The first balloon ever released...

The first balloon ever released...

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Unspoken Promise

I remember watching General Conference on TV the year after Dominic was born. This is where the prophet and apostles of our church speak 2 times a year and give “talks” to the members of the LDS faith and anyone else who wants to tune in. These are lessons they feel prompted to teach about and are always very spiritual. I was a single mom living with my grandparents at the time and for some reason they were not home so I had decided to clean the house for them while listening to the lessons. Dominic was taking a nap and surprisingly I was really enjoying picking up the house while hearing such great speakers. Prophet Thomas S. Monson was speaking and he was telling a very sad story about an LDS pioneer who decided to travel to Utah with her children so they could stop being persecuted for their beliefs. The journey conditions were harsh on her and her family. One by one all of her children died and she was the sole survivor to make it to Salt Lake City. All though it was difficult, with time she used her story of disparity as a message of hope to many and was an amazing example of not only having faith through trials and sacrifice but the true belief that one day her family would all be together again.

I hated that story. All I could think about was how absolutely terrible it was. Not only did she lose one child but she lost ALL of them! The whole reason she moved there was to give them a better life by raising them in a place where they could safely practice their faith and now their dead! Her fate was worse than death itself. What mother would want to live on without her children, what was the point? The prophet continued talking and I went from happily mopping the floor to sitting on the couch staring at the TV in disbelief. I was yelling at the screen “Why would you tell such a horrible story? I don’t feel any peace at all! That was so depressing! She didn’t deserve that and neither did they!” My anger quickly turned into fear and in that moment I begged God to never take a child from me. I was not strong enough, I could never begin to imagine the pain, I had endured many things but this one was unbearable. After my prayer I felt peace and pushed that fear to back of my mind.
As I grew more into my role of “mommy-hood” I became more and more sensitive to the death of children and found myself in a place where I couldn’t even hear a semi-sad story about them without it weighing on me for days as if it had happened to my own child. Anything from abusive parents to kids being bullied at school my heart absorbed the stories and I couldn’t cope with it anymore. I eventually reached the point that if I even thought someone was about to share a sad story with me I would quickly interrupt them and say “Wait, if you’re about to tell me a depressing story about a child please don’t! I can’t handle it!” I even deleted friends on Facebook who seem to overly put news post about horrible situations involving children and pretty much placed myself inside of a bubble of safety away from all of the awful tales.
I know every mother can relate to what I am talking about, once you have a child you know that if anything happened to them it would kill you! Or at least that is all you can humanly imagine since it has never really happened to you (nor want it too). I was the same way but for some reason a little more hypersensitive to it and had to go above and beyond to avoid these situations so I wouldn’t feel so depressed. I remember when I was a little girl I would wake up my sister anytime I got a nightmare. One night I had a particularly awful dream and no amount of her comfort would make me feel better, she then told me a little secret she did to help her when she had bad dreams. She said that anytime she had a nightmare when she woke up instead of focusing on the horrible parts she would immediately re-write the story line. She would go back over the dream and start when everything was ok and before the bad part came she would edit it out and replace it with a happy ending.
This really helped me and I used this little secret not only for my nightmares but in my real life as well. Anytime I was going through a hard time and it would get me down. I would imagine what it would be like if I could simply edit the story and make it into a happy ending and for some reason it gave me a sense of hope. I felt like I could turn any situation around if I tried hard enough and this is how I learned to deal with my problems as a child who grew up in a troubled home. This is also how I mentally handled any sad stories about kids, I would alter reality and tell myself none of it was real, none of it really happened, and all the children were safe and happy. Obviously it was a coping mechanism. I thought it was healthy at the time, I now realize that it was a huge hindrance in dealing with true issues in my life but it got me through tough times and even though in some ways I still use this technique, I am learning healthier ways to deal with harsh realities since McKenna's death. It is  still a work in progress though, it's not easy changing a 25 year old habit. 
