I am still in shock over this, so it's really hard to write.
When my neighbor, Keani, told me she and her husband had several replicas of the weapons from Lord the of Rings in their living room, a life-long friendship was automatic. I drool over them, their LOTR statuettes, memorabilia, and their Frostmourne replica, every time I'm at their house.
Since that day, several years ago, we've become fast friends, sharing our love of Warcraft, white tigers, and geeky things (despite her aversion to Doctor Who, which we constantly joke about), and even starting a business together. Our kids (who are around the same ages) and dogs play together, we go grocery shopping together, we've even celebrated holidays together (I don't think I'll ever forget trying to stop our kids from chasing each other with fireworks!) They're family now.
Like my husband and I, Keani and BJ moved to Provo to attend college but also share some similar health and mental health problems, especially depression and anxiety. We've literally spent hours commiserating and trying to boost each other up and get through our worst times. BJ used his love of gaming (Heroes of the Storm, Hearthstone, World of Warcraft, and Diablo) to cope with severe depression and anxiety while working toward a bachelor's degree.
In January, Keani suffered a debilitating miscarriage. Her doctors failed to diagnose its complications and the extreme pain she was in, though her body should have been able to heal itself weeks earlier. The toll these symptoms took on her were extreme and she began to shut down. I was beside myself trying to help her but could do little more than tell her that she wasn't crazy, they'd find a diagnosis, and she would get better. She was unable to work consistently, and eventually not at all, so she was fired from her job. Because there was no diagnosis at the time, it was completely legal and she was too exhausted, both physically and mentally, to fight it. She actually blamed herself for being too weak and inconsistent when, in fact, she was extremely ill.
Finally, a new doctor took the time to listen to her and discover the real problem. Being jobless, she threw her efforts into our small business, determined to make it work to support both our families and our clients. The problem was, how do we pay the bills without "real" jobs and both our husbands in school? We kept sinking further into debt.
I was up late on Saturday night. For some reason, I just couldn't get to sleep. I was a bit confused when I saw Keani calling at 1:30 am. BJ had collapsed and the paramedics were at her house. I ran over to watch her kids while they took him to the hospital.
When I got there, they were still trying to help him into a stair-chair and get him down the 3 flights of steps of the apartment building. Keani was rushing around the house, trying to be helpful and gather things they might need to have with them.
As the rescue team talked to BJ, he fell in and out of consciousness. With the few words he could utter, he begged them to just let him lay down and rest. I was shocked at how pale he was. When they left the house, he was completely unconscious. Miraculously, the children slept through it all.
I sat on their couch and looked around the room, my mind racing. Keani had mentioned earlier that day that he'd had some strange symptoms but I'd thought it was a flu or something (it had been going around, and I'd had it the past week). This text came within the hour:
It took me a few minutes to process it and respond. At first, I thought I must be wrong, that she meant that they'd transferred him to another hospital. He couldn't have died, he was just feeling sick! I eventually pulled it together and realized there really couldn't be another interpretation. Our friend, BJ Gifford, had just passed away from unknown causes at age 34, leaving behind his wife and three young children. **Update (We just found out today 6/6/16 that his death was caused by a pulmonary embolism.)**
A quick phone call to get someone to watch our the kids, and, before long, I was off to the hospital to be with my grieving friend, who was much too young to be a widow. I expected to find her broken and inconsolable, like most of us would be. Instead, I found a woman I will try every single day of my life to be more like. Yes, she was devastated. Every few minutes, she'd burst into tears and the nurses and I would try to comfort her as she muttered words like, "I can't believe he's gone," and "I'm a widow with three small kids." Whenever she could, she pushed the tears aside and got down to business, asking questions about burial, addressing the heartbreaking question of organ donation, etc. She also calmed herself talking about her faith that she and her family would be with BJ again.
I slept on her couch that night. She didn't want to be alone and didn't sleep in the few hours before the kids woke up. She later told me that because her nerves kept firing all over, she was in a lot of physical pain and truly felt like she had a hole in her heart.
The shock made it almost impossible for me to sleep, but I was more anxious about when the kids would wake up and find their dad missing. I wasn't sure I could make it through her telling them. I'm naturally very weepy, even during sappy movies, and I was afraid I'd make things worse for them. Again, Keani showed me a strength beyond the natural. She calmly explained to the two older children. She answered their many questions and cried with them and held them tight.
Most heartbreaking for me to watch was during the time I spent with the children that day. Her 3 year old son didn't understand. He spent much of the day at the window and talking about how "Daddy go to hospital." A new family was moving into their apartment building, and he was convinced that his dad was in the truck with them and he would come out soon and come home. When one of the children told him that their daddy was gone forever, Keani quickly explained, "No, he's not gone forever. We will be with him again. He won't come back, but someday, we will go to him."
This family has been through so much and the days ahead are even harder. Their hearts are broken and I wish I could fix it all for them.
A GoFundMe has been started to help pay for funeral and living costs, which seem insurmountable to them. We cannot fix their broken hearts but if we all give a little, we can easy a bit of their burdens. Even if all you can do is share this post or their GoFundMe, it will help!
Read the latest Gifford Family update here.
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I'm a mom in Fairfield, CA, overcoming mental illness and crazy health problems to pull my family out of poverty and live my dreams as an author.
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Medical information is based on my own beliefs and experience. Nothing on this site should be used instead of professional medical advice.
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