Category Archives: bereavement

Should I Stay or Should I Go?


Stay in Beijing   VS    Fly home

Continual Debate in my head:


Go Home:


No Internet

Work From 10pm-5am (online teaching 14 hour time difference)

14 day quarantine

It’s cold there

Who would I sit next to on the plane? Where have they been?

US Embassy says go home

No Medical Insurance

Stay Here:


Can take the DK’S (daughter’s kids) on a fun trip (maybe Disney would be fun) with the money I save by not going home

Safe in the Apartment

Listen to the kid upstairs all day long

It’s cold here, but I don’t mind it

I have medical insurance

Help Heather with the baby

Daily walks in the park with friends

Risk temperature being high, becoming the first older, white female quarantined due to hot flashes and can’t explain otherwise : )


Back and forth everyday, it’s like a tennis match in my head.  It’s boring being cooped up all day, but is that any reason to fly home?  I chose not to go anywhere for the Chinese New Year Holiday this year to save money.  I was originally going to go home for this holiday, but those plans changed back in September, so I decided to go to Italy during this holiday, but those plans changed in December. So, here I sit.


It’s hard to explain the feelings and emotions of being in China right now.  Yes, it is a tragic turn of events for the thousands who have been infected and those who have died leaving their families behind. I understand the pain and suffering that goes along with being the bereaved.  Nothing compares to the anguish, desperation and sadness of losing a child, nothing!  So I wonder why I have this debate knocking around in my head?  I can do this.

I have a decent pay check each month and a gratuity at the end of my contract so I just need to keep my eye on the prize and stay put!  I only have 181,188 minutes to go!

But tomorrow when I wake up, I will be looking at flights home again, and so the debate continues. 

life sucks if you let it, but I have options so it’s not all that bad!

Last Breaths

I’ve pondered many things over the last month and have busied myself in order to not think too much about them, but sometimes things happen that bring back a thought or memory. Here is my experience.

Recently I went home to spend time with my mom as she was taking her final breaths on earth. I had spoken with her just a few days earlier and she asked when I was coming home and what were we going to do when I got there. So to hear the news that hospice nurses said she had hours to days left here with us absolutely threw me into shock. 

I took an American Airlines flight from Beijing to Tulsa. During a layover in Dallas, I learned mom’s breathing had become quite labored and her time with us was coming to an end. I had an hour layover in Dallas and was quite ready to get on that plane for home. The flight is less than an hour to Tulsa, but it seemed much longer this time.  

Upon arrival to Tulsa, passengers were asked to stay seated on the plane. Finally, they told us the air bridge was broken and they were trying to repair it so we could disembark.

We sat for nearly an hour before they decided to move the plane to another gate.  Genius! Why not do that in the first place?  

I finally arrived at her house at 9:15 pm.  There were several lifelong friends there, as well as family members.  I went to talk to my mom, but she could not communicate by this time.  She was breathing quite heavily.  

It did seem as though she could hear what I was saying, as she would grip a hand or move a foot in response.  We were all sitting near her, people coming and going. We told stories of days gone by, happy memories.

As we talked, we could hear her breathing in the background.  I assume she heard everything we talked about. I don’t recall which story we were on when all of a sudden there was no more heavy breathing.  The heavy breathing sound was gone. Mom had taken her last breath. 

She was now free of diabetes, UTI’S, and so much medication.  Though saddened by her absence, I am happy to know she is in a better

fullsizeoutput_6457place now with dad and my son Clifton, who died many years ago.  No more insulin shots, or bottles and bottles of medication, trips to the doctor, nursing homes or hospitals. 

She died at 12:15 a.m.  I was fortunate to be able to have spent her last three hours with her.  I’m saddened by American Airline’s lack of abilities to have working equipment and the foresight to move us to another gate early on, as I could have had four final hours with my mom rather than just three.  

I’m thankful for my friend who waited at the airport for the additional hour so I could hurriedly get to my mom’s house.  This allowed my daughter to be able to stay at Grandma’s house longer that evening as she didn’t have to pick me up from the airport. I will forever be grateful for that act of kindness.

