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25 years of marriage as of May 12th

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As of May 12th Katy Moffitt and I celebrated 25 years of marriage.  That is right, back in 1990 we stood in a Baptist church in Houston Texas and before God, friends and family we vowed to be husband and wife no matter what.  For better or worse both in sickness and health.  To round out our vows we privately added a coffin clause.  The only way out of this marriage is if you are in your coffin.

Over the last 25 years we have known or seen many different marriages which have wound up in divorce court.  Marriage takes a lot of work, love, tears and commitment.  A commitment to do whatever it takes to make the marriage work.  Marriage takes love, patience, communications and lots of forgiveness.  Despite our best efforts it is almost impossible to change the other person.  When we get married we can easily fall into the trap that if we love someone enough that we can change the person to be who we want them to be. 

Katy and I have faced our fair share of ups and downs.  Some of the challenges that we have faced would have been catastrophic and would have ended most marriages.  I still remember our first premarital marriage counseling sessions.  Katy and I met an older couple out in Sugarland Texas at their home and shared a dinner.  We had a nice chat during dinner and then the genders split up and went to different parts of the house.  After it was all said and done Katy and I were amazed to learn that we would never have a successful marriage. 

The marriage counselors identified some things that were probable pit falls that would prove to be more than we could handle even if we were in love at that time.  Katy comes from a family that had to deal with alcoholism.  I came from a really messed up home life as a child.  I still remember the man stating that he could tell that “ I had been through some pretty rough spots” up until that point.  We were told that because of our past that I would never be willing to be in the relationship for the long haul and that if I did leave Katy she would wind up being an alcoholic. 

I am glad that Katy and I did not buy into that negative crap.  I grant you that these people were older and wiser than us and they could see some potential problems if we had allowed this to happen.  Katy and I discussed those things and decided that together and with the help of God we would be able to overcome them. 

As I look back over the last 25 years I can see several things that have required us to lean on each other and our faith in God in order to remain steadfast to our wedding vows.  I still do not understand how people can weather the storms of life without a faith in God.  I know that some folks do not understand faith and they view those of us with faith as weak people who are in need of some sort of fairy tale figure in our lives to run to when times get tough.  

One of the things that we seem to have always had to deal with are the financial struggles.  Nothing will destroy a marriage faster than financial stress or one or both spouses being unfaithful.  Looking back over the last 25 years I can see that while things have been a bit shaky at times with regards to finances our needs were always met somehow.  We always had a roof over our heads, food to eat and clothes to wear. It did not help that we made some stupid decisions along the way early on.  We suffered from the “I wants”, and decided that we would rather have it now and pay later.  What the credit card industry and marketers do not tell you is that paying later means you will pay dearly for the privilege of having things that you do not need quicker.  Katy always told me that she did not marry me for my money (or lack thereof) and I did not marry her for her cooking skills.  Luckily for us those areas have gotten much better over the years. 

Over the last 25 years we have lived through different seasons.  We lived through the honeymoon stage and entered parenthood with 3 children.  Jessica, Kristina and Justin Moffitt were born to us.  I have a son named Jeremy who was from a previous marriage.  The children went from being toddlers to adolescents to adults in what seems to be the blink of an eye. During this time we experienced the typical things that most families experience with 3 children.  We had our fair share of emergency room visits and hospital scares. 

I remember when we lived in Atlanta Georgia and I worked for Delta Airlines as a contractor.  Justin fell out of a 2 story window and banged his arm and head on the patio.  We rushed him to the ER and we got a lecture from a DSS worker who was concerned that we did not call an ambulance much less let our son fall out of a window.  It is tough to watch your children have to endure pain and suffering and not have the ability to keep them from that. 

I also remember when our Jessica Ann, when she was 10 years old, started to have blinding head aches and other neurological symptoms such as being dizzy and not being able to keep food down.  We found out that she had a baseball sized tumor in her head.  Emergency surgery removed 95% of the tumor but the rest of it that was wrapped around her brain stem would eventually kill her. The doctors gave Jessica Ann 12 months to live and 14 months later she went to heaven. 

I remember sitting at MUSC Childrens hospital with the team of doctors and our pastor.  We were told that she only had one option left but it was harsh and it could possibly kill her quicker than the cancer.  A bone marrow transplant would be performed and she would be in the hospital for 6 weeks while she was isolated from others to keep her from getting infections.  There was no promise that this would work even if we decided to go that direction.  I remember talking to Jessica at the tender age of ten and telling her what the options were.  I remember how she looked and reacted when what we told her sunk in.  She decided that she wanted to go home and not try the bone marrow transplant. 

