The Road We Didn’t Want to Travel Part 1

Although January 25, 1991 was a day that began much like any other day, by noon, my life was altered. The younger day care kids and my daughter were in her room playing school, while the older two boys were outside playing in the snow. They were having a ball. At 11:05 a.m., I switched the laundry from the washer to the dryer, looked out at the boys and saw that they had got the anchoring cable from the clothes line, and had tied it around the Christmas tree that we had in the back yard. They were pulling the tree around the yard. I remember thinking that I should make them stop because they could hurt themselves with the cable, but they were having so much fun I thought I’d just keep a close eye on them.

I could hear Alyssa and the others playing, and thought that I’d just sort through the kitchen utensils while I was watching the boys. I was sitting in front of the window overlooking the backyard. Then at 11:25 a.m., one of the moms I babysat for came running in, yelling, Ben hung himself!

As I ran barefoot through the snow, I remember thinking, it’s okay, I’m a Christian. Everything will be fine. I got to the platform of the swingset to find my son lying there, lifeless. I immediately began CPR on him, thinking to myself that I was so glad I had taken the course. Amazingly, it had all come back to me. I really thought that just a few puffs into him and those beautiful brown eyes would open. They didn’t.

Soon my husband joined me and took over the CPR, while I ran into the house so that I could call my pastor. Going inside I found the woman I had asked to call 9-1-1 had been unable to do that, so I quickly called the emergency team to come. After calling my pastor, I ran back to join my husband. As I was going through the backyard, I looked up and had to chuckle at what I saw. I thought to myself, “Well the Calvary is here!” I saw four men who were members of the ambulance crew jumping over our four-foot fence. To this day, I find it odd that I laughed, but I did.

As the paramedics began working on Ben, I stood watching. I was praying for him during this time, and I felt a tug on my shoulders. One of our cops was trying to pull me away from the scene. Because my husband is a cop, there was a bond between all of the emergency workers there and I knew Larry was trying to protect me. When he realized that I needed to be there, he just stood quietly beside me, being the best kind of support: strong, solid and quiet.

We followed the ambulance to the hospital. That’s when the absolute seriousness of the whole situation hit me. There was someone rubbing my back, and a couple of other women were asking me questions. I know that they were asking me questions, I could see their mouths moving, but for the life of me, I couldn’t process what they were saying. They had a sheet of information they needed, and I really couldn’t think enough to answer their questions. It was as though every fiber of my being was filled to over-capacity, and I was unable to process anything sensory. I finally had to just read and write the questions myself, but it was so frustrating. I felt so helpless and bombarded at the same time.

After some time, the doctor announced that Ben was breathing on his own, and my spirit soared with relief. As they prepared for him to go to Iowa City by Life Flight, I thought that if I could just persuade him with the right motivation, I would be able to get him to respond. I began telling him that he was going to be riding in a real life helicopter, and that he just had to wake up to see it, so he could tell me all about it.

As we followed the crew taking Ben to the helicopter, I realized that many of our friends were there, surrounding us. I remember the feeling of relief when I saw our friends there. The nurse who helped deliver Ben when he was born was also there, standing beside me while we watched him being loaded into the chopper. I have thought since about how symbolic and appropriate that was. As the helicopter began to take off, I felt the most incredible pain that I have ever felt in my life. I have described it to others as if a ship’s anchor was buried within my being, and the rope it was attached to was tied to the helicopter. As the helicopter lifted up, that anchor ripped through my whole being causing me to double over with the most intense pain I have ever felt. I will never forget that moment, nor that pain. Ever. That was when I knew deep down that Ben was gone. I truly believe that is when his spirit departed.

One of our friends from church came up to me, cradled my face in her hands and spoke to me very slowly. She told me she would take care of Alyssa for as long as we needed. She said not to worry, and then she said she loved me. The gratefulness I felt then and to this day is almost overwhelming. She didn’t come to ask me to make another decision. I don’t think I could have, although I was deeply concerned for my daughter. She took it upon herself to help in a most tangible way. Throughout the next day, I was often relieved that I knew Alyssa was okay.

The three-hour trip to Iowa City was excruciatingly difficult. My husband and I were afraid to voice our concerns, and yet we found it difficult to voice any hope either. We rode; cradled in each other’s arms so unsure of what lay ahead. How awful the unknown can be.

The initial consultation we had with the nurse prepared us for what we would see. Although she tried to give us some hope on which to grasp, we were being prepared for the way our son looked, and why he was attached to so many different things. We were informed that during the flight, Ben had discontinued breathing on his own, and consequently was placed on a respirator. We were also told that the only way his heart was beating was through the medicines in his i.v. drip.

As we walked in to see him, my heart sank. He looked dead already. I held his hand, talked and sang to him, and begged him to wake up. As I did this, his heart rate would go up, and I felt that was a good sign. However, it alarmed the nurses, and they encouraged me to do what I could to keep him still. They explained that any swelling in the brain would get worse by higher blood pressure. It was so hard to do, because I did see faint signs of recognition when I would talk to him. Once I saw his arm go up like he was trying to reach to me, but that was the last time that happened.

