By Casey Gauntt
Jeff Schwartz shared with us a story we put up on the site a couple of years ago titled Lions On The Bridge. It is a terrific story but, as Jeff explains below, it was only a tune-up for the heavy lifting he had to do for this one.
I want to share with you a story that I only got around to writing recently. I’m sure you will understand, Casey, all that is written and much that is unsaid. I had thought about sending something like this to you in the immediate aftermath of learning of Jimmy’s death and you starting the Write Me Something Beautiful site. But I did not want what I first sent to be about us. Write Me Something Beautiful needs to have Jimmy and you, Hilary and Brittany at the core. This story is really not about Donna and me—but about a remarkable connection we made and a remarkable gift we received during our trip down the rabbit hole. I hope you will receive it in the spirit in which it is offered—to simply continue the sharing and exploration with you and Hilary with whom we share an awful and remarkable bond. We are truly ‘Ohana of the spirit.
Jeff is married to Donna Middlehurst and they live on Maui. Starting in 1975, Donna and I as brand new attorneys worked together for several years at the Hahn Cazier firm in Los Angeles. Hilary and I moved to Solana Beach in 1979 and nine months later our daughter Brittany was born. Jeff and Donna had their first child, Julie, a year later. In November of 1981 Jeff, Donna and Julie came to visit us. That was the first and only time we had the privilege of meeting Julie. After too many years, Donna and I reconnected through Facebook in August of 2011.
We are honored and humbled to share this powerful story from my fellow brother in The Fraternity. Jeff Schwartz has, once again, Written Something Beautiful.
Why I Believe in Angels and Miracles —For Nurse __?__ McBroom
By Jeff Schwartz
“There is always hope after despair and always a tomorrow after disaster.” Eva Kor
I met a woman whose name was McBroom on March 25, 1984. I think her first name was Denise, but it may have been Donna. I am not sure. We spoke only for about 10 minutes, but it was one of the most profound conversations I have ever had. I’ve never seen nor spoken with her since that day, but her words have had lasting and remarkable impact. She is why I believe in angels. The conversation is why I believe in miracles.
It was the day Julie died. It was Children’s Hospital in Phoenix. Donna and I had just driven 60 miles into the city to catch up with the helicopter that had med-evac-ed Julie to the hospital to try to stop her seizures. The effort failed. When we arrived, we were told what we already knew in our hearts. Our beloved three-year old Julie was dead.
|Julie Middlehurst-Schwartz- born February 27, 1981 with Mom Donna||Julie||Donna, Julie & Jeff on March 24, 1984. Julie died the next day.|
For a long time Donna sat in the emergency room weeping while holding Julie’s lifeless body. I was dazed and full to overflowing with feelings of fear, dread, and a kind of sorrow – bereftness—for which there are no words. The hospital staff left us alone for a while, somehow knowing that this quiet time together was beyond precious.
At last a nurse came in. She introduced herself. “I’m _____ McBroom,” she said. I only caught the last name. “I’m sorry to bother you, but I need to ask you to come with me. There are some papers we need you to sign,” she said very gently and kindly.
I told Donna to stay there and I would be back. Then I started following the nurse down a long hallway. As we walked, I said to her something that I can’t really understand or explain to this day. I said, “I feel like I have just left the life I knew and entered the twilight zone. Like a stranger in a completely strange land, I have no idea how to cope with what has just happened to us. But you work in this hospital and have dealt with other families that have lost children. So it feels to me like there’s something I should be asking you, but I don’t even know what the question is. Is there something I am supposed to be asking you now?”
“Yes,” she answered softly, “but almost no one asks.”
“Well, I’m asking now. Tell me whatever it is that I am supposed to know.”
She took her time and said, “I’m about to tell you something that you need to know. I am not telling you to scare you, but it is important for you to be aware of this fact. Within one year after the loss of a child 2/3ds of bereaved parents get divorced or are on their way to divorcing. You and Donna have just suffered a terrible loss. But you do not have to suffer a second one. You do not have to lose each other. That’s the most important thing for you to know.”
