and still, she persists…

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And still, she persists…

The buzzing of the alarm is heard off in the distance. Her children’s eyes grow large with worry.

“Hurry Mom, dad needs you!”

She rushes into the bedroom, grabbing the silicone wedge off the nightstand. As gently as possible, she pries his teeth open and off of his tongue. All the while, his eyes are burning in anger at her. She didn’t come fast enough. His face doesn’t move, but it doesn’t need to. She can see his frustration in his eyes.

After she fluffs his pillows and readjusts his body, seeing to all of his needs, she can hear the children in the kitchen.
Moving from one fire to another, she rushes out the door to see what the next emergency is.

And still, she persists…

They are crying. Looking up at her with tear-stained cheeks. They want to understand why their beloved pet had to die. Her heart breaks. Not because the cat was killed on the road in front of their house, but because she knows that soon, these faces will be searching for an answer as to why their father had to die. Will she have the right words or be able to comfort them when that time comes?

And still, she persists…

Her eyes are bloodshot. Its after 2 am and finally, the dishes are put away. Her husband is sleeping, the children are tucked in and safe. She remembers that the only food she has had all day are the few bites from a package of crackers her baby had nibbled on, and the constant flow of Zipp Fizz, the only source of caffeine that keeps her moving.

She pours herself a bowl of cereal. Stifling a yawn. Her head heavy with exhaustion. She can’t remember when the last time was that she showered. She contemplates skipping her only meal of the day to take a hot shower, but her stomach is growling, her head is pounding, and she needs to lay down soon. The kids will need her in the morning as they get ready for school. Four blessed hours of sleep, if she is lucky.

And still, she persists…

Pulling and twisting his lifeless and limp body, she maneuvers him to an upright position. Trying hard to avoid pulling the hose that is attached to the mask, that is attached to his face; she uses all of her strength to pull him up and over to the wheelchair. The bedroom is small. So little room to guide the chair around. The bathroom, even smaller and more difficult.

The sweat beads along her brow.

She grunts, using her back, her arms and her legs to pick him up and place him on the toilet. Trying to maintain his dignity, she wrestles with his body, and the damnable hose. Wishing he could remove it for just a moment but knowing that his body no longer takes in air without its assistance. Trying to find a different solution, but knowing he will simply refuse her suggestions, she lifts once again, and repeats the entire process.

And still, she persists…

The voice is monotonous, but it doesn’t matter. She knows him well enough to know that he is angry. He is always angry. He hates this disease. He hates how he feels cheated. He wanted to do so much in this lifetime. It isn’t fair.
He takes out his anger on her. He uses words like a killer wields a knife. Piercing her heart with razor sharp words. He places the blame on her. He points his frustrations out on her. As if she were the reason he was diagnosed with ALS. As if it is her fault that the doctors never took his symptoms seriously. As if it were her responsibility to keep him happy and healthy, and she has failed him once again.

And still, she persists…

Was there a time when they were happy? She can’t seem to recall anymore. She can recall their wedding. She married a man, who was still so much a child in his inexperience, and his desires. Wanting to please him, she put her dreams on hold. Knowing that to make a marriage work, there had to be sacrifices that needed to be made. She never saw that she was always the one making the adjustments, in order to keep the peace, and because she loved him with every fiber of her being. Now, there is anger. She looks for the happy memories. The flashes of happiness, Traveling and exploring, his excitement with every new toy: a gun, a four-wheeler, or even the snowmobile. He was happy when he was out doing things…anything. Now, he lays in his bed, staring at a screen, pushing the world further and further away. She tries to show her love, with a caress, a smile. But still, he pushes her away. Every day, she tries again. Hoping this day will be different, and he will see how much she loves him, regardless of the disease that has ravaged his body…and stolen his happiness.

