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.”

Journeying the Tens

In college, fall of my sophomore year, I broke my leg in three places, resulting in a thigh down, no bending your knee, neon orange cast for 6 weeks and a walking book for 3 or so more.

The day it happened, our co-ed intramural soccer team was out on the field practicing. We had advanced to limited soccer skills, with me falling somewhere in the high middle of that skill set. Being it was just practice, some of us had shin guards on while others did not. You can guess which part of the pack I was in at the time. My shin-guardless shin met square on with my friend Eric’s shin-guarded shin and created an explosion of pain.

At the point of impact, I remember seeing stars and crumpling down on the field. After testing the waters of walking, we opted for someone to carry me back to our college ministry’s house. Little swelling or bruising existed, but lots of pain certainly did. A look-over from an off duty nurse gave the diagnosis of “just a sprain” and to “go gently” the next few days.

That night, my roommate later told me that I talked in my sleep, mostly indiscernible mumbles. The next morning, I couldn’t take it anymore; the pain was becoming simply unmanageable. After Thomas, my then sweet and new boyfriend, transported me to the ER, he went inside the to get me a wheelchair. I remember getting out of his truck with my broken leg having spasms, flopping uncontrollably from the knee down, while all three breaks in my bones rattled and I winced and fought back tears, completely unable to make it settle.

Once inside, I was asked to rate my pain. This was an activity I had never recalled doing before. The worker sat before me a laminated chart with faces to help me choose my level 1-10, with 10 being the greatest and deepest pain. One thing I knew for sure was that it hurt. The level of that hurt was the most I had ever encountered. After thinking briefly, I declared, “All I know this is the worst pain I’ve ever felt. But there has to be something in the world that hurts more………..so I am going to say a 9.”

All the people I encountered treated me like some whiny little college girl, for my leg still wasn’t overly swollen or bruised. The doctor that asked the initial questions and examined my leg before x-rays literally said, “This isn’t really a big deal here. If you will just sit still and let me look at your leg, it won’t hurt.” A few x-rays later, the doctor came back into the room and quickly spoke the words “I’m so very sorry. I really did not think your leg was broken at all. You actually have three separate breaks in your left leg.” Turns out I had a valid reason for the pain. The visit ended in a temporary cast and a pain shot in my butt, at which point I made my new and dear boyfriend turn his head and look the other way.

This event successfully stayed at the top of my pain scale experience until August last year. Breaking your face can rank pretty high as well apparently. I never remember anyone asking me at the scene, during the life-flight, or in the ER about my pain level. I guess when people can visibly see a break in your jaw, with your mandible split clear in half, along with a few open wounds on your chin, they don’t need to question too much about 1-10, cause they don’t want you to talk and the existence of pain is obvious. Later, however, when I would want some pain meds, the scale became a point of conversation. When my headaches were debilitating, while my jaw was wired and pressed so tight my teeth ached in every space, crevice, and place, when the site of the titanium plate insertion itched on the inside of my mouth, and within that closed mouth I vomited due to the pain, I wanted to say 10 but never could. I always, at least to my memory, said 9….cause something worse had to exist.

When mom was diagnosed and we began her frequent doctor appointments she was asked to choose her pain level each visit. I would sit next to her and try to spy on her pain scale choice each week. Mostly, mom would circle a 3. I wanted to often jerk the pen and clipboard from her and yell “that’s BS mom!” but I never did anything that dramatic. Some days though, the 3 actually was believable, thankfully. I never saw her circle lower and rarely saw her circle higher. One day, when she was not breathing well, aching, not eating much, and overall in a poor condition, I saw her circle a 7. That very day she was admitted to the hospital and stayed a full week. I think she might have told doctors and nurses a higher number when I wasn’t around, but 7 was the highest she ever admitted to in my presence, and 3 was her average. Eventually, I ended up telling her, “Mom, you can’t keep circling threes on the scale. It’s just not believable.” Her reply? “I know, but right at that very moment it doesn’t hurt too bad and I don’t want to be a trouble patient.”

