After All the Firsts……

“How long will this last?”

I remember asking Thomas those words as we brought mom home to be welcomed into hospice. We had brought mom home to die, and even though I knew that, there is nothing that could really prepare me for it.

My family flooded in and we all filled her house with bodies and comfort food. At times, we filled the home with laughter. Other moments, her home was filled with tears. The day time was busy, the night time was quiet, but the anguish was there 24/7, sun up and sun down.

2014-08-12 15.05.37-1I knew she was dying. We all did. But as she battled those final days, I couldn’t help but wonder how long she would have to fight such a gruesome fight, struggling to breathe, frequently moving to try and find the most comfortable position in which to rest, only to find nothing of the such existed.

“How long will this last?”

Turns out, there is actually a little book that exists that can help families gauge and discover that answer of “how long.” “Gone From My Sight” is the offical name, but my memory recalls it to be “Fading from my Sight” which I think is actually more appropriate. Fading……still present, but not….fading from the ones that love you.

I remember the hospice nurse coming in to talk with us. We sat down at mom’s kitchen table, mom in her room, a few family members in the living room. I sat down on a stool, which really didn’t make much sense, cause there were vacant chairs, and it made me higher than the dining table. I hovered above the nurse and my brother John as we began to talk. I remember it being an odd feeling for me, cause at barely 5 foot tall, I rarely look down on another adult. It was like I was perhaps trying to float above the reality before me.

She was pregnant, the hospice nurse. And she had a big, sparkly wedding set on her finger. She was kind.

She slid that blue booklet my way, showing us some stages that are listed in the back. And by stages I mean the stages of dying. I was asked to tell her what mom was doing/feeling.

Immediately I realized that mom was exhibiting most all of the “days or weeks out” behaviors. While telling the nurse of mom’s “burst of energy,” she nodded compassionately. “Can you tell me a little more about that?” she asked. I began relaying how mom had said the night before, “Maybe they are wrong!” in a somewhat hearty voice. “Maybe who is wrong mom?” “The doctors. Maybe the doctors are wrong. I feel great right now. Maybe they are wrong.”

That didn’t fit what she thought was the “burst” but she listened to my point of view. I shared a few more tidbits while my brother nodded in agreement. The nurse asked a few questions, some which I didn’t know, so I texted my other brother, Damien, telling him to hurry up and get to mom’s to speak with the nurse. He had stayed the night at his house while my brother John and I spent the first night home from the hospital at mom’s.

The questions were done, and the nurse left to check on mom. I sat, hovering on the stool, grabbing my phone to text my husband about the blue book and the nurse. Soon, the nurse came back, sitting down at the table.

“So, after looking at your mother, I believe she has hours, not days, left to live.”

I can’t even type those words above without my eyes filling with tears, my hands are trembling.

“How long will this last?”

Turns out, it is hours.

Hospice can be sent into a home up to 6 months out. Mom made it back to 250, her house number, on a Tuesday afternoon. She died in the wee hours of Thursday morning. Hospice didn’t even send in a caregiver until Wednesday lunch, which is when they told me hours. Just hours left with my mom. Hours.

The next time a hospice care nurse showed at mom’s would be to confirm her death and destroy her high level pain narcotics.

“If you have anyone that needs to say good bye they need to come now.”

I remember barking an order to my cousin immediately after the nurse said those words. I had been so cool and calm, matter of fact, information sharing. Now, I was emotional, scared, shaking. “Ann! Go get my boys from school now. You are on their pick up list. Go now and get them.” And with that, she left out the door.

I could barely see to text the words to Thomas. . I couldn’t hold the phone still to hit the right words. I told him to hurry back to mom’s. John came over and hugged me. I couldn’t believe the clash of emotions I was feeling. A wave, tossing me down suddenly, not allowing me to get back up, when only moments before I was watching the tide roll in on me, floating up with each wave rather than being at its mercy.

There was no part of me that thought I had long, but hours? Where do you even begin when all you have is hours?

We sang hymns to her, ones which she requested. She made fun of us for forgetting the words to one. “You did real good with that one!” she told us after “Amazing Grace.”

Damien had a hard time being around her; he had been there at all the appointments and all the visits previously, but this was too much. John took the role of being present and available; he had been unable to be at all the other events. I am not sure what role I took. I remember, however, that I felt like I was the one that had to call the shots.

“Summer, if you want everyone to leave, tell me and I’ll get them all out.”

“Summer, where do you want me to put this cake from Mildred?”

“Summer, would you like for me to hold Hazel?”

I didn’t know. It was too much. Most of it didn’t matter anyway. I appreciated the do-ers during this time. The ones that just took Hazel, shoved food around in the fridge to make room, and any matter of the like.

With all the last minute good byes, mom hung on a little longer than we initially thought. I think there was too much energy and movement for her to settle, rest, breathe fully, and welcome in her new home. All three of her children, my sweet Hazel, and our God-sent helper during the darkest time, our cousin Shelia, all stayed the night.

Apparently, mom tried to get up in the middle of the night, and my brothers had to convince her it wasn’t a good idea.

Around 430 or 5 in the morning, I heard shuffling and mumbles. Next, I hear foot steps on the stairs. John opens the door to tell me what I already know.

“Mom’s gone Summer. She’s gone.”

It may seem like the most absurd response, but I put my hand in the air, right level to my face. I closed my eyes, lifted my face toward Heaven, and uttered the words, “Thank God.”

Cause knowing she wasn’t feeling the pain she had felt was a relief. Knowing she didn’t have to fight any more was peaceful. The earthly end meant a heavenly beginning.

Next, came the days of life without her, and all the firsts without mom were quick to follow.

First Christmas without her excited gift-giving.

First birthday for me without the woman who gave me life.

First steps of my baby that couldn’t be enjoyed by her.

So, so many firsts. And as the day that she went home comes creeping in on me, I wonder what comes after all the firsts have happened and the first year anniversary hits? Do you keep track of seconds? “This is the second Thanksgiving without mom.” Or do you just morph into a person who is less and less impacted by the grief?

