Still Saying Goodbye

still in our hearts

Two days ago, we celebrated the ninth anniversary of the passing of our oldest child, Kristy. Celebration may seem an odd word to choose. Yet, there are two reasons it is entirely appropriate. First, by the time she left us, Kristy deserved to be in a better place than this one. Second, we had been exceedingly fortunate to have shared forty-five years of life with her. There had been so many times we feared she wouldn’t reach her next birthday.

The following is the story of one of those times.

Deep heart wishes

On her fourth birthday, Kristy sat on a booster seat at our round oak table in the dining “L” of our new little house. Surrounded by her sisters, aunts, cousins, and uncles, under pink and white crepe paper streamers, amidst purple balloons, she drew in her breath and blew out four candles with one breath. “I wish for a kitty,” she announced.  No one had the heart to tell her you shouldn’t tell your wish.

But I kept my wish silent. For the past year, living with Kristy was a rollercoaster ride of increased hopes as her vocabulary increased, she learned to ride a tricycle, and she engaged readily in play with her little sisters, and deepened fears as her seizures happened more and more frequently. Not a single month went by without Kristy suddenly going into convulsions. They were no longer connected with fevers or illnesses of any kind, but random–and occasionally dangerous.

without warning

The most recent one had occurred while she was rocking her lullaby doll in her little green chair. Her arms flew outward, and the doll sailed across the room. Kristy’s head jerked back so quickly that I barely had time to unlatch Betsy from my breast. I lay her in the middle of the rug, grateful that she didn’t crawl yet. Her immediate shriek pierced my ears and my heart, but I had to ignore her.

By this time, Kristy’s back had arched, her legs and arms were spasming, and she had fallen face forward onto the floor. Carrie was already at her side, looking frightened, but patting her back–and she was only two years old! With shaking hands, I slipped a couch pillow under Kristy’s head, turned her to her side, and gently held her arms and legs so that they wouldn’t crash into the dining room chairs. Almost as quickly as it had begun, the seizure was over, but I sweated like a marathon runner.

worse than ever

As Kristy’s muscles relaxed, I slid my arms under her to lift so I could move her onto the couch. She screamed in pain. That shocked me. Usually, after a seizure, Kristy was a limp, unresponsive rag. I couldn’t see any injuries. Nothing was bleeding. But each time I tried to move her, she screeched. Behind me, Betsy’s cries subsided to whimpers. I glanced over my shoulder. Across the room, Carrie sat with her back to the fireplace, legs straight in front of her, and the baby in her arms. She had thrust her tiny thumb in Betsy’s mouth. My heart went out to her. Two years old and already shouldering responsibilities!

I needed help. The best possible answer was my neighbor Dee, a nurse at nearby Grant Hospital. I lay Kristy back down and moved into the kitchen. My hands were so slippery I could barely hold on to the phone, but I managed to dial Dee‘s number. “I need you over here now,” I blurted out, and hurried back to Kristy.

band of two angels

Two minutes later, when Dee flung open my front door, her ten-year-old daughter Evie was right behind her. “Kristy’s hurt,” I told them. Dee scrunched down beside my little girl and studied her. I went to Carrie, scooped up the now sleeping Betsy, and pressed my lips against Carrie’s dark curls, drinking in their soothing scent.

“What do you think?” I asked Dee. By now, Kristy was struggling to get up, but when she put her left hand on the floor to brace herself, she screamed again.

“Could be a broken collarbone,” Dee said. “We need to get her to the hospital. Evie, get me a clean diaper.”

Her daughter sped up the spiral staircase and down again in seconds. Dee formed a makeshift sling for Kristy’s little arm. “Jule, wrap her in a blanket. Evie, you stay here with the babies. I’ll bring the car upfront.” And she was gone.

yet another hospital run

Five minutes later, Dee dropped us at the emergency entrance of Children’s Memorial just two blocks from our home. X-rays confirmed my friend’s speculation. Kristy came home with her arm supported by a shoulder immobilizer, a combination of a sling and a strap around her waist to brace the injured arm. One of Kristy’s strongest traits had shone with full brilliance at the hospital. Although only four years old, she had listened to instructions attentively. She accepted the immobilizer without complaint and after that, she complied with the whole regime the doctor had set up for us.

time to heal

For the first week, I put a pack of frozen peas over her collarbone for twenty minutes every couple of hours. During that time, I would sit on the couch, slip Kristy onto my lap, and read a picture book aloud. Carrie crawled up beside us. I tried to coordinate these sessions with Betsy’s infrequent naps. Sometimes I would enlist Evie to come over and take Betsy for a walk in her stroller so I could spend the time with Kristy. The immobilizer remained in place for a month, but it didn’t always ease Kristy’s pain. Reluctantly, I added children’s Tylenol to the phenobarbital she was already taking.

reprise emergency

At the end of the month, I walked Kristy back to the hospital. We cut through the brick alley behind our townhouse complex on our way. Halfway there, she cried out, flipped backwards, and went into convulsions. I caught her going down, but her head hit the edge of a brick hard enough to bleed. I balled up the cloth of my skirt and held it against the minor wound.