A few months later, after Hazel’s arrival, months after mom’s diagnosis, I finally got around to reading a book, _The Fault in Our Stars_ by John Green, that my sister-in-law let me borrow when I was a on driving lock-down and still eating all my meals through a straw. I knew the premise “kids have cancer” but that was all. I ended up reading the book in 2 days, and that was not fast enough. Something about three kids to take care of made me put the book down here and there. Turns out, the main character’s name is Hazel, which is something I did not know of before naming my girl. Little did I know at the time that this book would prepare me for so much that was to come, such as mom’s “Last Good Day” and, ultimately, her passing. It was in this book that my choice of 9 finally became clear. If you haven’t read the book, you absolutely should. If you haven’t seen the movie, it is one you need to watch. But if you want to not be spoiled about it, just stop here…… cause in the book, there is a loss, and with that death, Hazel reflects upon the pain she experienced in the ER with her emptiness from losing Gus:

I called it [my ER pain] a nine because I was saving my ten. And here it was, the great and terrible ten, slamming me again and again as I lay still and alone in my bed staring at the ceiling, the waves tossing me against the rocks and then pulling me back out to sea so they could launch me again into the jagged face of the cliff, leaving me floating faceup on the water, undrowned.

The weeks since mom has died have been full tens at times, thrashings against rocky cliffs. Those moments that sneak up on me are the worse, such as Hazel beginning to crawl and me instinctively beginning to send mom the video. Some things you mentally know will be emotionally draining or sensitive, such as Daniel’s upcoming birthday, her birthday this month, Thanksgiving, etc., but those unexpected occurrences are the worse it seems, and this is a journey I’ve only begun.

It makes me figure, too, why mom kept shooting so low on the spectrum when choosing her numbers. I guess when you lose your husband suddenly, while you have 4, 6, and 12 year old children to care for, your pain scale is completely and irrevociably skewed.

I hate that the pain of losing mom is so great, even if we had some time to expect it and prepare some for it. 62 is still just too early to die, even if others have gone much sooner. And in the sadness, I get angry, cause 32 is just simply too young to not have any living parents, yet that is currently my lot.

I’ll never be able to forget her, feel nothing at the significance of my loss. There really isn’t a pain pill that takes away the pain of loss; the pangs in my stomach will always reside. Amidst the 10, however, I find peace knowing she can’t even fathom the concept of a pain scale now. I’m grateful for a faith that she shared with me that tells me this is true.

It is while journeying through the tens that I cling to scripture that can restore my soul, most recently John 16:33: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

HE has overcome, and therefore I can claim the same. I will take heart, even on 10 days, and know that I can have a peace in troubled times.

Punctuation, Anniversaries, and End of Life

I am a bit of a grammar nerd. It hasn’t manifested itself yet into a love of sentence diagramming, and I doubt that it ever will, but I do place great value on proper punctuation and magnificent word choice that can make plain and simple text come alive. These little bits of dots, commas, apostrophes, and lines should not be taken lightly, for their application can totally change the premise of a sentence.

Take for instance this classic example of comma usage: “Let’s eat Momma” or “Let’s eat, Momma” have two entirely different meanings. The first is asking for mom to be ON the dinner plate AS the feast, while the latter is requesting her to join you IN dinner by taking a plate and eating the feast as well. One small little swish of a pen or press of a keyboard button makes an adaptation to the sentence that can alter everything.

A little over a week ago, there was an event at church, and I couldn’t remember if lunch was provided for the kiddos in childcare or not. I texted a friend that was in charge and asked “Do I need to pack a lunch for my boys?” Brooke kindly replied “No, food is provided.” In the midst of busy morning, I gave the text a hasty read and quickly began packing lunches, cause after all, “No food is provided.” Turns out I, the English nerd, didn’t take proper notice of the comma she typed. No, accompanied by a comma, means I didn’t need to pack a lunch, cause one would be provided. When my kiddos showed up with their thermals, it all sorta clicked with me on my critical misread.