I don’t know yet. Maybe I can tell you in another year. Alas, after this year of the grief journey I don’t know if I really have anything figured out. After talking very recently with a friend that lost her mom several years ago, she told me about how at a year after the loss she remembered thinking, “Why am I not doing better than this? I should be so much farther!”

True words.

Why am I not farther healed? Why do I now not have a better grip on grief and sadness? I know it will never be okay, but when can I walk comfortably in the new normal?

“How long will this last?”

I don’t think there is an answer, and even if there was a little blue book to tell me, the hours will feel like years, even after all the firsts I suppose. The years will feel like seconds. Until then, I’ll cling to what is good, looking for what can build me.

“Sometimes the darkest times can bring you to the brightest places, your most painful struggles can grant you the greatest growth, and the most heartbreaking losses of relationships can make room for the most wonderful people.  What seems like a curse at the moment can actually be a blessing in disguise, and what seems like the end of the road is actually just the realization that you are meant to travel a different path.  No matter how difficult things seem, there’s always hope.  And no matter how powerless you feel or how horrible things seem, you can’t give up.  You have to keep going.  Even when it’s scary, even when all your strength seems gone, you have to keep picking yourself back up and moving forward, because whatever you’re battling in the moment, it will pass, and you will make it through.  You’ve made it this far, and you’ve felt this way before.  Think about it.  Remember that time awhile back when you thought the world was ending?  It didn’t.  And it isn’t ending this time either” source

That’s what I am looking forward to now, after all the firsts.

This Is Not Our Home

In the middle of March, we closed on my mom’s house. It was St. Patrick’s Day and a whole bunch of crazy on my part. Even though I had Power of Attorney for the house closing transaction, it was quite the signing extravaganza. Rather than me signing one signature for her estate as I had hoped it would be, I had to sign a ridiculously long phrase for each of my brothers and myself. It was as follows: My name, Heir-At-Law; My first brother’s name, Heir-At-Law by My Name, his Attorney-In-Fact; My second brother’s full name, Heir-At-Law by My Name, his Attorney-In-Fact. Every. Single. Time…….times about 30-ish times. All this while one of the amazing realtors that I worked with put my baby girl to sleep for her nap out in the lobby. Oh, and did I mention that the lending company for the buyers wanted extra proof that we were my mom’s only kids? Well, they did, so last minute they sprung on me the need for two people to verify and swear to the fact I am her daughter and that she only had me and my brothers, no living spouse. It had to be notarized. And they had to know our family for 5 or more years, And they couldn’t be family. Good thing I know a lot of people, right? I had spent so much of my days there after she passed cleaning it out, setting it straight, checking on it, and all the other type of things that go along with a house. It was a massive amount of time and energy. My kids were neglected at times, being left to figure out something to entertain them while I cleaned, or there was copious amounts of attempting to not suffocate them from the piles of Goodwill donations that surrounded them in the van while on one of our bajillion trips. Before I said my final goodbye to the place, I took one final picture on those blue steps, as well as one of the outside: IMG_5219 IMG_5217When all that was done, what I viewed as the last and biggest step from being able to fully breathe and consider my mom and her passing was over. Yeah, there were some things in my garage from her home that I couldn’t find or figure a location for, whether it be physically or emotionally, but really that was it. Her estate was basically done and could be closed. I could begin, to me, what was the true beginning of healing. One night, while sitting with Thomas on the couch, I told him how I wanted something to signify that this phase of the grief journey was over. I wanted something to represent that stage of estate closing, house clearing, emotional strife, etc. I told him “I want something to represent this moment, just like people do with jewelry….but I don’t want any jewelry.” He suggested I commission some artwork, and he suggested a girl I went to college with who has quite a beautiful business and ministry with her passion in art. I told him that was perfect, and although I didn’t know what, I knew I wanted something from Laura. A quick Facebook message later, I had told Laura of my desire to represent everything that was the cleaning out and selling of my mom’s home, the house where I mostly grew up, the home where she died, a place that will always have a small piece of my heart, but also a place that is now no longer mine or hers. Laura, having lost her mom to cancer a few years back, shared with me a picture of what she made for herself when she closed on her mom’s home. I told her it was exactly what I wanted, without even knowing I wanted it. She asked a few questions and then she set to work. IMG_6044Can you see it? There are so many layers here. It’s just amazing really. First, the fact that “This Is Not Our Home” is writing over a home on a canvas that will sit in my home is just brilliant. It’s not mom’s home, cause now she IS home. It’s a hard fact to swallow, but it’s one I believe to be true. Away from this world is a believer’s true home. It’s not hers, it’s not mine, and if you believe, it’s not yours. No house is your home, not even this world. “This Is Not Our Home” Hebrews 13:14-15  While cleaning out mom’s, before I knew I was going to have Laura create this piece, I had sent her some old hymnals that mom had collected. I knew they would be fitting in Laura’s artwork. When we decided on this concept, I had asked if she could use some of those hymnal pages to create my piece. So, the hymns you see that create the white house were actually my mom’s possessions. The ones chosen here were songs sang at her services. The green roof, the letter T, the #250, all perfectly crafted to represent “the house that built me.” I had secretly hoped to have this custom piece by Mother’s Day, and it turns out I do! I don’t know yet where it will reside, for I am still just so happy about it and everything it represents. I also take great comfort in the fact I know the hands that made it, and I know that she prayed for me as it was designed, knowing all too well the hole that losing a mother can leave. Thank you Laura at Pitter Patter Art. It’s simply perfect. Although it’s true that “this is not our home….”, I will truly miss her until the day comes that I get to go home and see her again, and I am grateful to have such a depth filled piece to remind me of her and this journey.

Tender Hearts and The Grief Journey

I am realizing that some days, my heart is more tender than others about my mom. I really do think of her every day. On some days, it’s just a small thought, a quickly fleeting one. On others, it is a heavy weight, a sinking feeling that persists. Although my dad has been gone since I was 4, I find myself thinking of him more since she has passed than what feels like all the years before. Anger builds in me when I think that I have no parents. I know I’ve said that before, but that’s the thought that goes through my mind over and over. Neither one is here with me any more, neither can see my children grow….I have no parents, and I feel too young to have that status. I am the start of the living in my family lineage. No parents, no grandparents……it feels heavy to me.

