by Carla Liberty
It had been a difficult summer. My mother, the picture of health her entire life, was diagnosed with cancer in late May, 2009. She was operated on two weeks later, and in less than two months, she was gone. The grief of her passing consumed me, even though I had a few months to prepare. However, nothing really prepares you for that final goodbye….it just happens and you learn to bite your lip and carry on.
The emptiness I felt was overwhelming. I was so caught up in missing her that I neglected to look at the big picture. She was in no pain, God took her swiftly and mercifully, and she had gone to Heaven to see my brother who had passed of a sudden heart condition eight years earlier. But while I should have taken comfort in these blessings, I couldn’t get past the sorrow.
Fast forward to November 9, 2009. Exactly three months from the date of her passing. Natalie had been home from college on Fall Break. We were out to dinner when she got the call. The color drained from her face.
“Mom, Ryan is really hurt.”
“What happened, honey? Is he going to be okay?”
“I don’t know. He’s in an ICU in Morgantown. He was attacked a few nights ago and when he fell after getting punched, he hit his head on a grate. He’s in a coma.” (At the time we were unaware of the brutal kicking he received at the hands of his attackers).
Our family could barely make it through dinner. All we could do was think about Ryan. You see, Ryan had been a friend to my daughter since middle school. He had been a guest in our home many times throughout the years, and of course we used to go watch Ryan and his teammates play baseball and football when Natalie cheered at Broad Run, and still went to cheer them on even after Freedom HS opened, (where Natalie eventually got re-districted). It was a difficult move for the South Riding kids who had forged nice friendships with the Ashburn crew. But through the years, a great many of them stayed in touch and would catch up via combined parties, athletic events and the like. I know Natalie was happy she was able to remain in contact with Ryan. And now her friend was fighting for his life. My God, how were his folks holding up? What about Kari?
Natalie was able to get updates from a few of her friends that were close to the Divineys. We learned that he was in a medically-induced coma and a portion of his skull was removed to allow for swelling. That’s when we learned that Ryan had also been brutally kicked in the head after he was knocked down by a vicious sucker-punch.
……And that’s when it hit me. As sad and consumed as I had been over my mom’s passing a few months prior, my adrenaline was now surging and I could feel my mom saying to me that I needed to focus on the living. It was a profound revelation. It was time. It was a calling. I needed to be there for my daughter, who was saddened for her friend, and I needed to do whatever I could to help.
By that time, an acquaintance of mine (a mom of one of Natalie’s and Ryan’s friends) had started a Facebook site called “Come Together for Ryan Diviney” where updates were being posted on his condition. Each day a new entry would appear, explaining what treatment Ryan was getting at Ruby Memorial, and the progress and/or setbacks that unfolded. It was an emotional rollercoaster just reading what was happening. I couldn’t imagine living it. As a mother, I ached for Ryan’s parents and sister.
Once Ryan was more stable, plans were made for his transfer to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, GA. It was thought that this hospital would be better equipped to handle traumatic brain injury. It would also help to have him near a CNN hub, as Sue Diviney’s job at CNN required her to be available at a moment’s notice. This is something I can’t begin to fathom. Here was a mother with a gravely-injured son who, now more than ever, needed her 24/7, yet she was being tugged in another direction for work, and yet another to be there to support her husband and daughter. I guess you could say she was a team player. For the life of me I don’t know if I could have managed to do what she so gracefully did. I applauded her strength and fortitude then. And my admiration for her and her tenacity continues to this day. This woman is a saint, pure and simple.
After Ryan was moved to Atlanta, Natalie and I both reached out to Sue and Ken via Facebook. Even though we had been leaving messages on the site, we felt a pull to converse a little more. The holidays were approaching and we private-messaged them to see if we could send a little Christmas cheer to Atlanta. We baked some cookies, and put them with some other goodies, and sent a picture of Natalie and Ryan together (taken just before their Homecoming Parade during their freshman year in high school). I put a little CD of Natalie singing in the package as Ken told us in his posts that he had been playing music as part of his therapy for Ryan. Who knows, maybe Ryan would hear his friend’s voice through music. At the time, we didn’t know what he was able to process. We just wanted to help.
Although praying was second-nature to me, I wasn’t prepared for the Heavenly message I was to receive a few weeks later, while sitting in our church pew. It was Christmas Day…a day to rejoice in the birth of God’s son. As I sat listening to our priest give the homily, an overwhelming sense of calm enveloped me. And then out of nowhere, there was an utterance of five beautiful words: “Carla, He is healing him.” Now it was my turn for my face to be drained of color. My kids saw what was happening to me and mouthed the words, “Mom, are you okay?”
I whispered, “I just heard Grandma’s voice. She told me that God is healing Ryan.”
It should be noted that at the time, I was not thinking about Mom or Ryan. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I was trying to pay attention to the sermon before me. My quiet time after communion is when I offer up my heartfelt prayers and petitions for Ryan and others. But, as God has always shown me, His timing is perfect.
It took me two years to tell Sue and Ken about what transpired. I vasicallated so many times, but knowing Ken’s faith was shaken (and understandably so), I hesitated. I get that. Mom’s faith had been shaken when my youngest brother Bill was suddenly taken from us at the age of 42. Dad struggled too, but it was Mom who questioned God. No parent should have to bury their child. That’s not the order. But as we all know, life doesn’t always follow a natural pattern.
Before she died, Mom said to me, “I wish I had your faith.” At first I was stunned to hear these words, because she did eventually come around a few years after Bill’s passing.
“Mom, you do have faith, what are you talking about?”
“I’ve never heard His voice.”
“Neither have I, Mom. As scripture tells us, we ‘walk by faith, not by sight.’ Besides that, faith isn’t solely about believing in God. It’s about doing good works. It’s about the golden rule. Doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. And Mom, that’s at your very heart and soul. I have never known a more loving and giving person than you.”
Maybe those five words she uttered to me that Christmas Day were her way of telling me to tell the Divineys to keep the faith. They were her gift. And they were wrapped up tightly in a beautiful, Heavenly bow.