NOTE: The following was written a few days ago for the rest of a small circle of long-distance friends–sock sisters–surrounding Dr. Elizabeth DeHority after someone had the marvelous idea to share how we knew her. We knew Elizabeth and she knew us, we all put our sock sisters socks on when we needed to do battle in solidarity, but we didn’t necessarily know each other’s stories. With ugly, swollen eyes, pounding head, and sore heart, I edited it this morning to share with all of you.
Her long battle with cancer came to an end in the wee hours last night.
Please, friends, would you pray for all those who loved Elizabeth, especially for her children and husband? Thank you.
My husband and I have a lot of kids. We’ve birthed eleven (one with special needs), adopted two (both with special needs), said goodbye to two (one before birth and one after adoption), and welcomed one by marriage and one by love and an open door. I don’t try to tell people how many we have any more or maybe ever again.
I’ve never known anyone else like Elizabeth.
For one thing, she moved right into my life like she’d always been there, giving moral support and advice with no permission asked and no apologies given.
I’d just come back from the most emotionally shaking week of my life up to that point, meeting a nearly skeletal nine-year-old infant girl with Down syndrome who was made that way by being put into an orphanage corner and treated like a non-person since the time of her birth. She was our next daughter, Katerina, and we were going to be putting her on a plane and bringing her home sometime in the next few months.
A lot of people were emailing me at the time. Some of them were bizarre, so I got used to evaluating the more unique emails like so: Worth answering? Or crackpot? I wasn’t sure about Elizabeth at first, so I let her email sit until I had time to look at the blog link she included. As soon as I did, I was compelled to write her back immediately. From that point on, I have only grown more convinced of how outclassed I am by this remarkable woman. I don’t remember when it dawned on me that she had gathered me into her small fold of chosen sisters (#socksistersforever), but I’m definitely the underclassman among them.
Elizabeth knew the medical risks involved in caring for a child who had suffered lifelong protein-energy malnutrition throughout the week spent in country and the transatlantic journey home. Turned out, she had loads of common sense, intimate knowledge of the inner workings of every medical labyrinth we found ourselves in, and the priceless ability to think outside the box and improvise when needed. She had faith in our Katie’s innate strength and will to survive. I have passed her sound advice on to countless other adopting parents.
She invested personally in our family in so many ways. Once, when her son’s home health care company accidentally delivered cases of the wrong specialized formula to their house, Elizabeth mailed them to us for our coming daughter, who, as it turned out, would initially have a naso-gastric tube and benefit from that type of medical food.
Elizabeth also made herself available to me once Katie reached the comparative safety of the children’s hospital here in the States in November of 2011. She stood solidly behind my desire to give pumped breast milk to my daughter, encouraged me endlessly to hang in there and take care of myself as a pumping mom, and found research on breastfeeding and immunity to show the attending physician to back me up.
She was literally the voice of knowledge and authority I used to stand up to the attending physician when needed. She’d ask me questions I didn’t know the answer to, clue me in to the underlying motive of the staff not to bring that question up to me and tell me exactly what to ask and say to the doctors and even how to say it. I’d be on the phone with her, saying, “Wait, let me get a piece of paper. Can you say that again for me, slowly?” I’d memorize her exact wording and watch the professionals attempt to cover up their startled reactions the next time they made their rounds. Just like Elizabeth told me they would.
I was still at the hospital with Katie when I first heard Elizabeth’s voice, and I was completely taken aback! I’m not sure now what I was expecting, maybe something cool and competent, but it wasn’t the sweet, childlike voice I came to know and love.
She has given the invaluable gift of her medical expertise and heart for special needs adoption to other adopting parents, and my heart just swells watching it. She has made such a difference…she may never know.
She told me so many times that if her circumstances were different, she would go scoop up a few orphans of her own. And I know she meant it, so that was a bond between us.
Over the next few years, Elizabeth became less my medical advisor and more an older sister special needs mom cheering me on. I have forgotten more than I remember the many times she texted and wanted to chat on the phone about something I’d written on my blog about one of my kids with special needs.
Her little George turned seven at the end of last year, so she was a few years ahead of me on the T21 mom journey, and that was a deep bond of understanding between us. She listened to my suspicions about Verity having autism, and reassured me that she disagreed, and why.
My very favorite photo of two beautiful people~
As I grew closer to her, I felt more safety and permission to be vulnerable with her about profoundly personal issues, and in return I have always received the unsurpassable gift of empathy and answering openness. She became very dear to me during this time. And as bloggers, I think we both shared the satisfying feeling that comes from connecting and talking over things we wouldn’t write on our blogs.
