My Daughter’s Trip to Haiti: Mending Bodies & Hearts, Including Mine

“Hi Mom. It’s Kel. I’m back in the States! We were transported out of Port Au Prince on an Air Force C-17 cargo transport plane to Charleston, SC. Oh, Mom, I have so much to tell you but I’ve been up for almost 36 hours so as soon as I get some sleep, I’ll let you know all the details. It was hard to leave but I’m glad to be home.”

Those were sweet words for this mama to hear! My daughter was home, safe and sound. I could hear in her voice that she was exhausted but she was also exhilarated at the same time.

Kelly and adorable Haitian baby boy, whom they suspect had pneumonia.

Kelly and adorable Haitian baby boy, whom they suspect had pneumonia.

Three days into their trip to Haiti, Kelly got sick with a GI bug (I, not surprisingly, was a wreck knowing she was sick) but she said she was really grateful it only lasted 24 hours and she was able to rejoin the team at the hospital (Kelly and her coworker, Erin, were the only ones who could start IVs so she was desperate to be able to help).

She told me later that the hardest thing for her during her time in Haiti was being sick herself and not only could she not serve, but someone on the team needed to stay with her and make sure she was okay (thank you MTW!). Kelly said she may never know why she got hit with whatever it was that made her ill.  It didn’t seem to be a virus or food poisoning since nobody else got sick.

Gratefully, when she was finally able to get back to work, she was able to jump in full force for some of the 16-hour shifts they worked until more relief help came.

A few nights after that, Kelly and I got into a short but interesting discussion when she called home one night to check in (thank you AT&T for free phone calls home from relief workers!).

I asked her how she was doing emotionally. She said she was okay and that the conditions were frustratingly primitive, but it wasn’t all that different from working in the emergency room and that she was really enjoying what she was doing.

“’Enjoying’ probably isn’t the right word for it, honey,” I said, in my usual mom/editor voice.

“Actually, Mom, I think it is the right word,” she said, with a hint of indignation in her voice.

She continued, “I’m not saying that I’m enjoying the circumstances the people are in, or enjoying the conditions here. But I am enjoying what I’m doing to help. It’s what I’ve trained for and what I’m called to do, so yes, I am enjoying it.”

Sigh. I just hate it sometimes when my kids are more mature than I am.

After some reflection, I decided she was right. She has grown up since childhood reciting the first question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism:

Q: What is the chief end of man? A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.

She was enjoying God by using the skills, talents and gifts He has given her. She has gone to school for years, taken lots of specialty courses in crisis, wilderness and survival medicine so she can help in such a time as this.

I realized that it is okay to “enjoy” who you are and who you were created to be, even when the circumstances seem to be the most dark and discouraging.

And in this horrible, hot, heartbreaking situation that is Haiti, she was enjoying God, and who He is and I think, too, He was enjoying her. She was being His hands and feet in a situation that so desperately needs His hand and His touch.

When she got home and was finally up for sharing some of what went on, she said there was one incident that stood out that described the conditions at the hospital.

Kelly and Erin were working the night shift and they were trying to get an IV into an infant while sitting on the floor (there were no beds in the hospital). Suddenly, the power went out! She said they didn’t panic because since the lighting wasn’t great to begin with, they were both wearing their high intensity headlamps so they were able to continue working.

That was the good news. The bad news was that the room went pitch black and with their high beam headlamps cutting through the darkness, every bug in Haiti was instantly attracted to the light!

Erin had to keeping blowing in Kelly’s face to keep the bugs out of her eyes! Fortunately, they were able to complete the IV, but as soon as they got the IV going, Kelly said they looked at each other and burst out laughing! (She thought the poor patients must have thought they were completely nuts!)

After hearing her story, it hit home for me what a difference it makes to have light in a dark place. Yes, the bugs come and make life difficult but light gives life… and even joy in the midst of total darkness.

Serving in Haiti: A Mother’s Peace of Mind

“Hi, Mom. It’s Kel. Haiti is chaotic and crazy but I’m feeling so much better. I think I just had a 24-hour bug. You wouldn’t believe the horrible conditions here but I’m doing great now. Patients are all over the floor of the hospital and it’s total chaos, but we are making a difference and that’s what counts.”

I just got off the phone with Kelly, my daughter who is serving on a medical team with Mission to the World (MTW) in Haiti. She normally works as an Emergency Room nurse at Duke Hospital in North Carolina and has been on the MTW International Disaster Response team for the past year waiting to serve when a disaster occurs.

Not surprisingly, my sweet girl is an adrenaline junkie. She loves high adventure and has a heart for serving others. She loves kids and always wants to be in peds whenever she’s working. She seems especially gifted in pediatric trauma.

Sigh… For a mom like me who struggles with worry and anxiety, wouldn’t you know I’d get a kid like her?

Since the heart-wrenching crisis in Haiti began, my emotions have been off the charts. On a scale of 1-10, I’ve been at a -1 and a +11 and everywhere in between.

I knew she would go to Haiti. I knew she would want to serve.

She’s fine now, but when I got the message she was sick in Haiti, I really had to search my heart and see if I truly believed the words I wrote to her before she left. (And I had plenty of time to think, search and pray when I was tossing and turning all night long!)

So thankfully, the answer ended up being yes. Because God gives me the strength to trust Him, one moment at a time.

(When I asked her if I could share what I wrote she said, “Of course. I know you Mom!”)

