Fear and Faith

We have so many changes happening in ours lives right now. Saying I don’t adjust to change well is the understatement of the century. Ryan always tells me that I stress about stress before there is anything to stress about. My wonderful husband knows me well! My anxiety has been at an all time high and I’m fighting to keep my feet on solid ground. On top of all the changes we are coming to the end of “hell week”. Ryan’s brother David died in a tragic car accident 15 years ago and this time of year is always hard for our family

The last couple of years have been smooth sailing. We’ve hit some bumps along the way as everyone does but our faith has carried us right through. Ryan and I completely rebuilt our marriage three ago after joining a local church and receiving some amazing Christian counseling from the Pastor. We attended church regularly and I enjoyed volunteering in the nursery and attending Bible studies. I’ve felt my life changing in ways I cannot explain. One of the best parts is being quick in forgiveness to others which is something I always struggled with in the past.

In the middle of all of our changes a Pastor from our church branched off to start a new church closer to where we lived. At first we had decided to stick with the church we had already been attending. Then I got invited to a Bible study at the new church and we decided to visit for a Sunday service. Since then we haven’t left. We love the people and the small town feel! So for now it just feels right.

These past couple of months flipped everything upside-down on me. I have watched my husband Ryan struggle with so many chronic health issues but the hardest of all is his daily struggle with constant pain. He suffered a shoulder injury years ago in the Army which lead to issues with his neck. Then about seven years ago he fell off of a hunting blind he was building and landed on his lower back on frozen ground. He suffered a multi-lumbar fracture that completely changed his life.

Ryan has been working a strenuous job reading meters for an electrical company for nearly four years now. His job is causing several other issues such as hip, knee and foot pain due to constant walking. He overcompensates to protect his back. Constant pain changes people and I’ve slowly watched the man I married slip into depression because he wasn’t coping well with the added stress from the pain. Add in the fact that he has several other health issues and his life has become a mess of constant appointments and procedures. We had been praying for years that he would find another job that might be easier on his many disabilities. Waiting became the hardest part.

A few months ago I was referred to a urologist for bladder issues. I had shrugged it off for years blaming my issues on my age and the fact that I gave birth to three children years ago. I kept putting off the appointment because at the time Ryan’s issues were enough to keep up with. I finally had a friend convince me to reschedule my appointment because she’d recently been through the same issues and was feeling much better after her surgery. I finally made it on for my appointment in mid November. I felt like I walked into a brick wall! Not only had my bladder fallen but so had my uterus and the urologist kept saying I needed an appointment with my obgyn for a hysterectomy. All I could think about was how did we go from a bladder repair to a hysterectomy. I left my appointment in tears!

I made my appointment with my obgyn for the following week and thankfully Ryan was able to go with me this time. I have known my obgyn for years and both my daughters see her as well. In short I completely trust her. She did her own exam and confirmed that I need the hysterectomy and bladder surgery sooner rather than later because it’s causing some other issues that will need to be repaired if I wait to long. I realize this is all normal things that women go through but the timing couldn’t have been more off! Plus my obgyn decided to do a bunch of biopsies.

Thanksgiving landed right in the middle of all of this and we had constant company staying with us. The day before Thanksgiving Ryan received the call we had waited on for years. He was being offered a huge promotion from Meter reading to Gas Service. His new position not only comes with a pay raise but it also comes with a company vehicle and cell phone. Unfortunately that was about all the information we had at the moment because of the holidays.

Add in a trip to my family doctor to follow-up on my anxiety issues and some ongoing stomach issues which she added a colonoscopy to be done before my surgery. To add my insult to injury she restarted my antidepressants and increased my anti-anxiety medicine. I worked for years to get off of my antidepressants after my mom died and I’ve been doing great without them. My anti-anxiety medicine is meant more to calm my system down during an asthma flair an only used as needed. Now my doctor wants me to take both medications everyday for the next three months. I told her I felt like such a failure! I wanted my faith in God to be strong enough to carry me through all of this! I was struggling to keep up my daily chores and I feel like I’m a horrible wife at the moment! Ryan needs me and I’m failing as his wife! I was also stressing that Ryan wouldn’t be able to miss work for my surgery because of his new job.

On top of everything else we are currently house hunting now that we know Ryan has a permanent position in a steady location. House hunting should be fun and exciting but at the moment it’s anything but! I have so many other plates spinning that I cannot take the time to enjoy it.

I finally received my surgery date for January 19th and a couple of days later Ryan found out his new job doesn’t start until January 30th. This will actually give him a week at home with me which hopefully will get me through the worst of it. It’s been nearly two weeks and I still don’t have my biopsy results which is causing added stress!

My biggest struggle is knowing that fear and faith cannot coexist. I’m failing in my faith because I’m allowing my fears and anxiety to get the best of me. Now it’s time to do some deep soul-searching and praying. I’ve also been seeking counsel from other Christians within my church family. I’m in desperate need of healing for my mind, heart and spirit. So now my journey begins in giving it all to God.

Life After Death


It can be difficult, to say the least to live with multiple chronic illnesses. To say that I have literally been sick since the day I was born would be the understatement of the century because my illnesses began before I even made it out of my mother’s womb. In the past on this blog I have written about one of my illnesses at a time as I slowly shared my life story with all of you. As with recent developments and severe declines in my overall health I have chosen to tie it all together for you now. For any of you that are interested in more details search for Born Cursed, in my archives.

In short, I was born with four major heart defects that just so happen to appear at the same time. This condition is congenital and is referred to as Tetralogy of Fallot. There was actually a movie made about the doctor and his student that created the very technical surgery to save a baby with my exact condition. The movie is called, Something The Lord Made.

The two men the movie is based on are responsible for saving the lives of babies born with my condition, had I been born less than a decade earlier I would possibly not be here to share my story at all, as most babies born with Tetralogy of Fallot did not have a very high success rate of survival until the early 1970s where I was not born until January of 1978 and I did not have my life savings surgery until the follow year in January of 1979. Here is a little more detail about my heart defects.

In short, I was an extremely blue baby and I had multiple “tet spells” where I repeatedly lost conciseness and nearly died several times prior to my life saving surgery. Add in the fact that my mother hated hospitals and chose to plan my birth in a doctor’s office, rather than a regular hospital and I was taken directly home a few short hours after my birth without a proper examination by a pediatrician. My mom had been proud of her choice and had found a particular joy in bragging to our neighbors that came to visit me that day, that I was zero days old.

Well baby exams were not as common back then and I would not have my first real examination until I was already four months old. It was later explained that the moment the nurse began to check my vital signs and placed her stethoscope to my beating heart, she knew instantly something was horribly wrong. It was said that my heartbeat was so loud, it sounded similar to a freight train inside my chest. I was instantly sent to UofM Mott Children’s Health Center. I was followed by a pediatric cardiologist and my health was reviewed weekly. I was definitely a blue baby. I made it until my first birthday and due to a series of unfortunate events, my mom missed a few appointments in a row. She said the winter of 1979 was horrible and that she did not have a properly running vehicle at the time. By the time she was able to make the trip I was in need of emergency open heart surgery. My recovery and side effects from this surgery alone, were permanent.

I suffered multiple infections as a child as my body was constantly fighting to compensate for my heart working so hard. This caused my immune system to be compromised, therefore any time anyone so much as coughed in my direction I would end up desperately ill for weeks at a time. A common chest cold would lead to pneumonia, which then in turn, meant multiple hospital stays for IV antibiotics and cardiac monitoring. I also suffered from chronic neck and back pain to the point that I would wake up with my neck completely locked to one side. These stiff necks, that lasted for days, also meant more hospital stays and more tests. This also made going to a public school a very difficult challenge because of the amount of germs I was being exposed to everyday. I was never allowed to play school sports or do any activities outside in the winter time. I suffered from a constant inflammation in my chest wall called costochondritis. This condition is a very painful, lifelong problem and since my sternum is literally wired together being in cold air makes this condition worse.

Asthma was my second major health issue. I most likely had asthma my entire life, but my body hid it well as my lack of oxygen was always blamed on my heart conditions. I was never officially diagnosed or treated with asthma until I was nine years old. That was when I first started carrying an inhaler everywhere I went. My asthma was the most severe kind and was near fatal too many times to count. My lungs always felt like they were on fire! On top of everything, I was stupid enough to smoke cigarettes and smoke pot as a teenager.

At the beginning of my freshman year in high school a science teacher nearly killed me when he did a sulfur experiment in our classroom and set it on fire, creating yellow smoke. When I tried to tell him I could not breathe he told me to have a seat because the bell was going to ring soon. I caused a chain reaction and everyone started asking to leave and he got angry and made the entire class sit back down. When the bell finally did ring I made it to the office and they called my grandparents who lived ten minutes away. My grandpa came as fast as he could and he put me in his car with the air conditioner blasting so he could get me to a doctor because my inhaler was not helping me. Trips like these always earned me  two injections of prednisone given at the same time into each hip because the doctor could not put a large enough dose into a single injection to save my life. Sometimes these steps would have to be repeated every thirty minutes, until my airway opened. I was so sick the school actually provided a homebound teacher to come to my house for three straight months after that while I recovered.  My grades began to slip from this point forward.

My cardiologist told my mom several times that I should not ever have children. Just carrying a baby in my body could kill me because of the constant strain on my heart.  I did make it to the beginning of my sophomore year of high school, but I was hiding the fact that I was already pregnant at the time. When my mom and the school found out I was pregnant I was sent to alternative education six miles away. My heart took a huge hit during this pregnancy because, as predicted, my heart was not made to withstand the added weight gain, depleted vitamin levels that my baby needed and added water weight. I gained sixty-four pounds and carried my son to exactly his due date. I was married at seventeen, just weeks before my son was born. I met my second husband and filed for divorce. We were pregnant when we were eighteen with our first daughter. My pregnancy was pretty amazing this time around, but my body did not go into labor on its own. So seven days after my due date it was decided to admit me and induce my labor the next morning. I delivered her three hours later and the tests began.

