Tag Archives: death

Real Life

butterflies-cute-jar-junel-nature-Favim.com-142556I fell to sleep at 2:00 a.m. last night after being pretty shaken up by the recent death of a dear mentor from my past, Don Rhymer, who encouraged me as a Young Life staff person in my newlywed days.  Married for 29 years and father to 3 really neat kids, he was truly an example of a man who lived a good life of strong faith and great relationships. He was one of those people I said goodbye to in California and hoped to spend time with again in future days.  He was a good man.  You can read his story here http://radiatedon.com. (warning, he has a great sense of humor, you’ll laugh through tears at his writing)

Eyes swollen from crying, I was woken again just before 4:00 as my 2 year old wanted me to come cuddle with her.  My baby chimed in wanting to be nursed, so he and I crawled into bed with her and I tried to sleep while she tossed and turned and he suckled. At 4:25, she started to choke and spew throw-up into the air, all over me and the baby and I leapt into action, babe still attached, calling to my husband for back-up.  Just one of many crazy days of parenting.

Still, it is a pretty great life I have.  I don’t say that as a trite response to hardship, nor to brag, nor because it is perfect.  It is far from perfect.  I am sleep deprived and a little spacey at best, impatient and crabby at my worst.  I take a shower an average of a few times a week, and I am usually wearing a shirt with day old spit-up (I know, gross huh?).  I figure with mountains of laundry, why make more?  We have some business concerns that feel pretty daunting.  My marriage, sayeth the marriage and family therapist, is not at it’s best.  We are in that post-baby, well post stressful-summer –  heck let’s just be real honest and say post-becoming-a-pastor’s-family (there should be a term for that) – season of busy life where we are looking across at the person we most cherish and adore and thinking “Hey, you look familiar? Do I know you? We should hang out sometime.”  Who has any time?

Especially those crazy folk like us who keep having all these kids.  And speaking of kids, on a regular basis we worry about them, that one or more of our children is doomed for jail, the psych-ward or the streets. Obviously I exaggerate, but you know what I mean parents out there.  I could go on with a myriad of worries, imperfections, faults and failures, but what I am overwhelmed with right now is what a great life I have.  I don’t say that without the awareness that there are those who suffer, really truly suffer from very hard things, and my concerns really are very small in comparison.  But probably because my life is so far from perfect, there are divine moments where huge gratitude over something very small overtakes me, and it keeps me going.

It happened when I was holding my fussing baby today, doing what I could to help him fall to sleep.  My two year old was just lulled to napping down the hall.  My baby’s cries softened with each of my bounces.  His sweet face burying into the space between my arm and ribcage to try and block out the world. Eyes roll back, then closing, and the big sigh of sleep breathing taking over.  Isn’t naptime the best? I am standing in the quiet of my room and glance over at the big comfy white chair near the window, where I rarely have time to sit these days, and then over to the row of books beside it.  The one on the end is my favorite, Great With Child by Debra Rienstra.  On the cover a glowing belly bulges from under a soft shirt.  Her posture is laid back, relaxed, contemplative in it’s pose. My heart warms at the idea of sitting in that chair for a few moments to read it – once both my little ones are napping, just before the big kids get home from school, when the laundry is done, the meals are cooked, the clothes mended, the children listened to, played with, kissed and held and loved, and well, probably never, or at least maybe not for 5 years or so.  It would be pure indulgence!

And it is just the possibility of that moment that fills me with gratitude.  Because really I could sit and read, and sometimes I do, when everyone is all tucked in for the night and I am feeling rebellious enough to leave some of the work of all this for tomorrow.  It is not often, but that’s okay, because this will not always be and I try hard to remember what I know so well.  That nearly 9 year old down the hall used to be this small and I strain to remember the details to answer her request for stories of when she was little.  I wish we could go visit those long days of being a first time mom, when the road ahead seemed so long and full of unknowns.  I know these days pass by quickly and my ache to capture them is akin to gathering the scent of summer in a glass jar to carry me through winter.  Impossible.  I had two full journals and a detailed baby book written to my daughter by the time she turned one.  This little guy’s baby book stares blankly at me by my bedside table.  How do I start, when I know it will end?  I take pictures, thousands of them, and they sit frozen on my phone and computer.  What is it now, 20 cumulative years of photo memory books for each year of my children’s lives to complete?  Huh, maybe I should let that one go.  But that kind of makes my heart hurt and my lungs get tight.  They will grow up too fast, and cliche beyond cliches, I know I will miss these precious days.