2014-04-20 00.07.50When Easter approached, I kept thinking of the Easter before. Last year, mom was still with us. In fact, she looked great, seemed to feel good, and was all-around seeming as if she was winning this cancer fight. Even though she had just recently been released from the hospital, she had energy. Her hair was growing back, her face was round, she smiled a lot and her smile was still hers, not the one where a stroke had robbed her of its normalcy, and her voice was vibrant, not one burdened and crackled by tumor pressure.2014-04-19 23.47.14

I have a voicemail saved on my phone from my mom from last Easter. Although not a message filled with fluffly thoughts, it is still a recording of her voice. It’s preciousness to me is extreme. On it, she tells us to come to her house and get our Easter baskets. And by OUR, she meant everyone, even me and 2014-04-20 00.06.44Thomas. She just couldn’t leave anyone out, grown adults and all. At the close of her brief message, she said “love you” before hanging up the phone.

When we went to retrieve our baskets a few days after Easter, we took this picture.2014-05-25 15.00.44

It was almost right after this that everything began to fall apart.

I wrote that first half of this blog post, everything above this point, and then I paused. Now, I can’t remember my train of thought. I can’t seem to find the vein of those emotions that got me to begin writing it. Yet, I’ve never stopped thinking about it. Somehow, that seems extremely fitting, for as I wade through this grief process, that’s how everything seems to be to me. My heart feels one way, and then it is changed, on a whim. A pressure on my mind and heart. My spirit feels one emotion, and then it is adapted, placid to a storm. Everything swirls from okay to horrid. It affects all things, and the worst part about it is that you don’t know it until its too late and it’s already happening, and those around you feel ashamed to want to blame your actions or feelings for the day on grief. It’s almost like that cliche of the man wanting to blame his crazy wife on it being “that time of the month.” You don’t want to say it, but you think it, and it’s usually right, and you can’t claim it to be true, cause it feels like a cop out to want to excuse your emotional whirlwind on grief.

I wonder when it will stop.

Nothing about the grief process is linear. You don’t go from one stage to the next and never back to that stage. One isn’t conquered to never be experienced again. I’ve always taught this about the writing process, encouraging students that even once it is “published” or turned in to me, changes still need to be made, ideas revised, errors adapted, materials deleted. It’s never “done” as a piece of writing, hence multiple editions of a book. That’s the grief process it seems, and it is troublesome. You feel like the loss shouldn’t have that effect on you. But it just does. Eventually, I will hit a year without her, which will mark making it through most all the “firsts” without her. After that though, I assume it just turns into something else that can bring the sadness.

This Easter just enters into another one of those “firsts” without mom. I wouldn’t have ever thought “yeah, Easter is going to be hard without her!” but yet it is. I didn’t know it mattered so much, yet apparently it does. I think the contrast of the two is what hurts so much. My littlest is a whole year bigger, which is extremely noticeable at her age. She’s grown so much and mom can’t enjoy it.

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DSC_0008My boys have grown so much and she can’t participate in that either.

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DSC_0040In my mangled sadness, I occasionally have the foresight to grab my emotions and ask for help.  I asked one of mom’s friends that spoke at her funeral to pray for me on Good Friday. As we traveled to get Wesley’s cast off, I knew mom would be excited about that venture. She would be likely right in the middle of our day, lavishing love on our littles. On Saturday, our church’s Children’s Pastor, Bridget, texted me that when she saw me at our Saturday night Easter service, she nearly cried. She wondered if she was in tune with something, channeling mom. I shared with her how it has been such a hard few days, cause I keep thinking of the extreme differences from this Easter to last.

I stopped by the graveyard this week, which I normally think is a stupid thing to do. It just seems like a waste of energy to me, and I have never cared to ever do it before. I find myself now wanting to take pictures with my kids standing next to her and my dad’s grave, just like she use to make us do next to my dad’s tombstone. What it profits, I have no clue, yet I feel like I want to or need to do it.

But this Easter weekend, there were a few things that really stood out to me as “she’s still here and loves you” moments.  After coming home from eating Easter lunch with my family, I put the spoon which I had used to serve our green beans on the counter. And there it was, faded but still present: Boyd.IMG_5643

It had actually been her  spoon. It was one from her house that I had brought into mine, and that was the spoon, out of all my spoons, that I took with me that day. It made me crack a smile.

Then, a picture of me holding Hazel. One that a my cousin’s mother-in-law took of me at the close of Easter Sunday service. My sweet Hazel had fallen asleep on me, and I just sat and lingered at the close of service in order to let her get as much snoozing as possible. And at that moment, on the empty pews, me, Hazel, and my mom’s rings on my fingers. The way I am holding my hands, I could have had my left on top, hiding hers and showing my wedding set……but I didn’t. That makes my eyes fill with tears.

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Little moments, sweet elements of her.

I know she’s not still here but when I say “she’s still here,” it is the whole “her memory is alive and that love never goes away” type of here.

Just like the name on that silly spoon, “faded but still present.”