Punctuation matters, you see.

Commas aren’t the only critical elements. There are colons, semi-colons, even just a simple period. None seem overly important, but when you try to read a piece of writing where none exist, you realize that them being there is essential. If you don’t have any personal experience with such, just trust me on this one, for I have graded enough essays that have missed the mark in these concepts. It’s simply maddening.

I often teach the rules of punctuation in my classroom, yes even the collegiate one, especially the elements that are most easily confused and misused. The period, called a full-stop by the British, is where you stop reading and complete a sentence. Most can handle this one. Frequently avoided or misused due to lack of knowing how to have the right application is the semi-colon. This little gem works to combine two sentences together. When a sentence could have ended, it doesn’t; details continue on thanks to the punctuation combining with more details. Typically this element is applied in order to create a stronger, more effective sentence.


A year ago today, my life could have very well ended
. I blacked out. I wrecked. I was life flighted to the ER. A year ago today, the baby that was in my womb could have very well ceased to exist any more. Instead, today, I look at a beautiful 6 month old child, healthy and happy, even if a bit drooly from some teething. One year ago, on August 19th, my life could have been a period, ending with no continuation. Grammatically speaking, I could have been a “full stop.” Fortunately, God did not see it fit to call me home, and I was allowed a semi-colon; a possibility for things to end existed but ultimately I was given a continuation. I even have a scar on the middle of my chest, formed by shards of glass and the seatbelt, that oddly enough resemble a semi-colon when I look down at it: a small dot on top with a swoosh underneath.

I have more life to live.

This day has been on the horizon for me, a day I emotionally welcomed yet dreaded, a year anniversary of one of the most life-changing, miraculous, and yet scariest days of my life. At one point I had plans to try and fly in a helicopter, since my first experience in one was a vague memory of floating between consciousness and unconsciousness, restrained by a neck brace and an IV. With life’s craziness though, that idea seemed less of a potential. Sometimes I envisioned being alone on this day, reflective and worshipful; I had big plans to cry.

Yet, a bit unexpectedly, Mom’s sickness and cancer battle suddenly was expedited towards its close. That day definitely trumps the impact of this one. She didn’t get a semi-colon, she got a period, a full-stop. My mom died, sooner than a year after her diagnosis. Just like that, her sentence was over. Period.

Or, maybe not.

There is this one element of punctuation called an ellipsis. Often the ellipsis is used in informal writing to show that the thought has been left a little unfinished, not fully ended or complete. The sentence doesn’t continue on like it would if graced with a semi-colon. The sentence doesn’t end like it would if bestowed a period. It instead trails off, in a series of dots to represent the ongoing nature of the idea.

Mom, being a believer in Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on the cross, had hope of an afterlife, a better place to call home. Her passing isn’t as simple as a full-stop period, nor is it a physical continuation here on earth like a semi-colon might provide. Now, rather, she operates with an elliptic life, one that has trailed off from here on earth only to continue more in heaven, free from suffering and pain. My momma knew of the Everlasting Life that can only be found in God and a life lived in Him.

Although I mourn that there is not time with her here, I rejoice that I will have time with her there….

Geometrical Encounters

Please note, this post is long. I am well aware of that fact. I did not want to take anything out though, and brevity is never necessarily a strong point of mine. I am posting it for my husband who says I never write something unless it pertains to the kids. I am posting it because I read David Platt’s Radical last year. I am posting it because I want to remember it. I am posting it because you need to read it, so please hang with me and read it, in its entirety.

I would not call him someone that I liked, at the time. He was just someone who was smarter than me.

I have never been one to like math, and in fact, I can still recall the queasy feeling in my stomach from when I was in 3rd grade, sitting at the kitchen table with my math brilliant brother, attempting to answer correctly to the multiplication table flash cards. So, when Geometry hit my Junior year in high school, I already felt at a loss. I positioned myself next to one of my best friends, and I was ready to learn. Turns out, my social nature got the best of me and I was moved a few seats away from the BFF to the quietest boy in the class. In fact, he might have been one of the quietest boys in the school. My inner social butterfly was squashed.

