“He started hitting me in the kitchen. I was stuck between the refrigerator and the stove. He was kicking me so hard in my ribs that my ribs had cracked.
When I was 13 my parents got a divorce. I was lost. I took my first hit of methamphetamines. ‘Book worm’ Donna was gone, and this monster just arose.
I had gotten pregnant at 17 and had my daughter. At 21 I had my son. I got into a very abusive relationship. My son’s father just said, ‘you know, I’m gonna kill you if we stay together. I’m gonna end this because I just can’t keep hurting you.’
I left and I went into recovery. I ended up finishing my year program and just got super involved in ministry.
My daughter Terisa started getting little scabby sores on her skin, so we took her to a dermatologist. They called it t-cell lymphoma which is a cancer in the t-cells right underneath your skin.
This was really hopeful that that’s all it would ever be. Her lesions started to grow; they would look like gunshot wounds. And some of them you could see down to her bone.
Her oncologist found a trial chemo and those three treatments put her into a remission where she was able to graduate high school. And not too long after that she started getting really sick.
At that time I quit my job and I had a three month waiting period where I didn’t have any insurance. My insurance did kick in, but it was completely different. It was so hard transferring hospitals. It just took so much time and she was just spiraling.
They sent us for one last PET scan. She was just like, ‘mom this is gonna be the PET scan that tells us everything we never wanted to hear.’
We got the results of those PET scans back. This has now turned into non-Hodgkins lymphoma and is spreading rapidly through her body. I had to go into the room and ask my daughter — who was in and out of coherency — if she would rather be cremated or buried. And she giggled and she said, ‘cremated, for sure.’ I said, ‘okay.’ And she said, ‘mom I’m still gonna fight.’
She had a high school sweetheart. Josh got in a motorcycle accident. He left his hospital room, rolled into her room on his wheelchair and threw his wheelchair out the door. He never left her. He picked her up, he unplugged her, he took her to the restroom, he put her back on the bed. He took care of her.
She was having a really hard time breathing and the lung specialist kept telling me to put her on the ventilator. I was like, ‘no she’s just scared; she’s just having panic attacks,’ and I walked out those doors that night. I went to sleep and my phone rang about two or three in the morning. ‘Donna, you need to get here. Your daughter’s not breathing.’
When that code blue was called, Josh and the nurses stood outside Teresa’s room in a circle praying for her for 30 minutes. in that 30 minutes she suffered a stroke. She was now on life support. She would basically just remain brain-dead.
We took her off life support. God took her home we walked out of the hospital just kind of in shock. I never talked about it with my son for a long time. That was just a really big hurt living in our house.
The following August my 17 year-old overdosed but God knew we were both not ready for that. So, through that God brought us closer.
I didn’t have the option to stop work because I was a single mom. I didn’t have the option to lay down in my bed and pull the covers over me and give up because my son would have seen that.
For about a year I just worked. I started getting really angry. I thought people would know that I was retreating back to the hospital. I thought people would know that all I could hear was a heart monitor. In my life I thought people would be able to read that but they don’t; people don’t know.
But God is always here and he knows every single moment. He knows your heart through it all. He was inside of you. He was listening to you. Once that clicked in me, I was just released.
And so a huge part of my grieving process began, taking time alone with God and just crying until I felt God hold me.
I started getting a heart to want to minister to others in this area. I took it to my corps officers [Salvation Army pastors] and said, ‘what do you think if we, kind of, put this grief class together. I’d like to start sharing.’ And they were super supportive about it.
But as I was getting ready to teach these classes and going over the lessons, I just felt the urge of the Holy Spirit telling me, ‘I need you to look at that death certificate.’
The first cause of death, second cause of death. The first one, of course, mentioned is her cancer. But underneath that one is a big fancy word for ‘lack of oxygen.’
I realized I had carried this guilt about not letting the lung specialist put her on the ventilator the night before she coded. I can’t live in that unforgiveness because it will drive me to bad places. I’ve had to choose to let all of that go.
Each time I go to start a new grief class there’s always a different level of things that the Lord wants me to release to Him.
I told God, ‘don’t you put anybody else in my life that I’m gonna have to love new. I’m done. I’m not gonna ever start a new love. I’m good.’
Two years later I meet my husband and then I meet his children and then we have Brawley. And then the love I have for my older son is so new.
I want people to know you don’t have to stay stuck in your grief. You can trust God with your life. You can trust God with your loved one. You can trust God that He is going to be with you even when you’re breaking.
God saw His son on the cross and for three hours God turned away in dark grief and He couldn’t look at what was happening to His son. And just like me, God saw His son take His last breath.
I was broken, but I never felt without hope. I never felt betrayed and I never felt Him leave my side. Nobody’s ever gonna know what you went through. God was there and God knows and you’re never gonna be alone in that.”