Colors of Goodbye ~ A Book Review

Colors of Goodbye ~ A Book Review

Despite my determination NOT to buy any more new books until I had made some inroads into the pile of unread titles weighing down my bookshelves, as soon as I read about the new book written by September Vaudrey and published last month, I was hooked. Within minutes my fingers had navigated the familiar keys of my keyboard, the book was ordered and it was on its’ way.

Colors of Goodbye

As soon as it arrived, Colors of Goodbye: A Memoir of Holding On, Letting Go, and Reclaiming Joy in the Wake of Loss captivated me with its tasteful cover and the delicate artwork that marks the beginning of each new chapter. I couldn’t wait to start reading it. I read the entire 292 pages in less than a week. There is much about September’s journey as a grieving mother that is different to mine, but there are also many similarities. September’s 19 year old daughter has a car accident and she is in a coma. They are told that she is ‘brain dead’.

September is a natural writer, she shares openly and authentically with her readers how she processes everything that happens:

Praying and hoping that God will perform a miracle and heal Katie.

Wondering if she should tell her adult children everything about Katie’s medical condition before they fly home or if she should wait and speak to them face to face, but thereby run the risk of them being informed via social media or text whilst en route?

September describes being alone with her daughter in ICU and noticing how quiet it is, save the beeping of the monitors and the rhythmic whoosh of the ventilator. She holds her daughter’s hand and asks herself “Is this real or is it a parent’s worst nightmare?” I too was that parent, alone in an ICU room with my unconscious daughter and the sounds of beeping and swooshing, knowing I would never again hear my daughter’s voice or feel her loving embrace.

Interspersed with these details are references to September’s unshakeable faith in a God who cares and her unfaltering sense of humour – I felt so at home in this book.

September writes through her pain and talks us through some of the challenges of being a grieving parent who is parenting grieving children. She speaks of her and her husband being together, yet alone – he doesn’t know what it feels like for a mother to lose a daughter and she doesn’t know what it’s like for a father to lose his little girl. Their four other children are teenagers and young adults and between the six of them they demonstrate a range of grieving styles. September describes the delicate process of learning to respect each other’s ways of coping. Her stoic husband Scott describes their grief and loss as being like an amputation – ‘the wound will eventually heal but we’ll still be missing an arm.

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September gives us insight into her thought processes as she endeavours to both hold on and let go. To find enduring ways to remember Katie and honour her place in their family, whilst at the same time not wishing to turn their home into a ‘Katie shrine’. September talks about the gaping wound in her soul that her daughter’s death has created and how easy it would be to fill this hole with bitterness, anger and self-pity. On the three year anniversary of her daughter’s death September discovers that the sorrow that has been her constant companion since Katie died was now mingled with ‘an inexplicable sense of peace and unapologetic sparks of joy’. September writes of this discovery:

God, always the gentleman, had not rushed me or demanded I accept this life whose story line still horrified me, and perhaps always would. He had simply continued to invite and to fan little embers of joy beneath the ashes as constant reminders of His love for me. He had not forgotten me or my family or our pain.

September’s authentic voice, as she writes movingly about the life and death of her beautiful daughter Katie and life after loss, has helped me to reflect on my own grief journey. Whilst travelling through the story of this grieving mama, I have revisited some of my own difficult places and found little pieces of healing. I highly recommend this book to anyone seeking to navigate the minefields of grief and loss while holding on to their faith in a loving God.

In this 6 minute video September and Scott talk about their loss. Scott says that he has good news and bad news: the good news is that you won’t always feel this way, that gradually the intolerable ache softens, the bad news is that you never get over this. He says that he’s learned to get on with life, but the loss of his daughter is always just below the surface. September says that in the almost eight years since Katie died, that God has continuously showed up in their story, usually in the thumbprints of other people – especially when people don’t forget your child and they don’t forget your sorrow – she describes ‘church’ as a community of people who do life together.

United by a Common Bond of Grief and Loss

United by a Common Bond of Grief and Loss

I have recently visited a certain local café on a few occasions. I struck up a friendship with the woman who usually manned the till. Today I was heading for lunch with a friend when he asked “Will we go to this café or to that one?” I instinctively replied “Can we go that one please? The woman on the till is really nice.” He flashed me a look that suggested “Either I’ve misheard you or you’re crazy.”

As a matter of fact, all of the staff in that café are very pleasant and helpful, but most people select a café based on the quality of the food or the value for money, but not solely on the personality of the person who rings in your purchases on the till!

Today however, when I went to pay for my panini, my usual friend was nowhere to be seen and I felt a twinge of disappointment. Mind you, the person who was operating the till turned out to be someone that I knew from a previous job so I had a quick catch up with her instead, which was nice too.

Just after I had finished eating, my lunch companion disappeared to take a phone-call. I looked around to see if there was somebody else to chat to. There in the corner I spied my ‘cash till friend’ (the one I had been hoping to see) sitting at a table having her lunch break. I slid into the empty seat opposite her and said a cheery hello. Her face lit up with a big smile – she had previously told me how much she enjoyed her job and that meeting people was one of the best bits.

I knew from our brief conversations that she had children so I asked how her family were doing. In the course of the ensuing conversation she told me that her oldest boy had died in 1993, aged 14 years. In that precise moment I knew exactly why I had always felt a connection with this woman! I told her about Leah and showed her a photograph. Her eyes misted over.