My mom took her final trip down her front porch stairs at 2:22 a.m.  guided by my iPhone flashlight and the two gentlemen from the funeral home who took her body safely to the hearse.   Why did I mention the time she left her house?  2/22 is the date in which my twin boys were born.  She always considered 222 her lucky numbers. 

I guess they were her lucky numbers after all. She didn’t want to be in a nursing home and thanks to many family members who stayed with her, she was able to leave her home rather than a nursing home at 2:22 a.m. 

On a totally different note, I recently took a dive trip to Moalboal, Philippines. I was preparing for my 3rd dive of DCIM100GOPROGOPR0477.JPGthe day. Before entering the water, I tested my equipment.  I noticed there was a small hissing sound coming from the BCD, the equipment that holds the gear in place and floats me to the surface when needed.  The Dive master checked it and said it was ok; with a minor adjustment.

Next was the scuba regulator check.  This piece of equipment converts the high pressure air in my tank to pressure suitable for breathing, while delivering air to other places, such as my BC inflator.

A quick turn on of the tank and an exhale/inhale with the regulator checks to make sure it is working before going under water and finding out there is a problem.  A quick inhale revealed the regulator stuck and the air continued to blow upon removal from my mouth. The dive master came over and made an adjustment.  I gave it another inhale, still the air continued to blow when it shouldn’t have. He checked it again, made an adjustment and said it was ok.  

I took another inhale as I just wasn’t convinced just yet.  I took one more deep breath and the air cut off before I could finish inhaling. There was no air.  There was no air for me to breathe. 

I had a small panic but quickly realized all I had to do was take the regulator out of my mouth to solve the problem and continue to breathe, and of course I was on land so it was really ok after all.  My tank had been turned off, but not for long.

It was then, I had a flashback to my mom’s final breath.  Was this what it was like as she took her final breath? I inhaled as normal but I couldn’t complete that last breath, did she do the same?  I quickly pulled the regulator from my mouth so I could breathe. Mom, however took her final breath and readily slipped into a place more beautiful and peaceful than the underwater adventure that I was about to experience.

The sound of silence after my mom’s final breath was so loud. She was no longer gurgling and struggling to breathe. Her tank had been emptied for the final time.

Days prior to her death she was looking in her pockets “Searching for her train ticket.” She couldn’t find it. She found it on September 8, 2019. 

Breathe freely Mom.

You don’t forget, You never forget…

When you do everything you can to try and enjoy the last few days of summer break before school starts, but just cant seem to get motivated…

…Lying around, back and forth decisions, can’t seem to enjoy the beautiful weather, want to ride my bike, would love to go for a run, but instead, just sit….and finally cry with the realization that it is THAT time of year again.

No, I’m not talking about the first day of school, that actually allows for some normalcy, busy-ness, people interaction, and things to keep my mind busy.

Rather, it is August 19th.

It’s not that I ever forget, you never forget that the date is approaching and what happened on that date, but some days are more trouble free than others, while some seasons are easier to survive, and some actions bring memories from the past, but always the week or so before my son’s death date brings me to such misery; experiencing fatigue, tears, anxiety and any emotion you can possibly think of that would ravage, destroy and invade your heart and mind.

This year seemed different though, I always remember the date of course, and the weeks leading up to his death date, but this year I could not figure out why I’m so lethargic, until today.

Recently, coming to the realization that I am older now, and I seem to experience a new ache or pain more often than before, I googled health issues, wondering why I have less energy and drive these days, especially considering how beautiful it has been outside recently. Today, as I finally decided I had better do something before the day and the summer break gets away from me, I went outside to do some yard work, and it hit me just like that! Feelings and memories of the days leading up to August 19.

Good news; I’m not ill.

This same time years ago, the kids and I were walking LaFortune Park feeding the ducks. Clifton didn’t want to just have a small piece of bread, he would feed the ducks one whole piece at a time (don’t worry, we now feed the ducks food that is good for them). Who knew that 17 days later, he would be gone. Who knew?! Certainly not me!

