Life or Something Like It

The Loss of Donna

The Loss of Donna

 

It must be said, I started writing this on October 6, 2021.  It has, literally, taken me all this time to finish because I have needed to grieve, process, sit in the quiet, remember, and honor those I have lost that were so dear to my heart.

I have been doing and posting a lot of reviews and having a ton of giveaways lately.  It has been good to be able to see some positive, heart-changing things on the big screen and small screen.  Yet, it is also a way for me to dissociate and remove myself from being vulnerable or share anything that is truly painful.

So, here I am…not posting a review or giveaway.  I am sitting in my new dining room, listening to a fan dry the mud from the drywall where we had a flood in our new kitchen, looking at my cat who appears to want to murder me, and pondering on how this month has been affecting me.

Fall.  I love this season.  The cooler weather, the changing of the leaves, the world preparing for everything to die away in the winter only to regrow with beauty and new life in the spring.  I love it.  Yet, this month, in particular, brings tremendous sadness and grief.

On October 1, it is the fourth anniversary of my Lady’s death.  That day never passes by without me reflecting on our friendship and what she meant to me.  How I miss her and how I have never really mourned her loss.  I just push it down, push it down, WAY down.  Thankfully I had a sweet distraction on that day.  Charleigh Mae was here to love me and keep me extremely busy.  I simply can’t wait until my next grandbaby makes a grand entrance next year.  Grandchildren are God’s way of saying “you survived raising children, now enjoy the fun part.”

Yet, today, I find myself struggling again.  Today is my friend’s 62nd birthday and her first birthday in heaven.  We met years and years ago, she was Leigh Ann’s mom, my friend that passed away a few years ago.  If it weren’t for Donna, I would not have made it through Leigh Ann’s death.  I should have been a rock for her, which I was when she needed me.  Yet, she was my rock on coping and reminding me of the fire that was Leigh Ann.  A few years prior to LA’s death, Donna lost her husband to cancer.  David was a sweet man.  Quiet in nature unless you ticked him off and then BOOM he would explode.  Those episodes were few and far between.  He was the love of her life.  Donna and I became incredibly close after the death of her daughter and my friend.

She was in the thick of raising LA’s kids, her grandchildren and I was in the thick of raising kids, all around the same age.  We bonded over the silliest things.  There were things we didn’t agree on, there were things we debated together on, yet our foundation was strong.  We could love regardless of those differences.  That is what friendship means.

We talked every night or every other night.  I would watch the Detail Geek and describe it all to her.  She watched it vicariously through me.  We would solve the world’s problems, discuss our day, and she would make fun of my suppers.  She called me the Casserole Queen.  That woman never made a casserole and I made one every night.

Donna had not been feeling well since her granddaughter’s hospital stay.  We both thought it was just stress, exhaustion, adrenaline from what we thought was cancer which ended up being a severe kidney infection.  This led to the removal of her granddaughter’s kidney.  She wasn’t eating well, drinking nothing but soda, and smoking.  Man, we mama’s can live off of anything in a stressful situation.

I encouraged her to go to the doctor but she refused.  She had a fear of doctor’s.  You go in and never come back out was her mentality.  We talked about her quitting smoking, which she did because the cough got to be too much.  She began having dizzy spells and not being able to keep food down.  This was all in about March I would say.

We thought maybe it was Co-Vid and that she just had a really bad case.  Still, she wouldn’t go.  She was just going to wait it out.  Then, when it didn’t go away, we thought it was grief beginning to settle in her.  She never really had time to grieve the loss of her husband and her daughter.  Grief can, quite literally, kill someone.

She lived with the age old question “Is it better to know someone has something terminal, so you can prepare yourself and say all the things you need to say?  Or, “Is it better for it to be quick so you don’t have to see your loved one in pain?”  She experienced both in a very short amount of time.  Frankly, they both suck.

Then, she began losing weight.  She had no appetite.  She would say that nothing tasted good and she was just so weak.  There was nothing her son, her grandchildren, or I could say to her that could get her to eat.  She quit smoking and mainly just slept.  There were times I could not understand her talking on the phone.  That’s when I knew…I knew something was not right and I had to try again to get her to go to the doctor.

On her birthday, I surprised her and popped by her house.  I knocked on the door (much to her dismay) and I heard the dogs.  Then, I heard Lexi running to the door.  She opened the door and I hugged her sweet little neck.  Lex quickly disappeared back to her dungeon (LOL).  As I walked in, my heart sank.

One thing that those closest to me know, I do not show emotion.  Also, I’m a rockstar in stressful situations.  When I am alone, that is when I process and stuff emotion.  Healthy?  No.  What I do?  Yes.

I turned to look at Donna laying on the couch.  She was nothing but bones and she was so jaundiced that the whites of her eyes were yellow.  She had lost more teeth and had no strength.  I stood at the doorway.  Frozen.  I put my head down and the tears flowed freely.  I simply could not hold them in.

She first asked me why on earth I knocked.  Family does not knock.  I still couldn’t move.  Then, I heard her say “Brandi, come here.”  I walked over and sat next to her.  I laid across her frail body weeping uncontrollably.  She just stroked my hair and said that things would be fine.  She said she drank some that day and hadn’t thrown it up.

That moment froze in time for me.  Again, here she is, knowing what she knew, and she was comforting me.  See, that day, she had called me earlier and told me that good news was she did not have Co-vid but the bad news is that she had stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

You just don’t realize it until you see it.  I knew her time was limited.  She was going to fight and do all the right things.  She was going to drink more water, eat more, do whatever the doctor said but by then, it was too late.  She knew.  I knew.  We all knew.  Yet, we hoped that it would be different.

