Thursday, January 31, 2013

It's Time...

The Mister is concerned that I haven't changed my shirt since Chrishel's funeral.  (I take off my Bryce Canyon sweatshirt to shower, so I don't see the problem.)  I haven't blogged in many months.  Maybe now's a good time to start again.

Death was an intruder a couple of weeks ago, and I wasn't ready.  I'm hurting inside, and one thing that will help me through this trial is to get my sads out on my blog.  Besides, I want to remember all the things I have been feeling and learning.  And I don't want to forget my best friend Chrishel, and some of the significant experiences we had together both in life, and in her death.

Bear with me as I recount the events of the past few weeks...

December 26, 2012:
Chrishel texted me asking if we could drive down to Bryce and stay with them over New Year's Eve.  She mentioned ice skating, sledding and a big New Years Eve party on Monday night.  I never replied.  If I had known she was not doing well, I would have moved heaven and earth to be there.  I regret that.  Why didn't I sense something was wrong?

December 30-January 6:
Chrishel had been texting me about wanting to come up to Idaho Falls and take a mini vacation with Tim.  She wanted Julie and Tom, and Joseph and me to go with them up to Island Park or Jackson Hole to rent a cabin and go snow mobiling.  Somewhere along the way, Julie and Tom backed out, so Chrishel and I were making plans.  She had been excitedly researching cabin rates and sled rentals, as well as sketching out some meal plans.  I was looking forward to it.  She and I thought it would be a fun Valentine's weekend surprise for our husbands.  She also texted about having us come down to Lake Powell with them this summer to boat for a few days.

Meanwhile, I mailed her a simple (late!) Christmas package from Julie and myself.  Among other things, It contained a true story by Kerry Blair detailing her experience as a new Relief Society President seeking out every single sister on the ward roster.  The final last name ended up being a sister who was trying to take her own life.  Ironically,  the package arrived just days before Chrishel's accident.

January 12:  The last communication I had with Chrishel came on this date.  It had a different 'tone' to it than other texts I had ever received from her.  She thanked Julie and I for the Christmas package and story.  Her last words:  "I found it!  I found it!  Thanks ladies for the Christmas gift!  I got it a few days ago but misplaced the candy bar.  It is a really good story.  Oranges are my favorite food and The Christmas Orange is my favorite Christmas story.  So this was perfect!  Thanks for being the best friends ever."

January 13:  Sometime in the night, she took her life.  Tim went to bed, and she had been writing on the iPad, but not wanting Tim to look at it.  He didn't think much of it.  He got ready to go to bed, and she said she'd be in shortly.  At 1:00 a.m., Tim awoke to realize she hadn't come to bed yet, so he frantically searched the house and found that she had locked herself in the basement storage room and hung herself.  She left a suicide note on the iPad.

She was not breathing.  She did not have a pulse.  EMT's came and worked on her, and somehow they got her heart beating again, and life flighted her to Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Utah.

January 14:  I was finishing up a violin lesson around 10:00 a.m. when I got a frantic text from Julie letting me know Sierra had just texted her about Chrishel.  Tim called me shortly after to tell me Chrishel was on life support in the Shock Trauma ICU.  After talking to Julie and Joseph, and realizing Chrishel was likely not going to wake up, I packed my bags and Julie and I headed to SLC to say goodbye to our best friend.

Julie and I drove with heavy hearts and many tears to Salt Lake.  We spent Monday through Wednesday literally living in Chrishel's room.  We only left to eat meals in the cafeteria and sleep a few hours at Julie's sister's house in Farmington.

The first thing Tim said to me was, "She's all I've known since I was 17.  How can I go on without her?  She better have a lot of answers for me when I get to the other side."

Julie and I each took turns stroking her hair back, rubbing her feet and holding her hand all evening.  She was so cold.  (Medical staff kept her body at 92* for the first 24 hours to help with brain tissue preservation.) I whispered in her ear how much I loved her, how we weren't angry with her, and I pleaded with her to fight on one last time... I told her how much Tim and the kids desperately need her, and that I needed her, too.

