Friday, December 4, 2015

First Christmas

She's here. In the memories the ticking clock on my mantle recall. In the falling leaves that pile in my mind, waiting for our feet to pounce on them. As I walk through my new house, describing to her everything I plan to do. Sisters, sharing our lives together.

Except she isn't here. I don't hear her laughter or her voice saying "Laney". I don't see her hand with index and pinky finger outstretched, silently acknowledging her love for me. I don't see her in the kitchen, happily preparing Christmas yumminess.

A sister, cherished memories, and sadly missed.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

If only we had wings

I was sitting at a stoplight on my drive to work one day this week and I noticed something. It was one of those lights that takes an unusual amount of time to change, so I was watching two very small birds navigate the long, gray pole hanging over the lane. One bird ran without hesitation to the end of the pole and stopped. The second bird was more hesitant. It ran a few steps then stopped and looked around, ran a few more, stopped a little longer. When the second bird found itself behind a sign that was attached to the pole, it hopped up to the top of the sign and perched itself on the thin metal.

I was a little surprised by the choice the bird had made. While it had been hesitant to run along the pole, which was quite wide from its perspective as a tiny being, it seemingly had no concerns about jumping and perching on a much thinner support. Why, I wondered, was it not afraid of that slender sign.

My morning brain came a little out of its fog and thought, duh ... it has wings! What would happen if it miscalculated the hop? It would have to fly a bit. No biggie.

The light turned green and I continued thinking about the bird. When we are very young, we approach our world like that bird does. We don't know anything about gravity. We haven't learned that it might be dangerous to run along that fencepost. We are daring, perhaps fearless, in our exploration of the world.

Then something happens.

We find out that we don't have wings and the superhero cape attached to our shoulders with safety pins hold only the love with which our mothers or fathers placed them there. Our balance falters. Knees get skinned. Salty tears wash the dirt from our cheeks.

We learn that we have limits.

That bird I saw is one of the least intelligent organisms on the planet. Its brain is so tiny, once it has directed the bird's heart to beat, lungs to breathe, wings to flap, and metabolic processes to occur, the only thoughts that could possibly run through it is to eat and to reproduce. Why, then, does this little creature get wings while human beings, who have such a capacity for thought and learning that we have not even begun to use our entire brain, get wobbly legs and frequent injury?

But what if we did have wings? What would be our limit? Where would we go? What would we do? Would we be as sedentary as we are? Would we spend our free time joyfully flying, free to explore wherever we wished to go? Would we take more risks?

I'm not sure the answer is yes. Because the real truth is that we have been made with beautiful and miraculous capabilities, yet we squander them. We let our knowledge of gravity and our experiences of hurt and discomfort keep us from pursuing what is "thin". We go for the "thick things" - eating, sleeping, entertainment, watching TV, and shopping. We avoid the exposure we may experience by pursuing the "thin" - knowledge, exploration, exercise, and love.

If only we could see our wings.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Forever changed

"I'm so sorry."

The words coming out of the surgeon's mouth three hours after my infant son went in for a surgery that was supposed to last less than an hour struck me as you would imagine. The next words would change me forever,

"It's cancer."

His apologies were not about my son having cancer, but rather about him assuring me days earlier that I shouldn't worry. That the likelihood of him having cancer was so rare, it wasn't even something to concern myself about.

The next two weeks are a blur. There are memories of dark hospital rooms before being moved to a pediatric oncology unit. There are memories of well-meaning friends and family saying all the wrong things. Memories of his oncologist telling me how to prepare myself for what was to come. 

I do remember, vividly, a conversation with the surgeon the day after the surgery. "We haven't gotten the results back from the lab, but the chances this is rhabdomyosarcoma is so rare, I am sure that isn't it."

And the visit the next day from the oncologist, "it's alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma." In those two days, I had the time to read the information packets the hospital had given me and I knew this was one of the worst pieces of news I could get, but I had already prepared myself for that being the news I would get.

The first day we returned home is still surreal to me. I can remember driving into my driveway, getting the kids out, walking to the porch and thinking. "Oncologist". "Oncologist". "Oncologist."

The sound of the word became very odd to me. "Your son has cancer" began repeating in my head.

