Welcome to another edition of Lisa Burton Radio. I’m your host, Lisa the robot girl, and my special guest today is Sarah Jackson. She grew up in a life of abuse, married into an abusive relationship, and lost her son Eli to cancer. “Welcome to the show, Sarah.”
“Thank you for the invitation Lisa and I’m happy to be here.”
“Can you tell our listeners something about your childhood? It sounds like it was pretty rough.”
“I vividly remember my childhood. As a little girl, my mother would force feed me foods I hated, such as peas, until I threw up. She did this to me often and she seemed to enjoy the abuse she inflicted upon me. I had six siblings and none of them remember my mother doing the force feedings except for my older brother who was eight years older than me. Abuse affected him, too, and to this day he stays away from any kind of contention. I wish I could say that the abuse abated as I got older, but it didn’t. I was always a kicking and punching bag and she would drag me around by my hair. No one could please her and my father never saw the treatment she doled out to me as he was always working. I had absolutely no self-esteem and I would retreat into a fantasy world where I was a princess and loved by all. I would curl up in my bed and thrust that fantasy into my child’s brain as a form of escape. I liked reading and as soon as I could read well enough, I started reading the Nancy Drew series, Hardy Boys, Cherry Ames, and Laura Ingalls Wilder books. I would escape into a world of my own through books. I could stay in my little room, in my bed, and read. Sometimes I would make paper dolls and dress them up with paper dresses. I remember how I would oftentimes try to draw younger siblings into a hug as none of us received hugs from her and I tried to show them how to love each other. (I have pictures)
“Starting around age eight, I tried to please her in other ways by doing work around the house. I would vacuum without being told to do so, and I washed dishes. I started doing the entire households laundry from washing to hanging on the line, and then take down and fold. I delivered the clean wash to the respective recipient’s bedroom and it didn’t make my mother proud. In fact, she simply expected me to continue with these chores. She left my father after 21 years if marriage and I chose to live with my father as I was 14 at the time and could choose. Then she forced him to sell the house and he was forced into a tiny apartment, after which I had to move in with her again. In high school, she was relentless in her treatment of me, and she never bothered to show her anger to the world. To this very day, I don’t understand why this was allowed to go on. The only thing I can think of is the fact that our neighbors were just as scared of her and she kept her punches to areas that were covered by clothing. In looking back post high school, I could see that some teachers knew that my home life was rough but that was as far as it went. My only escapes were school and work. I was so tired of her beatings, and the emotional and mental abuse she inflicted.”
“Almost anyone would be excited to leave all that behind and strike out on her own. Is that what you did?”
“Before I was age 18, I was looking for an escape ~ ANY escape. Working as a waitress left me with little money. I dated a few guys, and then my mother said to me one time, with a sneer, that I was only a “sperm receptacle” and that no one would want me. I wasn’t having sex. Eventually I found a guy I liked, and we dated for a few months and then we simply started living together. I had thought this was my escape into happiness and that he was my prince. He drank alcohol almost daily, and he invited me to move in with him. I thought that this was my chance! My chance to get away from my mother and the abuse she inflicted. I thought I could change this man into drinking less alcohol, I was in love and we married.”
“Did you love him? So many women go down this path, and they always think they love him. Is it because you’ve never known true love?”
“In hindsight, I never loved this man. I was in love with the idea of being in love, and I thought I could make this relationship grow into true love. That never happened and then the abuse began – the vicious cycle of abuse. Complete physical, emotional, mental, and sexual abuse – unending – even when pregnant. I sometimes wonder if the stress of this relationship was too stressful on my oldest son. Joshua was a perfect baby, and he died inside me. Labor was induced, and I shed tears for my unborn baby. I named him Joshua and he was perfect. He died when he became tangled in his umbilical cord and strangled to death. I was bereft, and I had a simple funeral for Joshua – only one sibling and myself. His father didn’t attend as he was drunk in a bar. Joshua’s eyes, the nurse from the hospital told me, were blue like mine. My baby had no hair. Tears rolled down my cheeks upon realizing that I would never get to know if his hair would be brown like Henry’s or blond like mine. His tiny hands would never get the chance to hold a basketball, or a football. His feet would never be able to pedal on a bike. His mouth would never open to utter that he loved me. I could though, so I did. “I love you, Joshua,” I told him. I loved him so much.
