My Weekly Grief Spill

The farther we move away from Everett’s death the harder it gets.  I always want to share honestly in this little space because I think sharing openly is really important.  Plus I always think “Surely there has got to be another person who feels this way too.”

*I am learning the #1 route through this mess is grace.  Grace, grace and more grace.  Everyone needs it.  Me…Josh…our kids…strangers…family…and friends.  One morning this week we we’re all moving a little slower than normal and Hudson was really sad on top of it.  We needed to leave for school in 15 minutes.  I hate being late…it’s kind of my thing.  I am not typically late and it actually really stresses me out to be late so usually I’ll fly into panic mode and get everyone out the door asap.  This morning I knew we needed different.  Instead I took a deep breath and sat with Hudson on the couch.  We hugged, we cried and we talked about Everett and how we miss him so much.  Then we ate breakfast, finished getting ready for school and I stuffed down my typical feeling of “rush, move fast Laura…do not be late” and I just let them all be late for school.  When I signed the boys in they asked for a reason and I said and wrote “sad morning” and let it be at that.

*Anger is currently an overriding feeling all throughout my day.  I feel it towards people and circumstances.  It is a constant battle.  I just don’t get a lot of other’s actions and words sometimes, BUT I also have a major role in this.  The Bible is very clear about where to place your hope…where to cast your cares…when to align your heart and it is definitely NOT in other people, but in Jesus Himself.  I have let down many people and will do so again and again.  Putting our hope in humans is not wise.

*Amon is incredibly musically inclined.  He loves music.  He loves to sing.  He loves to dance.  Several times while driving down the road and hearing a certain song on the radio that I immediately start to internalize and apply to our current situation without Shuai, Amon will break into tears and share how much he misses his brother.  He internalizes music too.  He likes to hear the music that was played and sang at Shuai’s burial and celebration of life and often ends in tears and him asking me to turn them off, but his little self pushes him to go to that place first and then retreats if needed.  It has been so hard and humbling to watch as each child grieves so differently.

*Marriage is hard in general and marriage is hard in grief too.  Josh Kelley and myself both lost a child and now we’re both living grief while parenting 5 children who are grieving as well, plus work and relationships and all our own personal emotions and feelings…everything right now…including marriage…feels damn hard.

*Our littlest has decided she is very much done with her FuShuai being dead.  She is three and very outspoken and in tune to her feelings.  The other morning she woke up around 4am and cried telling me how she didn’t want Everett to be in heaven any more and how she just wanted him to come home now.  She has shared how she doesn’t want him in the ground anymore and she talks about death daily and always asks, “If I die will I stay in heaven forever too?”  And the other day she got so excited because she was absolutely convinced the private Amazon delivery driver was bringing Everett home.  She exclaimed, “I think it’s Everett.  I think they’re bringing him home.”  She ran out the front door to which I went after her, scooped her up and explained again how he would not be coming home and how the nice lady was just dropping off a package.  She cried into my shoulder.  Another little tidbit on me and death and grief…right now I say the F word a lot.  There is just not one bit of Everett’s death which feels right or good or okay.  NONE.

*The other day my BIL Andy told us how when he went back to school how many people he’d never talked with about Everett wanted to talk to him about Everett.  It made my day.  I love when people still bring up his name and recognize how badly this sucks.  We know not everything revolves around us or Everett or the death of Everett, but our minds are there all day, every day, so when Andy chose to share that with us it breathed life into both Josh Kelley and myself.

*2 things I currently hate feeling: 1. Like we cannot move out of our house quick enough.  It feels terrible to not want to be in a home you have loved and especially when there are so many who are homeless or living in motels in our community.  It feels silly and yet still crazy hard to remain.  And 2.  I’d rather Mom have died than Everett.  Mom’s death was sudden and she was my Mom and I still miss her terribly, but she was the parent and now it feels like a more natural death than your child’s.  Our 3-year-old dying after going through all he went through and my 62-year-old mom dying feels very very different.  Some aspects about my grief feel similar, but most feel vastly different.

*It is crazy hard navigating my own grief while watching, listening, experiencing and living with 6 other humans who are grieving as well.  I hear everyone’s thoughts and feelings and not that I don’t want to, but it just is really really really hard.  Not only are we deep in our own grief, but we’re also deep in each other’s grief and that has been very difficult for me to figure out and know how to handle and move through.

*I have to remind myself daily that I still need to celebrate with others who are celebrating and grieve with others who are grieving.  I don’t really want to celebrate things when my heart is in such a broken place, but people still need to be celebrated.  And we’re not the only ones in the world with sad stuff and with heavy burdens we’re currently carrying.  We cannot turn so inward that we do not see outward those who are hurting around us…those who need encouraging and need love and need to know they are not alone and that they are indeed seen. We still need to reach outside ourselves in the midst of our grief.

*People are crazy kind.  We get cards and packages almost everyday.  There’s a local church where we seriously only know maybe one person there and yet we get cards, cards and more cards from this little body of believers.  It’s the sweetest and my kids are loving opening all the mail.  Friends have dropped off baked goods and dinners and solar eclipse buckets and rainbow weaves.  Strangers have mailed donkey piñata ornaments, cards, tee shirts and bracelets.  All the donkey rainbow goodness makes my heart gush.  And so many of you have sent more goodies & treats for our kiddos.  All the kindness is too much in the best kind of way.

 *A new friend Cara is raising money to help supply books to Mott Children’s Hospital in Everett’s honor.  It’s the sweetest and a young local girl even drew the cutest rainbow piñata donkey picture which will serve as the bookplate inside each book.  If you’d like to donate head over HERE and make your donation.

So there are some of my current crazy grief truths.  Could things be worse?  Yep, totally.  Do we still love Jesus?  Yep, totally.  Do we still praise His name?  Yep, totally.  We can believe and do all those things while still hurting and fumbling our way through life without our son.

