My broken Heart

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My friends! I can’t share all of this Christmas goodness, and not give you an update as to what is going on with me after sharing last week that my mom passed away, suddenly.  If you follow me on instagram, you have a glimpse, but I really love coming to “chat” with you out there, and sharing the thoughts of my heart. I keep meaning to write in my journal, but I type so much faster than I write, so it makes more sense to just post it here.

I know when I’ve seen an online person I care about go through something personal, I’m always checking for updates to peer into their hearts, to see how they are doing, so I feel I must do the same with all of you (plus, I want to). It truly means so much to me to have your prayers and thoughts and kind words reaching out to me in this time of grief.  I wanted to share what happened, and the events that have occurred in the past week.

But first, our last extended family pictures, I already adored them, now I will truly treasure them.

beach ball pictures

It’s long….are you ready?  You totally don’t have to read it all, I’ll never know!

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9 days ago, I was in church, when I got a text from my brother, and realized I didn’t put my phone on silence like I normally do. I quickly jumped to silence it, and glanced at the group text my older brother sent at 11:08 am Texas time:

Dad just called me and he wants all adults on a conference call soon. I have a number I can send, can you confirm that you can join?

I messaged back…ok, we are in church until 1, my husband has a meeting at 4, but otherwise we are available.

He messaged back and asked if we can do it in the next 30 minutes.

I thought that was odd, he knew we’d all likely be in church, couldn’t it wait?

While sitting in church still, I asked my brother if he knew what it was about, he didn’t. My thoughts quickly turned to my 91 year old grandparents, but my brother had already reached out to them, no news there.

My brother then asked if I can plan on stepping out of church for this chat.

My stomach then sunk.

I’d have to wait 30 minutes for this??

My youngest daughter woke up with a random rash that morning, and I asked my friend Jessica if she could bring some children’s Benadryl to church that I could use. I went to grab it from her, and told her my stomach was in knots, my dad wants an “all adults” conference call in 20 minutes. The middle of the day. “This can’t be good.” I said out loud to her.

I had to sit there for 20 more minutes, my stomach churning, as I couldn’t think about what he could possibly want to share. Though it crossed my mind that someone passed away, it never occurred to me who it would be.  I wondered if they’d found out news about cancer for someone, or a different service opportunity for them, and with the 6 hour time difference in Ghana, I still thought it was odd that he’d pull us all from church.

At 11:55am, my husband and I slipped out of church. We had a unique church setting that day, a Regional Conference broadcast, so we left our kids sitting and listening while we stepped outside, into the shade of our church building. November 8th in Texas was a bright sunny day, but had a welcome brisk chill in the air, while in the shade.

We all dialed into the call. Picture this: My dad in Ghana, we are in Austin (TX), my brother who lives in Houston was on a family vacation in California, my other two brothers in Eastern Tennessee and St. Louis Missouri. All of us spread out. Too far.

Digital Camera

{Baby Raelene, 1951}

The first sound of my dads voice didn’t sound too alarming, so I instantly felt reassured. After 10 seconds of small talk about the challenge of dialing into a conference call, my dad went right into it.

Guys, I have some really bad news. His voice broke, and he became quite emotional.

Mom died today in Johannesburg.

Silence from all of us. Shock.

How could this be? She wasn’t sick. What on earth is going on? Why was she in Johannesburg?

My husband, who already had his arm around me, immediately clenched my hand that wasn’t holding the phone.

My dad began to tell us how the day before, she flew to South Africa from Ghana, to be better treated for a kidney infection, from what they understood was kidney stones.

None of us knew she even flew there. Why didn’t we know she was leaving the country to have a procedure done? This didn’t make sense.

I had talked to her the week before, and knew she went to the Ghana hospital from pain from a kidney stone, but she was happy to be out of the hospital. I thought it was done. Why hadn’t I called to check on her that week? I thought she was all better. I was actually the only one who knew she went the week before, and probably only because she missed calling my oldest on his birthday, November 1st, and she probably thought she had to share that “good excuse” for not calling. She felt bad about that, and made sure to get the birthday call into him the next day.