“On December 12, 1983, I gave birth to Noah. My baby was seven pounds and fourteen ounces, twenty inches long — a healthy boy. After my son was cleaned up and breathing normally, the nurse laid him on my right breast. I cuddled him wrapped in baby blankets as my bed was wheeled out into the hall towards the mother – baby unit down the hall. I looked at the face of my son and tears started rolling down my cheeks. It was a different feeling, a delicious mix of sorts. On the one hand, I was bursting with pride — this beautiful boy was mine. I would nurse him and care for him and love him dearly. On the other hand, there was a tinge of sadness because somehow, a part of me was telling me that this baby would have loved to play with Joshua. “Noah,” I whispered to my boy before kissing him on the forehead. Then I froze when realization hit me that it was the only time I spoke that name with such reverence and love. Just thinking about Noah makes me smile. I am so proud of him. He came into the world and into a broken home, yet he persevered and became an Eagle Scout. Noah is strong in spirit, and he is a caring young man. When I think my love for him cannot expand, I find myself wrong and my heart swells with loving pride. I made sure he always had hugs and love from me and he openly gives me hugs and love as well.”
“But you had another son, Eli. He had a difficult journey too, and you shared every step of that with him.”
“I could hardly believe it. Noah was barely seven months old; I was twenty-three years old at the time; and I was pregnant for the third time. Who would have thought that after an unsuccessful first birthing experience, God would immediately give me two babies? It didn’t make Joshua’s loss forgotten, but my being pregnant again reminded me of God’s greatness.
On April 6, 1985, I gave birth to another healthy baby boy and I named him Eli. He weighed 7 pounds 6 ½ ounces and was 21 inches long. When I held Eli in my arms the first time, I felt really blessed. I had two beautiful boys in my life. Noah and Eli were best buddies and they did everything together. When Eli was age four and a half years old, he started having many sinus infections, upper respiratory issues, doctor visits, tons on medicine, scans, and X-rays. Everything came back negative except for his high white blood cell count, fevers and not being the little boy I knew. Starting in September of 1989, and on through the end of February 1990 no one could tell me why Eli was so sick all the time. Twelve doctors and specialists, and even one doctor placed tubes in his ears to help Eli. CT scans were MISREAD!!!!!
“On March 4, 1990 I noticed that Eli had lost the peripheral vision in his right eye. Straight to the hospital we went and finally someone read a scan correctly that showed a mass the size of my fist – in his right neck area and extending into the brain cavity as well as metastasis into both lungs! He suffered horrors no child, or adult, should ever have to experience. For six months he was misdiagnosed! For seven and half months he lived in pain and horror in the hospital before passing. I can best sum up precious Eli with the letter I wrote to him about a year after he died.”
October 13, 1991
My Dearest Eli,
Yet again tonight I went to bed crying for you, Eli. Heart wrenching sobs escaped from me and in between them I relived your short life with such clarity.
I knew you were very special, Eli, from the day you were born. And now, with the first anniversary of your death upon us, I realize fully just how special you really were and still are. You affected so many people in your short life, Eli.
Even now, I have moments when it is hard to believe that you are really gone. Or are you? You’re in my heart now and forever Eli.
Will it ever get easier, Eli? Sometimes, I am very happy for you. Those times are when I know you are pain free and happy. Heaven must be such a wonderful place.
Then there are times when my heart aches and aches for you, Honey. Those are the times when I relive moments of your childhood before the doctor diagnosed you with cancer, and also moments after being diagnosed.
I remember vividly the day you were brought home from the hospital after your birth. Your brother, Noah, only one year old, took to you instantly. Throughout your short life, the two of you were inseparable. Best playmates you two were. But you were the most daring, Eli. You had such a zest for life.