I begged her to let me take her to the ER to just get some fluid.  Her belly had begun to swell and I know that she was hurting from losing so much weight and laying in one position.  She refused.  Everyday I would go over there and stay for as long as I possibly could.  Most of the time, it was just us.  Sometimes her grandchildren would come in and out or her son.  They all lived with her.

With each passing day, she would get weaker.  One day, she wanted me to brush her hair.  One day she wanted me to rub her feet and legs.  They were so swollen but the pressure of me rubbing her feet seemed to make her feel better.

There were some days when her older sisters would come.  One lived in Michigan and came home to be with Donna as much as she could.  I tried to lift as much of the burden off of them, so they could spend good quality time with her.

Hospice had been called in and Donna told them to get out out out.  She refused them because she knew what that meant.  I know that David was flooding her mind in the last few days of her life.  She knew hospice meant death.  She was not ready for that.  Her sisters gave her a bath and that seemed to exhaust her yet refresh her.  Her great granddaughter came for a visit as well, which lifted her spirits plus she was expecting her second great grandchild, a boy.

We had some excellent conversations once we were alone.  There was resolution for a season that took us apart for a number of years.  That was the first time that Donna ever said she was sorry.  It took me back because I had let that go years ago.  She said that she remembered saying all those things and then she looked into my eyes and saw the hurt and pain of what she had just said.  Also, she stated that she couldn’t bring herself to talk to me because she was so ashamed of herself.  That touched my heart and humbled me.

We talked about her daughter and all the things that comes with her.  It was so healing.  She talked of David and her plans that she wants for her son and grandchildren.  I have never really spoken to someone with such clarity towards the end of their life like that.  We talked on worst case scenario and then what we were going to do when she got better.  Everything was covered.

Then, it was the afternoon of chaos.  So many people had come in and out.  I had found out some things that I never knew and made phone calls I never wanted to make.  Her granddaughter was overcome by it all and was acting out due to the trauma.  I was called and she was in the back of a cop car.  It took me an hour to calm her down and remind her of the love that I have for her and who she is in Christ.  I am so glad the officers understood the situation and showed her grace upon grace.  These kids have simply been through more in their lives than most adults will ever experience.

October 15, 2020 As I walked into the trailer, strangers (to me) were there.  They didn’t stay long and eventually it was just her grandkids, her son, and her sisters.  Donna was very uncomfortable.  I rubbed her belly, her legs, feet, head, hair…anything she wanted but I couldn’t get her comfortable.  I begged her to let me call 911 because her belly had so much fluid on it.  I explained that if she went, I would go with her and she would not be alone.

Finally, she said yes because the pain was unbearable.  I called and we immediately moved things around to make it easier for the EMTs to get in with the stretcher.  They got there and realized that the stretcher wouldn’t fit, so they had it out by the bus and brought in a wheelchair type thing that she could be safely strapped into.  I informed them of her bed sores and her protruding tailbone and the discomfort that she was in.  They were so gentle with her.

As they were picking her up, she was screaming in pain.  She was afraid she would fall out of the chair.  I was holding her hand and explaining that they were going to strap her in and I promised her they would not drop her and she would not fall.  That I was right behind her watching and monitoring the situation.

They got her down the 3 steps and then I saw her arm fall off the side and her head fell.  I screamed her name as the EMTs were rushing to get her on the stretcher and get her O2.  I could hear her grandchildren screaming.  Her son with a panicked look on his face.  Her sisters.  There was no time for me to console them.

At that point, I jumped into my van with Stevie (her son) and we actually beat the EMTs to the hospital.  Her sisters were not far behind.  I parked and ran to the bay as they backed in… fearing that Donna would be gone.  She wanted me beside her when she died.  She didn’t want to be alone.  She wanted to be with someone who loved her.

As they backed in and got to the back, I saw them drop the legs to the stretcher.  I stood in fear with her sisters and son beside me.  I looked up and saw Donna wave at me.  At that point, I dropped to the ground.  It was like my legs had no bones and I wailed.  That was not crying that came out of my mouth.  I felt sick, scared, relieved, and like someone had taken an iron skillet to my body.  I couldn’t move.  Her sisters just stood there, trying to help me.

Finally, I pulled myself together, got my mask and ran into the ER.  They let me back (only because her family asked me too) and there I stood/sat by her bed.  Just watching her.  She looked over at me and asked me if she was going to die.

I told her yes.  We talked about her salvation and then we talked about what she wanted for each person in her family.  After she had settled all of that, and the doctors couldn’t do anything, they left us for a moment.  She looked up at me and said “Well, we have got everyone figured out.  Now, what about you?”  I asked her what she meant and she wanted to know if I was going to be okay and who would take care of me.  In awe, I just looked at her and told her that I would be fine.  That I would miss her everyday and I would keep an eye/ear out on her family and always be there if they needed me.  I thanked her for her love and friendship.  Without missing a beat, she said “There’s room in the bed…I will scoot over and you can lay down with me.”  My heart.  She knew that that was my comfort.

I told her that they would probably kick me out if they saw me do that!  Then, I asked if she wanted her sisters and son to come back.  She did, so I went to get them and let them have quiet moments with her without any intrusion from me.

They released her from the hospital because there was nothing they could do and she wanted to go home.  Stevie and I watched them pull out and we beat them home, again.  We got the couch ready.  By then, some people had begun to stop by again.

I was trying to stay out of the way and let those who needed to be by her side.  At that point, she was not awake.  Not long after I had gotten there, it was late into the evening, Bart called and said I needed to come home now.  There was an emergency situation that could not wait.  When he explained what was going on, I lost it.

I wanted him to try and explain to the person waiting for me that I was at an end of life friend’s house and I couldn’t leave.  They didn’t care.  I hugged and kissed Donna.  Told her I would be back shortly and I flew home.