`Every child I gave birth to was required to have an EKG and echocardiogram within an hour of birth. We really did not think much about this because I had been through the same exact thing when my son was born, but this time we were wrong. Our daughter was born with two separate heart defects than had to be monitored by a cardiologist every six weeks, until both holes closed on their own by the time she was six months old.

My divorce was final from my first husband a month after our daughter was born, and I married Ryan five months later. We were both nineteen at the time.  Ryan joined the Army, and six months after that I moved to Hawaii with him when we were twenty. Our son was three years old and our daughter was one. I was already four months pregnant at the time of the move. Add in the stress of a nasty divorce exactly a year to the date of our move, and now having to see Army doctors, plus be five thousand miles away from our nearest family member, and my pregnancy was destined to fail from the start.

My body started rejecting my pregnancy at twenty-two weeks. My heart was not strong enough and I began to retain fluid to the point that my ankles were as big as my thighs at the time. At the same time Ryan encouraged me to go back to high school and get my diploma, so I signed up at the local high school in Honolulu and began night classes a couple of weeks after we moved. My new pediatric cardiologist had never met anyone with TOF so she constantly had me come in for tests. Each time I went in she had more and more people in the room.  I grew up going to a teaching hospital, so the extra people did not bother me, but it got to the point where I could not even go to a regular doctor for a bee sting without extra people asking to come in the room to listen to my heartbeat, which sounds more like water flowing than an actual beat.

The local hospital did stop my premature labor multiple times, and I actually did graduate from high school that September at nearly seven months pregnant with our second daughter. I only made it another four weeks, and this time when we arrived at the hospital it was too late. I was already dilated to five and in full-blown labor. At almost thirty-six weeks along a decision was made to follow the plan of my two previous deliveries. I was given an epidural and a resident broke my water. I was given IV medication to induce my labor, which ended up lasting for over thirty-one hours. Our daughter was born in severe respiratory distress and spent her first seven days of life on a respirator and feeding tube. She remained ill and was unable to gain weight until she was three months old. I finally gave up on the idea of having anymore children and had a medically necessary tubal ligation the week before my twenty-first birthday.

My health was pretty stable for a few years after that. We had moved back to Michigan after Ryan suffered a career ending injury to his shoulder. I started a job as soon as I moved home with our children, and Ryan followed seven months after. I was in and out of the hospital a few times a year with asthma and pneumonia, but we handled everything pretty well. I missed multiple days a year at work, but never exceeded twelve total weeks in a year so my job was protected. I worked for four years as a supervisor at a retail/ grocery store until my grandpa came to live with us on hospice. I then had to quit my job to take care of him full-time. He only lived four more months and after he died in August of 2004, with Ryan and I right at his side until his last breath. I was admitted to intensive care for ten days with pneumonia and pleurisy right after he died. It was decided that I would take a break from working and attend college instead.

In June of 2006 I had finally graduated and had been working for six weeks for an oncologist, when my mom became sick. I missed two days of work for my mom to have surgery and I was fired, which did not matter because my mom was too sick to be left alone either way. She died in our home on hospice six weeks later. Ryan was attending college at the time working on his bachelor’s degree.

We actually even became foster parents in early 2009 and housed eight children through our home over two years time. Some of the children we cared for were siblings sets. We had as many as seven children in our home at a time total. Michigan state law only allows for a maximum of five children, but we were willing to take more than one sibling set at a time. The state allowed us a court order to bypass this law to avoid siblings being split into multiple homes. We also had six bedrooms and four bathrooms. This meant we had plenty of space for all of our children. We even purchased a twelve passenger van so we could take all the children everywhere we went. These two short years were some of the best years of my families lives!

By the time Memorial Day weekend came in 2011 we never knew what hit us when tornadoes tore through our small town, and multiple other cities in Michigan that Sunday. That tornado marked the beginning of the end for life as we knew it! My life and my health would be on the line from that day forward and my family would never be the same again! In less than fifteen minutes, we lost most everything that had taken nearly fifteen years to gain.

Part One

By the time Memorial Day weekend came in 2011 we never knew what hit us when tornadoes tore through our small town, and multiple other cities in Michigan that Sunday. That tornado marked the beginning of the end for life as we knew it! My life and my health would be on the line from that day forward and my family would never be the same again! In less than fifteen minutes we lost most everything that had taken nearly fifteen years to gain.

I was not home when the tornado hit the corner by our house. I was running errands and preparing for a Memorial Day cookout with our friends. We ended up at a hotel that night because our house was flooded and smelled musty from all the wet carpet and drywall. The second day at the hotel was when we made our near fatal mistake. Have you ever looked back on your life and picked out one single event in time that started a chain reaction that could not be stopped? This moment in time was one that I have torn to shreds repeatedly over the past four years since it happened. Just one bad choice changed our lives forever and completely flipped us upside-down. We as a family still have not fully recovered from what happened to us. On that day Ryan and I decided to leave our children and drive the thirteen miles back to our now flooded house and pick up a few things that we needed. We spent just fifteen minutes in our house. We both took pictures of all the damage and walked around our house getting a few things that we needed. After that we headed back to the hotel for a night of fun in the pool. For more on the tornado read Life Support and When Two Hearts Beat As One on my blog.

My airway sealed closed for the first time in my life at four am the next morning. What started out as a pretty basic asthma attack quickly turned into days on a ventilator and feeding tube. I still have very little memory of exactly what happened to me because I was placed in a drug induced coma and was given a medication to paralyze me from head to toe. It was later explained to me that this was done to allow my body time to heal. The only explanation we were ever given at the time was that I may have had an allergic reaction, possibly to mold, from going into our house after the tornado that caused my airway to suffer anaphylactic reaction. After I was finally released from the hospital I was given nurses and physical therapists to come to my house to assist in my twenty-four hour care, only to end up in an ambulance to a different hospital just a couple of days later when my airway closed again. This time the epinephrine given worked and my airway opened again only requiring me to stay in intensive care for a couple of days. All five of us were staying in the two bedroom apartment over our garage which was the only part of our house not affected by the tornado. Life quickly became nothing but bed rest, nursing care and forty-two different medications to keep me alive. We completely stopped living and our lives felt over. I was dying with no explanation as to why. Six months went by, and by the grace of God I had survived. We went back to a normal life as best as we could and six more months went by. I tried my best not to think about how awful that first six months had been. All I knew was that I never wanted to experience it ever again and then the nightmare began once again.

We thought 2011 was one of the worst years of our lives, but we were wrong because 2012 was far worse! Ryan’s younger brother, Brad was murdered on April 23, 2012. I was holding my grandmother’s hand when she took her final breath the day before Mother’s Day. My ex husband’s body was found in the Flint River on Father’s Day which was June 17, 2012. My son was so angry the day he found out his biological father, Jason, was now gone in an accidental drowning. My son was seventeen at the time and had not seen Jason in fifteen years. Ryan adopted my son when he was three and we wanted him to wait until he was eighteen to meet Jason again on his own. Life was pretty awful at our house in the couple of weeks after Jason died. Our son wanted nothing to do with me at all and did not even want to speak to me half the time. He blamed me that Jason had died before he ever had a chance to meet him as an adult. Ryan was his only source of comfort at that time so I let our son heal whichever way he chose. We still had a crazy summer ahead of us and school sports were once again getting ready to start. Once again, one wrong move would send our lives even further off track.

I drove my youngest daughter to her local high school to make her cheer payment just a couple of weeks after Jason died. Her coach was running late so I went inside the school. The janitors were stripping wax off the cafeteria floors with a chemical floor stripper. I spent about fifteen minutes waiting for the coach and started having a little trouble breathing. I decided to hurry home and take a breathing treatment. By the time I made it home it was too late, once again. My airway was closing and I could feel it happening. The paramedics gave me epinephrine and rushed me to the local trauma center. This time the medications bought me a little time. My pulmonologist just so happened to be on call that day, and already at the hospital. He actually beat the anesthesiologist to my room when I arrived and he quickly intubated me himself just as my airway closed, like concrete, around the breathing tubes. This was how I finally received an actual diagnosis as to why my airway keep closing. My pulmonologist would later explain that he witnessed my vocal cords swell and he stated that this is exactly what had been happening all along.

My official diagnoses, after  thirteen months of waiting, was Vocal Cord Dysfunction (VCD) and Vocal Cord Paralysis. In short, my vocal cords swell when irritated by anything I breathe that I am allergic to.

This single diagnosis of VCD would be far worse than any other diagnosis I would ever receive in my lifetime. Through trial and error Ryan and I finally came up with an actual list of what I was allergic to. That list includes, but is not limited to, Bleach, Ammonia, Lysol, most chemical based cleaning agents, any and all aerosol products, and most perfume or cologne products. I am also severely sensitive to a combination of heat and humidity in the air. Ryan researched everything repeatedly and has constantly come up with ways to improve my quality of life. Ryan single-handedly became my advocate for all my chronic illnesses over the years. All our cleaning supplies from our house were given away to people who could still use them. We bought Borax powder and vinegar that we mixed to clean everything from laundry to bathrooms and kitchen counters. Unfortunately I hated Borax because the coarse powder was harsh on the skin.

As time went on Ryan would obsessively check the local weather reports just to see if we could escape my safe zone to go outside. We ran the air conditioner even when it was cooler outside, because it kept the humidity low as well as my core body temperature. I was so hypersensitive to anything I would breathe in that I thought my quality of life was over. I became severely depressed and all I wanted to do was sleep. At times it felt like I was even allergic to oxygen. Something had to change and soon! Within six months of being removed from life support for the second time I decided it was time to break free from every single restriction any doctor had ever given me and I returned to work full-time in the medical field. I even fully gave up my Social Security Disability and fought to have a normal life again, but as with everything in my life, nothing stayed normal for long!

