Growing through Grief – Karyn’s Story
I am the middle child in our family of five. My brother, sister and I were raised with a Christian foundation but my family life was unsettled. My parents’ marriage was not a happy one and my dad spent a lot of time away from home, either working or fishing. I craved his attention and it hurt that he was not around for the everyday moments of my life. At times he had a temper but I knew deep down that he loved me even if he didn’t know how to express it very well.
On the morning of March 8th 1988, my dad dropped my siblings and I off at school. Moments later as he drove to work, he was involved in a horrific car accident. That afternoon my brother and sister and I stood on our ‘designated numbers’ waiting for our parents to pick us up from school but no one came. Eventually our aunt and uncle arrived to collect us and take us to see our dad in hospital. They and we had no idea how badly he had been injured.
I still remember standing next to my dad as he lay on the hospital bed in a coma. I analyzed him from head to toe. The impact of the accident had ejected him from his work truck hurling him onto the center road divider. He had a severe head injury and a shunt had been inserted to drain the blood that was building up in his brain. He had been operated on twice to relieve the pressure from his brain. When I arrived, I began to speak to him saying ‘I love you daddy and I know Jesus is going to heal you.’ It was then that I saw tears roll down from his face. I knew he could hear me.
I wrote him a note telling him that I loved him. I still have it. That was the last time I saw my dad. Moments later he was taken off life support and passed away. I was nine years old.
I had always been a happy child and loved being the center of attention but when my dad died a piece of me died too. In attempt to deal with her grief my mother decided that we should move away and have a fresh start. We left behind everything and everyone that was familiar to us and began a new life. There was no offer of counseling or therapy to help us deal with the abrupt loss of our father. In her effort to start a new life my mum avoided talking about my dad, there were no pictures of him in our new home and we rarely mentioned his name.
All of the trauma, confusion, anger and sadness just stayed bottled up inside of us.
My mother received a large payout as part of my father’s insurance settlement. Unfortunately she was not a good money manager and by the time I was a teenager we had lost it all, including our home. Life at home was very challenging. I started hanging around with a rough crowd. There were drugs and alcohol all around me but I never touched them. I was looking for love, connection and intimacy.
At 15 years of age I became engaged to my 16-year-old boyfriend. His father had been killed in a car accident too. He bought me a diamond ring and we remained virgins for two years but within months of starting a sexual relationship with him I was pregnant. I was in shock. I took seven pregnancy tests before I really believed it was true. My family was not supportive of my engagement and I didn’t tell them about the pregnancy until I was more than four months along.
Our daughter Lauryn was born August 19th 1997. I was 18 ½ years old and her dad was 19. When I saw her little face, my heart filled with joy and an indescribable peace. What a blessing it is to be her mom.
My relationship with Lauryn’s father was extremely difficult. He did not have a strong work ethic and found it hard to keep a job. He was also an alcoholic. We were doing the best we could but nothing could have prepared me for the events that soon followed. He and his brother were involved in a horrendous crash. His brother who had been drinking, drove straight through a stop sign and collided with another vehicle. All three occupants of the other car and my fiancée’s brother were killed instantly. My fiancée was airlifted to hospital but was not expected to live.
When I saw him for the first time it was like looking at my dad 10 years earlier. It was awful. My fiancée had a collapsed lung, brain injury and was paralyzed all the way down his right side. He was in a coma for 10 days.
I did the only thing I knew to do. I stayed by his side and prayed like my mother had taught me to. Despite the doctors predictions I was determined that he would wake up; that he would be the miracle I had not experienced with my dad. I took a baby burp cloth, cut it into a square, dipped it in olive oil and had pastors pray over it. I then attached it to one of our daughter’s teddy bears and left it by his side day and night. I prayed over him constantly and wouldn’t allow anyone to speak negatively in front of him. I turned on Christian TV in his room and hid the remote so no one would change the channel. I taped pictures of our daughter all over the walls so that when he woke up he would not feel alone and afraid.
On day 10, I was standing by his side begging him to wake up when he grabbed my ring finger and started playing with my engagement ring. I started to cry. We had actually broken off our engagement the weekend of the accident but I had started wearing my ring again. I asked him if he was happy that I was wearing it and he responded with thumbs up! A few days later he awoke fully from the coma but his injuries were severe. He was unable to do anything for himself. Although he regained movement in his leg his right arm was permanently paralyzed. I spent the next year teaching him how to walk again, how to speak, eat, and write with his left hand. It was incredibly challenging for both of us. We were young, with a small child and very little money or family support. My fiancée became heavily dependent on prescription medication to manage his pain. Over the next two years this dependence became an addiction that eventually led to the breakdown of our relationship.
