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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When angels have to leave…

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“Mama passed away”
 
It’s six am, and I am eight hours away from home. This is the text message I wake up to. I set down my phone and lay there.
The hotel room is modern, with sharp edges and a cold surface. It seems colder now.
I turn my head. Laying next to me is my baby boy. He is not so little anymore, but when he sleeps, he still reminds me of the baby I held all those years ago. His little upturned nose, long dark lashes laying across his sweet face. His mouth is open slightly, and his hand is near mine. I reach over and gently touch his cheek.
 
She is gone.
 
The thought seems foreign to me for a moment.
 
I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye.
I had seen her the month before, but it was a whirlwind of people and activity, so visiting with her was short. Matthew said she was having difficulty breathing, but I still refused to accept that she could be close to the end.
 
I quietly rolled over to glance at Matthew.
He is laying in his wheelchair, pillows tucked around him. Blankets piled on top of him. Not much is seen except his head poking through. His mask moving in and out with each breath the machine pumps into him.
 
How will he take this news? A tear slides down my cheek, and I flash through the memories of when I had first met her and her family. So many smiles, so much laughter, even in the painful moments.
 
Anticipatory grief is knowing what is coming, being helpless to stop it, yet still feeling the heart break, even after you have prepared for it.
 
This time is no different.
 
I knew she was in Hospice. I knew she was tired of fighting. She was in pain. She was hurting. And selfishly, I wish she would have held on.
 
She was so loved by so many. A mother to many, and a woman who was known for her friendship as much as for hard work ethic, her love of family, and her laugh. Her sweet and caring nature was easy to love.
 
I doubt I will ever be immune to the sting of hearing when someone has passed. I have seen it almost daily on Facebook for years now, another angel has gotten their wings from this disease called ALS. This may be why I don’t visit the support groups anymore. I meet them, grow to love them, only to lose them.
 
This family is another one I have come to know and love, and it makes the loss that much harder.
 
I had the honor and the privilege of watching a family come together during chaos and sadness and hold each other up.
To say I was jealous would be an understatement.
The strength this family possesses, and the love they have for one another has been inspiring to watch.
I witnessed a man, weary and worn down, still get up every day. Even at times where he probably felt he couldn’t muster up the strength to continue, they circled around him, supporting him, so that he could care for her in her last years. Eyes that hold pain, but shoulders that continued to carry the burden and grief of it all.
 
Her daughters cared for her with comforting hands, helping with showering and dressing. But more than, they were pillars during times when the disease became too emotional for her to hold in. They allowed her her tears and her grief, so that she could show a courageous face outside the walls of their home. Grandchildren that wanted to be with her all the time, no matter that towards the end, there was a constant reminder of her illness wrapped across her face to help her breath.
 
I am not naïve to think they did this perfectly. There is no perfect. And there is no right or wrong way to deal with a diagnosis like this. But if I could look to a family who handled this with grace, support and love…this family came together during the most difficult of times and I am in awe of their strength and determination to walk this journey together, side by side. I wonder if they know how truly lucky they are to have each other. So many other families are torn apart, but this family seemed to huddle even tighter together.
 
I can’t help but hurt for her family now. This woman was giving and kind. She wanted to support others as they traveled the same road she was on. She wanted to lend comfort and wisdom and she wasn’t shy in schooling those about the ins and outs of ALS.
I have no doubt that those who walked away, or lost touch with her after those three letters consumed her life will have guilt. Somehow, I just know she wouldn’t want that though. She has found peace. She is no longer trapped inside a body that refuses to move, and the pain is gone.
 
I lay there for a while longer, staring at Matthew. Do I tell him? Or do I wait?
He must feel me staring at him because he turns his head and opens his eyes. I begin the process of hitting buttons to move wheelchair plates down, and seat positions up, and more buttons for machines that I still hate, the beeping always so loud in my ear.
 
I sit next to him on the bed.
 
“Kathy passed away last night.”
 
Matthew winces. We are both silent. What more can be said? Our eyes fill with tears, but no words are spoken.
 
Our drive home that day was filled with quiet solitude. There is nothing else that can be done. And that is the hardest part of all.
 
And our hearts are broken once again…

he said, she said…

He said, “Wow! It’s nice to meet you!”

She said, “hello….”

He said, “We have a mutual friend.”

She said, “She invited me to come listen to the music with her.”

