‘In my left hand, I held a gun. In the other was a beer. My first Christmas as a single mom without my kids was soul-wrenching.’: Woman shares grief journey, ‘Life is messy and beautiful’

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Trigger Warning: This story contains mention of suicidal thoughts and child loss that may be triggering to some.

“I looked down at my hands. In my left, I held a gun, and in the other was an open beer bottle. This was not how I had intended to spend Christmas Day. My first Christmas as a single mother without my kids was soul-wrenching. I’d get to see my girls at some point today but to be honest, waking up to a flooded toilet and a dog that had peed all over the ground was not the start I was looking forward to. My immediate family lived 3,000 miles away, and we could only talk on the phone while I opened my presents. How was this my life?

I walked up to the cashier at Walgreens around 11 a.m. with a plunger and a six-pack of beer. ‘Merry Christmas!’ she beamed. I’m not sure I even said anything, but it wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to see I was not feeling the spirit of the day. I drove to a remote area of my town, parked, opened a beer and held the gun. I held it for a long time. After I drank the first beer, I opened another one. I’m not sure how long I sat there in my truck, but it was long enough to have a thorough talk with the Almighty.

I had been this low before. Depression had a way of rearing its head throughout my life. But this was different. This was the start of my ‘new normal,’ and every holiday was going to be some version of loneliness and separation from my beloved children. It didn’t matter how beautiful the surroundings were, in my mind everything was dark. There was no beauty I could see in this life.

Courtesy of Julie Card

5 and a half years before that Christmas, I watched a team of doctors surrounded my son, Isaac, in an attempt to save his life after he had coded for the third time that morning. He was 2 days old. The prior 2 days had been one long blur of shock. What started out as a routine non-stress test ended up with a life flight helicopter ride, emergency c-section, and the sound of my family holding back their emotion (not successfully, I might add) while I woke up to my doctor nudging me.

Courtesy of Julie Card

‘Julie,’ he said, ‘you need to wake up. Your son is going to die and you need to say goodbye to him.’ I stood outside of the NICU with my husband as we waited patiently as one of the doctors approached us. ‘I’m sorry. There’s nothing else we can do.’

They maneuvered his many tubes so we—my parents, sister, husband, and myself—could hold him, and say our goodbyes before we turned off the ventilator. I sat cradling this cherubic, red-headed baby boy. The boy I had known would come to our family, even before he was conceived, and here we were saying hello and goodbye in one fell swoop. It was the first and last time I got to hold him alive.

Courtesy of Julie Card

I had pictured it so differently. He died of non-immune fetal hydrops. The next day, I was discharged from the hospital. Instead of heading home with my son, I was heading to the funeral home to help write his obituary and pick out his casket. There was no beauty I could see in this life at that time either.

Courtesy of Julie Card

A year and a half after the ‘Worst Christmas In History,’ I married my beloved husband, Lance. I became the bonus parent to four children: three boys and one girl. The blending of our families after a quick courtship was nothing short of the angels themselves dripping pixie dust of happiness over us on a daily basis. We had read several books about blending families. But surely, these were OTHER families whose blending took years. The angel dust started to dry up after a few months, at least for the kids. It dried up just in time for the stomach flu to run through six kids and two adults (me being the last so, obviously, I had all the energy to clean up gobs of throw-up and make chicken noodle soup like it was the last food known to mankind).

Courtesy of Julie Card

On day one of my recovery, I felt faint but didn’t think much of it. On day two, I passed out and was unconscious for over 3 hours. My husband had to fireman-carry me to the car, rush me to the hospital, and throw me over his shoulders to get me into the emergency room. If that isn’t love, what is? It took 18 months, three hospitalizations, numerous doctor visits, one horribly insulting hospital social worker, and long term disability from my beloved job to find the stomach virus had triggered a gene that turned on an autoimmune disease.

