The Dreaded Phone Calls, part 2

Continuation from The Dreaded Phone Calls, part 1

April 27, 1991

My brother, Mick, was relating the phone conversations Dianne had with our other siblings when the neurosurgeon walked into the waiting room.

External_ventricular_drain_EVD“Mark has a traumatic brain injury. We’ve placed a shunt in his brain to relieve the pressure. The next 24 hours are critical. His injuries are catastrophic and we don’t know the amount of damage done to the brain. We’re not sure he’ll make it through the night. He’s in a coma and may not wake up.” Looking at the four of us he said, “It would be best if only one or two of you went in to see Mark at a time.” He left the room without one encouraging word or glimpse of hope for the future.

Terrified by his words, I looked at my parents. “This can’t be happening. It feels like a nightmare!” I wanted to run to Mark’s bedside, but I was petrified. Could I bear to see him this way? Would I recognize him? I imaged how terrible he’d look with a shaved head, shunt, drain, and other equipment keeping him alive. Dad understood my hesitation and said, “Why don’t I go see Mark first.”

Dad had just been gone a minute when my youngest brother, Steve, walked in the waiting room. Pale in color with a troublesome eyes which were searching for answers he said, “Are you okay?”

“Yes,” I stated and then related the horrifying news from the doctor.

“I know, I just saw Mark,” Steve said.

“Did you see Dad?,” I asked.

“No. I walked through the I.C.U. from the backside of the hospital and past the room where Mark lay alone. I noticed his name written on the board outside the room’s door. I walked in and around his bed when the nurse came in and asked if I was related. She gave me an update on Mark’s condition and then told me I could find you in the waiting room.”

Just as I was about to ask how he looked, Dad walked back into the waiting room and gave me the first optimistic words I’d heard in hours. “Mark’s coloring is good and he looks better than I expected.” Dad’s encouraging words were just what I needed to hear to give me the courage to see Mark.

Mom offered to go with me. My body was exhausted from the trauma of the accident so she pushed me in a wheelchair. It was a good thing I was already sitting down. He lay motionless, strapped to a type of bed I’d never seen before. The nurse told us the rotating bed was for his circulation. It tilted to one side and slowly moved to the other, taking three minutes for each rotation. He appeared to be entangled in tubing with one down his nose for nourishment, an I.V. for fluid and medication and one coming out of his head draining fluid. On his right side was another drain for his lung, while another one drained his bladder. A respirator was giving him the breath of life. I looked at him in despair, thinking how will we ever get through this? Focusing on his eyes, I prayed he’d open them and reassure me he’d be okay. I yearned to understand what was happening to his soul. I could see his body, but couldn’t feel his presence. Will I ever feel his spirit again? Will I ever see his beautiful blue eyes again? They are the window to his soul and I felt lost without him.

Rotating Bed 2

Rotating bed like the one Mark had

Please Lord, let him live. I can’t live without him, was my silent prayer as I watched the bed rotate from one side to the other. We were only allowed to stay in the room for a few minutes. Fearful it might be my last chance to tell Mark, my parting words were simply I love you.

Mom pushed me out the door and back into the waiting room. There on the wall hung a phone which seemed to be telling me it was time to call our kids. With a heavy heart, I picked up the receiver and for the first time tears flowed. The reality of the car accident was sinking in. How and what will I tell them about the accident? They were so young; Katie had just barely turned seven and Christopher was eight. How do I tell them Mom and Dad won’t be coming home tonight? When will we be coming home? I had so many questions myself, how could I answer theirs. My heart was broken and the last thing I wanted to do was to break theirs. How could I be strong for them when I didn’t have any strength myself?

Through my tears I looked at Dad, “I want to be the one to tell them—I need to be the one.” In desperation for strength, I knew I needed divine help. We prayed together asking the Lord to bless me with the ability. 

With renewed determination, I wiped the tears from my eyes and dialed our home phone number.

“Hello”

“Hi Linda, may I talk to Christopher, please.”

“Sure, I’ll get him.”

“Hi Mom, did you call to tell us when you’d be home?”

“Well, I’m not sure.” Tears filled my eyes and I quickly wiped them away. You can do this. You have to do this, I thought. “Your dad and I were in a car accident and your dad had to have surgery. I’m going to stay with him tonight here at the hospital. Your Aunt Dianne will come to get you, Katie and Linda and you’ll spend the night at their house.” So far so good, but I need to end this quickly before my emotions take over. “I love you, Christopher and I’ll call you tomorrow. Can I talk to Katie?”