"This is the home where your child has cancer." This thought stopped me in my tracks. I didn't want to go in. I was fearful that walking into that house would acknowledge or in some way make true that my son was entering into a fight for his life.

While you have been reading this, a family has been changed with a diagnosis. One out of 285 children will be diagnosed with cancer. Of those, one in five will not survive. Those who do survive often deal with long-term effects, hassles with insurance companies, and an always-present, heightened sense of awareness of changes in their body. For the families of all of the children fortunate not to go through this, it is hard to imagine the reality of childhood cancer. Please seek to learn more about childhood cancer and what you can do to support the research that can help to keep families from being forever changed.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Wherever you go, whatever you do

Today, I connected with all three of my college-student children. It started this morning with my son, Trevor, who is a junior, who had sent me a link yesterday to a radio interview he was assigned to listen to in class. That was followed by my son, Tony, who is a freshman, needing help with getting Office loaded on his laptop. This afternoon, it was my daughter, Rene, reflecting on her day and her realization that she is an upperclassman, and how hard it is to believe she is in her third year of college.

The radio interview Trevor sent me was an hour long. I have to say that my first instinct was to listen to a bit and let it go. I have a hard time listening or watching anything that is longer than a minute or so. To see the line of the podcast telling me I had nearly 60 minutes ahead of me was daunting. When he sent it to me yesterday, I listened to about three minutes of it and determined that it was important for me to listen in its entirety and I decided I would listen during my commute. I listened to the first 30 minutes in the morning and anxiously plugged in my phone to finish the rest on the drive home.

As I listened to the interview, which discussed the poetry of Islamic poet, Rumi, I was captivated at the connection I felt to the content and the new recognition of the world around me.

"Wherever you go, Whatever you do, Be in love." - Rumi

Love. I have endless love for all five of my children. In spite of my own shortcomings, they have become truly unique and independent, thoughtful adults. They amaze me with their achievements, and entertain me with their youth. Rumi's poetry is about play, love, our physical selves, and God. Thinking about my children and my life through the lens of love and of wonder, I began to think about what had just happened to me.

What happened as I listened is that I learned something. This, in itself, transported me back in time to my own college days, sitting in classrooms on that first day each semester and thinking to myself "ahhh, now I can feel smart again." Why? because I knew that in that room, I would learn.

I hear from my kids and from others new to college about how difficult the loneliness is and how surprising the loss of connection is. I never experienced that because I was in my 30s and had two children already when I started college for real. My recollection of college is of the tremendous thrill of the pursuit of thought. The opportunities for discussions with others who were on the same journey as me. The late nights, after putting the children to bed, writing those last minute papers, cramming for those mid-terms, and finally deciding there is nothing more to give.

I listened.

I thought about how much I miss those times when I felt intelligent just because I was standing on a college campus and walking into a room. When I felt validated because a professor pulled me aside to tell me he always put my compositions on the bottom of the stack so that he could grade it last and be renewed with hope after the multitude of disappointing others.

Because of the content of the interview, I also felt one of the strongest connections with God that I have felt in my life, and I was reminded of a nagging call that I have not answered.

All of this is to say I fell in love today. In love with my life. In love with my physical self. In love with the world around me. In love with my children, all over again.

It was a good day.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

My Bevie

Her life was full of adventure and short on hesitation. She barreled through events and decisions with a speed that seemed impetuous to outsiders. In reality, she cared. She cared deeply. She was the most loyal of all of us, the most often hurt, and the first one to forgive the offender.

She was married five times to four men, having found her true soulmate the second time around and finding him again the fifth. They would spend the best part of their lives together. Doing the things they enjoyed - bicycling, riding motorcycles, existing in the middle of nowhere with nobody bothering them. She loved photography and snapped some of the best shots of my babies as they grew up.

In our youth, she was the focus of my first memory in life at the age of 2, when she who was 8 at the time was struck by a car while riding her bicycle. The woman said she was distracted by the cute blonde girl in ponytails (me) and hadn't seen my sister. At 2, my first memory is of my sister lying on the couch and a toddler's understanding that I had killed my sister. 

When I was about 4 or 5, we had been to rummage sales with my mother and I had seen a pair of shiny, black boots I just had to have. My mom wouldn't buy them for me. They barely fit and she knew I would grow out of them too soon to warrant bringing home. Later that day, my sister became a part of my first memory of being so happy I cried when she came home from being out riding her bike, or so I thought, with a pair of shiny, black boots she had bought with the only money she had. My mom was right - I wore those boots once or twice. They were tight and sweaty, but I kept my "gogo boots" for a long time and my sister was forever my angel.

