Updated: Jun 27, 2020
| This is the 322nd story of Our Life Logs |
The middle of three daughters, I was born in the late 1960s and raised a true Southern belle in the beautiful historic Camden, South Carolina. I was a cotillion debutante at age 16 and educated in a preparatory school.
Our town was the very picture of gentility, but I left its simplicity and headed off to college in the capital city, Columbia. Four years later, along with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Mass Communications with honors from the University of South Carolina, I also gained a fiancé, Phil. He was funny and kind of crazy in a way I liked. We fell in love and married in 1986.
As we built our life together, I was excited to learn that I was pregnant in July of 1990. Dreams of whether I’d be buying blue or pink baby clothes dominated my thoughts. Then, our ultrasound confirmed it was a boy—no, two, to be exact. Phil and I were both overjoyed and honestly, a bit overwhelmed too!
As my little angels grew, I was told that it would be a high-risk pregnancy and was put on strict bed rest. I was in and out of the hospital in the months leading up to their birth until I was eventually diagnosed with HELLP Syndrome, which meant my liver was failing, my low platelet counts were causing blood clots, and my kidneys were trying to shut down. I was hospitalized for three weeks, received 45 pints of blood and blood products, and had four surgeries to combat the syndrome that had an estimated 30 percent mortality rate.
The good part was, along the way, I developed a very close bond with my babies before they were even born, as the three of us were battling together—with all of our lives on the line—to achieve a successful outcome.
Tensions were high during the delivery, but through careful timing, our baby boys, Michael and David, made it out to the world. They were born eight weeks premature and had to remain in the hospital for a month before we could bring them home. Even then, they had to stay on heart monitors because they were both at high risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). We had to keep a watchful eye on them.
The first six months were the hardest, and while we had some close calls, my babies made it—and so did I, although I was an emotional wreck.
Phil was usually there to help me, but there was one time when he was out of town for work and I was alone with the twins. The alarm from Michael’s heart monitor had sounded, and I started with the basics: saying his name, touching him, checking the leads, but he was not responding at all. The leads monitoring his heart and breathing were all affixed correctly, but when I checked his airway, breathing, and chest, I couldn’t hear anything. I was terrified but tried to remain calm. There were drastic measures I’d been told to take if I wasn’t getting a response, so, fortunately, I was able to “get him back.”
Later I was told by our home health nurse that Michael’s heart had stopped completely that day. That was my first real scare with him. After that day, I never wanted to be in a position where I couldn’t protect my boys.
Scares like that, along with my entire pregnancy experience, affected me and Phil greatly. Phil was never quite the same person afterward, suffering from a nervous breakdown and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Gradually, he became less present.
I struggled to raise my boys as a “single” mother for the many years that followed. Phil was still in their lives, but I was their primary caregiver. He never developed a strong relationship with them, likely because he had become a hardcore alcoholic and verbally abused us. It came to the point that the boys didn’t want to be around their father often, or even at all. I was forced to put them in therapy to deal with it. After my stress levels reached unhealthy heights and Phil’s mania drew a wedge between us, our marriage started to dissolve in 2006. By 2008, we were divorced.
Phil’s behavior drove my boys closer to me. Sure, it was sad to do it alone, but I loved every moment of my time spent with my boys. I saw their first steps, heard their first words, watched them go off to their first days of school, and helped with their school projects…I was there for it all.
Now, don’t get me wrong, parenting two boys through their adolescence and teenage years required enormous amounts of patience. I helped them learn to drive, watched them begin to go on dates, and noticed that they wanted to spend more time out of the house with their friends. I had a hard time letting them have those little bursts of freedom after years of fearing for their safety. It probably took years off my life with the worry I expended, that’s for sure!
Before I knew it, my boys had grown up to be handsome, responsible, forward-thinking young men. They became increasingly self-sufficient, holding down jobs and paying their own college tuitions. Doing this took them longer than the standard four years to graduate, but they were determined to finish and start stable careers. Once they graduated, they began to venture into the world with their own dreams. Michael, in particular, wanted to teach English overseas in South Korea and began the year-long process to get approved for it. Of course, I wanted to be supportive, so I hid my tears of worry and fear of the unknown. I knew the pain of separation was going to be the hardest I’d ever faced.
Letting go is something that challenges most parents of adult children, but letting a child go halfway around the world is a hard pill to swallow, especially since my boys were all I had for years. Still, I knew this was what Michael wanted.
In February of 2019, I bravely stood waving as my “baby boy” walked onto the platform to begin his journey to South Korea. I spent that day in frequent bouts of tears until I received confirmation of Michael’s safe arrival. Yet, I didn’t know what awaited him.
Michael was required by the South Korean authorities to take another physical exam before he could teach. The exam revealed that the lab values related to his liver were out of the acceptable range. If the medication they gave him did not improve his numbers, he would not be able to stay and fulfill his dream.
You may laugh at me, but to say I was distraught upon hearing this news is a great understatement. Between the idea of a serious liver problem, the great distance, the language barrier, and the threats to his mission, I was frantic with worry. This wasn’t like when Michael was a kid and I could be there for him, kiss his booboos, and make things better. I was halfway across the world, and I felt utterly helpless.
My first thought was, “What can I do to fix this? Who can I call?” I wanted to know what was happening, but most of all, I wanted my baby boy home. But Michael didn’t want to give up his dream. He wanted to stay and work the situation out. “I’ve got this, Mom,” he said.
It was at that moment, hearing Michael speak with such confidence, that I realized it was time for me to take a step back. Michael wasn’t a little boy anymore. He could stand on his own now. I knew then that I had to let go and trust that my son could handle this complex situation by himself. All my love and support had led up to this moment, and now it was my time to release the reins and let my son ride free, even if this meant he would fall.
Fortunately, the medication Michael was taking started working, and his numbers began improving until the authorities were satisfied and let him continue into the country. Soon, Michael was teaching South Korean kids and sending photos to me of his daily adventures…
That has been my journey as a mother and it is still going on. My babies will always be my babies, and I will always be needed. But, there does come a time that I need to let them go and fly solo. I’ve prepared my boys for life and its “hard knocks,” and now it’s their time to march forward.
David is not as far from me, but I know I have to let him handle challenges on his own too. Their lives are truly out of my control. While it may be hard to back away and allow them to make decisions (even if I think they may not work out), I have to do it. Otherwise, they’ll never learn the valuable lessons of life. In learning to let go, I am now open to the highs and lows of the adventure of life’s and the freedom that comes along with it.
This is the story of Merri Frances James
Merri lives in Columbia, South Carolina, where she works as the Vice President of Corporate Marketing for a large corporation. After a high-risk pregnancy, Merri bonded with her twin boys strongly as she cared for and raised them on her own after divorcing her husband. This close bond made it hard for Merri to accept and trust that one of her boys could handle an issue on his own while he was traveling to teach English in South Korea. After seeing him handle it with grace, she realized that she did her job raising them and now she has to trust that they can manage life themselves. Merri continues to be the sole support for her twin sons as their father suffer mental illness and substance abuse problems. She draws great strength from her faith and her own family. Merri is also very passionate about animal rescue and currently has three chihuahuas who run her household.
This story first touched our hearts on April 15, 2019.
| Writer: Laurie Epting | Editor: Kristen Petronio |