And still, she persists…

ALS has taken so much from them both, and yet she still searches for joy and gratitude in her day-to-day routine. She is exhausted but smiles when her children are excited in their adventures and discoveries. Her children are happy, and even though their father is bed-ridden, she continues to create a lifetime of happy memories. She manages to keep them occupied and distracted from the world that is just down the hallway from them. She hugs their hurts and washes away their fears. She carries a heavy load, but you will never hear her complain.
Her smile would break your heart if you understood what kind of sorrow and sadness she hides from the world.
Someday, she knows her life will look different. Someday, she will no longer be a caregiver to a man who cannot find beauty in his small world. She tries to encourage him and to remind him that there is still joy to be found, but he pushes her away.

And still, she persists…

Someday soon, she will have to look for a new routine, and find new dreams to dream. Hard work doesn’t scare her. In fact, she looks forward to the day when she can leave the walls of the house she is trapped in, and to have goals and aspirations once again. She catches herself feeling the familiar twang of guilt when she imagines the life she might have after…She stops herself just short of going too far in her daydreaming…knowing what that means for her husband.

And still, she persists…

She is the strongest person I have ever met. Her heart is pure, and she is beautiful, both inside and out. She doesn’t realize her strength, and she can’t see her potential. But someday, she will look back on these moments and realize that she accomplished more than most people will in a lifetime.

Long after the ALS memories and painful struggles associated with the disease have subsided…only then will she see what I have seen all along. No matter what life throws her way, I know that she will continue to do remarkable things. Her children will one day understand her sacrifices, and they too, will stand in awe of the strength of their incredible mother.

And hopefully one day, when they are grown and living lives of their own, they will know their own strength because of one woman who continued to push and fight for them, regardless of the incredible task set before her. Until then, she continues to get up, weary and almost to the breaking point.

And still, she persists…

 Matthew Wild

 

dinnertime…

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It’s my favorite part of the day.

The evening is winding down.  Books are scattered across the table as my studious child is bent over a book, brow furrowed in concentration. The other one is running in and out, doors slamming, as he tries to sneak past me once again. The dogs are watching, waiting for a small morsel to drop. I am laughing as I try swatting at my son to stay out of the pantry. He rushes just out of reach, a triumphant smile across his face.

It’s almost time for dinner.

The sound of onions and mushrooms sautéing in the pan. Fluid motions of chopping, the rhythmic sound of the knife slicing and dicing. With the flick of a wrist, the food is absorbing the heat and sizzle and beginning to meld into a meal. The smells are wafting into the house, and the sounds of laughter are mingling with the sounds of footsteps. My children are gathering around the table. Dinner is almost ready.

Matthew sits patiently, quietly. His chair turned towards me.  He loves to watch me cook. I know this about him.

Even on days when I barely have the energy to move, if my children are gathered around the table and I am cooking, I am in my happy place.

It was a subtle sound.  I didn’t even hear it at first.

As I am setting the table, my back is turned as I am dishing up pasta into a serving bowl.  My focus on gathering everything to take to the table.

There it is again.

I glance up, twisting my neck to see behind me.

Matthew’s face is red. His eyes are bulging.

He is sputtering.

Kaden and Peyton’s eyes widen.

My son jumps up.

Matt, are you ok?”  I can hear the panic in his little voice.

I set everything in my arms down, but Kaden is already rushing off towards the bedroom. Peyton is standing up out of her chair, unsure of what she can do to help.  I am walking quickly towards the bedroom, ready to grab the machine if Kaden is struggling.

Matthews face has gone from red to purple. He is trying to cough, but there is no sound.  A small wheezing gasp is all that can be heard.

Kaden comes running towards me, cough assist in hand. I can see the look of terror on his face as he glances from Matthew to me.

I smile, trying to reassure him that Matthew will be fine.

I press the “on” button, balancing the machine against my thigh, as I juggle the hose and mouthpiece.  It is taking forever to switch on.  I slowly count to three out loud. More for Matthew’s sake, to help him to remain calm and that he will be able to breathe again soon, than for myself.

One….Two…Three

Finally, the “swoosh” sound begins, indicating it is ready.

Matthew leans towards me, pushing his face into the plastic covering that encompasses his nose and mouth. The familiar sound as the machine forces the air in…then out fills the air.

After several deep breathes, Matthew leans back into his chair, relief across his features.  His face is still red. Tears streaming down his cheeks.  Snot dripping from his nose.