For twenty minutes, we sat in the deserted alley. The sharp bricks cut into my legs as I prayed that help would come, but my angels slept that morning. When Kristy was fully awake, we continued our walk to the hospital. She came home without the immobilizer, but with four stitches on her forehead.

move on through the maze

There were times between such incidents that I just wanted to curl up on the couch, drink coffee, and read a good romance – anything to escape the reality I had somehow constructed for myself. But instead, every day I threw myself into the myriad of other responsibilities that were mine as the mother of three small girls. Romance could wait.

15 Replies to “Still Saying Goodbye”

  1. What a sad episode, but an amazing account of the strength and courage of a mother’s love … and that of a sister as well. Carrie has always been a responsible and caring individual, but to be so at the age of two defies description. Life throws many challenges at us, to some like yourself far more than to others. The love you give in response is a testament of
    who you are. Fortunately, there are also the times of love and happy memories to somewhat offset the stress of the more difficult challenges. I pray you may be able to continue to cherish those good memories.

  2. That recounting made tears come to my eyes. It’s a beautiful memory despite how difficult it was to live through at the time. It shows you resilience, resourcefulness, and that you created a community to support you. Poor Kristy, she really managed to bang herself up, but always grinned and bore it as much as possible.

    1. Carrie,
      Kristy, like her sisters, always was quite the little trooper. I was blessed to be the mother of all of you.
      Mom

  3. Jule,

    What a harrow series of events! It was amazing to hear how you juggled your other kids in the midst of this drama!

    How fortunate you could get some help from your neighbor!

    After all of these experiences, you probably felt you could be on an ambulance crew!

    Best,

    Rob

  4. Hi Jule, Your story of your being in the midst of such difficult circumstances and finding the strength to bear them and find grace reminded me of a quote from Albert Camus: “In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer”.
    there is that “Invincible summer in you”.
    Nicole

  5. You are amazing. As I read it, I thought: People wonder what goes on at home all day with a stay-at-home-Mom, like it’s a career with a lot flexibility and down time. Not! Balancing the needs of three little ones at the same time is just motherhood. All have to be cared for while a life-threatening emergency is just one of them. My hat’s off to you, June!

  6. This article stirred up so many emotions within me. Snap shot memories of Kristy’s medical emergencies, your calm under fire, Carrie & Betsy’s love and care of Kristy & Johnny, plus the endless hospital runs. I’m reminded of your angst when learning of improper medical care for one during a seizure by holding the person down rather than making sure their flaying was safe from harm. I found photos yesterday of our Alaska trip where I told you I knew our family would be in good hands when the time came upon Mom’s passing and the role of Matriarch of the extended Ward family torch would be passed on to you. Yes, many emotions stirred with this one, well descriptive, memory of raising special needs children. It is not lost on me, nor ever far from my thoughts, the cruelty that you again are being called on to dig deep to provide love and care for one you love.

    Is your writing affecting your readers? Clearly I believe so.

    Kristy Ward, intercede on us.🙏

    1. Patti,
      I am so touched by your firm belief that Kristy now resides among the angels and saints and she is, indeed, upholding us with her continuing love.
      Love,
      Jule

  7. What a riveting account you have shared with readers. Thank heavens for the strength and resilience shown by all your family.

    1. Susan,
      Thank you for your affirmation. My girls were all such troopers, and we were often so very fortunate to have compassionate and supportive neighbors. I am grateful that you continue reading.
      Jule

  8. Jule, it is truly amazing what you have been through as a family. A very moving story… tears keep rolling. I never realized at the time, how strong you were. Love and respect to you

    1. Bodil,
      We all wonder how our former selves did what we did. Can you believe that at age 20, you stepped in overnight to take over for me when I was suddenly hospitalized with hepatitis? That story didn’t quite make it into the memoir. I need to get it on the blog!
      Love,
      Jule

Please let me know if you enjoyed this read and what about it caught your attention. Thanks, Jule