The doctors told Tim that if there is going to be a miracle, it had better happen in the first 24 hours.  But they didn't give much hope.  Tim stayed realistic, but hopeful.  She responded somewhat to light in her pupils, so that was the only sliver of hope.  The other tests she was not responsive to.

At one point that first night, I looked over at Sierra and asked if she would like to play for her mom if I could track down a violin.  "Sure.  But where am I going to find one?"

"I have no idea.  But let me see what I can do."

So I put a quick post on Facebook, and minutes later, I was inundated with responses from Bountiful all the way down to Provo.  My sweet friend Kristine Parker made arrangements with a man I had never met who called and said, "My name is Kelly and I heard about your situation.  I own Day Murray Music here on State Street, and I'll open my store back up and bring you my finest instrument."

When he and his wife arrived with gentle smiles and thousands of dollars worth of his best violin in hand, I was overwhelmed with the kindness of strangers.

"Take as long as you need.  My wife and I will be waiting in the waiting room.  Best of luck."

Sierra played "Come Thou Fount" beautifully.  She had a strong, clear tone.  She handed the violin to me, and I played Ashokan Farewell and "I Know that My Redeemer Lives".

I hope Chrishel heard the sweet strains of her daughter's final song.

Late Monday evening, Julie and I took Sierra (15 yrs) and Tate (12 yrs) down to the cafeteria to eat.  They ate, we laughed and joked around.  It was so refreshing to have a 'normal' hour with them.  Plus, Chrishel would be proud of the fact that the kids were eating something...

On Tuesday, the 24 hour deadline was up and the medical staff began the 6 hour process of warming Chrishel's body back up to 98.6*.  At that point, they would do more tests to see if there was any brain function.  (Response to light and pain.)  The first couple of days, she was taking about 17 respirations per minute on top of the ventilator.  That was hopeful, right?

It was heart wrenching to watch Tim curl up beside Chrishel on the bed and stroke her arms, and stomach.  He lovingly kissed her lips, cheeks, forehead.  He was exhausted, and broke down off and on all the time we were there.  Julie stroked Tim's head, and I rubbed his stinky feet while he whispered encouraging words to his eternal Valentine.  We wanted to ease his burden.

My heart broke into smaller pieces watching Isaac.  He wouldn't speak for the first day, but kneeled in a chair facing the window in the waiting room.  He's so quiet and introspective.  The next two days, he sat in Chrishel's room and wouldn't leave her side.  All he wanted to do was draw and color.

"That's right, buddy.  Get all your sads out on paper.  Your mama would love that."  And he colored and colored and I went out to the nurse's station over and over to ask for more scotch tape so Isaac could tape the pictures up on her wall.  He drew him and Chrishel on a pirate ship sailing away together.  He drew pictures of Bryce Canyon hoo doo's; he drew an eagle;   He drew his family.  He drew his family with me, dating it 2012 "when my mom was happier."

Grace had the opposite reaction: she didn't want to be in the room much at all. I think all the tubes and machines scared her some.  She was too young to process what was happening.  She was happiest playing at Jentre's house with her cousins in Bountiful.

Tate hardly spoke.  (That's how he rolls.) He mostly played on his cell phone/ipod.  He stayed in her room mostly as well, standing at her bedside holding her hand every so often.

Sierra was very clear minded.  On the last day, she curled up beside Chrishel and wrapped the quilt Chrishel had made for her over both of them.  She stroked Chrishel's hand and lovingly suctioned the fluid/saliva out of her mouth throughout the day when needed.  I was proud of Sierra.  She was being strengthened.

On Tuesday, it was determined that Chrishel was an organ donor, and the family was waiting for the Organ Donation Services Reps to come and consult.  Chrishel's sisters had many questions.

I observed Tim from time to time pulling aside the children asking them how they were doing.
"We're going to figure this out somehow.  Hang in there with me.  Your mom tended to keep things inside, but we can't do that.  We have to talk about this.  Please tell me how you're feeling." He was so brave, yet so fragile.  He was being a good father and patriarch.