And so I look with a big heart of hope at that favorite book of mine, knowing one day I will have time to read it again, and if the day is not today, it is for damn good reason. Because the endless mundane and meaningless laundry means my kids have lived a good day and will be clothed tomorrow.  The meals that come together without too much creativity these days, means their bodies are nourished to grow and be healthy.  The listening and the mending and the kissing of owies and the reading of stories and the cleaning up throw-up and the work work work of it all is so very worth the opportunity to nurture these most precious souls for a season. When my house is empty and quiet for years to come, creating those photo books won’t mean I am ignoring a little voice or risking more sleep deprivation.  I am not sure I will be able to bear it then, taking in all that has passed, so for today, I try to breath deep into my imperfect life and take in the scent of a very good season.

Don, it would be a gift to know you were hanging out with my Fisher in heaven.  He would be almost four now and I am sure he’d get a kick out of being your buddy.  I wish all my kids could have met you.


Darkness & Light: Where He Abides

01 Winter Song (with Ingrid Michaelson)

Today is a day of joy and pain. It is the unexpected birthday of my baby girl’s planned birth, on the anniversary of my baby boy in heaven’s funeral – this Winter Solstice day of the Darkest Night.

Three years ago on this day I gathered with my husband, living children, family and friends to mourn the loss of my full term son Fisher.  One year later, after two long years of pregnancy, I gave birth to my baby girl, a planned induced birth that was to be on the 20th and lasted into the wee hours of this Solstice morning.  I heard the beautiful cry of life this day where bliss and loss have become good friends.  My babies will meet in heaven one day, all six of them, and there will be laughter to replace all these tears.  There is laughter here too.  Both I embrace.

Too many deaths. Too many thoughts this month, with too little time to write.  Here are a few formed to words…

Lord, I stand with you at the edge of a beautiful life overlooking the valley of the shadow of death.  I rage with you against the horror of it, small and safe beneath your wing. Knowing you are love, that you loved my beloved and that you love me.  Still though I wonder.

I look at you, in love, wondering if maybe you betrayed me somehow by allowing death to take my child.  Were you a willing participant Lord?  Did Satan come to you as with Job, and you said: let it be? Allowed the boy I’d given every ounce of my being to nurture and love for 10 long months to die before his life began? How could you have obliged?  How do I not give you ownership when I honor your hand in everything else?  What was your role in this?

I know you did not point the gun, twist the cord, that took the breath he never breathed.  But you knew. You were there. You are here now.  Your omnipresence often comforting, implicates participation.  It is so hard reconciling death with your love.

Still I stand with you.  Still I trust you.  Even though I do not understand.  Even more now, I know your love and know you conquer death.

If only it was in my lifetime so that I, and so many others, might not have to suffer so.

It is too hard to bear my Lord, so hard, nearly incomprehensible to me, even now.  Only you know the searing pain that radiated throughout my body, that was cried out from the depths of my soul, that left me grasping for my own breath that might sustain my life.  Only you know this Lord.  Only you know me.  Only this brings incomprehensible comfort.

I praise you.  Fearfully and wonderfully, I praise you.


Process or Prophecy

I signed the waiver detailing the inherent risks in travel and read the recommended reasons for travel insurance. One was to get my body home in the case of my death. I feared leaving my children, “what if something happens to them while I am gone?” I thought, “what if something happens to me and they have to endure the loss?” It was unbearable to consider.