That stunned me. Oh my God. I was just beginning to cope with that information when she continued.
“There are many reasons why the death of a child leads to the breakup of so many families. But one of the most important ones is that you and Donna are likely to grieve differently. I can’t tell you exactly how, but however Donna grieves your daughter’s death, it will drive you crazy. And however, you grieve your daughter’s death will drive Donna crazy. Somehow you have to find a way not to let each other’s way of grieving drive you permanently away from one another,” she stopped again.
“How do we do that?” I asked. Then she said,
“I can tell that you loved your daughter very much. I can tell that this will be a very hard time for you. But there is a way though all this. Just remember: you’ve known Julie for a little over three years. But Donna has held Julie in her body for nine months more. Whatever love and connection you feel for your daughter, Donna feels it even more. And so take the love you feel for your daughter and remember to love and honor her mother during the times that Donna’s way of grieving is driving you the craziest. Allow her to do whatever it takes for her to survive this. Be as supportive and loving as you can, and then you two can make it through.”
It was an immense amount to process in a very condensed conversation while walking down a long corridor. I didn’t know if I could keep any of it in my head. But I think I said thank you absent-mindedly as we entered the room where the papers were to be signed.
I don’t recall ever talking with Nurse McBroom again.
But she was completely right. Donna and I did grieve differently over Julie’s death, and each of us drove the other even crazier than we already were. Donna could stand no further shocks. So her point of view was to protect herself with hopelessness. This seemed like an odd idea to me, but I understand it now. She did not want to entertain any hope that things might get better only to be disappointed again. If she said to herself, things are terrible now and they will only get worse, at least she would not again be shocked by some new terrible experiences. They were to be expected.
That drove me crazy. “Things are terrible now,” for sure I said, sometimes to myself and often out loud, “so sooner or later they have to get better.” Hopefulness was my form of self protection. Whatever humongous, dark place we had to endure would only be for a while. Then things will get better. But every time I said the things that helped me, they pierced Donna’s self-defense and vice versa.
In times like those – not every time, but often enough – I remembered what the nurse had told me and put aside the argument to show and tell Donna know how much I loved her.
The year and a half that followed was a very, very tough time. But with the help of skilled therapists, great friends, and others we made it through. In January 1986, Molly was born. We poured all the love we felt for Julie into her and were so grateful to be parents with a living child again. In March 1988, Michael was born. They couldn’t replace Julie, but they were so, so wanted and welcome.
Donna, Molly, Jeff & Michael
On June 1, 2013, Donna and I celebrated our 33rd wedding anniversary. We had apparently beaten the odds. But I always felt incomplete somehow, by never letting Nurse McBroom know what an amazing difference she has made in our lives. Without her courageous and wise straight talk, we might never have made it past 1985. There might not have been a Molly or a Michael (unthinkable!).
There might not have been a safer and more effective whooping cough vaccine, which Donna and I worked for along with other parents of children injured or killed by childhood vaccines. There might not have been a law enacted that has paid over $2.5 billion dollars to families like the Whitecottons to take care of the children injured or whose health problems were seriously aggravated by mandated childhood vaccines.
I know Nurse McBroom’s words made a world of difference. I have told this story to a number of people over the years, one of whom was a woman who had years before lost a child. She and her husband had long since divorced. She said to me, “I wish I had had somebody like that to talk to me and my husband at the time. We never heard anything like that.”
So at long last, Nurse _____ McBroom, I am setting out to send you a very overdue and very deep expression of gratitude from me, Donna, Molly, and Michael. Like the message in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” we never really know the impact of how our lives touch others. Now you know a bit more about the marvelous impact you had on our lives.
How did I know to say what I said as we walked down that corridor of Phoenix Children’s Hospital in 1984? How did the nurse who asked me to sign the papers have the courage, clarity, and wisdom to answer as she did? How was I able to hear, get it and use that information on a day when I was in shock?
