Sunday, May 10, 2015

Seen and Unseen



I am struggling with what to say for Mother's Day because it's not just about my motherhood, but about my mom and the loss of her son, and it's about the children of my friend Kara, recently slipping away to Heaven, and leaving them wondering what to do as their classmates create Mother's Day crafts to bring home to a warm embrace. It's about driving Kara's van and thinking of the time she spent in that seat, speaking love and kindness into the hearts of her children, and the echo now in the silence of her absence.These losses forever change the innocence of a day that is supposed to be about flowers picked by tiny hands, and home-made coupon books for chores, and backrubs, and breakfast in bed.

There are mothers that long to be acknowledged, validated, understood by our tired eyes and ponytails and minivans, and insanely proud-happy smiles when we look in the faces of our little sweetlings.  There are also mothers unseen, with a sadness behind their eyes and perfectly vacuumed cars because the little ones that made them mothers have slipped from this life, leaving aching holes that aren't filled, and often aren't acknowledged.

Have a compassionate heart this Mother's Day and climb into the shoes of a grieving mother or a motherless child, and just sit with them right in the middle of their tears; just be.   There is salt poured into an open wound on this day, and souls just wanting, needing to be recognized, loved, met where they are.

For all the mothers, seen and unseen, this day is for you.  Even separated by life and death, you are still a mother, you are.

For all the children  with hearts aching for the love of a mother, or grieving the loss of a mother, you are her baby, you will always be her baby, from now until forever.




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Sunday, March 1, 2015

Your birthday...without you.




My Dear Little Sweet Pea,

It's hard to imagine you would be turning 4 years old today.  I love 4, because it always reminds me that was the age I first have memories of my own childhood, so I always get excited when one of my own little sweetlings reaches that benchmark.  I imagine you feeling so grown up, yet being so small; an age of pigtails and choosing your favorite colors, playdates and independence, but still crawling into mommy's bed in the night.


There are things I am sad I will never know, like your favorite flavor of cake, and the sound of your voice as you talk to grandparents on the phone calling to wish you happy birthday.  Would you painstakingly pull off little thumbnail-sized bits of wrapping paper like your little brother, or would you tear madly through the tape and bows to see what's underneath?  And where, oh where would you choose to have your daddy take you out for your special birthday lunch?

We may not know all your favorites, my girl, but it will not stop us from celebrating anyway.  Celebrating your birth, your life, your victories, and your safe journey Home.  I feel like I am the one who got the greatest gift on your birthday; the gift of you.


Each year that we have not gotten to birthday shop for you, we have picked a gift for another special little girl who is just beginning life in the same NICU halls we walked on the day of your birth.  We wrap it all up girly, with a special note telling of your life, your legacy and we hope it will bring a flicker of joy to another family beginning a journey they never imagined.


This birthday, there was something else I wanted to give.  There are things of yours on days my heart hasn't felt so raw that I have been able to pass on to close friends or family knowing they will use them well and remember you in their going.  There has been one thing though that I every time I try to decide what I should do with it, my throat burns hot with a lump too thick to forget.  Your baby swing.  That fancy, cushy, comforting little seat that we so carefully chose to gently and softly cradle your aching little head and fragile body.  It swung you smoothly for miles and miles as it calmed your anxious heart and lulled you to dreaming again.  I just haven't been able to bear the thought of just giving it away, or selling it, or anything else.  This one symbol of you has just pulled so hard on my wounded heart strings.  Well I talked to one of our sweetest and kindest nurses in the NICU, Lori, and wouldn't you know it, she got right back to me and said they would take it to use for the little loves bundled in those lonely NICU rooms.  Those crying little sweeties not understanding why their mommies don't come to visit will get to rock away to a peaceful escape where you once snuggled.  The hurting, blurry minds shaking side effects they didn't sign up for will nap with the comfort of soothing sounds and motion, and you, Ellianna Grace, will have made one more tiny footprint in this fading world, and placed a healing kiss on my mommy heart.

Dropping off Ellianna's swing

Happy birthday, my Love.  We celebrate you and every moment of joy you have brought to our lives.  I love you~ bottom of the ocean, top of the sky.

