I wrote an ode to my dad in the dusk of his big, beautiful life. It’s featured today at http://segullah.org/category/daily-special/
I’ve been thinking about the brevity of life, and also the endlessness of it, and about how which perspective one has is mostly based on how things in one’s life are playing out.
I don’t know much, but I do know this: when life is grand, it clips along briskly, like a boat with full sails.
When life is raw and strenuous, each day is an eon, an age, a century. In the dark. And it’s January.
The current condition of my life has shifted from the days dragging along even as they dragged me underwater, to a new phase of living, where each day isn’t an exercise in misery. The days twirl by. There is routine, of course; we have patterns. And yet there is room for spontaneity and exploration. When you aren’t merely surviving, life becomes something with possibilities.
That is the difference between my impossible life before, and my current life.
And yet, I’m grappling with life’s brevity in a different way. An image written about by the (literally old school) Venerable Bede keeps coming to mind. It compares the passage of time in this life to a sparrow’s flight through a mead hall in winter, where people are sitting beside a fire, eating together.
I used to think about this image with the sense that life is short and loud, drafty and chaotic. But it goes beyond that. St. Bede’s description of the sparrow’s flight didn’t limit it to it’s quick journey through the hall. The sparrow comes from somewhere, and upon leaving the hall, goes somewhere. The snippet of time in the tableau of the hall is all we currently see, but it isn’t all there is.
Bede meant to address the unknowns of life before life, and of life after it.
My own faith actually doesn’t treat the spaces before and after mortality as relative unknowns. While death is still “the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns” (thanks Hamlet), scripture gives me a pretty good idea about the realities of life outside of life of earth.
From Mosiah, I’ve learned “If Christ had not risen from the dead, or have broken the bands of death that the grave should have no victory, and that death should have no sting, there could have been no resurrection. But there is a resurrection, therefore the grave hath no victory, and the sting of death is swallowed up in Christ.”
The Holy Spirit has informed me, as it did at Grandpa Snow’s funeral, when our cousin Serena sang “Be Still My Soul,” and rapid fire spiritual impulses swept over and through me.
I didn’t then believe that the Lord is on my side and that he guides the future as he has the past. I knew it. It was reality in the truest, deepest sense.
Something similar happened at my aunt Colleen’s funeral, again when music was the avenue for God to speak to me. A quartet of women sang a sweet, old-fashioned song about the passage to heaven. I can’t remember the name, but I can’t forget the overwhelming pulses of love/light plucking my heart like a guitar string, making my spirit sing. Life on earth and life in heaven were without separation.
Three days before Jack left our home for his new one, I emotionally imploded. I told Jeff I didn’t think I could do it. He held me as I wept, and at that moment I felt that Colleen was there with me, along with my Grandma Lila, Grandma Goates, and Jeff’s stepmom, Beverly.
I knew they were there. I sensed they were there to bring me comfort, specifically them, because each experienced great loss and grief during her lifetime. They were simply there, and being there for someone in distress is really the only thing TO do.
God has instructed me on a personal level, teaching me that death isn’t the end, just as birth wasn’t our beginning.
Both are portals from life with our Heavenly Parents, which makes death more of a graduation.
I’ve been vacillating between never caring to write anything ever again, and having vague writing ideas that struggle to surface from the ether of my subconscious.
Back when my mind was a tightly wound coil holding onto survival, I was counter-intuitively more observant, more aware. And I seemed to stay alive BY writing. Now my brain seems slack, unable to hold onto anything for any period of time. Is this grief?
It’s been just over five months since we placed Jack. Sometimes I feel fine, like we are adjusting. Some days I don’t feel openly sad, but fatigue and depression permeate everything.
Every time I visit Jack, I see that everything is different. I’m not in control anymore. I don’t see his day to day routine. He grows, his face changes, his body changes, our relationship changes.
I’m starting to see that Jack’s new life will continue to play out with distinction from mine. I don’t have any great insights about this. It hurts. At the same time, it feels as though it is working as it should. I can’t explain it.
I’m at the tail end of a milestone trip with my eldest and third sons—the sort of thing that never could have happened pre-placement. We are visiting my sister Sarah in San Francisco, the city that wins the charm award. I love it here. My boys are enamored with it. I am enamored watching their excitement.
As their childhood slips by, these experiences are like fence posts. They mark the time, give us memories, become a reference point in the landslide of changing family life.
Photos may be forthcoming. If not, there’s always Instagram (aka, the lazy woman’s blog. Kidding, I just prefer Instagram because it’s easy and doesn’t expect a lot from me).