Deeply Sorry

Saturday we had two additional kiddos at our house so I didn’t turn on the news, but Ashley kept me in the loop via text coupled with Facebook, Twitter and internet news sources.  I have so many many thoughts on what took place in Charlottesville, but truthfully I feel like they will all fall absolutely short.  Here’s the base of all my thoughts though:  I’m just sorry.  So so heartbroken and incredibly sorry to our brothers and sisters of different colors, races and religions.  I know how overwhelmed and helpless and sad I feel and I am a white privileged women so to those of you who have experienced racism your whole lives…that this is your normal…I am just deeply deeply sorry.

I feel like so many other people say things way better than I do so I wanted to share some great words and articles about racism and what happened in Charlottesville.  I think one of the most important things white people can do to help move towards racial reconciliation is to listen and acknowledge.

——————————————————————————————————————

Bob Goff via Facebook: The way we stand up against what is wrong today
How we give away love with even more resolve tomorrow
is the best way to let people know how deeply we feel about what happened yesterday.

21 Racial Microaggressions You Hear Everyday

10 Everyday Ways Charlottesville and White Supremacy Are Allowed To Still Happen – crazy good article.  A MUST READ!

Preemptive Love Coalition: Racist Protests in Charlottesville May Come as a Shock. But They Shouldn’t.

“Let’s not say, “I can’t believe this is happening in 2017.” It never stopped happening.  Racism is real, and it runs deep. Let us open our eyes and ears—and listen to our black neighbors, our indigenous neighbors, our Muslim neighbors, our Jewish neighbors, our immigrant neighbors. Let’s hear the lament, the cries, and the pain of their lived experience.  Love cannot look away. #Charlottesville

Lauren Casper via Facebook:

“I want to be inspirational and hopeful and type a message about love and light driving out evil and darkness. I’ve been sitting here speechless, though, so instead I will just be honest.

I am a human being. I am a sinner saved by grace alone. And because of that, my first thoughts and feelings are perhaps not as rational, thoughtful, and peaceful as they should be, but here is what I am feeling today…

As neo-nazis and white supremacists marched with torches last night I felt furious and disgusted and, sadly, not surprised. They descended on a city we travel to regularly for our children’s medical care (an hour just over the mountain from our home) and the university where my brother received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. They are flying nazi flags and chanting “blood and soil.” They are chanting “Heil Trump!” while giving the nazi salute. They hate my children. They hate me for being their mother. They hate anyone who doesn’t hold their beliefs, genetics, and ideals. They are the face of hatred.

Honest moment – it is HARD HARD HARD for me not to return their hatred with hate of my own. And it seems impossible to not feel afraid. My initial reaction isn’t love or peace or hope. It’s fear and anger and distrust and horror. It takes some serious mental and spiritual gymnastics for me to remember that love drives out hate and perfect love casts out fear and faith brings hope. It’s the truth. But it’s a hard truth for this mama.

I do not feel this way because I am the mother of two black children. I feel this way because I am a human being. And all human beings should stand against this evil ideology of racism and hatred. So I am praying for peace and reconciliation in Charlottesville and beyond today. And I am praying for my own heart to turn from fear and hate to love and hope and peace.”

 Yes, This is Racism by John Pavlovitz

“White people especially need to name racism in this hour, because somewhere in that crowd of sweaty, dead-eyed, raw throated white men—are our brothers and cousins and husbands and fathers and children; those we go to church with and see at Little League and in our neighborhoods.

They need to be made accountable by those they deem their “own kind.”
They need to know that this is not who we are, that we don’t bless or support or respect this.
They need white faces speaking directly into their faces, loudly on behalf of love.”

Unlock Hope always brings a good word.

I also read a great article on how African Americans feel living with confederate monuments still everywhere.  It was such a great article and now I cannot find it anywhere.  One of the lines said it’s like asking Holocaust survivors to picnic in parks with statues of Hitler.  It was a really important read and if anyone else has read it, please share the link.  I have searched and searched for it.

 —————————————————————————————————————–

I don’t have a lot of insight tonight.  I feel absolutely helpless and at a loss.  I feel so insanely sad on so many different levels, but I can always listen.  I can always choose to link arms with our brothers and sisters who are hurting.  And I can always choose to speak truth and love when others are speaking lies and hate.

Random Grief Thoughts

*Everyone started school on Monday even our littlest.  I had originally been excited about the start of school.  I thought it would be good for everyone especially the routine and friendships and solo time, but randomly on Saturday I had an hour by myself in our house for the first time since Everett died and it was the worst.  I just cried and cried while everyone was gone and I immediately decided I wanted no one to go back to school or I needed to get a job outside our house. 🙂

We’re three days in and it has been a massive adjustment for everybody.  Harper started middle school.  Hudson and Solomon started 3rd grade in separate classes this year.  Amon started kindergarten and our littlest headed off to MDO again.  Lots of our kids are still struggling with sadness and sleeping so not only are we emotionally exhausted, but we are physically exhausted as well.  I keep telling myself this is just a season…just weather through it, weather through it.  The kids miss their little brother something awful and everyone is feeling the weight of grief.

Hands down the worst part of the first day of school was dropping our littlest off at mother’s day out and walking out alone.  Prior to summer I would drop Amon and her off and I would always have my arms full of Everett.  He and I would take the day for just us and I so badly miss that.  I broke into tears before I even reached my car.

*Last night I finally threw away Shuai’s medicines that sat on our counter top in the kitchen.  We gave him his medicines 3 times a day for almost 5 months and when we got home I just couldn’t toss it yet.  Last night I decided it was time and it felt really sad to me.  Those medicines helped his heart do what it needed to do.  Those medicines we’re a very important lifeline.  It was yet another sign of the finality of this mess.

*I’ve been sleeping with his blanket.  Calling all crazies, I’ll be your leader.  I love having it close and I really don’t have any other explanations, but I am the grown woman sleeping with a toddler’s blankie right now.

( ^Channeling my inner Nick Nolte mug shot.  Google it and thank me later. )

*The sky is teaching me again and again that God remains the same.  He is the same God who creates reminders in the sky just the same as before Everett died.