That 14 months that we lived out as a family back in 2000 and 2001 was the hardest 14 months on our family. I have been told by the medical community that most families that lose a child to cancer typically wind up destroyed and scattered to the winds and in divorce court.  I remember when Jessica Ann died and the funeral director in Goose Creek told me that the statistics showed that we would be divorced within a year.  I remember how angry that made me and I remember telling that man that I rejected that idea.  We would not wind up in divorce court over this.  We would dig in and do whatever we could to survive this event. 

That was 14 years ago in August.   Our family was not destroyed but it certainly was impacted in a negative way.  None of us have been the same since that day we lost our Jessica Ann.  I am proud that Katy and I were able to hold things together and work through all of those things and that our marriage survived despite all odds.  I would also state that this season of our life was probably the one thing that did shake my faith in God down to the very foundation.  

Now we are empty nesters.  Justin lives in downtown Charleston with his girlfriend and Kristina lives in Oregon.  I guess you could say that we are in the last season of our lives.  We are sliding into our golden years and second childhood.  We are both in our 50’s and while we would like to think that we are in our middle years neither of us expect to live another 50 years.  I suppose that none of us know when our lives will end.  We have to live our lives one day at a time and leave all of the eternal issues up to our God and creator who created us and the world we live in. 

I am so very blessed to be married to my Gizmo.  Katy has been my best friend for the last 25 years. I remember sitting at First Baptist church in Houston Texas and telling Katy that we would only be friends.  I remember how that made her cry.  I guess that God had shown her that I was her husband before he told me.  I remember saying that I would never marry again until I saw a burning bush in the middle of I-10 at noon time.  Apparently there was a burning bush (or car) at some point because Katy chased my heart down and captured it.  There have been no regrets and no looking back.  I am glad that I am married to my Katy and I am looking forward to us growing old together. 

I am a better man because of Katy.  Katy has always been the most selfless person I have ever known.  Katy is also the most faithful person I know with regards to her faith in God.  Katy has a quiet faith that is very strong.   Katy has always believed in me even when I did not believe in myself.  Katy has taught me how to be more selfless and more loving of other people.   I really am not sure how she has put up with me for all of these years but she has.  I believe that makes her a saint.

 

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Guest post by Samantha Hayward

I do not know Samantha Hayward.  My friend Debby Stephenson from Courageous Kidz saw her article on Facebook.  Debby sent it to me in e-mail, and after reading it I thought it appropriate to share it with you.  I can relate to everything that Samantha shares in this article and I believe everyone could get some valuable insight from it.

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The soul destroying agony of your child dying is only truly known and understood by those who have endured it. Four years on, I still glance down at my daughters grave in disbelief. Visiting my child’s grave is surreal. It’s almost like I’ve vacated my body and I’m watching someone I don’t know standing there putting flowers down.

Is this really my life ?

Only a parent understands the powerful bond you have with your child; that absolute undying love you have and that monumental desire that roars like an open fire inside you to protect that child at all costs. It is openly said that a parent will lay down their life for their child, but it is not until you have your own that you truly understand these fierce emotions. Parenting is wearing your heart on the outside of your body. Whatever you imagine it might be like to have your child die, multiply that by about a trillion and you’re probably not even close.

On the surface it appears society is accepting of this unbearable sadness and people are supportive and open to talking about it. However, in my situation I’ve been surprised by people’s genuine kindness and empathy as much as I’ve been repeatedly shocked & disappointed by their lack of it. It’s necessary for bereaved parents to be able to talk and, most of all, be able to talk openly. I’ve found it’s the only thing which dispels the trauma.

Sure, friends and family have been supportive, but it’s proven to be the case with me that there is a mandate as for how long their unwavering support, patience, understanding, concern and empathy lasts. The truth is, the situation is so unbearably sad that it becomes incredibly emotionally draining on the other person.

The realisation that they can’t fix your sadness sets in, the frustration builds because not even they can see an end in sight, then gradually it starts to impede on the happiness in their life. They haven’t lost their child so why should they spend all their time sad about yours?

I will, for the sake of all the other parents out there with empty arms, write ten things I wish people knew about the loss of a child. Maybe one of my ten points might make a difference to a bereaved parent’s life.

1. Four years on I get up every day with the exact same sadness I had the day Ella died. The only difference is I’m more skilled at hiding it and I’m much more used to the agony of my broken heart. The shock has somewhat lessened, but I do still find myself thinking I can’t believe this happened. I thought that only happened to other people. You asked how I was in the beginning yet you stopped, why? Where did you get the information on what week or month was good to stop asking?

