A couple of weeks ago I was asked if I'd be willing to tell Jack's Story at the National Children's Memorial Day Ceremony in Phoenix. My immediate thought was HELL NO! One of my biggest fears is speaking in front of a large crowd, now add telling the story of how my son died to that equation! FUCKING HELL to the FUCKING NO!
But then that stupid voice in the back of my head said, "Hold on Joey, it's kind of an honor to be asked to speak and imagine all the people Jack's story could reach."
Nope, not fucking going to do it, I can't! Stupid voice you have no idea who you're talking to!
"Joey...do it for Jack. You can do this and you will do this because I control you."
Ok ok so it didn't quite go like that, but I figured I would say I would do it and if the time came and I couldn't, I'd just freak out and run off stage and never show my face again. Honestly I don't know what I was thinking...this whole year of Challenging myself just sort of took over.
I kept trying to convince myself I could do it but by the time we walked into the Ceremony tonight my heart was beating out of my chest! Then Kathy got up and was opening the ceremony and I really started to lose it, watermelon size lump in my throat, tears blurring my eyes, cold sweaty hands and my heart was no longer in my chest but punching me in the face over and over. I was on the verge of a serious mental breakdown, I was so scared!
Then the song before me was already started and total panic set in! Jory was telling me to take deep breaths. Rails, Michele and Bianca were all mouthing supportive words. Jory even tried pinching my arm to take my mind off it. LOL Which actually did help a little, it sort of snapped me out of hysterics for a second.
The song ended and OH MY FUCKING SHIT time to walk up....Oh gawd, walk up or walk out the back doors? Oh Shitballs, this really sucks! Why did I agree to this? What the hell is wrong with me? I will never ever forgive you Joey for putting us in this situation! (Yes I talk to myself, what of it?) I felt like I couldn't get any whiter, Casper was tanner then me as I walked up from the back row all the way to the front, in front of HUNDREDS of people!
THANK YOU MICHELE!!!! Thank you for getting me through this, Thank you for walking up on stage with me and sitting behind me, not far from reach. THANK YOU!
So I turned around and BAM! HUNDREDS(felt like MILLIONS) of people staring at me, waiting on baited breath for my story and the watermelon has removed my throat altogether and I can't speak. As I tried to compose myself, kick ol' UglyCryFace back down in it's dungeon, You Will NOT show your face, Mr. UglyCryFace, I REFUSE!
Then my legs started shaking or maybe they were shaking the whole time, but there was a damn earthquake moving from my feet to my knees, thighs, stomach full of piranhas and up to my arms and hands. I was shaking so bad I literally had to balance myself, feet spread, hands on podium. COME ON JOEY You can and will do this DAMNIT! You haven't cried at group in months...er month, but for reals, start talking now, hurry, you're wasting time! Ready....GO! Now! Now!
This is when I wanted to turn around, face away from the crowd so I could try and Shake This Off, but my signal for Michele to come rescue me, was to turn around and look at her. SO I couldn't turn around! I took a deep breath, then another, then another and then another.
*cough* "Please forgive me, I wanted to Tell you my story but I'm just going to have to read it...."
My name is Joey Johnson, but I'm most proud to be known as Jack's Mom. You probably don't know that my husband Jory and I actually came to this ceremony 5 years ago, just 3 months after Jack died. You wouldn't remember us because I couldn't get out of the car. Jory sat there patiently with me, supporting whatever I wanted to do. He said we could sit there all night if I needed or we could just go home. I knew we belonged to this new "Club" but I felt so alone because I didn't know anyone. We never made it out of the car that night.
Since I was a little girl, I dreamed of being a Mom. When I was 6 years old my baby brother Christopher was born and I took him over as my own child, I fed him, changed him, held him and wouldn't allow anyone else near him if I was around. For Christmas that year my mom made me a Cabbage Patch doll and named him Christopher hoping that by giving me that doll, she would get her son back. Unfortunately for her, a doll is no replacement for a warm, giggly baby and I still continue to parent my baby brother to this day.
