My name is Erica. I am a 38-year-old public school art teacher. I have been teaching for over 10 years and love my job. Unlike many mothers with children with disabilities, I have managed to maintain my career. I feel very blessed to work with over 500 students in our town in Minnesota.
I have been married since 2006. My husband, Scott, is an outside sales person for a title company. He is the most amazing father. He has stepped up, when he could have run away. I admire his strength for completely doing this with me day-to-day.
Our only son, Grant, was about 6 when his first serious round of self injury began. He has some level of intellectual disability, autism, and Avoidant Restrictive Feeding Intake Disorder (ArFID) which resulted in a g-tube getting surgically placed in August. Below is just a small piece of my life story. I am writing regularly at erica873.wixsite.com/grant and share updates on Facebook at www.facebook.com/deargrant if you would like to read more.
I was cleaning up my art room, like I always do. Pandora was playing “Fire and Rain” by James Taylor. I know this song really well. I might be able to sing along without the lyrics without them in front of me. Can you hear it now?
” Won’t you look down upon me, Jesus…”
This song triggers a variety of emotions. I sing along. Just in my head. I don’t need someone to walk in my classroom and hear me.
Taylor sings …
“You’ve got to help me make a stand
You’ve just got to see me through another day
My body’s aching and my time is at hand
I won’t make it any other way”
I push the tears back. I want to let them flow at this moment, but I don’t and I won’t. I have let them flow before. I have had deep, ugly cries in the last six months. I have done this in front of my son. I have done it alone. But, I have never let myself cry like this in front of anyone else. This song is triggering this feeling, but I push it down.
I feel regret and anger when I have cried like this in front of Grant. It makes me cry more. My anger builds with every piece of this of this journey. The tears flow easily if he hurts me and I am not talking about emotional pain. I have never had a verbal argument with him. He is not considered “non-verbal,” but he is not functionally conversational either.
He has attacked my hair so many times I can’t count all of the incidences. Even in one day, he has come at me over 20 times. It’s like he is trying to remove chunks of my hair. I am trained in something called “CPI” so I know how to release his hands from head. I have to press on his knuckles. My scalp hurts after he comes after me. After a summer of hair pulls, I eventually sacrifice my long strands for a chin length “do.” I resent him in that moment at the hair salon. I tell myself it’s just hair. It is not me or who I am as a woman. It’s just hair. I eventually purchase hair turbans off of Amazon to protect my poor scalp. Cutting my hair doesn’t prove to be enough to keep him from hurting me.
He has tried to hurt my eyes. This is how it all started. He would push his fingers into my tear ducts. It happened so quickly. It’s hard to explain how anyone can get to your eyes so quickly.
Today he mostly kicks me. He hits me. He has bruised my eye area. He has scratched my skin and, more recently, he has learned how to head butt. This might be the worst new behavior. It comes out of nowhere. I can be putting on his diaper or he can be sitting on my lap. I might lean over to fix something and his head, with a helmet on, comes at my face so quickly. I can’t get out of the way. I bawl.
There was a day where he hit me so hard, I question if there is blood running down my face. I luck out, it’s only mucus. My nose feels broken regardless. It’s hard to hide my emotions. Tears flow easily. I want to hide. I can’t show him how upset I am in these moments.
This head butting issue really irritates me. On Halloween, his head hits my mouth. I thought he had loosened a tooth. I am not sure if he just caused me serious dental issues. I am hysterical. I grasp my face in horror. WHAT DID HE JUST DO!? How can a 9 year old be this violent? He stares at me as tears make my mascara drip black lines down my face. I am flushed. My lip is busted open this time. I have not overreacted. I might have my teeth still, but that was truly painful. I fall to the floor sobbing. He just stares at me. He might have said something like “mommy sad.” Yes, Grant. Sad is only the beginning of the emotions I feel in this moment.
