Category Archives: International Adoption

Exposed

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LiLi, Guilin 2012

LiLi’s first utterance out of her mouth last Friday morning was “Bitch,” and it was directed toward me. Out of the blue. No rhyme, no reason. I had a little extra time this particular morning before work, so I gave my husband a few more sweet moments of shut-eye while I made breakfast for the girls and got them on their way. I heard LiLi’s familiar clomping down the stairs and knew it was her in the kitchen before I turned around from my station at the counter. Maybe it was my failure to greet her before I asked her to take her morning “mood” medicine; maybe it was that I failed to come to her and gently ease her into the morning with a warm hug and a pat on the back. Nine years into raising this child, one would think that I would be a little more proficient with the skill-set required, but I still feel like a novice. Most of the time my husband and I must remind her to take her medicine; she rarely remembers. God help us when we forget, because we will be subjected to the wrath of a hormonal teenage girl on steroids without it.

So after asking her to take her medicine, she responded with the afore mentioned descriptive. My response would not earn me any rewards in Parenting Magazine, but it might have earned some respect within the World Wrestling Federation.  It is not pleasant to be called “Bitch” first thing in the morning; much less so before I’ve had my coffee.  I have a seventeen year history of ER nursing. I have been called expletives by members of the “big leagues;” street drunks, addicts, the morally depraved, and intoxicated teenage girls who are sometimes the worst kind… but nothing beats being called a bitch by your sixteen year old daughter, first thing in the morning, whom you have labored over for nine years. One would think that I would be immune to her verbal assaults by now, that her barbed arrows wouldn’t strike their target… but they do. They strike, they wound, they hurt, and they make me scream out in pain. I am fatigued. I am sick and tired of my responses. I am sick from exposing my precious twelve year old to the stress of living in a home with this kind of tension. I’ve asked God so many times, “Why?” and I think I know the answer, but in the heat of the battle the answers don’t matter. She hurts me.

I enjoyed a two-day, Christ centered, Holy Yoga and fitness workshop this weekend. My body, mind and spirit were steeped in Jesus. I was reminded that I am a daughter of the Most High King, and have the birthrights of a princess. I must confess that most days I don’t feel like a princess. I feel like a slave, imprisoned by my own sin and unfaithfulness. I carry the sins of LiLi like a cross, piggy-backed on mine, like a double-edged sword in my side. I forget that this is a battle of the Lord’s; that ultimately, LiLi belongs to Him, and I am just his servant.  I keep trying to fix her as the world would fix her… and I am clearly failing. I didn’t want a child like LiLi, but God wanted her for me. My unfaithfulness to this truth has caused much despair in our home. I need to find the “sweet spot” in my faith that allows me to slow down and receive the blessing of the Lord.  I am paddling too furiously to receive anything… I am too busy drowning to pay attention to those with life preservers in their hands.

Michelangelo said of his “David,” that the exquisite masterpiece always existed beneath the block of marble; all he had to do was chisel and chip away to reveal what stood beneath. It must be the same for a composer of a beautiful piece of music. The melody has always existed… and through a gifted artist, it is purely revealed, establishing an order to the chaotic cacophony.

I believe it is the same for LiLi. She is a melody that is still in the works, a lovely sculpture that is concealed within the confines of a stone mantle. I am no Michelangelo, but the truth is, with God nothing is out of reach.  I must abide in the shelter of the Almighty in order to receive the crafting tools necessary to help this child get rid of her junk. It can be done. I know it. During the Holy Yoga retreat I was also reminded that if I commit my way to the Lord and trust in Him, He will act. This is an undeniable truth. So… I made a new commitment for the nth time, that I was not going to yell, nor smack, nor put LiLi in a head-lock again. I am going to breathe deeply to the tips of my toes, and remind myself that I am a princess and therefore should act accordingly.

So far I’ve stuck to my commitment, but then again it’s only been 10 days. Pray for me people.