 

 

 

 

Total Devastation


By the time 2012 came life was cruising right along for us. Yes I was still depressed, but my triggers toward my PTSD were slowly getting better but spring was coming and the weather was beginning to get warmer again which normally meant more breathing problems for me. We were trying to keep my stress levels down at the time because my breathing problems would increase. My best friend at the time had a lot going on in her life and was going through a divorce after twenty eight years of marriage. I went to Texas to visit my sister for a couple of weeks with plans to be home in time for the anniversary of mine and Ryan’s first date, that we still celebrate every year. I flew home the day before and we were going out the following evening for a movie date. Ryan has always been big on celebrating everything, which I love!

Brad’s Story (my brother-in-law)

Ryan’s younger brother, Bradley Rhodes met his wife, Megan LaBarge at a mud bog while they were both staying with mutual friends in the same motor home. Megan states “we stayed up all night talking and getting to know one another better. after that day we talked every single day on the phone, although he said I wasn’t officially his girlfriend until we got pregnant with our daughter.” Chloe Elizabeth Rhodes was born on June 5, 2004 and her little brother, Cameron Ronald Rhodes followed on Sept 13, 2007.

Brad and Megan lived their lives a bit backwards, as in they had children first and married seven years later on July 24, 2010, as almost an afterthought. I always believed Brad was afraid of commitment. In the beginning of March 2012, Brad had left his family, per mutual agreement with Megan, and he had starting seeing someone. Brad was murdered by his new girlfriend’s ex, who happened to be the father of her children. The murderer walked up to the front door and began an argument with his children’s mother. Brad came to their door, and a gun was pointed at him, and he was shot in the stomach. Brad turned to try and run away and got shot in the legs. His murderer then turned the gun on himself and committed suicide. All of this took place in front of a seven year-old.

On the morning of the anniversary of mine and Ryan’s first date,  I drove our children to their bus stop while Ryan was at home getting ready for work. While waiting for the bus Ryan called my cell phone. I could hear the shock in his voice as he informed me that his younger stepbrother had been shot to death. I instantly responded with, you have to be kidding me. One of my children asked what was wrong, and in my own shock I said your uncle has been killed just as the bus pulled up and without thinking I put all of them on the bus and rushed home. I guess I really did not think twice about sending them to school because none of it seemed real or even possible. When I made it back home Ryan was still sitting at the computer desk not knowing what to do. I asked him what happened and he said his younger brother called him and said he had received the call in the middle of the night saying Brad had been murdered. Ryan called his dad and he asked us not to come yet. His brother was separated from his wife at the time, but they were still married. They were planning on having Megan and Brad’s children, Chloe age seven and Cameron age four, over that day because his children did not know he was gone yet. Ryan’s dad and step mom were going to tell them together. Megan says that it was the longest car ride of her life to make it to our in-laws home with her children all while not saying a word as to what happened.

That day was a mix of emotions for Ryan’s entire family! I still find it odd how each individual reacts to shock. When I made it back home Ryan was still getting ready for work. His body was going through the motions of his normal day because he was in shock. I had to sit him down and have him call his employer to tell them he would not be in that day. His boss told him he was entitled to five days of bereavement leave. He hung up the phone and we decided together that he would take all five days in a row. After that we were at a total loss for what to do next. We are not people who can just sit around and do nothing when something like this happens. We could not go to Ryan’s dad’s house because Megan and her children were there, and they had enough to deal with at the moment! Ryan and I had plans to celebrate our first date that evening with our traditional dinner and a movie. It was my turn to pick the movie and we planned all the details out as to which movie and time as well as where we were going to dinner. Our lives had just been turned upside down with a single phone call! Our minds were blank with shock so we did the only thing we could think of, we jumped in the car and heading to an early showing of The Lucky One.

The movie is based on a book written by my favorite author, Nicholas Sparks. I have read every single book that he has ever written, but this book in particular had been written years before it was even made into a movie. Therefor, it had been years since I read it. Then I read so many books that one book tends to run into the next! So as soon as the opening scene began the plot of the story flooded back into my mind. I looked over at Ryan just as the main character played by Zac Efron, and his company were nearly blown to shreds and a soldier from another company died from gunshot wounds. I instantly felt sick to my stomach as I watched pain and heartache wash over Ryan’s face as reality had just hit home that his brother really had been murdered just hours before! lt was like watching a brick being smashed into his face. I wanted to fix it! I wanted to stop Ryan’s pain, but most of all I wanted to turn back time so that Brad would still be alive! I know that may sound ridiculous to wish for, but if there is one thing in life I cannot handle is seeing Ryan or my children in any pain whatsoever! Unfortunately, the damage was already done. I could not undo what Ryan had just watched on the movie screen. I whispered to him that we should get up and leave, but he said no. I held his hand and we both cried through the entire movie.

After the movie we went to lunch at Applebee’s and then finally went home. Ryan’s brother Collin came over and we all sat around in a haze. This was when our children’s school finally called us to tell us our children had been a mess at school all morning, and they were trying to figure out exactly what had happened and why on earth I had even sent them to school in the first place. I of course went to pick them up immediately!

The next day family and friends all gathered at Ryan’s dad’s house. Brad’s mom seemed lost and confused! Instead of grieving for the loss of her youngest son, she was walking around her home asking everyone else how they were all doing. She asked very basic questions such as how everyone’s families, children and jobs were all going. The only subject that was completely off-limits was Brad. If anyone mentioned Brad to her she spoke of what happened with zero emotion whatsoever. I would describe it best as robot mode due to the fact that she could not face the gravity of true reality. At times over the past three years I often wonder if she has or will ever accept what happened on that devastating night that her youngest son was so brutally shot and murdered just for being in the wrong place when he came face to face with pure evil!

To make matters worse, the man who murdered Brad right before blowing his own brains out in front of his own seven-year old son, was scheduled to have his funeral at the same funeral home and his burial in the same cemetery at the time as Brad’s services. We were able to get the funeral home to send them to another location, however the cemetery refused to change the time and location of both the grave side services.

There was so much emotion packed into that single day! We were allowed a small family viewing of Brad prior to the normal visitation gathering. As soon as we entered the room Megan instantly fell to her knees in hysterical tears! Many family members followed her to the ground until she regained her strength to be able to walk up to the casket and see her husband face to face. Shortly after that people arrived by the masses. The hardest part of the day was watching Brad’s four-year old son repeatedly attempt to climb into the casket with his daddy, and watching Brad’s seven-year old daughter stand next to the casket holding her daddy’s hand off and on all day crying.

Megan also shared the following; Chloe at the funeral: Chloe was downstairs at the funeral eating and my mom asked her how she was doing and she said “I know my mom and dad weren’t together, but I just thought there would still be a happily ever after, I guess but I was wrong” my mom sat down and talked to her some more and cried will our sweet girl and hugged her. Also, Chloe and I were up at the casket and I was crying while she rubbed my back and told me “mommy it’s going to be okay, daddy is in a better place in heaven now with all the angels and GOD” bless her heart she was so worried about making everyone else feel better she forgot about herself, and that she is only a child and like you said, felt like I should have been the one telling her those things, but yet she is such a kind-hearted smart little girl it was the other way around.

Here, Ryan’s dad had four children and had already lost his oldest son nine years before this, and Nancy, Ryan’s stepmom, had three children and had just lost her youngest son. They had seven children total and now have five. They shared a bond of loss and grief that no one on earth would ever wish upon the other. Yet what choice had they been given. We are going to die someday but I firmly believe it was the way they both lost a child of their own that made it that much more tragic!  No parent should ever have to bury a child before themselves! Yet it happens all of the time!

Ryan was once again designated to carry the casket of a second brother.  A full police escort already on scene keeping the murderer’s family toward the back of the cemetery, and all of us towards the middle. Unfortunately, we could still see them, and they could see us as well. I believe the police were already in place.

Megan states in regard to our in laws, “I have never had a more supportive family then Brad’s, his mom and stepdad came to the wedding and stayed almost the entire night. His sister, Toni, was in our wedding and she and her husband Kevin traveled all the way from Texas to be here to support myself and my family. I will never forget how much support they have given us along the way and continue to give us, yall are the most amazing family we could have ever asked for! We are so very blessed to have each and every one of you in our lives! I came home to Michigan in October and cried almost the whole time, knowing I had to go back to Texas and leave my best friend for longer. I decided on my way to the airport that the kids and I were going home, when I got back to Texas I started packing our stuff, two weeks later our car was packed tightly, the kids and I made our journey home to Michigan. I know it broke Toni’s heart to see the kids go, but I had to do what I thought was right for all of us. I was a total mess after the incident and couldn’t even figure out which way was up, I tried staying strong for the kids, but some days I failed miserably at that, Chloe once told my mom she didn’t like to cry about it in front of me because she knew I would get sad, which breaks my heart still to this day that she was trying to be the strong one for me when it is supposed to be the other way around. We stayed with Phyllis until we sold the house in Texas and then began our search for a home here in Michigan. After a few months we finally found the home we wanted, but it needed a little TLC before we moved our things in. We are now in my home town and my kids get to grow up in the same small town or I should say village I grew up in. I am telling you GOD has blessed me with this amazing family and I couldn’t ask for a better one! We are all still very close and I’m so happy for that! The kids have this amazing family to call their own and are more loved than they could ever imagine, even Arizona and Dan whom y’all have taken in with open arms! There was one night while crying myself to sleep I felt something rough up against my cheek and I knew in that instant it was Brad telling me he was ok, but it made me even more hysterical, and a little freaked out…that was one of the many nights I snuggled up with my best friend as we both cried”

 

When Two Hearts Beat As One


When you have a personal connection with someone over an extended period of time you truly do feel each other’s pain. A part of who you are only exists because of who you are when you are together. I did not realize this truth in life back then, but I see it all too clearly now. Ryan and I had been together since we were eighteen years old. In a sense we did a lot of growing up in those earlier years of our marriage. We were so in love with each other, but we had yet to learn exactly what true love meant. Ryan’s love for me would shine through in the deepest parts of my depression long before I grew to appreciate just how much he really did love me.