At some point, I’m not exactly sure when, I had convinced myself that God had made an unspoken promise to me. I never talked about it or even prayed about it because just the mere thought of it was like jinxing myself. It seemed simple enough, He could put me through any challenge in life but the one we were never going to touch, the one we were never going to get close too was taking away any of my children. I felt like it didn’t have to be said or prayed about, it was just obvious. I had been put through many hard trials, I had carried many heavy burdens and I had accepted all of them. I had stood up to the challenge and was even aware that plenty more were to come and I was ok with that. I would stand through every trial because it would make me a better person, I would stay strong in my faith and continually try to be a good person with a sunny disposition because life isn’t easy for anyone so either you fight the good fight or you let it swallow you whole. All of these things were acceptable except in return the only challenge I would never have to face was the death of a child. This one was off limits and I believed full heartedly we had both agreed to that.
I cannot say how betrayed I felt when McKenna died. It happened so fast. No warning, not even a prompting that something was wrong. With a blink of an eye she was dead and there was no going back. I remember shouting at Zach in the hospital “No, not this, we go through trials but not this one! This is not our story!” I must have said it a 100 times. I truly believed that God was going to spare me this trial. I thought we had a deal! I would faithfully endure and he would never go to the place we never talked about. Why? Why were we here? Why this trial? Why my child? Why so sudden? Why no warning? Why so young? Why not me instead? I just couldn’t understand it. Why was God so determined to challenge every part of me? Had all I been through in my life not enough? Did we have to take my pride and joy, my heart, my soul, my child? Did I make a mistake? Did I do something wrong? Did I ask for this? Did I deserve this? Was I being punished?
I tried many times to go to my “happy ending”. I tried to re-write the script of McKenna’s story and change it to where she was still here with me but it was impossible. It is the only story I have never been able to change. She is gone, never to return to this earth and live this life with me. That is a hard script to swallow and even with all the imagination I have been gifted with it will not allow me to see life with her here because this trial is different. I have no control over this situation. I can’t bring her back from the dead no matter how much I wish I could. It’s not that I did anything wrong, I am not being punished nor have I been betrayed. Honestly I am starting to realize this doesn’t have much to do with me at all… it’s about her. She didn’t deserve to be here… she was too good for this world. To “valiant” is what I was told a few weeks after she died in a priesthood blessing from my bishop, “She has work to do, very important work. She had to return with our Heavenly Father, He needed her personally and she is working very hard to get the work done so she can see you again in Heaven” is what he continued with.
I have no idea what those sentences mean. I’ve rolled them around in my brain a million times. Work to do? What work was so important that only she could do it and she had to leave right away? I think part of her work was to help this family. She was obviously sent to us specifically for a reason. She was sent to Zach and I to raise her, she was sent here to touch Dominic, Zoe and the rest of my families hearts. I know having her in our lives was not by mere chance. Her time was short but there was a strong message behind it. We were called to do something more then what we were doing. Why else would we be asked to struggle through so many trials? Why else would we have had her just to lose her so quickly? I don’t think we could have reached the goal without her, in fact I know we couldn’t have because nothing is more motivating then just the thought of being with her again. Nothing else could possibly provoke such a strong response not only from me but her family. We are all willing to change, drop bad habits, go above and beyond the call if we think it will make her proud, make her happy, and bring us back together again.
I still don’t have all the answers. We are coming up on a year now and I still feel like only a few months have passed. I am just as lost as I was when it started. I don’t know my purpose! I don’t know what God wants from me or this family. I don’t fully understand her death. All I do know is that my daughter will never have to suffer a day in her life from now on. All those stories that I use to not be able to handle (her death has changed that) will never happen to her. She will always be safe, she will always know she is loved, she will always know her true worth because the Lord personally called her home. That promise I thought we made was me in denial. I, much like every parent didn’t want to endure the loss and suffering that follows losing a part of your soul but I realize now that I was holding her back. She is very important in Heaven, she was called home with a job that only she could complete. She is working hard to do whatever her part is to be with us again and I can’t help but be proud of her.