I can’t even with what happened at home.  Honestly, I do remember after talking for what seemed like forever and completely losing myself, where I had been.  I told her that I had to go and she could come back or follow me.  She let me leave.

As I was flying back to Donna’s her sister called and said to hurry.  I did the best I could.  She took her last breath right before I got there.  I walked in to everyone sitting around not knowing what to do.

As I did a week prior, I stood, frozen in the doorway.  I looked at my friend and I went and laid down beside her.  It was hard for me to catch my breath.  She was really gone.  Diagnosed exactly a week before.  She went from okay, I’ll fight this to meeting Jesus and being reunited with her husband and daughter.

After I collected myself and the coroner came and took her body, I sat in the big chair.  Her sweet granddaughter came and curled up in my lap.  Grief had overtaken her and I was the warm body that she fell on.  With me, there has been nothing but love since she was 3.  I had been there through it all and here I was again, comforting my sweet girl.

I have been true to my word.  I miss her daily.  There are days when I miss her more and some days when I don’t think about it until the night.  That is when we would chat.  I have not watched the Detail Geek again.  Her son is okay, as okay as he can be.  Her grandson is a father of 2 and working.  Her granddaughter is living with a relative and for now, she is doing well.  She is working on school and has a goal for her future.  We chat as often as a teenager wants to chat with a 49 yr old woman 🙂

I am ready for this month to be over.  I am ready to heal.  I am ready to remember the good times instead of the end.  One day.  Maybe when I see her again in heaven!

The Loss of Donna

 

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Open Letter to A Brother Who Left This World Too Soon

Open Letter to A Brother Who Left This World Too Soon

In this Open Letter to A Brother Who Left This World Too Soon, my guest blogger remembers her brother who died of cancer 6 years ago.  What a thing for a family to go through.  The loss of a child, grandchild, brother, and friend.  He was a few days shy of turning 19 when he met Jesus face to face.

Lord, bless this family.  Bless them with peace and sweet memories as they navigate this difficult week as they remember this sweet boy.  Please give them the knowledge that he is healthy, happy, and hanging out with your Son, Jesus.  He is waiting for them to all be reunited, one day.

Open Letter to A Brother Who Left This World Too Soon

 

Dear Z,

It has almost been six years without you, and I don’t feel that it has gotten any easier. This is a wound time is taking forever to heal. I miss you so much, and naturally, I wish you were here with me. This is my least favorite time of year. I know you are watching over me and taking care of me.

I Wish You Could Answer Me

I’d give anything to have one final conversation with you or to give you one last hug. If I could go back and change things I would. I would have stayed by your side through it all. I think about that all the time. Does it make me a bad sister for leaving you there? I could have taken whatever our step-father threw at me, just to stay with you.

Missing All The Things

My mom told me a few years ago that you asked for me every day.  That you asked when I was coming back from dad’s. You know I like to take care of people.  I took care of you for the longest time. Honestly, I miss waking up at 3 in the morning to refill your feeding pump. I miss helping you walk around, even though you protested the entire time. For six years I have been waiting for you to appear in front of me.  Just to give me a chance to tell you my final goodbye.  To tell you I loved you just one more time.

It Hasn’t Happened so I’ll Keep Waiting

I think I can finally start to let go of the regret I’ve had for the past six years. It’s time. You know I love you more than words could ever describe. I know your biggest fear in death was being forgotten, but you are so unforgettable. You made an impact in everyone’s life. I will never forget you or the things you did for me.

You were one of my best friends. I promise you my kids will know what an amazing man you were. They will know how strong you were, and how hard you fought. They will know that you are my hero, and I aspire to be as strong and as brave as you were.

After Six Years, I Can Let You Go and Let You Rest in Peace

That doesn’t mean I will forget about you, It just means I don’t have to worry about you hating me for leaving. I know you loved me as much as I loved you. I know you weren’t upset about us leaving moms. I’m just upset she wouldn’t let you stay with us.

I am letting go of my regret because it wasn’t my fault you got sick. Honestly, I was a child and I know it wasn’t my responsibility to take care of you. I am moving on and trying to start the new year off right. Thankfully, I know you will be with me and watching over me every step of the way.

Love,

S

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The Real Truth About Death and Grief

In The Real Truth About Death and Grief, my guest blogger goes through her emotions of losing her brother at a very young age.  The loss of a sibling is devastating to the other children, as well as, the parents.  It is unimaginable pain that lingers for so very long.

The Real Truth About Death and Grief

Dearest Z,

A kid my age who I knew from school came in, and he reminds me so much of you. He has something wrong with him medically and he walks just like you did when you got sick. I saw him, and that made a bad day worse. Seriously, I wanted to give him a big hug. Then, I wanted to crawl under the register and cry. I miss you so much, It has been five years, I can’t believe it. You deserve to be here bub. I believe that you would be married with a family now.  You would a good dad.

Honest Prayer

I prayed to God every night for years that it was me instead of you. Honestly, I prayed that I could take all your pain away. I wanted to make you better and I couldn’t. That seems to be a recurring theme in my life. I make jokes about you being dead, but that’s how I cope with you being gone.

I’m sorry we left you with mom. I’m sorry I didn’t stay with you for that last year. I would have gone through whatever Tim threw at me, just to be with you that last year. Mom told me about how you asked for me every day after your seizure, and that story hurts my heart. She told me all about how you thought you saw me running around the foot of your bed every night before you went to bed. I am sorry I wasn’t there for that. I wish I was actually there to be running around your bed.

Life isn’t the same without you. I miss your voice, hugs, and I miss you yelling at me when I tried to help you walk. Honestly, I just miss you, dude. You were a light to anyone who knew you, and I miss your presence.

Thankful

Today, I am thankful for the beginning of healing.  Honestly, awareness of where healing needs to happen and the knowledge of the route that needs to be taken in order to walk through the pain that leads to healing.