Hey Sweetie,

All kidding aside, I want you to know how much I love you, how proud I am of you and how grateful I am to be your mom. You know, when you were put into my arms 28 years ago, it was truly love at first sight. You were so adorable… plump, inquisitive and ready to explore the world.

Obviously, you are still the same person (well, except for the plump part! ;-)) I truly did fall in love with you. You were a kid who jumped in with all your heart and soul. From those days when you were a year old and swinging from the canopy of your crib, I knew you had a zest for life and a determination to just “go for it.” You were such a strong-willed child; you know I covered the paddle with lots of batting so I wouldn’t hurt you trying to mold your little feisty, determined, temper-throwing behavior without breaking your focused, intent, exceedingly strong spirit in the meantime.

I know you spent a lot of years “sitting on the bench.” Volleyball was good for you but I can’t tell you how hard it was to watch you give your all and not get to play. But God produced in you endurance, patience, and teamwork where you contributed your all, even if you weren’t on the front line. But now, you are going to be on the front line and those lessons you learned along the way have made you who you are: a long-suffering, committed team player who is patient and caring, in spite of difficult circumstances. That, my sweet girl, is the mark of a true servant leader.

And so, like the day you were born, I put you again in God’s hands to guard and guide you. Young Life’s slogan, “You were made for this” seems to be appropriate for this day. I truly feel that this is a culmination of what you have been working for so diligently these past years. And I am so proud of you. I know that as you strive to be the hands and feet of Jesus, that there will be rough times. But if you keep your eyes focused on Him, I know He will be there with you.

So to be clear, I really do believe that God is sovereign. I do believe that He made you, He owns you, and He loves you even more than me.

Trust your instincts, trust your heart, and trust the Holy Spirit to guide you as you walk into a place where you will see the horrors of a fallen world. I pray you will be the answer to prayers when hurting people have cried out and asked God to send help.

And, of course, I want you to be safe but the bottom line is I trust you and trust the one who made you.

Go with my deep love and prayers that you will be able to help those who are hurting and so desperately need your touch.

I love you sweet girl.

Your Mama

P.S. And don’t forget your Go-Girl so you never have to take life sitting down.

Perspective on My Aging Mom

Ky in ChinaMy mom has always been an amazing woman… strong beyond belief, sharp as a tack, and more energy than a roomful of Energizer bunnies! No kidding, my dad had a stroke when he was 53 (his left side was paralyzed) and my mom took care of him single-handedly for almost 22 years until he died. For all intents and purposes, she had no life besides caring for my dad. She never considered that there was any other choice.

Mom’s of that stereotypical Midwest-Norwegian farm heritage… up at the crack of dawn, get done what needs to be done as quickly as possible and don’t stop ’til you drop. She took care of my dad (never herself) from sunup to sunset, day after day, year after year.

After my dad passed away, my mom cried and grieved for about a year and then the butterfly emerged from the cocoon. She sold the house and moved into a retirement community as one of the youngest members. She made new friends, traveled the world, and was in charge of just about every volunteer activity you could imagine.

That’s why it’s so hard for me to wrap my arms around my mom now (figuratively speaking, of course). It was about two years ago that my bright, energetic, superwoman mom was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.

Her onset of Parkinson’s was gradual at first. She would fall on occasion (I was with her when she fell and hit her head while traveling in China and Spain, which was really scary in foreign countries!) and she complained about feeling stiff all the time.

She had a slight tremor in her hand but, still, the diagnosis came as a shock.

The doctors put her on medication to slow down the progression of the disease but it slowed her down, as well. That, and the fact that her body is just plain worn out after years of taking care of my dad…

This is so not what I expected.

This sounds tacky but I always sort of expected that one day we’d hear that my mom just keeled over and was gone. Simple, quick and fast—just like my mom.

But actually, these days she’s looking more like the other, non-Energizer bunny—the one who just slowly winds down and painstakingly stops running.

I don’t know if it’s the Parkinson’s, the medications, or a combination of both, but my mom is acting very differently these days. She falls frequently, needs a wheelchair often, and is getting confused with details more and more often.

And quite honestly, I haven’t been doing so well with that. When mom says something that is off the mark, I get irritated; not all the time, but sometimes she says things that are so out of character, I am shocked. Then I hear myself talking to her with a tone of voice that is appalling and I hate how exasperated I sound when I respond to her.

I have been trying to figure out why I get so irritated with her. The conclusion I’ve come to is that it’s an issue of my expectations: I expect my mom to be “her old self” and when she isn’t, it makes me sad and hurt and frustrated and angry, all at the same time.

I miss my mom, the way she was. I miss her quick wit and her humor that got her through so many really, really tough situations. I miss her spunk and her tenacity and her perseverance in the face of challenging adversity (let’s just put it this way, my dad was a great guy but would never be nominated for sainthood!). And I miss the person who emerged from that cocoon of self-sacrifice to enjoy living life with a zeal that was a pleasure to watch as I saw her get back some of the “quality of life” that she had missed for so many years.

I know intuitively that Mom hates being in the position she is now. She doesn’t like needing to be the one being “cared for.” She has always been the caregiver so this is a new role for her. And one she wouldn’t have chosen if she had a say in it.

So it’s time for me to emotionally be okay with letting her be who she is now, the same person only in a very different stage of life. It’s time for me to pause and differentiate between my mom in my memory and my mom today with Parkinson’s (she can’t change her Parkinson’s and neither can I—even though we both would want to).

And, most of all, it’s time for me to remember that each day with her is a gift, because no matter what, she’s still my mom and that, I would never change.