I remember the day you and Noah were on your 3-wheelers, and racing around in and out of the garage. Noah came running into the house to tell me you had a snake cornered in the garage. Upon investigation, there you were, laughing with delight, and riding your 3-wheeler in circles, closer and closer, to a coiled king size bull snake.
Sometimes when I wake in the morning Eli, I start to think about what I’m going to make my “boys” for breakfast. And then I remember.
And sometimes in the evening, when Noah is taking his bath, I remember how it always was two boys in the bathtub and not one.
My precious Eli, oh, how I miss you. I miss your sweet smile, shining blue eyes and pale blond hair.
You had to grow up so fast, Eli. It was such a shock to learn that you had cancer, one month before your fifth birthday. In a flash, I would have traded places with you.
You went from being a happy little boy into a world of doctors and nurses, needles and IV’s, catheters and spinal taps.
I was selfish, Eli. I loved you too much to let you die. And so you suffered. You went through head and neck, and open chest surgeries. How my heart ached for you, Eli, when, four hours after surgery on your lungs, I helped a nurse stand you up in bed. How you hated ICU.
Because I loved you too much to let you go, you suffered such horrible radiation burns on your sweet head and neck. The chemotherapy made you so very sick. Even under sedation, you were sick. But you knew the “good guys” were out to get the “bad guys”. At four years old, you knew you would die without treatment.
It hurt me so bad that you were unable to eat for seven and a half months. Your only nutrition was IV. You always ate so well before. You had always relished the sheer taste of food. It was unfair of me to bring food into your room in the hopes that you would eat something. Sometimes you tried. I remember when you woke during the night once and asked for watermelon. I drove half of Denver to get it for you. You only ate a couple of bites, but it was worth it.
I remember the long days and nights in the hospital those seven and a half months. I was able to take you home only four different weekends. I remember the isolation in times of high fever and the ice blankets, lots of oxygen and machines everywhere.
How I cried Eli, on the morning that we woke up and found all your hair lying in your bed and not on your head. You were too proud to wear a hat.
I also remember good times, like when the group came from the Denver baseball team and you received an autographed photo of George and a Royals’ baseball. Or I would be wheeling you around, outside the medical center, and you would point out cars and ask me if they were “race cars.” How we would talk about the race car we would have someday and how much it would be worth.
Having lived two hundred and thirty miles away, you were awestruck by the freeways in and out of Denver. You thought they looked like race tracks.
And how about the time I was able to take you to the Denver Zoo? You did not mind that I had to push you, a boy at five years of age, in a stroller, up and down the hills. You were so weak. You did not care; you only wanted to see the animals.
And on good days, I also remember how you would hide under a gurney in the hall and wait for a person to be passing by, only to give them a good dose of water from your squirt gun. It did not matter to you whether or not you knew the person you squirted. Sometimes you would sneak around the nurses’ station and into the medication room, fully loaded with water, and let loose. No doctor, nurse, or visitor was safe from you.
Or how about the times an IV would complete and I would unhook you. You headed straight for your three-wheeler and down the hall you zipped. Everyone stayed out of your way and laughed. Such sport you had.
Other times, when you had to stay in bed, you made me chase down a VCR so you could watch Superman or Ghostbusters. You never tired of those two movies. You knew them by heart and delighted in telling anyone who would listen what would happen next.
I remember the times when you would have to undergo yet another series of X-rays, CT scans, or MRI and I would stay by your side throughout them, telling you stories and keeping you from moving.
I’m sorry, Eli, that I was not able to make you well. I think that you went through all that you did, those seven and a half months, simply because of how much I loved you and did not want to let you go.
I remember the times that I would feel down and you would come up to me. You would put your arms around me and say, “I’m sorry, Mom.”
I remember when we were together, waiting in the OR before your lung surgery. You were feeling well and you looked at me and said, “I want to go to Heaven, Mom.” I went speechless. And then I told you that sometimes we don’t get what we want and that you might have to come back to me.
And yet, I remember so well how after your last chemo, you picked up yet another “bug” and ended up on a respirator; just how much you fought for life as we knew it, those last fifteen days.