 

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The Things You Need to Know About Nana

In The Things You Need to Know About Nana, my guest blogger uses her words to convey the love she has for her grandmother.  They had a tight bond that this young girl misses, terribly.

Dearest Nana

The past six years of my life have been awful, and you not being here has made that even. You were my person, and you left me. I had to to deal with everything alone, and to be honest, I am sick of it. You were the glue that held the family together.  Once you died everything changed. I wish I could put into words how much I miss you. Honestly, I know it is selfish, but I would give anything for you to be here with me. I feel like with life would be a better if you were here. Sadly, I miss my best friend, the one person I knew I could count on. I miss the person who was brutally honest to me.

Wish we could lay in bed and watch one more scary movie together. Or, I wish I could sleep in the bed with you one more time. I wish I could hear more stories from your childhood, I always enjoyed those. Furthermore, I want to. hear you try to pronounce “Aluminum” one last time.  That was absolutely hilarious. I really took my time with you for granted.

I’m sorry I couldn’t heal you. I couldn’t make you feel better, I did everything I could. It’s important you know I did my best. I was young and I did the best I could. When you first got sick I prayed to God that you at least lived until I was Eleven. Two and a half months after my Eleventh birthday you died. That has haunted me since the day you died. I’m sorry. Losing you is one of the hardest things I have ever go through, and it’s a wound time will never heal.

Thankful

Today, I am thankful for my granny.  There has never been another person like her.  She loved so completely.  I miss her face, her hugs, and her love.  Granny knew everything.  I could come to her with anything and she would tell me what to do.  When I was in the wrong, she was quick to correct me.  Yes, I would cry and it would hurt my feelings, but in the end, she was right.  Geez… I miss her.

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She's Gone, Now What Do I Do?

She’s Gone, Now What Do I Do?

She’s Gone, Now What Do I Do? Honestly, what am I supposed to do now?  Over a decade of friendship and now, aside from your son and the children, you are all gone.  This ache is deep and my tears flow freely at any given moment.  It is so strange knowing that you are gone because that is not what we talked about.

I Miss You

It has only been a few days but I miss you.  We would chat, most nights, until about midnight about all the things.  I would watch my car detailing videos, mute, and tell you about every detail.  Then, we would discuss the children and what they were doing.  We would fix the world’s problems and now I don’t have anyone to talk to.

 

Always Wondered

I have always wondered is it best for others left behind for a loved one to die quickly or to *know* that they are dying so you can say what you need to.  Honestly, I have experienced both ways and they both suck.  For me, they do.  The ones who have passed well, as a believer, once your eyes shut on Earth, they open in the presence of the Lord.

Instantly

When your loved one dies instantly, with no warning, there are SO many things unsaid.  That last I love you, the last I am sorry, the last smile…when did you hug them last?  For me, it has been 6 mths due to conflict.  I remember the last words spoken.  Furthermore, I remember the last words he spoke to me.  Also, I remember sitting in my car screaming at the top of my lungs just to get out the anger.

Anger is secondary to fear and/or sadness.  My fear was knowing how my husband would react to the words said to me.  My sadness was knowing what the outcome was going to be.  It was an outcome that I never wanted but was necessary in order for my husband to heal.  Yet, the pain that came in the morning was devastating.

A Small Amount of Time

This time, however, I have known of “not feeling well” since February or March.  What started out as vertigo and back pain ended in death.  Something so treatable as those 2 things.  Doctor visits yield Meniere’s disease, possibly.  Could be allergies.  Maybe it is stress.  Go to the chiropractor, get some blood work done, blah blah blah.

Those things led to not being able to keep anything down and losing weight.  Energy waning.  Speech slurred a bit.  Upset stomach and passing out.  She was “forced” to go to the ER where they said, “your electrolytes are low and you are dehydrated.”  Well, let’s pop in an IV and get that up.  For a moment, she was better.

Until She Got Worse

That moment was fleeting and we all tried to convince her to go to the doctor again.  This time they did x-rays, co-vid testing, and blood work.  There were bacteria in her bloodstream.  I remember her saying that.  Then she said, “good news, I don’t have covid!”  A sigh of relief.

Then silence.  She said, “but they found a mass on my pancreas.”  My heart went into my throat and I asked if it was cancer.  She said she did not know and she had an appointment with an oncologist on October 7th.  This was the day after her 61st birthday.

When I Got to Her Place

I walked in and there laid a shell of the woman I was used to seeing.  She had lost so much weight and was so jaundiced, I knew that this was serious.  I walked over and laid my head across her chest.  She patted my head and said “Brandi, I’m going to fight this.  It’s going to be okay.  I’m too mean to die.”

I snuggled up with her on the couch and we talked about all the things.  Once again, we solved the world’s problems.  I came by almost daily to check on her and the children.  At night, I would call.  Then she went to the doctor on the 7th…she said they called in hospice.

The Next Day

I came over and we started talking about other things.  Things neither one of us wanted to talk about.  Funeral homes, flowers, plans for her grandchildren and son.  She kept saying that this was all pointless because she was going to get a second opinion and fight.  This woman fought to the very end.

Most days she would ask me to “take her feet apart.”  AKA rub her feet because that felt SO good.  Then she would want me to play with her hair.  Somedays, I massaged her stomach because the swelling was so much that she said it helped her feel better.  Other days, I would just curl up next to her.  Sometimes we would nap and other times, she would nap and I prayed.

The Night at the ER

She finally could not take the pressure and swelling of her belly.  So, she asked me to call an ambulance just to have her checked.  They got there and the stress of moving her caused her to pass out.  We all thought she was gone and rushed to the ER.