So many memories of the kind of person my sister was. Which makes it even harder to lose her to cirrhosis at the age of 56.

You see, choices made can either build us up, break us down, or give us a new strength. For her, there were a combination of choices she made, a chance accident, and a habit of keeping personal issues to herself that gave hold to the disease that would kill her. 

I take a lot of comfort in knowing that she was right with God when she died. During a recent visit, she talked a lot about how she could feel Jesus inside her heart and that she had regular talks with God, who had given her peace with the reality of what was happening to her. 

My sweet Bevie is gone. Lover of horses, beaches, Donny Osmond, Elvis Presley, and love. My best friend, my most loyal protector, my biggest cheerleader.

Heaven rejoices as she reunites with my dad and so many others, and meets our little brother for the first time.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Hello darkness, my old friend

I'm sure many of you have seen pictures of people getting tattoos in the shape of a semicolon for Project Semicolon. If you haven't, or if you don't know what it is, here is a short description from their website:
"Project Semicolon (The Semicolon Project) is a faith-based non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and love to those who are struggling with depression, suicide, addition and self-injury. Project Semicolon exists to encourage, love and inspire."
It is a very worthwhile endeavor - as a society, we have had the idea embedded within us that talking about mental illness is not acceptable. That having mental illness is a sign of weakness. That acknowledging we need help is something that we need not do in public.

However, as I watched so many people jumping on board, I began to wonder if they really understood the project or if they were just doing it because they saw it on Facebook and thought it sounded cool.

As I considered my feelings on the subject, I came to two realizations:

  1. I want to have a semicolon tattoo, and I will talk about that later.
  2. If it is true that people are jumping on board because it's the cool thing to do, that is more proof that it needs to be done. Awareness of the reality of mental illness needs to happen.
With regards to number one, I have decided to share my story. It is a story that began as a teenager and follows me through my adult life. I was raised to not fear death. I was taught that there is something peaceful and natural about it and that when we mourn a death, it is for us, not for the person who died, because that person is in a better place. As a Christian, I embrace the concept that death is a beautiful release from the suffering in the world and a peace unknown and incomprehensible.

The story I am about to tell has not been told to anyone in its entirety. My family will find parts of it to be surprising. For that, I apologize.

When I was in high school, my perception of the world was distorted. Everything was dark. Everything was not in my favor . . . ever. By 16, I routinely used alcohol to generate temporary feelings of peace and calm. As a senior in high school, I believed nothing would ever get better. I believed I had accomplished all that I would in life and there was nothing to look forward to. I would go for drives on winding roads at night, turn out the lights, press the gas pedal to the floor, and dare my car to lose the road. One such night, the thought occurred to me that maybe I was through with the dare and ready to make it happen. I approached a bridge and decided that I would simply drive off of it. Why am I still here today? As I entered the bridge, I had two thoughts enter my head. First, that driving off a bridge wasn't a sure thing. What if I live? Second, if I am gone, will anyone really even care? Sure my parents would be sad for awhile, but would their lives really change? Confusion at the first thought and anger at the second were the first real emotions I had felt for a very long time. I slowed my car down and drove home.

This wasn't a moment that changed my life forever. It was a moment that temporarily stayed my desire to leave this world. I continued on my destructive path and married at 18. Regardless of how our marriage ended up, I credit my first husband with saving my life. He was older, 24, and had been through some difficult times of his own, having lost both of his parents by the time he was 23. He was very controlling, but that is what I needed at the time. I stopped drinking. I started setting goals for myself, and I began thinking of a normal life with a family.

Forward eight years to the age of 26. My then-husband was out of town and I was alone in a four-bedroom house that had belonged to his parents. I remember one morning walking through the house, which still had remnants of his parents' presence, and suddenly a feeling, like a weight, slammed down on me. I fell to the floor, crying. In my tears, I wondered what I was crying about. My mind released what it had been holding for all those years and the depression flooded back. At 26, I believed my life was all that it ever would be. I had been trying to have children for many years. I had not had the money to go to college and never would. I was in a job that didn't satisfy me. My marriage was not all that I had hoped it would be. I felt trapped and alone. I wanted out.

