Afterword – Lessons from the book of Job

Conveniently (more like Providencially) in my yearly Bible reading plan, began at the end of 2013, I was reading through the book of Job at this time. Several truths shined through as I was reading.

First, there are no easy answers. Job’s friends wanted to define God in simple terms i.e. “if you do good things, God blesses you. If you do bad things, God punishes you.” Although much of the Old Testament Law revolves around this concept, it was incomplete. Job is one of the places in the Old Testament where the concept of atonement and grace is hinted at through prophecy. Even before Jesus was on the scene, its clear that God’s heart could not be “boiled down” to God blesses good people and punishes bad people. In the end, God reprimands Job’s friends for their simplistic view of Him and the shame they attempted to heap on Job in his misery.

The second theme in this book of the Bible is Job’s blunt honesty with God. Job, a righteous man, still questions, struggles and a times concludes it would have been better if he had never been born. Its clear that at several points in Job’s journey he is pretty mad at God. Can you blame him? He wasn’t perfect but he had committed his life to God and sought to live with honor and integrity. Then in the course of a few days, all his children die, he loses all of his financial security and he gets a disease that causes extreme pain and disfigurement. It made my current struggles actually seem small. Job is then under strong pressure to take responsibility for the trials by admitting sin that he didn’t commit. He never “fakes” it but keeps it “real” by pouring out his emotions to God.

There is a moment where God speaks to Job and the sheer power of God’s presence opens Job’s eyes to the character of God. I’m not sure but I don’t think Job would have had the paradigm shift in his life if he had not stood toe-to-toe with God, not willing to back down from God’s presence until God spoke to his heart the answer he needed. Job’s courage was powerful but I think it had been forged in a trust built up between he and his creator, developed over a lifetime of seeking God’s face. My “take away” from this part of scripture is that there are times when we need to tenaciously look for answers from God, refusing to accept the easy, trite explanations, not backing down from God’s presence until our spirit is satisfied.

Let me say if you are trying to help someone working through serious loss.  Let God speak to their heart. Continually point them to God but don’t rush them through the process. Don’t assume that loss points to sin or that God is punishing them. Listen deeply. Step into their world as much as you can. Try to understand but know you will probably never understand.

Let me say if you are struggling with serious loss. I don’t have all the answers but God does. He is there with you as you grieve and process your pain. Don’t be afraid to feel or to ask the tough questions with God. Resist the temptation to accept easy answers or bottle up your feelings. Don’t just pour out the emotions with everyone. There are too many who cannot handle or understand the loss you are feeling. Find Godly, trusted people to talk to. Never stop going to God with your anger, despair or numbness!! He is faithful. I believe that in your searching, you will find the answers your heart needs.

The last lesson from Job is that there was a happy ending. Job lived a long life and enjoyed God’s blessings for the remainder of it. He had more children. His fortunes were restored. Job didn’t let the suffering he had experienced define him or his life. Many people never get past the pain. They accept lies that life is meant to be suffering. They make false assumptions about their future based on one season in their life. You may not know how long your season will be but don’t make the assumption that this season is what your future will look like. God loves you and He still wants great things for you. As you walk in this season, rely on His grace to give you the power and strength to walk the path and look with anticipation to your future that is in His loving hands. God Bless!

Hope after loss graphic 2


Chapter 19 – Hope After the Storm


If you take a drive through Moore, Oklahoma today you will find neighborhoods with new houses going up in lots where there was only a pile of rubble a few months ago, some families have even moved into their new homes.  At the one year mark, there are still many people who are waiting for full recovery but, the signs of recovery are there.  Hope is springing forth. Our community hasn’t come to a place of full restoration yet but the vision of a complete recovery fuels us and drives us on.

Six months after Russell’s entrance in to eternity, we aren’t really recovered either but hope definitely springs forth.  Christian and Jordan did decide to adopt that little baby and on April 23, they became parents of another precious little boy, Roman Michael Hodgden. No one could ever replace our Russell but in loving Roman we have all experienced healing to the wounds that were left from Russell’s passing. As all families do, we compare him to his older brother all the time,  but he is definitely his own person. His blue eyes communicate his desire to interact with everyone he sees.  He loves to “talk” and coo. He especially loves it when I sing to him.