“Okay,” he said with uncertainty.

“Katie—Mom wants to talk to you,” I heard him say in a tense voice.

“Hi Mom.” Katie sounded worried, or was it just me? I assumed she could tell something was wrong. Christopher was surprised by my unexpected phone call and didn’t have time to respond, but Katie had time during my conversation with him to be warned that something wasn’t right .

“Hi Sweet Pea,” I said, wanting to be reassuring, but my voiced cracked. You better get right to it, I thought.

“Your daddy got hurt in a car accident and we can’t come home tonight. We’ll be staying at the hospital and you’ll be staying with your cousins.” With tears running down my cheeks, but my voice under control, I told her I loved her and would see her soon. I knew she was frightened, but I was helpless to comfort her.

I wanted to reach through the phone line and wrap my arms around my kids. I needed their love and they needed to feel mine, but there was sixty miles separating us. It felt like they were on the other side of the world.

Most of all I just wanted to protect them from this horrible situation, but I didn’t have a clue how to do it.

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Twelve Things I’ve Learned About Grief

Keep Moving Forward

Grief is not easily discussed or thought about, yet it is something we all experience. My Sunday post, The Dreaded Phone Calls, caused me to reflect on the grieving process. Twenty-three years ago I had limited experience with grief and I’m still learning about the grieving process. I’ve done some research and realize it’s helpful to know what you’re facing and to know you’re not alone. For that reason I’d like to share what I have learned through my experience and research.

1) Grief is a normal part of life. If you love, it is inevitable and it doesn’t take the death of a loved one for it to come. It can appear with the loss of a job, relationship, and opportunities. A life altering accident or illness will cause one or possibly all three, which compounds the grief.

2) The pain is intense. I was not prepared for the emotional pain level I felt. It far out-weighed the physical pain of a broken collarbone and bruised body. Don’t be surprised when emotional pain manifests itself more severe than any physical pain you have experienced.

3) It takes time to heal. My world as I knew it ended, but life does go on, slowly. A new normal does come. You may be okay one minute, one hour or one day and not the next. Learn to accept what your heart and mind are feeling and work through it. Each of us grieves differently. Some situations and circumstances take longer than others. Be patient with yourself and others.

4) It’s okay to cry. No apology is necessary and you should do it as often as you need without feeling weak or embarrassed. But it’s okay to laugh, too. Don’t feel guilty for feeling positive emotions even when dealing with a loss.

5) Take care of yourself. Do healthy things you love even if you don’t feel like it. Eat healthy and take time to exercise. You may feel like you’re just going through the paces of life. Remember, you are still living and need to take care of yourself.

6) Don’t shut people out. It may appear by doing so you will save yourself from more pain and the self-pride of doing it alone. Most people want to be strong and do things on their own. However, cutting yourself off from relationships or refusing someone’s help can hurt you and others. It’s okay to ask for help and it’s okay to need people. Tell friends and family specifically what you need. They will probably thank you for doing so.

7) Grief is a mixture of emotions. I felt despair, numbness, emptiness, guilt, anger, confusion and sadness. These emotions materialized at different times and in different ways. I didn’t like it or want it, but there was no going around it. The only way to get through it is head on.

8) Don’t hide from the pain. If you do, it will fester and grow and consume you. It’s tempting to rationalize, if I don’t think about it, it’ll just go away. While I do believe being busy helps—it’s not an escape from grief. Some people use hobbies, work, relationships or even liquor, sex, drugs, in hopes it will take the pain away. If you are using anything to try to numb the pain, it will make things worse in the long run. Seek help if you’re dealing with the sorrow in unhealthy ways.

9) No one will respond perfectly to your grief. People, even people you love, will let you down. Possibly they are too full with their own grief. Friends you thought would be there won’t be there and people you hardly know will reach out. Be prepared to give others grace. Be prepared to work through hurt and forgiveness at others’ reactions.

10) God will be there for you. Prayer is the gateway of communication with Him. He understands your emotions better than anyone. Your prayers may not be answered the way you want them to be, but without a doubt, He is near to the brokenhearted.

11) You will ask “Why?” If you’re like me, you’ll ask it many times and you may never get an answer. What helps is asking, “How? How can I change and grow from this, how can I become better, how can I embrace others?”

