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Saturday, November 23, 2013

In Loving Memory: Terra Francella

It only takes a moment. One minute you're going through the motions of your normal life, and the next minute your entire world is unrecognizable.

That moment came on Christmas morning in 2010 for Terra Francella. She was out driving on that chilly morning, and she took a bend in the road a little too fast. Terra's life-changing moment came when she lost control of her car and a mailbox crashed through the windshield, crushing her skull. In the blink of an eye, this vivacious wife (of Miracle Man's cousin) and loving mother of two little girls became a Traumatc Brain Injury (TBI) patient fighting for her life. And her husband was thrust into the position nobody wants to be in: Do I remove life support and watch my life partner slip away, or do I hold out hope that she will beat the odds?  

It was Christmas day. They had two little girls at home wondering why in the heck they weren't opening presents and enjoying a normal Christmas morning. If there was any chance that Terra would pull through, D was not willing to pull the plug that day. As long as the EEG showed brain activity, D insisted she be kept alive no matter what the doctors said. Against all odds and prognoses, Terra continued to show signs of life.

For the next three months, Terra remained in a coma. Most of the doctors who examined her said she was unresponsive. They said she would never wake up. They said she would never breathe on her own. They said she would live in a persistent vegetative state until she finally expired. Why not let her go?

But D saw something that the doctors did not. When he spoke to her, her heart rate would go up. Her eyelids would flutter. In fact, one time when he played a recording of their daughters' voices for her, a tear slid down her cheek. He knew that Terra heard him, and that she was still "in there." As long as Terra showed these signs of life, D refused to give up hope.

As so many people do these days, D turned to Facebook to keep family and friends apprised of Terra's progress. In the social media arena, Terra's story spread like wildfire. Hundreds of people began following Terra's story. Many more than that prayed for her by name as she was added to prayer lists all over the world. Soon, the rallying cry of Team Terra was "I Believe" - in God's greatness, in God's glory, and in God's ability to heal even the most hopeless of cases.

Little by little, Terra began to come out of her coma. And then she did all the things the doctors had said she would never do. She woke up. She came off life support. She walked. She talked. Granted, she never popped out of bed to give her characteristic, "How y'all doin'!" in her Tennessee twang. But every baby step toward normalcy was a miracle all its own.

After a few weeks of "Wow, you won't believe this" kind of progress, Terra went home to live with her family. But she was not without deficits. She had lost her sight in the accident. Her memory was hit-or-miss; although she seemed to recall random facts from her pre-TBI life, she rarely remembered what her life was actually like. She needed 24-hour care. And yet she did not seem to miss being able to live the life she'd had before - her amnesia gave her the unique gift of being able to live in the moment without longing for the past or worrying about the future. The major progress slowed until it had leveled out. She would have some baby steps forward here and there, but it eventually became clear that her condition was the new normal. Her family adjusted to the new Terra and life moved on.

As much as the miracle of her survival was celebrated, there were people who would shake their heads and say how sad her existance had become. Before the accident she had been a breathtaking beauty full of spunk. After the accident she was a perpetual patient who seemed capable of little more than merely existing. Why had she been kept alive for such a sad, dismal life?

I have a theory. (Listen up, this is the important part.) Her body was broken. Her mind was broken. But her spirit - the essence within her that was sent to this life by God to learn whatever lessons and play whatever role in the master plan - remained intact. I believe that her soul continued to learn and grow through her ordeal on a level that we couldn't see on the outside. I don't claim to know God's motives, but the fact that she was still here is enough explanation for me that her mission in this life was not yet complete. I believe that as long as there is breath in our bodies, our souls continue their journey along God's path on a level that no human can see or understand. And just because we don't understand someone's circumstances doesn't mean there is no value there.

Shortly after Christmas last year, Terra began having unrelenting seizures that were severe enough for her local ER to have her airlifted to a top-notch facility more than 50 miles away. Even with the advanced care she received, her condition deteriorated. Having been through so much already, her body and spirit were battle weary. For the first time since her accident, D sensed no fight in her to survive. After three agonizing days of waiting, watching, and ceaseless praying, her family said their goodbyes and removed life support.

But Terra wasn't done here. After the ventilator was removed, Soldier Girl kept on breathing - much to everyone's surprise. Later that day, she woke up. When D asked Terra if there was anything she wanted or needed, her response was, "I want you to take me shopping and then to the spa." Which, by the way, was a totally pre-TBI Terra thing to say. Outwardly, she did not seem to realize what she had been through. Just that she was very tired, and she didn't want to fight any more. 