There are people who can accept circumstances they don’t understand fairly easily. Despite trying desperately, I am not one of those people! In the weeks and months that followed the funeral, I struggled with nightmares and an endless parade of “What if …..” thoughts. My nature has always been to figure it all out. My subconscious mind would relive some of the most disturbing details in my nightmares. My conscious mind was asking questions that only caused more pain. “What if we had chosen a different surgeon?”  “What if there had been a different liver?” “What if we had prayed more…… believed more……… trusted God better?” Deep down inside I know these things probably would not have changed the outcome but it was hard to calm my mind down and come to a place of peace. Part of me was grasping for some control over the situation that was totally out of my control. At one point, I knew I could not fight this battle alone but it was hard to find someone to talk to. I didn’t want to spread the awful images I struggled with to others who would then have to struggle with them as well. I shared a little with Jeff, Christian and Jordan but I didn’t want to hamper their recovery with all the negative thoughts and images that haunted me.

Linda Jackson was my answer to prayer! She went to one of our church’s many campuses. I had honestly only met her once or twice. Her warmth and gentleness made you want to open up and talk to her. I had heard that she and her husband had lost their daughter in a car accident so I knew she could understood many of the feelings I was experienced. Then, I found out that she and her husband counseled people. We made an appointment to meet. I poured out all my emotions to her wrapped up in my “ugly cry” and all. She patiently listened and the details that I was grappling didn’t faze her at all. She shared scripture and some of her experiences. She encouraged me to let myself feel the emotions and not to bottle them up. I cannot thank her enough for giving me a safe place to share the good, the bad and the really ugly.

After that the nightmares subsided. I even got to the point where I put to rest the “what if’s”.  I ran the shelter dogs and rejoiced as they were adopted to forever homes. Life was beginning to take on an almost normal pace. However, the gnawing questions in my heart remained. I continued to pour out my emotions to God on a regular basis. Despite the progress, I still could not look at pictures of Russell and smile. I still only felt pain. Hoping time would heal the wounds, I resolved to continue with life.

During this time I began to read books about people who had gone through near-death experiences. My heart needed to evidence of the afterlife. I craved any information about the experiences of people who may have had a glimpse of life after death. Heaven is For Real built my faith tremendously. It was the story of a young boy who went to heaven. The boy’s father recounts his experiences with a pure, child-like honesty. As I read the story of how the young boy was able to state facts that he should not have known about very specific events, I began to feel peace about Russell’s place in eternity and our hope of seeing him again some day. Although my faith in heaven was strengthened, it still hurt. I didn’t want Russell in heaven. I wanted him here with his mom and dad. I wanted to watch him grow up, to kiss his little forehead.  The struggle to accept the situation continued.

Somewhere in the searching and pondering I felt lead to write a book about our experiences. I’ve always wanted to write a book so its not uncommon for me to talk about writing a book about all sorts of topics. I had never actually written anything beyond small projects, a few blogs or letters of to argue for something I felt strongly about. This time it was different. This time I could definitely feel God’s hand leading me to do this. I couldn’t help feeling like the answers I was seeking would be found in the process. The thought of reliving the darkest moments of my life terrified me. There was no way I could write a chapter a day as is recommended by  many writing experts. The subject was just too emotional to delve into and then jump back into daily life. Once I started writing I knew I would need to finish it. I purposed to write this book with the intent of publishing it but even if it was never published I knew I had to do this!

So in August of 2014, I booked a cabin in Medicine Park, Oklahoma. With my trusted canine companion, Lucy, who I brought for safety and companionship, I settled in to the cabin for 3 days.  At first it was hard, not the writing, the words poured out of my fingers naturally. The hard part was experiencing the emotions and the feelings.  Facing the hopes we had, the disappointments we experienced and the pain we felt. As I traveled back through the memories, grappling with the pain and grief, something special happened. I began to see details I’d forgotten, little reminders of God’s presence in our suffering. I remembered all the love we gave and received in the middle of all the pain. There was beauty in this story that I had forgotten.