Turns out, the move was not so bad after all, for the quietest boy was also the smartest. He was actually a whole year younger than me but was already in the course. Perhaps my luck was not so bad after all!

Soon, I found myself getting help from that quiet boy named Sheldon. He really did not have much to say beyond the assigned problems. I never cheated off him but I sure did tap his brain when trying to master my own angles. Never complaining, Sheldon always helped, and for that I was grateful. Often you would find our desks pushed together during work time, but when the bell rang for lunch, I jetted out with my friends to eat and chat. I had no idea where Sheldon ate his lunch.

One day, my friend and I decided to throw a party. It was going to be a blast, and we were going to invite all of our friends. Rugby, piñatas, Hawaiian shirts, and anything else wild and silly were the platform. Ever so creatively, we titled it our “Piñata Party.” While handing out our handmade invites, I felt a twinge of guilt in my gut when I looked towards Sheldon. I had not really planned to invite him. It was not like he was going to say much anyway. Realizing how snobbish it seemed to pass him over, I extended the small piece of paper to him and smiled. Immediately he said he wanted to come. “Great!” I replied, not completely sure if I meant it or not. Turns out, the boy a whole year younger could not drive and would need a ride. I reluctantly agreed to pick him up.

A day of goofiness seemed like about all he needed to open up and begin to talk and enjoy the company of others. Somewhere in the midst of that day, I began to believe that I actually did like his company and it would not be so bad if the quiet, smart, younger boy actually hung out with my crew more. He seemed to get along with everyone well enough.

Piñata Party turned into an invite into our lunch crew. Lunch crew turned into tennis playing buddy. Tennis playing buddy turned into extra person to join in on capture the flag. And, if he was going to be at all those things, it just made sense to start inviting him to all the activities at my church and the churches of my friends.

All the while, the Lord had started to open my eyes to Sheldon, and I realized how this boy was in need of a relationship with the Lord. God was not someone or something that he ever really considered, so the idea of “needing” this “Savior” was foreign. Suddenly, I was the smart one tutoring the one that needed to learn.

As it turns out, Sheldon was still too young to drive, so any event that he attended was courtesy of me and my powder blue 1981 Honda. A commute just so happened to yield a contained audience member. This is when our deep conversations about the Bible and Jesus would begin, and while we traveled, I would ask questions of him and he of me. I would take him home after a church service and we would discuss what occurred or what we studied that night the whole way.

A gift of a Bible and more activities later, Sheldon was softening. He knew there was more to this life, and he wanted it. I had been praying for basically an entire year when, the summer before I began my Senior year, Sheldon accepted Christ. That very summer his parents also gave him a truck for his birthday. The new wheels meant more freedom to join in on all sorts of other events to help grow his faith. It was humbling to know my tutor turned tutored was now in the body of Christ and that I was able to play a major role in the conversion.

My entire Senior year Sheldon was a friend. We ate lunch together often and people that were acquaintances to him before had become his true friends. He also began to make friends with people in his own class, which was great, for my friends and I were set to graduate soon, and I did not want him back to square one, quiet and friendless, whenever we moved on to college. He even began to share his excitement for his new life in Christ with his parents, who were not very open to hearing. They adored me, and they were grateful to know their son had begun to blossom and gain friends, but they were not real thrilled with the idea of a God playing a role in it all.

Sheldon often drove around 30 minutes one-way to get to church 2 days a week. He would frequently make an extra trip out on Mondays for prayer group when he was not working at the grocery store. You could see him growing spiritually.