When we adopted a second time, Elizabeth again was right in on every medical detail, helping me in my parental role of being the responsible center point of the numerous professionals dealing with numerous medical issues. She was alert to the strain on me that grew greater as Tommy’s needs grew greater, while support we had counted on didn’t materialize. As the mom of two children with special needs as well as several other children, she knew what this meant amidst the everyday demands of life.
She was one of the very few voices in my life persistently asking, “And how are YOU?” Which of course opened the floodgates. She listened and empathized with me and shared her own similar experiences. She was the necessary cold water in my face waking me up to the seriousness of our situation and commanding me imperiously to get whatever help we possibly could, even if it meant giving up our most cherished ideals. “I have known families to disrupt adoptions for far less than you’ve been dealing with since bringing Tommy home.”
As a self-described dyed-in-the-wool homeschooler, she had been forced to make some of the same decisions and understood exactly how I was feeling. “Enroll both the children in school full time.” This immediacy of empathy and sensible, experienced counsel is worth more than all the wealth of all the world when one is in a weak and vulnerable place, and Elizabeth was the one person who was right there–right there–giving it to me, like a trusted midwife when one is in transition.
She was also one of the very few people who came right into my face after our adopted son Tommy died last summer in a tragic, traumatic accident. She knew that if I was left to myself, I would be in a very bad place and she gave me no space to go there. Other than friends and family in real life, my friend Elizabeth was the only one to be the lifeline around me during those reeling days of worst, worst, worst, condemning myself without mercy or forgiveness.
She was again the Elizabeth who had first introduced herself to me, moving right into my personal territory to care for me and help me without second-guessing herself, talking herself out of it, asking permission, or apologizing for bothering me, all of which can be covers for the rest of us when we feel uncomfortable with others. But now she knew me very well. She was the persistent text I couldn’t ignore, asking me detailed questions about how I was. She didn’t leave me alone. If I didn’t reply to her texts fast enough, she would call. She worried over me, protected me from reading horrible comments from uninformed, anonymous haters, rallied people to raise funds for the unexpected funeral expenses and then for a headstone, publicly stood by me rather than distancing herself from me, sent me practical help from her own personal arsenal, and made me laugh when I desperately needed to, but thought I never would again.
She knew the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder and was alert for symptoms. She was the calm voice on the other end of the line when I pulled over because a bevy of emergency vehicles was passing me, sirens blaring, and I was right back there again, shaking, heart pounding, crying. Always steadily loving, loving, loving. She didn’t take the pressure off until she knew she could without a hemorrhage from me.
Her persistence and strength to fight back against the cancer has flabbergasted me. One of the first things she told me about herself in August of 2011 was that she was in the last stages of breast cancer. In the more than three years since then, she taught me what “last stages” means in Elizabeth DeHority-language. Her stubborn will to keep battling the cancer was only matched by the strength of her love, because it was her love that powered her will to fight. She was fighting for more time so she could give more love. Knowing my risk of cancer is above average for several reasons, I hope for a fraction of her courage if I ever face the same thing. But I know I’m outclassed.
Because I know I’m outclassed so greatly by this woman who suffered so much for so long, stayed so determinedly positive, and loved so thoroughly and well, the words she said to me that meant the most are the simple words she said when I came home from visiting Tommy in Bulgaria (while more than halfway through an unexpected pregnancy and on crutches due to a bad sprain, which she doctored from afar): “I’m proud of you.”
My greatest regret in my comradeship with Elizabeth is that I haven’t taken any steps to identify and motivate qualified people to carry out her dream of putting together a traveling volunteer team of medical professionals who are each outfitted and prepared to accompany parents bringing home medically at-risk kids they are adopting internationally. It just has been outside her reach or mine thus far, but I hope to see this entirely achievable dream come true someday, and can envision it happening. If I take a page from her playbook, I will get to see it happen, because her playbook is titled, “Never give up.”
In the short term, I think of Elizabeth every time I cry over older waiting kids like Duane, who are getting so close to giving up. I wish there was an Elizabeth DeHority Never Give Up fund especially for children like Duane.
Elizabeth, you were the best kind of friend to me at the most crucial times of my life over the past three and a half years. I wish I could have been half the friend to you as you were to me.
You have been a beautiful gift to me.
I love you.
One of five pairs of sock sisters socks, February, 2014~