Memories: The Good and the Bad

Two years ago around this time, my brother-in-love Chris gave me a call and told me I needed to get my butt to Hopkins because Jen was probably going to die from the leukemia she had fought for over a decade.  I know he used gentler words than that, but that’s not what I heard.  What I heard was that my world was about to crack into pieces yet again.

My gut told me to drop everything and get there.  I called out of work for the foreseeable future, got a sub who could cover for me even if I gave them really bare-bones sub plans and I gathered up my family for Baltimore.  When I stepped onto that elevator in the Weinberg Garage (or GARE-ahge as the machine greets you when you pull in), I felt a wave of anxiety for a split second.  What if Jen looked awful and I would only remember her that way?  What if her death wasn’t peaceful and I had to steel myself to handle it to support her and to support her husband and boys?

Then the wave passed.  I would endure anything to spend Jen’s last moments with her.  If she was convulsing and vomiting blood, I would hold her hand and coo her name in her ear. I would remember that these moments were not about me or what I would remember or how I felt.  These moments were about drinking up the very last seconds of Jen’s life so that I could somehow make it without her after she died.

Those few days (I really can’t remember how many actually.  It felt like forever.) were hard.  Most of us were camped out in the waiting room or on the floor in her hospital room or down the street at my other sister’s apartment.  We were smelly and hungry and on edge and we had a variety of nurses and doctors coming in to say goodbye to Jen because she had touched them in some way during her treatments there at Hopkins.

There are moments from those days I will never forget.  Good moments.  Like when we snuck Bo (then only 3 years old) into Jen’s room and she opened her eyes for real and we saw that magnificent smile on her face.  She reached out for him and held his little hand and seemed herself for second.


Or when someone mentioned Rico and she rolled her eyes in classic Jen style. Cuddling with my siblings and nephews on the waiting room furniture, joking and laughing and trying to forget what was happening in the room down the hall. Rico’s ridiculous slippers. (Please someone tell me we have a picture somewhere!)  Jen’s cool smooth skin as I held her hand and talked to her like nothing was happening.


But there are things that I won’t forget that are difficult to think about.  The look on her face when she needed her meds increased.  How dry and shriveled up her tongue got because she was breathing with her mouth open.  The panic in her eyes when she felt like she needed to throw up.  The sound of the oxygen pump bubbling next her bed reminding me how she couldn’t do something as basic as breathing. Tears dotting her sheets. Falling in and out of sleep in the early morning hours, seeing my dad and Chris sitting Jen’s left and right sides, whispering to her and holding her hands.  Hearing Chris yelling when she finally slipped away. Not wanting to leave her hospital room because that meant it was really over and she was really gone.

But all the fears I had about only being able to see those few last moments – the ugly moments of vomiting blood and slowly slipping away?  They were completely unfounded.  How could I focus on those few moments when I had a lifetime’s worth of beaming smiles, goofy faces and happy memories?

This face is so Jen that it hurts. :)

This face is so Jen that it hurts. :)

I remember those things about the day that Jen died, even though it’s been two years.  I remember those things like they happened yesterday.  I feel those things in my gut, even though it’s been 728 days since she died.  But it’s with the same clarity and detail that I picture days like these:

On the way to Lancaster, PA to visit Green Dragon and pig out on Amish goodies.

On the way to Lancaster, PA to visit Green Dragon and pig out on Amish goodies.

Jen stepping off the elevator the first Christmas after her diagnosis.  We talked the nurses into letting her come down to the lobby so she could celebrate with her babies who she hadn't seen for three weeks.

Jen stepping off the elevator the first Christmas after her diagnosis. We talked the nurses into letting her come down to the lobby so she could celebrate with her babies who she hadn’t seen for three weeks.

jen and will

And look how happy she is to see them!

Laughing with her at a photo shoot that she demanded so that we could get pictures together "just-us-girls."

Laughing with her at a photo shoot that she demanded so that we could get pictures together “just-us-girls.”

Jen was more than her last moments.  She was more than her last days or years.  Jen will be remembered forever and her story and life have impacted more people than I will ever know.  I am thankful for every second I had with her – even the ones I’d rather not think about.  And I’m trying to live a life where I am like that with everyone I love.  I am thankful for every second I have with them because I am unsure when it will end.  I find peace in knowing that as long as I enjoy the now, the later will be full of memories I still enjoy.