The breast care center called this morning. My biopsy was negative.
Huzzah and a huge sigh of relief.
Honestly, over the last two weeks, I have examined my own mortality and plumbed the depths of my soul. I feel that this whole thing may have been a heavenly-imposed exercise in acceptance and trust.
I was prepared to receive different results. I’ve spent the recent days questioning my life and my spiritual readiness. Am I actually ready to accept all things that God allows to unfold in my life?
To be frank, I agonized.
But just yesterday as I meditated about this experience, I said to myself, “I know God loves us and things will work out in the end. Whatever happens, I trust Him. It will ultimately be okay, even more than okay.” And I was peaceful.
Then I spent roughly 10,000 hours on the phone with Jack’s doctor, support coordinator, principal, and residential care director because Jack is doing the same aggressive/destructive things at his new school that he did at his old one. So after talking sensory integration diets, med changes, crisis intervention plans, communication strategies, and even a different door for Jack to enter and leave the school (so he won’t knock little preschoolers down in the halls), we have a better course of action to follow that will keep everyone safe and allow Jack to progress beyond the negative behaviors that are his stumbling block to academic growth.
The last few weeks have featured me walking around blindly, holding onto hope that God would see us through the darkness.
Today, light is shining again on me. I am flooded with thanksgiving that Jack has such a marvelous and dedicated team working on his behalf. I am thankful for another day of life, of health, of drawing breath. I’m dazzled by the slanty golden sunlight of a mid-October afternoon.
Once again, Jesus showed up. He lifted the load that was crushing me.
This will never stop being remarkable to me.
October 7, 2017
I had a breast biopsy this week.
I’m going to be frank about this nightmare-before-Halloween experience. Feel free to check out now if you’d just rather not. I get it.
I tried hard to be funny while writing it, guys. But it didn’t really work, because TRAUMA.
The biopsy took place on a state-of-the-art, brand-new piece of equipment (I know this because they kept telling me). It was installed only days before my procedure, meaning no one really knew how to use said equipment.
What they told me would take ten minutes took sixty.
For sixty minutes, I lay face down on a table that was raised high in the air, my chest pressed into a literal hole in the table. My legs, bum, head, and arms splayed unattractively akimbo because the table was subtly bowl-shaped, making my pose like that of a spider squashed in the part of the bathtub where the sides meet the bottom.
Does anyone know how I can tweet out my thoughts on this design and tag the engineering team who thought it was a good idea?
Because no one knew how to work the new software and machinery, a random stranger who worked for the medical equipment company spent an hour in the space below the table coaching the doctor and techs in the uses of the stereotactic biopsy table and needle FOR, I repeat, ONE HOUR while my delicate parts were “compressed” (i.e. smashed), a needle stabbed me, and the techs complained that I was moving too much. In my defense, you really can’t move when you are being “compressed” in this manner.
“Are you uncomfortable?” they would ask me, with an air of shocked disbelief, as if I were behaving like a petulant preschooler.
“Yes, I’m uncomfortable!” I retorted. This procedure and the position into which I was locked FOR AN HOUR were the very definition of uncomfortable.
The room was quiet with tension—my hatred of the table and the needle and the stupid questions, and their unspoken sentiment that I was being unnecessarily grumpy.
When they raised the table, it brought me eye-level with the framed hospital “art” hanging on the wall. It looked like a computer was commissioned to copy Monet—fuzzy impressionistic poppies in a fuzzy field overlooking a fuzzy beige view. It was the art equivalent of muzak.
I could see myself in the reflection of the painting’s glass. I looked bizarre, my bum, swathed in a too-large front-closing hospital robe, sticking in the air because of that “ergonomic” table; my Nikes dangling slightly above me (remember, bowl-shaped table?); my tenderest parts clenched in the flat fist of the machine’s paddles below the table.
I know the breast care center exists for the benefit of women, but this experience felt like a bunch of people without breasts got together and brainstormed ideas for “how to dehumanize female people while also hurting their most sensitive parts.”
There are women out there who have undergone double mastectomies and reconstructive surgery. And chemotherapy and radiation. To these women, I say, “I am weak. I bow down to you. The biopsy alone shook me.”
They took a couple of traditional mammograms after I disembarked the torture table. Then I sat in a big chair and swooned a bit as I watched a tech taping my wound together with steri-strips. It was a big hole. Big enough to insert a titanium hat-shaped marker into my breast that will remain there. (“I know, let’s make the metal marker in a HAT shape, because then it will have a pokey part that sticks out and isn’t smooth! Genius!”)
