You Raise Me Up

You Raise Me Up

April 27, 1991

Shortly after the dreaded phone calls, my brother, Don, and sister, Rosanne, arrived at the hospital carrying a folding chaise lounge. Always thinking ahead and being the protective big sister, Rosanne came prepared with something for me to sleep on if needed. Appreciating how lucky I am to have all my family live close by me and able to rearrange their Saturday evening plans to be with me, I felt loved, supported and secure with them uniting around me.

We got permission for all seven of us to go into Mark’s room together that evening. Tears were shed by each family member at the sight of a young man, who at the beginning of the day was full of life and excitement for a new job and the adventure of moving to a different city. Now he lay comatose, entangled in tubes that were connected to the equipment keeping him alive. Dad and my three brothers laid their hands on Mark’s head and gave him a blessing. Dad’s words were soothing and the spirit I felt was calming. I remember many of the words spoken, but most vividly I recall the love, concern and the comfort I felt. With Mark’s rotating bed stilled for the blessing, the pumping noises of the other equipment and strange I.C.U. smells seemed to disappear from the room.  In the midst of my darkest hours arose tender mercies. Surrounded by my family, the room became my sanctuary.

McKay-Dee Hospital was wonderful to us. They offered a room for us to sleep in at the Ronald McDonald House close by the hospital. My parents and I stayed in a room with a queen size bed and recliner chair. With my broken collarbone I couldn’t breathe lying down anyway so I slept in the recliner. My sister took back her chaise lounge realizing we had adequate sleeping arrangements and my siblings went home for the evening.

Like a wild fire, the word was spreading, leaving a painful scorch on all of our loved one’s hearts. The next day, being Sunday, many neighbors, friends, cousins, aunts and uncles gathered at the hospital. They were not allowed in the Intensive Care Unit so they shared their love and support with me in the waiting room. Mark’s Mom and Uncle Glynn flew in from Arkansas on Monday and his sister’s, Karen and Jerrie, flew in from Washington. They stayed a few days at the Ronald McDonald house with us. I was in awe at the number of people who came. Each person’s love and support lifted me up and added light to my days. They helped bring me out of the dark and deep hole I had fallen into, which gave me purpose and encouragement to move on and look upward.

I thought Mark would want me to go to his new employer, Robertson Electric, personally to let them know about the car accident and his condition. Dad and Steve went to the junkyard on Sunday to retrieve Mark’s tools and clipboard from the car. I looked in the clipboard to find his time card and the address of the office. Early Monday morning Dad drove me there and I met Mark’s employer for the first time. I explained that due to Mark’s condition, I didn’t know when he would be back to this new job he was so excited about. Mr. Robertson was kind and compassionate about the situation and told me not to worry. The job would still be there whenever Mark was well enough to work. I handed him Mark’s clipboard and he told me if there was anything he could do to help not to hesitate to call. For the next several weeks they called the hospital to check on Mark’s condition and sent him flowers.

The critical twenty-four hours turned into forty-eight and then seventy-two. As the days turned into weeks, my family devised a plan to encourage and enable me to go home on weeknights to be with our children, Christopher and Katie. Each brother and my brother-in-law, Klint, took an assigned night Monday through Thursday to stay overnight with Mark. They drove over sixty miles to go to the hospital right after work and in the morning they’d drive right back to their various workplaces. After I got the kids off to school, Mom would drive me to the hospital. She spent nearly every day there with me and then drove me home in the afternoon. Friday through Sunday I spent the days and nights there alone with Mark while the kids stayed at my parent’s home. Sunday Mom and Dad would bring the kids to the hospital for a visit then Sunday night, Dad stayed with Mark while Mom drove the kids and I home. Without a car and because of my broken collarbone I wasn’t able to drive for six weeks so I was totally dependent on my parents for transportation.

Every family member pitched in to help me as well as the children through this strenuous time. Friends and extended family drove many miles to see us while others flew from places too far to drive. People from different churches prayed for us. I felt the love and support of many and learned how caring and kind even strangers are. “You raised me up: to more than I can be” and I am forever grateful for you.

Helping Children Cope

child-tearful-comfort-alamyChange is never easy, but if it’s anticipated at least there’s time to think, talk, prepare, and gradually reshape relationships. When a tragic injury or serious illness is sudden and unexpected, there is no time for adjusting. Without any warning our family dynamics dramatically changed with a car accident. It was difficult for me to comprehend what happened, but even harder to explain it to our young children. A child depends on their parents not only for their physical, but also their emotional and spiritual well-being. When you are the only parent left to handle all the responsibility it’s overwhelming and nearly impossible. How can you help a child cope alone when you’re grief-stricken yourself? Fortunately there is family, friends  and professionals that can help.The hospitals provide family counseling and so does the rehab center. There are also children’s school psychologists or counselors. It’s difficult to take the time for counseling sessions when you already feel overstretched by the responsibilities of caring for your loved ones. You may wonder why you should take an hour or so to open up to a complete stranger. You may also feel stress due to the threat of your loved one’s death and needing to spend all the time you can with them. As hard as it is, it’s important to make an effort to work through the grieving process—not only for yourself, but for your children too.daddys-comfort-300x199

Like adults, children may need encouragement to share their grief. It’s not good to bottle up feelings. You don’t want to preserved them for later. Offering support to a grieving child can begin with a simple statement or open-ended question such as:

  • I’m sorry your mom/dad/sister/brother is hurt/ill.
  • What do you miss the most?
  • What is the hardest part for you?
  • What is the hardest time of day for you?
  • I care about you.
  • I care about how you are feeling.
  • Is there anything I can do to help you?
  • Is there anything I can do help you feel better?
  • Would you like to talk about it?
  • Whenever you want to talk about it, I’m here for you, or I’m available at this time, if you’d like to talk then.
  • I’m here to listen if you want to talk, or just spend time together if you don’t want to talk.

Some statements or questions can be hurtful and harmful to a grieving child such as:

  • I know just how you feel.
  • You need to move on.
  • You’ll get over it, or get over it.
  • It will be okay.
  • Don’t think about it.
  • You are better off.
  • Don’t cry.
  • Tears won’t help.
  • It’s your fault.
  • Be strong.
  • Forget about it.
  • You are the man/woman of the house now.
  • You should feel….(proud, relieved, happy, sad, etc.) I don’t believe any adult likes to be told how they should feel, yet it’s hard to remember children are no different.

More than a year after our accident a counselor suggested I have one-on-one dates with each child. I did this at least once a month until they got to be teenagers and didn’t want to go with me anymore. We did simple, inexpensive activities such as bowling, going to the library, getting ice-cream, or going to the grocery store. Together we planned the activity and scheduled a time, most often on a Friday night. Usually it was a fun and enjoyable date, however there were a few times it didn’t turn out the way I’d hope it would and I often wish I could have done more with them. I wasn’t perfect at hiding my stress, but I did the best I knew how to help them feel loved and appreciated by me despite the heavy load of responsibility.

What have you done to help your children cope with a traumatic change?