Jen, you’ve been gone for two years, but in reality, you’re not gone.  You color every moment of my day.  You’ve trained me to know what you’d think in every situation and you’ve shown me how to learn from you even when you’re not around.  I miss your physical self – your hugs, your laugh, your voice – but you are with me forever.  And I praise God for you

As Time Goes By

Do you ever think about the people who used to live in your neighborhood?  Your house?  Who used to sleep in your bedroom before you bought that house?  What happened to them?  I remember taking car rides with my dad when I was a little girl and I would spend the time looking out the window and wondering what everything would look like a hundred years ago.

I actually think about this often. When I’m out driving around, I look at houses and I wonder about what went on inside them.  Because on the outside, my house looks normal (a bit ratty, but normal) and cheerful maybe.  Random passersby would have no idea of the loss we’ve experienced or the pain we’ve felt.  They have no idea that this Saturday when it was snowing like crazy, the family was gathering to celebrate a man who died almost a year ago on my parents’ 39th wedding anniversary.  They would have no idea that the smell of bacon, scrapple and sausage was because my dad loved big breakfasts (although, I think he would have wanted some fried potatoes too).  They would have no inkling that half of the family was unable to get out in the snow and were having their own celebrations at their homes.  They wouldn’t be able to share in the memories and stories we told about the ones we love.  They would drive by and completely miss out on what was happening inside.

What history am I missing in my little house?  What happened to the generations of people who lived here before me?  Over time their stories are lost and I find that sad because I could have learned from them.  I would have grown from them.

Modern American families have lost the ability to prepare for death.  We expect that all of us will be healthy and well and that if we’re not, the doctors should be able to fix it.  Death comes as a surprise these days – even if we know that someone is sick!  Jen had leukemia for eleven years and I still expected the doctors to run in at the last minute and say that they had an idea for something that would save her.

And all of us take for granted the days we have with our loved ones.  We assume that we have lots of time left with them to say the things we want to say.  To do the things we want to do.  We think we’re doing ourselves a favor when we avoid thinking about death.  Why be so morbid? I don’t think being prepared for death is about being afraid.  I think being prepared for death is a celebration of life.

Imagine a time when disease was commonplace and death was everyday.  Didn’t parents prepare their children for death instead of hide it from them?  Oh, how I hope these losses in recent years have helped me to prepare my children for the possibility, no – the EVENTUALITY of death.  How I hope I have not made my children afraid of death, but instead make them see it as a distinct part of life.  As I live this life, I am more and more convinced that it is our duty as parents and relatives to prepare them for loss.  From simple loss, like a broken toy, to big loss, like the death of a loved one.  They will lose things.  They will lose people they love.  And if we don’t teach them to deal with it, who will? Society?!  I don’t think so.

Sure, my kids see me at my worst.  Like when I start crying when I’m cleaning a room because I’m afraid of cleaning away the last vestiges of Jake, Jen and Dad.  Or when I illogically demand to watch a pretty silly movie because it reminds me of someone I love.  But I hope my children also see me at my best – when I can show them the peace that I have in Christ and the hope that we will see our loved ones again in heaven. When I can feel happy in the memories I have with Jake, Jen and Dad and we can laugh and smile and talk about how they would have enjoyed our celebrations.  When I can teach them what my loved ones would have taught them about faith, creativity, individuality and strength.

So, no.  I don’t hide death from my children.  Bo was 14 months old when Jake died, and we had a discussion with him about Jake’s death.  He totally understood what was happening and cried with us in our mourning.  But he also gave us more hugs, gave us more reasons to smile and reminded us of all the sweet things about life with Jake.  Even at just one-year-old, Bo learned from his loss and helped to teach others through it.

More than that, my family and I have resolved to CELEBRATE our loved ones at every opportunity we have.  Of course we celebrate them on birthdays and anniversaries, but we also celebrate the anniversaries of their deaths – not by mourning, but by gathering together and remembering them together.  By being together with the loved ones who are still alive and creating more memories and taking every opportunity to enjoy the life we have.

So, my family, the two-year anniversary of Jen’s death is coming up in about a week. Where are we getting together?  What are we doing?  I’m thinking we need to crank up the New Kids on the Block and watch the movie Annie (the old one – NOT the new one) and eat some gummy bears, peach rings and sour gummy worms.

End of First Trimester Blues

Please tell me I’m not alone here, but at the end of my first trimester, I get this obnoxious case of anxiety.  Sometimes I feel like everyone else is celebrating because they can finally keep down food and they feel somewhat normal again.  But not me.

This has happened with every pregnancy to some extent, but definitely in the last two pregnancies after losing Luna.  I hate leaving the first trimester.