Love,
Mommy


Monday, February 23, 2015

It's just my brain, not my mind...

Many of you know the battle I have been engaged in the last few years, and some of you may not.  I do not widely share details because I don't want my struggle to become my identity.  There have been times I have felt frustration when meeting up with people who would say "how are you feeling" or "what are the doctors saying," instead of wondering how I am doing as a person, as a mom, as a woman with dreams and emotions and cravings for cold beer and hot wings just like the rest of you.  I am not what happened to me, I am so much more.



That being said, ok, I'll talk about it.  It has been a difficult few years wading through this.  Between stretches of feeling strong and well and brave, there have been cycles of unfathomable weakness, agonizing pain, and joy-stealing defeat.  There have been periods of weeks where I feel like I spend more days sitting in a hospital or doctor's office than I do anywhere else.  All of the testing and trying and  treatments leaving me wondering if I felt worse before the medicine, or after.



Right now, with some questions answered and many remaining, I'm taking a hiatus from the needles and the side effects and the seeing doctors' faces in all my days.  I'm giving my body a chance to respond to some more natural therapies, and cashing the extra time in on the things, well the someones, that I love.  Having to step away from my passion on the ambulance for awhile seemed devastating at first, but experiencing the strengthening in the slowing of time has brought hope to my broken frame, and perspective and empathy to my heart, as well as to the loves caring for me.


There are so many voices willing to extend input and suggestion, and I ask that you please give us the freedom we need to pursue the avenues we have chosen.  There is so much to medicine, and so many possible equations that could be the catalyst to complete healing, but it can be overwhelming, and certainly impossible to try every regimen and procedure that's out there.

When you look at me, please see past my illness...because really, it was there before you even knew to look for it.  Sure, there will be some days harder than others, but I'm still a wife, a mommy, a paramedic, a hemiplegic? Ehh, just makes things more interesting.


I appreciate your prayers as we change gears for awhile, that I would continue to gain strength and energy, relief from pain, and my story would bring glory to the One who chose it for me. 



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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Cloudless

I have a 2 year old who has mastered slowing down to see the beauty around him. I mean, like, daily I feel ashamed when his sweet innocence and gratitude reminds me of how busy and ungrateful I let myself become.

One of these reminders is  that every single morning this darling little youngster goes charging to the front door to see the sunrise.  As soon as he confirms the morning sky is ablaze with the hues of a rising sun, he dashes off to gather the rest of the family members to ensure they have not overlooked this 5 minutes of brilliance on display.  He takes them one by one to the front door, and then to the front window, and then attempts to drag them to the upstairs windows for the best and most breathtaking views of  daybreak.  I will attempt to put some of the videos of this ritual on the blog...

Flaming morning sky

Breathtaking views from the front porch

With the warmer weather we have been having the last few days, there have been less clouds in the morning sky, which has had a profound impact on the canvas of the rising sun.  On the first of these warm days, Colby ran to the window in expectation, but then turned toward me with disapproval on his face as he pointed out the window.  When I peered out to see what  he was scowling at, I saw instead of the blazing oranges, reds, and yellows of our usual dawn, there were instead pale, creamy pastels of pink and yellow that faded into a muted blue sky.  My answer was quick, took little thought; "Yeah, the sunrises are not as pretty when there aren't any clouds, are they buddy?"  I got about 4 steps away before I heard what I had just said.

There you go again, little one, teaching me great big lessons with your little, tiny, wise, and intuitive heart.

Isn't that so true?  The sunrises of our life are so much more breathtaking when we have the stormy clouds to compare them to.  It was a poignant week for me to be reminded of this simple truth.  I had just emerged from a few of the hardest, lowest weeks I had been through in awhile.  After long days of having to lay at home, completely dependent on other people, riddled with pain and exhaustion and defeat, I was back on my feet with a surge in my energy, a dwindling in my pain, and a soul that feel renewed in hope as my days became more manageable.    How amazing those days felt, how encouraged I was, BECAUSE of the profound lows I had just experienced.  I would not have realized how beautiful this strength was if I did not have those dark clouds to reflect it off of.