But suddenly I had arrived in Italy and Scott was with me and everything was as we had remembered on our honeymoon. I was happy and at peace. It was warm, the sun was shining and we were walking hand in hand down a cobblestone street in Montalcino, smiling at one another and taking it all in. The road was wide with tall stone houses all in a row to our left and the low town wall beside it with a view of the bright green Tuscan landscape rolling beyond. Even the furniture in our room was familiar, pieces had come from our home. I felt welcome and secure.

Then Scott was gone and I was walking by myself again along the road looking out over the bright green hills touching azure blue sky, signature cypress trees, and a few terra cotta colored villas when two parachuters came gliding slowly down from high above. It was a breathtaking sight, I felt the allure of their adventure. Except one was having trouble. The red parachute was billowing all around his body, sucked to him with only small pillows of trapped air inside. His arms and legs were flapping frantically to push it away and up so that it could gather air again. My heart was pounding as he started falling faster. I started running toward him. Someone must help him! I must do something!

Running closer I knew I was helpless. I was too far away. Immediately I prayed, big, strong, you-better-hear-me-God prayers and I ran to the edge of the green, then gasped for air, and jolted awake.

Body sweating, heart still racing, I was trembling as I looked at the clock, 4 a.m. I started to cry, the dream like a postcard image burning bright colors in my mind. It was too real, too symbolic. Was it process of prophesy?

Over the next few days I couldn’t shake the fear I felt in that moment and wondered if I was going to be able to do this, if was I making a big mistake. Our family has already been devastated by grief, could I knowingly make a choice that involves some level of risk? Oh Dear God, these inevitable losses will happen someday, I know full well, but please not now, nor anytime too soon, I just don’t think I could bear it quite yet.


Unrest

On this Sabbath Sunday, so soon after my restful Saturday, I fall into bed exhausted, no rather weary. It was a long day, marked by goodness to be sure: I celebrated the life of my oldest, watched with pure joy as she was celebrated by dear friends, laughed and skated with her, talked long after her early bedtime about the day’s events and some deeper things between a mother and a daughter. I looked endearingly upon my son as he talked up a storm with a younger sister of my daughter’s friend, barely an acquaintance to him, and yet he chats easily and laughs and makes silly faces as if they go way back. He’s just the best thing ever, a charmer who is charming because he genuinely loves. And lest we forget the littlest, drug around all day to church and errands and party, no place to nap or have peace for a little one who relies on it, but for a few precious minutes fell deeply to sleep in my arms like she used to when brand new and I pulled her heavily breathing face near to mine to breath her in. I felt goodness and peace in the velvet smooth of her sweet cheek. I needed her slumber to force stillness upon me for just those few moments today.

I began reading “One Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp weeks ago and can’t get past the first few chapters as each time I pick it back up and get caught back up I get stuck re-reading the beginning chapters.

“The end will come.
Doctor’s warning or not the end will come, and this life of the bare toes across grass, the sky raining spring down on eyelashes, the skin spread close under sheets, blink of the fireflies on dusky June nights – all this will all end…

“Which road through this brief land? What is all most important? How to live the fullest life here that delivers into the full life after?…

How does one live ready, and always?…But, someone, please give me – who is born again but still so much in need of being born anew – give me the details of how to live in the waiting cocoon before the forever begins?…

How do we live fully so we are fully ready to die?”

Does anyone else live tormented by these questions?

She details unrest and longing and deep awareness of beauty and goodness that so resonates with my soul. The book begins with a vivid scene of her great loss, she gets it, and she goes on to write of the longing for meaning in the everyday-ness of life. I get that.

I will never be carefree to the reality of death and great loss ever again in this lifetime. Fearfulness which took residence years before great loss even hit me personally (but surely to those I dearly love, a trauma of it’s own), when I only held the awareness of the possibility, now takes a permanent place in my lense on life. I see the range of color, the bright, the beautiful, the rare, the true, but always there is the possibility of black, always there is awareness of what might never be ever more.