He Fought the Foam Roller…..and the Foam Roller Won

Wednesday we went out to eat to celebrate Thomas’s birthday. It isn’t until next week, but the kiddos and I have plans to go out of town to visit a friend in Florida for “spring” break, so an early celebration was the plan. When we got home, the boys were taking turns helping Thomas build his birthday present, a new Lego set. While one sat at the table with Daddy, the other hung out in the living room. I was prepping to nurse Hazel and put her in bed. As I went to walk into our bedroom to change into comfy clothes, I saw Wesley playing on a foam roller that I had left in the living room. And since some people have asked me, “what’s a foam roller?” I present to you the object of Wesley’s demise, put next to a baby’s board book to show its non-intimidating scale: IMG_4861 Note that it is smaller in height than the board book , maybe about 3 inches off the ground. Foam rollers are good for rolling out sore muscles from a run or a workout. I was using this the other day because I had read an article on how it helps your posture when you do certain exercises, and as a person with a hunchback tendency, I was wanting to give it a try. Afterwards, I did not take it back to the garage. I told Wesley, “Please do not play on that son; it is not a toy!” as I walked away. Less than a minute later, I hear Wesley say, “Daddy, I want to go to bed. Now.” Thomas asked why, to which Wesley replied, “I just do. I want to go to bed.” Thomas said it was okay, and Wesley headed to put up his shoes. As he walked by, I asked him if he was okay, and he immediately said, “Yes, but I just want to go to bed.” My momma radar went off. I squatted down and said “Wesley, if you hurt yourself on the thing Momma told you not to be on, you need to tell me. You will not get in trouble.” His voice began to crack a little as he told me yes, his arm hurt. Thomas began assessing, in full nurse mode. Wesley could do most of the things he asked him to do. Everywhere Thomas touched Wesley said it mostly didn’t hurt. He begged again to go to bed. I tried to get him to choose a pain scale face, but he refused. We allowed him to go to his room. After he walked away, Thomas and I shared “that look” with one another, the one that says “everything isn’t okay.” I asked Thomas to go back upstairs to check more. As Thomas ascended the stairs, the wailing from Wesley started. He didn’t want to move his arm. He would not pick it up off the bed. He said it hurt so much. He would not put it in a scarf, as a make shift sling. He didn’t want to sit in Momma’s lap. He just cried big tears that soaked his pillow. My suspicion was that he had rolled on the roller, as I had seen him doing, arms on it, arms extended out, and that perhaps he had at least hyperextended it, if not broke it. He couldn’t remember exactly what he was doing when he hurt it, but I know he wasn’t standing on it and jumping. That said, he had fallen less than three inches. We decided to take him to the ER. Thomas said he would go alone, but I didn’t want to stay away from my baby boy during this time, so we called up some friends, Michael and Kelley, and they agreed to watch Hazel and Daniel while we went to get things x-rayed. On the way, Thomas told me where he suspected it was broken (which turns out, he was right!). As we journeyed the interstate, we were traveling in rain, which was planned to convert to snow and ice as the hours passed. Jokingly I said  “Well, we sure know how to do it big…..broken arm in an ice storm!” Thomas chimed in with, “We could have taken an ambulance!” Next, we both said “Or a helicopter!” and followed it up with a few chuckles. By now Wesley had ceased crying and had actually fallen asleep.

After this point, he never cried again! At the ER, Thomas was checked-in and sent back with Wesley before I could even park and get inside. Turns out, when “ice storm” is called for, no one really goes to the ER for those minor things, such as a sore throat and cough, that tend to clog up the efficiency. As we waited and Wesley watched cartoons on the TV, a nice and unsuspecting lady came to get our insurance information. As we rattled off Socials and phone numbers, she asked, “Can I please have the name and phone number of a person outside of the house that can be contacted if needed?” At this point, I put my head down and started to cry, for my instincts had led me to start saying my mom’s name. Thomas rubbed my back and explained to the poor lady how my mom would have been our response but that she recently passed away, and that this moment had taken me off guard. She apologized profusely, while I reassured her it was okay and there was no way should could have know.

A few X-rays later, the doctor came in to deliver the news, as we suspected, of a broken bone. We asked some questions that yielded us a “Are you two in the medical profession?” Thomas said, “Yes, I am an Nurse Practitioner” and I just added “No, but I suppose I am just a person who breaks a lot of bones!”  What we didn’t suspect was that they wanted to keep him overnight and perform surgery first thing in the morning! Being that we were in one car, kiddos separated from parents, with the winter weather in progress, it was a bit problematic. Since I am still a milk maker for the baby and Thomas is more medical, we opted for him to stay and for me to go. I drove home easily in the weather, even at 11PM, but ice was forming on the door handles and the gas pump that I had to use to fill up my tank. We all settled in for sleep at home and hospital.

This morning, I awoke to this: IMG_4851

What isn’t covered in the snow is actually covered in ice. I don’t really have the confidence to drive my mini-van with my two other kiddos in this. Thomas has a Land Rover, which would travel nicely, plus he feels comfortable in this mess, but he was at the hospital, watching Wesley get prepped for surgery….without a way home! The TV newscasters were begging and urging people to stay home. Visuals of the interstate were pretty nasty. I then began operation “find someone brave enough to drive and kind enough to do it.”Turns out I didn’t have to look too far! Our friends Randy and Tracy, who have been such blessings to us before, especially after my accident, offered.

Wesley’s surgery lasted less than an hour. The pin in his arm was needed because the break was a “floating break,” which would serve to have issues in healing correctly if just casted. The surgery was considered quite simple and very common, so we felt comfortable with the process. The pin is partially internal and partially external in one small place, so at removal time, they will just pull it out. The thought of that hurts my stomach more than the fact he broke his arm. IMG_4855

IMG_4854He chose a camo cast! When they had told him at the ER that he was going to get IMG_4856one, he initially wanted black. I asked if he even knew what a cast was, and he replied with a hearty “YES!” “Is it soft? Does it come off?” I questioned, to which he replied again with a hearty “Yes!” Poor fella. He was in for a bit of a wake up call when he awoke with a cast from fingers to right near shoulder on his right arm. By the way, he is right handed. Thomas said everything went super smoothly. It was very hard to be away from him while he had SURGERY! But I knew it was the facts of how things had to be. He was in good hands at one of the best hospitals around, not to mention being with that amazing hubby of mine! Around 10:30 AM Thomas updated people and said: “We are on our way home. We have one broken humerus (at the elbow), one pin, a camouflage cast, and 2 fresh cherry icees for himself and his brother. Thanks for the thoughts and prayers.” They were delivered home by our friends by noon! IMG_4857 So, in one week we go for an initial follow up appointment. In 2-3 weeks, he will go to have the pin removed, at which point he will be re-casted for another 2-3 weeks, depending on healing. He is not suppose to get the cast wet, so we are planning to borrow from a cousin a waterproof cast cover for bathing and such.

As of now, our plan is to still go to Florida for our visit. This momma needs some sunshine, beach time, friend time, and hopefully some sanity saving adventures.