As my husband and I hovered in a small shady spot outside our church building for the next 40 minutes, everything unfolded to us.

Eventually the shock and silence led to questions and crying.

But no one wailing, I think we were all blessed with an extra blanket of peace.

In a nut shell, her procedure to administer antibiotics to her kidney was successful, but after the procedure, she got a blood clot, which led to cardiac arrest. Attempts at revival were futile.

We then found out that her best friend of 30 years, K.K., was there in the hospital with her just before, and in the waiting room. In a not so random coincidence, K.K. had been living with her husband in Johannesburg on an assignment for our church. Through my sudden grief, I felt gratitude at the tender mercy of the Lord, that she was there. This friend, that she didn’t get to see very often, was by her side, laughing with her, just before her procedure. I spoke to K.K. that Sunday night, and we agreed it was true divine intervention (especially because KK flew in from an assignment in Zimbabwe just an hour before seeing my mom).

The rest of the call is more personal to our family…and also a bit of a blur.

 

Digital Camera

{I love this candid moment of my mom pushing her little sister in the swing}

My husband went inside, as I spoke to my dad and siblings a few minutes longer, then hung up.

I knew church was about to let out, and soon the parking lot would be flooded with people. I walked to our car, but it was locked, so I waited at the back with my head down, holding my husbands handkerchief to my face, and waited for my family.

My kids were confused where we were, why we were gone so long, and why I was crying.

As we were about to drive away, my friend Jessica walked by my window, having been wondering what was going on. I said I’d call her later.

We’d now have to tell our kids.

My mind then turned to the years and years that we now have ahead of us, that my mom won’t be around to smother them with love.

Oh, how she loves her grandchildren.

When we got home, we had the kids sit down so we could tell them. I sat on a short stool out in front of them, as they spread on the couch with a concerned look on their face.

As I still had my phone clutched in my hand, it rang.

Nat cell.

It was Natalie. My best friend since high school.

I knew she knew.

How could she know so quickly? I just barely found out. Though I wanted to talk to her, I silenced the phone.

We had to tell our kids.

This time is a bit of a blur. I told them, they cried, I expressed to them my gratitude for the Plan of Salvation, to know that we have a loving Father in Heaven who has a purpose for everything. I wanted them to know that I knew this, and that I had faith in His plan.

After about 15 minutes, I’d pretty much said all I needed to say, and Natalie was trying to call again.

I answered, and stepped outside on my front lawn. She was crying, and told me her mom told her. Our moms were in the same church congregation in Houston, and have been since we were in high school. News got spread around the Houston people pretty fast.  We cried together, she knew well the challenges my mom and I experienced. I know her heart was breaking, and she’s kindly reached out to me several times, checking in on me. She’s in Kansas, oh so far away.  Natalie also happens to be the daughter in law of my mom’s best friend, K.K., who was with her, so I got her info and gave her a call.

I spoke to K.K. for a while, and we cried together. I just still can’t believe that tender mercy that she was there with her. She gave me more details, and eventually I typed them all out, which is a treasure to me to know more specifics about my mom’s final moments.  That Sunday, I was on the phone all day, while the rest of my family quietly hung out in our family room. Later, I found my husband asked each of my kids to write out memories of grandma.

mom and dad

I talked to my dad again, my brothers individually, and a few friends that I grew up with. People were starting to post condolences on my Facebook wall, and I had consulted with my brother and asked whether or not to post something, but it was the middle of the night for my Dad In Ghana, so we wanted to wait till he was awake to get his final approval. So far, nothing has been posted on my mom’s Facebook wall, but right before I went to bed someone did post a picture and tagged her, which I quickly asked them to remove it so that we could be the first to make the official announcement. In that timeframe though, the word had gotten out, and I was getting a bunch of messages from people that are only my mom’s Facebook friends (not mine), asking what happened, and if “the rumors were true.” I sent private messages confirming.