Deep anger fills me. I don’t lash back. But, every cell in my body wants to fight. But, I can’t. There is no point. He doesn’t understand what he is doing. He just sees his mother crying. To him, this is interesting. So he will do it again. I have sealed that destiny with my outward emotions. But, I can’t stop in these times. I am getting hurt. I am hurt. I cry. I am so unbelievably tired of this.
Attacking me…this only a piece of what is happening in my home on a daily basis. Some days are worse. Some are better. I ask myself constantly “What is worse than this?” I mean, I quite literally in my head run through a game called “What is worse than this situation?” We have to find answers. We have to move forward. I remind myself that we are lucky he is alive. We wait patiently for his turn at the hospital. I’ll do the best I can with each day as it comes. Maybe tomorrow will be better. Maybe. I will hold on to the hope I must keep in my heart for the three of us for a better and easier life.
Recently, I received an email from a photography client who loved the photos I took of her family, but…ummm…herself? Not so much. She went on to describe WHY she didn’t like herself in the photos and what specific action she needed to take to remediate that problem next time they take family photos. The funny thing is, I thought she looked STUNNING in REAL LIFE and STUNNING in the PHOTOS. I never thought once that something was off with her look, her style or anything about her. In fact, I thought she was beautiful, poised and TOTALLY put together from head to toe.
I sat and started at the email, wondering if there was something I could have done differently to make this mama feel more beautiful when we took the photos, something I could have done differently with posing to make her feel more at ease, something I could have done differently in editing to make her beautiful self pop from the picture even more.
As I sat staring at that email, I realized this wasn’t about me.
Memories came flooding back. This territory was all too familiar. You see, three years ago, I was the one emailing our photographer, saying I liked our family photos, but I didn’t really like any of the head shots we took of me during the photo shoot. I felt uncomfortable and awkward in front of the camera. I shopped for myself last and bought a shirt that worked with everyone else’s clothes, but I didn’t ever really love it. I felt fat in the jeans I was wearing. The bags under my eyes were too big. I didn’t look like myself. I don’t know. I just didn’t like myself in the photos.
We used the family photo for our Christmas card that year, we printed a family 5×7 for our living room, and I put one of the family photos up on my blog’s “Meet Amy” page. But I NEVER used ANY of the head shots of myself from that photo shoot. Never updated the photo on my blog. Never updated my social media photos. Never used them in blog posts. Never used them anywhere.
When I was going through family photos this fall, I ran across the CD from that photo shoot from three years ago. I took time to look through all the photos on that CD because I hadn’t looked at them in three years and I wanted to know if they were really that bad or if I’d simply fabricated a story in my mind.
Three years later, here’s what I saw…
While the photos of me weren’t awesome, they were also very pretty.
Yes, I said it.
They were also very pretty.
The truth is, there was something INSIDE of ME during and after that particular photo shoot that wasn’t well, something ugly that told me I wasn’t beautiful enough, thin enough, perfect enough in my face. (Okay, I know that sounds weird, but it’s kind of true. Right ladies?) Instead of seeing my beauty, I beat myself up, picking apart every flaw in the photos.
Bags under my eyes.
Ugly, not-quite-right shirt.
Don’t like the way I look.
Three years later and a fresh set of eyes, I could see that I looked pretty in the photos. Totally acceptable. Just right for where and who I was at that time. There was NOTHING wrong with those pictures. Maybe they weren’t perfect, but they were beautiful.
Ladies, for the sake of our own well being, we must figure out how to distinguish between PERFECT and PRETTY.
Okay, so maybe you’re not going for PRETTY. Maybe you prefer to look beautiful, stunning, ravishing, radical, rogue, hip, cool, casual, fun, friendly, feminine, astute or simply put together.
However you are, WHOEVER you are, here’s what I want you to know if you don’t feel pretty in your family pictures.
First and foremost, the likelihood is that you DO look pretty, you DO look beautiful.