My perspective was shifting subtly and then all at once. It was like my own “Shack” experience. The time devoted to writing this book was drawing me closer to God. I was pouring out my anger, pain and questions onto the paper but also to Him as well. As I wrote I pondered the big questions and received some answers but not every answer. The answers have brought peace to my troubled soul.

Better understanding for me came when I reflected on truths broken down into the spiritual, emotional and the physical. Physically, Russell’s body was dead and nothing I could do would change that. His spirit, however, still lives on in a perfect state of existence in heaven with God. The battle I was fighting was in the emotional realm. My emotions could not process the separation from him. He was gone but he wasn’t really gone. I was supposed to move on but I also needed to remember him. These emotional dilemmas were the hangup in my psyche. In this process of revelation, I began to see that in my connection to God there was a connection to Russell as well, because Russell was with God. The absence of his physical presence will always be felt deeply, but his spiritual presence exists hidden away in the overtaking love of our spiritual Father. In pouring out the emotions to God somehow there was a connection to Russell. This truth was the missing piece my heart needed.


Chapter 18 – The Power of Legacy


While we were all processing our own emotions, taking care of the details and helping each other heal.  We were also sharing our ideas for what we might do as part of Russell’s legacy with others.

From the first hospitalization, through the magic of social media, hundreds possibly thousands were following his story, praying with us, rejoicing in our victories, supporting us with words of encouragement.  Many times during the ordeal, we would get word that prayer vigils were happening for him or that whole churches were praying for our family.  Our family wasn’t very private about our battles and we reasoned that the more people that knew, the more people could be praying. His precious face was being shared via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. His precious brown eyes full of wonder had won the hearts of many.  Now, at the end of the journey, they were sharing in our loss as well. Although we never felt alone, I almost felt guilty that our tragedy was hurting the hearts of so many. I feared that it might cause some to question their faith. Had God heard their prayers? They were probably asking the same questions that I was struggling with. We committed to stay open about our faith getting us through the dark moments as well.

As we began to share our ideas of Russell’s legacy, we realized that the potential for healing we had hoped for in our family could help others as well. Others wanted to be a part of Russell’s legacy, too. We began sharing the vision behind Russell’s legacy through social media. The idea caught on like wildfire! We started getting messages of what people were planning to do as part of Russell’s legacy. A woman in Louisiana starting making quilts for others who had lost a child.  A friend began organizing a 5K run. Many signed up to be organ donors. These are just a few of the things that were inspired by Russell’s life.

The power of legacy was the theme of Russell’s funeral. It was a powerful service. It was an intensely emotional service but the message was, “What will your legacy be?” From the music to the message everything centered on that idea. Every seat had a little slip of paper for people to share something that they wanted to do as a part of Russell’s Legacy. There was a beautifully-constructed, giant cork board in the lobby for people to pin their slip of papers to. After the funeral, Jordan and Christian lovingly read each one. The impact of their son’s life was huge! His legacy had not passed away even if he had.

Sidenote, My personal contribution to Russell’s legacy

I prayed long and hard about what I should do to honor Russell’s legacy.  Working as a minister, my life was dedicated to helping others so most of my ideas were things I would have done anyway. There was one idea on my heart that I had never made the time for. I had always wanted to give dogs from a local shelter a run. I had been an avid runner at one time but our family dog, Lucy, was my favorite running buddy and at 8 years old she was starting to slow down. She was still healthy but her energy was no where near the level it had been when she was younger. With the busyness of life, it was all too easy to let physical exercise go, especially since the battle of Russell’s illness. I rarely went for runs and my running buddy was retired. I knew in my heart God wanted me to pursue this idea for Russell’s legacy. I wanted to give each dog a chance to get out of their cramped cage and run in the big, wide world. I knew it would contribute to my health physically and had the potential to foster healing in my heart as well.

Chapter 17  – Mimi’s Cry too!

In the days that followed, I buried myself in all of the details.  My biggest focus was Christian and Jordan and helping them get through this, emotionally, physically and spiritually.  Next my focus was our kids and how they were coping.  From there the details consumed my thoughts. “I need to make sure Silas gets a haircut.”  “Should Peter play keys at the funeral?”  “Do we need a second limo?”  “I sure am glad I bought that black dress that was on sale last month.”  “What should the budget for the flowers be?”  “When can I meet my sister at the cemetery to make those arrangements?”  My brain was going in a hundred directions.