The Finding Place

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Since bringing home our fifteen month old daughter from China in June, 2001, I have fantasized about returning to her finding place and, against all odds, finding her birth family. My husband and I were fortunate enough to go to her finding place on our adoption trip and take photos of the area. We were asked to be discreet by our adoption agency’s representative. There had been issues in the past with foreigners getting themselves into trouble when found to be snooping around in areas where they weren’t authorized to be. Feeling safe from the backseat of our taxi, we had taken both photos and video footage while making our way down the partially paved and dusty Yongfu Road. The driver pulled into an empty dirt lot when we reached the address we had been given. The address was at an intersection where a smaller dirt road crossed over Yongfu. A three-stalled, cinderblock building was set back from the intersection, and it was surrounded by clay parcel of land that could have been used for a parking area had there been any cars. The stalls had aluminum, roller doors that were all closed and padlocked.  It looked like an abandoned service station, minus the gas pumps. Whatever role it had once played in this community of ill-kept apartment buildings, it appeared to be completely abandoned at the time of our visit. Of course we didn’t know exactly where JaneGrace was found at this site, all we had was the address of “Four kilometer Yongfu Road.” This was not the kind of place I had envisioned for my baby to be found. I wanted it to be in the center of a bustling market, or train station, or at the gates of a police station or orphanage.  How could I describe this place to JaneGrace? I wanted it to be reflective of a safe haven; a place that I thought worthy for a child-finding place to be; a place that I thought the birth mother should choose.  I wanted my baby to know that her birth mother did the best she could do through dire circumstances, whether or not that was the truth.

My husband and I took note of the impoverished area. The foliage that lined the main road was overgrown and strewn with weeds. There were apartment buildings that were visible from behind the foliage, and I speculated that my beloved baby had been born in one of them. They, too, were dusty and dirty like the road that led us here, and were in need of a coat of paint. I recall that the open windows to the apartments did not have screens. The concrete around the windows were stained with rust and mold from the rainwater runoff, inherent for a tropical climate such as Nanning.  I quietly grieved for the apparent poverty of this community and for the likelihood that this was where my daughter was from.  I wanted to make up something about her finding place, make it more romantic, more deserving as a place for my daughter. But in all reality, I realized that I could not protect her from this truth. She would have to grow into this truth as time and maturity allowed.

Part of my fantasy connected with the finding place also involved a revisit with our family when JaneGrace was older. I had heard of other families going to the finding spot and posting flyers with photos of their daughter and a brief message to the birth family. I envisioned myself holding up a placard that read, simply, “Thank you,” with a picture of JaneGrace with her dad and me. Yes, I envisioned many things related to her finding place.

When we signed up for our adoption agency’s heritage tour, and an opportunity to visit her city of origin unfolded, I was thrilled. Finally, I had a chance to fulfill my dreams, to share this place with my now twelve year old beloved daughter, and walk the area from which she’d been found. I wanted to wander up and down the dirt paths in between the tenements and peer into the faces of those who lived there. I wanted to look into eyes that were mirror images of my daughter’s. I wanted to hold JaneGrace’s hand, and gently introduce her to this place for which I am eternally grateful.

I was prepared for just about any scenario, except for the one we encountered.

Sometime in the last eleven years, Yongfu Road had been bulldozed and widened. Nothing was recognizable. The address of “Four kilometer Yongfu Road” which our taxi driver had readily driven us to in 2001, did not exist in 2012. I began to feel some concern when our guide began to question us as to the specifics of the address. Did we have anything more specific than the kilometer mark? What we remembered as a two lane partially paved road leading out of Nanning was now widened to six lanes, and now had a distinctive “Western” look. There were a variety of small businesses running its length, the Chinese version of strip-malls. The little cinder-block building was gone. There were some old tenements interspersed with newer apartment buildings, but it was impossible to speculate where we had been eleven years earlier.

I could feel my frustration begin to mount as we drove up and down the road with our guide and our driver, desperately searching for anything that remotely reminded us of the place we had been eleven years earlier. Why, in my simple-minded head, I thought this place would not change in eleven years, frustrated me even more.  As my emotions began to swirl, I had to remind myself that this particular day was about JaneGrace, not about me and my expectations. I did sense some anxiety from JaneGrace, although she is the stoic type. Getting her to express her feelings is akin to coaxing a security “leak” from the pentagon. She is tough. I geared down my emotional roller coaster, finally, out of a much over-due respect for her needs. My husband and I had discussed revisiting her finding place with her on many occasions to try to anticipate the feeling that may emerge, but this scenario had not entered our minds. I was caught totally unprepared. Again, I felt I needed to shield her from my disappointment that the place I had longed to visit with her was destroyed. It no longer existed. Eleven years of my dreams and fantasies around locating her birth family were not to be fulfilled this day.