So this time of year is difficult, and really, no one knows the depth of emotion and grief that follow a bereaved parent for years and years and years. So be patient with us as we try to live one day at a time. But don’t worry about hurting our feelings by bringing up our child’s name. It hurts more to not say anything at all.  I would love for you to have known my child who is no longer with us.  So just ask!

For those of you who know me, you know I don’t sit still.  I must move. It comes from knowing I must live in the now. Yesterday is gone, and tomorrow isn’t a given. Do it all and do it now!

I’ve realized lately what people think of me with this mindset that I have: take a look at a few excerpts from two friend’s blogs:

Last week, a high school friend of mine came to visit me in New York.  I hadn’t taken a vacation since I had started my new job last October, so, I decided to take the week off; so, we could spend some quality time together, catching up on each other’s significant life events, and exploring the state of New York.  She has pretty close the the same sense of adventure I have, so, we always have a good time when we go to visit new places.  I will admit, it’s hard for my introverted side to keep up with her extreme extroverted side at times… she’s like the energizer bunny when you get her in places with lots of people, but, that’s what makes her so special and I appreciate that aspect in her because she can easily touch the heart of a stranger she doesn’t even know while walking along a bustling sidewalk in an aloof city.  Besides, she was only going to be here for a week and I knew I’d have plenty of time to rest when she went back home. 

Another wrote in his blog after taking 20 kids to Washington DC: I wonder if Ms. Essley even slept last night. Does she sleep at all?

Others have said they have learned to keep their mouths shut around me, because I will follow up on their words and turn them into action.

(My friends need to rest after I have been around, hmmmm. A compliment? )

In reading this summer, I came across a paragraph in a book which read: “ Because we find it impossible to distract ourselves from our grief, we are forced to live more fully in the now. Though the experience is not pleasant, it is at the same time full of promise.  We have the possibility of experiencing our lives in a new way, where what we see before us is more than we’ve seen before” p.  59   Finding Faith, by Laurie Short

I know I keep busy, but it is so I don’t have time to think, and I want people around me to experience things they may not have dreamed possible:

Example #1: the kids at school: I want them to experience everything my kids didn’t get to because of my son’s death. I introduce so many different activities and experiments, hoping they enjoy and learn from them, but also to let them know I love and care about them. I hope my actions inspire parents to spend more time with their kids, because they won’t be here forever.

Example #2: My daughter’s kids, DK’S for short; I love to get them out and about and play and discover things that I wish I could have done with my own children when they were younger, but grief took much of their time.  Avery, my three year old DK, is an awesome paddleboarder, turning into a great cyclist, and has already run her first Tulsa Run (fun run), as well as the Tulsa Zoo Run. All of these things are near and dear to my heart, and I love experiencing them with her. She is learning to read and seems to be a whiz at math.

Example #3: friends:  If you say something that you “wish” or “need to do” ….then let’s make it happen!

Three of my friends just went to teach overseas and I hope it is because of the encouragement and the experiences I shared with them that inspired them to live their dreams. Life is too short not to experience everything your heart desires.

Not only do I feel as though I am helping/encouraging all of you with my “live in the now” mentality, more importantly, you are helping and encouraging me while filling a big void in my heart.  I thank you for that!

I feel better now, and I am headed to LaFortune Park to walk and feed the ducks.

To Feel Ashamed

I lay on the operating table, shaking so hard from nerves that the monitor keeps beeping and coming loose from my leg, tears filling my eyes, while breathing so hard I think I could possibly hyperventilate. And for what? It certainly wasn’t open heart surgery, not even an overnight stay in the hospital. It was a minor surgery that took about 30 minutes in total.

As I lay there dressed in old China man pajamas with my hair smoothed into a blue cloth wrap, and watching dust particles fly through the room I thought of my son, who never once complained or cried about his surgeries. He had several heart related surgeries, granted he was only two, so he couldn’t say too much about it, but even after surgery, he got on with it. He lived trying to keep up with his twin brother. He loved playing in his sister’s room and clanging her toy pots and pans together while she was at school.

Me? I have cried, moaned, groaned, and had wished I had never gone to the Doctor, especially in China. The first time I went to the doctor here, I went in for a leg injury, and left with eye drops. This time I went in for a sore arm/elbow and left with a tumor. I must quit going to the hospital here.