I was so focused on everyone else’s pain that I hadn’t allowed myself to feel the loss that had left a huge wound in my soul.  Oh sure, I had cried and cried hard. (I’m not exactly a graceful person when I cry.  I always envied the people who could cry gracefully. When I cry, its not pretty! I cry intensely! My face contorts and there are all sorts of fluids escaping. Sometimes I don’t even bother with a tissue. Because, seriously, what’s one flimsy tissue going to do to this mess that is my face? Afterward, for days, I usually have a headache and my face looks like I was beaten up.) Honestly, I was avoiding the thunderstorm of emotions that was brewing in my heart.  Fearing that if the storm of emotions was unleashed, I might never be able to stop it.

Days after Russell’s passing during my personal prayer time with God (more like my “Get real!” time with God) I had to face the storm raging in my heart.  I was hurt and angry! Not so much angry at God. (That is a perfectly normal response that most feel when faced with the loss of a loved one. I’ll talk more about this in the last chapter.) I was just angry!  If I had been the kind of person who acts more impulsively, I would have thrown things. I wanted to throw things at windows. I wanted the windows to break. I wanted to destroy things. I was furious! How did this happen? I’m not supposed to be burying my grandson!!! I’m supposed to be a crazy Mimi, spending too much money on toys for him and spoiling him rotten! This isn’t how our life and our family were supposed to be. I cried out to God in my rage, “God, why!?!?!?! Why Russell?!?!? He was so innocent!!!! He didn’t deserve this!!!!!” In all my questioning I knew the theological answers but I didn’t care. I didn’t care that we live in a fallen world. I didn’t care that I would see him again in eternity. I knew God wasn’t punishing me but I still wanted answers.

I’d like to say that I got answers but I didn’t. I would love to say that a light bulb went on in my mind and the mysteries of why bad things happen to God’s children was clear to me but it wasn’t. I cried out in my rage until I was a heap of brokenness in my familiar chair in my bedroom. God was still there, with me in that moment. He had heard my outburst and it almost felt like He cried too.

I looked over at a dresser in our bedroom and there sat the portraits I had made of Russell months before. We had framed most of them and given them away as Christmas gifts but I had never framed the ones I had kept for our family. It was all we had left of him. I looked through them and my heart ached. Would I ever get to the point that I could look at pictures of him and smile because of the happy memories we had, rather than feel this intense pain? Would I always experience this anger and loss every time I looked at his sweet face? I wanted to get to the point where the memories gave me joy for the life he had lived however short it was, rather than feelings of loss dominating my thoughts. I wasn’t there yet but I purposed that to be my goal. In an act of faith, I went to Target and bought frames for the portraits, partially to use at the funeral but mostly for me, a reminder that someday I would remember his short life with joy not just pain.

That moment broke the damn of emotions that I’d been holding inside. I’m pretty sure I walked through the next few days in that broken state.  Not necessarily expressing my feelings openly to people because it was a grief beyond words. If I had tried to share any of those emotions, it would have just set off the “ugly-cry” I described earlier and in that state its hard to communicate anything. So, I just walked through most the days holding those feelings hidden inside. Every morning I would wake up and spend my daily “Get Real!” time with God pouring them out again. God was the only one that could handle my raw emotions. He knew the secrets of my heart and was there for me. After the torrent of feelings was released in those times, I would pull myself together and face the day. Still no answers.  Still no epiphanies. But, little by little, it was getting easier. I’m not exactly sure why.  I still felt anger and pain but the sting lessened everyday. IMG_0030

Chapter 16 – The Aftermath

The next morning, Jeff and I got up and headed to the hospital early to help Christian and Jordan get their two cars and the miscellaneous clutter home.  We couldn’t bear the thought of either of them driving home all by themselves. We met them at the hospital’s coffee shop and talked for what felt like hours. We discussed funeral and burial arrangements.

