billandmardy

Archive for January 11th, 2012


Dear Friends,

On December 20th, my husband and I received the double shock that our 19 year-old son Patrick had died, and that it was apparent he had taken his own life.

I will never be able to describe to anyone, ever, the slap of such a shock, the depths of such pain, or the dreadful questions that plague a parent’s heart following such a call. They are the worst. For five days my heart was crushed with the pain of my son’s pain, and stung by the question of how we could have missed it.

Five days later, on the 26th, our daughter, an ER RN, made a connection between a head injury her brother suffered the day before Thanksgiving and his death.   Patrick was in school at USF in Tampa, 2 hours from home.  His work schedule didn’t allow him to have Thanksgiving off, but he was able to get home for a few days before, so we had a ‘Thanksgiving Lasagna’ one night, a ‘Thanksgiving Stroganoff’ the next, celebrating early with his siblings so he could be with us.  He was happy, and told us he was doing well with his two part-time jobs and two classes at school.  He said he was finally getting a killer cardio workout because he had to run at top speed to retrieve cars as a parking valet all day.  He had the usual fun with his siblings, and as he was our biggest prankster, he hacked my FaceBook status (again) while he was here.  He told us he liked his church and his small group fellowship in Tampa, and was having a conflict with one person, but was working toward resolving it.  All seemed well and we looked forward to his return the week of Christmas.

He left for Tampa with kisses and hugs and promises of seeing him in 3 1/2 weeks.  Forty minutes later, he called saying he’d been in an accident on I-75.  Bill and Dan went to make sure he was okay. He’d lost control of his car in the rain, hit the guardrail several times at highway speed, swerved back into traffic and hit another car.  No one in the other car was injured, but Patrick hit his head on the steering wheel and driver’s door window.  Bill and Dan changed his tire, checked his car, and checked him for signs of concussion. Patrick called Kate to ask if she thought he might have a concussion. She told him it was possible, gave him a list of things to watch for, and told him he should check it out. I had told him that morning that there were plenty of funds in the HSA account for medical needs.  For whatever reason, our beautiful kid did not get checked out, or connect any of the dots when he began displaying erratic behavior.

From Kate: I’m not exactly sure why it took me almost a week to put the pieces together – probably because of shock – but I realized something I think would be helpful to many of Patrick’s friends and family who are struggling to make sense of this, trying to figure out why no one saw this coming.

I am currently working at a large research university where staff has been frequently and thoroughly educated on the findings of recent research on traumatic brain injuries. I’d like to share some of these findings with you:

When a person comes into the emergency department for a bump to the head, standard procedure is to perform a CT scan (if the physician is concerned) and then, if no bleed is found, discharge the patient home. However, new research is finding that healthcare professionals are missing a huge piece of the picture. We are just now discovering that while nothing is showing up on a CT scan, MRIs of recently bumped heads show abnormalities in the prefrontal cortex, the emotion/reasoning center of the brain.

When someone suffers a bump to the head (whether it results in concussion or not), there is between a 30-80% chance (the research is still new) that in the following 2-3 months they will experience the following symptoms: insomnia, difficulty concentrating, difficulty relating to people, depression, suicidal thoughts and lack of impulse control. Students’ grades drop, people break up with their significant others, lose jobs, etc. They have personality changes and these short-term symptoms wreak havoc on their lives. There is abundant information available by Googling head injury and depression.

On December 28th, Kate and Dan drove to Tampa to take care of final details for us, for which I will be indebted to them for the rest of my days. When they finished, they spoke with Patrick’s friends about Kate’s thoughts. Everyone’s reaction was the same.

Kate: As soon as I started reading the symptoms of brain injury, each friend expressed shock and said I was describing Patrick’s behavior since Thanksgiving exactly. He could only sleep 2-3 hours a night, he couldn’t concentrate on school, he became withdrawn and distant, he had developed a persistent headache. They said his personality in three weeks had suddenly negatively changed.