Sunset is equally stunning



What clouds are you facing?  Can you step back and see how they reflect the coming sun in your days?


Pause my music player in the margin on the right, and make sure your volume is turned up so you can hear this!!!

video



video

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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Whatcha Waiting For?!


These past few weeks have been a wee bit... draining.  After spending most days barricaded in the homestead, I have made purposeful effort to get us out a few times, so the kids would know life around us still exists.  Ok, maybe not that bad, but still, my little loves need some kind of normalcy.  One particular weekend recently it took a lot of gusto, but despite our main morning motivator being away for a few weeks on business, I managed to get us all ready and out the door.

I was well aware, because of the amount of makeup I kept arranging and rearranging on my face, that I looked, ummm, not so much.  I looked a lot like I felt, and it wasn't very pretty.  This is what really struck me that day though; the day that my insides showed up so blatantly on my outsides.  That morning, several people that I had seen time and again, even reached out to, purposefully made their way to me to reach out, to extend friendship, help, concern.  There is nothing wrong with that, no, I was weary beyond my own capacity, desperate for the hands of others to help carry what I could not.  What nudged my conscience though was the timing... why do we wait, dear friends?  Why do we pose in the background until we see the dark circles of defeat in their faces, the heavy limp and labored breath that announce the weight of the battle being fought?  I do it, same as you do.  We are timid, passive, exclusive.

Shuffling back to the safety of my nest, I scowled at myself, knowing I had been approached because I looked so startling,  and thought if we had talked sooner, these kind strangers would already have known my road to here, even on the days it has not shown on the outside. Then I thought of all the times I have not stopped to know; to catch that a friend was struggling, to realize a kindness I could extend, to see that all the cashier needed at the grocery store was someone to genuinely care about how they were doing.  We assuredly can not run around being all things to all people, but let's step out, you and I, and see what we can help carry for those around us.

I guarantee you, there are battles being waged all around you that you will never see from the outside.  Don't wait; palm up, reach it out.  You do not have to win their battle, just help lighten the load; commit to pray for someone (and then really do it), send a meal, invite someone over for a meal, drop a card in the mail, pick up a friend's grocery list and debit card and do the shopping for them... there are endless ways to make a dent, to help fuel hope, and to help someone who is struggling feel less alone.  And someday when you shuffle in feeling ragged, those people you have invested in will be right there ready to infuse that love right back into you.

What holds you back from reaching out?  Who comes to your mind that you can extend a hand to this week?



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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Musings in an MRI

My friend Kara, who has had more than her share of time in the bellows of an MRI scanner, now warily refers to any type of this machine as a "snort."  Borrowed from the tender children's book "Are You My Mother?" the nickname appropriately describes the noisy and unfriendly grunting that greets you as you come face to face with this gift of modern medicine.


Earlier this week, as I lay for what seemed an eternity in the confinement of one of these monstrosities, I wondered what kind of responses one might get should they interview a few guests wrapping up their visit with one of these magnetic monsters.  It occurred to me that many unsuspecting victims may in fact have no concept of what they have just agreed to crawl into, and with the experience fresh on my mind, what better time to do a public service in making sure my fellow MRI mates know exactly how to prepare for their own deafening journey through what I have affectionately nicknamed "Monstro."

Yep, that's exactly it, the gargantuan whale from the terrifying old Disney movie Pinocchio; Monstro.  Most fitting name I could come up with, seeing how this thing is gigantic, yet when you're inside it you feel less like you are stretching out in the roominess, and more like you are being squeezed through the intestinal track of something intent on digesting you.


The first hint of concern that popped into my head occurred as the man who would be operating the machine walked me back to where it would take place, and his first sentence was, "this is gonna be a long haul."  As he proceeded to explain how the extent of my MRI exams was going to take hours as they scanned, gave injections, and then re-scanned, and how if I so much as had a sniffle or a deep breath it would throw the whole thing off and they would have to start over, I almost felt as though he was trying to talk me out of it; send me screeching back out the long, slick hallway, aborting the mission in my terror, and thus sparing him whatever agony he was about to endure sitting behind that tinted window.  Well, since I didn't have the luxury of opting out of the information my doctors needed from this scan, I assured him I could keep still long enough to avoid prolonging the process for either of us.  Seemingly satisfied with my response, he ducked back behind the mysterious tint of glass to make sure this process was ready to move along.