Courtesy of Julie Card

I had Sjogren’s Syndrome, as well as POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome). I spent most of 2012 to 2015 either in bed, passed out, at a doctor’s appointment, or depressed. Oftentimes, because I’m a high achiever, I’d do several of these at once. I had to quit my job, the kids turned a bit feral, and my husband took on a lot of the responsibilities I prized as ‘Mom jobs.’ It was a dark time for me mentally. There was no beauty I could see in my life at this time either.

Courtesy of Julie Card

Shortly after midnight one night, we heard sobs outside of our bedroom door. Our eldest daughter, my bio-child, opened it, found her way to our bed, and collapsed in heavy heartache. ‘I’m bisexual,’ she finally managed. ‘I tried to kill myself with a plastic sack, but as I started to fall asleep I hurried and pulled it off my head. Why would God make me like this?’ Oh, my sweet child. How could I have been so unobservant? ‘I don’t know all the answers but I love you and we’ll figure it out.’

My daughter saw no beauty in this life this time. I was heartbroken because this was our third child who saw no beauty in life—one right after the other—and wanted the pain to go away. We took advantage of all the professional help we could and it was an emotionally draining several years for our family. There was estrangement, anger, heated arguments, and tears. Lots of tears. Lots of pleading for answers that haven’t come or that don’t seem they’ll be answered in this life. I am the proud parent of a transgender son. My son has been able to see the beauty in who he is, which has subsequently resulted in him being able to see the beauty of the world around him.

Courtesy of Julie Card

My sister kept telling me about how wonderful this Southern girl was she had come to know. ‘This Southern Belle is so sweet… she is so good with my girls…she works so hard at school…’ What this young lady didn’t have, in the traditional sense, was a mother and a father. Her father had died when she was 12 years old, and her mother abandoned her and her sister shortly thereafter. She had been in the care of other family members for years and even though she was older, she wanted parents in the traditional sense. She certainly, and reasonably so, has had a difficult time seeing the beauty in this world. She is now the newest member of our blended family and as such, I have made connections with other parents navigating this road and found strength and support from their stories. My hope is our Southern Belle will believe she is a worthy beauty of the world. We do.

From my story, you can see I’ve joined many life clubs: the Divorce Club, Death of a Child Club, Chronic Illness Club, Depression Club… you get the point. What I have come to realize with every new club I join is more often than not, most of us are in one or more clubs. My husband is our resident stoic, and I have learned from him it is my mindset that determines if the club I’m in is based on a trial, an unexpected turn of events, or just a natural variation to my life path. Not all clubs are ‘bad.’ I will gladly be the president of the Eating Mint Brownies When We Feel Sad But Don’t Ruin Your Dinner Club, (and by default I have been) but then I ended up joining the I Am Overweight Club as a result.

Courtesy of Julie Card

Our lives are messy and complicated, and if each of us tried to put our life into a Venn Diagram, chances are we’d all end up with carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis from the laborious task of drawing millions of circles. Perhaps an exaggeration but some days it doesn’t feel like it.

What are my club benefits? They are varied and many. Through the Mama Dragons organization, I have connected with wonderful women who stand ready at the gate to provide love, support, and education to families who have an LGBTQIA loved one or friend. Through my chronic illness, I have found social media groups that help with the isolation that illness can bring. I have the honor of working with Share Parents of Utah. We provide support services to families after the loss of a baby either through miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death, or in the first months of life.

Lemontree Lane Photography

I have found healing where I didn’t think I needed any, and friends who will be lifelong. If you’re a new entrant to any of these clubs it is REALLY hard to see any beauty in this life. But what I have learned over the years, from my various life club dues is the darkness doesn’t stay forever. If you belong to any of these clubs, or the hundreds more I don’t belong to, you understand a new initiant has a much different perspective than a club veteran. Perspective is the key that unlocks the door to the beauty of this world.

Every Christmas, I think about the day I held the gun in one hand and the beer bottle in the other. I try to remember how dark and ugly and hopeless my world looked. Something my experiences have taught me is that the beauty will return. Even when I’m hanging on by a proverbial thread, or if I feel wholly unprepared or qualified for what club I’m now paying dues to, I know I have the key. Life is beautiful.”

Courtesy of Julie Card

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Julie Card. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story hereand be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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