12) Grief changes you. Life will not be normal and routines may need to be different. Try to keep as much structure as possible in your life and minimize the amount of change. Grieving takes most, if not all, of your strength. Do not worry if you don’t have as much energy as you did before your loss. Don’t feel guilty about doing less. Realize anniversaries, holidays, birthdays, places, objects and people may all trigger memories surrounding your loss. Be prepared for a gush of grief during these times. The process of grieving makes a person change who they are emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. It is okay to change. Embrace the change rather than fight it.

What things have you learned about grief that you wish you’d known before your loss?

Resources:

“What To Know About Grief” by Kelly Baltzell M.A. & Karin Baltzell Ph.D                                “15 Things I Wish I’d Known About Grief” by Teryn O’Brien

 

The Dreaded Phone Calls, part 1

Information DeskApril 27, 1991

My parents anxiously rushed towards me “Are you okay? What happened?” they asked.

I told them about the car accident and how Mark was unconscious and was now in surgery getting a shunt to relieve pressure on his brain.

The receptionist pointed us in the direction of the intensive care waiting room and Mick spied a phone in the hallway near the waiting room. “I need to update Dianne and she can let the rest of the family know what’s going on.”

“Please do,” Mom replied, “We’ll be in the waiting room.”

“I want to call the kids, but I’ll do it when Mark’s out of surgery,” I said.

Dianne, called her daughter, Linda, to let her know it would be a late night with our kids. She also called my only sister, Rosanne, and my brothers, Don and Steve, to inform them of the details of the accident and our condition.

While in the waiting room, Mom and Dad noticed how uncomfortable I was with every breath.

“I think you should go back to the emergency room to make sure the doctor didn’t miss another problem. I’ll wait here in case the neurosurgeon comes while you’re gone,” Mom said.

“I don’t want to miss him.”

“If he comes, I’ll make sure he finds you in emergency to update you on Mark’s prognosis.”

I nodded in agreement. Dad grabbed a hospital wheelchair from the hallway and quickly wheeled me back to emergency room.

“My daughter’s breathing is uncomfortable,” he explained to the nurse at the station. “Could you make sure there’s not another problem?”

“Sure,” the nurse replied as she took the wheelchair and wheeled me in for more x-rays, then back to another room where my Dad and I waited to hear the results. Time seemed to be passing at a snail’s pace, but finally a doctor arrived with the results of the x-rays.

“Your lungs are clear and your heart is fine. There are no broken ribs. Your pain is coming from your collarbone, which is broken in two places, and the extensive chest bruising. The nurse will bring you some pain medication for now and here is a prescription to fill later.”

“I can’t take any medication,” I said. I already felt foggy and was afraid it might cloud my thinking. “I need to be alert so I can understand what’s happening.”

The doctor raised his eyebrows and looked at me skeptically. “Well… your choice, but in case you change your mind…” he said as he handed me the written prescription.

“Thanks,” I replied.

Dad wheeled me back to the I.C.U. waiting room.

“Hasn’t the neurosurgeon come yet?” I asked Mom.

“Not yet”

“I should call Mark’s mom,” I said. How do I tell her that Mark is not expected to make it through the night? What words would ease the blow?

Wanda lived in Vancouver, Washington about 785 miles away. Mark adores his mother and never uttered one negative word about her. She’s smart, witty, soft-spoken, and devoted to her three children. Mark was her only child for ten years and he enjoyed the undivided attention. I respected Wanda and appreciated her influence in raising such wonderful man. Now I was afraid she might reject and blame me and I felt she had every right to do so. Feelings of guilt and remorse about the car accident filled my soul.

Dad realized my anguish and offered to make the call, but I wanted to — or at least I felt like I should be the one to tell her. Dad pushed me in the wheelchair from the waiting room into the hallway to a small cubical with a phone sitting on a desk with a chair. I looked at the phone and feared I’d fall apart. I didn’t have the strength to pick up the receiver. Disappointed in myself I asked Dad if he’d make the call for me.

When there was no answer at her home, I remembered Wanda told us she was going to Arkansas to visit her parents and brother. I didn’t have Uncle Glynn’s phone number, but I did have Mark’s sisters phone numbers in my purse.

Being the big brother, Mark felt protective and proud of his sisters Karen and Jerrie. Even though they were only ten and eleven when he moved to Utah with his employment he kept track of them the best he could long distance. It was obvious he cherished both of them. Karen married Mark Ray almost two years prior to the accident and we had just been to Washington in November for Jerrie’s wedding to Jon. I was worried how they might react to this devastating news.