Her son and I got there before the ambulance.  They wheeled her out and she cut her eyes at me and waved.  I crumpled in the parking lot.  It was like all the air being let out of a balloon.  Her sisters were there and we all rushed in.

The Beginning of the End

I knew that night, that she would be gone soon.  As I sat by her bed watching her breathe, we talked again.  She talked of her salvation, her husband, and her daughter that died before her.  David died 5 years ago of cancer and her daughter died 2 years ago by a choice that was horrific for her family.

She said they were standing up there going “oh hell, here she comes!”  I told her there was no swearing in heaven.  We both laughed a bit and then the topic got more serious.  She knew there was no fight left.  It was a matter of time and that time was up to God.

Final Words

She asked what would happen to Steve, her son.  Then we talked about Lexi, her granddaughter.  Next, we talked about Austin, her grandson.  Sierra, the precious girl that lived with them and expecting Donna’s great-grandson (whom Donna named).  She talked about Kenleigh, her great-granddaughter.  We got it all squared away.

Then, she looked at me and said “who is going to keep you out of trouble?”  I just sat and cried.  She said, “wanna crawl up in this bed, there is room?”  If I could have, I would have.  I told her we would get in trouble and she said she didn’t care.  She begged to go home.

We Got Her Home

Home.  She was not Donna anymore.  There were moments when she would focus, but we all knew the time was coming.  That time came…my Donna was gone.  Once again, I walked in and laid over her chest, and cried.  I listened to the wails and sobs of her son and grandchildren.  Her sisters.

I haven’t even fully processed it all but today is her funeral.  Everything changes for everyone.  Life never stops moving, does it?  I feel lost and go to pick up the phone and realize, there is no one to call.  Oh, Donna.  It wasn’t supposed to be like this.  We talked about that, remember?

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Becoming a CASA Worker

The above graphic on Becoming a CASA Worker might give you an idea of what one does.  This is a volunteer program, for the most part.  Social workers are tired.  They are overloaded with work and laws that really do nothing in the grand scheme of things.  It is sad.  I have known (and know) some amazing social workers.  Then, I have known some “out for blood” people that turns people away from this important work.  Social work is a thankless job.  Honestly, I have such respect for these men and women going in and trying to do their best to help these children.

CASA

A CASA worker, again, is a volunteer job.  When I was a worker, it was about 9 years ago.  We were waiting for Jude’s adoption to go through.  I needed something to feel like I’m doing something to help someone.

There was a lady that I answered to.  We had meetings and classes.  Also, I would go with her to court and observe to see how things were handled within the courtroom.  I have never been one to shy away from a courtroom.  They are actually peaceful to me.  It can be frustrating when you see something so clear and then another decision is made by the judge.  Once done with the classes and following my boss, I was sworn in, by the judge.  Then I was able to testify if needed.

What I Did

I was the voice of the child.  That is the whole point of being a CASA worker.  We advocate for the child.  Sometimes you take the stand and sometimes you don’t.  Each person has someone working for them and being their voice.  There are the attorney’s (for both parties and the who represents the state), guardian ad litem (represents the child as their attorney), social worker (works towards reunification and closely with the parent(s), R&C worker (the foster parent’s advocate), and a CASA worker (the child’s advocate).

It sounds intimidating but it really isn’t.

Yet, it is a responsibility that you have to take seriously.  You have to look the part, behave the part, and know your stuff.  There was a situation, where a certain social worker, who didn’t care for me, put me on the spot.  It is no great secret there is no love loss between us but I tried to remain civil.  She had a hard time with that and refused to take the stand.  In fact, she said I “knew it all” and that I would handle it.

Well.  He called me up to the stand.

Guess what?

I handled it in direct opposition that this worker wanted it handled.  This is not a sparring match between two people who can’t play well together.  Honestly, this is about the child(ren) and helping them keep their core family together if we can.

I Loved the Job

For real, I would have done this permanently had Jude not been with me.  When he came home, he was my 100% focus.  Maybe one day I will get back in the groove.  I’m sure things have changed in the last 8 years.  So, it is best that you call your local agency and find out what you need to do in order to be a CASA worker.  It is totally worth it.

Call to Action

We are not all called to adopt BUT we are all called to do something.  Is this something?  Shadow a worker and see if what they do fits into your idea of what a CASA worker does.  Seeing positive family reunifications is so rewarding.  There are other things that you will see that will hurt your heart, to the core.  Yet, we are placed in that position for a reason.  Spread the love of Jesus in all that you do.

If you have any questions, let me know!

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Foster Care Awareness Month

 

Foster to Adopt ~ International ~ Intrafamily Adoption

Foster Care Awareness Month

Foster Care Awareness Month

Foster Care Awareness Month

May is National Foster Care Awareness Month.  Foster Care…scary words, huh?  It was for me and Big Daddy when we started this journey many many years ago.  I have so many thoughts going through my head when I even utter that phrase.

Foster Care.

When we began our journey, we went in SO naive.  I mean googly-eyed and just eager to “fix,” “save,” and “help.”  Oh, my goodness.  We learned, quickly, that that was not the case.

Please remember, this is OUR journey.  These are OUR feelings.  This is OUR story.  Your story will be different.  That’s the beauty of life and different perspectives.  I’m PRO foster care.  I just wish we were better prepared for what we went through.

Before I Begin

In the lakes area, where I live, the numbers are staggering.  Across the board, staggering.  Every child deserves a home.  Also, every child deserves a last name.  Every child deserves safety and their basic needs met.  Bless…every child deserves love and a chance.  Every.  Single.  Child.  Whether they are fresh from the womb or 40 years old…EVERYONE deserves a family.