What I did walk away with after that disappointing day, is the realization that each of these adopted girls’ stories is uniquely hers. No matter what kind of serendipitous story we hear from another adopted girl, on how visiting her finding spot yielded a precious piece to the puzzle that makes up her early life, we cannot recreate a piece from that puzzle and force it into our daughter’s. Each story must unfold on its own accord, in its own time, and of its own device. Like a delicate blossom, its petals will open at exactly the right time, within an environment that nurtured the precise mix of elements required to produce perfection in God’s eyes. This is my take-home message: my daughter’s story is of God. I had hoped to uncover an artifact from her past to help her discover from where she came and it wasn’t to be. JaneGrace was a trooper, and acted as if it didn’t bother her, but again, she is the “Pentagon.”

I am ashamed to report that the next day, without our guide to assist and without seeking JaneGrace’s approval; my husband and I hired a taxi, and again drove up and down Yongfu Road trying to find the place that no longer existed. We were searching for the needle in a haystack.  JaneGrace sent us a not-so-discreet message of her disapproval by completely disengaging from the activity by pulling out her DSi electronic games device and immersing herself in virtual play. The day was unbearably hot and muggy, and we wasted our time in a futile search for something that we were convinced had been destroyed, instead of visiting other places in Nanning that would have been of greater cultural value for our family.

The next day we heard from two other families who were on our tour whose “finding place” search had yielded vastly different and positive results. Both families reported that they had learned, or at least had gained access to, information that revealed the identity of the birth families for each child. I couldn’t help but feel a little envious.  It was after hearing these stories, that I knew I had to “let go,” and begin the work of surrendering this process to JaneGrace and her future dreams and aspirations. Thankfully, after the futile time spent searching for her finding spot, we were able to connect with JaneGrace’s foster Grandmother through the dedicated detective work of our Chinese guide, and spent two precious hours visiting with her and her extended family, sharing stories and photos about the remarkable child who continues to grace all of our lives. She fostered JaneGrace from the time she was seven months old, to the time we adopted her at fourteen months of age. Her love for JaneGrace has reached through time to the present, when her hugs and smiles upon seeing her for the first time in eleven years demonstrates the impact of her early nurturing of our daughter. We are grateful for the heart of this woman.

My advice to any adoptive family that has a plan to visit their child’s “finding spot” or to any adoptive family seeking to uncover pieces of the mystery of their child’s early beginnings is this: be prepared for any outcome, and make sure you are engaging your child on what their hopes and dreams are surrounding this potentially traumatic revelation. There are many good resources out there for preparing for such a discovery.  There are also resources available to guard you against such a discovery. Not all finding place visits yield positive information. This decision should be child-centered, taking all possible outcomes into consideration. The journey is theirs for the taking.

He Shall Comfort Those Who Mourn; 4th and last of a series

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My Mom, Anna Lee

JaneGrace’s foster Grandmother, wearing the silver pendant

Yes, my daughters had been exposed to this trauma without my permission… the least I could do at this point was offer some follow-through. What was I to do? Their grandmother had been at our home. She had just accompanied all of us to JaneGrace’s dance classes. They had walked with her up the stairs, and after a few minutes, heard the commotion, and then seen her sprawled at the bottom of the stairs. They had heard my despondent wailing alternating with anguished commands thrown at them as I cared for my mother while awaiting the ambulance… pull the trunk out of the way to make room for the medics, go outside and wave down the crew, get the dogs and put them outside…

LiLi and JaneGrace needed to see where she was, the outcome of the fall, to try to begin to understand the transition that she was about to encounter, and we were about to suffer. It was an immersion in the study of death, of crossing over, of loss. They were way too young to have to be experiencing this event, but it was out of our control. LiLi, unbeknownst to us at the time, was about to succumb to an exacerbation of post-traumatic stress disorder from yet another exposure to an event from which no soul could have offered protection. This sucked.

We waited in the ER until a bed could be found in the ICU. Mom was transferred to the neuro-surgical ICU where her vital signs would be sustained for as long as my family chose. It was only her shell that was alive. I was certain her spirit was hovering. Her “life” had exited her body. I had taken care of a young woman in this very ER who had survived from the brink of death and had experienced the beckoning “light” that survivors from near-death experiences describe. I was certain that my Mom’s spirit was hovering, even now. My husband talked me into returning home with him and the girls. We made it in through the front door and I collapsed in his arms on the steps where she had fallen. I needed a glass of wine, then felt guilty for having asked my husband to pour it for me. I was upside down. This night had been ripped out from under us. My mother had been taken in the twinkling of an eye. I couldn’t think of anything except to get back to the hospital. We got the girls tucked in, and back to St. Anthony’s I drove.

