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Be brave. Be strong. Don’t give up.

on September 22, 2015

Every test. Every surgery. Every time. I would lean in to kiss her and whisper in her ear, “show em what you’re made of, Baby Girl.” There were so many times, so many opportunities to tell Audrey she was brave and strong. So many times I had to remind myself to be as brave and strong as my beautiful daughter. “Don’t give up, Mama,” her nurse would say. “She’s tough.” And she was every time. 

   
 Her strength and resilience amazed me. Time after time she was wheeled away with a smile on her face. She knew the routine. She knew the medical team more than most of her blood relation. She knew what was coming and faced it head on like a champion. Be brave. Be strong. Do not give up.

   
 
One hundred seventy five. That was the number of days my sweet “Cricket” lived in the NICU having countless tests and surgeries. I was terrified. I tried to wear a brave face for her siblings and other family. But the mask of bravery melted away every time my eyes locked with another NICU parent who felt the same fear. It shriveled up whenever another obstacle arrived. I wore the fear on my face when the doctors entered quietly contemplating how to deliver bad news. It was impossible to hide the fear when they wheeled my baby girl away for open heart surgery. I was so frightened that I forgot Audrey’s twin in the hospital room. Thank God for good nurses who do not forget! Be brave. Be strong. Do not give up.

   
 
The next year would be spent in and out of the hospital. More tests. More surgeries. More questions. Why my daughter? I could not shake this one. We made the best of her journey. Her toenails were painted. She wore funky clothes that Dr. Pandya would insist were most “inappropriate” for a little girl. Mommy attempted to tame her hair, which usually stood up in a Mohawk. This was her normal. This was my new normal. But this was not my plan. Be brave. Be strong. Do not give up.

  

I rarely left Audrey’s side learning to advocate and push for her needs. She was medically complicated and fragile. One little error could set her back, cost her time, cost her health. I shoved my weak stomach aside and learned to care for her needs. I became not only her mom, but her nurse, Doctor, paramedic and pharmacist. I felt guilt for being absent from my boys’ lives. I felt overwhelmed. I felt tired. Be brave. Be strong. Do not give up.

  
On January 1, 2015 my husband and I drove Audrey to the children’s hospital with symptoms that could either be related to a birth defect or respiratory distress. Test results appeared to show a correlation to her birth defect and another surgery was scheduled. By this time she had endured more than 80 surgeries. It was like an old hat. Be brave. Be strong. Do not give up.

Test results were wrong. It happens. Audrey was in respiratory distress and continuing to decline. She was placed on life support. Then more aggressive life support. Then the most aggressive form of life support, ECMO. She head a heart attack and a stroke while being put on the support that would work for her heart and lungs. But they got her back. Be strong. Be brave. Do not give up. 

So many questions. Would she regain her left side? Would she need to have a trach? Would she live? Be brave. Be strong. Don’t give up.

My little girl was on ECMO for one month before the world crashed in around me. Her surgeon took us to a conference room and told us that everything was done that they could do medically. Now it was up to Audrey. She would go through a trial off the major life support to see if she could sustain life on a ventilator. I crawled up into her hospital bed put my arm around her and whispered in her ear again. Be brave. Be strong. Do not give up.

  She began to struggle more and more as her ECMO support was reduced. I got on my knees and pleaded with her, “fight, Audrey. Please. Please fight.” But her little body was all out of fight. Be brave. Be strong. Do not give up. 

   
 We knew it was time. We had to give her permission to go. After family and friends took time to be with Audrey we read her stories, played music, prayed and talked to her. I leaned in one last time and whispered, “It is time Baby Girl. Be brave. Jesus will be holding you as you go. Be strong. You will meet our family that has gone before. There will be no more surgeries. No more tests. You have won His reward. Don’t give up. Find the field of lilacs. Twirl in your dress. Dance. Sing. Wait for Mama there. I will meet you there when it is my time. And until then I will try to be brave, be strong, not give up. I love you. I love you. I love you…… Over and over until her heart stopped beating. I picture her dancing and singing. Picking bouquets of lilacs. Playing with the other angel babies and showing each other how brave and loving their mamas are. How brave and beautiful their siblings are. How brave and strong their Daddies are. Audrey Ann left this earth on February 18, 2015. She leaves a legacy of love and bravery. It has been so difficult since she has left. I have days filled with sorrow, anger, guilt and questions. But I also have days filled with joy, friendship, family and love. I’m learning to be brave, strong and not to give up.

I started a bravery bucket list in honor of my sweet Cricket. You see, I may never know why her life was so short or filled with medical challenges. But I can honor her by being as brave as she was, as strong as she was and never giving up. I am in the process of tackling my first act of bravery by acting in a community theater production of The Miracle Worker. Be brave. Be strong. Do not give up. 

  I have always dreamed of acting in some capacity but feared criticism. A friend knowing this dream contacted me about auditions. I connected very quickly to the role of Kate, mother of Hellen Keller. You see, she faced many of the same fears as I did regarding her daughter’s medical conditions. I knew I could play this role. I had lived it. I want others to see that even through the fears, the trials, the life considered to be so far from normal, you can and will find love. Audrey taught me to love without abandon. She taught me that it is worth it. Mothering a medically fragile child was worth it. She will always have been worth it. Worth every tear, fear, heartbreaking hole I now have in my soul. Audrey Ann Wiggins was worth it. And if you are facing fear of uncertainty in your life situation let me whisper these words to you my friend…

Be brave. Be strong. Don’t give up. For God has also whispered these words to you. 

Psalm 31:24 MSG                                                24 Be brave. Be strong. Don’t give up. Expect God to get here soon.

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2 responses to “Be brave. Be strong. Don’t give up.

  1. Vicki LeVasseur says:

    My tears are flowing…what a beautiful blessing her short life brought. I am so sorry for the pain you have endured….I know Jesus heals and as he healed Audrey he will heal you in the way that he knows is best. Let God give you the peace and joy he wants for you. Take his gift of love, and mercy as Audrey did and run in the field of flowers he has prepared for you here. Some day you will get your turn to twirl with Audrey in heaven, but for today he wants to see your joy, he loves you so much, he gave you three wonderful boys to cherish you and to bring you smiles. You are loved by so many but especially by the master of the universe and the best Dad ever. Love you Christine, may God Bless and keep YOU, Josh and your darling sons! PS you go for it! I think you will be amazing on stage!!

  2. Sandy Keryk says:

    May your healing continue. It’s okay not to be so brave or strong. Hang on to the thread of hope as it will get thicker and easier to hold. Little Cricket is happy, pain free and enjoying her new Angel friends. Thank you for sharing your faith in a higher power.

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