He said, “I am glad you could make it”

She said, “Thank you. I don’t get out often.”

He said, “Can I buy you a drink?”

She said, “no thank you”

He said, “Its been months, how are you?”

She said, “The summer went by too fast”

He said, “Can I buy you a drink this time?”

She said, “Sure, I would love a water!”

He said, “It’s loud in here”.

She said, “WHAT?”

He said, “Do you like live music?”

She said, “Yes, It’s my favorite!”

He said, “You came with her again?”

She said, “I’m her designated driver.”

He said, “Here is your water.”

She said, “Would you dance with me?”

He said, “yes”

She said, “You can DANCE!”

He said, “Wow, so can you!”

He said, “Will I see you again?”

She said, “Maybe…”

He said, “I haven’t seen you in weeks, where have you been?”

She said, “My life is complicated….

He said, “What do you do?”

She said, “I go to school”

He said, “would you like to go dancing?”

She said, “ok”

He said, “Are you seeing anyone?”

She said, “No…and I want to keep it that way!”

He said, “Why?”

She said, “I am recently separated.”

He said, “I was married for a long time too”

She said, “I have children”

He said, “I bet they are great!”

She said, “You aren’t my type”

He said, “I know, but can we keep dancing?”

She said, “Yes, I would like that…”

He said, “We have been dancing every month for almost a year now!”

She said, “I just want to be friends…”

He said, “I know…”

She said, “I’m not ready for a relationship.”

He said, “I understand. I am happy just being your friend.”

She said, “Thank you for being such a great friend to me”

He said, “Who are you here with?

She said, “I am here on a date tonight”

He said, “Do you like him?

She said, “I don’t know yet”

He said, “That guy shouldn’t be flirting with your friends”

She said, “I guess he wasn’t that into me”

He said, “He’s an idiot”

She said, “Thank you”

He said, “You deserve better!”

She said, “I agree..”

He said, “I like spending time with you”

She said, “I need to take things really slow”

He said, “Of course”

She said, “I think you are looking for more than I am ready to give.”

He said, “I have all the time in the world.”

She said, “What’s wrong with your fingers?”

He said, “Nothing, I am sure it’s nothing”

She said, “I am not ready”

He said, “I’ll wait.”

She said, “Please go to the doctor.”

He said, “Go to Cabo with me!”

She said, “I am a single mother, I can’t go to Mexico!”

He said, “It would mean so much to me!”

She said, “Will you go to the doctor?”

He said, “Of course, as soon as we get back!”

She said, “Its beautiful here!”

He said, “Thank you for coming with me.”

She said, “What did the doctor say?”

He said, “He wants to run some tests…”

She said, “It is going to be alright…”

 

He said, “I have ALS”

She said, “I know”

He said, “I’m scared.”

She said, “Me too”

He said, “Maybe you should leave?”

She said, “I promise I will stay”

He said, “Will you spend the rest of my life with me?”

She said, “Yes”

He said, “My legs are getting weaker…”

She said, “We need to find a new home”

He said, “I want to marry you and dance with you on our wedding day.”

She said, “There isn’t much time.”

He said, “I am sorry we are rushing things.”

She said, “I am sorry that the last time we danced was on our wedding day…”

He said, “I don’t want to use the wheelchair.”

She said, “It’s there when you are ready…”

He said, “I can’t lift my arms anymore.”

She said, “It’s okay, I am right here…”

He said, “Don’t worry, we are going to be alright…”

She said, “I don’t know how to ask for help”

He said, “Neither do I”

She said, “I don’t know if I can do this alone.”

He said, “I feel like a burden.”

She said, “You are not a burden.”

He said, “Happy Anniversary!”

She said, “It’s been 3 years?”

He said, “Its going by too fast”

She said, “I feel so alone”

He said, “So do I…“

She said, “I never get to go out or do anything anymore”

He said, “Neither do I”

She said, “I didn’t think it would be this hard”

He said, “Neither did I”

She said, “I miss being held.”

He said, “I miss touching you.”

She said, “Where did everybody go?

He said, “I don’t think they can handle this.”

She said, “I am so angry.”

He said, “I know.”

She said, “I had different expectations.”

He said, “I think it’s just you and I.”

She said, “You are my person.”

He said, “Thank God I have you.”

She said, “We still have so much to be thankful for…”

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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.

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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.

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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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