When all those awful first trimester symptoms disappear – the nausea, the fatigue, the intense moodiness and the constant need to pee – I don’t find myself feeling better.  I find myself worried that since I no longer FEEL pregnant, I must not BE pregnant anymore.

And maybe I don’t need to pee constantly anymore, but I still go to the bathroom as often as I can to make sure I don’t have any spotting or bleeding.  To check and make sure that nothing is happening.  It’s too early for me to feel the baby moving so I have no way to know unless something happens.

I very nervously wonder if I could somehow change my next OB appointment to a little sooner so I can hear a heartbeat.  I count down the days until that doc takes that little box, squirts some goo on my belly and attempts to find the swish-swish-swish of a tiny heart.  And I am practically in tears waiting for them to find it.  I seriously consider buying myself my own doppler to check myself…weekly…daily…maybe three times a day…alright…whenever I can.

That moment when they find the heartbeat is the first time I’ve really breathed since the end of my first trimester.  It’s like that tiny swish swish is the air being let out of a giant balloon in my chest and I can finally breathe.

So if you see me between now and my next appointment in two weeks, please know that my puffed up chest is not pride or snobbiness or anything.  It really is just a case of anxiety and if I seem a little distracted, please know that I’m just praying.  Constantly asking God to calm my heart and to help me trust Him more.  Fervently asking for His protection over my tiny baby and praying for that tiny swish swish in two weeks.

10 Lessons I Learned in My Big Family

The whole family can get in on this silly face thing.  Even the in-laws are adept at these skills.

When you are raised as part of a big family, you feel a sense of pride in the number of siblings you have.  I would feel angry when I wasn’t the student in the classroom with the most siblings.  (I have vivid memories of meeting a girl in high school Spanish class who had 9 siblings when I had 8 and I probably missed out on having an awesome friend because I swore to hate her forever after.)

It becomes a competition after that. “Oh yeah?  You have more siblings?  Well, my mom is one of ELEVEN children!”  Or you qualify your numbering by saying, “And none of those are twins or triplets” like multiple births is cheating.  Or you say, “And those are all from the same set of parents” like having one set of prolific parents counts for more points than multiple sets of prolific parents.

Regardless of who wins the biggest family competition, you realize after talking to your competitors, that they understand you in a way your other classmates just don’t.  There are aspects of their personalities that just make sense in your big-family-minded psychology.  And this is because living with a big family teaches you lessons.  Makes you special.

Lesson #1:  You have strengths and weaknesses.  Partner up accordingly.

When you have enough siblings to make teams, you learn to very quickly size up the people around you so that you can form the best possible team for the competition.  Whatever that competition is.  An argument.  A game.  A manipulation.  A chore.  Whatever.  Not only that, but your siblings are not shy about explaining to you why they chose someone else for their “team” and so you become (sometimes painfully) aware of your weaknesses.  Instead of making you feel helpless because of these weaknesses, it reminds you to find someone to compliment them and make your team stronger.This also makes you feel valued for your strengths because they are equally bold in explaining why they want you on their team.  

This is not limited to formal and official competitions.  If you were in a room and an argument over what to eat for dinner begins, you automatically pick sides based on who is in the argument.  I learned fast to always pick Jen’s side in an argument because she was ruthless and never pick Jes’ side because she would fold in a heartbeat. (I love you, Jes.  You fold out of love, not out of weakness.)

Lesson #2:  Someone is always watching you.

Seriously.  ALWAYS.  You can’t do anything without someone knowing about it.  You have older siblings who want you to toe the line and younger siblings who want to emulate you. And if your parents are good at this big family thing (and mine were) your younger siblings have been trained to innocently spy on you.  It’s not that we’re trained to tattletale, it’s just that a simple statement like “Go check and see how Bo is doing” or “Can you make sure that Jake is doing okay?” makes a younger sibling feel like they’re helping an older sibling in a very special way.  So when we come back with, “Bo is great!  He’s showing Jake how to mudwrestle in the backyard,”  we have no idea that we’ve just betrayed them.  And younger siblings remember EVERYTHING.  At least mine do.  (Ahem, Joe.) So you learn quickly to make better decisions and you also learn that you will eventually get caught.  Almost inevitably.

Lesson #3:  Figure out who is in charge.

In a big family, there is always someone in charge.  This is a big thing that I’ve noticed about smaller families – there is no desire for someone to be in charge.  They can sit in a room and have very little power-play because they are comfortable with everyone being in charge of themselves.  Not in a big family.  In a big family, you are trained from birth that your older siblings are in charge of you simply because they’re older than you.  Sometimes there are events that occur that disrupt that age hierarchy, but that’s rare.  For example, my older brother Jimbo did not like to be in charge.  He wanted to be alone.  So when he was left in charge, he put me in charge and locked himself in his room to play Savage Garden at an unhealthy volume.  I think in some ways this has damaged me in a way that makes me believe that I am permanently in charge….