She told me of the devastatingly tragic circumstances in which her first-born son had died, of their last conversation, of the phone call informing her that something had happened, of the drive to the hospital and of her own intuition that had told her that things were very serious even before she arrived at the hospital.

She also told me a little about some of the very difficult ways in which she and her husband had tried to numb the awful unbearable pain. Then she told me of how she had finally come to a place of peace when she “surrendered her son to God” and accepted that this much loved young boy had only been given to them “on loan.” She told me too about the priest who has supported their family through it all, who never forgets, who still visits them periodically.

She said to me “This conversation is no accident you know.” I nodded in full agreement while blinking back my tears. It was like balm to my soul to be in the presence of someone who truly understood, for whom no explanations were necessary.

She thanked me for speaking to her and we hugged.

There in that cafeteria, two mothers, united by a common bond of grief and loss, sharing each other’s pain, we hugged.

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It’s like a lawn mower though not quite as big

It’s like a lawn mower though not quite as big

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On Monday 22nd July 2013 Leah entered an isolation room in the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit in Bristol Children’s Hospital and remained there for five weeks. She received twelve doses of chemotherapy over the next two weeks to prepare her body for transplant and she suffered all sorts of nasty side effects.

When her hair started to fall out she asked me to shave it off. Her boyfriend Nic filmed me doing this on the 7th August 2013. Leah was completely unable to speak at this stage as she had severe mucositis – inflammation and ulceration of her mouth. Oral mucositis is a common and painful side effect of chemotherapy.

Leah was on intravenous morphine for the pain and this made it difficult for her to stay awake. The beeping in the background was from one of the many pumps that she was attached to.

It’s amazing to look back and see how calm and peaceful Leah looked, at such a trying time.
Surely it is true what the Bible says in Psalm 29:11God makes His people strong.
God gives His people peace.”

Being a typical teenager, she took a selfie of her new image and posted it on Instagram:

Leah's first bald selfie

Maybe the real miracle of healing is the one that takes place in our hearts

Maybe the real miracle of healing is the one that takes place in our hearts

As we rang the bell on arrival at the bone marrow transplant unit that first Monday morning 22nd July 2013 Leah told me she had a headache – I thought it was due to all the stress of travelling.

We were shown into cubicle 4 and we waited for the doctor to arrive. Leah said she felt tired so I suggested that she lie down, then she said that she felt cold so I put a blanket over her, then another blanket.

Then she started shaking violently – she was having a rigor and we were suddenly in the middle of a full blown medical emergency.

The nurses on BMT were well trained and within minutes Leah had received pethidine and was getting intravenous antibiotics.

Leah had septicaemia…….and she had almost no immune system with which to fight it.

Although I had been told many times how ill my daughter was, I had always managed to push it to the back of my mind.

Leah looked so well – was it really possible that someone who looked so well could really be so ill?

There were hundreds, probably thousands praying for Leah, surely we would go to Bristol, she would sail through her treatment and we would be back home in no time at all.

However here I was in Bristol, far from home, Leah and I were in isolation in the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit and she was getting sicker and sicker.

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By Sunday 28th July Leah had not one but five different – mostly “gram negative” – bacteria growing in her bloodstream. “A zoo of bacteria” the doctor had called it.

Her all important Hickman central line had to come out. She had to have canulas inserted in both arms – she hated canulas and she almost always got phlebitis from them.

We were both devastated & we sat in stunned silence. I could hardly look at Leah that Sunday morning because I didn’t want her to see the pain and confusion in my eyes – it wasn’t supposed to be like this – not when so many people were praying for us.

BEFORE:
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AFTER:
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I wanted so desperately to cry or scream, or both, but how could I?

I was my child’s sole carer – I had to hold it together for her sake.

I felt like I was drowning in a sea of unexpressed emotion.

I felt so alone during those early weeks on the transplant unit, the unit was short staffed so the nurses were very busy and rarely had time to talk.

At that time there was extra infection control measures in place and there was temporarily no parents room so I had very limited contact with other parents – we were in lockdown.

Two weeks previous Leah & I had been at Portstewart Convention, laughing & chatting, surrounded by friends. Now here we were in Bristol, surrounded by strangers and there was no opportunity to laugh or chat with others.

Visiting was restricted in the Transplant Unit. Leah was allowed three named carers – these were myself, Horace (her dad) and Nic (her boyfriend), but neither of them were in Bristol.

Nic was arriving for her third week and we couldn’t wait.

On his first day he filmed me shaving Leah’s head, as her hair was coming out in clumps.

On Nic’s second day I wandered down town in a daze, unused to this freedom. I discovered a beautifully restored Methodist Church in the middle of the shopping precinct, built in 1739.

Wesley’s New Room

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I went in and looked around. There was a quiet area with a Bible for people to pray and read.

I sat there and wept and silently cried out to God “I never knew it was going to be this hard.”

I spent time there in the quiet stillness.

The smell of oldness and wooden pews was a welcome contrast to the smell of the actichlor that was used to clean everything on BMT.

I picked up the Bible and turned to Philippians and read chapter 4 verses 6-7Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

I felt the peace of God flow over me, I still felt weak but I could feel His strength in my weakness.

I left that Methodist Chapel with my soul somewhat restored.

I wrote the following in my diary around that time “Maybe the real miracle of healing is the one that takes place in our hearts and enables us to cope with our situation.”