Tuesday, February 2, 2010

'What I Know Six Months Out' ...

You likely know that Maggie Lee Henson was a student who died when her First Baptist Church of Shreveport, La., youth-trip bus was involved in an accident in Alabama last summer. The following is a posting recently by her mother. I met Jinny Henson a few years ago, not long after she and her family moved to Shreveport. After the accident this summer, I felt a post like this from Maggie Lee's mom would one day come. I'm blessed it was sent to me...

(Update from maggie lee henson's caringbridge.com site)

Jinny Henson

I have often reassured myself in the six months since Maggie Lee's death that although I have no idea what I will do without her, I honestly didn't know what to do with her when she first arrived, either. Somehow this gives me room to breathe and by the grace of God, I sense that I will adapt to my new life in some measure as I did before.

Of course, birthing a child and burying a child are two radically different prospects. On the one hand you deliver a bundle of dreams wrapped in possibility oozing potential and conversely, in the other unnatural scenario, you lower those most treasured dreams into the ground...forever.

It is a disorienting experience and frankly I am shocked to still wake up every morning. "A Broken Heart Still Beats," is the title of a grief book for parents and, alas, mine still does. I remember reading a about a friend's 4-year-old daughter who had cancer two years ago. As I clicked out of the email, I sighed with relief that God had not laid that burden on me because He knew full well that I could never take anything so awful.

And then in a moment, despite the diligent love that you have and the protective eye you naturally cast, a freak accident comes calling and is unaware that your family is supposed to be exempt. As soon as you're told that your child will die, you begin to ratchet down expectations. You see a child in a wheelchair and breathe a hasty,"I'll take it," or one with a contracted little body, but still able to communicate and think,"I would gladly spend my life taking care of her." But, alas, the ultimate bargain isn't yours to make.

I remember painting Maggie Lee's toenails crazy colors while she was comatose and massaging her legs when the nurses would let me take the pressure cuffs off. I told everyone that she always wanted to be famous and wouldn't she be irked that she slept right through it? I distinctly remember the kindness of a nurse preparing her body for burial as it were by bathing her when the end was near; detaching the monitor from her head to wash her blood-matted hair so that I could braid it one final time. I also remember most of all longing to explain to them just who was lying in that bed covered with tubes and monitors, but that proved to be impossible.

It still is impossible, but the urge remains to remind the world that although she only had 12 years, she was truly a phenomenal little person.

I have learned a few things in my first 6 months of new-born grief. Certainly, many more lessons are to follow as I will contend with this ever-present absence as long as I shall live. I have learned that it is impossible to shake a good friend. Most people are lucky to have one true friend when it is all said and done. I have an embarrassing wealth of amazing friends and family who have shouldered the burden of loss with me. Souls who have sincerely attempted to put themselves in our unenviable shoes, anticipate our needs and keep us supplied with books and Starbucks cards.

I have learned to treasure every imperfect day and those who remain. Life is hard and will not for the vast majority of us ever turn out in the way we would choose. I guess that's why we're all so cranky. Since Maggie Lee's death, I have tried to suck the marrow out of life even more than I did before; enjoying my family as they they are, not as they should be. We often unwrap the presents of the people around us with a conditional bent of dissatisfaction; we love our children but try to exact better performances from them. We appreciate our parents but our dad dresses funny and mom has a goatee. We are committed to our spouse but he sets the thermostat too low and never remembers how we like our coffee. Losing someone I love has helped me to step back and be grateful for what and whom I have left.

Even though I never was much of a control freak, I now know that even the appearance of control over my circumstances is nothing but a facade. It is with infinite wisdom that the writer of Ecclesiastes compares our earthly existence with a fleeting vapor. I have learned that even if life would've obediently followed my plans, that I would have at some juncture encountered a traumatic blow or two. Time wounds all heels, and many more graphically than mine, just consider Haiti. No purpose is served by pridefully thinking that no ones loss can ever rival mine. If I wear my disaster like a orchid on Mother's Day, it will only serve to frighten people. Every human being will be confronted by unwanted circumstances to which they can accept, or wander down main street in a nightgown like Mary Todd Lincoln. As for myself, I never looked too hot in a nightie.

I have learned that t-shirt fronts serve as great Kleenex if you suddenly get an unexpected gusher. Gut-wrenching grief is sneaky and will typically ambush you at the most inappropriate moments such as the carpool line, Sunday School or the deli counter over cold-cuts. Some times, emotions are brought on by well-intentioned small-talk such as, "How many children do you have?" or, "Is he an only child?" I have found it best to answer the question as my life is now rather than to thrust my emotional baggage on an unsuspecting Wal-Mart Employee. People by and large are unprepared for the flood of toxic emotions a grieving person is capable of producing.

I have learned that people do indeed want good to have the last word. When our three week ordeal ended, over 250,000 visits had been made to Maggie Lee's Caring Bridge Site. On October 29th, what would've been her 13th birthday, over 18,000 people signed up to do a good deed. On "Maggie Lee For Good," Day, Lawyers took on cases pro-bono, an American passed out baguettes to the homeless French in the Eiffel Tower's shadow and one man installed a hot water heater for a disabled man in Louisiana who previously showered on his back porch. Schools had canned-food drives, friends had lemonade stands benefiting Children's Hospitals and a Pediatrician in Texas forgave the medical debt of a newly-unemployed father, just to name a few. I have learned that when you are determined to wrist good out of tragedy, God and many other people will hustle to help you.

I have learned that although I struggle with God and miss my daughter desperately that I am not prepared to go it alone. I know intrinsically that God is the only path to true healing of which I can conceive. Although there are days that the searing pain wins over me, I have learned that my Heavenly is indeed close to the brokenhearted, and that hope in Christ will sustain me until I see my precious child again.

I have learned that of all the things I have failed to prioritize, that mothering is not one of them. Not that I was or will ever be perfect, but that I was dead-on in living with my family as my priority. I am devastated to have placed so much import on loving my children only to have had one of them die, but grateful that for a brief period of time that I did what mattered most. When Maggie Lee told me that I was the best mother in the world, I would tell her that I was sure she would grow up and need counseling for something I had done or failed to do but that she would know that I loved her with all of my heart. And, she did.