“Perfect love drives out fear” (I John 4:18) I know, I have that one memorized, along with all the other verses on fear. Made myself a bookmark once. Diligently wrote scripture on my heart. But I am not perfect and still I get scared. I know the verse refers to God’s perfectness but what does that really mean to me when I know that bad things can still happen under his perfect watch? I can trust, (I know, I know) his perfect plan, (yes, yes) but sometimes that perfect plan hurts so damn bad that it is impossible to view life without the knowledge of what might be, both the glorious and horrendous. In full awareness of all that is awesome and beautiful, searing, gut wrenching, and life altering, pain can happen, is happening now, everywhere. My awareness of this, does not weaken my faith but brings me closer to my God who knows this pain even greater than I. Everywhere He is aware of it, and still He is good. I choose to believe. I hope to let go.

I don’t live dark or leary in the day to day and my faith can hold the mindset that I am safe if I just think I am because it is He who is keeping me safe. I know there is a plan. On some level that is comforting, sometimes. Call me Peter, ye is me.

In the wake of loss, the pressure is on to live purposefully even more so, as the stark reality of an un-promised tomorrow always lingers, for me, my children (God no!), my soul-mate. So as I pursue things of purpose, parenting as if it was essential as oxygen, always, always aiming to please God, acting as if His pursuit of me is my uphill climb, much that feels purposeful can also ring hollow, feel “busy”, nothing like the mountain top high seemingly promised. And lucky for me, one who blames so easily, most profusely myself, I then take the burden upon myself – not spiritual enough, discerning enough, self-aware enough, hard-working enough, enough, enough.

I could end with verses that are hopeful, stay true to my title and the undercurrents that carry me along and buoy me to full breath, but the raging surface of the deep waters tonight is tumultuous, and that is where I am. This too true pieces of my humanity. Not at all what I would assign hope to, and yet there is my most favored book of Ecclesiastes that speaks of those times, those times for everything. I feel them all, everything.


Communion

photograph by Mauro Guerrero


Flesh of my flesh
bone of my bone
I held his body
weeping
in my arms

clinging to life
no longer

blood dripped down
nestled
in my clinging embrace
on the shoulder
of soft black bamboo pajamas
worn to receive him tenderly

I neither changed
nor showered
for days
to keep him there
as one carries the visceral
of every child

so heartbreakingly loved

This is my body
broken for you
This is my blood
poured out

Do this
in remembrance of me

Regularly, and still
I dine on Christ
at once full aware
of the depth
of my starvation
and the height
of incomprehensible sustenance


Remembering Days

Last year on this day we spread Fisher’s ashes and spent the day doing special things to remember him as a family.  We gave each other alone time and then reconvened at a park over-looking the water where we are reminded of Fisher.  The kids played and we got to smile and cry  and remember throughout the day.

One day that year, when Barley lost a beloved helium balloon and had started to cry, he soothed himself through is tears saying “now baby Fisher will have a special balloon in heaven.”

I was so touched by his remembering and loving thought towards his baby brother.  That kid has a huge heart!

So that had to be our special thing.  We each picked out a color we wanted to give to Fisher and wrote our special messages to him before launching them up to heaven.

In my time alone, the public beach dark at dusk and empty in winter, I cried out to heaven on the shores where his ashes were spread.  I was full and pregnant with my new baby girl due in a few days, anxious, hopeful, angry, heartbroken and hurting.  So much was the same, but so much was different in our lives.

We came home and watched his memorial service, the video we made of his life  and fell into bed exhausted but full from a meaningful day remembering.

I would love to hear others’ ideas of how they intentionally remember a loved one on their birthday or on the day of their loss.


Hiccups

I remember with some clarity that last day of his life.  He was six days overdue.  I spent most of the morning at the kitchen table, most of the day in my pajamas.  I was tired, sick with a bad cough, large in my overdue time with a big baby boy in my belly.  I had been doing so much to prepare for him, to care for my 4 1/2 year old girl and 2 1/2 year old boy.  It was nice to sit.

I sat at the kitchen table decorated with green and red, messy from remaining breakfast and the odd craft project with my laptop in front of me.  I positioned myself with my back to the sliding door so I could take in the sights and sounds of the house and my beloved people.  We were all in waiting.