Anyway, once you’ve read a room and figured out who is in charge, this will help in case of arguments or if one of your siblings tries to tell you what to do.  Only the sibling who is in charge can tell you what to do. If there is an argument, the final decision goes to the sibling in charge.  If you can’t decide what to watch on TV or what to eat for lunch or what to do for fun, the final decision goes to the sibling in charge.  And everyone else has to respect that.  (How do you small-family people make decisions if no one is in charge?!  I guess everyone makes their own decisions independently?  You mean, you don’t make ONE thing for lunch and everyone has to eat it without whining?  Everyone can make their own lunch?  No way….not possible.)

Lesson #4:  Make your expectations known.

When there are so many people in the same house, it would be stupid to assume that everyone knows what you want all the time.  Maybe in a small-family house, everyone would know that you like your cereal in the big orange bowl because you eat it that way every day, and they would stay away from it.  But in a big-family house your younger sibling wants to use that bowl too just because you use it every day and you have to make sure they understand it’s off limits.  You never assume that they’ll understand without your say-so because they won’t.  I would get a monster box of Frosted Mini Wheats for Christmas every year and even if I would write my name on box, the only time my brothers wouldn’t eat them was when I would write “DO NOT EAT” on the box multiple times.  So you just get used to telling people what you want and how you want it.  You can’t blame them for not living up to your expectations if you never told them what you expected!

Lesson #5:  Go with the flow.

When there are too many people to accommodate everyone’s every whim, you get used to rolling with the punches.  Sometimes you get it your way and sometimes you’re the one who gets disappointed, but you NEVER get upset when it doesn’t work out your way.  It’s all about what works for the majority.  You want to do Christmas on Christmas morning?  Okay.  Who else does that work for? If it doesn’t work for most of the siblings, then you figure out another time.  Even if it doesn’t work the best for you.  You just learn that things don’t have to be perfect and you don’t throw a fit when they’re not.  Can you imagine what it would be like in a house with 11 people if everyone threw a fit when it didn’t go their way?!  Goodness.

Lesson #6:  Take care of each other.  Sometimes that means you drop everything.

You definitely learn to take care of each other in a big family.  In the obvious ways, like helping your sibs find their shoes or pouring them a cup of milk, but also in less obvious ways like making faces at them while they nervously prepare for their band solo or bringing your obviously uncool sister to parties with your friends because she’s scared of public school.  You know exactly what to do to make each one of your siblings feel better after a bad day and you know exactly how to do it.  To this day, I know when my brother Joe is having a bad day and I’ll sometimes say to his wife (even though she knows better than I do) “He needs to watch a movie.  Any movie.”

Sometimes this means that what we need is for all of us to get together and we’ll end up making some excuse for a party and staying up way later than we wanted to and keeping our kids up past bedtime just because we need to be together.  It’s all about taking care of each other.  There is an intense connection in big families and we don’t question it when the spirit moves us to be together.  It’s like we’re all connected by these elastic cords and when they’ve been stretched too far too long, they snap us back together and we have no choice but to obey.    

Lesson #7:  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

My mother would ask us all the time growing up, “What is the golden rule?!” usually out of desperation and exhaustion.  But it really hammered into our brains that we should treat people the way we want to be treated.  When you live in a house that is constantly full of people who can recall at any moment any of a thousand things you have done wrong in the past, it really helps to try to be nice to them.  I remember one time I was arguing with Jen (because she was in charge and I don’t respond well to not being in charge) and Jake was in the next room keeping score. (He literally had a paper and pencil and was making tallies every time someone said something particularly good.) At the end of the argument, he told me I won and, after a brief pause to sift through some mental files, I said, “You know that time you drew with permanent marker in one of my books?  You’re forgiven.” I just remember thinking that maybe he’d forgive me one day.  Or maybe Jen would forgive me one day.  Or maybe ANYONE would forgive me one day.  

So I remember this when I am tempted to do something awful to someone.  If I do this awful thing, I am opening myself up to the possibility of awful things being done to me. Like when Jes locked Bo out of the house and then he broke a window coming back into the house and they both got in trouble. Or when I let my cat kill Bo’s snake and he farted into a jar and left the jar in my room for me to find…and open….(P.S.  Never open a seemingly random empty jar.)