We owned several guns and my then-husband and I shared shooting as a hobby. I had a handgun of my own that I took out of the gun cabinet. I went to the bathroom, thinking that room would be easiest to clean. As I stared at the gun, I wondered how I got there. Why was this back? I called my brother, who is ten years older than me. I told him I thought I wanted to kill myself. He said words that saved me for that day, "think about the things that make you sad right now - if those things were not true about your life, would you still be thinking your life was over?" My answer was no. He said, "then start making those things not true and don't give up on yourself."

When my then-husband came home, I told him everything and he made an appointment with a therapist. It was my first experience with seeking professional help for my mental health. It was life-changing. My therapist suggested I try antidepressants while we worked through my issues, and my doctor prescribed Prozac. After two weeks, I realized my perspective on my life had changed drastically. I was able to think rationally about my life and, with my therapist's help over the next year, I changed the mantras in my head. Eventually, I went off the Prozac, and everything seemed fine.

I went to college. Eventually, I divorced my husband. I started a real career for the first time in my life, and I built a life that made me happy. I didn't sit and wait for it to happen to me, I built it. Through all of that, the lessons I learned in therapy were a constant necessity for me. Why? Because once you dance with the darkness, the darkness is always near.

Because of that last statement, I have had additional bouts with depression all my life. Occasionally, I've needed to seek out therapy and/or medication. Most often, it is the mantras in my head that pull me through. Those of you who know me know that I have a wonderful life. At times, it seems too good to be true. I have a wonderful husband, five kids who are so amazing, and have been successful in my career. Even in the midst of that beauty, the darkness is just over my shoulder. If I allow myself to take a look, I sink back into that darkness. I might find myself huddled in my closet. I might begin to think sleep is the only way to get through the day. I might become quiet and introspective and not let my beautiful family in, and yes, I might begin thinking about how easy it would be to just slip away . . .

I wanted to share all of this because it is my story. My story isn't over yet. If you battle with mental illness and have not sought help. Do it now. Do it for yourself. Do it so that you can open the next chapter of your life. If you know someone who is battling mental illness, be supportive. Don't be afraid to talk to them about it, acknowledge it.

It isn't shameful, it's an illness.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Things I have learned this week

My Facebook posts tell the story of a boy who had surgery a week ago last Monday and was out on the town yesterday, getting his hair cut, renting video games, and shopping with Mom and her friend, Andrea. It all seems like a victorious example of life continuing, unscathed, after a major surgery.

What my posts don't tell is the reality of Nathan having to adjust to life in a wheelchair. They don't tell about my struggles as the mother of a 14 year old boy who is basically a full-grown man, helping him adjust to life in a wheelchair, and feeling terribly inadequate to really help him. My posts don't tell of our triumphs - figuring out how to wash his hair, Nathan being able to get himself out of his chair and into his walker to use the bathroom, and this morning the realization that a whole night had passed without waking up in the middle of the night.

This week, I have learned that, although the Americans with Disabilities Ace (ADA) was passed 15 years ago, most of the places we visit do not have any way for a person in a wheelchair to open the door to enter. They also do not have doorbells to ring to request assistance. I have learned that when stores are being renovated, they don't consider their disabled customers when they scrunch all their inventory into rows so close that an adult would have to walk sideways to navigate and a person in a wheelchair will have to feel closed in, with clothing in his face and unable to see past the next pair of trousers on a rack.

Nathan and I have both learned to scan parking lots as we enter, looking for the handicap parking that has space next to the right side of the car. Some of them don't have spaces like that. We also look for the ramp that he needs to get into the store, since they all have curbs. Nathan, in his chair, is constantly scanning for those places where the concrete has broken and not been repaired, so I have learned that some stores that are "ADA compliant" haven't maintained their ramps so that a person in a wheelchair has to hope the bumps and gouges in the concrete aren't enough to topple the chair and a person who just had his hip sawed into pieces has to hope those bumps won't hurt as much as he rolls over them as he thinks they will.