*I had to email Harper’s teachers at school about Everett.  Everyone at our elementary already knew, but not at Harper’s new middle school.  I also had to email her soccer coach and ask if we could get a refund.  She’s just not feeling it and really, who could blame her?!?!?!  If I didn’t have 5 other kiddos depending on me, I wouldn’t get out of bed much.

*Josh Kelley and myself talk a lot about how we see how people lose their religion from these kinds of moments.  We also talk about how the only way out of this mess we can see is Jesus.  When I think of others going through losing a child without Jesus it makes me deeply sad because I know how all over the place we feel and I simply cannot fathom their desolate feelings.  I feel the craziest back-and-forth of mind set…hopeless to hopeful again and again and again.  All day long.

*I went to my first workout last Thursday since we left for Michigan and thought I was going to throw up.  I went again on Monday and fought tears the entire time and didn’t even finish the workout for the day.  I gave myself a 45 minute time limit…once I hit 45 minutes I went home.  This morning I slept in and went after I dropped our littlest off at school.  I never do that.  I always go to the 5am class and usually push myself really hard, but I’m learning to lean into some grace and give myself a break on things like this right now.

*Rachel, a new friend who works at Target, told me she was praying for our family while I was doing self checkout and I wanted to just sob into her arms.  I also cried to our littlest’s MDO teacher, sobbed into Mrs. Elkins’ chest who was working the carrider line and got choked up when our friend Mr. Tony who delivers eggs told me how sorry he was.  I simply cry pretty much all the time to every person ever!!!!  No one is safe from my “dead weight of tears”…fondly coined description by Aimee to describe Ashley, but I’m taking it on for myself.  It just feels right. 🙂

*We’re going to try and go to church tonight for the first time since returning from Michigan.  I’m also going to clean my office and try and create something…no idea what, but just something.  And I’m contemplating about 5 different new tattoos for Everett.  When life hands out trauma, I get tattoos.  Totally normal right?!?!?!?

 *I can see that we love being around our people right now.  When we have a house full of those we hold dear for food and games things feel more normal.  When they leave the normal leaves too because then it’s just our little family again and the void Everett has left is glaring.  It’s this fine balance of pushing through the hard, but also throwing in the nights when our house is brimming with people which feels like a balm to our burned out grief stricken selves.

*God is still good.  I’ve had long talks with myself about how and why God is still good and I can come up with an insanely long list about why He is just that.  Plus, if I believed God was good before Everett died while there was world wide slavery, child headed households, the orphan crisis, people dying of preventable diseases and lack of clean water, rampart racism, Aleppo and mamas and daddies struggling to feed their babies then I must must must believe He is still good now.  Losing Everett put God’s goodness on the line…what will you believe now Laura…it got really really personal…and I know He’s still good.

We are deeply defeated feeling right now, but there are others struggling far worse.  We got to sit by Everett’s side and be with him while he fought so hard and bravely.  Love on him and stroke his sweet thick black hair.  There are parents around the world who do not have health insurance or the money to pay for life saving surgeries their children need.  They are faced with the decision of taking their child home to watch them die or give them up…surrender their rights as their child’s parents…and the government will see to their child’s surgery, but they will never see their child again.  I CANNOT fathom that.  CANNOT.  So while we are hurting, we know others are hurting too.  And some of that brokenness is far beyond our comprehension.  I am choosing to know deeply that God is still good and to continue to look for ways to rally around others in their own hard times.

 *And lastly if you have not had a chance to give in honor of Everett to Morning Star’s Love Project and would like to…there’s still time.  Just call or go by a local Pinnacle bank and give under Josh & Laura Kelley or you can donate directly online HERE.  They have some amazing prints available for your donation as well or at the bottom right hand side of the site you can make a donation of any amount.

Gritty And Ugly And Brutally Truthful

Hi!  I’ve thought about stopping in and writing and then I wondered what do I even write.  The grief is heavy and thick and feels like it’s swallowing us up most days.  Everything feels impossibly different now.  Everything.  And I’m sure very few want to read any of these words, but this is all I’ve got tonight.

Josh Kelley is grieving.  I am grieving.  And then five Kelley children are all grieving and this is hard as hell.  I want to do ZERO of it.  None.  I want to tap out and call it quits.  I want to stay in bed all day long.  I don’t want to leave our house.  I want to drink far too many cocktails.  I want to eat my emotions under the table.  I simply do not want to do any of this, but there are these other crazy amazing kids who need us so quitting isn’t an option.  Heck, sleeping in isn’t even an option. 🙂

I hate so many things in our home now.  And I’ve ran that sentence a thousand times over in my head because our house holds so many incredible precious memories, so it’s really hard to type that, but right now the jeering loss of Everett seems to be tainting most everything.  We always eat dinner together and since coming home without Everett we have not sat down all together until tonight.  And his empty chair stared us in the face.  I mustered out the tiniest prayer and broke into tears mid way.  What in the world?  Our kid is dead.  Our 3-year-old died and not one part of that feels okay.

Going into the boys’ room at night is probably the hardest.  His little bed lays empty with his blankies and stuffed animals.  I actually already packed up a bunch of his newer items and gave them to the Carman’s for Everett’s best friend who will be coming home soon.  I just couldn’t look at some of his things and I needed to know they still carried a purpose and knowing his best friend would have them and use them made me feel better.

I still can’t empty out his backpack from the hospital packed with all his favorite things we knew he’d want when he started his recovery.  The other day our littlest came walking out of our bedroom wearing his backpack and it caught me completely off guard to which I snapped at her to put it back immediately.  And the other morning I closed our closet door and just sobbed in the floor over that same backpack.  I miss our boy.  This is pain and loss and grief like I’ve never felt before.  This is a whole new ballgame and I have no idea how to play.