My mom, who’d arrived a few days before to help when he arrived, and my 2 1/2 year old Barley, so excited to be a big brother, were passing the time by making gingerbread together.  I took pictures of their happiness.

We were happy and playful that day.  It felt like a real Christmas Vacation day when you are a kid and it is so fun to be at home from school and yet you’re just kind of wandering around wondering how to make the best of all this time.  There is one picture burned in my mind when both kids stuffed their bellies full of their animals and my mom took a profile picture of the three of us.  My belly was huge.  Our smiles were huge, that day before everything changed.

Mid-morning Fisher had hiccups, as he had nearly every day before.  We felt his in those moments, having no idea it would be the last time.  Barley’s little hands moved below my big belly, my mom’s on top and mine guided each of theirs to the subtle bumps like a blind person adeptly passing fingers across braille words.  I knew just where to press to feel his little back for thumps, I knew him, inside and out.

Often his hiccups and kicks came at night, or that is when I was most aware of them.  I remember cuddling in my big queen bed with my little 4 1/2 year old girl Bug, her hands and head taking in the wonder of this little life inside me.  I remember the awe in her eyes, the smile on her face, explaining once again how it all worked.  She was going to be at the birth; she wanted to see him come out.

I was sitting at the kitchen table ordering a custom made stamp of his name for his baby announcement.  I’d gathered gray blue-green paper with clay colored stars, a stamp that said “Joy” and a silver star brad to hold his picture over red paper.  It was going to be a play on a Christmas theme, this son who was suppose to be born in the season of remembering our Savior’s birth.  I poured over fonts, this one or that one, measured out size and visualized placement.  I am a thoughtful decision maker, some, my husband mainly, would say slow.  I finalized the sale just in time to take a shower before my OB appointment.

It was late afternoon and snow was starting to fall in Seattle.  A hot shower felt good.

While Scott took his shower we had those few stolen moments to talk that parents of toddlers have. “When do you think this baby is going to come?” he said.

“I just don’t feel like he is going to, well not today” I said, “but I want to bring my bag for the hospital to this appointment though, just in case.”

In all my three pregnancies, I had never brought my bag of things to an OB appointment before.  In the steamy warm room I wiggled my naked round belly dancing around on the soft white bath mat.  “Maybe I can wiggle this baby out of me!”

We both laughed at how funny I looked.  How audacious of me to be so silly!  I often remember that last carefree moment.

I put a few more necessary things in my suitcase; a second outfit for Fisher, an extra blanket, two more cozy pairs of socks for me and a few toiletries.  It made us a few minutes late getting out the door, but I was determined to bring these things along, again, just in case.  Scott wouldn’t take my advice and left his things at home, he thought I was being overly prepared but obliged the “crazy pregnant lady notions.”  I like to be prepared for things.

The kids were napping and since my mom was here to watch them we let them stay sleeping.  We thought we might even grab a warm drink and a little time together after the appointment.  There is a Starbucks below the OB office and I fondly remember going there after many of my appointments with our first baby, when it was just us and we could do things like that, linger over a conversation and hang in the lull of anticipation without any little ones with needs at our feet or to quickly return to at home.

We’d been bringing the kids to all the appointments, getting them used to the idea of a new baby in any way we could.  They loved to hear the heartbeat on the doppler.  Thank God they were sleeping and that my mom was here.  Thank God.

The falling snow compounded our lateness as the traffic was not moving near our house.  I was anxious to get there and knew it was my fault we were late.  We re-routed ourselves and headed through downtown Seattle, where it wasn’t moving much faster.  I called my office to tell them how late we were running and offered to reschedule.  “No, just come in” the receptionist said “if you can get here in 20 minutes Dr. B will see you as her last patient.”

The last patient of the day meant the other pregnant women would mostly be gone. That was a gift from God too.

These small bits of provision on this most horrible of days gave me hope that Someone, a loving God whom I don’t fully understand or know how He works and wish above all else He had spared my son, but still, a loving God was taking care of me in all this.  In so many profound and often unexplainable ways, I was cared for.