I set the machine down, grab a rag and begin to clean him.

This is automatic.  This is not the first time he has choked on his own spit….and it will not be the last.

I glance at my children, frozen in place. I give Peyton an encouraging glance and ask her to keep telling me about her day. Looks of terror on their little faces slowly dissipate and I can see their chest begin to rise.  They are only now realizing that they were holding their breathe.

And just like that, life returns to normal.

Our normal.

“So” I say, “What was the best part of your day?”

A letter to my daughter…

A Letter to My Daughter;

The time has come.

I must admit, knowing for years that this moment would be upon me, I was still caught off guard. I had no idea the multitude of emotions I was going to feel, seeing you sit among your classmates, in your cap and gown, as the speaker announced the Class of 2019. As your hand reached up to move the tassel from the right side over to the left, signifying the completion of your high school career, the tears began pouring from my eyes.

I suppose it may seem silly to some, but I wasn’t ready. I’m still not ready for my job as your mother to be over. I have no idea how to move forward as a mother to a young woman. So please forgive me, as I am sure I will stumble along the way. I have had you all to myself for eighteen years. And I want more time. I am not ready for this to be over.

I will never forget the moment those two pink lines appeared, signaling the changes that would soon begin in my body. I will never forget the first time I felt the little flutter of kicks as you began making your presence known. As the months went by, and I was more than ready to have the heaviness of carrying you inside of me over, I would learn so much about your personality, and you weren’t even born yet!

You were ten days overdue. Even then, you were stubborn as hell. I should have learned in that moment, the extent of your stubbornness. There was nothing anyone could do to make you do anything you didn’t want to. It wasn’t until we were both exhausted, and our heartbeats and blood pressure were dropping, the risk too great to both of us, that the doctors in the room decided to take action. After 18 hours of intense labor, you had to be dragged, kicking and screaming into this world.

As the months went by, you taught me how to be a mother. I must admit, I was probably more nervous with you than I was with your sister and brother. I read every book on what to expect, through each month or stage along the way and which milestones you should be hitting and when. You were a great napper but would only sleep through the night if you were walked and sung to. I was sleep deprived for years, but I loved every minute of it!

And true to your personality, you did things when you were good and ready. You were independent from the beginning. Never fearing the strangers around you, or being out of my line of sight, you were off on your own adventures. You waved goodbye on your first day of daycare, with no tears or drama. I doubt you knew I went to my car and cried like a baby, seeing your two-year old self walk into that room of strangers, with out a care in the world.

I remember your first days of preschool, and kindergarten. Your first temper tantrum. WOW! Over and over again, you showed me your fierceness and independence. You never wanted to fit in, nor try to morph into those around you. And you have always excelled at voicing your displeasure at things that do not go your way.

Maybe that is why it comes as no surprise that you were anxiously wanting to grow up and get on with your life. School was never your thing, nor were clubs or sports, or group activities. You preferred beating a drum all your own.

I was the hardest on you. I am sorry about that. I suppose because you remind me so much of myself. I want you to be so much more than I ever was, and I definitely pushed you. You, of course, pushed back.

I watched you walk down that aisle yesterday, that beautiful smile across your face, as you looked at me and said, “I did it, Mama!” and my heart ached once again. Another symbol that my job is over. This is it. I don’t get a do-over, or more time. You are off to begin your new life.

I probably embarrassed you after the ceremony when I grabbed you and began sobbing, my head tucked into the crook of your neck. You are now as tall as I am, and more beautiful than I ever could have imagined.

I will feel this heartache for a while, I suppose. It seems incredible that these years have flown by so quickly, and my role is now changed. I wasn’t ready. I am not sure if I ever will be. My heart is breaking into a million pieces, but I expect this is the same feeling the countless mothers experience throughout their lives.

You taught me how to be a mother. I can never thank you enough for that. It has been the most difficult journey of my life, and the most beautiful and rewarding. I am immensely proud of the woman you are growing into, and I hope that throughout the years, you will hold that independence and strength inside of you. As you struggle, and experience roadblocks and failures along the way, I hope you know you can always lean on me for strength. I will always be here, cheering you on.