Young couples have rarely thought through anything like how to pay for burial and funeral expenses.  Thankfully, Jordan’s parents had bought an insurance policy for their own burial expenses and it happened to cover any of their descendants as well.  My sister gave up her burial plot next to my mother.  Jeff and I gave up ours next to my mom and sister’s so that someday Christian and Jordan could be buried next to their beloved son.

It was then that they shared that they were not sure about the adoption that was planned.  They were reluctant to bring another child into their family when they did not feel whole and ready to give the child all that he or she would need.  They also had no desire to “replace” Russell.  No one could ever replace the love they had for Russell. Yet, they still felt a strong attachment to this unborn baby. They had decided to give themselves time to grieve before they made any decisions.

I remember at the time thinking that they were approaching that step very responsibly. However, there was this strong feeling in me that this child was meant to be theirs.  I was concerned that they might let their current feelings of sadness affect a decision that would impact them and this child for a lifetime. In faith, I patiently prayed and trusted that they would make the right decision, whatever that decision might be.

As they packed up Russell’s things the hardest moment for them both was to carry an empty carseat out of the hospital. Getting in the car and leaving the hospital without Russell was a reminder of the wound that had cut so deep in their hearts. For almost a year now, they had carried that carseat almost everywhere they went and now it carried nothing but the memories of their precious baby.

A group of people from our church had cleaned their apartment, carefully putting most of Russell’s things in the nursery.  Koree and Christa were waiting for them there. The apartment was filled with flowers and food.  We helped them carry their things inside and we regrouped from there.

Its a blessing and a pain that there is so much to do in planning a funeral and a burial.  Its a pain because there are deadlines and so different personalities who all have their opinions on how things should or shouldn’t be done.  Its also a blessing at times because you never have a moment of quiet for the sadness and despair to take over. The details and decisions can be comforting in a way. Together, we delegated out different duties. Who needed to meet at the funeral home and when? Who and when should meet with our pastor to discuss the funeral? Our church wanted to bring meals to all three households. “Here’s the contact information.”  “Does everybody have appropriate clothes for the funeral?” The details were endless so, we set to work.

In all of this, I was concerned for the kids on both sides of the family.  They were grieving as well.  Most of them were also navigating the stormy waters of adolescence. I was concerned for their long-term emotional health.  How could we help them process grief in a way that was healthy? In a way that brought hope to their pain? What if they chose a way of honoring Russell’s memory that involved a lasting contribution to their world or their community? Maybe it would help them channel their grief into a life-giving cause rather than just drown in the memories of pain and sadness. As a youth pastor, I had seen too many teens numb the pain they were feeling with all sorts of traps that destroy young lives. I refused to let these teens go down that road or see their potential wasted in the dregs of despair.

Almost every night in the week that followed we spent with the Vanzant family. We had spent so much time together throughout the battle that there was a strong bond between our families. We all drew so much comfort from being together. I am a pretty independent person, to a fault. Usually I processed pain alone. My tendency was to pull away from people when I was experiencing intense emotions. This was new experience for me, to need the hustle and bustle of a big group of people but, there was something different about this group of people. We had fought, hoped and cried together. We understood each other, like no one else could. Those moments forged in pain brought unity.

In those times, I began to share my idea of the teens doing something to honor Russell’s memory. Christian and Jordan loved the idea! They shared that the hardest part of losing Russell was the loss of all the dreams they had for him, the legacy that they had hoped to pass down to him. Now, it seemed that that legacy was dead. The idea that others might be inspired by Russell to do something to change this world for the better gave them a sense of excitement. We all committed to do something in Russell’s name, to carry a little part of his legacy because he could not. We all began to ponder what our contribution to his legacy would be.


Chapter 15 – The Power of Sharing Your Story


There is something powerful when we allow God to use the battles we have fought to help others find their way. Often your lowest moments are used to bring hope and freedom to the lives of others. Sharing your story (the good, the bad and the ugly) speaks volumes to those who are in the middle of the struggle. Your story represents hope and life to many who cannot see past the moment of their suffering. I am so thankful for those who have shared their story to me, spreading the grace and hope that I needed at that moment.