It really makes me stop and think, what am I doing? Will I sit here and do nothing while she does all the work? Will I be angry with God and never move forward? Will I stop fighting the good fight and allow myself to be broken? No, that would defeat the purpose of her leaving. That would push me in the opposite direction. I have work to do. Work that only I can do for her and the rest of my family so we can be together again. I have to raise her siblings so they will be strong and righteous warriors like their sister and if at any moment they are taken, I will know they too will be with her. I have to be here for my husband. I have to uplift him, love him, and stay true to him. I need to help him see and reach his full potential so that when he too reaches his time he can be with our Kenna Bear again. I have to do my part too so I can grow closer to my Heavenly Father and further understand the work He needs me to do. Then when my time comes I will be worthy and ready to be with her again. Just because McKenna passed away doesn't take any of us off the table for death. It is inevitable. I pray to never lose another one but at the same token I will never live in that kind of denial again. It's what helps me make every second count. 
I now know without a doubt that there was never an unspoken promise between the Lord and I. Not because He doesn’t love or want me to be happy but because none of us are exempt from life. Challenges occur and it is not up to us which ones we get to take on or walk away from. Do I like that? No! Does it make me feel any better? Not really! But I know it’s true, if I could pick and choose all the trials I would have to go through in this life I would have said no to all of them. I never would have thought I could handle being a single mom, walking away from family, going to a graduate school when I was an average C student my whole life and I most definitely NEVER would have chosen to lose a child. No one gets to go through life without a struggle. I don’t know why but it is in these moments that we seem to grow the most. It is in these moments that we are morphed into something we never could have imagined, whether it be for the good or the bad.
If high school Shannon was standing in front of the woman I am now I know she would have been shocked. I also think she would have been very proud because only she knew all my weaknesses. All the fears I had about who I would become, what kind of mother I would be, how hard it is for me to express my pain, and how selfish I could truly be sometimes. She would be happy to know I avoided most of the routes that we thought we would take. I use to think if I lost a child I would lose myself. I would lose my dignity, my hope, my thrive to live, all morality would instantly go out the window. Although parts of me have died I realize now going through it the answer was never that simple. There is work to be done. I know everyday she is being the little busy bee that she has always been. She is learning and growing in ways that I can never imagine with the Father as her instructor. She understands her purpose and is literally perfect in every way.
I have a lot of work to do to even be in the same universe as her. There is no time to slack off, there is no time to doubt, there is only time to do my part. I am her mother and I will try my best to keep up with the standard she has set. She has raised the bar for this family. We all know that we have to be better, we have to work harder, and we have to stand up and fight everyday otherwise we are wasting time. This life feels long right now but one day I too will be gone. I will see her in heaven and all I will have to show for it is whatever I chose to do in this life. I can’t bare the idea of not making her more than proud. She is working so hard, she deserves the best, and she deserves to know that I will not only do anything for her, but I will go above and beyond God’s expectations to let her know how much I love her. The next time I see her, I just want to see that giant smile on her face and then I will know my work is done. In her arms I will finally feel peace again… only when I am in her arms will I rest.
This is a poem another mother sent to me that lost her daughter too.
I feel like it sums up my feelings today exactly.
The Loan:
“I’ll lend you for a little time,
A child of mine,” God said;
“For you to love her while she lives,
And mourn for when she’s dead.

 It may be six or seven years,
Or twenty-two or three,
But will you, ’till I call her back
Take care of her for Me?
She’ll bring her charm to gladden you,
And should her stay be brief
You’ll have her wonderful memories,
As solace for your grief.
I cannot promise she will stay,
Since all from earth return
But there are lessons taught down there,
I want this child to learn.

 I’ve looked the wide world over,
In search of  teachers true,
And from the throngs that crowd life’s lane,
I have selected you.
Now will you give her all your love?
Not think the labor vain,
Nor hate Me when I come to call,
To take her back again?
I fancied that I heard them say:
‘Dear Lord, Thy will be done!
For all the joy Thy child shall bring,
The risk of grief we’ll run.

 We’ll shelter her with tenderness,
We'll love her while we may,
And for all the happiness we’ve known,
Forever grateful stay.

And should the angels call for her,
Much sooner than we’ve planned,
We’ll brave the bitter grief that comes,
And try to understand.’