I get physically sick and cry uncontrollably when I think about Everett and all the hopes and dreams we buried with him.  I just knew God was going to heal him.  I just knew it.  I had imagined what his little life would look like…even things like grand babies and how he and his best friend would celebrate every birthday together just like they’d always done.  I imagined more trips to the beach and airport celebrations and all the first holidays together.  I imagined Chinese New Year with him for the first time and how special that was going to be.  Josh’s parents are taking everyone to Disney in September and we knew they we’re having to change things once Everett passed away and Josh and I have absolutely no desire to go now.  None!  But then there are 5 other kiddos who cannot wait.  It’s this constant turmoil inside ourselves of battling hard with everything…trying to heal, but not being able to the exact way you would if it was just you…or if it was just me and Josh.  There’s this constant reevaluating of every move you make and every feeling you feel and every reaction you have because it’s not just you in this grief game, but five siblings are grieving their brother as well and they still need you.

Tonight after I kissed all the boys goodnight I brought down Everett’s big and little blankies.  I walked down our stairs, into our dark bedroom and stood there in the dark and smelled them.  I smelled every part of them hoping to catch a familiarity of him.  I remember in the hospital one of our nurses asked if I wanted her to wash his little blankie because it had chocolate on it from the days leading up to the hospital.  Right off hand I said “Sure”, but I immediately panicked even though she hadn’t even touched the blanket yet.  I broke into tears and asked her not to wash it.  I didn’t want his chocolate finger smudges washed away or his smell.

Regret spills through our minds all day long and it’s yet another thing to fight.  Do I know it’s Satan?  Yes.  Is it hard to fight?  Hell yes.  We’ve questioned every last decision we made on Everett’s behalf.  We’ve played every moment over and over and over in our minds.  We’ve gone over all the questions we asked and if we asked all the right ones or did we miss some.  The what ifs are insurmountable.  It brings me to my knees daily.  The regret and guilt we’re battling is of massive proportion and weighs oh so heavy.  Yet another thing to fight to hand over to Jesus because we know we’re not made to carry it.

Amon has his cardiologist appointment soon and I am dreading it.  I know without question it will be painful to walk into that building again and sit in those chairs and go into that waiting room and talk to our beloved doctor who cried on the phone with me.  I know every part of that appointment will be hellish on my heart.  The death of Everett naturally brings up fear about Amon too.  The what ifs run wild and it’s a battle to keep them in check and hand them over to God as well.

People say the wildest things to try and make you feel better.

Question:  Is it okay to just throat punch someone who says something so insanely stupid about your child dying?  Asking for a friend. 🙂

Sometimes the best thing you can say to someone who is just brokenhearted is “I’m so sorry.  This effin sucks.  I can’t imagine how you feel.”

And I have feelings about God I’ve never really had before.  I have so many questions and constantly have to say truths about who God is over and over to myself.  I’ve tried breaking down my feelings at a minimum of 354 times and the most honest way I can describe it is this:

I fiercely love Jesus, I really and truly do, but I don’t like Him very much right now.  Love Him, yes.  Like Him, no.  Does that make sense?  None of what happened to Everett feels right or good or okay.  None of it.  It feels like a wildly cruel joke.  We still struggle with the reality and finality of it all.  Some days it still does not feel real.  And I know bad things happen because we live in a fallen world.  And I don’t think God “planned” for Everett to die at age 3.  And I know God is good, good, good.  And I know He is absolutely worthy of all my praise and I will still continue to praise His name.  But I find myself landing in the space of questioning the why behind it all and why not healing for Everett and while Jesus owes me not one explanation I am a completely flawed sinner and I just have lots of feelings and emotions to lay at His feet and say directly to Him.

The thing I love about Jesus is I do not intimidate Him.  I don’t think I hurt His feelings.  I can say to Him,

Me:  “I love you a lot, but I don’t like you right now.”

And in my head I feel like He would respond with something along the lines of,

God:  “I understand your feelings and I am here and will never leave you.  Please always know you can tell me anything and my love for you will never change.”

 I could be totally wrong, but I wonder if He didn’t like some people He came in contact with while on Earth.  Love them like mad…yes, like them…no??  It’s totally speculation on my part, but when I looked up the definition of “like” it said:

find agreeable, enjoyable or satisfactory

I wonder if He ever crossed paths with someone He didn’t agree with or didn’t find enjoyable or was not satisfied with how they treated Him or someone else.  The whole thing has made my mind think like crazy, but what I’ve really boiled everything down to is God is big enough for my questions and doubts and dislike right now.  He’s big enough to handle my anger and sadness and regret.  He’s big enough for all the ways I miss my boy immensely and He’s always here…never leaving…never stopping His love.  He’s big enough for all that I bring before Him no matter what it looks like.

So, that’s where I am right now.  It feels gritty and ugly and brutally truthful, but that’s all I’ve got.  And I really think Jesus is still sitting right here in the midst of this mess and loving us just the same.

2 Weeks + Saying Goodbye

Two weeks ago today our sweet Everett went to be with Jesus.  And if I’m truthful I actually think he even went before that.  I’ve been running those 40 something minutes through my head while I watched his team administer CPR and compressions and get his small body hooked up to life support and I can’t help but think a kind angel swooped in and took him off to be with Jesus then.  Losing Everett has been massively different than losing Mom and in my head I had tried convincing myself I’d be more prepared if something did happen to Everett and yet here I am a freakin’ mess and feeling absolutely blindsided by most everything as we move through each day.  So many things catch my breath and send me into a full on body shaking sob that instantly creates a pounding ache in my head.  From the first load of laundry that contained none of his clothes to only receiving 5 suckers instead of 6 in the bank drive through to Harper sleeping in his bed instead of him.  Every day I could write up a long list of these things which feel just so incredibly wrong and unnatural about our life now.

And then there are a few things I’ve found so far which feel the same.  Grief is a sleep snatcher and not just for me now.  Amon, our littlest and Hudson all wake up in the middle of the night feeling the loss of their brother and Harper can’t get to sleep…her mind won’t quit and she always finds herself in her loss and sadness ending with a hard cry and snuggle from Josh Kelley or myself.  Amon wakes up multiple times a night crying for Everett or his FuShuai.  I’m not sure how long this will last, but besides being emotionally exhausted we are all physically exhausted too.