Anyway, back to the hospital. I figured I would just be in a doctor’s office along with a friend who I took along for moral support, and it would be a quick removal of the tumor, which happened to be on my finger of all places. But, I was wrong!

She wasn’t allowed to go with me because I was going to the operating room. First I had to change into old man pajamas and twist my hair in a blue paper wrap in a locker room, then walked myself to the operating room. Next, I had to climb up on the table. Did I say climb?  I mean it. The table was way too high so I had to shinny up there the best I could, considering my arm still hurt and it was hard to pull myself up.

I finally made it! But then it all hit me. I remembered being escorted to the recovery room when my son had a reaction to anesthesia before one of his surgeries. He was as red as a tomato and laid on a silver, cold operating table. It was heart breaking to see him lying there, helpless, both he and I.

This is when I felt so ashamed of myself. He was so brave, and so many other people have surgeries everyday much more life threatening and painful than mine, but all I did was lay there and cry, shaking, wishing it was over, or better yet, thinking that I should have never gone in the first place.

The Chinese doctor told me to “relas” as he lifted the very long needle and began injecting it into my finger. “Is ok,” he said. Then he got another needle and did the same thing. Oh my gosh, such pain and such a baby. I can not stand pain, and I certainly hate needles and blood.

When my kids were little, I couldn’t even take them to the doctor if they had to have blood drawn, I had to go get my mom to go in with them.  I couldn’t stand to see them in such pain because it hurt me too.

“OWWWWW,” crap, he started cutting before my finger was numb!  “You feel paina?” “Uh, YES!” I tried to say, but not sure what really came out of my mouth.  “Ok, we waita, relas,” the doctor said. Ashamed of myself, I tried to lay still and take it like I knew my son did when he had his chest or back cut open, and being such a little guy, not knowing what was going on and why his mom and dad had deserted him.  Not sure whether I was crying more from the pain of the injection, the attempted cut on the finger, or the feeling of total shame. I said my prayers and hoped for it to end.

Finally, the very kind Chinese doctor said, “Finis, you feel paina?” as he wiped my tears away. I said, “Yes!” “You will feel more paina tonight, I give you pain medicine, I send pathology, tumor big.”

It was over, thank goodness. I got dressed, met my friend and we walked home. Today, one week later, I got the pathology results and he said the tumor was not “malint.” (malignant). So that is the good news and this is all I can type for now as my finger is hurting. I will learn to toughen up one day. But right now, I am going to bed, thinking of my son and wishing with all my heart I could have taken away all his pain.

Take your Journey, Dad

It’s been a while since my last blog writing. I really just haven’t had the motivation or inspiration to write. It is not that I haven’t been doing anything, because I have done a lot of traveling and have had many interesting China experiences that are worthy of sharing.

But as any bereaved parent knows, sometimes it’s just hard to get by, especially during the Holidays. There is always one who is missing at the Thanksgiving dinner table, and one less to buy presents for at Christmas. Yes, I am in China and my Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas wasn’t with my family anyway, which was quite difficult, but it doesn’t take away the memories and the broken heartedness of the season. Soon, there will be one more less at Thanksgiving dinner.

I would have loved to have had time at Christmas in Oklahoma with my kids, friends, and ailing parents. However, the written IRS laws have prevented me from being able to go home at my leisure., or be subject to thousands of dollars in taxes.  I had to think about saving my IRS “allowed days” in America for attending my dad’s upcoming funeral. He is terminally ill and is being admitted to a hospice hospital within the week to live out his final days. Just today, he told my mom he “Can’t do this anymore, and is tired of being sick and in pain.” Sadly, my mom and kids have to see this once strong, brave fireman struggling to just stay alive as cancer continues to spread throughout his body.


I am saddened by his illness, especially considering all the pain my dad is in and the hallucinations he is experiencing. Hospice workers say the hallucinations are normal for terminal patients with cancer.  Dad is apparently trying to “pack his bag with imaginary items such as shoes and so on, so he won’t be late for the train.”  My mom told him to wait until tomorrow to catch the train, as he wanted to get up and go. I guess he waited.