This was to be the longest night of my life. As I sat at her bedside, sleep eluded me amidst the rhythmic hum of the ventilator and the cycling of the monitoring equipment. I held her lifeless hand and marveled at how much it looked like mine; my hand was stronger and darker, but the proportions and contours were so similar. This time with her was precious. My Mom and I had rarely spent time together without some old conflict arising, but this time had been different. I had felt a deep affection toward her that I had rarely permitted myself to feel. I was always too busy being judgmental or disappointed; to feel anything else would have humanized her to a degree that my comfort zone was not ready to tolerate. It was quite complicated, this particular mother and daughter relationship. And here I was, sitting at her bedside, chosen by fate, and by God too, I suppose, for this watch. Today, before I opened up my word program to finish this piece, I read a prayer journal entry from my husband’s blog (http://beingwritewithgod.blogspot.com/) about wrestling with God. He cited the story of Jacob, who wrestled with God in an “all-nighter” and walked away from that encounter with no resolution and a limp for the rest of his life. I could relate. This night, spent at my Mom’s death-bed, would forever leave me limping. Days and weeks later, I found comfort in the activities we shared: serving communion, wonderful meals, and shopping. Two nights before the accident I had drawn a bubble bath for her, complete with music and candlelight. The day of the accident she had said to me in the car as we left St. Anthony’s hospital grounds following our visit there, “Paula, I just feel so peaceful, why do you think this is so?” My response to her had been that she had been on the receiving end of care, not having to worry about a thing, just sitting back, enjoying, and relaxing. In retrospect, in my gut, I feel like she came to Colorado for her passing. Without a doubt, I feel like it was her time to go, and that my family’s role in her passage was of divine design. I can’t wait to see her again, someday, and talk about this in greater detail.

The first glimmers of sunlight began to peek through the blinds, and I began to count the hours until my sisters, their husbands and my nieces arrived. These hours had been the most agonizing of my life. Clergy and friends drifted in and out, prayed with me, and shook their heads at the twisted turn of events, with some just remaining silent, and sitting with me. Just being there was enough. Mom’s nurse for the day came in and introduced herself. I liked her immediately. She was from Tennessee, our home state, and the geographical love of Mom’s life. She told me to sit back and be Mom’s daughter today, and to forget the nurse’s cap. She was a source of great comfort as she expertly managed Mom’s care, releasing me to the role of loved one.

Shortly after noon, the rest of the family arrived. I greeted them at the front door of the hospital, and led them into the room, while trying to prepare them for what they were going to see, if there is any such thing. We all spent the rest of the afternoon at her bedside, my daughters included as their comfort level permitted, and said our goodbyes through the tears, the grief and disbelief. A music therapist came to the bedside as well, and sang some of Mom’s favorite songs from Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, and other old gospel hymns that Mom cherished. We laughed, cried, hugged, held hands, prayed and became closer than we ever imagined during that fateful afternoon. There was never an ill-word, nor an accusation uttered. I was released by my family for any of the blame for this tragedy.
At six o’clock in the evening, the nurse and the respiratory technician “pulled the tube,” thereby disconnecting her from the life-support equipment that had been keeping her alive. Her heart stopped beating six minutes later. She was gone. Her physical presence would be no more. I’ve clung to the memories of the night I spent at her bedside, holding her hand that looked like mine, many, many times.

The next several days were filled with the necessary activities of “making arrangements.” In a way, this is a good thing. It keeps one busy with “tasks” and the mandatory decision making activities that accompany sudden death. It provides a cleverly built-in diversion. We flew to Tennessee for a service and burial, then to Florida for a memorial. Both events were sweet remembrances of the impact my Mom’s simple life had made on those who loved and knew her. She was treasured by many.

I just returned from China on a heritage tour with my daughters and husband. While there, we were so blessed to be reunited with JaneGrace’s foster “Grandmother.” While Mom was with the girls and I the weekend that she passed, we went to the adoption agency that helped us bring our daughters home. They were having a Christmas and holiday bazaar, selling all sorts of trinkets that had been brought back from China. While there, I purchased two necklaces, each one exquisitely designed, sterling silver pendants. One had the Chinese characters of “Mother” and the other had “Grandmother” presented as paper-cuts on a mother of pearl backdrop. I had purchased one for me, and the other for my Mom at the bazaar, intending the “Grandmother” pendant to be her Christmas present that year. I was never able to give it to her. Shortly after her death, I placed both of the pendants on one chain, wearing them often in memory and in honor of my mother.