2. Please don’t tell me that all you want is for me to be happy again. Nobody wants that more than I do, but it’s something that can only be achieved with time. On top of that, I have to find a new happiness. The happiness I once felt, that carefree feeling, will never return in its entirety. It also helps to have the patience and understanding from loved ones.

3. Please don’t say ‘I want the old Sam back!’ Or, I can see the old Sam coming back! Sam’s not coming back. This is who I am now. If you only knew the horror I witnessed and endured you would know it’s not humanly possible for me to ever be the same person again. Losing a child changes who you are. I’ve been told my eyes look haunted.

It’s a strange thing for someone to tell a grieving mother, but it’s true – I am haunted. My views on the world have changed, things that were once important are not now and vice versa. I feel as though you’re telling me two things here. Firstly you don’t like the person I am and, secondly if the old Sam’s not coming back I’m out of here. By the way there is nobody that misses the “old Sam” more than me!!! I’m mourning two deaths here; my daughter’s and my former self.

4. If you chose to acknowledge my daughter’s birthday or the anniversary of her death on the first year, it’s terribly gut wrenching when you didn’t bother to acknowledge the second or third or fourth. Do you think any subsequent birthday or anniversary is not as sad for me? It also says to me in very big neon lights that you’ve moved on and forgotten about my daughter.

5. Please stop with the continual comments about how lucky I am to have my other children particularly my daughter. Do I say this to you? Then why say it to me? I’ve buried my daughter do you seriously think I feel lucky?

6. It’s not healthy to cry in front of the kids? You’re wrong. It is perfectly healthy that they see I’m sad their sister has died. When someone dies it’s normal to cry. What would not be normal would be for my children to grow up and think “I never even saw my Mum sad over Ella’s death.” That would paint me in a light that would tell them it’s healthy to hide your emotions when obviously it’s not.

7. I have four children I don’t have three.  If you want to ignore Ella as my third child because she’s dead go for it but don’t do it for me. Four not three!

8. There are still some days, yes four years on, that I still want to hide away from the world and take a break from pretending everything is oh so wonderful and I’m all better.

Please don’t just assume I’ve thrown in the towel, or worse, actually be so thoughtless as to wonder what’s wrong with me. I still know I’ve married the catch of the century and my children are gorgeously divine and I have a beautiful house, but I’m grieving.

It’s mentally exhausting, especially raising three young children and on top of that maintaining a strong and loving marriage. Unbeknownst to you, I’m dealing with not just my own grief, but my beautiful husbands and my two boys.

It would be nice if you congratulated me on the state of my family because keeping it together, stable and happy, has been hard work.

9. I did notice. To the friends and family that found the entire death and dealing with my sadness all too hard and held secret events behind our backs that were lied about, stopped inviting us to things we had always been included in and slowly ended our relationship thinking I didn’t notice.

I did notice. The only reason why I never said anything is because I’m not wasting my words on your shameful behaviour. I am thankful for something though – I didn’t waste any more time on people that were capable of such shallowness and cruelty. Please don’t fear. I would be the first one by your side if the same thing happened to you. That should give you some indication of how horrible it is.

10. Grieving for a child lasts until you see them again. It’s a lifetime. If you’re wondering how long your friend or family member might be grieving for, the answer is forever. Don’t rush them, don’t trivialize their sadness, don’t make them feel guilty for being sad and when they talk to you, open your ears and listen, really listen to what they’re telling you. It’s possible you’ll learn something. Don’t be so cruel as to give up on them remember it’s not about you it’s about them.

I’ve been left repeatedly heart broken as friends that I truly loved and never thought would walk away from me tossed me into the too hard basket or – more hurtfully – the crazy basket. Phone calls stopped, text messages stopped, comments on Facebook stopped and I get the same thing every time. “Sorry darling I’m just flat out”, “Let’s catch up soon” and “I miss you.” The list could keep going but I get it. I’m not the type of person either that is going to pursue a friendship I know the other person doesn’t want. Everyone has a conscience and thankfully I don’t have to live with theirs.

You would think there are a lot of articles that raise awareness of the awful process associated with grieving for a child, but even stories from other parents are a rarity. The sad reality is there just isn’t enough said or printed. You seldom hear through the media about grieving for a child and the impact their death has on all the various people involved.

It can destroy a marriage instantly, it can leave siblings hurt, confused and angry. Often siblings are too young to understand, they’re angry that their family is not the same and even angrier that they don’t recognize their parents. Losing their sibling is bad enough but so much more is lost for these siblings that is never recognized. I could count on one hand the amount of times I’ve been asked how my boys were.