My Feels are Feeling

We were so naive.  I think I mentioned that.  We were eager.  First, we had our PS-MAPP classes.  10 weeks, 3 hours a week, sitting through classes re-learning how to parent.  We were not completely welcomed.  Judged, if you will.  There were people there that were older, older couples, younger couples, singletons.  I remember looking across the room and this one couple flat out asked us what we were doing in that class. That we had no business being in there because we already “had” children.  It wasn’t fair for us to make available children when some people in this world “can’t biologically have” children.  Bear in mind, in this class, I was there by myself.  Big Daddy had to work and did one on one classes.  So, I fielded some of the hate all alone.

Punch in the Gut

That statement took the wind right out of my sails.  I have many friends who cannot “biologically” have children.  Some have remained “childless” from society’s perspective.  Yet…they are just as much a parent then I am.  They love, deeply.  Sacrifice for others whether that is for their stepchildren/nieces/nephews/cousins/god-children or animals.  It is beautiful to witness.  There is beauty to be found in the ashes.

I have friends who have chosen to adopt BEFORE they biologically had children.  That is how they wanted it all along.  Some women can easily conceive and then make the choice to “prevent” conception in a permanent manner.  Then, they regret “playing God” and move towards adoption.

However, you come to the cross in how your family is structured…it is YOUR journey.  Yours.  No one should judge another for having no children or 1000 kids.  It is simply none of your business.  Gracious.  There can be so much hate, judgment, and condemnation.

Ways You Can Help

Not everyone is called to adopt, but we are all called to do something!  Here are so many tangible ways to help a foster child(ren), foster family, adoptive family, or a child you see that may need a little extra love.

  • Pray.  For the child, their parents and bio family, the foster family and extended family, judges, attorneys, guardians, social workers, counselors.  Can you even imagine, going from the chaos of an unsafe home, the only home you know, and leaving with a stranger?  Then, being left with a stranger.  Sleeping in a strange bed with people that you don’t even know their names or where the light switch is.  I cannot even begin to imagine.
  • Respite.  Provide a weekend, afternoon, or just a drive for the foster family with this new child.  Respite is a paid position if you so desire, it is basically babysitting.  Believe me, everyone will welcome a short break.
  • Meal or Errands.  Provide a meal or errands for the foster/adoptive family.  Cook one for now, and have one extra ready for the freezer for later.  What a help.  Running errands helps to contain the chaos.  It is so hard to get out and about sometimes.  There are just moments when we need someone to run to the bank but due to a crisis, we just can’t get there.  Be the hands and feet of Jesus.

Other Ways To Help

  • Help Around the House.  Mow the yard.  Do a load of laundry.  Come clean while people nap.  Oh, if I had that…people to go to the doctor’s appointments with me.  I was wagging 5 kids, by myself.  I had no help.
  • Be a Non-Judgemental Ear.  I never had that either.  Just listen.  Listen to all the words, even if they are un-Scriptural.  Don’t try and fix it.  Just listen and love.  Pray.  Point to Christ.
  • See a Need.  Meet a Need.  No questions asked.
  • Volunteer at a Boys and Girls home.  Big Brothers Big Sisters.  Youth facilities.
  • Become a CASA worker.  Be the voice for the child.  Worth it.
  • Donate to Moses Basket or Bags of Love (these are specific to our area).  You can call your local DCBS office and find out who you can donate items to help children coming into care.
  • Love.  Be Jesus with skin on.  Be His hands and feet.

Tomorrow

I may share the story of our first placement.  It was a hard time, personally, during my life.  Then these children blew life into my life and I was renewed.  Only to be devastated a short time after.  I know what satan’s eyes look like.  Met him, in person.  Still struggle, after all these years.  Today is not that day that I want to revisit that pain.

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Medical Issues

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) are a group of conditions that can occur in a person whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy.

These effects can include physical problems and problems with behavior and learning.
Often, people with FASDs have a mix of these problems.

What are FASDs?

FASDs refer to a range of effects that can happen to a person whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. These conditions can affect each person in different ways and can range from mild to severe.

They can affect the mind or the body, or both. Because FASDs make up a group of disorders, people with FASDs can exhibit a wide range and mix of symptoms.
Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is one condition among the full range of FASDs. A
baby born with FAS has a small head, weighs less than other babies, and has
distinctive facial features.

Some of the behavioral and intellectual disabilities of people with FASDs include:

Difficulty with learning or memory
Higher than normal level of activity (hyperactivity)
Difficulty with attention
Speech and language delays
Low IQ
Poor reasoning and judgment skills
People born with FASDs can also have problems with their organs, including the heart and kidneys.

What causes FASDs?

FASDs are caused by a woman’s drinking alcohol during pregnancy. Alcohol in the mother’s blood passes to the baby through the umbilical cord. When a woman drinks alcohol so does her baby. There is no known amount of alcohol that is safe to drink during pregnancy or when trying to get pregnant. All drinks that contain alcohol, including wine and beer, can harm an unborn baby. There is no safe time to drink alcohol during pregnancy.

Alcohol can harm a baby at any time during pregnancy. So, to prevent FASDs, a woman should not drink alcohol while she is pregnant, or even when she might get pregnant. This is because a woman could get pregnant and not know it for up to 4 to 6 weeks. In the United States, nearly half of all pregnancies are unplanned.

How many people have FASDs?

We do not know exactly how many people have an FASD. Few estimates are available. Based on community studies using physical examinations, experts estimate that the full range of FASDs among 6-7-year-old children in the United States and some Western European countries might be as high as 2 to 5 out of 100 school children (or 2% to 5% of
the population).

Are there treatments for FASDs?

FASDs last a lifetime. There is no cure for FASDs, but research shows that early intervention treatment services can improve a child’s development.
There are many types of treatment options, including medication to help with some symptoms, behavior and education therapy, parent training, and other approaches. No one treatment is right for every child.