I just can’t believe how fast it all happened and how smoothly it went, all things considered. I have never thought differently, but this is just another one of the many circumstances that have happened in the past few years where I am reminded of how stinkin’ blessed I am to have some of the very best friends, church family, and real family. It is just amazing. Tons of texts, lots of calls, messages of all sorts have been sent to check on him. So many are concerned for us. When our senior pastor called to check in, we discussed how wonderful being a part of a body of believers is for your well-being, in good times and in bad. Thanks so much for every prayer, all the offers, the kiddo watching, and ESPECIALLY the driving to Nashville in the ice and snow! Thomas and I, as well as one very special, precious and extremely tough 5 year old are very grateful.

All Ice, Little Snow, Lots of Family

We have had quite the winter weather here lately! Rather than being all snow, it was mainly ice, so life sorta shut down for a few days. For a whole week, we didn’t travel anywhere by car (other than the short trip up the street in Thomas’s car to go sledding, which you can see below—oh and guess who tumbled–me!). Thomas didn’t go into work one day, he had no patients show another day, and a very low number make appointments on a third day. Schools have been out for 5 days so far, and tomorrow’s attendance is a bit questionable.

It is times like this I am grateful for the neighborhood feel and community I have right around me. I took soup and baked goods to two single people near us. We had two sets of neighbors come over and play, we rode the 4 wheeler and went sledding with another set of neighbor friends. Being a bit “stuck” has brought back big reminders of what it was like when I was without a car and on driving restriction not too long ago! All in all, however, the brief visits with friends have made the cold and yuck more bearable. In the middle of it all, Hazel had her first birthday, so we ate clean pumpkin muffins with an adapted version of this cream cheese frosting, which was an amazing combo (thanks Pinterest!). I did venture out on Friday for Hazel’s 1 year check-up and to eat at Cracker Barrel, but that afternoon the weather brought another dose.

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I’ve loved having the kids home, Thomas being “off” a bit, taking it easy, wearing layers of comfy clothes, eating lots of soups (like this clean eating sweet potato chili, which I adapted slightly but everyone loved, along with vegetable and potato soups–yum!), making baked goods (like those muffins above and this clean paleo banana bread) , and matters of the like, but I am ready for spring! Things *are* thawing out, and I did manage to run 5 miles yesterday, since our road wasn’t a full sheet of ice in both directions finally. Just holding on a bit more until warmer days!

Currently, at 11 months

I haven’t tracked her growth and development enough, but life has been keeping pretty busy. I am just glad I am getting this one done! It’s true though, Hazel is 11 months old. You can now insert the following phrases into your mind, cause I am sure you are thinking them already:

“That can’t be right!”

“Already?”

“That was fast!”

And it’s all true….. super fast indeed.

Bless this sweet baby! We are glad she is ours, but I can say we would be even more thrilled to call her ours is she slept through the night. Just sayin’

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IMG_4379Currently, at her ripe ol’ age of 11 months, she is able to stand without holding on to anything, but I have yet to see her go from sitting to standing on her own. Hazel can also cruise and crawl her way into anything and everything. Earlier this month, Thomas sent me this picture with the words “The peace has ended”

Besides now having to block off the steps, we have also put a baby lock on the kitchen cabinet doors under the sink. We have to close the bathroom door or be sure the toilet lid is down, cause splashing in the water makes her happy, even if it is gross. If the dishwasher is open, or in the process of being open, she desires to be right in the middle of that action, reaching for a knife or rubbing her hands all over a ketchup covered plate. The other day, I was determined to unload the dishwasher while she was awake rather than asleep. I came up with a plan to turn on the TV for the very first time for just her, complete with a PBS kid cartoon. She was watching so diligently and was enthralled. I left the room, opened the dishwasher, and then Hazel jetted straight towards me. I closed it back up and turned the TV off, plan completely thwarted.

2015/01/img_4325.jpgShe finally loves something besides nursing. One of her favorite foods seems to be boiled eggs. I currently boil several at a time to use for a few days, and then I just cut up the whites into tiny pieces for her. As she eats them, you can hear her say “yum, yum yum….mmmmmm…yum yum….mmmmm.” She’s obviously a fan! Other goodies that she eats are applesauce pouches, yogurt drops, black beans, and oranges (she sucks the juice and then spits out what is left). She will try just about anything we are eating that I put in front of her. It was a long process it seems to get her to enjoy any sort of solid, but once she decided she was going to eat, she just took off!2015/01/img_4246.jpg

2015/01/img_4216.jpgAt 11 months, she has 1/2 of one tooth. I don’t honestly remember off hand when the boys got their first tooth or when they got the rest, but I am very certain it was sooner than this. Hazel is working to add three more to the count though, so soon enough they will push through a little. (you can see the one little white spot in the picture below)

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When it comes to her brothers, she is in love. They make her laugh by blowing her her belly. They read her books, track down her paci at bedtime and naptime, and generally just dote on her. We’re still working on the fact that they can’t leave anything out or she will destroy it, albeit unintentionally. We’ve had a Pokemon card or two meet their untimely demise due to this fact.

2015/01/img_4203.jpgOne of her favorite activities is to take stuff out of where they are. Markers out of the marker bin. Items out of her diaper bag. Her cloth diapers out of her diaper holder. Kleenex out of the box. You know, typical tasks for her age. (Important side note: we are extremely proud of her double crowns, which create a spiky mohawk in the back. We have Thomas to thank for this great phenomena. Fortunately, she is a girl, so her hair will one day grow long and this will become flat.) 2015/01/img_4353.jpg She also likes running with me. I am also thrilled that she will cooperate so nicely in the running stroller. It’s obviously way too cold to have her out much, but we had some unseasonably warm days and I took to the road with her. She was so peaceful, still, and quiet each time that I would have bet money that she was asleep. Turns out, she was just happy.

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Just the other day, she got to touch her first round of snow! We only went out for a second, mainly to just take the picture. THe snow was wet and cold and Hazel was less than thrilled with it. 2015/01/img_4336.jpgFortunately, Hazel will allow just about anyone to hold her or take care of her. I know that might alter soon as her development changes, but for now it is helpful. There might be a tear or two, but she quickly can be distracted so momma can run off to Bible study or to teach the youth at church. I’ve had a few friends watch her here and there, and they speak on how sweet and good she is when they watch her. I am grateful that is the case, cause it has allowed me and Thomas to take a date night or allowed me to complete a task kid free.

