Five years ago I was talking to our youngest daughter, Emma, and she threw her head back and laughed. In that moment I felt sheer terror. When she tipped her head back I was able to see an awkwardly grown jawbone jutting out the wrong way. I wasn’t sure what it all meant but it was the beginning of my awareness that something could happen to my child. Was it a tumor, cancer, a bone disorder or disease? My child’s very life could be at risk.
Oh My God, I could Lose my Child!
When my children were young I would put them to bed and after they had fallen asleep I would simply watch them breathe. Slow, steady, in and out. It was hard to imagine that it was so automatic and I had a nagging voice in the back of my head telling me something could happen. Like all mothers, I shove that thought back, somewhere deep in my mind, for it was a much too painful thought to even entertain.
Pushing Through Fear
Fast forward five years from the day I first noticed Emma’s deformed jaw. Paul and I sat in a ready room at the hospital with Emma, now 18 and a freshman at Arizona State University, and listened to her Craniofacial Surgeon discuss the possible outcomes of her double jaw surgery. My brain was reeling when both the surgeon and the anesthesiologist spoke of the possibilities of breathing problems, breathing machines, swollen throats, upset stomach and solutions to possible vomiting with a jaw that was banded shut. Then there was talk of possible nerve damage in her face. I wasn’t able to contain the fear, grief and sadness I felt to the depth of my soul. Tears streamed down my face as I sat quietly and listened. The surgeon became increasingly aware of the woman sitting in the back watching things play out and soon the connection was made and she too was tearing up. She had been seeing Emma for five years and was aware of some of the things our family had endured. She knew I was normally a hard driving woman like herself, who asked direct questions and wasn’t afraid to chime in with my opinion. Now I sat, broken, defeated in the corner of the room, feeling helpless.
Moving through Life at a Normal Pace
When we first met with this surgeon, she was very mechanical. She had been on this path with us now and when we first met, we were a happy family and were moving through life on our very normal journey. We had sustained the normal losses in life of both grandfathers and we had read about other people’s losses and continued on…it was something that “those” people went through, not us. So although the discussion of jaw surgery somewhere down the road was discussed, it wasn’t real because it was years from that moment, not until Emma had quit growing. At the time, Emma, was in seventh grade and barely 13 years old.
Now the day had come. Five years later, Emma had been through so much. Heck, we all had. The loss of her grandmother in 2010. In 2011, her sister, who was 24 months older, had suffered seizures from a brain tumor and had been through major surgery to remove the tumor. Then the ultimate loss of her 22 year old brother, Phillip, in 2012. There had been financial struggles endured with the tanking of the real estate market and as I sat in the small hospital room waiting to hear how Emma was doing, I thought I simply could not endure any more. My stomach had been giving me fits since a year after Phil had died. I had been scoped and prodded more than I care to admit and now receive a pretty high dose of medications daily. I had gained nearly 45 pounds and I have had two sinus surgeries since Phil died two years ago. My lifeline was Phillip’s beautiful baby girl, Ava. Ava, who’s mom is from Turkey and had taken her to Turkey for six months. Another huge loss.
How Much can one Family Endure?
How much can one family endure? I silently asked myself as I sat in the waiting room after they wheeled my girl away. I was feeling victimized by life. Then it struck me. One family can endure so much more. I have one friend who had two children and lost both of them. Years ago I did a woman’s hair and I learned of the loss of three of her children in one car accident. Another friend, who lost her son, left her a precious grandson. Two years later this amazing grandson had died in a drowning. So the answer was, I could endure so much more. Suffering is always optional.
I certainly won’t say I haven’t done my fair share of suffering. I have. My husband constantly and patiently reminds me that suffering is of the mind. At times I have a difficult time grasping this concept when I am in the middle of my grief. I know in my brain it is true. I have experienced it. If I am directing my attention to something else, if I am living in the moment, I am not suffering. I don’t think about the past of the horrific car accident and how Phil died and I don’t think about the future of all the lost moments I wouldn’t share with him.
Living in the Moment
Disciplining my mind also disciplines my emotions. Living in the moment is the key. I miss Phillip so very much and I worry about my other children. What if I lost another? I don’t think my soul could bear it. And the fact is, I haven’t lost another and much of the suffering comes from imagining the unimaginable. It is a constant battle with my mind to adjust it to recognize how blessed I am NOW and to enjoy the small moments I share with Paul and each child and with Ava, NOW. I have Phillips baby, Ava. I have my other children and a saint of a husband. I have amazing friends and a very large support system. I am a very fortunate woman. So when someone says to me, I cannot imagine, how do you get through the day? My answer is, I breathe in and out and I focus on the moments I have today, the moments I have right now.
I just got out of surgery today as a result of traumatic jaw injury I received 17 years ago. I know what your daughter is going through — my mom knows what you are going through. Mine happened when I was also 17. Looking back, I don’t know how instayed so strong. I think it had a lot to do with not fully understanding the impact and trauma associated with me ordeal. Thanks to my mother and the doctors they coached me and gave me hope. 30+ surgeries later, I am a strong and ambitious person and nothing or no one will take that away from me.
I wish you all the best, you are stronger than you could ever imagine you are.
Thank you Lindsey for taking time to comment. It sounds like you have been through quite a lot and I am glad you have a strong mom and great surgical team! Thanks again for sharing. -Michelle