Word had spread fast of Russell’s passing.  Over the time we had spent saying “Goodbye” to that precious soul, many who wanted to reach out in love started to assemble first in the waiting area.  Then, in the hallways and finally in other waiting areas.  By the time that Russell’s body was taken to the funeral home, there was a crowd of 40-50 who were drawn to support us during our time of need.  All sorts of food was brought to the hospital.  People just wanted to “do” something.  They couldn’t take away our pain but they could bring some cookies or sandwiches or just be present for a hug.  It was touching to see the outpouring of compassion from our community.

However, Christian and Jordan were not in a state to greet so many people.  As things were coming to a close, it was now late into the night.  The ICU staff had reassured Christian and Jordan that they could sleep in their Ronald McDonald room that night and that there was a side exit that they could leave through when they were ready to rest.

But they weren’t quite ready to leave yet.  I offered to talk with the crowd and help them with whatever they needed next. Although they weren’t ready to talk to everyone, there were a few people they wanted to talk to before the retreated together to their room for the night. First, they wanted to talk to my Aunt Cyndy and my Uncle Randy.

Here is where I’ll need to flashback and explain my aunt and uncle’s story. Cyndy and Randy were amazing parents who had raised three incredible kids.  I had always looked up to them. Cyndy was my mom’s youngest sister and was only 12 years older than me. Our kids were close in age and grown up together. Around 5 years before this time, their 19 year old middle son, Andrew, had passed into eternity through a tragic bicycle accident. Andrew was a pretty incredible young man, a budding young musician and worship leader. He was attending college and had a bright future ahead of him. He had always been the life of the party and was a fun kid who had lived life to its fullest. Andrew’s death was the first time our family had lost anyone so young. It had been a huge blow to us all!

As Cyndy and Randy worked through all the emotions that losing a child brings, they had been open about many of their struggles.  They had turned to God in the grief process but as anyone who’s lost someone they love knows, there are no easy answers.  I respected their vulnerability about the flood of emotions they were dealing with. At the time of Andrew’s loss, we listened and loved but honestly we could not truly understand the emptiness and pain they grappled with. It had been a journey, really it still was a journey for them toward healing.

So, it made perfect sense that Jordan and Christian wanted to see them and talk with them. There was no one in all the crowd that night who could truly understand what they were feeling but Cyndy and Randy. We explained to the crowd that Jordan and Christian were not up to seeing everyone that night. Naturally, people were very understanding. We politely cleared an out of the way, waiting area for them. They were both exhausted and hungry.  I really don’t think either of them had eaten all day.  As they situated themselves in the vinyl chairs, they chose something to nibble on from the array of choices. Cyndy and Randy came in the room shortly. I closed the door as I exited the waiting area to give them the privacy to be as open as possible.

I really don’t know what was discussed in that waiting room that night but something almost magical took place. Christian and Jordan walked into that waiting area broken and drained but they left with a sense of hope and purpose. Christian and Jordan later told me the same thing.  They shared that before they spoke with Cyndy and Randy, they were bewildered and thinking, “How do we go on from here?”  Cyndy and Randy answered their tough questions compassionately giving them advice from years of experience. Their story shined light on the darkest moments. Christian and Jordan would be able to go on from here and there would be life on the other side of this moment. Despite the fact that the pain might never go away, they could smile because of the happy times they had with Russell. They could hold on to the happiness they had shared in his short time with them.

After speaking with a few other people, their last request was to see their siblings together.  We assembled the kids from our respective families together;  Jordan’s sister Jostlin and her 18 year old brother Jacob; 19 year old, Peter, 17 year old, Molly, 12 year old, Silas and 10 year old, Trinity from our family were there as well.  Both Christian and Jordan had the role of being the oldest and both naturally clicked into the leader role when their brothers and sisters entered the room. Their biggest desire was to help their siblings through their grief. I remember with  amazement, how in the lowest moment of their lives, they were concerned for others and interested in pouring into the lives and hearts of those around them. There were hugs all around and then in a circle they held hands and prayed. It was a beautiful moment and one that no one in that room will never forget.