Thus began the trasition from hope for total restoration to a long goodbye. Over the months she kinda chugged along, but grew increasingly weak. D engaged hospice, who visited their home a few times a week to help care for Terra. Last weekend, Terra lost the ability to hold down the formula she got through her feeding tube. She told D how tired she was, and that her grandmother - who had died when Terra was 6 years old - had told her it was time to get ready to go home. A hospice doctor came to visit, and he confirmed what we'd already suspected: It was time to let Terra go. Out came the feeding tube and the IV hydration. Then began the vigil - D held her hand and watched her draw one breath at a time while her body completed the process of shutting down. She remained comfortable and peaceful, clutching the stuffed animal she'd had all her 38 years. After four long days, Terra drew her last breath and crossed from this life to the next.   

With hundreds of Team Terra prayer warriors lifting her family to God for comfort, peace, and healing, those who loved Terra the most dearly have stepped into yet another new normal. Among those left behind are her parents, siblings, husband, and two little girls who will grow up without their Mommy. As I sit her writing this, tears streaming down my face for the vibrant life that was lost and the broken hearts of those who loved her, I pray that those of us who shared in the journey will always remember the hope and the faith we invoked in the dark times. We may be sad to have lost her in this world, but she is fully restored in God's unfiltered glory on the other side. No more blindness. No more weakness. No more struggle. Terra is finally whole again.  

I Believe.


Ascend, may you find no resistance.
Know that you made such a difference.
All you leave behind will live to the end.
 - Alter Bridge, Blackbird   

 
UPDATE: Many people are grieving in the wake of Terra's passing, and much to my surprise my humble post has drawn a lot of attention. I wrote this post as a way to honor Terra's memory and to make sense of an incomprehensible tragedy. To keep the focus on honoring Terra's memory, please feel free to use the comments section to share your fond memories or Terra, to express condolences to her family, or lean on each other in this time of profound grief. Just bear in mind that people closest to Terra are reading these comments, including her children. Any comments that are negative or especially upsetting to them will be removed. May God touch all our hearts with peace and healing.      
 

26 comments:

  1. To the best friend a woman could ever ask for. We met as children and were best friends thru it all. When I walk into church I still feel ur presence and see your face. I know now that you are with God and you will never hurt by anything or anyone ever again. I love you and I hang on to our last words spoken decenber 24 2010. Just as I remember every laugh, smile, hug, the birth of each of your children and your unconditional for God, your daughters, family and friends, we have lost a angel here but God has u home where we will meet again. I love you and miss you and I will pray for comfort for girls and family, love always, vickie

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  2. I Was A Friend Of Hers In Junior High School. She Will Be Missed, Heaven Has Received A Great Person.

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  3. I use to work with her at the the drs office where her daughters went and I would talk to her everytime she would come in,I went part-time and when I came back June 2012 I learned of her accident,I think of her often, I always thought she was so sweet and pretty..she will be missed...

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  4. To the entire family:We are so sorry for your loss.We feel your pain & know exactly what you are going through.You all are in our thoughts and prayers.If there's anything we can do or if you need anything please call us.We love you all!--Vickie,Carlos,&family

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  5. Terra was a beautiful young woman when I knew her at Miller-Motte Technical College. She always had a smile on her face and a kind word. Prayers will continue for her husband, children, family, and friends. DZ

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  6. Terra was as beautiful when I had her as she was when she left this world to be with the Lord.Even with the pain and suffering she endured the last years of her life she stayed as beautiful as always. Thanks to everyone who has been so nice and thought so much of my daughter

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  7. Terra was the most beautiful baby girl. As she grew older she became just as pretty inside as most of her friends agree. Thanks to all of you for your words of edification to Terra. Thank you C for creating this memory to Terra.

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  8. Terra you are incredible friend, sister, daughter, mother and wife. I have been looking through my photos of our kids bday parties, when you gave birth, my wedding that u drove all the way in the middle of nowhere while pregnant with braelyn to stand beside me, when i was lost back in early 2002 you invited me to church and saved me a seat every sunday. You loved you daughters so much, you were always reading and singing and playing with them. you always told me that ashlyn and braelyn were your 2 greatest accomplishments and miracles in your life. you would drive around with them letting them watch their movies, or listen to christian music or their little kid song that you knew every single word to. you allowed them both to dress themselves to express themselves as little ballerinas or princesses. i listened to Tim Mcgraws song, "if you're reading this" and tears rolls down my face, because thru all this you were and always will be a place in my heart that only you could fill. your were the most beautiful woman i have ever known, but anyone that knew would agree you were even more beautiful inside, we will miss you for now. but i know you are watching over your girls from heaven and singing amazing grace with all the angels now and we will all be together again some day. i love you and miss you so very much, your friend vickie

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  9. Today could have been a hard day. I'm already just finding it harder knowing Terra is no longer here.But when I looked up and remembered how God gave His son so my little sweet Terra could be in heaven today with Him. I thanked Him from the deepest part of my soul. I wish I could hold my little granddaughters Ash and Bray and comfort them. I just ask that everyone prays for them and D.