Lesson #8:  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

I first heard this phrase in that classic episode of The Twilight Zone where an ugly lady goes in to get her face surgically altered so that she could be attractive again.  I won’t ruin it for you, but they talk about how beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I had to have my dad explain it to me.  He also used to say “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”  Or once (when eating a bowl of cereal that was all crumbs because it was the bottom of the box) “One man’s crumbs is another man’s cereal.”  

This was something we definitely experienced in our big family.  A joke I used with one sibling would fall flat, but the same joke with another one would be quoted decades later.  I used to play this game with my younger brothers where I was a psychiatrist and they would come to me for therapy sessions. Jake and Joe played along because it made me happy, but eventually they told me it was stupid and they wouldn’t play anymore.  But Rico honestly enjoyed his sessions and he would totally dive head first into his therapy.  I’m not certain, but I think he actually thought I was qualified to provide psychiatric help.  It’s the same with just about anything.  Jes and I are completely addicted to my mother’s pies, but Jen thought they were no good.  We learned very quickly that not everyone is going to love everything you love.  And sometimes that meant you had to sit through The Iron Giant AGAIN because Jack just couldn’t get enough. But eventually you will probably find someone who agrees with you and loves what you love, if you just ask enough people.

This also means we are not quick to share our opinion about everything.  You know those people who just have to tell the room how they feel about every single thing?  We don’t do that.  We wait to share until our opinion might add to the conversation.  Well…this is true for all members of big families except the oldest sibling, because they were alone long enough to think their opinion is the most important.

Lesson #9:  Why do anything alone?

The only thing I did alone growing up was bathe, use the toilet and change my clothes.  Every other time, there was someone around that I had to interact with.  When I was reading a book, my brothers would ask me questions about the people on the cover or what was happening in the story.  When I was making dinner, my brothers were providing their suggestions for what it needed or whining about what they wanted to eat instead.  When I was cleaning, my brothers were complaining about the fact that I was making them clean too.  But we never did anything alone.  We went to the library as a group.  We went to the store as a group.  We walked to the bus stop as a group.  We went to school as a group.  We did church events together.  We ate meals together. If we asked to go somewhere, the answer almost always included, “Take so-and-so with you.”

How this looks in my life now is that I like it when people tag along at the grocery store.  I turn the television on to make my home a little more noisy while I’m doing housecleaning or grading or napping.  My gut reaction to a party invitation is “I wonder if Jes is going” or “Maybe I can ride with mom.”  Even now with three small children, I wonder if I would enjoy some alone time, but I have a hard time imagining what I would do then.  Maybe take a nap (with the tv on).

And I feel weird when I talk to my youngest brother Jack because he’s the only one at home with my mom now and he does quite a bit alone.  I don’t know what that’s like at all.  When I was a junior in high school, Jake was a freshman, Joe was in 7th grade, Rico was in 4th grade and Jack was 2.  There was no chance I’d get a moment alone.  But I think Jack still has some of the same habits.  He is constantly listening to music because it’s “too quiet” otherwise, for example.  On days he doesn’t have to go to school, he sometimes chooses to come to MY school just because.  

Lesson #10:  Do your part.

When there are a billion people living in one house, the mess can be enormous.  Seriously monumental.  We found very quickly that if one person refused to do their chore, everyone would refuse to do their chore and chaos quickly ensued.  Not only that, but when we have to get something done – anything done – we are quick to divvy up the responsibilities and delegate.  Part of this goes back to knowing strengths and weaknesses, so we know who to put in charge of what, but we definitely break it up.  We never have a party where one person is in charge of food.  No way.  We never plan something without everyone’s input and we definitely don’t forget to invite people to participate even if we know they won’t come.  This means we have huge whole-family conversations on Facebook where our phones are buzzing and beeping every minute for an hour and a half.  My husband can’t keep up with these conversations and by the time he sits down to read them, he has 50 unread messages and most of them are inside jokes or personal insults aimed lovingly at each other.  He waits for me to tell him the important parts.

But there is a distinct understanding that you are going to carry your load.  That you are going to uphold your end of the bargain.  And you expect everyone else to do that too.  And again, you’ve made your expectations clear so there is no confusion.  I think I’m starting to repeat myself.

And so, when I was still very young (after I was in my I’m-going-to-be-a-nun phase and right before my I’d-rather-remove-my-own-ovaries-with-a-spoon phase) I decided that I was going to have a big family.  I knew that these were lessons my kids needed to learn and that I wouldn’t teach them as well as a house full of people would teach them.