Again, hospice workers stated that this is common for people who have worked their whole lives to want to go on a journey when they know their time is near.

Well, dad is about to go on one remarkable journey and will be with his grandson again.  I know Clifton, my son is in a much better place than we are, and I know that soon he will be with his grandpa and will be able to show him what’s on the other side of those Pearly Gates that we all look forward to seeing when it comes our time.

It’s ok, Dad go on your journey where there is no pain and suffering, and where Clifton waits to give you a hug and show you around.

A Man of His Word….

Oh no! What happened this time? Is somebody hurt? It is 11:10 p.m. at home in the US.  I should send a text just to make sure the kids weren’t in an accident, and that my mom and dad are ok. I picked up my phone and wondered who I should text first since I don’t know how to group text, I had to choose Amy or Eric. Amy seems to go to bed earlier these days so she is probably asleep and Eric lives with a bunch of Frat guys and probably not asleep.  I was about to make my decision when Mindy walked into my classroom.

But let me back up just a bit so you can understand just why I thought I should text  my kids in the first place. Since I became a mom I have always been able to “know” when something wasn’t quite right with my kids, simply by a feeling I get in my heart or gut, a mother’s intuition, I guess you could call it.  It could be they were ill, something wonderful had happened, or worse, they were in trouble. I felt something so strong on Friday, March 16 at 12:10 p.m. that I had to stop what I was doing just to catch a breath. The feeling truly took my breath away. WHEW! I will never forget that feeling or the news I learned just minutes later.

Thoughts are racing through my head and my heart is pounding! Why does Mindy look so sad and concerned?  Did someone from home call the school and send her to tell me bad news? But wait, I don’t think the kids have the school’s phone number in Shanghai. Do they? No.

It is amazing how many thoughts a person can have in less than 5 seconds, which is about how long it took for Mindy to walk in, sit down in front of me, ask me what I was doing and had I read my emails?

Ok, who has the school email address? My friend Matt does, but would he have sent an email to school to send someone in to tell me news from home? What news would he know? No, that doesn’t make sense. Does it? He is considerate enough to think like that, but would Amy or Eric have called (well, texted since nobody calls anybody anymore) Matt to tell him important news? Doubtful, but Amy might have texted him to see if he had a phone number.  My mind is racing with thoughts! That feeling I had minutes earlier is now turning to heartache. This feeling IS about one of my kids. I just know it!

Mindy had hoped to catch me before I read my emails that many people had just received. She told me that Cory had passed away. Cory and his wife Linda are former colleagues at our school in Shanghai and great friends. In January, Cory was diagnosed with cancer while in China. They were able to fly home to the great state of Washington on Valentine’s Day and by mid March, Cory left us to be in the most Glorious Place of All, Heaven.  He is no longer in pain and is now walking with Jesus and playing with MY son! Cory loves kids, especially all of his precious grandchildren that he spoke so frequently about. All of the kids at school wrote or made a card for Cory and he read each and every one of them and hung them on the wall in his hospital room while he was in China. He took them to America with him when he went home. They left so many things behind as they had to keep their weight under 50 lbs. per suitcase, but those cards were going home.

Linda and Cory Neville

Linda and Cory Neville

Let me tell you how I know he met my son, Clifton. When Cory learned he had cancer and that it was spreading throughout his body, he made me a promise from his hospital bed in Shanghai. He said when he got to Heaven he would find Clifton for me and tell him that his mom loves and misses him everyday.  With Cory being a great friend and a man of his word,

I had no doubt he would do this for me. At 12:10 p.m. on March 16, 2012 I had a feeling about one of my kids. This time it was Clifton. I know now that my little boy knows I haven’t forgotten him and I love and miss him everyday. Cory kept his promise.

The feeling in my heart went from heartache to joy in a bittersweet sort of way.

Bitter-I had lost a truly great friend.

Sweet-knowing my kids were ALL ok now,

I wonder now if moving to China was God’s plan for me? Was I supposed to meet these two incredible people who continually think of other people, when in reality they had so much to think about on their own and about themselves? It is amazing how God puts people together.

