“I grew up in Birmingham where my dad was a preacher. I went to a Bible college in North Carolina and met my husband there. We had three beautiful children. My husband was dealing with a lot of issues that I didn’t know how to handle. He left our family when our son Austin was a year old. I packed up the kids and moved back to Birmingham to be close to my parents and my kids grew up close to their grandparents. My dad and Austin were inseparable. On Sunday nights in church, Austin sat on the front row and shot Spider-Man webs at my dad while he was preaching and my dad would make the sign back.
Austin turned four on December 1, 2001. In April, I was gone one night for work and the kids stayed with my parents. My gut told me something bad was going to happen, but my dad told me it was just one night and to go. I prayed to God for the grace to handle it because I always pray that whatever happens has to pass through His hands first.
That night, Austin died from a tumor that had been dormant in his brain since birth. We didn’t know it was there until his autopsy. He threw up and they thought he had the flu because hours before he was running around playing with his sisters. He cried because his head hurt, and during the night he started singing. That was normal because he sang all of the time. He also called the names of children. My mom later told me the names and I didn’t know any of them. We think those were children there to carry Austin over and they were singing together. The next morning, my parents thought he was sleeping, then they realize he was gone and they were devastated. When I got home, they told me about his death and I thought it was a cruel joke.
Mothers shouldn’t have to bury their children. I lost my husband and then my son. I had so much guilt about Austin having a tumor I didn’t know about. There were so many days that my two daughters were the only reason I got out of bed and kept going. It made the three of us incredibly close. They are adults now and we are still close. The last weekend Austin was alive was Easter and my dad’s birthday, and it was a happy time. The guilt was eventually replaced by thankfulness of great memories of a happy child.
I taught piano for 30 years in my house and my kids grew up with the love of music. Knowing that music was a part of Austin and the last thing he did was sing makes me cry happy tears. Austin taught me to be more loving and present. I am very goal-oriented, but there was no telling him mommy is busy when he wanted to play with Legos. I always tell moms to put their kids first. They are only little once, the job or the boyfriend will be there later.
While the girls were in elementary school, I finished my bachelor’s degree at an online college. I worked multiple jobs and it took six years. After the girls graduated from high school, I went back and got my master’s degree. I am now working on my doctorate in collaborative piano. I love playing with strings and choirs.
I am a graduate assistant at Southern Mississippi. Our classes are moving online and I am teaching all of my piano classes online. We do a lot over FaceTime. It is not ideal, but it works. I am way too social for social distancing. My son-in-law was deployed and I came to San Diego for spring break to see my daughter. Who knows how long I will be out here. I arrange hymns for solo piano and have two books of arrangements published. I am using this time to simplify them.
Over the past couple of days, I’ve been slowly deleting recurring events, recitals, & choir performances from my USM calendar. Today I deleted the last of my events for the semester, including our performance of Verdi’s Requiem with the Pensacola Symphony, and I cried. This is hard. There’s a little bit of comfort in knowing we’re all experiencing the same thing, but the losses and disappointments still hurt. The canceled events. The graduations. The performances. The trips. It’s all hard. We need to take time to process all of the changes are happening so quickly. We have to hang in there and get through this together.”
(This Soul-cial distancing interview was done by FaceTime. If you are someone you know has a story to tell, message on Facebook or email me at lynn@OurSouthernSouls.com)