After I was released from the hospital we checked into another hotel for a couple of days. I was still so sick and I did not have the strength to do anything for myself. Friends of ours cleaned out the apartment above our garage and set it up for my family to stay in, as it was the only part of the house not affected by mold. All five of us would be staying in this small, two bedroom apartment. We quickly figured out that heat and humidity affected my breathing. I could not be outside for more than a minute in the heat. My airway closed again just four days after I had been released from the hospital, but at least this time I had a small warning and knew what was happening. An ambulance was called and this time the medications they gave me worked and I would not need to be on life support. I was sent back home a couple of days later. Home health had been set up to send nurses out to my house to assist in my care, and one bedroom in the apartment was set up like a hospital room minus the hospital bed. I had every machine I needed within reach and Ryan developed a system and chart for my forty two daily medications. My long-term medical leave was set up from my job and we already knew I would not be returning to work. Life as we knew it had come to a screeching halt.

A few days after my second discharge from the hospital, Ryan was having an off day and you could tell he was not feeling well at all. I ended up taking him to our local urgent care. Once we arrived there he was too weak to walk. Our son grabbed a wheelchair and we took him inside. He was having dizzy spells and once we got inside he had lost all color to his face and then his speech became slurred. The doctor assessed him while an ambulance was called. We did not know if he was having a stroke or a heart attack, but something was wrong. He was rushed to nearest hospital to undergo tests. After two days of every cardiac and neurological test they could run they still could not find anything physical wrong with him. We would later find out that the amount of stress Ryan’s body was under combined with a lack of sleep from caring for me 24/7, had caused his body to physically shut down. Ryan was drowning and I did not have the strength to throw him a lifeline.

Our insurance adjuster finally came, only to inform us that they would only be covering $12,000 of the $42,000 in structural damages. This was because they would only cover the initial water damage, but not any of the mold that occurred after. They would however, cover the contents of the house, but the rest would be a total loss. All Ryan’s dream of owning a house on property and all the hard work he put into our house was coming to an end. We would never live inside of our house again.

I was barely holding on mentally. My post traumatic stress disorder was in full gear, far worse than it had ever been. I was having constant nightmares of being trapped inside my own body, or that I was drowning and could not breathe. The worst part about being in a coma was that I could hear everything, but I could not understand what was happening to me. I was experiencing repeated panic attacks even though I was heavily sedated. I could not withstand the aftermath physically or emotionally. I became severely depressed and Ryan was trying to rescue me, and you could see the life being sucked out of him. My nursing care consisted of a registered nurse coming to our home to do assessments, and help us manage all my medications. Ryan, my friend and my oldest daughter, who was only fourteen at the time, took care of all my hygiene needs. I was hypersensitive to anything that had a scent and I could not be around any type of cleaning supplies. I applied for social security and went to a meeting with an attorney because I knew from my profession just how hard it was to get approved. The attorney reviewed my paperwork and informed me that I would not be needing his services. He told me to file my application on my own, so I did. Less than six weeks later I received a letter in the mail stating I was approved. This was not the life we imagined at thirty three years old!

I was unable to go outside during the day unless it was directly into an air-conditioned vehicle that was already running. It was a hot summer for Michigan and our children had softball games, and football, and cheer-leading practices would be starting soon. Ryan created what we called, his middle of the night escape plans. We would go out shopping around two in the morning, when there would be no people around. Sometimes we would not even buy anything. The point was to get me out of our small apartment. Ryan also set up our van like a mobile medical unit and we would go to our daughters softball games and park right up to the fence and watch their games from our air-conditioned van. We had adapters to plug-in my machines, and sometimes while the team was warming up we would play cards or the game of Trouble on our center console. Ryan really did get creative in those days and he continued to fight to pull me through, but I only slipped deeper into my black hole.

By the time my twelve weeks of family medical leave act ended with my current employer they contacted me to inform me my position with them had been terminated. This came as awful news to me and I cried for days. It did not matter that I was too sick to work either way. This broke the last thread of hope I had that life would ever be normal again. I wanted my old life back. I wanted to go back to my stressful job with my employer that did not care about my health because I did not want to give up my freedom. I was beyond frustrated that we did not have an actual diagnosis as to why my airway kept closing over and over again. I was constantly in and out of the hospital and I was a miserable person to be around. I fought with everyone back then, including my children.

After months of living in our small apartment something had to give. We had started thinking about renting a house in the next town over. School was starting and all three of our children were sharing the one other bedroom and living room area of our small apartment. We were driving down the road one day and there was a truck in front of an empty house and leaning against that truck was a for rent sign. We turned around and went back to the house. We asked the guy when the house would be ready for us to see and we asked him not to put his sign up. Parents that we knew from years of cheer and football were also there helping him. He agreed to contact us first once the house was ready. When we did get that call we were so excited because not only was this a three bedroom two bathroom house, but it was all hardwood floors, which was easier on my breathing. We moved in as soon as we were able to and we finally had the much-needed space we all needed. To top it off we had an amazing landlord. Life did get better for a while and we settled into life once again filled with some of our normal activities that we enjoyed. I was still sick most of the time, but not as bad as I had been, and I no longer needed nursing care or physical therapy. We would finally be able to breathe a little in-between blows for a good six months before tragedy would strike once again. They say bad news comes in threes, but not always. Sometimes it is far worse than our fears could imagine…

 

Life Support


Memorial Day weekend of 2011 was beautiful, as to be expected in Michigan with being on the verge of summer. Our children had just begun summer break that Friday and we had a wonderful, relaxing weekend planned. We were planning to cookout as we often did on holiday weekends, with a few friends. The beginning of the weekend was pretty uneventful and went perfectly according to plan. We spent a lot of time just being outside enjoying life with our children. We were expecting some bad weather on Sunday, but Monday was supposed to be beautiful again just in time for our cookout. On Sunday I ran out to the store in the middle of the day to pick up our weekly groceries and cookout supplies and I was about thirteen miles from home. We had company coming over that day as well and I was in a hurry. Ryan was home with our two oldest children. Our youngest daughter was out on a boat with friends about ten miles away from home in the opposite direction from where I was.

When I had left for the store that day it was sunny and bright outside. By the time I was finished it was raining hard. By the time I loaded up the car I was wet, and to top it off I was almost out of gas and had to stop at a gas station across from the store, or I wasn’t going to make it home. In the very short distance between the store and the gas station it began raining so hard I couldn’t see. I hate driving in the rain as is, and I didn’t want to have to get back out in the rain to pump gas. I was going to try to make it as quick as possible. First off, the card reader at the pump wouldn’t read my stupid card. It was literally raining sideways by now because the wind had become so strong. I was under the awning and instantly soaked from head to toe by the rain. I ran inside the gas station because, of course it was prepay only. I was already getting frustrated and I was just going to throw $5 dollars because I just wanted to get home. When I went inside; the attendant had the news up on a small television. I quickly told him that the card reader was not working and he said they were not working because of the storm. He asked me if I knew we were under a tornado warning and I said no. I looked up the television screen that was broadcasting the weather warnings and alerts to take instant shelter. The red area was directly above my house and they were listing off crossroads of the path of a current tornado which was now right up the road from my house that contained Ryan and two of my children. I felt instant, sheer panic set in. This was the kind of panic that still brings tears to my eyes just at the memory in trying to write this. I told the guy I needed to get home now! He, of course, look at me like I was crazy and informed me that for my own protection he recommended that I stay inside the store with him and not attempt to drive home. Well that was not going to happen. My cell phone was in my car so I ran back outside and called Ryan and told him to get in the basement immediately! I still had to pump $5 of gas just to make it home and I do not think I have ever, in my entire life, done this as fast as I did that day, yet it felt like an eternity. I jumped in my car and starting driving as fast as I could toward my house and the storm.

I can say now that I was not thinking clearly at the time and I just wanted to get home! I had no idea at the time exactly how much those next few moments were about to change my life and the life of my family. We were about to be set on a crash course of a snowball effect of outcomes that would test our faith more than anything else ever had.

I made it to our small town in record timing, but was still two miles from home, as we lived on the other side of town out in the country. I had repeatedly been trying to call Ryan back all the way home with no answer, and I honestly cannot tell you why I ever let him go to begin with. Our small town has only one store that was a gas station. The parking lot of the store and the road were filled with cop cars and fire engines. The road directly in front of me, my fastest path home, was blocked and closed. The storm had now passed and the sun was once again shining. I had no idea if Ryan and my children were alright, or if I still had a house. There were a million things running through my head, in those moments none of which were good. I remember pulling up and asking a fireman if I could get through anyways and explained that my house was that way. He of course said no and informed me that there were trees uprooted all over the place and all the roads in every direction we’re currently closed. There were two other paths to my house, but both would mean driving completely around the entire town and coming into my road from the complete opposite direction and would take me more than ten miles out of my way. I didn’t care what the fireman had said, I had to try. I turned right and was fully prepared to find away home. I came up to my son’s girlfriend’s house and decided to stop to see if I could get more information as to what exactly happened, and to find out if she had heard from my son. Her family was still in their basement watching the news. The broadcast of the weather was still on the screen and I listened to a meteorologist detailing the exact locations that the tornado had touched down and the devastation it had caused our small town and the town next to ours. The exact crossroads where my house was located was listed as a direct point as to where the tornado tore its path right down the very road we lived on. I felt sick to my stomach, and I remember silently praying that my family was okay and that Ryan would just answer the phone! Her mom grabbed me dry clothes and had me change in the bathroom because I was still soaking wet from the rain. I left their house thinking that I was going to make it home one way or another. I decided I would drive as close to my house as I could get and walk the rest of the way if I had to. I desperately needed to get home and find out what happened.