Chapter 14 – Beautiful Goodbyes


We called all of Christian and Jordan’s siblings to come to the hospital. We let family members and friends know the news. Our pastors and close family came to the hospital immediately.  Jeff never left our son’s side.  Christian and Jordan’s immediate families assembled in the room together with our senior pastors, Pastors Kirk and Nancy. I don’t remember everything accurately but I believe they prayed with all of us.  Each young aunt and uncle took their turn saying goodbye to our little warrior. They hugged each other. We all hugged them.  Christian and Jordan graciously allowed us as much time as we felt we needed. Finally it was my turn.  Resisting the urge to rip out every line and wire connected to him and scoop him up in my arms, I leaned over and kissed his forehead.

Pastor Kirk shared later that he had never seen a more beautiful passing. He remarked about how much love he had felt in that room during those moments. I felt the beauty of those last moments with Russell as well. The image of that sunset that God had shown me the evening before was a beautiful depiction of the love for Russell and between us.

Finally, Jordan was ready to free her son from the lines and cords that were attached to almost every limb. It was time for their final goodbye. We all left for them to have this moment of his passing together. Jeff stayed with them while the nurses explained what would happen as they removed the machines and cables. As Russell took his last breaths and Jordan and Christian held him gently with all the love a mother and father could show to their son.

When he was declared dead by the medical staff, Christa, Koree and I were escorted back in the room. Our children were broken. They were facing a battle we had never faced. They struggled feeling like they had let Russell down. We hugged them and reassured them that they had done everything they could. We told them how proud we were of them. We hugged Russell’s worn out little body.

The next few hours were spent cleaning and preparing his body for its departure. Jordan lovingly helped the nurses to get impressions of his little foot prints to take home with her.  I had always wondered how I would respond if one of my children were to die. Would it be impossible for me to separate from their body after so much of time with them?  I feared that as a mother, the instinct to protect them and stay with them would never stop even if their spirit had left.  I wasn’t even sure that I would be able to bury my child’s body, if I were ever faced with this horrible tragedy.  Jordan faced the moment with supernatural courage and love. She and Christian were broken but that didn’t stop them from every moment they were offered to say goodbye to their firstborn son. Decisions were being made in the hallway about what the next steps were in letting Russell go but Jordan stayed by his side until the funeral home service arrived to take his tiny body away. The battle was over even though the outcome was far from what any of us had anticipated or wanted.


Chapter 13 – The Moment That Lasted an Eternity


Most of the next day consisted of tests and treatments to prepare Russell for the next operation.  The most important one was an MRI of his brain to check for damage.  If they found damage, he would not be considered a candidate for transplant as severe brain damage was most not compatible with life.  We were on edge most the day waiting for this important test.  It seemed to get delayed over and over again.  Finally, at 3pm they took him down to the Radiology area to get the scan.  He was back up in his room after an hour.  Then came the wait for the results.  Jeff had taken an almost permanent position at Russell’s bedside with Christian and Jordan.  Only 3 visitors were allowed in the ICU rooms.  The family had decided together that Jeff should be with them as test results came in to explain the findings and be available if Jordan or Christian had any questions especially the MRI results.

From the time we watched Russell’s bed wheeled back into the ICU after the MRI scan, we sat on pins and needles in the waiting room, knowing that this report was the most important result of all the tests that day.  45 minutes later, the surgeon with a group of doctors passed by the waiting room heading to Russell’s room.  The results were in and he was on his way to give Christian and Jordan the news.  I was thankful that Jeff was with them but waiting to know what the results were was wrenching. I held my breath. Christa sat next to me. We didn’t speak we just held each other’s hands. Quietly we shared our agony together as the minutes ticked by. No one else in that room knew the pain of that moment, the moment that seemed to last forever. There was a bond forged between Christa and I, we had shared in each other’s elation at our kid’s wedding. We became grandmothers together now we were facing our worst nightmare together.

I can’t tell you how much time passed in that moment, it seemed an eternity before the surgeon and his team came to the waiting area and shared with the rest of the family that Russell’s MRI had shown significant brain damage. Even with a new liver, he would not survive. The battle was over. They had talked with Christian and Jordan about turning off the myriad of machines that was keeping his faded body alive. We would all be given a chance to say “Goodbye” and when Christian and Jordan were ready they would turn off the machines and let him pass.