For me, this has been the missing puzzle piece. Everyone who knew Patrick – and many of us knew him very well – have said the same thing: Patrick wasn’t unhappy, he wasn’t depressed, and he certainly wasn’t suicidal.  He was suffering from post-concussive symptoms.

Patrick’s altered behavior was apparent to friends, but naturally no one made a connection to the accident.  One friend said he’d become erratic so quickly that he thought he might have started taking drugs.

For me, I feel like I was shot through the heart with the initial call, and then rolled into ICU, being sustained moment by moment by tubes of God’s grace, like a feeding tube or breathing tube keeping me alive.  All my heart could do was lay immobile and be taken care of by others who held me and tried to make sure I ate and drank. Learning of the TBI symptoms (traumatic brain injury) poured a Saline of truth over my broken heart and washed away questions that I think would have plagued my me until the day I die.  He had watched us rescue siblings when they experienced a few crises, and we felt confident he would also call us if he needed us. The thought that he would not was excruciating to both of us. The last thing Bill said to him before he moved was that his room would always be waiting.  To know he wasn’t hiding failures and pain from us all semester soothed some of my pain, but learning the symptoms of a TBI was also very painful and triggered the grieving process afresh in me.  I imagined all the stress and pain he must have faced running as a valet and keeping up his other job and school on so little sleep, pushing himself to do better, not realizing he was injured.

Patrick’s natural temperament was Melancholy, so he set high standards and took life seriously. We watched him over the previous year pull overnight shifts and still go to class the next day, or go to school when he was sick when we advised him to stay home. He was Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice, his favorite character and the only movie that I know of he bought for himself.

And here the keyboard disappears into yet another blur of tears – our son left a note. I can’t share it with anyone outside our family. I don’t even know what’s appropriate or not appropriate these days, but I asked Kate and Bill to help me know, and they said I should share the gist of it.  He wrote that he was very sorry for the pain he knew this would cause all of us, that he loved us all very much, that he knew he was very loved, and had been given a loving family. But, he could not understand why he was so deeply sad inside all the time and could not go on.

He thought of others first in so many decisions, and to read he was concerned for us in his final thoughts is more than I can even process yet.

January 5th was my first venture out of this safe and loving cocoon of home.  I took Joel, 16, to get a hair cut, pick up some books, and I thought I would treat him to a trip to Wal-mart to spend a gift card he received at Christmas. I ended up bursting into tears when an employee was trying to help me, trying not to draw attention to myself while looking for a place to escape.  Looking back on it that night, it felt like I was trying to push an IV pole across a busy street still dressed in my hospital gown, while cars whisked past me honking and speeding.  My goal was to get my weak little self all the way across that street, and I did, but sat down and cried on the bench once I got there.  Not so good.

Later I read three notes from three different friends who didn’t know each other, but all said the same thing – that I must come to a place where I accept that God is completely sovereign, and that though this was never His design, He still saw it in advance, and was able to protect Patrick from the accident as well as the injury – but didn’t.  If anyone who could have protected him and changed the outcome, it was God.  But, He didn’t.  And yet He loved Patrick many times more than all of us put together.

Reconciling God’s love for my son with His sovereignty in allowing this outcome clicked something into place in my soul, like a bone that had been broken that just got set, or an alignment that allowed me to stop walking stooped over.  Something inside settled, and I could sense a new soothing, as though the Lord administered a spiritual pain med.  For the first five days my heart had been crushed with the pain of my son’s pain.  When I cried out to Jesus to take my crushing grief, He did.  Once we learned of his head injury symptoms, I was weighted again with my son’s pain and a barrage of what-ifs and whys (I had been protected in accidents and greater dangers, why hadn’t he?, What if we had thought to visit him between Thanksgiving and Christmas – we might have seen it?  Why this, why not that?).  I know that I must pass through these unanswerable questions as part of my healing process, but since allowing myself to accept both God’s sovereignty and love simultaneously, I’ve been at new level of peace.  I still cry many times a day, but I’ve been able to say each day, This is Patrick’s story with You, his God, and I will not demand that You tell me the whys of his story.  I will keep trusting You and wait for You or him to tell us when we see him again.