During this heritage tour to China, with JaneGrace’s permission, I gave the pendants to JaneGrace’s foster “Grandmother.” I didn’t plan in advance to do this, it just occurred spontaneously. The decision was reinforced as we sat in Nai Ying’s apartment, and she pulled out all of the things we had mailed to her before and shortly after JaneGrace’s placement into our family, eleven years ago. This was a woman with great sentimentality, and I was convinced that she would cherish this necklace that represented my Mom, and the last weekend of her life. The chain was a circle, much like the “red thread” tradition in Chinese culture that tied all of us together. The pendants represented the three of us; Mom, Nai Ying and me, as the primary matriarchal presence in JaneGrace’s young life. Who knows, maybe one day this necklace will make its way back to JaneGrace, carrying with it an enriched sense of history, tradition, and closure. I am certain this gesture would have pleased Mom.

Dedicated to the sweet life of Anna Lee Bullen-Breeden: Born September 16, 1924; Passed into eternal life November 7, 2006

postscript: Aurora, Colorado, I grieve with you today.

Show Us Some Mercy–3rd in a series

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The chaplain directed me back to the “Consult Room” where my husband and young daughters were waiting. I knew this place well. The room had an aura about it. It is reserved for families who are in crisis, who have decisions to make, or devastating news to process. It is where families huddle, gather their resources, and call clergy, mothers, fathers, daughters and sons. It is a sacred place where the profane must at times be uttered… it is a room of hope, of despair, of grief and disbelief. I had been in this room many times to greet a family, and prepare them for what they were about to encounter. The lighting is subdued, and boxes of tissues are on the tables. There was a telephone book, a phone, a couple of sofas and some chairs. The irony that my family now gathered in this room, and I was now making the most undesirable telephone calls in my life struck me with a bitter blow. Again, the random nature of tragedy makes us all feel vulnerable. Someone, a loving co-worker, came and took LiLi, age 10, and JaneGrace, 6, for snacks. My girls were familiar with this hospital. It was “Mommy’s hospital.” They had been here many times with me… JaneGrace was introduced to the staff a few days after we returned home from China. It was at the nursing station where I took the call from my husband that we had been matched with a beautiful Chinese baby girl. My co-workers had celebrated with me as our family walked through LiLi’s adoption process, and were there for support as her disabilities became more apparent. This staff knew my family and me well, and was just as dumbstruck as I was at this tragic turn of events.
The calls to my sisters went as expected. It was about 8:00 pm mountain- time and both of my sisters lived in the eastern time zone, making it near bedtime in their respective cities. I called my eldest sister first. Her husband answered. I explained to him the sequence of events in my nurse’s voice… this was my place of comfort in a situation such as this. I had made these types of calls to so many folks over the years. I knew how to do it, how to begin the call, how to keep my voice steady and calm, how to pause to give them time to process the information and formulate questions. The questions coming from my brother-in-law were difficult to answer, and I kept my answers brief and succinct. Yes, I was sure. No, there is absolutely nothing we can do, the ventilator is keeping her alive right now, and I’m praying she can make it through the night. Her brain is filled with blood… Yes, I want you here. Yes, please come, we can’t do this by ourselves. He put my sister on the phone and I hope I never have to deliver this kind of news to her again. She collapsed, he had to help her up, she screamed, she screamed again… No, it can’t be… Paula! Are you sure? No, no, no! I am so sorry, I didn’t mean for this to happen, please forgive me-
And the next call to my younger sister went similarly. She had been on the phone with my mom about an hour before the fall. Her husband had been the one to pick Mom up and bring her to Orlando to catch the flight. There were plans for her to spend a few days with them after the return trip home. Our lives had turned upside down. This call was surreal, like someone else was making the call and I was an observer. I learned later that as I spilled out this nightmare to my younger sister’s husband, he began his characteristic pacing of the house while we were on the phone. This behavior did not stir up any concern in my sister, and it gave her husband and I the advantage of being able to keep her in blissful ignorance for a few more agonizing minutes until he could fully grasp what had transpired in my home. Her reaction was much like my elder sister’s, and having to do this twice in the span of twenty minutes or so was depleting my emotional and psychological reserves. As I reflect back on the first few hours that followed Mom’s accident, I am certain that it was God, and only God, that met me face to face and carried me through, enabling me to carry on.
Many phone calls ensued over the next hour or so, back and forth, calls to and from my Mom’s surviving siblings, explaining more about the severity of the injury, that all of her protective reflexes were gone, that she couldn’t feel pain, that it was only the ventilator and now blood pressure support medications that were keeping her alive. My sisters, their husbands, and my elder sister’s two daughters all made arrangements to fly to Colorado first thing the following morning, we all wanted to be with Mom as she passed from this life to the next. Ironically, although she wouldn’t be flying home to Florida on Tuesday, November 7th, 2006, she would be flying home, to her eternal home, to heaven. The front door to our new home where we had lived for only a year became a symbolic place of passage for my mother.
I did make the decision to take my daughters into the trauma room to see Mom. Their exposure to this event began without my permission…it was a terrible twist of fate that placed them in the position of being exposed to an event that would soon rock LiLi’s world. The cogwheels in her brain had already begun to turn backwards. We carried our little JaneGrace into see her Nannie. Now, as a twelve-year-old, she recalls her grandmother looking quite small in the middle of the big white room with all of the tubes attached to her. She took one look, then declared to no one in particular, “Someone get me out…of…here.” Quite intuitive for a six-year-old, she had clearly conveyed what all of us were thinking.