I drove around our town and once again came within a couple of miles of my house before coming across yet another road block. Here before me once again was a fire engine blocking my path. I could clearly see a huge tree ahead of me that had been uprooted and now lay completely across the road in front of me. The firefighters standing there was not going to be able to let me pass so I did not ask this time, but I pulled up to talk to him anyways. I was once again informing someone that I needed to get home to my family. I asked if there was any other way to get through to my house and he said no. He told me to stay there with him because there was a crew that was coming to cut apart the tree in front of me, and if I just waited I could get through. This was the very last thing I wanted to do, but I was now out of options so I put my car in park and waited. I picked up my phone and once again tried to call Ryan and he finally answered. He and my children were okay. That was enough to calm me down as I waited and he assured me everything was okay. Our youngest child was still unaccounted for, but from our understanding the tornado had not affected the area where she was. Looking back on this moment, I really wish what Ryan said would have been true, that everything was going to be alright. The storm had passed and I still had my family, but Ryan could not have been more wrong and a bigger storm of life was heading right for us. We were too blinded by our current worries and relief to see it coming.

I finally did make it home and into Ryan’s waiting arms! Our friends that we had plans with had also arrived and they have driven right through the center of the storm. All of our neighbors were outside assessing the damage done to their homes and property. Damages varied from roof and siding damage, to uprooted trees, and even a porch swing of my neighbors that had been picked up by the tornado and tossed over a pickup truck landing in another neighbor’s yard over a hundred feet away. All our houses were still standing and no one had been injured. Our own home had severe water damage and parts of our house had completely flooded from all the wind and rain. Our outdoor grill was mangled and a folding chair that had been in our driveway had become a flying projectile, and had punctured a small hole in the side of our house. Parts of our siding had been torn back like the metal top of a tin can. We really were not too concerned with all the damage because we paid through the nose for the best of the best insurance and we were covered. That’s what insurance is for right? We were dead wrong once again!

We notified our insurance company and we were sent to a local hotel that they would be paying for. They would fax the appropriate paperwork to the hotel and they would arrange everything for us. We were informed that there were many other tornadoes in Michigan that day and to be patient. A claim representative would be contacting us in the next couple of days and we were given no further instructions or information. We decide to use or time in the hotel as an adventure for our family. After all it was still a holiday weekend and summer break, plus the hotel even had a pool. All our meals were being paid for as well, so it was like a mini vacation. On the second day we were having so much fun we decided that our children could invite a couple of their friends to the hotel to swim, and our daughters were even going to have two of their friends spend the night with us since we had two adjoining rooms. We even made plans to take all the children to a movie the next day. Ryan and I had first decided to return to our house to pick up a couple of things, and take pictures of all the damage to our house while we were there because we had not heard back from our insurance and we wanted to make sure we had proof of what happened. The entire house smelled very musty from all the wet drywall and carpet, kind of like mildew. It was so bad we rushed through the house snapping pictures and we were heading back to our hotel to enjoy the rest of the day at the pool having fun, which was exactly what happened. The last thing I remember that night before going to bed with Ryan was sneaking into the girl’s room to make sure their door was latched from the inside. I cuddled up next to Ryan and fell asleep.

I woke up at four in the morning, in a full-blown asthma attack. This was nothing new to me because I had suffered from asthma my entire life, but this attack was different. I quickly used my inhalers but they were not working. My next step would have been using my nebulizer. The only problem was, my nebulizer was at our house. I made one last devastating choice and that was to drive myself the single mile from our hotel to the local hospital. I figured I would go get a treatment and some steroids and I would be back before Ryan and the children even woke up. What I did not know is that in a matter of minutes I would come as close to death as I ever had, and I was literally heading into a fight for my very life. I did make it in the door of the hospital, but I was not moving any air  into my lungs at all. I could not even talk. I was instantly taken back and my last memory was the doctor having me write down where Ryan was and I could hear him in the background calling the hotel asking to be connected to our room, and then him informing Ryan that he was taking me into surgery. I was dying and fast. I just did not know it at the time. Everything that happened after that would later be told to me by Ryan and the doctors that saved my life.

The next couple of days were the things nightmares are made of. I have very little memory of what was happening to me. I do however, have flashbacks of moments, but I did not know if they were real or if I had been dreaming. I remember knowing I was in the hospital, but I could not move or even blink my eyes. I could hear people whispering, but I could not talk. The clearest memories that I do have were hearing Ryan and my best friend at the time both crying, but I did not know why. I was also hearing constant beeping sounds. Something soft was touching my neck, but I did not know what it was just that it was always there. I remember a nurse massaging my muscles and I swear I could even make out her silhouette even though I could not open my eyes. I could hear everything, but no one was talking to me. I felt constant panic of being trapped because I could not move. I remember each time this panic would set in, the beeping sound would get louder and then I would slip away over and over again. My next clear memory was Ryan begging me to open my eyes and look at him.

After I finally woke up I was informed that my airway had completely closed right after I arrived at the hospital. The anesthesiologist that saved my life told Ryan that it all happened so fast he barely had time to get the tube down my throat to secure my airway as he watched my throat seal around the tube like concrete. I had been placed on a ventilator to breath for me, and I had been in a medically induced coma to allow my body time to recover. I had also been given a medication to paralyze my entire body so they could slow my system down. The feeling on my neck was a small brown plush stuffed animal that Ryan bought at the gift shop. He placed it on my neck because no one had been allowed to touch me or talked to me. We later named this stuffed animal Chocolate. Every time anyone stimulated me in any single way my heartbeat would climb over two hundred,  and I would be given more drugs to put me in a deeper coma. After four days had passed, I was sitting up eating regular food when the doctor that had saved my life popped in my room to check on me. The burning question he wanted to ask me was why I did not wake up Ryan and why I drove myself to the hospital. I told him I thought I was going to be okay driving myself and I did not want to wake up Ryan just because I was having an asthma attack. He looked right at Ryan as he hit himself on his forehead and said “your stupid, stupid, stupid wife” he then told me to never do that again. Our nightmare still was not over just because I had survived. We still had to deal with our insurance company and we would soon find out that our house was a total loss and because I was still in respiratory failure, and short of tearing down our house and rebuilding it, I could never live there again.

Giving Others Hope


After my mom died our house that had been in constant construction for years was finally complete. It was everything we wanted and more. We had started out with a three bedroom, two bath manufactured home that we custom ordered after I moved home from Hawaii with our children. We had it placed in a manufactured home park with a two year plan to move it onto property. Just shy of two years later we found two and a half acres of land set back over five hundred feet from the road, tucked behind another piece of property that was on the main road. We placed our house near the center of our property, which left us with a driveway that was over seven hundred feet long. This was nice when our children were little because they would not be playing near the road when outside. We had a full basement built under our house that we planned to finish later.   When my grandpa moved into hospice two years later, we were already working on the basement with a floor plan to add a master bedroom, bathroom, a kitchenette and family room. We rushed through the process because we now needed the extra space and my grandpa needed to be in one of the first floor bedrooms. After my grandpa died a few months later I struggled to even go in his old bedroom. The room remained empty for a time and our two daughters were sharing a bedroom. Eventually my best friend at the time talked me into letting her clean out the bedroom and painting it so I could use it again. This was hard for me because I could not even look at that room without remembering sitting on the bed that had once been there, holding my grandpa’s hand as he took his last breath on the earth.

I had promised my grandpa that I would always take care of my mom for him, so within a year our next project began. The next phase was to add a three and a half car, two story garage onto the side of our house by our driveway, with future plans to finish the upstairs part of the garage into a mother-in-law style apartment. When it became closer to my mom moving in with us we hired a company to finish the apartment adding another bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and huge living room. When it was complete my mom still was not ready to give up her house and her many dogs so she chose to rent the apartment to a friend of ours as an extra source of income for herself. Our friend that was renting the apartment moved out right around the same time my mom got sick. We figured my mom would move into the apartment, but she had never once even walked up the stairs to see it once it had been finished. Once she got sick she came home from the hospital the first time, but was still too sick to make it up the stairs so she stayed in the main part of the house with us. This only lasted for a week before she was back in the hospital again, and then three weeks later she only came back to my house in a coma, in hospice for a week before she died in our son’s bedroom.

We were left with six bedrooms and four bathrooms total, and I now lived in my own personal cemetery, or at least that is how I felt. We needed to change all the negative for something positive. Our daughters had a friend from church who was in foster care at the time. This young girl spent a ton of time at our house, and we always had family dinners at the table. It was during these visits at dinner that she would tell us all the horror stories of being a foster child and growing up in a very broken system. She shared how she had been bounced around from one home to another and about her parents each getting their chance to try again at raising her, and failing each time leaving her back in the system once again. She had younger brothers she was rarely even allowed to see and her current foster home through a couple at our church was the first that had even been good to her. Ryan and I had thought about becoming foster parents in the past, but we wanted to wait until our children were older and had a choice in the matter as well.  It was with this young girl in our hearts and minds that we, as a family decided to become foster parents a couple of years later. We definitely had the spare bedrooms to accommodate more children now we just needed to put it into action. It was no easy process by any means whatsoever, and it took well over a year to meet all the state requirements and classes. We had decided as a family that if we were going to do this it would be with our full hearts. It will be all or nothing and each child in our home would be treated 100% equal whether they were our biological children or not. I was hoping for siblings because I hated the idea that when their families were at their lowest point, and they are taken from their parents that 90% of the time they are all separated and went into different foster homes. We also agreed that if an older child above our age range, which was twelve, needed a home with a younger sibling we would not turn them away just because of their age. We were given some options in what we did not want. For example, you could say you did not want children that were fire starters or ones that had already been convicted of a crime. Our license was originally for two children because we already had three children of our own and the state law was a maximum of five children total in a foster home at a time.