So much of the next few hours became a blur to me. Our families began to arrive, and as the waiting room filled up with our brothers and sisters, parents, and grandparents, I began to feel as though reinforcements were now in the camp. Although I felt God’s presence in a mighty way, I was comforted by this show of support. We had extended families call us at the hospital, and it was during one of those calls that my dad walked into the waiting room. He was wearing the sweatshirt the kids and I had made him for Christmas. My dad has never been a man of many words, but when he looked in my eyes, he communicated quite well that he would rather die himself than to see me go through this journey. As I hugged my dad, I was so thankful that I could be a little girl, still, in desperate need of her daddy, and I was thankful that he was there for me.

As night fell, it initiated the beginning of the end. Ben’s brain was dying, and as a result, he was having seizures. The doctor on call quite candidly told us that we would need to be ready to make some decisions in the morning. He didn’t go into detail, but I knew what he was talking about. My mom was with me when the doctor was talking, and I can remember her asking questions of the doctor, so that I would be able to understand all that was going on. My mom has such a quiet strength about her that in her presence, everything seems to be in control. She encouraged me to lie down for a while, and reassured me that she wouldn’t leave Ben.

I tried to find a place where I could just scream and no one could hear me, but I couldn’t find any safe place. There was a meditation room, but it just seemed so foreign, and didn’t feel right. Therefore, I went to take a shower. I knew no one would go in the shower with me, nor would anyone try to get me to talk. I knew that I could take some time there to vent some of the feelings raging inside of me. I feel sorry for the people in the pharmacy next to the shower. They, I’m sure, heard my wailing. I began to plead with God, and to try to bargain with him. I surely didn’t want to live without my Ben, and I even offered to trade the baby I was carrying for Ben’s life. I am shocked I did that, but I think there is a desperation that occurs, that causes us to see things differently for a while.

After the shower, I was physically spent. I lay down for a bit and did rest for a short time. That morning held test after test, and procedure after procedure, and during those procedures, our families would gather often to pray. Terry and I had started to be resigned that we were looking at a future without our son.

At 2:30 January 26, the neurologist came to us, and talked to us about Ben’s condition. She explained that because his brain was dying, he was having seizures. She wanted to put him on a different type of medication that would create a drug-induced coma. She explained that by doing this, she could extend his life. It was during this interview that I realized this doctor did not trust Terry and me. I began to wonder if she thought we had done this to him. When I questioned whether he would truly be helped by this procedure, she would give very evasive answers. I finally asked her, “Will this procedure do anything to promote healing in his body, or will he remain in this vegetative state?”

She replied that the procedure would extend his life by a week to 10 days, but there was no hope of him recovering consciousness. When Terry and I told her we didn’t want this procedure done, she looked me in the eye and said, “You don’t have any choice. “

It was then that I felt the power of God actually rise within me, and I answered her, “You don’t know my God.” Terry and I assembled the family, and after explaining everything to our families, we asked for them first to pray for a miracle, but if a miracle wouldn’t be granted that God would intervene and take Ben miraculously. I have since wondered if God had allowed everything to happen the way it did in order to bring us to the point of accepting His will.
The twenty of us gathered in a circle, and each took a turn praying for healing. We begged and we pleaded God to heal Ben. Then Terry and I began the cycle of praying for the eternal healing, that God would work a medical miracle so that these doctors would know Who was indeed God. The others began then to pray for mercy.

How I wish I could report that Ben sat up in bed and cried for his momma to come and take all the wires off and yelled that he was hungry. I so wish him to be a physical and a tangible part of our lives today. That didn’t happen, but what did happen was a miracle nonetheless. When we finished praying, Ben’s condition went from bad to worse. Within two hours, he was pronounced brain dead, and we were allowed to make the decision to remove the life support from his body.
During those two hours, each one had the opportunity to be with Ben alone if they chose, and to spend just one last moment with him. Everyone did. Some sang special songs to him, some talked to him about how much they loved him, and some reminisced the times they had spent with Ben. With the exception of one of my brothers, every one of his aunts and uncles were there, as well as his grandparents, my grandmother and my aunt. During this time, my brother was finally able to get through the phone lines from Iceland. God’s grace and mercy have been so evident to me during this journey.

Once everyone had said his or her good byes, Terry and I sat on the bed cradling Ben, while our family surrounded the bed. As they unhooked him from the respirator and i.v.s, someone started singing Jesus Loves Me. Ben never took a last breath, or acted in any way as though he struggled for air. As I held my son for the last time, I marveled at how much heavier he felt. But then, grief can be heavy.