Chapter 12 – This Changes Everything


As each hour passed we became more anxious for a liver.  As each day passed the situation got more and more dire.  We hoped against hope. Hopes rose and hopes fell with each new report.  Despite the fact that there were multiple organ systems failing in Russell’s body, he was a fighter to the end.  He now laid in an unconscious state, while we caressed and spoke loving and comforting words to his worn out little body.

Jordan and Christian rarely took breaks from the constant vigil.  Thank God for the Ronald McDonald room a few floors below the ICU.  They would switch off getting a few hours of sleep during the days that followed.  5 days after the transplant procedure, they were almost overcome with exhaustion.  Jeff and I offered to stay with Russell through the night so they could get a full night’s sleep.  They consented, feeling comfortable leaving Russell in Jeff’s capable hands.

Jeff and I squeezed together on the little loveseat in the ICU room.  I remember sitting next to my husband of 25 years and thinking how strong he was.  He was carrying us all through the worst part of this battle.  I leaned on his chest and he put his arm around me and hugged me.  I rested in his strong embrace. I had never seen such strength in him in all of our years together.   I needed him like I had never needed him before.  My independent spirit had faded away.  Whatever we had to face, we could do it together.  I had always loved Jeff but never have I felt more love for him as I did in that moment. We sat together on that sofa and I remember thinking this moment had changed everything between us.  If we could face this together, we could face anything. It was yet another moment that I will never forget.  In the face of death, we pulled together like never before.

The night was filled with activity at Russell’s bedside.  I don’t think Jeff slept at all that night.  He was involved with every changing turn of the situation.  I would wake to see him talking with nurses, staring at monitors or stroking Russell’s cheek.  Then, I would fall back asleep resting in knowing that Jeff was there, doing whatever could be done in the face of so much physical turmoil.  It was strange to rest knowing how critical the situation was. Although I knew that all of the activity meant things were not going well, I also knew that everything was so completely out of my control that all I could do was to rest.

When we all awoke the next morning, the outlook had changed dramatically.  Russell’s abdomen had swollen to almost twice normal size.  After the morning report, it was determined that at this point Russell would need another operation to drain the area and hopefully prevent any more complications.  By this time Jordan and Christian were back on duty, rested and ready to face what would probably be the worst day of their lives.


Chapter 11 – Sunsets 

Sometimes the waiting during the vigil that followed Russell’s dire outcome would be too much for us to handle.  Each of the family members, huddled in the crowded waiting room, had moments where they would just go for a walk in the hospital to relieve the tension. We all had developed special spots in different nooks and crannies of the hospital where we would go at different times to get alone and process the intense emotions we were grappling with.

On the evening of February 20, I had stolen away to a corner of an outpatient waiting room down the hall from the ICU.  It was my favorite spot because it had benches and chairs without armrests which meant I could lay down or just stretch our cramped arms and legs. I also loved the view it faced the a large wall of glass that looked out over the Oklahoma City skyline.  At night the view was spectacular!

That particular evening, I sat there watching the sunset.  I took in the beautiful shades of gold, orange and purple.  It was so oddly peaceful in the midst of the most heart-wrenching circumstance I had ever faced.  I could feel God’s presence so strongly in that moment impressing  on me that Russell’s life was like the sunshine, beautiful and bright, but that it was time for his life to set, for him to pass into eternity.  I tried to dismiss what God was speaking to my heart, not wanting to admit that the battle for his life here on earth was over, but deep down inside I was listening to this gentle message.  It was a message of hope and peace to my fearful soul.

I feared facing death, not just the loss but I feared the process of dying.  How could I watch my sweet Russell die?  I wasn’t strong enough for that!  I knew I needed to be there to support Christian and Jordan but the I was terrified of the process.  As I looked at that beautiful sunset and surrendered to the image God was trying to show me, He shared with me that just as the sun passing out of the sky was beautiful.  Russell’s passing would be beautiful as well. I believe He opened my eyes to the spiritual reality that Russell would not be gone. He would be free from the pain, the fighting and his weak physical body. He was going to pass into a realm that was beautiful beyond measure. The image of that sunset would sustain me as the situation worsened over the next 24 hours.