Most of all, Eli, I remember how I cradled you in my arms, and whispered into your ear that soon you would not have to have any more pain and it would be okay, as your heart stopped for the third and last time, and you died in my arms.
Thank you, Eli, for going through what you did because I loved you and did not want to let you go.
I’ll always love you Eli.
“I can tell I need to stock up on artificial tears again– But, Sarah, life goes on. You’ve been through so much already. I don’t know if it’s possible to recover from all that. How do you move on after something like that?”
“You don’t “move on” for this is the King of Loss. Only parents who have suffered the loss of a child will truly understand this fact. I have words to help those who have not had this kind of loss.”
WORDS FOR THOSE WHO HAVE NOT LOST A CHILD/ CHILDREN
Does it get any easier losing a child/ children? Somewhat…
Is it possible for a parent to be happy their child/ children are perfect in Heaven above and feel peace with that? Sure… (It took me twenty-three years for Eli and somewhat less for Joshua)
Can a parent ever “get over” losing a child/ children? No. This is the KING of loss. We can be happy that they are perfect in Heaven and sad at times when we miss them the most.
Bereaved parents are continually re-writing each day as this is the new “normal.” This won’t change. We will think of our loss when other children reach milestones such as first tooth, first steps, first words, kindergarten, holidays, best friend, graduation, prom, falling in love, first kiss, learning to drive, getting married, the list is endless.
The WORST things you can ever say to a parent who has suffered the KING of loss, ever after one, ten, twenty, or more years? “You should be over it by now,” or “Move on with life.” You see we are moving on with life, we just do it one hour or day at a time, re-writing life as we go along.
~S Jackson, October 2014
“I am thankful for my second husband, Michael for you see we share a love like Johnny and June… Many want to have a love like Johnny and June; the deep, soul mate, best friend, encompassing love they shared despite the ups and downs along the way. Mike and I are deeply blessed to have this kind of love; the deep love with the one who you were destined to be with, your best friend, your soul mate. Despite our own ups and downs (not like Johnny and June’s) our love kept growing stronger and stronger, unending to this very day. Our wish for all of you is to have this kind of love in your life.”
“Strong lessons for all of us. I’m honored to have you as my guest today. Today’s show has been sponsored by When Angels Fly, by S. Jackson. Please hit the share buttons at the end of the post. When your characters appear here, maybe someone will do the same for you.”
When Angels Fly is based upon a true story. S. Jackson is a pen name for Mary L. Schmidt.
Bio: Mary L. Schmidt writes under the pen name of S. Jackson, and she is a retired registered nurse, who won the coveted Leora B. Stroup Bachelor of Science in Nursing Award for outstanding clinical performance, community involvement and academic achievement in Nursing Award, while at Fort Hays State University. She is a member of the Catholic Church, and has taught kindergarten Catechism; she has worked in various capacities for The American Cancer Society, March of Dimes, Cub and Boy Scouts, (son, Noah, is an Eagle Scout), and sponsored trips for high school children music. She loves all forms of art but mostly focuses on the visual arts; amateur photography, traditional, and graphic art as her disabilities allow. She has published twelve books since retirement; the first a memoir, When Angels Fly, followed by an Art Picture book featuring her own works of art, one cookbook, and eight books for children of which four are a part of a full series. Protecting children from molestation is important to her, and with that in mind she wrote Suzy Has A Secret. Seeing what bullies can do to a child inspired her to write the book, The Big Cheese Festival. Schmidt has designed all of her book covers. She loves spending time with her husband, Michael, and especially her first grandchild, Austin, just turning age one year. She is a Member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators: The international professional organization for writers and illustrators of children’s literature, and Sigma Theta Tau International: The Honor Society of Nursing, which is the second-largest nursing organization in the world with approximately 135,000 active members.
Book Trailer for When Angels Fly https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QhmETPrtKdw
When Angels Fly Book: https://www.amazon.com/When-Angels-Fly-S-Jackson-ebook/dp/B017UNVWDI/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/MMSchmidtAuthorGDDonley
Personal Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mary.schmidt.50
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/S.-Jackson/e/B013NRRKR2
Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mary-schmidt-a1a511101