After everyone had left the room, I asked for a bowl of water and a wash cloth so that I could bathe my son. I washed him slowly, by myself, and mentally gathered all the information about his body. I was so afraid that I would forget his sandy brown hair, or those beautiful brown eyes with eyelashes any girl would envy. I took inventory of the scrapes and marks on his body that were results of Ben being a very active and inquisitive child. I made a mental picture of his knees. They were a little different because they looked square.

When I had finished, I spent some time talking with him. I told him how much I loved him. I told him that I didn’t think I could bear this, and I promised I would be a better mom than I had been with him. I was young, and impatient for the first couple years of Ben’s life, and I felt I needed to let him know that I realized that and I was sorry for it.

I then did the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I covered up his beautiful fair body, and I left the room. The body that I had spent over five years caring for, I left in a cold room, by itself.

January 26, 1991 at five in the afternoon was when I began my formal journey through grief. I haven’t managed to complete this journey, although I must say that I don’t think it will ever be completed. Like all travelers, I have experienced exhaustion, but I have found rest. I have experienced thirst, and it has been quenched. There have been valleys I have had to travel alone with my God, and there have been roads that friends and family have been able to join me.

I have seen the various stages of grief being manifested throughout my life. I’ve been anxious. I have been very afraid that I would make it hard for my children to be happy because I am grieving. I have been angry. I honestly don’t think I’ve been angry with God for Ben’s death, but I have been angry that he died. With the birth of each child I’ve had since Ben’s death, I’ve had to experience the anger that this is one more child that has been cheated of knowing his big brother. He was such a neat little boy with quite a loving spirit about him.

I’ve had periods of denial too, I suppose. One day I was shopping in Walmart and I saw that they had little boys’ winter coats on sale. I knew that Ben’s coat had been getting small, so I picked up a coat I thought he would like, and placed it in the cart. It was as though I had forgotten completely that he had died! I left the cart in the middle of the aisle and left the store, so ashamed and hurt.

Although I never want to have to go through this again, I have come to see great value to this journey. I am a better parent. I know that my faith is real, and that God is real, and that He keeps His promises. I am a better wife. I love so much more deeply than I ever thought was possible. I see that the pain I’ve gone through has enabled me to know how to help others who are hurting. I seem to be able to sense their pain and despair, though they often hide it quite well. I suppose this means that I have come to accept this. I have, but not in a morbid sense, because I believe that I have hope of seeing Ben again and enjoying his company again, in the presence of our God. That is an incredible hope to me.

I will close with a story about a friend of mine. She called me to tell me of a dream she had dreamed. She felt God had told her to share this dream with me. I’m glad she did.
When the dream began, Suzi was standing in a line of people. The place they were standing was a beautiful garden. It had trees, flowers and fountains all around. Suzi was glorying in the beauty of this garden when she realized that the people ahead of her in the line were waiting to go into a very ugly, barren place. As the line moved closer to this barren wasteland, Suzi was compelled to go forward as well. She wasn’t given a choice. As Suzi got closer, she began to get more and more frightened of what lay ahead of her. When her turn came to take a step into the barrenness, she cried out to God, and told Him of her fear. He answered, “Keep your eyes on Me.”

She did just that. She took a step, and where she stepped turned into a beautiful, lush, green garden. She continued through that desolation. As long as her eyes were on the Lord, the desolation didn’t go away, but where she stepped turned into a beautiful path.

This dream illustrates what I believe God did for me. Losing a child to death is an awful, desolate place. God has seen me through. There have been so many good and wonderful things work out of this heartache; I couldn’t begin to mention them all. I have truly come to the place that I can agree with the psalmist when he said in Psalm 30:11, “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, to the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.”

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4 thoughts on “The Road We Didn’t Want to Travel Part 1

  1. Sooo moving! You have such a talent with the written word. I have shared "Ben's story" with so many people over the years, and can't ever get through it without the tears flowing, as they did again as I was reading this. Your faith is an inspiration. I am thinking of you today, as I do often. Love, Michelle Wilkinson Sandquist

  2. After all these years, Terri, today is the first time I have heard your heart and shared this journey you have taken. Thanks so much for sharing it. I am at the CF library, and for some reason, clicked on Facebook to see if I had an Internet connection. Was a blessing to see this post show up on top of my Facebook feed. May the Lord bless you richly today, and may this story be used to bring relief to others, and salvation to some as well.
    Your neighbor and friend in the Lord,

  3. Terri, each year I read this, and I cry and smile and ponder the wonder of God and His healing power to our souls. I am in awe of your strength, and am so thankful of all you have taught me. Though we have not seen in each in many many years, I still feel so close to you and will always consider you a sister in Christ! Thinking of you this day and sending prayers of peace!

  4. Terri, I remember this time in your life. You do have a way with words and I am sure that you have touched many hearts through your story. I can’t finish reading it without tears flowing. I know that Ben will always be your precious son and that scar will never completely heal. God bless you, my dear friend. May God continue to give you the peace that passeth all understanding. Sending love and hugs today and always.

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