And I’ve discovered something since then.  I don’t have to fill my house with my own children to make them learn this.  I can fill my house with my brothers and sisters and their children and they can learn the same lessons.  The more my house is full – of ANYONE – the more my children learn about people and how to handle them.

That said, we are expecting #5 in August.  Yay to full houses!  (We NEVER forget to count our Luna.  Even though she doesn’t get to fill our house physically, she fills our house emotionally and losing her taught us and our kids just as much as having her would.)

Luna Turns 2

This Sunday (November 23) marks the two year anniversary of the day we delivered our Luna Eugenia.  She was delivered stillborn after being diagnosed with a chromosomal disorder called Turner Syndrome.  We still celebrate this day as her birthday.

In the hospital on Luna's birthday.

In the hospital on Luna’s birthday.

I also had the privilege of starting a new chapter in Biology class this week – Genetics.  I hadn’t anticipated really getting to talk about Luna so close to her birthday, but it just so happened that today we looked at karyotypes and I got to show them hers.

Luna's karyotype, showing the missing X chromosome in the bottom right.

Luna’s karyotype, showing the missing X chromosome in the bottom right.

We looked at the missing space where an X chromosome should have been, and I told them about how grateful I was for the technology to allow us to know what was going on with our baby girl.  I asked them to imagine being pregnant and thinking that everything was going well until one day you go in to the OB and they can’t find a heartbeat.  That would have been more difficult to bear than what we had. I am grateful for the six weeks between diagnosis and death that I had to value and savor every single moment with Luna.

There was also a rare chance where I got to speak to my students about why we named her Luna.  I explained that the moon has no light of its own and only reflects the light of the sun.  In the same way, as a Christian, I know that I have no light of my own and I only reflect the light of Christ to the world.  Luna’s name and Luna’s story remind me to shine brightly for Christ no matter what the circumstances are.


I anticipated these holidays being difficult without my dad, Jen, Luna and Jake, but I have found that my mood has been better recently.  Perhaps the constant reminders of those I’ve lost have actually served to keep my focus in the right place.  Maybe I’m just happy that I get to see the rest of my family more during the holidays.  Regardless, I’m thankful that I get a little break from the grumpiness and anxiety of my grief.

I came up the stairs in MACA to go to my lab and there was a slanted rectangle of light on the floor where the sun was streaming in a glass door.  You know the kind.  The kind where the light hits all the particles in the air and it looks like a snow globe and the whole world seems to glow.  I stood in that doorway and felt the warmth of that sun and it really felt like a hug.  I don’t usually say cheesy things like that, but it really did feel like a warm hug. And it made me think about what I have to be thankful for.

1)  I am thankful for Luna.  For the experience of having her.  For the reminder of how to live because of her.  For the warmth of knowing her. For my children who still talk about her and make things for her.

The ornaments I made this week at MOPS.  My children reminded me to include Luna on everything.

The ornaments I made this week at MOPS. My children reminded me to include Luna on everything.

2)  I am thankful for losing Luna.  Without losing Luna when I did, I would not have been able to be in the hospital when Jen died.  She died two days after my due date with Luna and I would have had a hard time being there with a newborn (or being so enormously pregnant).  Also, if I had not lost Luna, I would not have Joe.  And Joe lights up my world. He hugs like my dad, bosses me around like Jen and makes goofy smiles like Jake.

My Joe and the smile that makes me smile.

My Joe and the smile that makes me smile.

3)  I am thankful for my family.  Both living and dead.  I have learned so much from all of them and I value each and every one of them.  They shape me.  They support me.  They make me who I am.  They are funny and smart and attractive.  They are kind and generous and patient.  They are everything I am not and everything that I am.  They fill all my gaps and make me into someone whole.

new school

Even though my struggle through grief hasn’t been easy and I have so much to work on, I am thankful for the life that God has given me.  It has given me a platform that I wouldn’t otherwise have. It has taught me to rely on Christ when I have nothing left.  It had made me compassionate and patient.  It has created in me a grateful, joyful heart.

My parents with us on Luna's birthday.  I am so thankful my dad could be there to hold my hand.

My parents with us on Luna’s birthday. I am so thankful my dad could be there to hold my hand.

That God really knows what he’s doing, doesn’t he?

So when Sunday rolls around, we encourage you to think for a moment about the light you are reflecting and we hope that Luna reminds you to reflect the Son as brightly as a full moon.

Camera Shy

When I was a child, I remember smiling big for every picture – posing and innocently smiling and carefree.  I never worried about how I looked or thought about how the picture will turn out.  Who cared? Someone loved me enough to take my picture.