We dedicate this story Why I Believe in Angels in loving memory of these two:
Why I Believe in Angels and Miracles – Epilogue
By Jeff Schwartz
My story about the marvelous gift nurse Donna McBroom gave to me and our family more than 30 years ago became even more astonishing. Truly, there are miraculous powers at work – friendship, the internet, the kindness of a stranger, telephones that work and those that don’t, and some force greater than all these things – powers that I must acknowledge, but can’t explain.
After I sent the story to Casey Gauntt, he asked his webmaster, Keith Bennett, to get the story ready for uploading to this website. It was uploaded in early November. A few days later, Casey wrote me an email with surprising news:
‘Nurse Donna McBroom has been located!! Our webmaster, Keith, was deeply moved by your story—he tries to remain objective, but sometimes it’s hard—and he decided to do a google search of Nurse McBrooms in and around the Phoenix area. . . . [Keith did locate her, explained the situation, sent her the story, and got her contact information.] Here is her contact information if you would like to reach out to her. I’m sure she would be delighted to hear from you.’
Thereafter, I exchanged emails with Mrs. McBroom. I explained the reason for reaching out to her: ‘for many years I have wanted to say thank you to you for the incredible gift you gave our family years ago. I tried to locate you unsuccessfully, but now I have the opportunity to do so.’ I asked her for permission to call her.
She wrote back to say she would be open to a call but seemed a bit uncomfortable at my outpouring of gratitude. ‘Your thank you is that you stayed married and have a wonderful family. I am blessed that you wrote the story and possible have helped others. Thank you!” she replied. Nonetheless, she agreed to receive a call from me.
I made several unsuccessful attempts to reach her in the week or two that followed. She had some telephone difficulty, and I got several repeated busy signal responses or no answers. In this way, the Universe conspired so that our call finally took place on the perfect night – the night before Thanksgiving. [It was also the first night of Chanukah, a celebration of miracles, — and a confluence that only occurs once in every 7,000 years.]
I started the call by telling her that Thanksgiving was a perfect time to make this call, because I felt so grateful for her loving, courageous, and extraordinary service to me, my wife, and our family years earlier. She is clearly a very modest person and said at first, ‘All credit should go to God for whatever words I gave you that helped you keep your marriage together after the death of your daughter.’
I told her I understood that it had been over 30 years since we had met on the fateful day of Julie’s death, and I did not expect that she would necessarily remember us or the conversation.
She said, ‘I certainly remember you, your wife, and your daughter.’ I told her that I thought it took extraordinary courage, wisdom, and skill to answer my poorly formed question so forthrightly and so helpfully. I told her that with her help (and the support of many others) my Donna and I had stayed together and had two other wonderful children now fully grown – Molly and Michael.
Then I asked her about her life and her family. She said that she had left the emergency room after several years and eventually became a school nurse, was married, had children and grandchildren, and now was head nurse for the school district in a nearby county.
I told her that it gave me great pleasure and satisfaction finally to be able to let her know what had happened with us and how much of a difference her words and caring at a critical moment had made in our lives. I explained that one of my favorite films is the classic Christmas movie, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ with another Donna – Donna Reed and James Stewart. And I explained that one reason the film so moves me is that it shows how one person’s essential kindness and caring can make such an immensely positive difference in the lives of so many other people. Then I explained, that’s one thing I wanted to accomplish with this call – to be sort of like the flawed angel, Clarence, in that movie and enable her to know what a remarkable difference she had made for me, my wife, our family, and those we have tried to serve.
She said she was, of course, familiar with the movie, and that yes, it was nice to know that things had turned out so well for us. She acknowledged that we are not often given the opportunity to see what impact our work has on others.
I closed by thanking her once again, for her original kindness and for taking the time to permit me to express my thanks this way. She seemed touched and pleased, and we exchanged blessings and good wishes for the upcoming holidays and the New Year.
The call enabled me to close the circle and enabled me to feel even more thankful on this past Thanksgiving – not only to her, but also to you, Casey Gauntt, and you, Keith Bennett, for making this moment possible.
Why I Believe in Angels and Miracles —Casey’s Epilogue