I know that I was not perfect, but I hope you know how much you are loved, and I tried to show you how much I loved you as often as I could. I never cared whether you were the smartest or the most athletic, nor the most popular or the most beautiful. I have always been in awe of your ability to walk away from anything that does not serve you, including the need to please others. Your character traits will take you far in life, so hold on to them.
I am still on the journey of discovering who I am, and more than anything, I wish you happiness. I hope you take the time to learn about who you are and the things that bring you joy. I hope you reach for the things in life that are important to you, no matter what the world whispers in your ear, look for what you are passionate about. I hope you choose kindness over judgement, and forgiveness over anger. There will be many times when that will be real struggle. Learn to let go of the things you cannot change and as I always say, “You have no control over others, you can only control how you respond.”

And above all, know that you are loved unconditionally and will always have a mother who will support you and love you, for exactly who you are.

It has been an honor being your mother, and I am excited to see what life has in store for you. You are and always will be, my baby girl.
Love Always,
Your Mama

❤️ Richelle Duffield
Matthew Wild

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healed…

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Powell, WY

It was an ordinary day as most days are. Blue skies, a few clouds floating wistfully along their path, in no hurry on their journey.  A busy weekday in a small, idealic Wyoming community.  The house sits on the edge of the street on the outskirts of town.   The newest sub-division of neat homes, edging ever closer against corn fields.

A little girl yells in frustration, trying to give chase to the boys in her home, but her big brother pushes her aside.  He is too big to play with his “baby sister.”  She sits down, grabs her doll and pouts.  A young mother, peering through the kitchen cabinets, realizes that the ingredients she needs for dinner are not there.  She sighs, knowing she will have to run to the store if she is going to feed these boys soon.  She glances towards the ceiling, wondering yet again why she thought she could be Scout Leader to six young boys.  Then she remembered. It was because of the look in her son’s eyes when he pleaded with her. There would be no Boy Scouts without a Leader.  The mother, already frazzled, added one more responsibility to her long list of daily chores.  Den Mother to six high energy nine-year old boys.

She walks into the living room, trying to organize the troop.  Asking each child to sit with legs crossed, she explains that she will have to leave, but if they are good, she will be sure to make a yummy dessert to go with her famous fried chicken.  Glancing at the clock, her anxiety is heightened as she knows she is running out of time.

Her step-son, Mitch, a teenager hiding in his room will have to be the make-shift baby sitter while she runs to the grocery store. Yelling that she will be right back, she turns the knob on the television, and says a silent prayer that she can return quickly enough to get the dinner done and the boys working on their next badge assignment before her husband gets home to a mess. Grabbing her purse, she motions for her baby girl to follow her.

A small girl, four years old, her blonde hair bobbing with each skip she takes, follows her mother out the front door. The slam of the screen door makes the little girl jump a little and she looks behind her.  Through the screen door, she sees her brother and his friends, all in their crisp blue shirts and yellow ties, laughing and running through the house. She wants to stay and play with them, but she knows her brother doesn’t want her around.

She turns back towards her mother and jumps down the concrete step onto the pathway along the house. She pauses, and looks down at the edge of the driveway, noticing the beautiful yellow blooms that she hadn’t noticed the day before.  She bends down, quickly grasping at each flower. Her doll Raggedy Ann, a trusted companion, tucked safely in her arm, as her mother scolds her for not loading up into the car quickly enough.

“Hurry up Theresa, I am already late!”

She glances up, wondering why her mother was frowning at her.  The small child thinks it is perfectly normal to be picking the dandelions to present to her mother as a beautiful bouquet of flowers. Normally her mother always smiles and smells the flowers she picks for her.  This time, her face looks upset. She looks down at her hand and notices she has bunched all the weeds into her small hand. Her bouquet doesn’t seem as pretty as the last time she picked flowers. Still grasping tightly to the dandelions, she quickly plucks more grass than yellow blossom.