So cute and showing no signs of insecurities...

So cute and showing no signs of insecurities…

Then I was in kindergarten, and all of a sudden my school picture was a big deal to me. I practiced smiling in front of the mirror in my room so that I would look good in it. Teeth?  no teeth?  Hair up?  Hair down?  All of a sudden, the final product mattered.  I remember agonizing over what shirt to wear (I settled on a red shirt with a picture of Mary the mother of Jesus on it) and how I was going to wear my hair.  I tucked it behind only one ear and when the photographer tried to tuck it behind the other ear, I pouted and pushed her hand away. Then I tried hard to smile, but thought my teeth might look funny, so I ended up with a tight lipped grimace that conveyed more of a get-me-out-of-here attitude than the sweet little girl I was trying to show the world.

What are you doing with that camera? (At least my kid seems happy to get his picture taken...)

What are you doing with that camera? (At least my kid seems happy to get his picture taken…)

Thus began a lifelong struggle with cameras. While I love seeing pictures of me with my loved ones, I had a hard time posing for said pictures with any kind of confidence. Even when I tried to look normal, my face just somehow took the presence of a camera as an invitation to twist into a variety of monstrous expressions that should never be recorded on film. My junior prom picture is evidence of that, where I stand snarling at the camera while my “just a friend” date (now my husband) looks debonair and confident. No, I will not show you that picture. Or my face becomes an angry stare that promises retaliation when the camera is put away.

Get that camera away from me.

Get that camera away from me.

And so began the habit of making purposefully hideous facial expressions in photos. So now when people say to me, “what are you making that face for?” I can pull a Jim Hansbrough and say, “For free.

Love this picture of my daddy.  Look at the muscular abilities of his face to morph into such an expression!  That is one talented man.

Love this picture of my daddy. Look at the muscular abilities of his face to morph into such an expression! That is one talented man.

In fact, I think we all inherited that method of camera avoidance from my father. Make a silly face on purpose and people will stop taking pictures of you.  And it works! Like a charm!

My sister, father and brother demonstrating that inherited method for making cameras go away:  stupid faces.

My sister, father and brother demonstrating that inherited method for making cameras go away: stupid faces.

Except now the problem is that I wish I had more pictures of me with the loved ones I’ve lost.  Didn’t I love them in real life? Weren’t we with each other a crazy proportion of the time?  Why aren’t there more pictures of us together?  Why don’t we have record of these amazing relationships in my life?

Even as babies, we learned to make faces to keep cameras away.

Even as babies, we learned to make faces to keep cameras away.

So here is my request to those of you who are apt to take photos of me. Please do it. Do it despite my protesting. Do it despite the fact that my face will by impulse contort itself into an expression that would frighten small children. Do it as often as you can. Do it as annoyingly as you can. Your chances of success will probably be greater if you capture some candid moments so my face doesn’t know a camera is around, but make me pose for them too.  Make me pose with the people I love.  Point a camera at me and make me stand next to my mom or my siblings or my cousins and put my arm around them like I love them and tell me to smile even though we all know that could end poorly.

My students get me.

My students get me.

And those of you who are professional photographers?  Try your hardest to make me look at least a little normal.  It’s a challenge, I know.  But try.

Especially the extra weird ones that like to dress me up with props and pose with me.

Sometimes I let them dress me up in costumes first…but at least she posed with me.

Record these moments that we all want to look back on because having them recorded will help us remember. And even if that means I have to be uncomfortable for all of five seconds while you snap a picture, at least my children will have it on record that I love them because I am willing to get my picture taken with them.

I do really love these kids.

I do really love these kids.

And while I know this means we will have to tolerate the likes of you, oh family photographers, I am willing to do it because I wish I had more pictures of those who are gone now. I don’t want my silly selfish insecurities about how the picture will turn out to keep us from recording family history.  It makes me so sad that I don’t have more pictures of me and Jake or me and Dad or me and Jen. So forget my silliness and take more pictures of me. Please.

In the same vein, don’t get mad when I take pictures of you. So there. More photos. More happy memories. More memories we can share. More opportunities for laughter.

The whole family can get in on this silly face thing.  Even the in-laws are adept at these skills.

The whole family can get in on this silly face thing. Even the in-laws are adept at these skills.

Maybe it's not genetic, because it seems to have spread to my husband's side of the family...

Maybe it’s not genetic, because it seems to have spread to my husband’s side of the family…

Dear Daddy

Dear Daddy,

I keep waiting for you to help me deal with everything.  Your death.  All of the death. I keep waiting for a giant hug and some words of wisdom. I keep waiting for reassurance that everything will be okay.