There was one person in my town that I wanted to call myself. She has known my mom for over 10 years, and we’ve been close friends enough, that my mom has become her friend as well.  I called her, and she was driving to a meeting at church that night, and I just came right out and said it. She has the type of personality that is full of emotion in everything she does, it’s so delightful to be around. So it did not surprise me when right after I told her, she began to weep uncontrollably. For some strange reason, that brought comfort to me, someone crying that way on behalf of my loss, and her loss as well, she was overcome, and I was as well. We cried together as she drove to her meeting, and I felt bad that she had to walk into it looking like that.  The next day, she dropped by in the morning, and brought 3 red balloons that said I love you, a fruit tray, a salad, and a jug of lemonade. So sweet and so thoughtful.

I spoke to my dad individually in the afternoon, and we shared a tender conversation, filled with emotion.

I decided that I still wanted to teach my early-morning Old Testament class to my teenagers, they bring me such comfort, I couldn’t imagine not going there. I was so exhausted from crying all day, that I went to bed at a decent hour, and actually got a pretty good nights sleep.  Sleep has been a blessing that I excel in.

The next morning, as my son Tyler and I drove the 15 minutes to our class, I messaged my dad, and he then called us. Overcome with emotion, he wanted to talk to Tyler, as he had not spoken personally to him yet.  Through tears, he reminded Tyler how much my mom loves him, and that he hopes that it’s OK that he never stops talking about her, in order to keep her memory alive. What a way to start the day, Huh? I held myself together for the first half of the class, teaching a basic lesson, then I thought it was important to let all of my kids know what was going on. I didn’t want to ignore it, and I let them know that being there with them brought me comfort. I also let them know that I know  I will be with my mom again someday, and that this is all part of the eternal plan. Grief. Pain. Trial. Triumph.

That first week, everything is such a blur. I didn’t really leave my house a lot, friends were offering to pick up stuff at the store, people were dropping off dinner every night (which was hard for me to accept after a night or two), I only emerged for the necessities. Actually, I had promised my son the week before that I would take him to the DMV to get his driver’s permit, so we did that one afternoon in the middle of the week. I also took my daughter to try out for her school musical, and having had plans previously to try out as well, had to muster up a little strength to put on a performing smile. I kinda hated that night.

Throughout the week,  So many friends offered to take my kids to their activities, and people were stopping by left and right to bring flowers, or a treat, or just a visit.

We actually did post our official statement on Facebook on Monday morning, and most of my local friends found out that way.  

mom

One of my really good local friends is not on Facebook, and had been told by somebody else Monday night. I simply got a text from her saying, “Kristen! I just found out, I’m coming over in 30 minutes.” I kindof love her for that. I loved having visitors, and talking about everything, but not everybody does. My sweet friend from high school, that I talked to on the first day, she kept texting and checking in on me. She lives a few states away, and thoughtfully checking in on me, she asked me if I needed to talk, but I guess I had felt all talked out at that point. I felt bad being blunt, but I guess at a time like this, I’m allowed to, right?

Grief turned to stress, as we had to work out a million logistics. Because my mom passed away out of the country, my dad was pretty sure that it would take at least two weeks for her to arrive back in the United States. When we got word that it would only take a little over a week, we made plans for services that next week. So we actually had more time than most people do, to prepare for the funeral. My brother dubbed me CEO of the operation, as I took it upon myself to do everything. As the only girl, I was in the position to do so, since I am a homemaker, and have flexibility with my time. I’ve taken it all upon myself, and happy to be the detail queen, but last Friday, it kinda put me over the edge. I was going to drive to Houston the next day to help my brother go through some things at my mom’s house, but I had to cut that out, just de-stress a little.  

I’ve put together the program, obituary, talked to the mortuary talked to my grandparents, made plans for arriving in Utah, as well as Houston, getting a flight for 13 on Thanksgiving Day.  I also gathered pictures from siblings and friends for a slideshow, stressed out over the slideshow not working, and now a friend to help me make it happen!   So many people have helped me in so many ways, I’m not afraid to ask for help ever,  I know that I can’t do it all! Somebody has helped me with almost each step of everything you have done, and I’m so grateful for helping hands.  