to be continued

Show Us Some Mercy- 2nd in a series

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I knew the route to St. Anthony Central from my house like I know the back of my hand. I had Sixth Avenue memorized; every bump, every exit, every sign. I knew the length of time it took between each exit and could estimate my arrival to the hospital within a minute. This particular ride, while sitting in the front seat of an ambulance screaming down the road with my mom being worked on in the back, took seemingly forever. My mind was racing, yet time stood still. The moments at home before the ambulance arrived were already being replayed in my head, frame by frame, in slow motion. This was a living nightmare. I began to flip through the possible scenarios of different degrees of head injuries, but my gut told me this one was going to be really bad, with a devastating outcome. I was absolutely incredulous at this tragic turn of events. I had been an ER nurse for 13 years at this point in my life. I had seen tragedy, had walked others’ family members through unimaginable outcomes of senseless acts of violence, of catastrophic failure of the human body, and of random acts of nature with devastating consequences. I knew what it was like to be on the caretaker side of these events. I knew nothing about being the victim, or the loved one of a victim. This was brand new territory. It felt surreal. My turn, my family’s turn, had come.
Every few minutes I would glance over my shoulder and watch the medics as they tended to her. There wasn’t a lot for them to do. I wanted her to wake up, to move, to blink an eye, something… For every minute that she lay there lifeless, my prognosis for her became grimmer. Yes, this was a nightmare. Please, somebody, wake me up!
We drew closer to the ER, and I became aware that we would be arriving just before the evening change of shift. Thank God! I desperately wanted my day-shift co-workers to care for my mother. I knew them well. I knew the work of which they were deftly capable. We fought in the trenches daily as nurses, doctors, and ancillary personnel in an inner city level-one trauma center. We had seen and been through it all… I hungered for familiarity, expertise and comfort that I knew they would provide. All of the staff in this department, doctors, nurses, technicians, desk clerks, chaplains, volunteers, specialists, were all like extended family to me, and I knew they would care for my mother like she was one of their own. If there was any relief in these dire circumstances, it was that I knew she would be receiving the best care possible.
After what seemed like forever, the ambulance finally pulled up into the bay. I slid out  of the front seat, and followed the gurney as the crew was directed into a resuscitation room. I saw some of the staff, my friends, glance curiously at me, trying to figure out why I was there in my street clothes, following this crew into Room 2. They went to work quickly, like a well-choreographed act on my mother, and the ER physician immediately called a “Level-One” trauma response. At this point, I nearly collapsed, covered my face with my hands, and backed out of the room sobbing. I couldn’t take it any longer. Someone led me to a chair at the nursing station and sat with me as the trauma team continued their work on Mom.
She required immediate endo-tracheal intubation, which was a breathing tube that would keep her alive. The ER doc treating her was one of my favorites with whom to work. He was a no-nonsense, expertly skilled clinician with whom I could trust my mother’s life. The team collectively stabilized her, and rushed her to the cat-scanner. She remained completely unresponsive, and as I sat at the nursing station my ER doc friend came to me, reluctantly sharing that her pupils were fixed and dilated. I was numb, speechless, unblinking, trying to will myself to another dimension, another string, somewhere, anywhere but here. I had to be dreaming. People were standing around me, my co-workers, my friends; they had their hands on me, patting my back, offering me hugs, holding my hands. I looked into their eyes desperately seeking some sign of hope, and there was none. They had a bewildered look about them, equally clueless as to why something like this could happen. That is the thing about tragedy: It makes us all feel vulnerable. None of us are immune from being the victim of a random act of violence. The staff in this particular ED had seen it over and over and over again… Columbine in 1999, Platte Canyon High School hostage crisis in September 2006 just five weeks earlier, drowned babies, high school girls pulled from twisted metal in their prom dresses… we just shake our heads, do what we are trained to do, and keep moving forward, placing one foot in front of the other. We learn to cope in many different ways… pushing ourselves to the limits in endurance training, immersing ourselves in our families, living life on the edge, turning to alcohol as medicine, and sick humor, just to name a few. And now, here I was, one of their own had fallen victim. We all dreaded the day when someone we knew crossed that line from caretaker to victim. It was easier to disassociate yourself from an event when you weren’t socially or emotionally connected to an involved party. When you were connected, it was harder to let go.
Mom was now out of the cat-scanner and back in Room Two, and the ER doc and consulting neurosurgeon called me over to the radiology image screens in the ED. The images of my mother’s gravely injured skull and brain sent chills down my spine. I now knew what made those breaking sounds that had caused a knot in my gut at the precise time of her fall. Those sounds, combined with the images on the screen, have been the most difficult memories from which to escape on that dreadful day. Bottles of wine, drugs, therapy, nor all the riches in the world could help me escape from that sound and those images. That is something to which I must accommodate, with which I must live, and must practice to surrender every single day of my life. The doctors informed me that the injury was fatal, her brain was filled with blood and the pressure within her skull that was being created was inconsistent with life. There was no fix, and my mom was going to die. Just like that, when you least expect it, the door slams shut; or is flung wide open, depending on which side of heaven you reside. The time had come to make those dreaded calls to my sisters.
To be continued.