Cory and Linda are so rooted in their Mormon faith and they know this was God’s chosen path for Cory, still it doesn’t take away the pain and sadness of losing your best friend and husband. Linda, please know physically I am thousands of miles away, but in spirit I am there with you. May it bring a smile to your face to know that Cory is still a great friend and a man of his word.  Thank you for letting me be a part of your lives.

American Mom Receives Comfort from Chinese Mom, or vice versa?

Wow!  How about that?  I was actually comforting someone over the death of my son. Who da’ thunk it? What unusual twists and turns life sometimes take. Who would have thought I would have been comforting a Chinese woman over the death of my son?  This China is a crazy place.

So the story for this blog began on a Friday night with a Mandarin lesson where a co-teacher and I studied numbers, coins and how to understand the cashier at the grocery store. I was thrilled I would be able to use some Chinese when discussing fares with the taxi driver, the clerk at the store, and bargaining while at the fake market.

After the lesson, several of my friends and I went to a bag party. This party was to have the best of the fake bags in China, including Louis Vuitton, Prada and many others, or so we were told. There were also silk scarves, and wallets to choose from at reasonable prices. The best of the fakes, right at our fingertips!

Upon finding a couple of fake designer bags and wallets that I liked, I decided to make my purchase. I asked how much they were. She, (Mary) the bag lady told me, “180,” in English.

So I replied, “Yi bai ba shi?”  (180)  Well, at least that’s what I think I said. I got the thumbs up. YES!  My Mandarin lessons were paying off!  I gave her 200 and of course I received “Er shi” in change. That was so much fun I decided I should probably buy another item, so I purchased a Louis Vuitton wallet. I gave her my money and received  “Si shi” in return.  (40rmb)

She could tell I was trying to learn Chinese, and she wanted to practice some English. She kept the conversation going and asked if I was Meiguoren? (American)  Then she asked why I was in Shanghai.  I told her, “Wo shi laoshi,” which means I am a teacher and I was working in Shanghai.

Next came the question about children. She has a ten year old daughter named Sarah and I told her about my three kids.  I told her I have a daughter who is  “Er shir liu” (26).  Her eyes got really big and I immediately liked her because she said I looked too young to have a child that old!  I told her my son was “Er shi er.” (22)

She asked if they lived here too, but no, they don’t. They live in America. After more chit chat, she asked about number two son, as she called him.  I told her that he died when he was little. She shook her head as if she didn’t understand. I repeated, “Died” then “Death,” then “No longer alive.”  She still didn’t seem to understand. She shook her head. I looked around to see if anybody could translate for me.  She seemed interested and I wanted her to know what I was trying to say about my son.

Another teacher was able to translate that my son had died.  They spoke to each other in mandarin for a wee bit, then Mary took my hand and started crying. Tears just fell from her eyes and she kept saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” shaking her head and bowing toward me. I asked my friend why she was crying.  Was it because she understood that my son died?  Or was it because she thought she offended me by asking about my son?

She said it was a little of both.

I gave her a hug. I told her it was ok to talk about my son and not to worry about it.  I told her I missed him greatly, and that it is the worst thing that can happen to a mom.  She said, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.  I am mama, you are mama.  I know, I know.” She wiped her tears, gave me a hug and just kept crying. By now, we were both crying and hugging each other as if we were long lost friends.  We weren’t long lost friends, but friends to become.  Friends bonded by that of motherhood.

We are friends who broke through the communication barrier and shared a touching moment, Chinese mother to American mother, over my precious son.  I am blessed to have had my little boy for the nearly two years that I did and I have so many things for which to be thankful.

Life’s disappointments make you better, not bitter.  I read this on a church sign once.  Of course when a child dies, there is quite a bit of anger, bitterness and basically, LIFE SUCKS… if you let it. If you are reading this as a bereaved parent fresh in your grieving, may you know someone, whether it be in America, China or somewhere in between shares your pain and may you be comforted by the friendship they have to offer. Find the good.

Why am I Here?

I think back to how I ended up in China and it took many, many years to get here. Not that I was planning on coming here by any means, but becoming emotionally ready to get here was the challenge.   I can’t say that China was really ever a place I wanted to visit, much less live, but the way I ended up here is worth revisiting, especially for bereaved parents who are just beginning their life changing journey of living without their child.