Another young man directed me to lay flat on this bobsled of sorts, thus baring my legs to the temperatures of the room, which somehow felt colder than the blizzard gusts of snow I had gotten caught in on my way in from the parking lot.  Mind you, I was already wearing two pairs of loud and ridiculously mismatched socks because I hadn't been able to get my feet warm all day, but now with my bare legs stretched beneath the short hem of a hospital gown that offered no further warmth, I hoped they would have a seatbelt to keep me me from shivering myself right off the table.  As I scrunched myself up to where he wanted me, I was laying still for him to place some sort of space capsule over and around my head, clipping it down so my head wouldn't move, and he began expressing again that I wasn't to cough, sniff, open my eyes, clear my throat, wiggle, or anything else that might shift their view a fraction of anything.  I had assumed the shivers wracking my body were apparent by now, but sensing the seriousness in his lecture, I finally piped up that I was unsure I could control the goose-bumped convulsions of my body for any amount of time while in the spare cold storage room they had decided to set up shop.  He responded that he would get me a blanket, although most people get hot, so if I wanted the blanket off I could just wait until they talked to me on the little microphone to let them know, and they would come in and remove it.  Right.  I'll be lucky if I thaw to a normal body temperature by the time this thing is over.


Next question was had I taken any sedation.  No.  Should I have?  Should this have been offered to me?  What have I done...

Tucked in with the blanket I wouldn't need, he asked what kind of music I liked to listen to, before snapping an air-traffic-controller-sized pair of headphones on me that swallowed both of my ears and half of my eyes.  I love all music, never have settled into just one genre, so my reply: "anything but rap."  He suddenly lit up when he realized we apparently have the same taste in music, punched a few more buttons, tucked a "squeeze in case of emergency ball" in my hand, and bounced out of the room with a final "Hold still!"

With a swish of air I was dragged deep into the center cavern of this contraption, and that is when I realized my mistake in being so vague about the music.  He had selected for me some random assortment of teeny bopper slash oldies, blasting at such a decibel there was no way to ignore it, let alone entertain the idea of dozing off.  If I hadn't jumped at the deafening blast of the music, I most certainly did at the first thundering roar of the machine as it fired up to do its thing.  Oh please don't yell at me for moving!!

As the music screamed and the machine shook and buzzed, I tried to distract myself.  First I wondered how claustrophobic people must feel in here.  My 5' 2", 105 pound frame had about a stretched out hand's width of space between me and the ceiling, and I don't think I would have had room to roll from stomach to back if I had tried.  How on earth would a person of a bigger chest diameter even breathe in this thing, I wondered. Then a deep breath, but not a big deep breath, because that would bring someone flying out of that room to tell me we had to start all over because I messed it up!  No, little deep breath, and then aaaaaagh, pot.  Where is that coming from?!  Are they pumping that in through the small air circulation vent?  Little breath.  Eew, it's a skunky smelling marijuana, no doubt the lingering scent of whatever poor soul got crammed in here before me having tried their best to relax them self before their scan.  If I could take a deep breath maybe it would relax me too.

Something else that deserves to be passed on to future MRI passengers, is the wisdom in choosing your pre-scan meals.  You know how a syringe full of liquid is repeatedly flicked to bring the bubbles to the surface to be expelled?  Yeah, imagine your body, containing whatever you last indulged in, lying straight and still, being thumped and shaken by the clunking of whatever this machine is doing beneath you.  I suspect those bubbles you feel blipping together in your insides are gathering to find their way to the nearest exist, and depending whether you chose a ham sandwich or last night's left over chili for lunch, I imagine you could find yourself wishing that stale marijuana smell was the only thing you were stuck inhaling inside your cramped cell.  Not that I speak from experience, but I had enough time to think it through during this day-long escapade.