Show Us Some Mercy- 1st in a series

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Friday, November 3, 2006, I flew my mom out to Colorado from our family home on Florida’s east coast to spend a sweet weekend with my two daughters and me. My husband was out of town for a conference, so it made for a perfect girls’ weekend.

We were blessed with the typical Colorado fall pattern of weather: cool and dry with cobalt blue skies. We filled the weekend with fun activities. Friday after picking her up from the airport, we went to a luncheon hosted by a friend from my church. She was able to meet many of my friends with whom our family worshipped. Saturday morning we headed to a holiday bazaar at the Chinese adoption agency through which we brought our daughters home. This was a special treat for her. Both of my daughters were adopted from China, one at age fourteen months, and the second, a special needs child, was brought home two years later at the age of seven. My mother was enamored with my beautiful girls, as they were with her. It was very special for her to visit the adoption agency where our family journey began. We shopped for Chinese trinkets and gifts for the upcoming Christmas season. Saturday night I cooked one of our favorite dishes with shrimp and pasta; we shared some wine and watched a movie with the girls. I made a bubble bath for her in our gigantic tub, and had candles and music to help her relax and enjoy herself. Sunday morning we served communion together at my church. What a privilege this was, to share in serving at the Lord’s Table with my beloved mother. The weekend was truly spectacular. I am the middle of three daughters and had raised hell through my teenage years (and actually into my twenties as well…). Our family hadn’t been perfect; there were addiction issues, and my two sisters, my mom and I all suffered because of them. Mom had done the best she knew how to do in raising us, and I had turned out to be the rebel. My mom and I butted heads from the get-go, which is one of the reasons this visit had been so sweet. It seemed there was always residual tension between the two of us. This time had been different. Although my mother was 82 years old and in relatively good health, I felt as though I was finally placed into the special position of “looking after” her… holding her hand, cooking yummy food, taking care of her. It was the best time we had ever spent together, and I didn’t want it to end.

Monday after we sent the girls off to school, my mom joined me to run a few errands. She saw the emergency department where I worked, and then we headed home to drive up to the mountains with my husband, home from his conference, to enjoy lunch together at one of the large hotel-casinos in a nearby old mining town. We threw a few quarters in the slot machines just for fun, winning a few bucks. We had a blast. Afterwards, we headed back down the mountain to pick up my daughters from school and take my then six-year-old, JaneGrace, to her dance lesson. Mom was excited to see JaneGrace dance with all of her little friends and meet her dance instructor. We finally headed home to settle in for Mom’s last night with us. Little did I know it was truly to be her last night with us.