My good friend, Mr. Rucker just recently lost his son, Patrick.  I know he is suffering greatly.  I have walked in his shoes and still am, it is just that my shoes fit a little better these days and the shoes are not leaving blistering marks on my heels like they used to.  Now, don’t get me wrong, there has not been a day go by in the 20 years since my son died that I have not thought about him, but at least the pain is not as heart wrenching as it was for the first 20 years. IT STILL SUCKS!

If you were one of my first readers, then you know how this blog came to be.  I started writing about the day my son died, the dreadful 4am phone call, the call no parent ever wants to receive.  Since then, it has taken years for me to be able to walk out of those blistering shoes, and become more than just an empty shell going through the motions day in and day out.  Parenting is not an easy job, especially that of a bereaved parent.  Our kids are not supposed to die before we do.  We are not supposed to buy a casket and plan a funeral for them.  Sadly, it happens.  Life sucks……if you let it.   Healing from that is not an easy task.

It took 20 years for me to function as more than an empty shell.  I knew I was not living life to its fullest, though I thought I was, but something was always missing.  I wondered where God was?   Why was my life spinning out of control?  Why did MY son die?  I wanted him, yet so many people beat and even kill their own children.  I never understood that and I guess I never will.

The anxiousness and many other emotions I experienced after my son died were excruciating at times. The anxiety I experienced over just getting on an airplane last summer just about did me in, and that was 20 years later.  Unless you have experienced the death of  a child you can really never know what we go through and how our life changes.  I never was an anxious kind of person, but after my son died, my whole life changed.  I was not the person I used to be.  I was somebody else.  The person I was before my son died would have had no problem getting on that plane and heading to South Africa.  But the person I became after my son died could barely breathe walking down the corridor to get on the plane to fly to Memphis.  The death of a child can really wreak havoc on your life, as well as those around you.  It is the worst thing ever!  It can cost you some pretty significant relationships but it can build friendships that are everlasting.

So why am I in China?  I really don’t know.  But I do know had I not taken time to stop and sit for ten days without distraction in South Africa, I would never have found God again and I would not be here right now.  I wondered why it took me going to another continent to find Him.  But the reality is I never could sit still long enough to let Him come back into my life.  I thought He had abandoned me.  He took my son then left me to fend for myself.

Coming to China was a big step out of my comfort zone, and believe me, China is not a comfortable place to live, but I know He has my back and I am not alone like I thought I was for the past 20 years.  So does this answer the question, “Why am I here?”  I don’t know, I think it says I am here because God wants me to live again.  I think He has been chasing me down for the past twenty years saying,  “Hey, slow down and let Me in.”  I just never could because the truth was much too painful.  My son was dead.

Amy and Eric placing flowers on Clifton's grave in August since I was in China and could not do it myself.

So to my friend, Mr. Rucker, I share your pain and I have walked in your shoes (well, maybe not really your shoes because they are so big) but you get the idea.  I know your heart is shattered into a million little pieces right now, and for you, I hope you find your China too, someday.

Hugs from China.

But who will put flowers on his grave??

Signed up, ticket purchased and ready to go to China…..but one thing I forgot, it made me start to question my trip to China.  Who is going to put flowers on Clifton’s grave??

Who will attend the Compassionate Friends Christmas Memorial and light a candle in his memory?  Who will attend the Memorial Day Mass at the cemetery every Memorial Day?  Eric and I have never missed a mass on Memorial Day at the cemetery.  What have I done?   Life sucks…….if you let it.

I verbalized this thought recently, once to my class at school and once just today when I was talking to a friend who happened to drive by when I was leaving another friend’s house.

I can say I am associated with the nicest, most caring and compassionate friends in the world!  As I spoke of my dilemma at school, one little girl (Rachel) raised her hand and said, “Ms. Essley, I will put flowers on Clifton’s grave, you just need to show me where it is.”  Now how is that for caring, when a little 3rd grader commits to placing flower’s on my son’s grave occasionally.  I love Rachel.

