scoot our chairs closer to the bed and each reach for Lizzie's hand. It's absolutely quiet in the room. The only sound is that of Lizzie breathing. Without knowing the other was doing the same thing, we would count the seconds between Lizzie's exhales and the following inhale. We can tell the breaths are coming farther and farther apart. Lizzie exhales. We begin counting until the inhale. Seconds tick by. Exhale, inhale. Exhale, inhale. Exhale...... we look at each other. I ask my mom if she heard a breath. Mom shakes her head and pushes the call button. The nurse comes in and listens - faint heartbeat - then no more.
"Bring her back! I want her back!"
I thought I was prepared. Two and a half years of watching my child waste away. Hurting for her. Feeling helpless. Supporting her decisions but wanting that miracle to appear. I thought I was ready. I wasn't. In that moment I felt .....
despair anguish pain gut-wrenching yearning heartache
the feeling that someone just ripped my insides totally out and there was nothing left but a shell
the feeling that my heart stopped beating
the feeling that my lungs are no longer filled with air
Today is my birthday. People have asked how I am going to celebrate it. I don't want to. Each year I turn older will mark one more year that I no longer have Elizabeth. "Dianne, you and Lizzie now share a birthday: yours on Earth and hers in Heaven." Yes, we do. I understand that. Lizzie was never afraid of dying. Lizzie told me once that she knew when she was first diagnosed that she would not survive the cancer. She had asked God for a testimony and this was it. The knowledge that she would be going to Heaven gave her the strength she needed to face and deal with the disease. The knowledge that she would one day be with God gave her the grace to live her remaining life with excitement and eagerness. It gave her a zest to face every day with wonder. My faith is not as strong. There are nights I look up at the sky and wonder at God's creation. Others I look up and wonder if God is there. I live with the regret that my last words to Lizzie were not I love you. Did she know? Did she know that she was not alone? Could she feel her hands being held by her mom and grandmother? Did she know I was beside her at the funeral home until it was time for her to go?
There was a lady at the Joseph House that Lizzie loved to visit. I will call her Ms. G. Outside of Ms. G's window are several hummingbird feeders. In the spring and summer there would be numerous hummingbirds hanging around outside of the window - flitting, eating, sitting. The ladies at The Joseph House told me that on the day Lizzie died, one little hummingbird sat for awhile on the shepherd's crook right outside of Ms. G's window.....in January. They are convinced that the bird was Lizzie coming to check in on Ms. G: coming to let Ms. G know that she was ok.
My daughter Chrissii told me about how my grandson Sawyer would giggle in his sleep when he was only a couple of months old. Someone told her that when babies do that it means that an angel is playing with him. We like to think that Lizzie is keeping an eye on him.
Me? I beg that one night Lizzie visits with me in my dreams. I want to say those three words that I so regret not saying to her as I hung up the phone.
I love you.