Time seems to stand still.  Two weeks feels like two days.  At the end of Everett’s celebration of life service/party late Saturday night I sobbed in the parking lot as the last of our friends and family loaded up in their cars and drove away because I knew what this represented…tomorrow everyone’s lives march on and our grief really begins.  It’s an extremely hard pill to swallow and everyday you battle anger and hurt from the world because they don’t sit in your standstill grief with you.  Everyone else’s lives march on while you stay in the same suck ass grief place.  And I know this is how it is suppose to be…no one’s lives should stop for us…that’s normal life…other’s should carry on, but it doesn’t make it hurt any less.  So it’s a constant head and heart game to try and not get pissed off about things like text messages about Disney World or up and coming parties when all you can think about is how your sweet son won’t be at any of those things and you really don’t want to do any of them without him…you just want your boy back.

(Josh channeling his inner Shuai)

Friday we held Everett’s visitation.  We talked and met with so many sweet people who just lifted us up and encouraged us.  It was important to us for those who never actually got to meet Everett that they would walk away knowing him a little better.  Josh Kelley’s only request was for all of our videos to run of Everett so he got all the videos lined up on our computer and ready to go.  We ran about 35 minutes of Everett videos on repeat on the big screen in the sanctuary.  I’m the photo person so I wanted tons of photos of our boy.  We filled the entryway of the church with 250 balloons and attached a photo to each.  We had fun garland around the welcome center so as balloons started to come down over the 6 our visitation we could just clip the photos to the garland for display.  We didn’t want it to appear as a sad funeral…the tiny casket accomplished that all on it’s own…so we hung colorful buntings and garlands and a Happy Birthday banner and set up a candy bar and had tons of big white balloons filled with confetti.  Sweet Everett deserved a celebration.  At the end of Friday night we gathered every last balloon and headed out the back door of the church.  We stood with so many people we love and care for and who have loved and cared for us in our darkest of days and released every last balloon.  I cried and smiled simultaneously as I watched kids and adults alike laugh and watch in wonder.

Saturday morning Josh, his brother Andy and myself headed to the cemetery to decorate.  Everett was buried in the shade of a big tree and I knew exactly what I wanted this sacred moment of burying our son to look like.  We had purchased paper lanterns in China with Everett so those we’re a must.  Harper, Hudson, Solomon and my niece Meiya had cut out one bazillion hearts from old books and hymnals and those we’re a must as well.  I wanted a little representation of him wrapped around the tree trunk too.

Our incredible photographer and friend Cheyenne reached out to me and asked to be apart of our day along with her camera.  Cheyenne also captured our family just a few days before we left for Michigan.  She is a light and a gift.  I could never express our deepest of gratitude for the way she has loved and served our family.

At 10 that morning we gathered with our family under the big shade tree.  My SIL Becky had shared with me that traditional funeral flowers from Everett’s province we’re chrysanthemums and daisies of yellow and white representing celebratory life so those adorned his tiny casket.  Our friends Aubrey and Jen led us in worship and our friend Jim talked about Jesus and children.  Josh led us in a prayer and spoke of God’s goodness.  We gave out red Chinese envelopes to family in the days before Everett’s burial for them to write something if they chose to and at the burial they placed them on Everett’s casket as it was lowered into the ground.

Afterwards our funeral home all on their own had purchased a ton of balloons of all colors with number 4’s on them along with a colorful donkey piñata filled with candy since it was Everett’s birthday that day.  I love when people do what they do so well and we felt so loved and cared for by Forest Lawn Funeral Home.  They made a shit situation better and we surely felt the love and care from every single person we worked with there.  Melena and Rick led the way and we just felt incredibly loved by them.  Then we let everyone take flowers from Everett’s pall flowers.  I didn’t like thinking about all those beautiful flowers dying so we picked it apart and everyone took home a beautiful boquet of flowers in white and yellow.

That Saturday night we held a service and party to celebrate Everett’s life and his 4th birthday.  I did all of 3 things for the party…1) Shared my vision of what I saw the night looking like with Marcie and Susan.  2) I gathered important items and bought some things mostly online and handed it all over to them.  And 3) I dumped a bag of candy in a bowl and that was my food contribution.  Marcie & Nick, Susan, Melody, Brea & Jonathan, Brooke, Chelsea, Alissa, Jessica and so many other’s showed up just killed it.  When I got to the party all I could think was “This is going to be a really special time.”  It was exactly as I had envisioned and even more.  I started to cry as I saw all these people coming and bringing food and helping and putting drinks in tubs and dumping bags of ice and and and.  I caught Marcie’s eye and we cried and hugged…she was thinking the same thing…how special is the body of Christ when we choose to rally around…to unify…to come together in love rather than divide.

The service was incredibly special to us.  Jonathan opened us in a few words and prayer.  Jen and Aubrey led us in more worship.  Andy spoke about our boy and the deep meanings of his names and his life.  When we asked Andy to speak that’s all we asked.  We gave him no rules or agenda because we knew the deep love Andy held for Shuai and it shined so bright that night.  Then Josh and myself both shared some and Josh’s dad closed us out in a few words and prayer.  I loved how a slew of children mulled around and moved about coming in and out all during the service.  It was just as it should have been.  Our only kiddo who made it through the service was Hudson.  He hung on every word.  Our kiddos are all processing too so it was important to us to just let them be.  Some of them left early on, Harper got up when Josh Kelley started crying while speaking, our littlest sat in my lap almost the entire time holding my face or wiping my tears or saying things like “We all miss our Everett” or “I need food now” or “I need to go potty now.” 🙂  We just let them do what they needed to do.

Then we partied.  There was TONS of good food and desserts and jump houses and bubbles and sidewalk chalk and laughter and conversation and sparklers and so many people we hold dear and so many new faces we just met.  We all held a common thread…Everett.  Despite my own feelings of loss and sadness, I do know Everett’s life mattered deeply and God used and is using him still for His glory.  I cannot and will not argue with that ever.  Our goal was to bring people together to celebrate and lift God high and I really feel like that was exactly what happened.  The whole day felt special and holy.  I know we felt honored and humbled to be a part of it and to be loved on by so many.