Years later, when the time came for Jory and I to start a family, we realized it wasn't as easy as we expected. In November 2000 I felt like my dream was ripped away from me when I was diagnosed with infertility issues. We immediately began the long hard road of fertility treatments with years of no results. Then we moved to Arizona and a tumor on my uterus changed everything. One month after I had surgery to remove that tumor, We finally got our miracle!
I'll never forget May 28, 2006, that's the day I saw Jory's face light up when he peeked at the pregnancy test seconds after I sat it on the sink. I can't even put into words the emotions that rushed through me. After 5 years of fertility treatment failures you start to believe it will never happen, you try to have hope, but there really isn't any left, it just becomes routine. After we hugged and jumped up and down I remember staring into each others eyes and it's like we were both finally picturing Our Child's life from birth to first day of school, graduation, getting married and having kids of their own like a movie playing in our heads.
Other then being high risk and having doctor appointments once a week, I had a perfect pregnancy, not one day of morning sickness! And with all those appointments, we got to watch our baby grow with ultrasounds every two weeks.
The day before our Big 3D/4D ultrasound to find out the sex of our baby, our lives changed forever. I went into preterm labor at 20 weeks due to Incompetent Cervix. There was no candy coating our situation, after a quick exam we were told point blank I was in labor and although Jack was perfectly healthy, I would be delivering him and because he wasn't 24 weeks, they would do nothing to help him and he would die. Our little miracle that we worked so hard for 8 years for was going to die? I couldn't wrap my brain around the reality of this nightmare.
Approximately 16 hours later with just Jory and I in the room, our little boy was born at 9:30 pm on August 31, 2006 and we named him Jack Kendrick Johnson, Jack for Captain Jack Sparrow and Kendrick for my maiden name. He was 9.8 oz and 9.5 inches long. He had his daddy's toes and looked like my older brother Shane, he was definitely a Kendrick! Although the nurses told us he would only live seconds or minutes, Jack was strong and his heart continued to beat surprising all the nurses and doctors. We took turns holding and loving on him for his full 4 hours of life. And as he came into this world, he died in our arms on September 1st 2006, with just Jory and I in the room.
The next day we had to say our final goodbyes to Jack and I didn't know how I was going to survive this or if I wanted to survive this. A few hours later, alone in our room, there was a moment when Jory must have noticed that I was shutting down, disappearing into nothingness. I don't know if he was worried that I might end up in a mental hospital or if he actually knew at that moment I was struggling to find a reason to stay alive. He made me promise him I wouldn't leave him alone to deal with this nightmare. It was like a literal lifesaver tossed into the ocean and I held it tight. That promise kept me going "through the motions" of daily life much like that of a zombie.
We had only lived in Arizona just over a year and had only made one friend just two months before Jack died so we lived in near isolation for the following four years. As those years came and went, I thought that feeling of the World Merry-Go-Round would eventually slow enough for me to jump back on but it never did. I can't explain the insanity I felt as the 4 year mark was approaching. I hated who I had become. I use to be so outgoing, life of the party, passionate and surrounded by tons of friends.
I became a sad, angry hermit who never left the house except when I had to for work. I stopped writing and creating art which had been my lifeblood since birth. I wasn't living and I couldn't "live" the rest of my life like this. I knew I had to get help, I had to do something or I would end up in a padded room, which would also break my promise to Jory. My real driving force for finally getting help was Jack, I wanted to make him proud of his Mama and at that point I was nothing to be proud of. I made the choice to get help.
I looked up the next MISS support group, drove 2 hours to Anthem and parked my car. I felt like I was reliving my first year, unable to get out of the car. Had I not driven 2 hours to get there, I may have left and gone home. But I also had Jack pushing me to go in. I Finally got out of my car and made it to my first MISS group where I ended up telling my story in full. It felt like I was under someone else's control because I couldn't stop talking and I've never told my story in such detail since.