I have learned that what used to be errands are now day-long, significant efforts, as Nathan and I still haven't quite come up with the easiest way to get him in and out of the car or for me to lift the heavy wheelchair into and out of our trunk or back seat. I now measure the amount of time errands will take by the amount of stops - each stop means a lengthy exit from the vehicle and equally long reentry. With each stop, Nathan's strength diminishes significantly. I am learning to find "one-stop-shops" where I can get everything we need, even if it means spending more money.

I have learned that people don't visit. When Nathan was battling cancer, nobody visited, but it didn't bother me all that much because it was me they were shunning. My infant son didn't have any idea that nobody was visiting us during the long days we spent in the hospital. He didn't realize that people could have been helping with the lawn, cooking, or just giving mom a break.

This time, when there was only one person who visited him during his five days in the hospital who wasn't either related or had to visit because of their job, he knew. Now that we are home and nobody is stopping by or calling to ask how he is doing, he knows.

I've always been fascinated by perspective. I am thankful for the opportunity to spend my days with the incredible young man that is my son. If I could choose any life I wanted, I would choose this one. I am thankful to be able to experience our world through this new lens and I am sure Nathan and I have a lot left to discover.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

You are a voluntary eyewitness, not an audience

Recently, I posted some pictures on Facebook of David and I riding Bike Biking Across Kansas​ in 2005. People who follow my FB feed assumed it was recently that we did this trek. This, along with recent articles I've read about how people try to paint a particular picture on their FB wall leads to this post.

I know that what I post on FB seems to all be sunshine and roses. I understand that everyone, including myself, struggle with issues ranging from mundane to worst fear material. What people need to know about my feed is that it is maintained for me. I've never posted to it to help others see how great my life is - I've always maintained it as a lifeline for myself. Whenever I let myself focus on the negatives in my life, I can always pull up my FB profile and realize how much I have to be thankful for. If it seems like my life only has positives because that is all I post on FB, it is because that is the way I choose to see my life. I have developed a habit over the years of redirecting negative thoughts to positive ones. All of this is to say I'm sorry if my FB profile looks like someone who is trying to maintain the facade of a perfect life to outsiders. The reality is, my FB profile is the life I have chosen to pursue and that choice pays rewards I never thought I was worthy of, nor believed I could receive.

I won't apologize for my life no longer having the huge weight of poverty and depression the first half of my adult life had. I won't apologize for being able to rejoice in the health of my children, rather than having to fight for every day with them. I will continue to post the sunshine and roses because that is what I see through the lens I have chosen to view life with. From time to time, you will see the darkness and thorns, if I believe there is something I need to remember from that experience.

Along this ride, you have chosen to be an eyewitness to my life.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The case for selfies

The early 21st century will be known for many things, and certainly one of those things is the proliferation of the selfie. Selfie is a term given to pictures that a person takes of themselves. Although selfies were possible with even the earliest cameras, the existence of phone cameras in recent history has caused selfies to become commonplace.

The need to establish ones presence in a place, or with other people, dates to thousands of years ago. Early humans left their mark in caves all over the globe, depicting successful hunts, battles, and even everyday life. The picture here shows a cave in which young teenagers felt a need to record their presence in the form of hand sillouettes.

The human need to say "I was here" is unquestioned. Over the last few years, however, the use of selfies to make that statement has been criticized by many.

My post today is the result of a revelation I had recently regarding the existence of, or lack of, selfies.

A little over a year ago, one of my daughters, who had completed her first year in a sorority, was excited for me to visit on Mom's Day. Leading up to the day, her sorority busily prepared for the activities that moms and daughters would participate in throughout the day. One of the activities was a nice luncheon and the girls decorated their tables with pictures of themselves as babies with their mothers. I sat at a table with my daughter and realized that there were no pictures of us. When I asked her about it, she said she could not find any and I realized that there were none to find. Throughout her young life, I was always the one behind the camera. Nobody had ever taken pictures of us together, and I didn't ever think to take a selfie with my 110 camera.

We took lots of pictures that day and I have made a point to take pictures with all of my children since then, but they will never have proof of my participation in their infancy in the form of a photograph.

I understood the importance of photographs then, but didn't fully realize what a difference the existence of selfies can make until two weeks ago, when I traveled to Kansas to visit my sister, who is in the end stages of liver failure.