Next month, she’ll be a year, so I better savor these last few weeks before it’s official and she is an age that is not counted in months!2015/01/img_4163.jpg

2015, A New Year to Find the Light

It’s 2015 folks! Crazy, right?

Turns out, it’s actually a whole 11 days into this new year, ELEVEN! How on earth did that happen already?

I can honestly say that these days have dragged on but also flown bye. It’s so weird to think such a drastic dichotomy can exist in a single day, but alas it does.

Day one of 2015, I spent a little over an hour crying on and off. We were on our way out of town to visit Thomas’s family to celebrate Christmas, which is a good thing, but my heart was so heavy. I kept fighting back tears while riding in the passenger seat, and when I couldn’t hold them in any longer and some began to fall, I completely took Thomas off guard.

Silently, he just grabbed my hand and held it for a little bit. Then, when the tears continued, he gently asked, “What’s wrong babe?”

“It’s the new year. It’s 2015. This is the first year where I won’t have any memories with my mom. She won’t be a part of anything we do this year.”

And there isn’t really anything to say back to that, so he just held my hand and let me cry. I was thankful the boys were behind me where they couldn’t see and that Hazel was asleep.

So that was day one of the year. After that, I began to take the majority lead of prepping my mom’s house to put on the market. At one point, my brother thought that he would want it, but after seeing what the market is like, noting it’s a house of large square footage and he has a solo state (read no wife, no kids), and his 100% travel job, he figured 2 acres wouldn’t be a good fit either. My other brother lives thousands of miles away, so he didn’t desire my mom’s house, and I just don’t have a heart that wants to live there……so selling the house it is.

That conclusion lead to about four solid days where I did absolutely nothing but clean out her house (more days have occurred and more exist, but these are the number where I did absolutely nothing else but clean out). I sat down only to nurse my baby and to drive junk to Goodwill. I did so much hauling out that I would load my three kids in the car and then add in more stuff for the dump or for giving away. It was maddening, exhausting, frustrating, lonely, and sad, but also a bit therapeutic, cause every item that left was a step in the direction of closure. Not the type of closure that means I forget my mom and move on, but the type of closure that means I no longer have to worry about a house that is full of stuff but empty of a person. She was a keeper of things, for better or worse.  I literally feel like many days I can’t take a full breath due to the burden that all her stuff puts on me. I kinda have lived in a place of anxiety over her cats, her plants, her mail, her HVAC system, her plumbing, etc. A vacant yet occupied house poses worry all on its own. Being rid of the house will also help me be rid of some of those pressures and strifes.

While walking this journey, I realize that not everyone grieves the same, and that is truly okay. For one of my brothers, the idea of keeping everything the exact same, museum style, is comforting. For another, breaking ties and not dealing  much at all seems to be the way of coping. It’s truly hard when 3 people are left to decide and all 3 have different opinions, hearts, lifestyles, and abilities.

Mostly, I just seek to be able to have my head out of water again. I consistently feel like I am drowning. It’s been an unimaginable year. 2012 wasn’t easy, combining a unexpected move, a miscarriage, two job changes, and Thomas entering grad school and beginning his own business. 2013 was worse, providing my wreck, two surgeries, two months of food through a straw and wired jaws, 6 months of no driving for me, financial gridlock from my loss of job due to my injuries, and my mom’s diagnosis and chemos. 2014 dealt much as well, with the adding of baby Hazel, two more surgeries for myself,  Thomas’s intense final months of grad school, mom’s radiations, chemos, hospitalizations, and the worse blow yet, her passing, which lead to a whole new set of challenges. I even left stuff out of that list folks. It’s incredible really, and not in the exciting type of way.

I keep a lot of this floating through my mind often. It’s just so much, and Thomas and I find ourselves saying often, “This can’t be life can it???” We’re ready for a nothing at all awful happened type of year, to say the least.

Then, today, I encountered two things that I think I will cling to in 2015. Oddly, one is a Rocky clip. That’s right, Rocky Balboa baby!

If you don’t actually watch it, let me just clue you in to these lines:

Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward.

Well said, Rocky. Well said.

I just have to keep moving forward, cause that’s what I must do. I am better than that. As Rocky said, “if you let it…” so I am just not going to let it. I’ve been called to walk in Him, no matter how tired I get, even in the messes of life. It’s my faith journey. As put forth by writer Ann Lamott on Twitter:

Faith includes lots of mess, zits, bewilderment, cellulite, separation & limbo, & letting those be there until a little more light returns.

2015, a year for the light to return. I pray it happens.

Can I get an “Amen!”?

Grandma Holds Our Hearts……

Before mom passed away, I virtually watched a friend from another city tell her mom goodbye as well. As Liz spent the final days with her mom, I prayed fervent prayers for her family. I also silently took note, for I knew in my heart that my mom would pass soon too. In her mother’s final weeks, Liz managed to make some very special crafts with her boys and their Grandma. When I saw the pictures on Facebook, I told myself that I would do the same with my mom and my children.

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DSC_0054When hospice was called in and mom was sent home, we were operating under the impression of her having weeks left to live. That was the best estimate from the doctors and other experienced medical staff. When mom came home, Liz commented to me about her activities and how special the handprint crafts were for her family, and she advised that I make some too. Although I had already planned to do so, I hadn’t purchased anything to create them. In my time of need, I simply texted two of my friends a picture from Liz and said, “I want to make these, and I need the materials ASAP.” I shared the kiddo’s sizes and I was quickly promised by my friend Helen to have the items the next day.

I had thought that I would have those weeks to make the craft, but mom came home on a Tuesday afternoon and passed very early on a Thursday morning. Weeks were really mere days. Bless Helen, for when she arrived, I had just received the news from the DSC_0057hospice nurse that her opinion was mom had hours to live, “I believe your mom only has hours left and anyone that needs to see her needs to do so fast.” I was shaken. I was not under any impression that mom had years or months to live, but the new of hours took me by surprise and sent me into a bit of a frenzy.  Hands unsteady and voice quivering, I beckoned to my cousin, Ann, to go and get my boys from school immediately.

