“I loved family movie nights and doing things together. I could always use a good long hug. That made me feel secure, like everything was ok”. – Braden
“A hug lasting seven or more seconds produces oxytocin. This natural chemical restores damaged brain cells, allowing them to live again and to give a sense of well being. Everything will be ok. A sense of hope.” – Sarah Feuerbacher, family counselor
“Could we have held you longer and might you have held on just a little longer… enough to find your way?” Braden’s mom and dad
Lately, I’ve been overcome by the need to write. It’s been like a flood building against a dam of time constraints, distractions, and the difficulty in conveying so many thoughts and emotions pouring over my mind.
We’re approaching one year now since last Fall. Writing somehow allows a tiny stream of emotional relief through that dam. It can flow out as humor, reflection, or too often just tremendous sadness. Fall 2019 begins this week and although no rain is forecast, we can expect to have a flood or two.
Pizza Nights and Groundhog Days
I began writing this late one Friday afternoon. Many parents know what Friday evening means. The pizza chains certainly do. Families want fun and memorable experiences together without having to cook. They need an easy way to feed their kids and a little self indulgence at the end of a hectic work week.
A few weeks before Braden left, I was heading home on a Friday evening after a full work week . The Friday night routine call home… “So how’s it going? My ETA is around 6:15. What’s the plan?”
“The kids want pizza”. Mark concedes, “Ok. What’s their order?” Cathy: “‘Braden wants pepperoni and she wants cheese only”. No surprise. They never agreed on the same toppings and neither choices were my preference.
“Ok, get what they want and a meat lover’s for me. Also some of those crunchy thingies sprinkled with cinnamon sugar”. This is the Friday night equivalent to the movie, “Groundhog Day”. You know. The one where the lead character wakes each morning and goes through the exact same day hundreds of times over and over again.
Of course this is a slight exaggeration, but whether it’s movie night, game night, or inviting friends over, somehow Friday nights always seem to involve a similar experience. Pizza, zero pressure, acceptance, warmth of the familiar, and a good chance everyone is wrapped in their own TV blanket.
I must finally admit it’s not all bad, this Groundhog Day thing!
…And a Different Kind of Fort Nite
Sometimes family night included video games together. Before we lost Braden, he went through a phase of playing a virtual game called, Fort Nite. This is another one of the “kill or be killed” variety and once your character is killed, you lose. We tried to play with him, but always lost. Braden had his wins but when he lost, you’d hear him yelling from three houses away.
A few months before we lost him, Braden helped his sister build a “blanket fort”. She loved those. Later, Caitlin planned all summer to build an “Epic, Ultimate Fort”, before 7th grade began.
One night, she begged me to bring in the Little Giant ladder from the garage and split it in half. “Can you build the two ladders?” “Sweetie… I’m completely exhausted… but, Ok”.
Later I arrived home to see that my girls had built that “ultimate fort”. Trust me, I know how to build a fort. My brothers and I built hundreds of them in the dirt fields and in living rooms of childhood friends, but nothing like this.
That night all three of us were in the ultimate fort watching TV together. Like her brother, she loved it because it felt close. Safe. Cozy, and this sort of activity together built memories.
I lay on the floor and Caitlin moved from her comfortable chair, laid next to me pulling up our “love blanket” (the quilt I’d bought Cathy one Christmas) and laid her head on my stomach. As we watched our movie, I gently patted her back and snuggled her in close.
Suddenly she was not a twelve year old fort builder about to become a young lady. She was just my baby girl. The tiny little bird I’d held before they put her into the warmer on Christmas Eve morning 2006. She was still so innocent, and I knew she would be gone too soon. You see, you can’t hold on too long or little birds won’t fly.
Without warning I had to try and deny the tears silently beginning to fill my eyes. I couldn’t even sniff or else she would realize her daddy was crying. I was so much missing Braden in this special moment, realizing we’d never have another one like this together, at least this side of Heaven. Still, I could hug his sister tight. And I did.
As the father to a teenage boy I consciously chose to show physical affection to him daily. Did I do it out of my heart or from my head? It doesn’t matter, I did it because it was important. But did I do it enough? What’s enough? What’s too much? Who really knows? I would say however, yes, I did it from my heart and that more is better than less.
Science of the Mind and Heart
A few months ago, out of our own experience and with the Holy Spirit’s direction, we formed with other parents struggling during the adolescent and teen years. We come together on a monthly basis to learn about shared challenges. Those things we’ve historically faced alone.
Last week during our second PTP (Parents-R-Partners) session, family counselors Sarah Feuerbacher and Ardis Lo presented on the topic of social media. Within their slide presentation, they depicted the physiology of the brain.
They presented the scientifically proven fact that when a person is physically touched or hugged for as long as seven seconds, the mind has an interesting and amazing reaction. It stops thinking negatively about stressors and instead fires a chemical called oxytocin. This natural body chemical tells the brain everything is ok simply because it is being loved. Not judged. Not too short. Not too tall. Not ugly or unaccepted. Just. LOVED.
Furthermore, this chemical has healing properties for the mind. Neurotransmitters long damaged or killed by cortizol and adrenalin, are mended and recovered. As a result of the injection of this natural “Love Potion”, the brain instantly feels “ok” and it recovers in proportion to the amount of time and frequency of the “injection”.
I don’t know about you, but this simple science lesson will help me as a father to know that unconditional love and physical touch (again, specifically hugging / holding longer than before) can impact the brain and emotional well being of those I love.
Since losing Braden, we’ve heard so many stories about other children or even adults dealing with depression. Many are so similar in detail it reminds us of a movie with the exact same storyline but different actors. Fortunately, in more cases than not, their stories have had a better ending than ours. Still, too many end in the same way ours did.
Recently, a woman confided to having failed at five attempts to end her own life and thanking God she was spared. She said, “One time the doctors pronounced me dead and actually informed my family, but they demanded that the doctors keep trying to resuscitate me. It was a terrible time, but it got better”. She continued, “I’m glad God saved me, and that my family held on for me when I couldn’t hold on for myself.”
Readers: If you are contemplating harming yourself , taking your own life, or if you or someone you know has a plan, we plead and pray that you’ll take it seriously and get help immediately. You see, the world needs you here. Perhaps to make a difference in someone else’s life.
We would give anything to have had that be Braden’s story, had he just held on.
Holding On to the Everlasting
We all want and need to hold our children. Subconciously we hope they won’t grow up, while in the very same moment we pray they will. Our Heavenly Father wants His children to accept His promises and assurances. He wants us all to lean into His EVERLASTING arms. IF we model this and if we do so ourselves, we stand a very good chance as do our children of finding that perfect peace for which we all hunger.
Our Father wants us to just hold on and watch for His perfect plan.
Prayer over readers and families
Heavenly Father, You know our hearts and our minds. Thank you for creating us in your wonderous image. Of all your creations, you made your children uniquely capable of recovering from damage done by this world if we will simply take time to love you and love one another. Your word confirms these two things to be the greatest of all commandments. We love you so much and pray for every person and every family reading. May you direct us to share your message with others who may need encouragement and hope. In your son Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Matthew 22: 36-38
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”