My Journey: With Jeff

I often hear people say that Jeff died long before his time. Now, I think not. He died long before I wanted, but he changed lives in 9 1/2 years.

by Carol Sokolsky

It was May 2nd, and the trees had just popped into their summer green…it was the very best day of my life…ever!  That face – red and marked from the forceps – the cutest little baby I had ever seen…and he was mine! That little guy stole my heart and with it, began a journey that would change my life forever…my Jeffrey…

19D70295-0ECB-470D-A50C-9CB86C71A0F0At two weeks, we realized that his legs turned in dramatically.  The doctor was not real concerned; a corrective bar between his  feet for a few weeks and would end the problem.  Except it didn’t.  By 18 months, he could not walk across the room without tripping; his bones seems to roll to the inside, from the knee to his ankles.  My heart broke as they took him into surgery and actually cut through his bones to set them straight.  He woke up to casts on both legs, crying beyond anything I could even handle.  My baby boy….the pain…why couldn’t it be me instead?  But he healed well – so resilient – and he taught himself to walk again as quickly as he was out of the casts.  We were so thankful.  Jeff’s legs were now perfect. Except they weren’t.

Within months, he was wearing steel leg braces, and couldn’t bend his knee. He had to swing his legs around like a baseball bat, and was forced to wear them 23 hours a day. Yes, he had to sleep in those confining, horrible braces.  His hips were the problem. They hadn’t developed properly, but we hoped that the braces would resolve and his hips would respond. They didn’t.  Our Orthopedic Surgeon told us that the surgery needed to correct the problem is rarely done on young children, but Jeff was the exception, because he could not walk without his braces. It was about the only hope for him to have a normal life.  Jeff was now four years old. Four.

84B1F057-94AD-49C9-9814-A8903FE7BFC1Yet, Jeff was the happiest little guy ever! His blond, straight hair stuck up as though he was always plugged into an electric socket! And those eyes….big, gorgeous blue eyes were the window to his very soul. We knew he also had abdominal problems that needed attention. The doctors determined his legs were the immediate priority; the other would be delayed. At just four years old, Jeff was taken to the operating room -again – and I cried a river.  Yes, I knew God would protect Jeff, and that He was taking care of me. I was a “Christian” – I was a believer, but this was putting my faith to the test- again. Jeff’s hips were cut, rotated and screwed in place and his cast went from his chest to his toes, with the proper bends as needed. He had the cast changed twice before he was finally healed and freed from his plaster prison.  As I watched my four year old struggle to walk again, my heart broke. But Jeff giggled and laughed and thought it was fun. That was just Jeff!  He giggled his way through everything.  He brought sunshine when all I saw were storm clouds.  My Jeff.

Another year rolled around and we had to put Jeff back into surgery to remove the screws from his hips and to strip the huge scar build up causing him problems. As we were again wheeling Jeff down the hall on the gurney to the operating room, he grabbed my hand and said, “Mommy, I’m glad it’s me and not you. I wouldn’t want you to hurt like I will”.  He remembered the pain from a year prior and my heart broke into a thousand pieces…completely apart. My little guy – brave and strong – five years old – had already experienced more pain than most do in a lifetime.  He did well – cried a lot – but healed well. Thankful.

FullSizeRenderWithin three months of his last surgery, we were informed focus was needed on his abdomen.  Once again, precious little Jeff went into surgery, his belly opened completely apart. Again, he was so strong.  Yet, as we met with the doctor later, we were told that Jeff would probably have a very high chance of problems in the future. He was now 6 years old. Six. Again, I tried to trust God; I tried to be strong.  I was crumbling inside.  My younger son was three, and all I could do was cry.  Within a year, my husband decided he did not want to be husband or dad anymore, and I was teetering on the edge – truly on the edge.  My life was falling to pieces, and yet it was always Jeff that assured me that he would take care of us. He promised. My heart, my heart.

The three of us hung together like glue, and we moved back to my home town to get ourselves grounded again.  I took my guys to church and got the boys involved.  Jeff loved Good News Club. He beamed as he came home one day and said, “Mommy, I accepted Jesus today!”  He fell in love with Jesus. Just fell in love. He sang and told everyone about Jesus.  He became my little strong man!  I was hanging on to the threads of faith, and yet my son – now 9 years old – had mega faith!  He would sit on the floor with his untuned guitar and make up songs, always with a giggle and always with hope.  Negativity was not in his vocabulary or his DNA. He was an encourager to everyone. Everyone.

33B9EB15-DA80-41BB-8C4D-19A15E531F89It was almost Christmas..the last day of school before Christmas vacation.  Their dad asked to pick them up at school and keep them for the weekend before Christmas…their dad and his girlfriend. And yes, I was still angry and hurt. No getting around that admission. Friday evening, I called my boys, and Jeff told me about the Christmas party at school; he ended with his usual words, “I love you, Mommy”.  It was December 18, 1981.

On Saturday, December 19, 1981, at 10:20 am, Jeff walked right into heaven. His dad’s snowmobile was outside; the kids were playing. There was no adult was supervision, and Jeff scooted on the back of the snowmobile with no helmet. And off they went…until they hit the bump, and the snowmobile flipped over – and Jeff was pulled into the track….Right into heaven. Oh, how excited that little 9 1/2 year old blond guy must have been when he realized he was really with Jesus. Forever changed.  He is forever changed. My life was forever changed.