 


My feet dangling somewhere I presumed to be outside of the tube, I was pleased to discover my body was beginning to feel warm, despite my feet feeling like large bricks of ice attached to my legs.  Wait, never-mind, this is not comfortably warm, I am suddenly sweltering... which is making me feel panicked, which is making me breathe faster, which  is about to boil down to one big wiggle as I tear this thing off my head and bust out of here.  The microphone! He said tell them I'm too hot when they come on the microphone.  When are they going to come on the microphone?  I haven't heard them say anything since telling me I was almost nearly halfway through.  (What kind of an update is that anyway?!  Give me something concrete!)  I feel like a Thanksgiving turkey, roasting from the inside out.  All the energy being directed into my body has efficiently warmed me up from a chilly winter morning to needing to take shelter from a midday sun in Phoenix.  Should I squeeze the emergency bulb?  It's not really an emergency... what if I do that and it resets everything and we have to start back at the beginning?  I better not.   Anyway, I'm pretty sure my hands have become one big melted blob with the ball between them, and I can't feel where to squeeze anyway.  Oh hallelujah, the thing just stopped and I am on my way out for my halfway point injection.  "Yes ma'am, I am doing ok, could you just peel this blanket off of me please, and be careful not to rip the smoldering skin that is adhered to it."


The dye injection may make me nauseous, I'm warned.  Good. Ok.  What am I supposed to do with that information?  Give myself time to sit up and puke to the side instead of straight up and back into my face?  Wait, no, my head is bolted down, that's not going to happen.  The emergency bulb!  Yes!  Puking in my own face would be an emergency, and THEN I can squeeze the bulb and help will come running.  Ok, here we go.  Keep holding still, being whished back inside the tunnel to finish this thing up.  My hands were resting on my stomach, clasping the bulb which would be my white flag should I need it... until I felt the bulb sharply yanked from my grasp as my bobsled swooshed back into the tunnel and the lifeline cord was caught in the track of the moving sled.  No one noticed, and there I was, like the filling inside a twinkie, laying still, quiet, counting moments until I was busted out of my confinement.  Until the next go-around that is, when I will come fully prepared with an empty stomach, a sedated mind, and a VERY. SPECIFIC.  PLAYLIST.  

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Friday, January 23, 2015

A Hero In My Story

Many people have heroes for one reason or another.  Some because of big, history-changing moments, and some for the quiet admiration built by ages of adoration, day in and day out.  Hands down, Spiderman is my pick among the superheros.  Despite my breath-stealing disdain for 8-legged creatures, I really am enamored by the polished confidence with which Spiderman executes his astonishing stunts so effortlessly in the face of danger.  Also, Tobey Maguire, but that's neither here nor there.  I'm certain each of us, asked the question, would have some entity that we have chosen to represent our own "hero" of sorts, someone who clutches the core of our admiration, or stirs emotions of inspiration within us.

                                                              

I do, in reality, have an understanding of the "Hollywood magic" that has created this red and blue Spidey of mine, and as an adult woman have come to terms with knowing no such champion exists.  Don't  worry, you need not fear being the one to shatter my illusion.  I want to share with the world though, my real life hero; the man whose life and bravery influenced my soul in a way I hope will never be the same.

This chubby-cheeked little blondie is the one who gave me the title of big sister.  Our childhood years a harmony of stirring up adventure and trouble, building crude forts to house the rescued "wounded," or pretending the victim ourselves as "orphans" skittering about the gravel forest roads, making a living scrubbing shoes.  Our parents' divorce slashed a deep canyon in the landscape of our siblinghood; time and space laying pause to our knowing of each other as the soft freckles of his youth faded into manhood.  As we both emerged into the newness of adulthood however, our horizons once again blended seamless with the freedom to be as much a part of each others' lives as we desired.

If Benjamin ever had a passion besides being a firefighter when he grew up, it must have been short-lived, because I never knew of it.  Having recently started at my first fire department as an EMT, I was thrilled when he began the process of getting his own certifications.  Having taken a different route in life than most had expected for me, I often felt isolated from friends and family, and I was eagerly anticipating having someone who "got me."  We are a different people, those in EMS, and there are just some things you can't say to someone who hasn't been there.  Ben, he was gonna be my person.