A month later they announced the Holidaze Workshops and even though I still knew no one and had to go alone, I knew I had to go. Those workshops literally saved my life! They provided me the tools to handle and work my grief. Support group is where I practice and get use to telling Jack's story. It's where I find support, camaraderie, hope in the future and learned how to continue parenting Jack. On the other hand, the workshops taught me how to handle my emotions in public using breathing exercises like meditation. Which you can also use to sit with and hold your child and I turned it into hanging out with Jack, we color in coloring books or do arts and crafts together. I know it sounds crazy but it Helps me and I'm a believer in doing whatever it is that Helps you get through today. I also learned about journaling, rituals like making or buying an ornament for Jack every year and safe activities to release the tension and anger like breaking plates or throwing ice. The workshops taught me to think outside of the box for Tools to help myself. In the last year I've gone up the canyon and done my own version of Scream Therapy by literally screaming "It FUCKING SUCKS!" from the top of the mountains over and over again until I felt better. I also filmed myself telling The Whole Story, raw emotions and all, uploaded it on YouTube and shared it on Facebook. I'm not sure what I thought that would do for me, but it was a challenge and I conquered it.
This last year I have attended two groups per month, every workshop and event available through MISS. I will always take advantage of every opportunity available to help me through this lifelong grief journey because Jack deserves a healthy mom and he's worth every minute I'm working my grief. We can't climb a mountain without tools and hard work, so how do we expect to make it through this grief journey without tools and hard work? The MISS Foundation is providing you the Tools, you just have to do the work.
A year ago I never would have thought that I would be standing up here not just telling my story but telling you all it does get easier, I never would have believed it, but the good days will eventually outweigh the bad days. I am a testament to that hard work and it's made me so Proud to be Jack's Mom.
I turned and walked towards Michele and my eyes were saying, Please carry me off stage and get me the hell out of here! LOL She hugged me, whispered Sweet Nothings jk in my ear and I'm pretty sure she physically witnessed my full body earthquake shake. I think I heard an applause but was in so much shock that I actually did it, I just wanted to escape! We walked to the back of the room where Jory was, he grabbed my coat off the back of my chair, I thought he was asking if I wanted to go out to smoke which FUCK YES GET ME OUTTA HERE PLEASE! But he was just being polite moving my coat for me, but he caught on quickly and we bolted quietly out the back so I could finally breath....
THANK YOU Jory, Michele, Rails, Bianca, Kathy and Noni, without all of your last second encouragement, encouraging looks, Pink hair and distracting cuteness, I would have turned and gone out the back door instead of up on stage because I have never ever EVER been that nervous before in my LIFE!
THANK YOU Dr. Jo, Deb, Derek, Alex, Jen, Jacob, Christine, Rick, Trevor and your cute long hair, Kris, Amy, Jaime, Mary, Michael, Chelsea, Scott, Kim, Julie, Jody, Toby, Alyson, Amanda, Alicia, Ashlee, Stephanie, Nia, Toni, Kelly, Ashley, Angel, Vickie and all my other Bereaved Parents Family for your encouragement, kind words and continued support!
THANK YOU to my Family Sara, Keara, Juli, Mom, Cody, Christopher, LaDawn who all sent their encouragements. This was easier then listing everyone in my family and just because they didn't comment or send their encouragements doesn't mean they don't love and support me, just means they have lives not on facebook! LOL LOVE YOU ALL!
THANK YOU especially Jory, for standing by me, holding my hand, pinching my arm, sharing gum with me when I NEED it, offering to go up and stand with me, supporting me and my Crazy self, loving me forever and putting up with my busy MISS schedule!
THANK YOU Jack for making my dream come true by making me a mom, for making me a better person, giving me a reason to change my life, for changing my life forever, for waking me up so I can truly appreciate the people I have in my life, filling my heart because I didn't know I could LOVE this intensely, being my son, being my guardian angel and for my scarf you magically sent to me last year...I wore it tonight like your arms were wrapped around my neck.
THANK YOU Dad for keeping Jack company until it's my turn! MISS you and LOVE you both to the moon and back! <3