Once the boys arrived, I swiftly began the craft, one that I had thought we would calmly do in a few days, with patience and joy, not urgency and tears. I smeared blue paint all over Momma’s hand as best I could, trying not to get it on her bed sheets or her clothing. She was aware and cooperative but not fully in control of herself, so getting her hand to be just right for pressing on the shirt was a bit difficult.

DSC_0063Daniel and Wesley were pretty excited to be painting with her, and they were ready to complete the full product then and there, yet, for obvious reasons, that couldn’t be precedent at the time.

Mom likely would have died that very night, but with all the hub-bub around her, people coming and going from her home in droves, she sustained a bit longer. In the wee hours of the next morning, mom passed, and dealing with a little craft became the least of my worries. Helen later texted me and asked if we got the craft done like I had hoped, to which I replied, “Yes…and it’s not perfect….yet it is perfect.”

Over the weekend, we managed to finally make the time to finish. I wrote “Grandma holdsDSC_0059 my heart forever” on each in pencil and the boys each went over the letters with fabric paint markers. They decorated the back however they wished.

Although a tiny thing, it is also simultaneously huge to have these shirts. It is the last thing she ever got to do with my children. I realized while we were finishing them that mom’s hand was small, smaller than mine even, and I can’t remember ever truly noticing that before.

I got overly stressed about trying to make them perfect, cause I realized that having her handprint on these shirts is something I can never get back should we mess them up. I gradually let that go, under the same concepts of it not being perfect but still perfect.

“Grandma hold OUR hearts forever……”

And we are glad to have that be the case, until we see her again.

When Someone You Love Is Sick….

When someone you love is sick, like long term sick, it sucks. Some of you have the non-privliedge of knowing such. For that fact, I’m sorry. If that is the case, you will read this and likely agree with much of what I write, and you will perhaps have something even more to contribute. If you haven’t really had someone you love dearly be seriously sick, but someone you know has someone that he/she loves that is sick, well, this post is for you. This is what those people in your life that are managing a sick parent/child/spouse want from you……or so I think…..

My mom is sick; she has cancer, stage 4., along with some other medical conditions that affect her overall well being. I’ve not really made note of it in the blog world. I’ve mentioned a thing or two on Facebook. Many people local to where we live are aware of her condition/diagnosis. With that point in mind, I wanted to share some things that I have learned since her diagnosis in August of 2013, just a week after my wreck and wiring of my jaw.

1. Limit questions.

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Mom’s fresh cut.

One of mom’s biggest issues at the start was that she would be asked questions. “What kind of cancer is it?” “How long did they say you should live?” “When do you expect to lose your hair?” and any other potential inquisitive line of thought that might enter someone’s mind. She’s a private person, more often than not, so potential questions made her worry. At first, those opportunities made her want to skip out on events. In September of 2013, just a few weeks after her devastating news, she tried to skip out on a local street fair because she “didn’t want to talk to people about it.” That was when I was in full wired jaw and no driving mode, so ultimately she decided to go, just so the kids and I would have a ride there since Thomas was working. At that point in time, my news was more readily known, so people were asking ME questions about ME, and I responded via wired jaws. At the close of the day, I told mom, “and you were afraid people would ask YOU questions!” Regardless, she held tight to this question fear. Before her first chemo, I posted a picture of us together on Facebook, from the day we preemptively cut her hair short, full of expectation that it would soon fall out. FB friends near and far pulled through in a resounding way that day. There were hundreds of comments and likes on that single picture. Before she went back for her infusion, I clicked on the comment portion, loading them all for her view. As her eyes filled with tears I said to her “Read them mom. All of them. Each one. There are over 100 comments there mom. And guess what……not one asks you what kind of cancer. No questions, just love and prayers.”

2. Avoid Texts/Calls/Emails That Require Action

For some reason, the whole community in which I live and everyone that I’ve ever been related to seems to have my cell number. If they somehow missed out on those phone digits, they seem to have FB access through which they can send messages. Now, don’t get me wrong, this is totally amazing. I love connecting with people, and I love knowing that people care about her and my family. One thing that is sometimes exhausting though is navigating and managing the needed replies. Often, I know you are just checking up on her and me, that everything is spawning from a good intention. When you ask a question, however, you are by default asking for a response. This then requires action from me. Now, I have a few select friends that I expect questions from about her, cause they are my places of refuge to vent and worry and cry if needed. Outside of those few people, it becomes overwhelming, even when it comes from the right place.

So, rather than text me “How is your mom? Is she feeling well? When is her next chemo?” try phrasing things like this instead: “Praying for your mom today! Hope she is feeling well. May her next chemo go smoothly!” Do you see the difference there? It’s subtle really, but one means I *have* to respond, cause you asked a question. The other means I *can* respond but it’s not inherently necessary. And check this out…..the same reply can be given for both: “Mom has had two good days! We go back to the doctor next week.” So, if I feel like responding, have time to respond, or manage to remember to respond, I can do it! If I don’t, just know the message was received and appreciated, but since no question was asked, no response is required. Same premise applies to voicemails: “Just checking up on your momma!  Praying for a good day for her!”

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All of us before mom’s first chemo treatment.

3. Don’t Ask or Offer, Just Do

People want to help her. People want to help me. I want people to help her, and believe it friends, I want people to help me! It’s been an incredibly stressful time. There aren’t really words to put into perspective how challenging the past near year has been for my family. I’ve had 4 surgeries since August 2013. There has been a stint of physical therapy and a full 6 months of no driving. I’ve added an baby girl to my family. Mom has had chemo treatments, radiation treatments, surgery, a stroke, and two hospital stays. not to mention multiple and reoccurring scans, tests, blood draws and doctor appointments. At one point, I foolishly pondered how many times Hazel had visited the hospital since her birth, and she had averaged about 3 visits a week for her first 4 months of life. It makes my brain spin. So, when you ask me “What does your mom need? How can I help?” my reply tends to be “prayers!” Now, that is a fully true response, cause she and my family do need them, rest assured. But often I just can’t remember immediately. When you say “Let me know if I can help watch the kids!” I appreciate that more than you know. However, when it comes time for the kids to be watched, sometimes I forget who said they could/would, cause I am operating in a brain fog.