I packed up my things and moved over 100 miles away to start again and raise my daughter near my family.
I was a 22-year-old single mother with a toddler and enough emotional baggage to sink a ship.
I remember sitting at traffic lights, looking back at Lauryn in her car seat and crying out to God.
“I know that you exist, I have seen you perform miracles right before my eyes. If you help me start a better life for me and my daughter I will serve you like I have never served you before.”
At this vulnerable time in my life, I tried to rely on my mother for help so I could work but it was hard for her to provide any real support. She had a hard time holding a job down and we were under incredible financial pressure. I was extremely grateful for my new beginning and my relationship with the Lord was growing steadily but working three different jobs and trying to stay positive was a burden I struggled to carry. I found myself crying out to God more than ever. Jeremiah 29:11 became a lifeline to me.
“For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Over the next few months Lauryn and I started attending a local church, I began making friends and felt like a sense of order was returning to my life. I tentatively started dating and in July 2001 I met the man who is now my husband, Dr. Chad Patrick. We were married in April 2002 and are now the proud parents of Lauryn, Colin and Reese. This year we will celebrate 15 years of marriage.
In May 2016 I received a phone call from my mother. She was gravely ill with a liver infection. I immediately got on a flight so that I could be with her. I knew that she was sick but I was stunned when I saw her.
Her entire body was yellow; it was like she had been dipped in iodine. It was then that she told me that nine months prior she had been diagnosed with breast cancer; the liver infection was a complication of that disease.
I was in shock. I felt, angry, lost, betrayed and confused. Through tears I asked her why she had not told me about her illness and she replied that she ‘didn’t want to burden me’. I climbed onto the bed next to her and snuggled in like a child. I stroked her face till she fell asleep.
A sense of rage and injustice welled up on the inside of me. I had been in this kind of battle before. I was determined that through my faith, love and care she would survive. Even when the doctors came in and told me that her cancer was stage four with numerous other tumors, I refused to listen. They said that she had only two weeks to live but in my heart I was determined to fight. I prayed, I supplemented her nutrition and researched alternative, natural therapies in Mexico. My husband and I were planning to move her down from San Francisco Bay Area to where we live in San Diego so we could help care for her.
Within days it was clear that she was deteriorating rapidly. Once she was in settled in hospice care I flew back to my home, collected my children and drove straight back to my mom. I wanted my children to have a chance to say goodbye. By the time I returned it was obvious that she had only a few days left to live. As difficult as it was, I knew that I could not handle being there as she took her last breath. Tensions were high amongst my family and I had seen too much trauma and suffering in my life already. I told my mom that I was driving the kids back to San Diego and would return in a few days. I think we both knew that we would not see each other again this side of heaven.
I cried for the entire eight-hour drive home to San Diego. A few days later I spoke to my mom on the phone, as my sister held it to her ear, I told her that it was ok to go, that we would be all right, within a few minutes she passed away.
I felt the presence of the Lord enter the room. I dropped to my knees in my living room and began praising the Lord as my mom was being ushered into heaven. It was the most overwhelming experience. I felt desparately sad but at the same time I knew she was being carried to our Heavenly Father. I could picture her being made whole, smiling and in awe of his presence. I stayed there worshipping Him for awhile. It was if I was giving him permission to take her.
Although I am no stranger to grief and loss, the death of my mom has hit me hard. Just prior to her illness my mother and I had begun to draw closer to one another. Our relationship had not always been an easy one and it felt like we were finally bonding, but now she is gone. Grief does not become easier with experience but for the first time I am walking out this journey of loss as a mature adult. It is a difficut journey but these are a few things I have learned along the way.
- Processing grief is painful and takes longer than you want it to.
- Whom you allow to speak into your life matters.
- Faithful friends who will sit with you in silence are a gift.
- I have learned to embrace my extended family, despite our differences so that together we can experience God’s healing.
- There is a healthy and unhealthy way to grieve.
- A wounded heart can become a place of anger, resentment and bitterness unless it is surrendered to God.
- A surrendered heart is the place where compassion, empathy and kindness grow.
- Through God, it is possible to experience joy and freedom again.