As the close of the year came, I was thrilled to be preparing to embark on an overseas mission trip. I was literally going to the other side of the world, without anyone I knew, and I was going to serve and disciple for an entire month. It was a grand adventure, to say the least. I knew God had good things in store for me while there. This meant that my normal summer break good-byes were intensified due to the fact I would not be coming back to high school the next year, and for the majority of the summer before beginning college, I would be unreachable to all my friends. I would call my mom perhaps once a week but forget speaking with anyone else. To top it off, I did not even have an e-mail address with which to communicate.

Fast forward through a life-changing month away. At 17, I had signed up to be a short-term missionary for the summer, and it was all I had prayed for in the previous months. When back on US soil and after hugging my mom, I began to tell her all about my adventure, filling her in on all the highlights, letting her know how mighty of a God we serve.

When I look back on that time of emotional spillage, I can see that something was off. I was a bit oblivious to it at the time, but when I pause and reflect, her emotions were just not right.

Mom let me talk, and then she let me talk some more. We stopped at an exit not too far from the airport to get or do something, which I cannot recall now. I remember being in her car and having her look at me with a face of pity. It confused me because pity should not have been an emotion on her radar after having me back next to her after a month and especially not after all the things I had been relaying to her from my trip. The face of pity turned into an odd sadness. As she sat behind the steering wheel and I in the passenger seat, our eyes locked and I knew something was officially wrong, big time.

The words “Summer…..Sheldon is dead” came out of her mouth. I immediately grabbed her hand, turned my head away from her towards the window and let out a blend of a shriek and a gasp. Momentarily, the world stopped. Everything turned blurry from the tears in my eyes and my heart sank into a deep pit. From the rooftop to the ditch in a flash, I was emotionally crushed.

The word “How?!” was all I could muster. My mom then reached into her purse and began to pull out a small notepad that had the name of a local funeral home on it. As she opened it, the details of his accidental death were given. While mowing his yard for his parents one hot day in the summer, Sheldon ran over an extension cord that had been out in the grass. Turning off the mower and reaching underneath to remove the surprise cord, Sheldon received an intense electrical shock from the exposed wires touching the metal blades. It was enough to kill him. His parents found him dead in the grass when they came home from work.

It all occurred while I was on the other side of the world. Mom had already attended the funeral service by the last time I talked with her on the phone. She had decided it was best not to tell me while away, for there was nothing I could do. There was not a way to get home in enough time. It was futile. Instead, she just kept it quiet and decided to tell me in person.

After some tears, mom handed me the obituary paper and the funeral pamphlet. He looked so nice in his ROTC uniform. While I gazed at his image, she read to me from the small notebook she had taken out earlier. In it she had written detailed notes that covered all aspects of his service.

She told me how his parents had asked the pastor at our church to speak at the funeral, as well as how they had specifically mentioned to him not to do any sermon. They just wanted him to say a few words and end it. Knowing Sheldon was a believer, the pastor knew he would have wanted that information relayed, despite his parents not being in the faith. In fact, Sheldon would have wanted the words of Christ shared even more so in their presence, so that is what the pastor did. Mom had written down every song that was played, every scripture that was read, and I think even every flower that was present. She wanted me to be able to know all the details, even if in abstenstua.

A few days later, I went to Sheldon’s parents’ house to pay my respects and mourn with them for a while. They were glad to see me. Sheldon’s mom had set aside a few items that she knew he would want me to have. Although reluctantly, I took from her hands a tennis racquet. She told me that he only played because I had introduced him to the sport. I tried to refuse it; she insisted. So, I left Sheldon’s old home that day with the racquet given to me by his parents, as a reminder to me of their only child– their only child who was now gone.

I still have the racquet, along with the service reminders and memories. I still fully believe that Sheldon is heaven waiting for another tennis match one day when I get there. I still pray that his parents have found a faith in God to help them and heal them. I still remind myself of how a happenstance Geometrical encounter for me turned out to be a life-altering encounter for Sheldon. I still remind myself of how a happenstance Geometrical encounter turned out to be a life-altering encounter for me.

(Left is a prom photo of Sheldon, which he gifted to me in 2000, as I prepared to graduate. The second image is what he wrote on the back of his photo.)