As I sat in her hospital room and watched her sleep, I realized how much I wanted a picture of my sister and I together. Not one the way we are today - I have one of those - but rather, I wanted to be able to see a picture of us together when we were young, watching movies, riding bicycles, and laughing. Realizing that there were none from our youth, I decided I would settle for pictures from our two experiences bicycling across the state of Kansas, then realized that she was always behind the camera then and the only pictures I had of those experiences included myself and her husband, or the whole group of us - not her and I. I can look at those pictures and remember, but there is nothing that says "Bev and Elaine were sisters, together."

I have pictures of her at my wedding. Pictures of her with her children. Pictures of her when we were young, but nothing that depicts the joyful existence of our relationship over the years as sisters.

Some would say that I still have my memories of those times, but experience tells me that the existence of photographs helps us to remember events that our brains would otherwise file away as unimportant. Selfies capture moments. Moments that are often a part of the mundane, as well as those events with high meaning. I long to see photos of my sister and I simply being sisters - that majority part of our lives together which did not cause my long-term memory to engage - that which encompasses the day-to-day and is the most authentic part of our lives together.

I understand why people get annoyed with the overabundance of selfies posted on social media. I'm okay with scrolling past them and I hope you will be, too.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Electric Company

In October, 1971, I was a two-year veteran viewer of Sesame Street. I was also, in my own mind, a veteran student. After all, I had kindergarten in my past and had only just begun my experience in first grade. I can remember secretly rushing home after school to watch my favorite shows - secretly because they were "kid" shows - and I can remember the hype surrounding the newest offshoot of Sesame Street on television, The Electric Company.

When The Electric Company came out, I was really excited. Part of this was because I loved Sesame Street so much and I knew that this new show was supposed to be for grown-ups like my 6-year-old self. But mostly, it was because I lived two houses down from The Electric Company.

My world was not yet disturbed by the reality that I lived in a tiny little piece of a massive universe. I knew that there was a little store at the corner of my block named The Electric Company and I knew this television show was called The Electric Company, therefore I knew that all I had to do was walk a few steps and I would be looking straight into the world I was seeing on my television set.

It was exciting. It felt like my own little secret - that I lived so close to the fantastical characters and situations I watched on my TV.

The picture is of the building that was The Electric Company when I was very young. The building had originally been built as a corner "Mom and Pop" grocery store. While it was The Electric Company, those big windows across the front were filled with lights. Sparkly lights. Very shiny lights. Barely lit lights. Lights that flickered like candles. Before the television show, those lights held my attention. I would stand in front of that window and become mesmerized by the lights that looked like candles. After the show started, I still stood in front of that building, but now I was looking deeper into the darkness behind the lights - searching for Bill Cosby, Morgan Freeman, Rita Moreno, and all the other super cool people that I knew were in there. I knew they were in there because this was The Electric Company.

In later years, the store left and this building became a hair salon, Kuttin' Korner. While convenient through my teenage years, the little building never again held my attention the way it did in the early 70s, and also never disappointed me as much as it did when I concluded that the television show was fake, The Electric Company on the corner was real. I would never see my Electric Company on television and I would never see the characters from the television within those windows.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The elevator

Last weekend, I made a very quick (less than 48 hour) trip back home to Kansas. While I was there, I took pictures of many of the places that reside within my memory. It was an interesting trip. I had a friend of mine along for the ride and because of this, I saw my town, my state, and my life from a whole new perspective. I've decided to write a blog post for each of the pictures I took while I was there so that I can remember, and so that my children will have my stories.

The first picture I will share is the first one I took upon arriving in my hometown of Hutchinson, Kansas (affectionately known as "Hutch).

Hutch has a lot of grain elevators. In fact, I'm wishing I had taken a picture of the "city" skyline, which would mainly consist of grain elevators. The one in the picture was the world's largest when it was built at 1/2 mile long. It could hold 46 million bushels. It is now the 2nd largest grain elevator in Kansas and there are larger in the world, but it is still a really large elevator.

The elevator is in a state of neglect right now. Even though it is still in use, it is no longer the pristine white I remember it being when I was young. As long as it held the spot of world's largest, it was painted regularly and was a source of pride for my hometown.

My earliest memory of the elevator is not a complete memory. The only part of the memory I can bring to mind is riding in my dad's pickup truck. He stopped at one end and I can remember somebody getting me out of the truck. My siblings are all present in my memory and the last thing I can remember is running as hard as I could to try to keep up with them.