I sat in the wheelchair next to Dad, listened to his conversation with Karen about the accident, and then heard him ask for Glynn’s phone number. Without saying another word, he picked up the receiver again, dialed 0 to talk to the operator to have the long distant call billed to his home phone number.

I nervously listened as I heard Dad introduce himself to Glynn, whom neither of us had ever met, and then ask if Wanda was available to talk to. Next I heard Dad recalling the accident details and grim prognosis the doctor had given. He told her Mark was in surgery getting a shunt to relieve the pressure from his brain and that we would update her after the surgery.

I sighed with relief—Mark’s family now knew and seemed to be handling the news in their usual gracious way.There was one last dreaded phone call to make and I cringed at the thought—our young children still didn’t know.

The last Wilson family picture before the accident.

Mark Ray, Karen, Wanda, Mark, Barbara, Grandparents- LaFaye, Norval                                   Jerrie, Jon, Katie and Christopher – The Wilson Family – November 1990

Next week’s Sunday Story will be part two – how I tell Katie and Christopher.

Finding Relief

Happy

We have all had our share of dark days where grief, worry and sadness overcome us. If you have life and love you can’t escape heart ache. In my article The Blessing of Comfort, I reflected on what got me through the darkest hours after the car accident. The empathy from an EMT, hearing my sister-in-law’s voice say she would make sure my parents knew, the gentle care of nurses and a Priesthood blessing from one man I hardly knew and the other a complete stranger.

I am grateful for caring people who bring comfort and I strive to be this kind of person, as I’m sure most of us do. However, there are times and situations when we are alone in our sadness. We can’t always count on other people to help us feel better. This is why I believe religion is important. Taking time to ponder and pursue what you believe gives inner strength. Your beliefs may be different than mine and that’s okay. I rely on mine to help me past the sorrow and I thank God in my prayers every day for the peace and comfort I find in my religion.

When friends and family can’t be there, where do you find comfort?

We belong to a monthly support group for brain injury survivors and caregivers. A few months ago the topic was on self-care and where we find relief from sadness. Some of the things mentioned were: gardening, reading a good book, bubble baths, mediation, running, swimming, walking, playing sports and other fun physical activities. Of course I mentioned writing, because it’s therapeutic for me and I started when Mark was in rehab.

It is important to actively fill our souls by doing things which bring us enjoyment in life. Sometimes it’s hard to make time, especially when you’re a caregiver, but as stated on the airlines, in a crisis you have to put your own oxygen mask on before you can help another.

In our busy lives it’s easy to go through a day doing all the tasks which need to be done without thinking about what brings us comfort or joy. If we don’t stop for a minute to contemplate and be thankful for those things which brings light into our life, it becomes dreadful and empty. By recognizing, appreciating, and doing those things which bring happiness, we strengthen in ourselves and increase our ability to fulfill the unwanted tasks in life. Consider what brings you comfort or joy, be grateful for those things and seek opportunities to do them. Make your own bolster list to help you avoid the sadness and on those days when it arises, you will find solace and some respite in doing something you enjoyed.

When you realize what gives you a break from the everyday grind, make it a priority in your life, not to consume your whole day, but to shed the necessary light which will enable you to navigate the journey.

I look forward to reading your thoughts and the actions you take in finding relief in the comment box below. By sharing you might reinforce an idea or give another person a thought which could help them on their pathway through life.

Thanks for reading!

The Blessing of Comfort

ambulance

April 27, 1991

“I know what you’re going through,” said the EMT at my side while the other one drove the ambulance to the hospital. “I just lost my wife three weeks ago,” he said in a somber voice.

“Mark will be okay,” I said as he placed the oxygen tube in my nose and checked my heart rate and blood pressure. He has to be okay, I thought. I can’t live without him.

“Is there anyone we can call for you?”

“Yes,” I replied and recited my parents’ phone number.

No answer confirmed my earlier fear they had already left with our two kids to pick up my 14 year-old niece, Linda. She had agreed to watch Christopher and Katie for the evening until we returned from our all day house hunting adventure in Ogden, Utah. I envisioned Mom and Dad in the front seat of their 1979 gray Chevy car with the three kids in the back seat.  Like a snapshot pictured, I saw all five of them happy, healthy, and unaware that our world had just turned upside down as they made their way to our home in Sandy, Utah. They were sixty miles away and I knew it would take at least an hour for them to get to us. They were uninformed of how much I needed them and how far away they all seemed to be. Yet in that moment, I wanted to protect all five of them from this devastating news.