Jeff drove me directly to Kneader’s, where I ate carbs, including a perfect mint brownie.
The results should materialize in a few days. Meanwhile, I’m eating chocolate. And I have temporarily stopped reading my book (World Without End by Ken Follett) because my favorite female character is being horribly mistreated by evil monks and I want all women everywhere (including pretend ones) to be treated with dignity and respect, with no threats whatsoever against their lives or their boobs.
October 2, 2017
Last night, I picked up the boys from behavior therapy and we met Jeff and Henry for dinner.
When we got home, I tidied the kitchen.
We put on our pj’s and brushed our teeth.
I read the boys picture books on my bed.
I read aloud from 1 Nephi to my family.
Charlie said our prayer.
The little boys “went to bed,” meaning they played and talked and teased each other in their room for a good 75 minutes before finally falling asleep.
I read my book (World Without End by Ken Follett) for a good 75 minutes before falling asleep.
I had the distinct impression that life is good.
Jack is being cared for, and the way that has all come together and is progressing is miraculous, in the sense that God’s fingerprints are all over his life and mine.
My other boys now benefit from having regular, reliable family scriptures and prayers, and family nights where we can go out and do things together.
There is a sense of calm manageability in our home, at least much of the time.
This is a sea change.
I feel like a grown-up, where before I usually felt like an awkward adolescent who was inadequate and barely holding on. I feel as though I’ve emerged from one dark, cold corridor of my life and stepped into another. This one is brighter and warmer.
And yet. I went in for my first ever mammogram recently and was called back (to the big flagship hospital’s breast care center this time) for a follow-up scan which revealed calcifications which may or may not be cancerous. Later this week I will have a biopsy.
Because I descend from a long line of folks who excel in worst-case scenarios, I’ve spent ten days contemplating my mortality. For years, it seemed as though my life and struggles would never end. There were periods where I could not fathom continuing with my burdens for another week, let alone another 40 or 50 years. I recall days where I would tell myself, “Just try to last through the next 30 minutes.” And after that half hour passed, I would tell myself to focus on making it through the next 30 minutes. In the worst times, this is how I survived Jack’s childhood and my littler boys’ babyhood.
Now, ironically, as life is sunnier and calmer, I am looking at my life and wondering what will happen.
We are making progress in helping our boys in all the areas in which they have needed help for so long. Because of the things we learned when Jack lived in our home, we have brought a bigger perspective and softer hearts to our new reality. The real change is that life seems short to me now, where before it seemed impossibly long.
During this last ten days, I have again asked myself if I am willing to accept God’s will for me and my family.
In my meditations, I have moved between fear and sadness, and peace because I do trust God. I have faith that whatever he gives me will be for my benefit. But, I’ve asked myself, what about my children? If they have to lose their mother at an early age, will he help them through it? Would they be able to overcome such a loss and its related effects? Would he help them with this added challenge, as well as with their disabilities?
I know I can do hard things with God’s help. But I worry for my children. I want to be here to help them through their trials, particularly while they are still little. This big question mark in my life may be the hardest exercise in trusting the Lord I’ve experienced to date. Do I trust him to actually help my boys if I am not here to fulfill the role of mother?
I have a new appreciation for nurturing and for the value of people who engage in it as their life’s central work.
I do not know what I will learn from my upcoming biopsy, but I have learned that trusting God is a process that continues to unfold for me. With each level of added understanding of his love and care for me, I find I then face new avenues which again try my trust.
I have to believe that these lessons are symbiotic. Each bit of yielding my heart to God and his plan offers a rung on which I can step, climbing to the next level of spiritual understanding.
The future is unclear.
I exercise faith.
God comes through for me and mine.
God propels me to a new plane of comprehension of his plan for me.
New trials arise.
I choose faith.
Jesus lifts me up, and on and on it goes, apparently.
There is a pattern, and while I am living it, I’m still learning it.
Yesterday I had the kind of day where stress coiled my right shoulder and neck into a tight, angry thing. I couldn’t sleep well. I was tired and burdened. It was just a lot to internalize. I’m not being specific, but it was the kind of day that makes me say, “Oh hey, world. I really love you, but wow, you aren’t the easiest thing to navigate, are you?”
We went to In & Out for Family Night (five thumbs up) and I read 1 Nephi 16 to the guys on the way home. The thing we noticed and discussed after our latest reading of this passage was that when his family was hungry in the wilderness and Nephi’s bow was broken, Lehi doubted. The prophet Lehi doubted. He did not know if he believed that God would deliver them. He began to wonder if he had made the right choice in listening to God and taking his family into the wilderness.