And now we’re here.  We’re taking one day at a time and everyone is processing differently trying to find ourselves in our unwanted new normal.  Thank you deeply again and again for the way you have surrounded Everett and our family with love and prayer and encouragement.  We are just insanely grateful.

**If you have not had a chance to give in honor of Everett to Morning Star’s Love Project and would like to…there’s still time.  Just call or go by a local Pinnacle bank under Josh & Laura Kelley or you can donate directly online HERE.  They have some amazing prints available for your donation as well or at the bottom right hand side of the site you can make a donation of any amount.**

Only God Himself

I know I’ve said this again and again and I will probably continue to say this as we move through losing Everett, but thank you!!!!  Our most sincere of thanks.  We are blown away daily by how God is using His people to love on our family in the most thoughtful, kind and tangible ways.  From prayers and cards to food and gifts to help with medical and funeral expenses.  We have surely felt seen, loved and cherished.  Please please please know how deeply grateful we are.

It’s been 9 days since we lost Everett and it has been hellish and beautiful.  I feel like a crazy person because I have a hard time completing even the simplest of tasks.  My mind and heart are all over the place and the grief of losing our child is another facet of loss I clearly was not prepared for.  It’s just a whole new ballgame coupled with navigating 5 children who are grieving the loss of their brother.  Josh Kelley and I say all the time how this whole thing feels stupid.  Why in the world did our sweet Everett have to die?!?  It makes no sense.  Our littlest asks everyday why Everett died and I just sit with her and explain in my best kid friendly way how his little heart and mind we’re sick and sometimes shitty things happen because our world is fallen.  We are all sad and angry and do not understand a piece of it.  We miss Everett something terrible and it simply feels like we’re all just flailing around in crazy deep waters close to drowning.  When people ask how we’re doing all I can say is that we’re making it.  Just making it.

In the midst of this madness we have been consumed by the love, support, encouragement and kindness of others.  I’ve seen the goodness of God in the faces of His people and everywhere we look.  I know our sadness is deep and we’re really unsure of how to even get up each morning, but I still see face-to-face His goodness woven through out our days.  Every single day He meets us in the midst of our sadness and loss and grieves with us.  He hears our cries and knows our hearts.  And even when it is hard we will still praise His name.

I remind our kids and myself every day that God is still good and He did not change when Everett died.  He is the same God who works miracles and heals.  He is the same God that loves endlessly and without condition.  He is the same God who gives us underserved mercy and grace.  He is the same God who lives in us and shares the peace of the Holy Spirit with us.  While we do not for the life of us understand why God did not choose to heal Everett we must choose to still trust Him and continue to remind ourselves His love has not changed.

I do not believe God planned for Everett to die.  Obviously I do not know God’s thoughts and ways, but my mind and heart can’t wrap around God planning this.  What I do believe is that God absolutely knew Everett would die…it did not surprise Him…and He is broken with us.  This world we live in is not of any permanance or our future.  It is a temporary place full of broken beauty.  God takes the broken parts…all of our messes…all of the unfair parts that make zero sense…all of our ashes and springs forth beauty.  That is what God does.  That is the power of God.  He make things new.

Does Everett’s death feel beautiful right now?  No.  Do I feel a peace about Everett dying?  No.  Do I understand why God chose not to heal Everett?  No.  Do I like seeing my husband absolutely crushed in a way I have never seen?  No.  Do I like planning my 3-year-olds funeral and cradling my other babies while they sob for their brother?  No.  Does any of this make any sense to our family?  No.  But the incredible love of Jesus is this, He knows.  And no matter how we feel about what has happened I do know, that I know, that I know, God loves us something fierce and has used and will continue to use Everett and his story for His own glory.  He commands the praise.  He feels all our feelings and is crushed along with us.  And that is why every day I will choose to get out of bed and again put my trust in Him.  I do not see another way through this mess other than Jesus.

Please know we are not good people.  In the Bible Jesus says Himself that God alone is good.  We are a mess…a giant sinful broken mess.  We are not anything special or something to behold.  The only thing we have going for us is God Himself.  The only thing good in us is God Himself.  The only thing special about us is God Himself.  The only thing keeping us afloat is God Himself.  The only thing to behold in our family is God Himself.  May we lift His name high right here in our darkest moment and praise His name when we don’t even feel like it.

Arrangements & In Lieu Of Flowers Let’s Love

It’s been 5 days since Everett died and it’s simply the most unreal thing I’ve ever experienced.  I really thought I was pretty prepared since I’ve walked this grief road before when Mom died, but whoa, whoa whoa!  I was not as well prepared as I thought I was.  Everett lived in our house and was brother to 5 children in our home and rode in our car every day and sat on our countertop every single morning for breakfast and snuggled in our bed and his things all over our house and there we’re certain things he did with each individual family member and and and.  A beautifully painful reminder is all throughout our house and there are 7 people grieving deeply the loss of their son or brother under one roof.  No way any of us we’re really prepared for this.

Sidenote:  Not sleeping did in fact carry over from one grief experience to the next.  Hence I’m posting this at 2am on Sunday morning.  I keep wracking my brain trying to remember when I finally started sleeping good again after Mom died.  I need a nap or 10 cocktails.  You pick.  End Sidenote.

We have been working on arrangements for Everett and I seriously could not make one decision the first few days…more or less pull off a funeral in such a short amount of time.  His little body didn’t even arrive in Tennessee until Friday.  So even though it’s not your typical funeral turnaround time we decided to do nothing until this coming Friday and Saturday.  I seriously can barely think straight and the first few days I couldn’t think at all.  So we decided to ditch the normal and do what worked for us.

His obituary will be published today in our local newspaper and I wanted to share the arrangement part here with you guys.  I’ve had several asking and also wanted to share a little more since I was limited in the newspaper because they charge you $423 dollars per line.  Geez newspaper.