`Our first call came about a month after we became licensed. We were being asked to take three siblings, a boy, age twelve, and two girls, ages nine and ten. A court order would have to be granted to exceed five children, which we were fine with because we had the space needed. We drove the short distance from our home to their grandparents home to meet their case worker to pick them up. When we got there their mom was also there standing outside. She asked us if we were the foster parents coming to take her kids, and we said yes. She told us she did not blame us at all, and she knew this was on her not us. The kids all came out of the house and the oldest was very hyper at first, but the girls broke my heart instantly. They were both crying and scared to death. They had very short (less than two inches) of bright red hair. Their case worker informed us that the girls heads had recently been shaved by their mom’s boyfriend due to uncontrolled head lice.

The first few days were the hardest, but one thing quickly became clear, these three children loved their mom unconditionally. Over time we realized that their mom’s current boyfriend was more of the problem than she was. Yes she struggled with her addictions, but she loved her children. She had four children total and they all shared the same father whose parental rights had already been terminated and he was serving multiple years in prison for the his own abuse against the oldest three children. The oldest sibling was placed with their grandparents that were unable to care for all of the children. After a couple of days we allowed the children to make a brief phone call on speaker to their mom just to let her know they were alright. This single phone call would open a gateway into our new foster children building trust toward Ryan and I. This also began our friendship with their mom.

All three children had their own issues and struggles to work through. They had witnessed so many things in their short lives that most adults could not cope with, but they were still alive and strong. The two oldest in our home had been starved to the point of being skin and bones, so we had our work cut out for us. We focused on weight gain to improve their overall health. Then we focused on their individual strengths and built them up from there. We also worked hard toward rebuilding their relationship and trust with their mom. An unbreakable bond was also forged between all six children in our home. We were absolutely amazed by the love and respect all six children had for each other. In fact, they blended so well it made life with six children seem like a breeze. We still had our struggles, but life continuously got better one day at a time. Within the first month, along with permission from their mom, and a court order we took our first family vacation with all eight of us. We traveled across country stopping along the way in Kentucky and Arkansas to visit our siblings before reaching our final destination at my sister’s home in Texas and then traveled back the same way a week later.

We settled into a life filled with all kinds of sports events and nightly family dinners at the table. We enjoyed the simple things in life, such as going out to dinner as a family, or a movie every Friday, and church every Sunday. There were so many things in life that my family had taken for granted prior to becoming a foster home. Everything we now did was like experiencing it for the first time all over again. The day we had picked up our three foster children Ryan whispered to me on the way home that we were going to go broke by spoiling them, and he had been right. We both had decent jobs at the time and we couldn’t have cared less about the small amount of money we received from the state for their care. We invested the money directly back into the children so they could have just about anything they wanted and participate in any activity they pleased. Their mom was only allowed court ordered, supervised visitations at a local church for one hour a week regardless of holidays or birthdays. In our eyes this was not enough to maintain the proper mother/child bond so we fought for additional visits. Their mom was of no danger whatsoever to her own children or ours, so we agreed with social services to supervise these additional visits. We included their mom in the children’s birthdays and spent every single holiday with her, including sharing Mother’s Day with her. All three children were even baptized in our church with their mother present and we often invited her into our home. On Thanksgiving Day her parents even invited all eight of us into their home for a wonderful, huge family dinner surrounded by the children’s grandparents, aunt uncle and cousins.

Two months after they came to live with us their mom’s boyfriend was found dead in his bed from an accidental overdose. Since children often bond with their abusers this news was devastating to them. We made sure the children were able to be with their mom to support each other, and I even took a day off from work to attend the funeral with all of them so I could supervise the visit. It was a very slow road for their mom after that, but she slowly recovered from her addictions and getting her children back became her sole goal in life. Not only did she achieve that goal within eighteen months, but in time she surpassed even that. She would become our greatest success story of all time. Even in the four years that has passed since the time her children lived with us we still have very regular contact with her and the children. I could not be happier each time I see their smiling faces and all four of her children are currently thriving, well beyond expectations. The oldest of the three we had in our home just graduated high school and is leaving for basic training soon, to pursue his lifelong dream of being in the military.

We went on to have five other foster children in our home over the next year. Most only stayed for short periods of time, and each child came with a new set of challenges. We would only ever have one other child steal our hearts the way our first three had. We received a call one day from our longtime social worker who was about to retire. She had one final request before she could retire in peace. There was one child that had tugged at her heart-strings over the years and had been in the system, and bounced from one foster home to the next. Her current foster home did not want her anymore and her case worker desperately wanted to find her a stable home. Her caseworkers last goal before retirement was to save this one last child. The only issue was that this girl was already seventeen, and well beyond our age limit. We talked about it and agreed to go meet her that night before making our final decision. We fell in love with her and her soft, quiet, gentle teenager who was basically being used by her current foster parents as free childcare for their younger three children. We called the next day to inform her case worker that we would take her only to find out that her current foster parents had changed their minds and no longer wanted her to leave. A month later that would change again, when she herself contacted her new case worker and requested to be removed from her current home so that she could live with us. We once again formed a bond that still holds to this day. The time we spent as foster parents would go down in history as some of the best times of our lives and the memories made over those years will last a lifetime!

After two years of being foster parents everything would quickly come to an end and we would no longer even have the house we lived in much less anything in our house, and I would be lucky to walk away with my life after life threw us yet another devastating blow…

 

Becoming A Survivor


Let’s face it life is hard, and at times it can feel downright impossible. For those of us that survived childhood sexual abuse it can feel even more impossible to not fall into the victim category. Let me make myself a bit more clear on that. We are all victims of abuse, but somewhere along the way we have a choice in becoming a survivor. A victim is defined as a person harmed, injured, or killed as a result of a crime, accident, or other event or action. So yes, we are victims of someone else’s crimes, but we are not dead, therefore life must go on. A survivor is defined as a person who survives, especially a person remaining alive after an event in which others have died, a person who copes well with difficulties in life.

I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse! I am a survivor of childhood rape! I am a survivor of child neglect! I am a survivor of domestic violence! I am a survivor of depression and panic attacks! I am a survivor of post-traumatic stress disorder! I am a survivor of suicide! Yes, at one point or another in my life I was a victim of all of these things. Becoming a survivor is not very cut and dry and in no means will it ever be easy! I have had so many bumps in my road and at times it was two steps forward and ten steps back, but I am living proof that it can be done. Everyone may have a different path to get there and that is okay because it will be your journey to take, not mine.

As a victim I suffered for years from uncontrolled panic attacks that even medication could not relieve. When I was finally diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder I was in shock. As a military wife my brain was only programmed to accept that this was something only soldiers who fought in war suffered from. My nightmares and flashbacks of all the abuse I had suffered was absolutely devastating! I suffered the side effects in other ways as well. I could not do some of the simplest things in life. For example, I could not ride on an elevator or be in any closed space. I would fight my way out of a corner in sheer panic of being trapped! I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I became a runner and not in the literal sense. Every single time life threw me a curve ball emotionally I would run in the opposite direction as fast as I could! I had a difficult time planning for my own future and chasing my own dreams. Every new challenge I faced would set me back for months. I could never seem to recover before getting another devastating blow that I did not have the skills to handle, so I would crumble in the wake of each disaster. I was unable to cope and it effected everything and everyone in my life.

I wanted the fairy-tale that can only be found in storybooks. I had thought I had earned it and deserved to live happily ever after for the rest of my days, but that’s not how real life goes. We do not live in a world where wishes and luck are enough to get us through! In fact these things mean nothing and have no real value in life whatsoever. When the fairy-tale shattered, and real life set in I had no idea how to move forward. I felt like I was frozen in time stuck between my past that I desperately wanted to forget, and the future that I was equally determined to have. When you have been abused it is difficult, to say the least, that you have to face the past and accept it as part of who you are if you want any chance at a real future. It was definitely not going to be easy.

My journey of healing began after my mom died. I was an emotional train wreck and I went to our long time pastor for help. He knew my mom well, but he was still shocked when I told him of all the abuse I suffered while growing up. I had hidden my past so well that my pastor informed me that he always thought I was one of the normal ones in my family that had somehow survived without any damage being done to me. I had become really good at hiding my past, but I was at a crossroads and was in serious need of real help. To top things off I had no health insurance at the time. He knew pretty quickly that just talking to him was not going to be enough, so the church put forth the money for ten sessions of Christian counseling, paid in full. This therapist would be the first person to ever tell me that none of the abuse I suffered had ever, in any single way been my fault. This is where I also first discovered my ability to write out my thoughts and feelings.

I began seeking therapy on my own after that. I bounced around for a while for various reasons and went through the painful process of finding the right combination of medications to help. With every new therapist, I would hit the same roadblock over and over. I could talk about my past and I could easily say that I had been abused, but that was as far as I ever made it. Once a therapist would try to go beyond my comfort zone into the details of what happened I would shut down completely. I was never able to make forward progress past that point in over eight years of off and on counseling. I just could not say the words out loud. Even when I was working on my book a few years back I would always skip over the detailed part of my abuse. I carried it with me like a heavy burden. It was my secret and I didn’t want anyone else to know. This would become one of the biggest mistakes I would make on my journey toward becoming a survivor.

The most recent counseling I have received was with our new pastor at our new church right after Ryan and I started attending last year. Our new pastor actually went to school with me in my hometown, but we didn’t know each other back then so he is the same age as Ryan and I. We had never had a pastor even close to our own age. I can tell you that with Ryan sitting next to me when I told our new pastor that I had been abused as a child and all the disorders I suffered from as a result of the abuse, that I will never forget what he said back to me. He looked right at me and told me in so many words that I could be completely free of all of it if I gave it all to God to carry my burden for me. My first honest reaction was that he was completely nuts! I had already accepted the fact that I would need medications for the rest of my life just to cope and that I would always suffer but I was wrong.