On December 24th, the day after his memorial service, but before we learned of the TBI, someone wrote to remind me of Isaiah 53, that Jesus bore my griefs and sorrows, and they encouraged me to cry out to Him to take my crushing sorrow.  It sounded like fiction, that it would be impossible to have the crushing, crushing weight of grief ever leave me.  I’d been hurting so deeply and dropping to a couch or the floor sobbing in fits since we heard.  After 3 hours of gut-wrenching sobbing before my family was awake, I reread my friend’s note, and called out to Jesus, that if it were true, if He really did take my crushing sorrow on the cross, would He please remove it?  Bill found me shortly after that prayer, surrounded by a mountain of tissues, still softly crying.  He held me tight, prayed for me, spoke words of truth to me, and asked me never to grieve that way alone again, that I must find him or wake him when I started to slide.  Since that day, Day Five, I’ve no longer been crushed with overwhelming grief.  We still have many tears – we both cry alone and cry in each other’s arms.  I cry with the kids, with friends who come by, and, last week on my first venture to a store I cried all the way down the aisle, through the parking lot and into the car.  But it is not the same crushing grief that gripped me for the first five days.  It didn’t return.

We don’t have enough words or even adequate words to express our gratefulness to all who have been praying for us. Friends dropped everything in their lives the week of Christmas and pulled together the most beautiful memorial service that ever was.  More friends stepped in to run our home, cook our meals, field calls and posts, and pray and cry with us.  We’ve been showered with flowers and gifts, people in high places set events into motion to assist us, and people we had never met reached out to us as with one heart. We’re still just learning of acts of service which were done for us.   If you have sent us an email or card, we’re still in the process of reading them all.  If you sent flowers or gifts, they’ve all been extremely beautiful.  A family member will be coming over in the coming weeks to help us acknowledge them all.

I tend to process my lessons and joys, and I see now my grief, through writing.  This note is a compilation of many notes penned over the past three weeks, some to myself, some to family, some to friends.  We know many outside our family are suffering over this tragedy.  We’ve talked about what is appropriate to share and how to communicate, and decided as a couple to publish this note here.  If you know anyone who has been suffering with us and you think this would help to comfort them, please share it.

Today, January 11th, I still feel like I am in the ICU unit of God’s hospital. Even though I can sense God’s grace sustaining me, I still have a gaping hole in my heart.  Each day I bleed a little less, “come to” a little more, and my wound closes a tiny bit.  Bill and I have been healing the slowest.  I think our hearts will eventually stop bleeding, but we will bear a Patrick-sized scar for the rest of our days here.  Our adult kids are each balancing normal stages of grief with ongoing commitments, facing ups and downs, good days and low days.  They have stayed close as they grew up, calling or texting each other regularly, but are staying even closer now. Bill and I are still learning of things they did to shield us during the first week.  They bore a very heavy load together with their spouses.  Joel remains a soft and Sanguine blessing, processing healthily I think, being a strength to me, and even playing a few tricks on me to make me laugh again. We are comforting one another daily, and to the degree of healing we are intended and able to one day reach while we yet live is our united hope and goal.

We know that grace is being administered to us through massive amounts of prayer and due to no strength of our own.  We know some of you will carry us in your prayers as the weeks turn into months and years. We are immensely thankful. I am particularly thankful to the God who sees everything in advance and loves our children more than we do.  And I am thankful to Jesus who actually, really and truly bore our griefs and sorrows on Calvary, and who actually, really and truly gives sustaining grace in the darkest valley.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Ps 34:18

Sustained by grace, Bill and Mardy for all our family

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