Even if you don’t feel pretty in your family pictures, go ahead and use the photo for your family Christmas card anyway. Go ahead and print the photo and put it on your end table anyway. Go ahead and make the 8×10 canvas and put it up in your bedroom. Go ahead and make a few copies to give your children when they get bigger because YOU are important, YOU are beautiful and YOU are needed in your family and this world JUST AS YOU ARE.
Save the CD. Save the flash drive. Save the proofs. Save the memory card. Just save the photos, wherever they are. Then take another look at them three years later, five years later, ten years later and beyond. You’ll realize you were so pretty, so beautiful, so lovely. And you’ll most definitely wonder WHY in the world you thought anything different.
Give yourself a chance. Give yourself a little grace.
Keep yourself in the picture and call yourself beautiful because you are.
One year ago today, I boarded a plane to Kenya, Africa.
I always dreamed of serving in Africa. I always knew I’d go someday. But I never, ever dreamed it would be so soon. You see, it wasn’t my choosing as to when, how, where, or with whom I’d travel to Africa. One random weekday in early June, I looked at a poster on our pastor’s office wall and casually shared that I always dreamed of serving in Africa. He promptly invited me to join a 10-day mission trip to Kenya that was scheduled for November.
I wasn’t planning on going to Africa. Okay, let me clarify a bit, pastor. I wasn’t planning on going RIGHT NOW. I wasn’t expecting you to ask me. Give me a couple years, okay? Give me some space and time to think on this, yes? Give me a few years for my kids to get older. Give me a moment to make every detail right. Let me get the timing just perfect for my husband, my friends, my family and pretty much everyone around me. Then, and only then, I’ll most definitely say yes to your invitation. Can’t we all just agree that five or six months is not nearly enough time to prepare for a life-changing trip to Africa?
Needless to say, I spent nearly three months thinking and overthinking that trip, and finally said yes less than three months before our group was scheduled to depart.
Given my reluctancy to accept God’s invitation to go and serve in Africa, it shouldn’t have been a surprise when I found myself on the outside, watching a group of orphaned and abandoned children worship in the most authentic and abandoned way I’d witnessed in 39 years of life on earth.
I was there. Fully present. Fully immersed in their worship.
But I was sitting on the outside.
Wishing I could be one of them.
Wishing I could live and linger in a place of wild, worshipful abandon for the rest of my life.
Yes, this was without a doubt, a glimpse of heaven on earth.
He called me first. I was on the phone with my husband, so I wasn’t able to answer. Then I received a text. Having received a phone call and text within seconds of each other, I knew the message was urgent and required a prompt and personal response on my part. My husband suggested I hang up and return the call immediately.
“Hi. I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your mom this week. We all know it’s going to happen at some point, but it’s still never easy,” I said.
“Thank you very much,” he responded. “Actually, that’s why I called. I need to write up something about my mom for the back of the bulletin for her funeral, and I was wondering if you’d be able to do that for me.”
“Sure,” I said, without giving it much thought. After all, just six days prior a writing colleague suggested that I should consider writing peoples’ life stories. It should’ve been no surprise that I was presented with an opportunity so soon after the suggestion was made to me.
He told me he’d spoken with his siblings, that they’d gathered some information about their mom and her life story, and could I possibly put all of this together and write it in a nice format for the back of the bulletin?
Undoubtedly, YES I can.
Who would say no to such an honor?
Basically, I was being asked to write this woman’s obituary.
I took the son’s notes, spent time putting them into paragraphs and emailed the final draft of the obituary to him around 10:00 p.m. that night.
The next morning bright and early, he shared the draft with his siblings. They removed some information and added some information. He called and asked if I could rewrite and refine the obituary with the changes in mind.
Undoubtedly, YES I can.
I made the changes and emailed the obituary back to him within 30 minutes. He needed to get it to the pastor that morning.
She passed away on Monday. I sent the final draft of the obituary for the funeral bulletin at 9:50 a.m. on Wednesday. The funeral was Thursday. Today it’s Friday.
Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. – James 4:14
All of this has me thinking…
What did I learn from writing this woman’s obituary?
It is with great honor and respect of this woman’s life and death, that I share just a few of my learnings. Perhaps one or all will guide your path, your life, the light you shine during your short time on earth.
In the end, your life will be reduced to a few short paragraphs in an obituary. What would you like those paragraphs to say? You are not victim to what happens in your life, nor are you victim to what shows up in your obituary. You have a chance to change the trajectory of your life NOW.
Whether you believe it or not, whether you believe you’re making a difference or not, you WILL be a part of someone’s obituary. Your name is important. Your contribution and service to others is important. Your presence and dedication to others is important. Whose obituary will you be on, and how are you contributing to their life today?
Isn’t it beautiful to have grandchildren, great-grandchildren, extended relatives and friends? Wouldn’t it be awesome to have a powerful influence in your grandchildren and great-grandchildrens’ lives? How will they remember you once you are gone? What legacy will you leave for future generations? How about extended relatives and friends? What relationships are you fostering now that will actually hold weight on your death bed? Who’s the friend you can’t imagine life without? Who’s the cousin or aunt or great uncle for whom you always had a special affection?
Your mistakes, your sins, your faults, your terrible mishaps, and the worst moments of your life will rarely show up on your obituary. People will remember the BEST of you. What do you want that BEST to look like?
LOVE is perhaps the one and only thing you want to show up most on your obituary. Love deeply, to the best of your ability.
Work hard, but definitely not too hard. Work with your heart. Work with the end in mind. Do you want to be remembered for earning $200,000.00 a year, or do you want to be remembered for being a great leader? Do you want to be remembered for never missing a single day of work, or do you want to be remembered for being committed and dedicated to whatever you did? Do you want to be remembered for being “over” hundreds of employees, or do you want to be remembered for being a faithful mentor and guide? Do you want to be remembered for all the awards you won, or do you want to be remembered as a servant heart? The list could go on and on. Be wise about your work, for the days are short in this one wild and crazy life.
What are you doing to stay busy in your down time? Watching TV? Watching your iPhone? Vacuuming? Dusting? Or would you rather be remembered for something cool and interesting like knitting, skydiving, woodworking, writing, traveling to all the continents, pottery, jewelry making, or something super cool like that? Find and develop your interests now and as you’re able. Who knows? Maybe someday your grandchild will find your box of antique rulers and bottle caps, and will think it’s the coolest collection in the world!
If your entire life had to be summarized in just ONE sentence, what would you want it to say? What do you want to be known for? How do you want to be remembered? What kind of legacy do you want to leave for future generations? What changes can you make that will begin to shape and mold the ONE sentence that describes your life? Hint: It’s not necessarily about WHAT you did, it’s more about WHO you were. “She was always such a graceful lady.” “He was such a funny guy.” “She was such a kind and generous soul.” “He was committed to his family.” “She was faithful to the end.” “He never gave up on his dreams.” “She sure went through a lot, but she was one tough cookie.”
What do you believe at the core of who you are? Believe me, your core beliefs will show up on your obituary. What do you believe, and how is that being expressed in your life? It’s worth pondering today and every day.
What would be devastating and terribly unfortunate if it never showed up in your obituary? What are your dreams, your plans for your life? Is there some goal, some life aspiration, some way of living and being that you need to commit to so that someday when your obituary is written, it will actually show up and be remembered? What is your one true calling? Are you short-changing yourself? Are you foregoing your dreams for daily pursuits that don’t have any long-lasting legacy power? Are you selling your soul for things that won’t really matter at the end of life? If you were to die today, what would be missing from your obituary tomorrow? Move towards the thing that’s missing.
That’s it. That’s all I learned from writing someone’s obituary.
Be blessed. Be a blessing. Live life as if it counts. Live today as if it’s your last.