I think this chapter includes Lehi’s wavering faith because we have all been there or will someday be. We can be obedient and faithful and try and try and try, faithfully maintaining hope. And at times, we may look around and wonder what is happening. What are we even doing? Is it ever going to get better?
I’m not in that place right now. But it’s easy to find oneself there, which I think is something that God allows to happen to us so we can question and wallow and decide for ourselves what we actually believe.
Anyway, back to the things that were weighing me down yesterday. They are things that are out of my control. They are worrisome things. But worrying about them doesn’t achieve anything. I believe in allowing myself to feel all the feelings I am feeling, letting them pass over and through me, without judgment. I know I will emerge on the other side and that there is no sense in carrying all those emotions with me. I will undoubtedly move on to other emotions. It’s a progression.
It was another one of those days where I was Lehi. And Nephi. With a little infusion of Laman & Lemuel. I believed in God and I believed God. Yet, the details of my family’s life were foggy and the weight of it was heavy. Heaviness can make you doubt, possibly because the weariness overtakes you and clouds your perspective.
But I found myself saying to the boys in the car while they drank their shakes, “When Lehi asked God to forgive him and to help them, God showed him exactly where to go to find food so they could eat.”
Because he did. They approached him sincerely and he provided what they needed.
My life has shown me that he will and he does.
But we will still have the days and the years and the harrowing experiences which challenge us and make us wonder when things will change and how it will be possible. My life has been a study in seeing that we need to experience the hunger and the fear, so we will turn to God and he can show us where to find exactly what we need.
I drove home through the rain from the General Women’s Session of LDS General Conference tonight. It’s cold here, suddenly. Fall showed up promptly on the autumnal equinox.
I didn’t want to go to the church and make chit chat during the dinner. I wanted to sit home and watch the broadcast on my couch, surrounded by boy children. Every six months when the General Women’s Session happens, I always get irrationally grumpy about the fact that while women everywhere are posting selfies with their daughters at the broadcast, I get in the car by myself and drive to the church alone.
I have a rich family life so I’m not sure why I get so weirdly bugged about this. But I also signed up to bring large women’s underpants to contribute to the birthing kits the women of our stake are sending to Zimbabwe. It was the underpants that got me to the church.
Then when I arrived I saw Bea, and we sat together, and I got to “borrow” her daughters. Bea asked about Jack. I love it when people who have known me forever do this. Bea was my visiting teacher (like a ministering neighborhood angel person) years ago when Jack was five and Charlie a toddler. You know, that glorious period when Jack hated Charlie and screamed every. single. time. he saw him, day in and day out? She’s known me through all of that.
Anyway, my point is Bea knows. And we love each other. I felt that tonight.
My friend Debbie is the stake Relief Society president and stopped in the midst of her rushing around to give me a hug and tell me that she LOVES teaching piano to my Charlie (who is nine, has autism, and has gone to exactly one lesson thus far). She squeezed him into her already crazy schedule and tells me that it is HER honor. For real. I told her I never know what is going to come out of his mouth. She said she loves him. Excuse me while I sob awhile about the beauty of the people in my life.
Love was the theme of the evening.
The speakers were all my favorites, and they spoke about love: love for unlovable people, love for self, love for people with different lives and opinions, love for God and his commandments. I couldn’t even absorb all of it. It’s going to take re-listening and unpacking their talks to fully appreciate them.
As the speakers talked about loving each other as a means to healing our lives and relationships, I thought of my university students. I am not kidding when I say that when I teach them and walk among them on campus, I feel immense love for them. I honestly feel that I see them as the amazing people they will someday become, that they are on their way to becoming. It’s a true sense of love, though most of them are strangers to me.
I felt this way at the library today when I went with Charlie, and at the gas station when we stopped for a soda. All the people out and about struck me as being very different from me in lots of ways, but as people. Like me. I loved them.
Yesterday, I sat waiting to turn left at a red light. Cars were turning in a steady stream into the lane to my left, and as each one rounded the curve, they were blinded by the setting sun and immediately reached for their car’s sun visor. It was like clockwork: car turns left toward me, driver is blinded, driver lowers visor. And it happened like eleven times in a row.
Watching this, I thought about how we are all people and are all essentially the same. Outwardly we are different. Inwardly, we are human.
I’m not sure if I know this because of Jack, or because of my sisters in the gospel, or because God just allowed me to feel it. But I have found that God loves us, that we can love ourselves, and when we do, loving each other isn’t that difficult.