I wrote a post on my new sibling site, people want to know, about 7 ways that you can help a grieving friend. I thought it was important to share, as it is fresh on my mind.  
I am heading to Utah for services on Saturday the 21st, hanging there for a few days with my family, and then on Thanksgiving day, a group of 13 of us are flying to Houston for the services there on the 28th.

I flew to Utah tonight, and met my dad and brother at the airport. I just shared on instagram that my bro and I ran through the airport and got to my dad just in time to give him a big hug as he got off the plane. Somber, yet faithful, he is my hero, always has been.

Besides ways that you can help others in the grieving process, I found that I really haven’t liked being asked open ended questions like:

How are you? How is your dad?

Ummmm….do I really have to answer that?

I liked specifics, about logistics, and that often led into a vent or frustration, and I appreciated the, “I’m so sorry for your loss” because it was an easy response, “thank you.” If I was texting or emailing, I’d say, “Thank you so much, I really appreciate it” because I really wanted people to know that I really was grateful for their reaching out.

Any questions? I’ll answer eventually.

Thanks for listening, and getting this far…if you have.

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Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing so much of your thoughts here…truly sorry for your tragic loss.

  2. <3
    May God keep strengthening you and your family.

  3. Blessings and love and hugs.

  4. Melissa Lantz says:

    I don’t know you or your family besides following your blog for a while now but thanks for sharing & I know your mom will be missed & is loved by so many people. We had 2 losses in our family last year (father n law & grandmother) of course there were sad moments but also moments & special experiences shared within our family. Take care & lots of love.

  5. Let me start off by expressing how truly sorry I am for your loss. While reading your post it truly did bring tears to my eyes.
    I can imagine how hard it may have been to post this. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your beautiful family
    May your beautiful mother rest in the arms of our heavenly father.

  6. I’m sitting here in tears for you and your family. I hope you have safe travels.

  7. I’m heartbroken to hear this. Coming up on the 2 year anniversary of my mother’s passing I feel that hurt & emptiness you must be feeling as well. My heart is with you. If you need the shoulder of someone who knows – I’m here.

  8. My sympathies to you and your family.

  9. Continuing to pray for you and your family as you brave this part of your journey. May God continue to bring you peace and strength! God bless ~ Nicole

  10. Thanks so much for sharing your story here. I’m hoping it proved cathartic for you, a least a little bit. My heart goes out to you. I am so sorry for your loss. I hope each day brings your more peace. Keeping you in my prayers.

  11. I am so very sorry for your sudden loss. My prayers and condolences to go you and your family. I also pray for healing in your loss. I know how hard this is. Sorry I have been a silent reader this year. Kim in Round Rock

  12. My heart goes out to you for the loss of your mom. I keep you and your family in my prayers.

  13. I’m so sorry for your loss. For all of you. For everyone your mother touched. Keeping you all in my thoughts and prayers

  14. Normanchill says:

    Love you sooooooooooooooooooo much. Dad

  15. I just want to say that I am so sorry. I feel your pain literally because I have gone through almost the same thing. Your post made cry. I’m not good at condolences, but I want you to know that I am truly sorry.

  16. Kathy McIntyre says:

    I feel so much of your grief, 30 years ago this month my mom died suddenly from a blood clot. My relationship was difficult and my grief was great as I had not shored that up with her yet. But so much joy has come over the years as I live what I and she believed, that families are forever and we will see and know our precious moms again. May the Savior’s peace continue to be with you.

  17. Another beautiful post Kristen. I am crying again as I read about the hurt of hearing the news and what it is like on a daily basis. Thank you for sharing; you always do it in such a beautiful and real way. My prayers and thoughts continue to be with you during this unfathomably difficult time. Hugs.

  18. Felicia Murray says:

    I am so deeply sorry for your loss……