You kind of always assume that your parents will die before you. Or at least that they are “supposed” to. But my life doesn’t make sense without you here. You were a rock. A foundation. A constant. You know how people tell you to focus on the horizon when you are seasick? You were my horizon.

Dad with my baby girl - the first girl in the family since I was born!

Dad with my baby girl – the first girl in the family since I was born!

I’m sorry.  I’m sorry for a million things.  I think we’re all still in shock, Daddy.

Here is what I am most sorry for. I am sorry that I have leaned on you the way you taught me to lean on Jesus. I am sorry that all those lectures and pep talks about faith and trust in God and His sovereignty made me put you on a pedestal the way I should have elevated Christ.

Help me to build a throne for Christ the way you taught me.

Is it any wonder that you and God are linked so strongly in my heart? We call God our father because of the connection and love and dependence we feel for our earthly fathers. Because of the unquestioning trust and security and hope.

Because you were such an incredible earthly father, my understanding and love for God is that much more huge. It is because of you that I could fall in love with God the father and cling to Him in times of trouble.  It’s because of your protection, provision and care that I understand how to feel about God’s love.

When I remember you, you are all warm hands, big gut and scruffly chin. I see salt and pepper hair and the scar on your neck from your childhood surgery. I remember being tucked up under your arm with my arms around your belly and my ear against your chest. I see you laughing with your mouth open and your head thrown back with no noise coming out of your mouth. Crinkled eyes and shaking belly.

Dad and Jack hugging it out.  Best hugs ever.

Dad and Jack hugging it out. Best hugs ever.

More than anything, I remember your voice and your warmth. I miss these things the most because I cannot get these from looking at a photo.

Bo told me once that your death was so sad to him because he woke up in the morning and you were gone. He had plans to watch monster movies with you. I feel like that too. I had plans with you. Visions of seeing you play with my children. Visions of making fun of you as an old man. Visions of shared moments, hugs, advice and good-natured teasing.  And I am angry and disappointed that my plans have been spoiled. More than that, I am coping by not wanting to make plans with anyone else for fear I will be disappointed again.

You have been everywhere lately. Bo chose fish sticks for dinner. There was a ridiculous commercial on TV that used a slightly changed version of “You Dropped a Bomb on Me” by the Gap Band. Bo asked to watch Flight of Dragons this evening. I walked by the fridge today and saw the picture of you wearing the Big Bad Wolf mask. The kids requested Papa stories for their bedtime stories. I told them about the time you rolled down the hill in elementary school and scared your teacher by busting open your surgical wound. I told them about your neighbor’s baboons and your pet monkey and your potty trained cat.

I even had a conversation with 9 month old Joe this morning about you.
Me:  Who loves you, Joey O?
Me:  Nana?! Okay, but who loves you the most?
Me:  Yup.  Papa loves you.  How about Mama?
Joe: <shakes his head and screams like a banshee>

Always happiest with kids on his knee

Always happiest with kids on his knee

When I was a little girl, you smelled like Old Spice.  As I got older, you smelled like  well…like you. Do you remember when you would accidentally wear mom’s jeans and how mad she would get? Or when you drove me twelve hours to Maine and then turned around and drove home with nothing more than  a potty break? Or when you took me and Jack on a tour of Shenandoah and we almost got the car stuck looking for the last house you lived in?

Oh, Daddy. Help me to cling to the faith you’ve grown in me. Help me to hold on and trust the God you taught me about. That brings me to what I am most sorry for – sorry that I am totally not handling this the way you would have taught me to. Sorry that I am struggling with this. I miss you.

And I am mad that you didn’t go see a doctor sooner. You felt bad for hours before you died. Now I am paranoid that my body is trying to tell me something is wrong with me too. And I am sorry, but I blame you for that.

Ugh. I am writing this because I miss talking to you.  I miss seeing you and just talking and talking and talking until neither one of us is really paying attention anymore. I miss arguing with you over nothing and then laughing when your rebuttals fail to make logical sense.  I miss watching that belly jiggle when you laugh.

dad profile

Where losing my brother, my baby, and my sister really beat up my heart, losing you has crushed it. It still works, but I am working hard to put it back together so that it could beat without these stabbing pains. I know I have to choose another foundation and I am going to try to make that horizon the immutable, omnipotent, holy God – with no other distractions.

So, thank you. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to shift my focus from that which is earthly to that which is supernatural. I pray I can make you proud.

Love you, Daddy.