“Visitation will be held on Friday, July 28th from 2-8 pm at Northside Church of Christ in Nashville, Tn. A celebration of his life will be held on Saturday, July 29th at 5pm at Rock Castle in Hendersonville, Tn. If you plan to attend the celebration please bring food to share and lawn chairs or quilts. Drinks & desserts will be provided. In lieu of flowers a memorial fund has been set up at Pinnacle banks in the name of Josh & Laura Kelley FBO Everett Kelley Memorial.”

All the arrangements we’ve made…vistation and celebration of his life… are kid friendly because well, Everett was a kid and kids are fun.  No one wants to go to a child’s funeral so we’re doing our damnedest to make this a little less miserable for everyone.  Saturday is Everett’s 4th birthday so a celebration was in order.  We will have a small service starting at 5pm and after that we will celebrate.  We are asking anyone coming to the celebration to bring some food to share and we’re providing all the desserts, drinks, paper products and fun.  There might even be some bounce houses…we’re working on it. 😉   And please do not wear black…for the love do not wear black.  Let’s just have all the colors people…all the colors…in honor of Everett’s joyful personality and his rainbow piñata donkey Fiesta.

We also have an account set up at Pinnacle banks so people can make a donation in lieu of flowers.  We love to see good flourish in our world.  We also know these heart warrior kiddos are larger than life and we believe in family and supporting these families under financial medical stress.  All donations will be given to the Morning Star Love Project.  Morning Star is a non-profit who not only cares for sweet kiddos, but also comes along side families who cannot afford their child’s surgeries.  My sweet friend Meredith helps run their baby home in China full of the most precious heart warriors around.

“The sad reality for many impoverished families around the world who have children born with congenital heart disease is that they are often forced to make a choice that no parent should ever have to face. The decision to abandon their child or choose to do nothing, taking their child home from the hospital, forced to watch them die.

Can you imagine watching your daughter gasping for breath and having no options for treatment? Surgery is too expensive; the medications are too expensive; there is no medical insurance. What are your choices? Do you watch her suffer or do you leave her at the gate of the orphanage hoping that somehow they will be able to save her life because you can’t?

No parent should have to make this choice, and no child should suffer without a parent simply because taking care of them is too expensive and resources are not available to aid families.

The LOVE project aims at forming a community of believers who come together to reach out to families parenting children with heart disease who because of financial limitations are faced with this terrible choice. We aim to change the conversation. Stand up for the orphan by preventing them from ever occurring. Orphan prevention. Family preservation. Friends, if we are “for” the plight of the orphan, we MUST be for the family as well.

The LOVE project requires significant funding—But the needs do not stop there. In addition to caring financially for these children’s surgeries, the LOVE project will invest in each of the families lives by caring for their physical, emotional and spiritual needs until the child recovers and form lasting relationships that will continue throughout the child’s life.  We walk with them through the entire process and even afterwards we continue to check on them and encourage in any way that is needed.”

 I hope this is something we can all get behind.  We talked and talked about what we could do…how we could use Everett’s story for good…how he could change the world even after leaving it and The Love Project is where we landed.  Sweet heart babies in need of surgeries and rallying around their parents to lift the heavy financial burden…how could we not is the real question!  If you would like to donate in Everett’s honor you can call or go by a local Pinnacle bank or you can donate directly online HERE.  They have some amazing prints available for your donation as well or at the bottom right hand side of the site you can make a donation of any amount.

I wanted to say yet another THANK YOU to all of you.  We have received so many notes, comments, emails and messages as well as all the sweet mail in the hospital and financial support for Everett’s medical & funeral expenses.  The kids have received surprises in the mail and treats of all kinds dropped by the house.  We surely feel all the love and I can barely even keep up with all the things and I’m still looking for my “thank you” list from the hospital I lost.  I like to send thank you notes and always try to, but please know if you do not receive one it’s not because we’re unappreciative, but either because I lost the address of who sent/did what or my brain is not functioning and I simply can’t pull it off right now where I am.  Please please please know we are forever grateful for the way you have prayed and encouraged our family.  It has meant the world to us.

We are all processing and grieving.  Everyone is quite unsure of what to do next.  Josh Kelley keeps saying, “We just have to do the new thing in front of us, just the next thing.”  So we will continue to praise God because He is beyond deserving of praise, rest in His goodness because it is still everywhere and just try and love the best we can doing whatever is next in front of us.  Thank you so much for all the continued prayers and maybe we’ll see you this week…if so…I’ll be the one giving out bear hugs…and likely crying. 🙂

Day 20 & 21: Whole & Healed

Our sweet Everett boy went to be with Jesus Tuesday mid morning.  He is now whole and healed.

On Monday our crew headed back to the hospital to see Everett and us.  We spent the morning loving on our boy, watching movies, eating all the snacks and opening more hospital mail.  You guys have been too good to us and we are grateful.  Mail delivery each day was a sweet highlight.  We all ate lunch together in the giant hospital cafeteria and spirits felt low and feisty.  Our children are carrying heaviness along with the rest of our family who love Everett so fiercely.  This has not been an easy road to walk and we’re all just figuring it out as we go.

In the afternoon Everett’s team along with his neurological team came by to do their final testing.  We all left and went to the hospital play area with the kids.  After a little while our sweet nurse Denise called and said they had finished.  I asked about the results and Everett had been pronounced brain dead.  I felt crushed as I watched four of our children running and playing and laughing.  I also felt grateful for our children’s strong healthy bodies.

We headed back to his room and shortly after we made our move to Everett’s “transition room”.  I hated that word and every time we left and came back through security I had to say it again…”Kelley…we’re in the transition room”.  There was no calling back like our normal rooms, but instead the security guards would just nod their heads softly and let us on back.  While I stayed to help move Everett everyone else went for a walk down to the Huron river close by.  Having some of our people here felt like life and although I know it was extremely difficult for them…Big Daddy, Jen and Campbell…I was so thankful they came to be with us and to love on our children as they process losing their brother.

   The rest of the day was spent just being together with Everett.  We watched more movies, made thumb print medallions for the kiddos and cut locks of his precious hair and stored them away in little glass bottles.  One of our family life team members made hand and foot prints for us as well.