Glancing up, the little girl see that her mother still has that frown, as she swings the door to the car open, arm outstretched and motioning for her daughter to get in the car. The young girl jumps up, a trail of grass, leaves and weeds behind her as she runs towards the open door.   She holds onto the steering wheel as she kneels along the seat.  Her little legs are moving as quickly as possible, knees scooting as fast as they will go. She knows better than to put her shoes on the seat.  She doesn’t want to make her mama more cross at her than she already is.  She finally gets to the passenger seat and smacks the silver knob down with her palm, locking her door.

Her mother gets in, turning the key in the ignition.  The little girl tucks her doll into her left arm as her right hand grabs the door handle.  The car still has that brand-new smell, and her little feet swing up and down, too short to reach the floorboard and too short to reach the glovebox.  Her mother moves the stick by the steering wheel down, her body pivoting to glance behind her, her face still scrunched up in worry.  Her foot pushes down on the gas pedal and the car is jerked quickly in reverse.

It happens so suddenly, both mother and daughter are unaware of what is about to happen and there is no time to plan or even anticipate what can only be described as a “freak accident.”.  As the car is moving quickly backwards, the passenger door swings open, and the little girl, whose hand is still holding tightly to the handle, is yanked out.  The car continues, the mother not having enough time to react to what has happened in that split second, is still pressing her foot into the gas pedal.

As the little girl is falling out of the car, the front passenger tire is continuing its path, and she has been yanked out head first by the car door. The little girl is pitched uncontrollably out and down, as the front tire continues its backward momentum.  Her legs are split, one still dangling upwards, as the tire runs over the other, and sucks the little girl up, her body unable to prepare for what happens next.  Like the ragdoll that had been in her arm only seconds before, her body is thrown carelessly up and over and then under the tire.

The mother slams on the brakes, puts the car in park and jumps out of the car, quickly looking under the car.  She screams as she sees her little girl’s body contorted around the front tire, and the weight of the car on her little body. The mother foolishly tries lifting the car at first, but it doesn’t move. On all fours, she peers under the car again, feeling helpless. She can see her daughters head, and there is no movement.  She hears the smallest of whispers.

“I can’t breathe.”

As fast as she jumps out of the car, she quickly jumps back in, shoving the stick into drive and moves forward, hoping she made the right decision in going forward instead of backward. She swings the door open, running around the front of the car. Her son is standing at the edge of the house, his eyes huge, watching what is happening.

“Call 911!”

The boy turns to run into the house, his legs pumping almost as fast as his heart. The mother comes around the front of the car, she sees blood smeared along the driveway, and sprawled out is her baby girl.  Her body freezes, glancing around not knowing what to do.  She wills her legs to move closer towards her daughter’s body, scared of what she will see. Her sobs caught in her throat, as she sees her little girl’s body isn’t moving, but she gasps when she sees her daughter’s face.  One half of her face is gushing blood, her ear hanging down by her neck, as the blood is soaking the ground beneath her.

The little girl’s eyes are open, and she is gasping in shock. There are no cries or whimpers, just blue eyes gazing at her mother. Suddenly, her mother is inches from her face, tears dropping onto her.  Time has slowed down, and the little girl can’t understand what is happening to her. It is as if everything is in slow motion, and people are all around her, motioning their hands wildly in the air, or yelling.

She can see that her mother is screaming and crying.

“Why is mommy so upset?” the little girl wonders.

Then her friend, Police Officer Fred is there. He looks worried too.  Then her grandmother is there.

“Why is everyone crying?” the little girl wonders.

She hears her grandmother yelling at her mother. Grandma never yells.  Fred is holding onto her mother, and then even more people are gathering around her. An ambulance crew begins carefully lifting the little girl onto the gurney.  The boys are on the front door step, not moving and the son is sitting on the stairs, his arms wrapped around his body, as he rocks back and forth. He is chewing his bottom lip, trying not to cry in front of his friends.  His little sister looked like she was going to die.  His grandpa walked over to him, and ushered him inside, along with the other boys, all staring and not knowing what to do.

“The helicopter is ready.  Don’t worry, she is in good hands.” The EMT turned to leave.

“Wait, I am going too.” Panic in her voice, she notices that they are taking her daughter away from her.