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Hazel visiting her Grandma in the hospital.

 

The alternative? Command it/Schedule it/Provide It. Here are some examples of what I mean in action, two of which are from my in-laws, one from a friend:

Soon after mom’s diagnosis, my Mother-in-law gave my mom a gift card to Olive Garden. And guess who else she gave one to as well…..did you guess???….she gave one to me. Do you know what she did there? She arranged time for me to be with my mom by giving us both gift cards for food. At the time, it was even more thoughtful, cause my jaws were just unwired and I needed soft food only, which pasta could provide. She took a meal prep off my hands and off my mom’s. Perfect indeed.

After mom was most recently hospitalized, my Mother-in-law and Father-in-law came down to the house for a full Saturday so I could go and be with mom without having to juggle childcare for Daniel and Wesley. By the time the week was coming to a close, I felt like I had already tapped into all my resources. They didn’t ask to do this, they just said they were coming, even if mom was discharged. They wanted me to have a break. Mom ended up going home that day, and Hazel and I brought her from the hospital to her home and then we traveled back to my home. Once there, my in-laws began to pack up for their hour and a half drive home. As I walked them out to the car, I had a little melt-down. I was five streps past exhausted. They hugged me, encouraged me, and offered to stay longer, until Thomas got off work. I told them it was fine, I would go for a walk with the boys and then put them to bed early. In a completely uncharacteristic move, my mother-in-law takes Hazel from my arms and says, “I’ll hold the baby. You go for that walk–or a run–all by yourself!” Running is a major stress relief for me, and as a mom to three, it is hard to manage logging miles these days. “I’ll be back in 23 minutes or less!” I told her, cause I knew how long it would take me to run the route I had in mind. They had action, which lead to relief for me.

So,  “Let me know if I can watch the kids!” can become, “I would like to watch the kids on Thursday for a few hours” (my cousin Leitte is actually pretty spectacular at this one!). “If I can make a meal, let me know!” transitions to “Wednesday night I will bring chicken soup to you for your mom.” It’s action, and all I have to do is receive it, not think about it. Does that make sense?

10514904_10204467142497988_1158381533_nHere is the final example……a gifted photographer friend from church, Michelle, told me that she would like to take pictures for us. I was floored folks, cause she is talented, and I know taking pictures and editing them takes time. That’s not the kind of trait you just give away……unless you are looking to bless someone tremendously, a person who doesn’t know how many family portrait years might be left. My brother John was in town for a few days, and despite mom not feeling the greatest, she got spiffy looking and we all went across the street to the farmland across from my house. Michelle put forth her best effort and captured some beautiful moments of Grandma with Grandkids, Mom with each kid, My family all together. This was something that I didn’t even have on my radar, but someone told me “This is what I am willing to do…..let’s do it!” and we did! The results are pretty stellar considering the circumstances.

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10510297_10204467142457987_31182829_n4. PRAY & Encourage

The power of prayers has sustained me so much the past few months. Sometimes, I knew that the Holy Spirit was keeping up the promise to intercede for me when all I could manage was groans in my spirit. I never want to minimize this part in the process, and I will never think that you are sitting idly beside as we manage if all you do is pray. Without prayer, I would certainly be lost. May you not stop, but increase, your prayers for my mom. She needs them on the good days and on the bad. We need them when healthy, but most definitely when sick. Encourage her and encourage me in this process, for I feel like it is becoming very easy to grow wary and weary of what is to come. Point us all towards God’s glory.

Please know I don’t write this to then expect you to do these things specifically for me and my family. I write this cause I feel like often we don’t know what to do for others, so with a shot in the dark, we throw something out there. Sometimes, we stifle what God wants us to do for fear of doing the wrong thing. I want to welcome you to move on behalf of Christ, to be his hands and feet, to those near you that need comfort, whether that be me, my mom, or someone else. Just be a blessing. 

 

VBS : Summer Jam 2014

The second week in June our church had our annual Summer Jam event, otherwise known to most as Vacation Bible School.

Last year I was in my early stages of pregnancy and not sharing the news yet. I was the flag football leader and the weather was blazing hot every single day. This year, my baby was in my arms and 3 months old! The weather was much cooler and rained several days, and I worked with 2nd graders all week in order to have the ability to step away and nurse Hazel whenever she needed it.

 

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I was a leader for the basketball group of 2nd grade boys (we had at most 61 kids, so we had to break them all up into small, manageable numbers, and their track time groups were the best choice). It was such a surprisingly good time being with them all week. I enjoyed getting a glimpse into what another year of life will bring my Daniel to developmentally and emotionally. By the end of the week, I had one with a full on crush for me, although he was under the impression I was 21. He obviously got quite a bit wrong in that area. We played quite a bit of basketball, and I can’t tell you how crazy odd it felt for me to be the tall one on the court :)

 

We all had a bit of a rough week too though, cause as I said several times that week: “ain’t no tired like VBS tired.” Anyone who has ever devoted time to the VBS cause will most certainly amen that statement. Tears were a little easier to come by for Wesley and Hazel took some long afternoon naps due to sleeping a little less in her nursery room with her lovely teachers.

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Wesley actually had his birthday the week of Summer Jam and the preschool minister really made him special on the day, just like she did last year. They sang to him, which had a big impact of happiness and embarrassment.

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Daniel, being school aged, got to choose an event to participate in for the week, and his event was archery again this year. At first there was a little glitch that had him in a different week event and he was a little heartbroken. Fortunately, it was made right and he got his choice of archery. He even hit the target about 5 times this year, which made him extremely proud.

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It was very different committing the time to help while having an infant, but I am so happy to say Hazel was pleasant and happy each day. I was glued to my phone waiting for the “Hazel is ready to eat!!” Text that came right around it’s predicted time daily. Fortunately I was always able to get to her working just a few minutes while another adult stepped in briefly to my spot so I could nurse. (Side note: My shirt is intentionally inside out in this photo. It was inside out day, where we learned about being changed from the inside out due to a relationship with Christ, as noted in Romans 12)

 

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All of the wonderful pictures were taken by my friends Kelley (pictured) and Michelle. They are both super fab photographers. All the normal looking pictures were taken by me :)

 

 

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