Good treatment plans will include close monitoring, follow-ups, and changes as needed along the way.
There are a number of factors that can help reduce the effects of FASDs and help people with these conditions reach their full potential.

These factors include:

Diagnosis before 6 years of age
A loving, nurturing, and stable home environment during the school years
Absence of violence
Involvement in special education and social services

What can I do if I think my child has an FASD?

~Ask for a Referral.
If you or your health care provider thinks your child could have an FASD, ask your provider for a referral to a specialist (someone who knows about FASDs), such as a developmental pediatrician, child psychologist, or clinical geneticist. In some cities, there are clinics whose staff have special training in diagnosing and treating children with
FASDs.

For providers and clinics in your area, visit the National and State Resource Directory from the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS)  or call 800–66–NOFAS (66327).
~Get an Evaluation
Call your state’s public early childhood system to request a free evaluation to find out if your child qualifies for intervention services. You do not need to wait for a health care provider’s referral or a medical diagnosis to make this call.

Steps for a free evaluation from the state depends on your child’s age:

For children younger than 3 years old, contact your local early intervention system. To learn more, call (973) 642-8100.
For children 3 years old or older, contact your local public school system.  Even if your child is not old enough for kindergarten or enrolled in a public school, call your local elementary school or board of education and ask to speak with someone who can help you have your child evaluated.

To help your child reach his or her full potential, it is very important to get help for FASDs as early as possible!

For More Information

To learn more about FASDs, visit Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or call 800–CDC–INFO
American Academy of Pediatrics FASD Toolkit 
Center for Parent Information and Resources call (973) 642-8100
National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS)  or call 800–66–NOFAS (66327)
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s FASD Center for Excellence

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Medical Issues

What is Reactive Attachment Disorder?

 What is Reactive Attachment Disorder?

What is Reactive Attachment Disorder?

What is Reactive Attachment Disorder?  RAD is a condition in which individuals have difficulty forming loving lasting
relationships.  Let me just tell you…this is HARD.  Seemingly, on the outside, things look great.  However, at home, it is like living in a nightmare.  Sadly, this is a nightmare that you do not wake up from.  Sometimes, it can be manageable.  For instance, medication for moods and sleep can help, sometimes.  However, their body starts building resistance to medications, so trial and error become the norm.

Some General Traits

Often have a nearly complete lack of ability to be genuinely affectionate with others.

Typically fail to develop a conscience and do not seem to trust.

Do not allow people to be in control of them due to this trust issue.

They can be surface compliant for weeks if there is no loving relationship involved.

However, with strangers, they can be extremely charming and appear loving.

Uneducated adults misinterpret this as the child trusting or caring for them. If they cannot trust and love their own family that loves them, they will not trust and love a casual acquaintance.

They do not think and feel like a normal person.

Some famous people with RAD

Hitler

Saddam Hussein

Edgar Alien Poe

Jeffrey Dahmer

Ted Bundy

Helen Keller

Isolated type, Predominant feeling is Sad

1. no friends
2. no touch
3. verbally compliant actually defiant

Evasive type, Predominant feeling is Fear

1. clingy
2. fake
3. charming
4. chatter
5. chameleon

Defiant type, Predominant feeling is Rage

1. cruel
2. charming
3. self-absorbed
4. destructive

Bizarre type

1. act crazy
2. constant noise

Causes

Any of the following conditions occurring to a child under 36 months of age puts a child at high risk for developing RAD:

~Maternal ambivalence toward pregnancy
~In-utero trauma, drugs, alcohol exposure
~Abuse
~Neglect
~Sudden separation from the primary caregiver
~Undiagnosed or painful illness such as colic or ear infections
~Inconsistent or inadequate daycare
~Chronic maternal depression
~Several moves and/or placements
~Unprepared mothers with poor parenting skills

Attachment Disorder Symptoms in Children

Superficially engaging & charming
Lack of eye contact on parents terms
Indiscriminately affectionate with strangers
Not affectionate on parents’ terms
Destructive to self, others, and material things (accident prone)
Cruelty to animals
Lying about the obvious (crazy lying)
Stealing
No impulse controls
Learning Lags
Lack of cause and effect thinking

More Issues

Lack of conscience
Abnormal eating patterns
Poor peer relationships
Preoccupation with fire
Preoccupation with blood & gore
Persistent nonsense questions & chatter
Inappropriately demanding & clingy
Abnormal speech patterns
Triangulation of adults
False allegations of abuse
Presumptive entitlement issues
Parents appear hostile and angry

Attachment Disorder Symptoms in Infants

~Does not use crying appropriately to get someone to address needs
~Often does not settle when needs are met by Mom
~Overreacts or often startles to touch, sound, and/or light
~Listlessness with no medical reason
~Limited holding onto or reaching for a caregiver
~Lack of appropriate stranger anxiety between 6 and 9 months of age
~Shows minimal interest in interacting with people
~Does not smile back or respond with activity to smites or baby talk
~Often does not follow human movement with their eyes
~Avoids eye contact
~Self abusive behavior
~Is resistant to cuddling

Great Quotes

When your brain works right, so can you. When your brain doesn’t work right, neither can you.” Daniel Amen, M.D.

“Experience changes the brain,” Bruce Perry, M.D,

Attachment is at the heart of all human endeavors.” Bruce Perry, M.D.

“Traditional therapy is useless for severely traumatized people, but especially children because it does not reach the parts of the brain that were most impacted by trauma.”  Bessel van der Kolk. M.D.

Complex (reactionary mind/brain stem) Survival mode

Fight – Defensive, tantrums argues, negative
Flight – Runs away, hypervigilant, stress-filled, anxious
Freeze- Shuts down emotions, shuts down learning, disassociates

Talking:

This is the first area that a child must gain self-control to begin the healing process.