After several rings, the EMT interrupted my thoughts, “Is there another number we can call?”

Still struggling to breathe from the blow to my shoulder and chest, I simply recited my brother’s home phone number. I was surprised by my memory of phone numbers and calmness under such horrific circumstances. I knew God was blessing me.

“Hello,” I heard my sister-in-law, Dianne’s voice over the speaker.

“This is the paramedics in Roy City. Do you know Mark and Barbara Wilson?”

“Yes,” Dianne said, sounding apprehensive.

“They have been in a very serious automobile accident and we are transporting Barbara to McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden and another ambulance will take Mark there. We have tried her parents’ phone number, but there was no answer.”

Dianne anxiously assure the EMT she would let them know and the quick call ended.

She immediately called my oldest brother, Mick, at work. Since Dianne was home, she knew when my parents had picked up her daughter, Linda and realized they probably had time to drop the kids off at our house and were in route to their home. Mick told Dianne he wanted to go to the hospital with our parents so he called their phone number and since they didn’t have an answering machine he just left it ringing for several minutes until they returned home to answer it. As soon as they got the news, they cancelled the dinner date they had and headed for Salt Lake City to pick up Mick and the three of them drove together to McKay-Dee Hospital.

brand-canvas-hospital-mckay-dee-hospital

McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden, Utah

After the x-rays and removing pieces of glass from shattered car windows from my ears with tweezers, a compassionate nurse asked me if there was anyone she could call for me. I knew it would be at least an hour before my family could get to the hospital. I didn’t even know who knew at this time other than Dianne. I thought of a close childhood friend who lived in Ogden. I told the nurse I did not know their phone number, but if she could look up Darlene and Dixon Pitcher’s phone number, I would appreciate it.The nurse left the room to make the call while another one fitted a patted figure eight brace which wrapped around the back of my neck, under my armpits and fastened in the back to secure my broken collarbone. Broken pieces of glass were all over my body,but not one cut. How strange, I thought as I looked at my bruised body while the nurse cleaned the glass off. Next she brought a sling for my right arm and adjusted it to my size.

“Would you like some medication for the pain.”

“No thanks, I don’t need any,” I said numbed to any feeling.

The nurse was just finishing up with me when Dixon and his friend came to the hospital. I was relieved to see a familiar face. Recalling the frightening words from the surgeon just before he took Mark into surgery, I was terrified of what laid ahead. I asked the two men to give me a Priesthood Blessing. I didn’t know Dixon very well and had never met the friend he brought with him. It was Dixon’s wife who had been my childhood friend, but he knew just what to say and his blessing brought solace. They sat with me for a while after the blessing. I was so stunned by the experience I don’t remember what was said, but I do remember the comfort these two men brought. My broken heart was full of gratitude for them.

The nurse came back in the room and handed me a large plastic bag with Mark’s belongings. Inside was his cut clothing, shoes, wallet and watch. She explained to me in the rush for Mark’s MRI and surgery, they cut the jacket, shirt and pants from his body. She told me Mark would be in surgery for a while and I was free to wait in the waiting room.

I thanked Dixon and his friend for the blessing and visit and assured them my family would be on their way. I didn’t want to keep them from their Saturday plans any longer and told them I’d be fine, so they left. I sat for a moment on the edge of the bed in the emergency room, alone and oblivious of the other crises going on in the other rooms. I wondered how I’d make my body move. I didn’t feel pain, emotion or drive. I felt dead and consumed with despair. This must be a nightmare, I thought. Surely I would awaken soon and life would go on as planned.

Divine intervention must have given me the strength to grab the plastic bag of Mark’s belongings with my left hand as I mustered up the will to get off the bed and walked aimlessly out of the  room into uncertainty, still wearing the hospital gown for my shirt. I looked down the hall and saw some swinging doors at one end. Unaware of anyone else in the hallway or in the rooms I passed, I walked devastated and all alone through the swinging doors into the main area of the hospital. To my relief, there stood my brother, Mick, at the information desk, talking to the receptionist. Mom and Dad stood behind him and noticed me. Immediate comfort came from the sight of them. Gratefully, I was no longer alone in this nightmare, but unfortunately…that also made it more real as my family poured love and life back into me.