Mindfully Yours: Warrior Mama’s Miracle
By: Judith Toy
I once sat transfixed by the hospital bed of my first born, not knowing whether she would live or die. What this does to a mother is hard to articulate. You learn about the staying power of adrenaline. An animal energy rises up from the primordial ooze. Suddenly, you wield a harpoon. Do not under any circumstances try to separate a mother from her dying child.
As I sat with Trish Kruger Byers a few hours after the rogue accident that looked like it would kill her son, Jeffrey, she was weak. Soon, though, very soon, she would become clear about what to do. She walked through Jeffrey’s calamity full tilt, with a warrior’s strength and a determined cry for help that defied her softness: the mid-back-length hair, no makeup on a round face with deep set eyes, her beatific smile.
“I don’t want to pull him back,” she said, “if he doesn’t want to be here.” Lord, what mother would not want to roll her baby back into her womb at such a time? Yet I heard her say it. With meaning: not if he does not want to be here.
Trish was living in sorrow’s kitchen, licking out all the pots, as Zora Neale Hurston once put it—pots with the metallic taste of death. Besides being a wife to Jeffrey’s stepfather, Will, and mother of two, Trish is a student, a meditator, a potter, one who gets dirt beneath her nails, an Isis/Shiva— giver of life and death—a spiritually-charged woman. It was she who engineered the miracle.
Her 17 year old son, Jeffrey Reckinger, a senior at Owen High, was long boarding down Sunset Drive in Black Mountain with friends on the afternoon of May 17. Longboarding– humans balanced on long wheeled boards that scream down hills at speeds of up to 45 mph, the pure ecstasy of muscled freedom, the sine qua non of speed– flips the birdie at life. . No one wore a helmet. The other guys made it to the bottom; Jeffrey wiped out on a patch of gravel, splitting his skull on the asphalt. As he was rolled into the ER, doctors questioned whether he would live through the night. Trish said, “I watched my son’s spirit leaking out of his body.”
That night, Jeffrey hung onto a spit of life. Doctors put him in a drug-induced coma, still as a felled tree, to wait for the brain swell to diminish. For Trish, there was everything to do but wait: she pled for metaphysical help from family, friends and clergy. As clergy, I was one of the first on the scene in the morning; Trish melted into me, sobbing. “You can’t break down now,” I said. “Jeffrey needs your help. Whether he lives or dies, he needs your prayers and positive energy now.”
Together, we found out once more that prayer transforms the pray-er. Trish and I practiced tonglen, a “giving and taking” prayer from Tibet . We breathed in Jeffrey’s pain and brokenness, breathed out cool healing and light. Breathed in the hard crack on the head; breathed out soothing calm. We extended the soothing to all those who suffer. As I practiced tonglen for many hours in the days to come, I felt shot through with light. My own heart grew. Tonglen was only the beginning of what became an interfaith miracle. Prayer circles quietly gathered. Praying and chanting for Jeffrey: a Jewish community in Phoenix; Silent Unity in Missouri; students from Owen High and their families and local Christian congregations; Hindu and Yoga communities of Asheville; the paramedic who treated Jeffrey at the scene; my ninety-year-old mother in Ohio; Asheville area Pagchakuti Mesa Native American Group; groups of Alcoholics Anonymous; Buddhist temples in Black Mountain, Raleigh and Weaverville, to name but a few.
Friends and family called a prayer circle at the French Broad River. We drummed and sang and prayed. Websites sprang up. Caring Bridge website was a primary contact point. There, Jeffrey’s sister Charlotte Reckinger kept her wry diary of events, her way of coping. Another website was created for meals to be brought to the family. Everyone had a chance to feel useful. Hannah Silverman, one of Jeffrey’s Owen friends, dreamed up a car wash in Swannanoa, raising $487 for the family.
While social networks hummed, an air of light and calm suffused the room where the handsome boy lay unmoving. There was soft music. A piece of Jeffrey’s skull was surgically removed to make room for his inflamed and damaged brain. Reluctantly, Jeffrey’s stepfather, Will, left his wife’s side, to work, to keep a roof over their heads. Trish might have caved in then, as she kept lone vigil in a chair by the bed. Still unsure whether he would live or die, she continued to plead for help via Facebook and phone. And if he lives, what then? How much damage?
There were good days and bad days, but all the days led us to believe, finally, that Jeffrey would live. The staff could not tear Trish from the ICU. She ate and slept in a chair. At one point, there was fear that Jeffrey would not be able to move his left side, the side affected by the surgery. After a long period of immobility, suddenly, of his own volition, Jeffrey pulled the prayer bracelet off his mother’s wrist and placed it on his own. Later, when asked to move his left leg, there was nothing. Nothing. Until, with his sister Charlotte’s coaching, Jeffrey’s left leg, like a victory flag, shot all the way up in the air.
Nelson Mandala said, “It’s always impossible until it happens.” It did seem impossible, yet it happened: in two short weeks from that horrific day, Jeffrey was coherent, up and out of ICU, out of bed, and dismissed in a scant few days by the physical rehabilitators at Care Partners. “He’s more fit than most of our staff,” someone joked. Tired, triumphant and humbled, warrior mama Trish stood with her healing son, “on the peaky mountain wrapped in rainbows, with a harp and a sword in her hand.”*
Support and prayers continued. In July, White Horse Black Mountain hosted a multi-band concert to raise funds for Jeffrey’s medical care. As for Jeffrey, when I asked him about his mom, he had this to say: “I love her. She’s always there for me. Even though she makes me crazy sometimes, I’d do anything for her.”
Judith Toy believes that praying for Jeffrey significantly deepened her spiritual focus. She is author of Murder as a Call to Love, A True Story of Transformation and Healing, available at www.murderasacalltolove.com. Toy and her husband lead mindfulness and meditation at Cloud Cottage Sangha in Black Mountain, around the US and abroad. Call 828-669-0920 or write email@example.com for more information.