Becoming a survivor took me years. So do not ever think it can be done in a single day. There is absolutely no shame in needing medication to help numb the pain along the way, but after nine long years of constant medications for depression and anxiety I wanted and needed to know if I could survive without them. Once I started putting my pastor’s advice into action I could feel a change happening inside of me. I gave everything I had to God and completely surrendered to His Will. Once again, this didn’t happen in a day. I had to do this over and over. I have been off my medications for going on four months now and I never realized just how numb I had been for all of those years. I now feel everything in full force but the pain of my past is no longer there. I am experiencing true happiness and joy that I am not sure I have ever known in my entire life. I am far more emotional, but in a good way and I cry happy tears all the time. I also feel love like I never have before, love for others and even love for myself. My pastor was right and I just needed to see it for myself to believe it. I now have total freedom from my depression and every time I feel like I’m sliding backwards, I pray to God to give me peace and strength for the journey that lies ahead of me. I will never be a victim again because I am stronger than that now. I AM A SURVIVOR! For now Ryan and I both do our best to live each new day that God grants us to the fullest.

 

Finding The Light


I felt drawn to write this post ahead of some of the darker times in my life that I will touch more on later. I have been writing my blog for four weeks now, and it’s unbelievable the amount of support there is and equal to the people I have found that I can help by telling my story of survival, but even more than that is the amount of healing I’ve been able to do along the way. Healing for me is a continuous process, but I now know I’m heading in the right direction.

Believe it or not I was actually raised going to church. Despite all the sexual abuse I suffered as a child my mom took us to church every Sunday. We were Lutheran and I had been baptized as a baby and confirmed as a pre-teen. Growing up through my rough teenage years after testifying and putting my molester behind bars I was bitter. I placed blame for all the bad things that ever happened to me. I blamed my dad for leaving, I blamed my mom for bringing child molesters into my life, I blamed Parents Without Partners for being a breeding ground for child predators to find single mothers, and above all else I blamed God for ever placing me on this earth to live a life of pain. I wanted answers. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why me? How could God possibly let all these bad things happen to me? Where was God when I needed him? Why was I chosen to live this life? Why? I did everything in my power to drown out the pain. I didn’t value my life whatsoever. I didn’t care if I lived or died as long as I did not have to feel anything at all.

I did stop the drugs and alcohol after I found out I was pregnant as a teenager, but I was still careless with my life. I spent the following years repressing the pain and my health took a steady decline as well, to the point that at times I was near death. My husband and I were married in our church at the time and all of our children were baptized and confirmed, but we didn’t attend regularly nor did we live Christian lives outside of the one hour on an occasional Sunday. As a child going to church wasn’t optional, there was no choice in the matter. I felt like my mom’s religion had been forced upon me. As an adult Ryan I attended the same church my mom and grandpa attended, and I more or less went just to make my mom happy.

My sister was married the month after our mom died and our pastor did the service. We had not seen him since my mom’s memorial service and I talked to him about coming back to church. Ryan and I had a strong connection to our pastor. He had been through a lot with us over the years and was reliable through the good times as well as the bad. A couple of weeks later, we were sitting in the pew at the beginning of service. Our church had an overhead projector with a screen and the lyrics to the music we sang was always projected onto the screen. For some reason that Sunday our pastor asked everyone to pick up a hymnal and turn to a certain page. I always opened the book somewhere in the middle then flipped to the right page. My son, who was eleven at the time, picked up the hymnal in front of him and opened just the front cover first. As he was doing this he said look mom, Bubbie, while he was pointing to the inside cover of his hymnal. I looked over and instantly saw my mom’s full name written on the top of the page. Not only was it her name, but it was in her hand writing. I cried through the entire service as I held onto the hymnal. At the end of service I placed the hymnal back in its place and we left. Mid week I was back at church for my daughter’s youth choir practice. I went and picked back up the hymnal and showed it to our pastor and he told me to keep it. That hymnal still sits on my headboard to this day.

Still, Ryan and I suffered devastating blows to our marriage over the years, as well as one tragedy after another. Our children came first, over ourselves and our marriage and God was lost somewhere in the shuffle of running kids to and from sports and only existed in our lives when it was convenient for us, or if we had the time. Sundays became a day to sleep in and catch up for the next week. Even when we did attend service we didn’t bring God home with us. I couldn’t understand why it seemed that I thought I was doing all the right things in life, but never was able to catch a break for very long. Life was hard. My prayers consisted of our traditional prayers that were memorized in church and a short simple prayer before church. When I did pray at other times, it was usually begging God to let someone live that I was about to lose. I prayed for unrealistic things then found myself upset with God when he didn’t answer my prayers to him. I continuously set myself up to fail over and over again.

When I felt like I couldn’t take this life I had been given for a moment longer I tried to take my own life. Ryan found me and called for an ambulance. When I woke up in the hospital I was beyond angry. I felt I had messed everything up in my life up to that point and I couldn’t even try to kill myself and get that right. I took all that anger for still being alive out on the very man who saved my life. I tore my own husband to shreds as punishment for saving me. I was hurting so bad at the time that I couldn’t see how much he was hurting, but he kept coming to the hospital day after day. I was once again angry with God for not allowing me to die. I had suffered so much in life. I was riddled with panic attacks, suffered terribly from post traumatic stress disorder and was severely depressed.

After I was released from the hospital I began with yet another new therapist and I figured I would be given sound advice from his forty years of experience. He met with Ryan and I both only a couple of times and then decided to work with me alone. He began by telling me in his forty years of being a therapist he could tell which marriages he could save and which ones he couldn’t. He informed me that my marriage was dead in the water from the moment we walked in the door and that I pretty much needed to accept it, get divorced and move on and he would help me emotionally get through that. I believed every single word he said. Ryan didn’t like my therapist from the get go and asked me to find someone else, but I wouldn’t listen. I had already been through several therapists in the eight  years since my mom died, and I was sick of starting over and catching someone new up to speed.

One day in the mist of all this turmoil, with our marriage on the verge of ending Ryan called me and asked me one simple question, “will you come back to church with me?” I instantly said yes and Ryan said he instantly felt the weight he was carrying on his shoulders release. He described it as an actual physical feeling of instant peace, not just an emotion he felt. We had just recently attended Easter service with his younger brother and his wife at their church and it was agreed that we would try going there with them. Our pastor had left our church after seventeen years, and moved onto another church in North Carolina and it was time for a change anyways. The Easter service was a powerful message for the lost, which we both were. From the moment we attended our first regular service you could feel the energy of all the people. The sermon was interesting and we found ourselves hanging on every word. At the end Ryan said “it’s over already? That was fast”. Then we looked at the time and realized we had been in there for over ninety minutes.

We continued going to Sunday service and I made an appointment with the pastor for marriage counseling. I stopped seeing my whack-job therapist and Ryan and I started a new journey together. For once we were heading in the right direction, and we finally had someone who would set us both straight. There were some harsh truths we both needed to face, but in short, Ryan was told he needed to become a Godly man and lead our family by placing God first and I was told I needed to let go of the past and become a Godly woman. It was very cut and dry and the pastor was willing to give us the proper tools to achieve our new goals.

Sunday sermons became life altering. We rarely missed a Sunday and even better yet, we didn’t want to. It felt like the pastor was speaking directly to me and at times I would cry throughout the entire sermon. He had a certain way of preaching God’s Word combined with his own life experiences that was easy to relate to. He never sugarcoats a single thing by any means, but at the same time, it made me feel hopeful for the first time in my life. God was using this faith-based man and church as a tool to preach his true word and God finally had our full attention. With each new sermon came a new life lesson to apply to our daily lives along with the right tools needed to set the changes in motion. The church itself is constantly growing and people flock by the masses to hear God’s Word. It’s a very come as you are kind of church where it’s doesn’t seem to matter if you’re in a full suit, or jeans and a t-shirt or my husband’s personal favorite, hunting gear during hunting season. It’s not always a feel good message either because there is a harsher reality behind true religion that needs to be taught.

Over time I have slowly felt my heart and mindset change and all those unanswered questions were being answered one by one. I feel more cautious to toward the things I say and think. Even my choices in music and movies have slowly started to change. As a person I feel differently from the inside out. It’s hard to put into words, but I literally feel renewed. I have found that I spent my life being to busy cursing God than accepting Him. I prayed for the things I wanted instead of trusting in God’s Will above all else. I find myself wanting to surround myself with other Christians and share God’s Word with others.

God has always been in my life I just choose to shut Him off like a light switch, instead of allowing him to lead my life. It took over thirty-five years of being brought to my knees by tragedy and repeated heartbreak to finally call out to God to save my lost soul. Living this new life is easy because, for once, I find myself living for God above anyone else. My marriage is stronger than it has ever been in nineteen years. My health is getting better and some of my stress related illnesses are near non-existent.  I no longer have a need for antidepressants for the first time in nine years because I am not depressed. I tell Ryan all the time that if I had known things would or could be this easy in life it would have made all the harder times in life easier to handle, if only I had the proper tools that were right in front of me. Now I don’t know how I ever survived living my life any other way. I was saved by God’s Grace alone, and I was given this life to live because I was strong enough to handle it. I now simply pray for peace, patience, wisdom and strength to face whatever comes my way in life, and that with each life experience I face that I will be able to use it to become closer to God. I now have all the tools I need to survive and I also know there is a life after this one with God in Heaven, but I still have a lot to learn and a lot to teach others while I am here. My light will continue to shine bright because God simply isn’t finished with me yet.