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  10. I miss u and love u Terra Michelle Vandergriff Francella. 3 yrs ago we were out shopping for Christmas together. I am sure u had the best meal and seat for thanksguving this. I smile every day when I look to the heavens becausev i know you are whole again no pain just singing praises to God just as did every sunday in church and with your daughter's daily listening to your favorite Christian songs. God hless with all my love, Vickie

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  11. Terra Vandergriff Francella : Sadly missed by husband Damon, children Ashlyn,and Braylyn, mom Susan Dewitt,dad Terry Vandergriff, brother Terry Vandergriff Jr,sisters Tiffony ,Tamara, and brother William but not forgotten.Memorial will be announced latter with Chattanooga Times

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    1. And second mother Debbie VANDERGRIFF.

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  12. I miss daughter more than words can say.My only hope is that I know she is in heaven.THANK GOD!

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    1. I am so sorry Susan. The loss of a child is so hard. Thank God that Heaven is for Real & Terra is in your future & the reunion will be glorious! Praying for the sweet peace & comfort of the Holy Ghost that passes all understanding. I love you! Rene'

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  13. I'm so sorry Susan! The loss of a child is so hard. Thank God that Heaven is for Real. Terra is in your future & the reunion will be glorious! My prayer is the the sweet peace & comfort of the Holy Spirit will be with you, the peace that passes all understanding. I love you Susan! Rene'

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  14. There will be something that Terra"s aunts and uncles are posting in the Chattanooga Times for all of her family and friends that should be very comforting. I hope everyone will be blessed. That is their intention.I appreciate the Vandergriffs which she loved very much. Thanks to all of you. I love all of you very much! It will be in there CHRISTmas day.
    Terras Mom

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  15. you know sometimes i wonder if terra wasnt an angel. she loved everyone one and found something good in everybody. when she was little i called her Holy Terra

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  16. this is the hardest thing ive ever gone thru

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  17. 3 Years Ago TodaY You And I Were Laughing Smiling Anf Exvited To Watch Our Childs OpeN There Presents On Christmas Morning. That Was OuR Last Whole Conversation. Till I Heard Ut Voice On Christmas Morning AnD Little Did I Know Minutes Later Ur Life And Ours Would Be Changed Forever. I ThinK Of You Every Day. I Smile At First Thinking How Blessed I Was To Have U In My Life. Then A Tear Rolls Down My Face. I Cant WAit To See Ur Beautiful Face In Heaven When We Meet Again. Church Had Their ChristmaS Play Sunday And I Cried As I Looked To Ur Seat And It Was Empty. Girl I Love You And Miss You And I Pray For Ashlyn Amd Braelyn And Ur Family. Merry Christmas Terra, Love Vickie

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  18. To all of Terras friends.Hope u see this morning in the paper where my daughter is just as happy as it says..Yes it is very hard this morning knowing i cant see or hear her voice. But she is spending Christmas today with the King

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  19. I see the countless Christmas trees around the world below.With tiny lights like heavens stares reflecting on the snow. The sight is so spectacular. Please wipe away that tear.Because Im spending Christmas with Jesus Christ this year. I hear the many Christmas songs that people hold so dear. But the sounds of music cant compare with the Christmas choir up here.I have no words to tell you the joy their voices bring. It is beyound description to hear the angels sing. I know how much you miss me. I see the pain inside your heart. But its only for a while we willl be apart. I'll ask Him to light your spirits as I tell Him of your love.. So please pray for one another as you lift your eyes above. I can't tell you of the splendor or the peace here in this place. Can you imagine Christmas with our Savior face to face! Please let your hearts be joyful and let your spirits sing. Im spending Christmas in heaven, and I'm walking with the King!

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  20. Terra would be so happy to know how her brother and I spent Christmas. It would make her very happy. I miss her so bad. Please pray for Ash and Bray. I know their little hearts are broken.

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  21. You are still thought of as much as ever and missed just as much. I love you so.

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  22. I love and miss you just as much as ever. You will never be forgotten

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