You might hear about the gory details surrounding a child’s death in the media but that’s about all. There should be so much more written about this topic, and additionally it should be talked about more openly than it is. I’m disappointed not just for me but for all the other grieving parents in society that this topic is met with so much fear and silence.

The bottom line is people are uncomfortable with the situation and I really don’t know why. My feelings tell me it is such an horrific thing that most people don’t want to know about it. Maybe they fear through knowing so much they might become obsessed with their own children dying. Parents worry enough about their children already. Do they really need the added worry about knowing how your child died?

Without question, my daughter Ella dying suddenly has been the worst thing that has happened in my 37 years here on Earth. I doubt that anything in my future is going to top it. Actually, just between us, I beg and plead with God on a daily basis that nothing ever does top that experience, but the truth is I just don’t know.

I’m not a mind reader nor do I have a magic pair of glasses where I can see how the rest of my life will unfold. I just have to hope that nothing ever does, but I have a very real fear it will because it has actually already happened to me. I know without having to hold a psychology degree that having those fears is normal.

“I don’t think I would be able to survive something like it again.”

What I’ve endured, losing my little princess, has been so unimaginably horrific that I don’t think I would survive something like it again.

What I have had to give emotionally to get through it has dwindled away all my mental strength – just like twenty cents pieces in a kid’s piggy bank.

I’m broke – not broken – I’m broke emotionally. I know all the energy I’ve needed over the last four years has not just been spent on my grief for Ella.

It’s been on trying to get my friends and family to understand what it’s like to walk in my shoes. I’m angry about that. When I should have been grieving, I was defending myself.

I’m probably very close to being as angry about that as I am about her death. I wish I wasn’t angry. Lord knows I don’t need another emotion but I don’t know how to not be angry, especially with some of the things that people have said and done to me. I talk and talk yet I’m often never actually heard.

I’m not sure if it’s a lack of literature around or perhaps that people simply don’t want to read it because it’s so awful and they don’t want to know someone they love and care about it experiencing so much agony. I  personally know though, if I found out a family member or friend had been diagnosed with an illness or disease, or worse, their child, I would be on Google immediately finding out more about it and how I could help them the best. So why is it that this doesn’t seem to apply with the death of a child?

Most people just think they know. I find this extremely frustrating. The death of your child is the worst thing that can happen to a person, yet most feel educated enough to advise, to criticise, to lend their words of wisdom when they don’t know the first thing about it. Get over it? Why don’t we see if you could get over it first!

Most people wouldn’t know that when I meet someone new I instantly become uncomfortable and filled with dread. I know at any moment when I engage in conversation the question is going to arise about my family and how many children do I have? I would love not to have to tell them. Life would be a lot easier if I could take that path. However, I do have another child. Her name is Ella. She would now be four but she died when she was 19 days old. She isn’t lost – I know exactly where she is, she’s dead.

Ella is my third child and she deserves to be acknowledged just as much as my other children. I’ve lied before saying I have only three children, but the guilt that follows me around for days on end is just simply not worth it. I can actually hear Ella saying to me “don’t I matter anymore Mummy?” “Why were you too ashamed to talk about me?”

So personally for me, as much as I don’t want to tell someone I don’t personally know very well that my daughter is dead, the guilt of not acknowledging her is worse. I don’t have three children, I have four and my daughter is not my only daughter – I have another as well. It’s pot luck what their reaction is going to be. There’s no telling what they’re going to say. You just have to close your eyes, cover your broken heart and hope they don’t plunge that knife further in.

If I could have my questions answered on why people give so much advice on a topic that they know so little about, it would really help me. What has surprised me so much since Ella’s death is how little empathy there is in the world. Empathy to me is a no brainier. You just imagine you’re in the other persons shoes, simple yes? Apparently no. Just think how you would like to be treated and if you wouldn’t like it don’t do it. You never know what your life holds – one day it could be you wearing my shoes!

I hope this article about my personal thoughts and opinions helps at least one person understand to some degree what life is like for the bereaved parent ❤

I dedicate this article to my soul mate, Darren. I’m the luckiest girl in the world having you, my darling. I love you more and more everyday you’re simply perfect and after fifteen years my heart still skips a beat with I see you. My friend Natalie Donnelly & her daughter Eryn. To put it simply: she is an angel and if the world was full of Natalies, it would be a better place. Also my bestie Liv thank you for letting me be and never smothering me with pointless words. Love you both xx

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