Pandora’s Box


I graduated from college and had just landed my first, halfway decent job working for an oncologist. It was not exactly my dream job and came with no benefits but it was enough to pay the bills. My husband, Ryan was on his second year in college and summer break had just started for our children. We were looking forward to a beautiful summer and we had lots of fun plans for vacations and camping. Life was good! I had my past in check and was holding my own with all the emotions I wouldn’t allow myself to feel.

One day my dad called me and asked if I knew my mom was in the hospital. He said he had been at the hospital with my step-mom and he had run into my brother in the main entrance to the hospital as my brother was leaving. I had no idea she was even there, so I drove up to the hospital myself to find out what was going on. When I arrived my mom was in a diabetic coma with her sugar level reaching as high as nine hundred and thirty eight. She was alone at the hospital and I had no way to even know what happened or how she even ended up at the hospital in the first place.

She lived alone at the time and had a passion, or what I liked to call, an obsession with animal rescue. She loved to rescue and adopt dogs that would otherwise have been put to sleep because they were so violent. She had eleven dogs in her home and they had destroyed her house to the point that it was unlivable. There were dog feces and urine all over her hardwood floors and all the stuffing on her furniture and mattresses had been torn to shreds. She had no grass left in her back yard and had been using bales of hay that she had spread out over her yard and the entrance to her house. It was so bad that her house was once featured on the news for its uninhabitable condition. She even had a camper parked in her driveway where she often slept.

My mom lived for her dogs and what I like to call her charity cases. She would pick up random homeless people and bring them home with her to do odd jobs. Even when she was robbed of what little she had it never stopped her. She also never hesitated to pick up hitchhikes whenever she saw them. All of her income went to the animal rescue and she was so careless with her finances she often over drafted her bank accounts. Even with the money my grandpa had left her, and her pension I struggled to help her keep up on her bills. Her health had been horrible my entire life so it came as no surprise that she was in the hospital.

The details would slowly come out that her good friend, and fellow pet rescuer has called her and she answered but sometimes wasn’t right. She said my mom sounded drunk. She called 911 and met the ambulance at my mom’s house to let them in. She was found on her living room floor, unconscious. Her friend called my brother because it was the only number she had, but this brother of mine had been at odds with all of us for years and had just recently come back into my mom’s life after almost two years of not talking to her because he wanted money.

My brother had only shown up at the hospital to give some very basic information, and because he was the only one there he was given her purse because she was in a coma. By the time I got everything figured out he had already drained the little money she had in her bank account.

She eventually did come out of the coma and after seven days in the hospital she was released, and the plan was for her to come home to my house. Her dogs were being boarded so she had no other commitments. She spent the next seven days laying on my couch so plagued by severe headaches, nausea and vomiting that she could hardly get up. We took her to her family doctor midweek and her symptoms were written off as side effects from finally being on all the right medications and her body was adjusting.

Ryan and I went ahead with our camping plans for the fourth of July with my best friend and her family not far from our home. My older brother that lived with us stayed home with my mom. By the seventh day that she had been home she became so sick my brother decided to take her to the emergency room. The hospital she had just been discharged from was full because of the holiday, so he took her to another hospital. She was originally admitted for dehydration.

I went to spend time with her in the hospital and we were making plans together for her to come live with me permanently and of all things, she wanted a hot tub at my house. Her planning to live with us would come at a cost for both of us. She called the veterinarian where he dogs were all being boarded from her hospital bed and gave the order for all of her dogs to be put to sleep. I was struggling with past hurts from her and knew it was going to be difficult, not only for her to live with me, but also to take care of her full-time. She remained in the hospital for further treatment and tests and I returned to work after the holiday.

A couple of days later, while I was at work I called my mom in her hospital room to check in on her and she didn’t answer. After several attempts I finally called the nurses’ station and found out my mom hadn’t been feeling good again and some doctor was talking about doing surgery. I didn’t understand how her treatment went from rehydrating her, to needing any kind of surgery. I left work immediately and headed to the hospital. Once there I was flooded with so much information that it took time to process it all.

All her test results were in and, while her sugar levels had been so high a couple of weeks before she contacted a fungal sinus infection. The doctor wanted to do surgery in her sinuses to clean out the infection and get a sample to run cultures on so they could determine which antibiotic was best used to treat the infection. Further tests revealed that she had a large blood clot in her cavernous sinus, near her brain. Things were taking a turn for the worst and my sister got on the first plane and came home. I was fired from my new job for missing just two days for my mom, and the next three weeks were spent with my sister and I making two trips a day to the hospital to stay with our mom.

My mom was having severe side effects from the blood clot and she wasn’t responding to treatment. She was still awake and alert until the third week. My sister had returned to her home and I was on my own again. My mom had lost all sense of time and often didn’t know where she was in her final days at the hospital. She suffered a stroke and slipped into a coma. One day out of no where she had been sick to her stomach and while the nurse was cleaning her up she popped open her eyes and I was holding her hand. I asked her if she knew who I was and she said yes and said my name. I told her I loved her and she said she loved me too. These would be the last words she would ever speak. Just four days later I signed the proper papers and had her discharged to hospice and had her transferred to my home to die.

She was still in a coma and the doctors and nurses said she wouldn’t live longer than seven days without food or water and hospice only provided pain management. On the night of the seventh day, I was exhausted. I had stayed by her side twenty four seven, and there was no change. Her body was slowly giving out and it was so extremely painful to watch. All I wanted was a couple of hours to stretch out in my own bed and sleep next to Ryan, just for a couple of hours. I even set an alarm so I wouldn’t be away from herb for too long, and my older brother that lived with us was going to sit with our mom and watch a movie. He came and woke me up thirty minutes before my alarm went off and said he thought our mom was gone. I rushed to her room and she was no longer breathing. My mom had passed away in the middle of the night on August 1st 2006.

A storm began in my life after my mom died. All the emotions, pain, anger, resentment, blame, disappointment and anxiety I had held onto my entire life and had kept in a locked box in the back of my head, came flooding out in rapid cessation. Once Pandora’s box was opened I wouldn’t ever be able to close it off again. My life began a downward spiral into depression, and it would take me years to recover.

When The Walls Come Crashing Down


My husband Ryan drastically changed after his older brother tragically died in the car accident. He became a shadow of the man I married. He was constantly being pulled in two different directions by his divorced parents. His dad loved to call Ryan when he was in the middle of drowning his pain at the bottom of a bottle. Ryan would always go running to him and stay with him during these times when his dad would repeatedly watch the video of his brother’s funeral and listen to sad music that was played at the funeral. This quickly became a sense of torture for Ryan. His mom on the other hand wanted someone to blame, all the way to the bar that his brothers had been at just prior to the accident. She came to blows with Ryan one day when through her own grief she told Ryan it would have been easier for her if he had died instead of his brother because he had lived his life and his brother had not. This prompted Ryan to tell her off in the harshest way possible and kick her out of our house that night. Ryan carried those words with him for years to come as both of his parents fell apart and he fought to keep everything together.

Ryan’s brothers had chosen different paths in life from the one Ryan had chosen for himself. I am not, by any means, saying that Ryan was or is perfect in any way shape or form. He simply chose as an adult to have a family and support us and he choose not to party or use drugs. In fact he wouldn’t even so much as sip a beer for fear of becoming an alcoholic like his father. He and his brothers got into their fair share of trouble together growing up, but somewhere along the way Ryan changed the path he was on. When we were first married he was content just being home with us and never would have thought about stepping foot in a bar. His older brother lead a very troubled life to say the least, and made possible choices along the way that directly lead to his death. His death was an accident, it could have been either one of his brother’s driving that car that night and it could have been either one of them that died, if not both of them when they missed their turn at the end of a road they had driven several times before, went airborne over the ditch, and hit a tree. Moments before the accident they were laughing and rough housing around and then life changed in the blink of an eye.

Ryan would hold onto the anger and guilt phase of his grief for years. He was angry at himself for not being with his brothers that night because he would have been the sober one to drive them home even though they never asked him to come with them that night. He felt guilty that he could have saved his brother and saved his family from all the pain, if only he would have been there for his brothers more. He was angry at his brother for dying and over time just became angry with life in general. His anger and guilt carried him through for nearly two years and he was able to suppress any other emotions along the way.

A few months before the second anniversary of his brother’s accident was when my grandpa was living with us on hospice. The current year was 2004. Ryan had been forcefully transferred to second shift at the prison and do to the fact that he worked six days on with two days off and only had a weekend off twice every six weeks he never saw our children because right after my grandpa died that August, our children were all back in school full-time. Ryan was so upset at the time because he was so devoted to his time with our family. This is about the same time you could see the cracks in his foundation begin to crumble. We were arguing all the time about anything and nothing all at the same time. He became overly emotional and often would breakdown in tears. We did not realize at the time that he was heading toward a total nervous breakdown.

By the time October came Ryan could not function at all. He was so depressed and frustrated all the time. I finally convinced him to take stress leave from work which, by the Grace of God required him to attend therapy. He received two months of solid therapy where he was finally able to go through all the other nasty, but necessary phases of grief. At the end of his two months off he returned to work only to put in his two weeks notice. Something had to give at the time for Ryan to move forward instead of being stuck in the past holding onto his grief, so the first thing to go was the job he had come to hate.

Our next step was applying for vocational rehabilitation through VA since he was a veteran. This program enabled him to go to college and VA provided all of his necessary needs for school, plus provided an extra source of income on top of his disability. I also was not working at the time, but we quickly learned to live within our means. I eventually went to college myself and things were finally starting to look up for us. I graduated, went back to work after being home for eighteen months and became my family’s main provider while Ryan stayed home working on his bachelor’s degree in teaching. My mom and my older brother often helped Ryan write his papers and over time my older brother who had been living with my mom, moved in with us. My brother had his own set of challenges and suffered from multiple extreme mental illnesses but he was willing to help by paying rent and running our children. Unfortunately, things in our life never stayed stable for long and the next crash was just right around the corner.