Lies
Dumb questions
Unclear Speech
Jabbering
Swearing
Not answering
Why?
Arguing
I don’t know
Not accepting responsibility
Interrupting
Whining

Consequences vs. Punishment

Punishment turns thoughts to the outside of the child.

Consequences turn their thoughts inside.

Dramatic Displays:

Children need to be kept in close until they no longer need an audience to manipulate.

Flipping the bird
Overdramatic
Pity Parties
Fit Throwing
Aggression
Eye Rolling

Excretions:

It is essential that the child be 100% responsible for the clean-up of their own excretions after the age of five.

Urine
Feces
Flatulence
Vomit
Nasal Discharge
Spitting

Food Issues:

On one hand, you can’t make them eat it. On the other hand, you can’t make them stop eating either.  Sadly, they have to learn to control themselves. Honestly, a parent’s obligation as the nurturer is to provide nutritious meals three times a day.

Hiding food
Eating too much
Not eating
Picky eating
Eating rudely
Eating weird things

Friends and Family:

Relationships must begin between the mother and child.  Second, generalize to the father.  Third, to the family.  Fourth, to the community.  Lastly, to the world.

Peer relationships
Siblings rights
Abusing other kids
Setting up
Tattling
Pets

Prescribing the Problem:

When it’s not harmful to the child, pick your battles.  For instance, one avenue of intervention is prescribing the problem.

Chewing clothes
Chewing hands
Thumb sucking
Biting nails, lips, toes
Cracking knuckles
Picking boogers
Picking scabs
Masturbating
Crying wolf
Refusing medication
Nutrition
Allergies

Bedtime Issues:

Children need to sleep 10 to 12 hours a night with no light on. On the other hand, adults need to sleep 8 hours a night with no light on.

Setting alarm off
Not going to bed
Noise at night
Getting them up in the am and dressed

Restitution /Respite/Responsibility

~Restitution for stolen or intentionally stolen items should be double the replacement value of the item.

~It is the child’s responsibility to fill in the hole they dig with their inappropriate behaviors. The way they fill it in is by paying back with their time, their talent, or their energy.

~Stealing
~Running away
~Knives/weapons
~Destroying property
~Sabotaging fun
~Hygiene

From Others Toward Parents:

~Sometimes we have to say No

~No I won’t put my child in harm’s way by giving them freedoms they can’t handle.

~Parenting too tough, Nazis

~Not strict enough

~Munchhausen, Histrionic, Borderline, etc.

~Bad parent

~Don’t like/love child

~Scape-goating child

~Try harder

~Just love him more

Support Ideas

Realize this is a very painful situation. If you are on the Mom’s side, you are on the child’s side. Sadly, if you take the child’s side against the Mom, they both lose.

Equally important, listen with open ears and hearts. For instance, you should not judge, or be critical. Again, condemning, criticizing, or blaming Does Not Help to Lift the burden, don’t load it down.

Make short, loving phone calls (occasionally) to listen and encourage, not to advise, not to gather information, or “check on them”- Tell her she can chat whenever she needs an ear.

Finally, do Not give unasked-for advice.

Take all information as confidential.

It Is very helpful to educate yourself about Attachment Disorder.

**** Do not say just say ‘Let me know if I can help.’  Do something to help.****

Practical Ideas

1. Take her to lunch or dinner.
2. Rent a funny movie and share it.
3. Send her flowers, chocolate, or cards with love and a smile on it.
4. Bring her some dinner or baked goods,
5. Hugs are always heading. Moms need 12 a day minimum.
6. Pray for them.

More Ideas

Run errands to help lessen the load,
Take the kids somewhere for the afternoon. Be sure she knows it’s because she deserves a break and not because she can’t handle it.
Consider giving her a gift certificate for a massage, manicure, or hair salon.
Give her Mozart’s music or some other calming or uplifting tunes.
Give her a good book.
Buy her bubble bath and watch the kids for an hour or so white she soaks to music.
Remind her of her special traits and talents.
Tell the child often, in front of her, how lucky they are to have a mom like this.
Absolutely, never show up without calling to check for an appropriate time to visit.
Never tell her to “Just love the child more”. If you already have, beg forgiveness for not understanding.

Families by Design

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Reflecting on Nesting Bird Wisdom

Reflecting on Nesting Bird Wisdom

Reflecting on Nesting Bird Wisdom from my sister a year ago.  After a *tough* weekend, emotionally, I had my early Monday morning chat with my sister.  We chit chatted about nothing and everything, then we moved into what my triggers were from the past weekend.

A statement that swirls around in my head, from another friend, that I told to Tera.  My friend said, “Brandi, you have to have a release.  You have to find someone you can trust. Get this stuff off your chest.  Cry if you need to cry.”  My statement back to her was “I had that person.  She died.  Now I don’t share or talk.  I stuff stuff stuff it all down.”

Tera agreed with my friend.  We talked about the stages of grief.  Also, the fact that I have had no time to truly grieve anything over the past several years.  I’ve gone from one hit to another.  There has been little time to breathe.  Sadly, no time to grieve.  Sadly, there was no time to release the pain and emotion from everything that has happened.

Then, she took it one step further.

She said:  “Brandi, it’s okay to have birds fly around your head (referring, of course, to grief, depression, anxiety, etc), but you can’t let them make a nest in your hair.”

I agreed.  Then, I wiped my tears and got off the phone.  Next, I went to the bathroom.

What I saw was a thing of fear and horror.  My hair was straight up (circa 80-90s) in that great curly, let it be free, windblown hair.

I texted my sister and asked her to define “Nest in Hair.”

So, my birds have nested and now it is time for them to fly south.

Bye, Bye Birdie.  So, Reflecting on Nesting Bird Wisdom, the bird has flown away!

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