“No, ma’am. I am sorry, but you can’t.  We need to leave right now, and there isn’t enough room in the helicopter for you too. You will have to drive and meet us there.”

The mother glances around her, confused. She doesn’t know what to do.  Her eyes look down.  Raggedy Ann is laying on the driveway.  A bouquet of dandelions that appears to have been bunched into a ball lays next to the doll. The ambulance drives away.

The young mother crumbles to the ground.

****************************************************

Billings, Montana –

The young mother doesn’t remember much of the drive. What normally takes an hour to drive to the small city, took much less than that, but it still felt like a lifetime for her.  Her husband was driving, and the cars following them were family, all needing to lend support and help in any way they could.  She glances at her husband. He showed no emotion except the ticking of his jaw.  He doesn’t speak to her, and she says nothing to him. She just kept staring, willing the car to go faster.  Looking into her hands, she held the little doll.  It was her only lifeline to her daughter. Tears continue to stream down her face as images of her daughter laying there on the ground continue to haunt her.

Her baby was all alone.

Before the car can even come to a complete stop, the young mother opens the door.  Running inside the ER, she frantically looks for anyone for help.

A nurse at the desk softly assures her that the little girl is sedated and stable.  The x-rays were still being done, so all they could do was wait.  The young mother takes a seat.  Her husband chooses to stand and refuses to look at her. His brothers arrive, their wives comfort the young mother, and the brothers take vigil.  Soft voices are spoken in assurance.  Of course the little girl would be alright.  The little girl had been life flighted to one of the best hospitals.  The doctors are some of the best in the area.

The waiting room was filled with smoke and foot tapping. Nerves stretched taut, and about to break. At last, the doctor walks in, eyes searching for the parents.

“Mr. and Mrs. Whitlock?”

Quietly, the parents approach the doctor, as family step back respectively.

His eyes hold sadness. This is one of the hardest parts of practicing medicine. Telling family there is no hope.

“I am sorry, but your daughter is very badly injured.” He looks towards the father, knowing that if he looks into the mother’s eyes, he will be unable to finish the diagnosis.  “The x-rays show that her spine was crushed at the base of her neck.  Several of her vertebrae are crushed. We will have to clean out the gravel from her cheekbone and reattach her ear.  I don’t foresee her having any hearing problems at this time, as the damage to her face is cosmetic.” The doctor took a deep breathe, needing to pause before he continued.

“Doctor, what about her spine? What happens now?”  The father asked, his eyes looking willing at the doctor, silently pleading for him to fix his little girl.

“I am sorry, but your daughter will be a paraplegic. She will not be able to move from her shoulders down, ever again.”

The young mother screams.

*********************************************************************

 

An accident, by the very definition of the word, implies that it is unintentional.  An event that happens that is unexpected, unforeseen, unplanned for, and otherwise surprising.  This moment, this accident is forever engrained in a young girl’s memory. The images have grown hazy, and time has softened the edges.

The little girl remembers laying in the hospital bed, trying to move her legs, her arms, but her brain won’t make her legs work.  She remembers her mother crying, her father looking angry.  She feels sad for making him angry again.  Her uncles try to make her laugh, but her face hurts and she is sleepy.  She can’t seem to keep her eyes open.

Days go by. She can’t remember how many, but her brain always feels fuzzy.  She thinks she dreams a lot.  She remembers one dream.  The doctor coming into the room, and his face looks excited.  He is holding a file.

“You have to see this!” His face is full of excitement. “I don’t understand how or why… The x-rays!  They are different!”  He opens the file folder and pulls out two sets of x-rays.

“Look here.  This is the first x-ray.  You can clearly see the spine at the thoracic region, # 1,2 and 3 are clearly crushed.”

The doctor sets it down and pulls another x-ray from the folder.  Holding up the black and white film, he raises it, hands shaking.

“This is the x-ray from this morning.” He pauses, glancing at the parents as they try to make sense of what they are seeing.

“Don’t you see?  Her spine is perfectly normal.”

They can only stare, grabbing each one, comparing.

“I don’t know how, or why.  But your daughter is healed.”

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