The full story, as it was retold often by my dad, was that I was still in diapers then. He took us to the elevator so we could see how long it was. Since it was a half mile, he suggested that we run to the end and back and then we would know we had run a mile. I was the youngest of four children. My siblings would have been 12, 9 and 7. I would have been about 2. It is the first memory I have of a very strong desire to be like them. It mattered to me that I was left behind while they ran ahead of me. My father followed along behind, slowly, in his truck so that he could convince me to get back in. I probably only ran about a 5th of the length of the elevator. Dad always said I was crying that I had not been able to keep up and mad that he wouldn't let me keep going.

One of my first memories in life tells a story of a little girl who was striving to keep up with someone else, to achieve someone else's dream. If only she had known how frivolous that endeavor would be.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Memories: A bald boy, a tractor and Pooh

David and I have been doing projects around the house, so far mostly surrounding the garage. We have needed to clean for quite some time and over the holiday break seemed a good time to get started. As we opened boxes, which mostly held the remains of my home in Kansas, we laughed at old memories, pondered how far we have come, and encountered mementos of Nathan's fight with cancer.

There were two of those mementos that have stayed within my mind during the time since we did the cleaning. One, I will save for another post, but the other haunted me on my drive home from work yesterday and I feel compelled to tell a story.

The story begins in a big white hospital in Wichita, Kansas. St. Francis is a complex of big, white buildings, and there is a wing in the main hospital that is very special. It originally was built to be the birthing wing, full of large rooms equipped with televisions and VCRs, rocking chairs, recliners, and enough room to roll a second bed into. When St. Francis built a new, free-standing birthing unit, this wing became pediatric oncology.

I spent a lot of time in that wing. Whenever we would arrive there, if Nathan was feeling up to it, he would walk the halls, looking for "his" fire truck. It was a pedal-powered fire truck, complete with lights and sirens. Often, he would encounter another vehicle on his quest. It was a pedal-powered John Deere tractor. This tractor was most often being driven by a boy just a few months older than Nathan. The boy was from a Mennonite family who lived on a farm and he was drawn to the tractor as a reminder of home.

The first time I saw the boy, he had blonde, curly hair. He was riding the tractor and his mother, in cap, and father, in beard, were walking along beside him. As the months went on, I watched as he became bald, just like Nathan, and rode the halls on his tractor alone, just like Nathan. The ride-ons in this wing are equipped with a pole on which the IV bag can be hung and this means freedom from having to follow youngsters through the hall, pushing a clunky IV pole.

The two of them riding together and laughing down the halls while the parents got a rest from the constant supervision is forever in my mind. I distinctly remember, for some reason, the last time I saw the boy. I was standing in the doorway of Nathan's room, looking for him and I saw the boy at the end of the hall, turning the corner and riding away on his green John Deere.

The last time I saw his mother was six months after Nathan's last chemotherapy treatment. Every three months, we had to return to have Nathan sedated while he went through a new C-scan and bone scan to be sure nothing new was showing up. While I sat in the prep room, watching Nathan receive the IV, the boys mother, whose name I never knew, walked in. She handed me a soft, plush Winnie the Pooh blanket. Without tears, she told me of her son's passing on the 2 year anniversary of his diagnosis, just a few days before he was scheduled to receive a bone marrow transplant. She had purchased the blanket as a present to give to him once they arrived at the strange, new hospital in Houston, and had never had the opportunity to do so. She wanted my son to have the blanket because she remembered him the same way I remembered her son - riding along those halls, celebrating freedom.

She had held on to the blanket for a few months after his death, holding it as she would have held him, and had decided that the Lord would prefer that she let it go so that another boy could get comfort from it as she had intended hers would. She chose Nathan to receive this beautiful gift.

12 years later, we came across that blanket - too small now to cover my boy but lovingly and safely stored away with favored mementos of his childhood. Last night, Nathan sat watching TV with it covering his lap. The gift served its purpose then as a comfort to him as he recovered and it continues to remind us of the beautiful gift of life.

It also ensures that I will never forget the back of that little boy's bald head turning the corner as he rode his tractor out of view, nor will I ever forget his sweet mother's pain and compassion as she processed her own loss.

Hug your children. They are precious gifts for however long we have them.