Mom went upstairs to get ready for dinner and do a little packing, for she was flying home the next morning (little did I know…) and I began scurrying around in the kitchen. Some amount of time went by, my husband was tucked into his chair in the living room and the girls were upstairs playing. I was in our pantry gathering dinner ingredients when all of a sudden I heard a horrific sound… a brief outcry, some kind of fall, something broke; it frightened me and I was immediately overcome with a sense of dread. I ran from the pantry and around the corner into our foyer area, arriving at the same time as my husband. I saw my beloved mother sprawled at the bottom of the stairs on the hardwood floor, with her legs splayed out on the last few steps. She was pale and very, very still. My first words were “She’s out cold!” as I leapt to her side, taking her head into my hands and performing a rapid assessment. My husband had glanced over as she was in mid-flight from the first landing to the foyer floor and was helpless to change the outcome, it all happened so fast. She had struck the floor with such force. My ER nursing skills took over instinctively as I cycled rapidly between daughter and nurse, my senses clumsily conveying the gravity of the situation to my brain. My next few uttered words were “Call 911,” “Clear the area for the medics,” and directing my husband outside to flag down the ambulance. This was all in between intermittent guttural wails as I was living out this unimaginable horror. While protecting my mother’s neck and keeping her airway open to ensure breaths, I slid her backwards until her entire body was off of the stairs and she was lying fully on the hardwood floor. It wasn’t until this moment that she gasped. It was the only movement and sound she made during those interminable moments while I was listening for the scream of the sirens. I realized that had been her first breath she had taken since the fall. In my terror, I had missed this crucial assessment finding.

At this point, my daughters had gathered at the top of the stairs, hearing the commotion, and wondered what was happening. Neither of their young brains could protect them from this vision at the bottom of the stairs. They both began to cry, and JaneGrace, asked me if her Nannie was dead. I assured her she was not, that I was doing everything I could to take care of her Nannie. LiLi also began to cry. The whole scene was just too much to bear. My girls adored their grandmother. We had just spent the most beautiful few days together; how could this have happened? I was supposed to put her on a plane tomorrow to head back home to Central Florida. What was I to do? I had to call my sisters… they would be so angry that this happened on my watch. This was a nightmare rapidly unfolding at the speed of light in my head. The emotions within me unfurled with the momentum of a great sail. I waited on my knees leaning over my mother’s lifeless body and cradled her head in between my hands until the ambulance and fire-truck crew arrived and took over. Her breaths were guttural, barely enough to sustain life. I could feel a faint pulse. “Oh Father God,” I cried; “Please show us some mercy.” My daughters were stricken with grief as they remained perched at the top of the stairs with a bird’s eye view of the unfolding events. I could not protect them from this event. It had happened in front of them. JaneGrace, my little sunshine face, and LiLi my special child were both witnesses to a cataclysmic event in our family’s life.

I asked the rescue crew to please take her to the emergency department at which I worked, which was St. Anthony Central in downtown Denver; a top-notched level-one trauma department. It was ironic that we had just been there a few hours earlier to show my Mom where I worked. The captain of the rescue team happily obliged… it was their predetermined destination. They stabilized her, loaded her into the back of the ambulance while I was helped into the front seat. My husband, LiLi, and JaneGrace followed in our car. I bowed my head in my hands as we drove down my residential street, with neighbors standing outside of their homes wondering what had just happened. The tragedy arrow had struck our lives, and we would never be the same, especially LiLi.
To be continued.

Dear Owl

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“Owl” has been the recipient of my journaling for years as I’ve chronicled through all of the ups and down of my life. “OWL” represents “One who listens.” It helped to imagine a wise, grandfatherly old soul to whom I could pour out my heart unabashedly and with a no-holds-barred conviction. Lately, I have been disclosing the challenges through which I’ve traveled as I’ve raised my second daughter, LiLi. This child, seven years old when we brought her home, was my second internationally adopted daughter from China. Raising LiLi has been the hardest, most guilt-ridden challenge of my life. When I was called to adopt a second child from China, I never imagined a journey like the one our family has traveled since 2003. Riddled with heartache and sprinkled with bittersweet joy, there wasn’t much time to dwell in the “Why me” sorrows. It has been revealed to me that the answer to that question is this: LiLi’s arrival into my life was the beginning of a long road toward redemption. I have a plaque in my kitchen that reads “Find a purpose in life so big it will challenge every capacity to be at your best.” LiLi was my slam-dunk. Journey with me as I recall memorable moments in our evolving story.