But just today, I became teary eyed again when I was speaking to my friend, Bill.  He had stopped when he saw my car and began to talk to me about my China trip.  He too has lost a son.  I told him how I was wondering who was going to put flowers on my son’s grave while I was gone.  That is two whole years with no trip to the cemetery on his birthday, Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day, and other holidays, or if I just happened to be in the neighborhood days.

This was an arrangement of flowers that was sent to Clifton's funeral. I have had it for 20 years. As I packed to put my things in storage, I decided to take this arrangement to his grave. As hard as it was, I guess it was a sign of .....letting go? moving forward?

He told me that placing flower’s on a grave is an outwardly expression to let others know you haven’t forgotten.  He told me I would never forget, and he would always be in my heart.  Was it just random that Bill drove by today?

So with that in mind, and knowing that Rachel will get her parents to drive to my son’s grave on occasion, I will remember all the times I have been able to place flowers on his grave and keep those times close to my heart.  I will just watch for signs that my son knows I think about him, miss him, and love him everyday.  EVERYDAY!

Thank you Eric, Rachel and Bill.

Update: August 19, 2011, now I guess I know who will put flowers on Clifton’s grave!  THANK YOU TO  EVERYONE WHO DID.  Your kindness means more than you can EVER imagine.  Unless you have lost a child, you can’t even begin to know the devastation and heart break it causes in your life, and the outwardly expression of placing flowers on your son’s grave is comforting, in a way.



Before Clifton

Before my son died, I was just like you, or most of you. I had kids to raise, homework to look after, house to clean, job to attend, you know, everyday stuff.  Sometimes the stuff would take over and the kids would get put on the back burner.  I recall saying things like, “We will do it later,” or “How about tomorrow?”  Perhaps you don’t realize it but sometimes we “take our kids for granted” After all, there is tomorrow and I had to get stuff done.   Often times, they would get to go to Grandma’s house so I could have some peace and quiet.

Sound familiar?

Before Christ

After my son died, I wondered where was He?  So many people don’t want their kids, and beat them and wish them away, but I wanted all of mine!  I remember everything leading up to Clifton’s death.  The smell of the Johnson’s Baby Shampoo in his hair before the took him into surgery.  I remember how horribly they treated us at the hospital, that is another story in itself.

I spent 20 years after Clifton died doing all that I could with and for my kids.  Disappointments in life should make one better, not bitter.  Though, the death of a child can sure make one bitter.  There are so many feelings I experienced after he died.  But the one that lingered the most was wanting to be the best I could be for my kids along with unconsciously staying busy so I wouldn’t have time to think about things, I guess.

Sadly, the latter attitude cost me a significant relationship, but I had and WANTED to do and be with my kids, more than anything.  I know that it wasn’t totally understood by too many people, but they were my life.  They kept me alive after my son died.  I had to be there for them, but most importantly I wanted to be there for them.  Trips to Grandma’s house were fewer, and job changes so I could spend more time with them.  And I did for many years, but then they grew up.  But what happened when they left and I was alone?  My relationship ended, so I was really alone.  But was I?

In my opinion, yes.  I was all alone.  Until I found Him in Africa, of all places.  What was He doing on a different continent? He knew I was in North America trying to do my thing, SURVIVE!  Keeping busy, trying to make it through each day for 20 years.

Now on the exterior, I have it together, aside from a messy desk at school, but the inside was shattered.  I cry now writing this thinking of how shattered and alone I was. Shattered yes, alone…not really.  I just didn’t know it until I spent 10 days in God’s Country in South Africa.

Before China……

I was certainly in the right place at the right time when I got the opportunity to go hunting in Africa.  My life is forever changed, AGAIN!.  Not back, life will never be the same after a child dies.  But, I am going to move to China??!!  Last summer, I couldn’t even get on a plane for a 10 day trip in which I knew I would be returning.

So before I leave for China I am going to see what there is to do, see who there is to see, and just enjoy being…  I will always, ALWAYS miss my son and I can cry at the drop of a hat, but…..I know I am loved.  There is nothing I can’t do.  I have survived the death of a child.

I hope you come along for the ride.

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