Monday, June 18th, was the day it all began. At 11:30 PM, my husband and I were woken up by my sweet, kind, strong, healthy 16-year-old son, Peter, having a seizure. It was shocking and scary, and the worst feeling of helplessness I've ever felt in my life. We called 9-1-1, he was rushed to the nearby hospital, medevaced to another hospital, and then our family's nightmare began.
It turns out Peter had a golf-ball sized aneurysm, and it had bled. Doctors performed a risky, four-hour surgery that next day to close up the aneurysm. It was successful, but then we spent two full weeks with his life in the balance battling complications. Throughout that time, I kept meditating on the story of Jesus calming the sea. I felt like my son and I were on the boat in the middle of the storm, and I was praying so desperately for Jesus' calming touch.
Doctors put him in a drug-induced coma. When that wasn't enough, they performed a craniotomy to allow room for the swelling. For two straight weeks, a different doctor was coming in every few hours to talk about something life threatening or heavy. Slowly... ever so slowly... he started improving enough to take him off the coma-inducing drug.
We spent six days waiting for Peter to wake up from the coma. During that time, I would match my breath with his, breathing in "yah" and breathing out "weh". I trusted that Yahweh (God) was in us, with us and for us. I visualized the breath of God breathing life into Peter and into his brain. I've shared this breathing prayer in so many retreats, but I never in a million years pictured using it like this.
While coming out of the coma, every eye fluttering, reaction to his favorite Bruno Mars song, or hand squeeze felt miraculous during those six long days when we had no idea what to expect when he would wake up. Will he have the same personality? Will he be able to connect with us? Will he be able to move his right side ever again? The doctors cautioned us, but slowly the answers were yes... yes... and yes... It all felt nothing short of miraculous.
For the next five days we watched him recover exponentially. Nurses commented they'd never seen someone improve that fast. We could connect with him and started to understand some of his words with the help of speech therapy. He took his first couple steps with physical and occupational therapists. He texted and snapchatted some friends. On the evening of Wednesday, July 11th, he was released from the pediatric ICU, and we moved onto a new floor to start rehab. This was a huge victory. I spent that night with him in his room. The next morning on Thursday, July 12th at 6:30 AM, I left to get a coffee for myself and the Dr. Pepper he wanted. (He still couldn't swallow or eat but we could put swabs on his tongue). When I returned, I found a few nurses trying to help Peter. His nurse said he had sat up in bed and collapsed. Within a matter of seconds, there were probably 50 people trying to help him. It was a chaotic scene, and I just sat on the floor in disbelief.
Peter's aneurysm had re-bled. He was rushed to surgery for a couple hours, but the hemorrhage was too great. My husband and I were called in to hear the words no parent wants to hear. "I'm sorry. There was nothing else we could do."
Thankfully, Peter was on life support so we could say good-bye. He was brought back to the Pediatric ICU room he had been in the past three and a half weeks, and we called in family. We had a couple hours to spend with him individually and as a family praying over him til the end. Peter's grandparents, aunt, uncles, two priests from his Jesuit high school, and our chaplain prayed, shared memories of him, and walked him into the hands of God. I held onto his leg and arm and kept saying, "Just keep walking sweetheart. There you go, you're walking into the arms of God. You will feel so much love. He will give you peace. Just keep walking, there you go, good job. Just keep walking sweetheart." As a mom you want to walk with your child into every phase of life. I never thought I would walk my baby into the arms of God. As heart-breaking as that moment was, I will be forever grateful I could be there through his very last breath. This will give me a sense of peace amidst the pain for the rest of my life.
This is all so new and shocking and raw to absorb. I'm just in the beginning stages of my grief, and so I have nothing to say that wraps this up into a package that makes sense or offers wisdom. I will say God's presence has been felt in profound ways through family, friends, priests, chaplains, doctors, and nurses who are nothing short of God's angels on earth. We have so many people to thank.
I'm sharing my story with you because some of you already know, and for those who don't, I want to be honest about where my head and heart will be during this retreat season. I will still be offering our fall day and online retreats starting September 15th, Your Balance, Your Peace: Finding Contentment in the Rhythm of Your Life. I will be slow and probably forgetful this year as I spend time doing all of the suggestions I offer in my retreats: prayer practices, journaling, reading, listening to music, quiet time reflecting, and sharing my story with safe friends who will sit with me without trying to "fix it". I will also take my advice on vulnerability. I will reach out for help and lean heavily on others, especially the Retreat, Reflect, Renew's board of compassionate women who are committed to serving you. I trust God will help me be wherever I'm supposed to be from moment to moment.
Now more than ever I care about the concepts in this upcoming retreat on balance, which are foundational to all of my retreats, my book, this ministry, and my life. Healthy choice-making and setting boundaries in order to live an intentional Christ-centered life are concepts I started learning about fifteen years ago when my son was one year old and I started my spiritual journey. The journey of developing a personal relationship with God with an active prayer life, learning how to own my "yeses" and "no's" when it comes to choosing Christ-centered friends, community, and commitments are a big reason why I feel held in God's hands during this tragedy.
My husband, daughter, and I miss this precious boy so much. Peter was funny, kind, inclusive, and full of joy. He was always dancing and making us laugh (the day after his funeral a friend posted on Instagram a video of him dancing to the beat of the fire drill during summer school!). More importantly, he was a rock and a spark of joy for so many of his friends and family. One friend told me, "Peter's the kind of guy who brought out the best in people." With God's grace we'll learn to form a new relationship with Peter in Heaven, and we'll figure out how to carry this sadness while living a purposeful life that is connected with God's joy and goodness.
So many of you have experienced deep suffering, and you've graciously shared that in our retreats. My heart aches for you as well, and we are united in prayer. I look forward to the day when I feel strong enough to take all I've learned about this and share it with you. I believe we can get through our suffering in a meaningful way when we are open to God's grace in our sharing, learning, and growing together in God's mystery of life.
If you are wanting to reach out to me or would like to share something about your journey of grief that can help all of us, please comment below so everyone can see and feel the beauty of a faith-filled community of sharing. You don't have to subscribe, just write a comment in the box, click on "post comment", and enter your name. You don't have to fill in your email or name a website to comment as a guest.
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