The next few days…weeks…were a blur of pain, of tears, of anger…trauma. Trauma. No other word comes close. I saw Jeff’s shoes on the floor…I waited for him to walk in the door…I could hear his giggle in my head and see those piercing blue eyes…I knew I’d see him on the top bunk when I walked into their room. My head and my heart could not process what was happening. I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t think. Trauma.  And then I got angry…I was so angry…with God.  How could a God of love put a 9 1/2 year old precious boy through so much pain and agony from almost day one, and then, finally – almost normal – take his little life at 9 1/2 year old? I could not breathe. It made no sense.  Had I not had enough to deal with? Did God have to take my baby, too?  My world was crushed in every way.  Two years prior, we were a family of four; now we were a family of two. Two. My seven year old son and me. Yes, God forgot me.  I knew that if God loved me, he would not have abandoned me after all the pain we’d walked through. And to take my son. I was done with God. Done.

Funny how God didn’t really let that happen.

For almost 20 years, I masked my pain in so many ways; I hurt good people and broke the hearts of my family. Yet, God was orchestrating good…I just didn’t know it yet. And my family never stopped loving – or praying – for me. My family.

Fast forward…My son and I moved to Pennsylvania for my job, and I excelled. Loved it.

When I got too close to feeling pain, I ran again – figuratively – so I did not have to deal with the trauma, the total loss that I carried. I was so broken.  I was raising my son to be kind, loving. and encouraged him to excel in anything he chose to do. He was a talented little guy in every way. And he was mine. All mine. And I was not going to ever push him to church or God because I did not want him destroyed as I had been. Period.

Yet, try as I might to do it all on my own, I now look back and see how God was taking every tear, every piece of my broken puzzle, and was creating a framework for me.  I met the love of my life – who one day became my husband – and I found a strong spiritual man of principle. And he just unconditionally loved me. Loved me…and my son…my very heart. I was learning how to trust again…with baby steps. We often talked about Jeff, and he wished he could have met him. Me, too. How beautiful that relationship would have been.

The next few years would fill a book, so I’ll leave you with this.  Cancer took my precious husband just three years ago. Addictions almost took my son – who is now in strong recovery and setting the example to others on what God can do in a life that is willing to listen and obey.  I look back on my life that was so rattled with grief, with heart-break and pain, and thought I was the only person who understood the excruciating pain of losing – and burying – a son. Yet, now I understand how God was using every part of my life to teach me about hope…about trust…about love…about love.  Unfailing love.  The kind of love that Jeff knew when he was just 7 years old. The giggle kind of love. The love that Jesus gives to anyone that wants to know Him.

I have two sons;  one lives in Pennsylvania and one lives in Heaven.

I often hear people say that Jeff died long before his time.  Now, I think not. He died long before I wanted, but he changed lives in 9 1/2 years.  He was a lighthouse to everyone he met.  He was my rock and my example of what giggle love of Jesus looks like.  He was so much wiser than his mama, but I know now that Jeff was entrusted to me for 9 1/2 years to teach me lessons that I am sure I would have, otherwise, overlooked. To be an example of pure love, to trust when it appears hopeless, and to giggle when discouragement wants to move in.

For years, I gave up any hope of finding “closure”.  What is closure, anyhow? It’s so highly overrated. Closure is nothing more than putting a label on something that can’t be labeled. There is no closure to losing Jeff – at Christmas – so tragically. None. Jeff is alive, and only 6 days after he walked into heaven, he was singing, “Happy Birthday, Jesus!” at the biggest and best birthday party ever. He doesn’t need closure. And now I know that I don’t either, because I know Jesus is alive – Jeff is alive – my Husband is alive – my earthly son is physically and spiritually alive here – and my hope is set on nothing less than heaven.

I ran away for years…ran straight into the loving arms of a God that never fails. Never fails.

Yes, I still shed tears – more than I’d like to admit – because I miss my guys. But I know where they are. I’m no longer angry that Jeff only had 9 1/2 years here. How could I be? His life touched so many…changed me forever.  I never want my story to end here. My heart now understands and feels the pain of others who are living with broken hearts..with raw nerve endings…experiencing loss and pain that no parent should ever have to endure. It’s horrible…it’s raw…it’s inexpressible pain.  But, the story doesn’t end there. It just begins there when we truly know Jesus.  He’s promised He won’t leave us…I get it now…

Normal – all I wanted was normal.  I have normal, and it’s nothing that I thought it would look like. Sometimes, it’s unbearable grief. Sometimes, it’s pain beyond words. Sometimes, it’s unspeakable joy.  But all times, normal to me now is starting my day with Jesus;  talking to him in conversation all day long.  Making mistakes, stubbing my toes, and yet continuing to live one day at a time until i finally walk into heaven, too….

My journey with Jeff is always with me…but my journey with Jesus makes it all worthwhile…

Carol Sokolsky is a newcomer to Tulsa. She relocated from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in October, 2014 after retiring from FedEx Services, Global Account Management. She spent most of her 33 FedEx years as a road warrior, leading a large global management team and serving one global customer for over 20 years. Her passion for blogging began in 2010 as she launched a two-year blog that chronicled the journey of her husband’s valiant fight with cancer and ultimately the end of his journey. Her blog became a book, “Sid’s Journey”. She continues to journal daily on just about everything!

You can also read about Carol’s experience at Cain’s Ballroom, her Journey Through Grief, having a life coach, or why Tulsa is such a great place to live.

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