Chrishel was deteriorating slowly day by day.  On Wednesday, she spiked a fever and her brain was starting to swell.  Her hands and feet were starting to retain fluid, and she was getting puffy.  Phlebotomists kept coming in to draw what seemed like bazillions of vials of her blood for the organ donation prep.  They needed to send it to Denver to begin the process of finding matches for Chrishel's organ/blood type.  Finally, Chrishel's veins were blowing, and  it was getting more difficult to find hopeful sites.  In the early afternoon, she stopped taking any breaths on her own all together.  The vent was doing all the labor.

Tim knew he needed to let her go.  He didn't want to prolong her suffering anymore, even though he couldn't fathom a life without Chrishel.

The doctors told us to say our goodbyes before 5:00.  At that time, they would do one final test, but there was no hope.

At precisely 5:00 p.m., the cardiologist, head doctor and nurses came in and tested her eyes for light response.  None.  Next, they took a syringe full of cold water and shot it in her ear.  No flinching or pain response.  The final test included turning off the ventilator and putting a black balloon-like bag on the end so we could visibly see if she would inhale on her own.  After a few minutes, the carbon dioxide would start to build up in her blood, and even in 'normal' coma patients, the survival instinct to draw a breath of oxygen would kick in.  Theoretically.  Her sisters and parents, Tim, Sierra, Tate and Isaac, Elaine (Tim's sweet mother), Julie and I were crowded around the room.  Julie and I held hands until our knuckles turned white, not wanting her life to end.  Not like this.

It was the longest 15 minutes of my life, waiting, our eyes darting between the monitors and the black respiration bag.  The atmosphere in that room was filled with the most intense emotions I have ever experienced.  The silence was laden with dashed hopes and dreams, and the worst of all emotions...regret.

At 5:42, the doctor shook his head and officially called her death.

Her oldest sister Sheila turned to the doctor, and erupted in emotional pain, "Why are you calling it?!  Her heart is still beating!  You can't tell me she's dead!"  Sheila spun around to Rod, Chrishel's dad, and fell into his arms saying,"Daddy, where is her spirit?!  Where is she right now??!"

The doctor tried to explain that her heart was only beating because of the machines, and she was officially and completely brain dead.  It was time for the organ donation team to take her.  The window for using her organs was precise and rushed.

As we hung our heads and trudged out of Chrishel's ICU room for the last time, I thought about those three numbers:  5:42 p.m.  They changed my life.  I've seen thousands of hours of movies and t.v. in my life, and that includes death scenes, murder mysteries, romance and family bonding scenes.

But none of that even comes close to the exquisite reality of what happened Wednesday, January 16 at 5:42.  It was something so incredibly sobering and heart wrenching, and... sacred.  

I know I speak for Julie when I say that those three days have shaped our lives in such a dramatic way, that it is so impossible to reflect in words, what we felt and learned.  I could feel and sense Chrishel's desires.  I know that must sound cooky, but it was as if her spirit was communicating with mine and Julie's.  She needed to move on to the next phase of her part in the Plan.  She was ready.  Sadly, we were not.  I don't know how all that will get worked out in the after life for her, but she will be able to acknowledge her mistake and have a perfect Judge to help make sense of it all. She is okay.  Somehow, someday, it will all be made right.  But I am not worried about her.

What I can say is that without equivocation, the veil was thin in that room.  My Heavenly Father clothed us in a cocoon of comfort.  I don't know how I know, but I know that my sweet sister and best friend heard us and was with us.  The healing powers of the Atonement are our only hope.  I thank God for His intimate awareness of our loss.

This is all the energy I have to recount tonight, but I will be back again tomorrow.  Or the next day... and recount the tender mercies that have attended me through this ordeal, and write about the funeral and burial, and finally, what my grief has looked like the past week.

Good night.  God speed, Chrishel.