That boy, he went full speed ahead.  He grabbed applications from every department he could get his hands on, ready to sign his life away to be given the chance.  He got his EMT license, which didn't come easily for him. He did not pass the test the first time... or the second, but he never wavered; he kept at it, studied and practiced in every spare moment, hardly letting me help him.  "I just have to do this for myself," he told me.  License in hand, he showed up bright eyed, heart pounding, certain he was just what they needed.  The thing about this eager, spirited young future firefighter, was that since his toddling years, he had suffered from seizures.  Big, dangerous, fall down, forget-who-you-are, unable to move one side of your body for awhile seizures that had been poorly understood and not excellently controlled. Once that little red flag word crept across the pages of his applications, he met walls hard in his face.  He was too big a risk.

Ben would not be so easily suppressed; he believed there would be someone else that would take a chance on him.  Time after time though, the answer was "no."

His next logical step was to make himself more valuable.  He enrolled himself in classes to get his Firefighter Certifications; usually provided through training once hired on a department, he was going to have the certs under his belt before he even approached the next department; surely no one would turn him away.  Scraping the cash from his job at a local kitchen to pay for the classes and the books, he soon had a crisp new card boasting his name, validating his ability to do what he longed for most.   He beamed brighter than ever, certain the firefighting career he craved was within his grasp, and I cried in my pillow.


I remember my conversation with a family member, admitting my frustration and heartbreak over the whole thing.  On one hand I felt guilty for encouraging him, wondering if I was just contributing to a larger and larger facade of false hope, and on the other hand I wanted nothing to do with being one of the people who said anything to him that would crush his dream.

As Ben continued to search for his landing place in the fire community, he was hired on with his county EMS agency.  It wasn't his first pick, but he knew the experience would be useful, and he already had a thirst for that blitz of adrenaline that would rush through his veins each time a call dropped.  My heart simply melted when he would call or text me to excitedly relay the details of a breathtaking call he had been on.  I inwardly giggled at his adorable "green-ness," felt honored when he asked what I would have done, and promised I would be there day or night as he wrestled through some of the ugly firsts of the things your eyes and mind will never un-see.


When I had recently moved up from EMT to Paramedic and was settled in with the wonderful crew of firemen I worked alongside, Ben asked if he might be allowed to run as a third-rider with me if he came to visit.  My Captain was a dear and seasoned man with a big heart and an enjoyable sense of humor, and he swung wide the doors for Ben to come spend the weekend at the station with us, being "one of the guys."  Those 3 days were a gift I will never forget.  I was so proud to have a little brother made of what he was made of, giving life everything he had, and simply loving and soaking in everything about being a fire fighter, with the bright eyes of a man who may never get to live his dream. My "boys" were wonderful to him, showing him anything he asked, answering questions, telling stories.  My partner at the time a young man fresh out of college himself, shy and earnest; didn't know the brake from the accelerator, and he and Ben got along famously.  It was a weekend of much laughter, few calls, and insurmountable memories.



The week that my little brother hero abruptly left this earth, he fought his first fire.  He still didn't have a fire crew to call his own, he didn't have his name sewn on a set of turnout gear, or have boots perched ready in smoke-tarnished pants, but he put the wet stuff on the red stuff, and I know he died a happy man.  Where he lived out in rural Kansas, he was driving home one day when he noticed smoke billowing from a house he was passing.  Jerking the car from his route and toward the smoldering home, he made the call for help before dashing to bang on doors and windows to make sure everyone was out.  Once all the souls were safely outside in clean, fresh air, and fire trucks were still long stretches of Kansas roads away, Ben, this little brother EMT Fire Fighter hero man of mine, hooked up the garden hose, and he aimed that meager little spatter of water at those flames, and that boy held that fire back until the big water came to snuff it out.

I find it hysterical we actually have a pic of him posing like this.  Oh Ben!
Hearing the story retold, the images my mind painted made me laugh so big, and I'm sure we would still be teasing him, but really, I am pretty thankful he had that chance, just days before his home-going.   That was Ben, proving that however the odds were stacked, he wasn't ever going to give up, he was going to find a way to do what he loved.  And that, that why he is my hero.

Taught my boy how to give his boots a good spit-shine. He was so proud!






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