 

The hospital brought us all lots of food.  Sandwiches, drinks, fruit, cookies and coffee.  We all spent time in the big bed with Everett and that was probably my favorite part…the big bed.  We love a good snuggle and everyone loves to pile in our bed at home, so it was incredibly lovely to be able to cuddle with our boy.  And the big bed felt more natural…more like us.

Finally it was time for everyone to say goodbye and it was gut wrenching.  I’d done pretty well keeping it together, but when I realized this was likely, without our miracle, the last time we’d all be together with Everett, well, it was devastating.  Everyone hugged and cried and hugged some more.  Sweet Hudson told me he was still hoping and still believing God was going to heal Shuai and I just kissed his face off because we we’re with him.  We held onto hope the entire time and still do.  Right before they left we gave some things to Jen and Big Daddy to take back with them so we wouldn’t have to take them on the plane.  One thing being Shuai’s backpack filled with all his things we thought he’d need and want at the hospital.  His little shoes we’re tucked in the side pocket.  In my head I panicked because I didn’t want his bag unpacked by anyone else.  I started to ask Jen to not let anyone unpack it and I burst into tears.  She assured me she would not let anyone unpack his bag.  Finally everyone got in their last Shuai love and Josh walked them all down.  I crawled into bed with our boy, snuggled in close and wept over his beautifully broken little body.

Josh and I slept next to him through the night.  I would wake up and look over at him and tears would immediately fall.  I begged God to heal him.  I begged God to breath life into his little body.  I begged God to restore his incredible little mind.  I begged God to let him live.  It was a very surreal night and one I felt inadequate for.  How in the world did we get this lucky??  I will never get over how God used Everett to make us better…to enrich our family even more…to bring us so much joy…and to love us so well.  He was a lover for sure…wrapping his arms tight around your neck and he loved a good cuddle.  He made me feel loved.

Tuesday we spent all day with him until his beautifully broken heart beat it’s last while in my arms.  We played Hillsong United’s Wonder album and NeedToBreathe’s Hard Love album over and over and worshiped our God.  We whispered all the things we wanted him to know in his ears and held him so close. We continued to spend more and more time holding our boy now whole and healed with Jesus.  I tried to memorize everything about him.  I craved to feel the weight of his body again and I craved to hold him without all the tubes and lines and although so unbearably devastating it was also such a gift to my mama’s heart…to hold my baby again like I’d done a 1000 times before.  We each took all the time we wanted.  We never once felt rushed and having our team who had loved us so well and who genuinely loved and cared for Everett too made this terrible process a bit easier.  We we’re surrounded by people who cared and people who shed tears with us too although they’d only known Everett for 21 days.  I told them all one of the things I hated most was that none of them had known him before all this…they hadn’t had the privilege of experiencing his fierce, loving and joyful self.  I showed them pictures instead and we thanked them for how they had served our son and our family.

We finally left him around 4pm.  Physically walking out of that room and leaving Everett’s body was the hardest thing I’ve done.  I just wanted to scoop him up and take him home.  I wanted to go back and re-do everything.  I wanted to hit the reset button NOW.  I wanted him back.  We packed all our bags and left the hospital without our baby and it was every bit has horrible as it sounds.  Absolutely devastating and it sucked the breath out of lungs and the tears poured.

The hospital so kindly booked us a hotel down the road and we caught a ride there.  When we checked in the lady asked “Everett?” for our name after we gave her our confirmation number and I burst into tears again.   The Chinese restaurant where we ate with Everett before his surgery was close by so we decided to walk down for dinner and celebrate our boy with rice noodles and pot stickers and sweet and sour chicken.  The waitress started to sit us at the same table we ate at with him and I quickly asked for a booth…I just couldn’t do it the exact same without him.

I slept little.  I cried a lot.  Everything feels like a dream, but I will always always lift Jesus high in this holy mess we’re in.  He is still good.  He did not change with Everett’s death.  Are we sad and angry and miss him desperately?  Absolutely and even more, but God did not change and I will continue to remind myself and our children of this.  I will fight like hell to make sure we all know true and deep that God alone is good, He still loves us all the same and that losing Everett broke His heart as well.  We are not alone in this sorrow and He sits with us in the midst of it and grieves as well.

This morning we boarded a plane and headed back to Nashville.  I carried Everett’s handprint and footprint molds which we’re still wet through the airport and in my seat on the plane so as not to mess them up.  I kept thinking, “Do they know?  Do they know our son is dead and we just left his body in another state?”  It was the weirdest.  On the way home Josh’s dad drove us by the cemetery he and his mom had visited for us the day before.  He gave us all the specifics and I just kept thinking this could not be so.  We are not shopping for burial plots for our 3-year-old.  It made me ache in a new way for all those other parents who have lost their amazing children.

And now we’re home.  Everything in our house is a gorgeous painful reminder of Everett.  Everything.  I’ve already more than once thought “Where’s Everett?” while doing my normal mama mind thing of locating all my children.  Our kids are incredibly sad and are all grieving in their own ways.  Amon did not fully understand until he realized Shuai was not with us at home.  They are doing well to figure out what works for their hearts…some like to draw while sad, some like to cry, some want to go outside, etc.  We’re keeping the dialogue open.  We’re letting them see us cry too.  We’re letting them know this is a mess and we’re all figuring it out together.  And we’ve got kind people in our lives who let them play and take them swimming and just let them have fun.

We are working on arrangements now and will share with everyone once we know.  This is just hard and we’re not sure how this all should shake out.  We are incredibly grateful for all the prayers, love & support and we will always sing a song of hope.  You have wrapped us up in love in so many many ways and we feel so seen.  While we are absolutely devastated we know God is an “infinitely wonderful being” and He used and is using sweet Everett’s story for His glory.  May we lift Him high and sing no other name than His.  We are surely the luckiest mama and daddy…we’re honored to have been his.  What an incredibly strong and brave little boy we were gifted with. We couldn’t be more proud of our Everett Louie Shuai.