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


We’re Going on a Bear Hunt

Sorry my post this week is so late – we have had a busy weekend and I took the time to deep clean my kitchen instead of updating the blog.

This week, we studied We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen.  This is a repetitive story that lends itself to hand motions, which is the very first thing we did.  We read through the story once and then went through it again making up hand motions together.  I would ask, “What hand motion would show a deep, cold river?” and they would make suggestions until we picked one everyone liked.  Once we figured it all out, the kids wanted to do it over and over again.  All day.  All week.  Even now that we’re done with the book.

This is what they chose for the line "We're not scared!"

This is what they chose for the line “We’re not scared!”

In the book, it says “We can’t go over it/We can’t go under it/Oh no!  We’ve got to go through it!” So we talked about over/under/through and other locative prepositions and practiced with a tunnel that we have.  We practiced going over and under lots of things and talked about how some things are easier to go over or under and others are more difficult.  We then used gummy bears (sticking with the bear theme) to demonstrate these prepositions.  They got bored with this pretty quickly, I think because they already understood pretty well.

Going THROUGH the tunnel

Going THROUGH the tunnel

We reviewed our senses from the week at the beach and practiced using them to make observations.  Then we talked about what an adjective is and what it means to describe something and practiced describing all sorts of things.  “Gummy bears are delicious!”  “My hands are sticky!”  “These are squishy!”  They weren’t ready for school to be over, so I let them work in some workbooks on things like patterns, colors, shapes and letters.  They really loved working in these, especially when bribed with gummy bears.

On Day 2, Patrick took the kids out on a Habitat Scavenger Hunt to find each of the environments mentioned in the book (grass, river, mud, forest, snowstorm, cave) and they had a blast running around in the forest and splashing in the mud.

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Maggie asked if she could take all her clothes off and run around in the river.  Of course, a couple of the environments were hard to find, so we had to improvise.

This was our cave.  For the snowstorm, we let them stick their faces in our freezer.

This was our cave. For the snowstorm, we let them stick their faces in our freezer.

Bo carried a clipboard with everything listed on it and was a little upset when they didn’t do them in order.

Bo carrying his clipboard through the "deep, cold river"

Bo carrying his clipboard through the “deep, cold river”

After they came back, we made story paintings.  I pasted a paper cave in the center of the paper and separated the remaining space into five sections – one for each of the environments.  Then the kids painted the environments into the sections.  Green grass.  Blue river. Brown mud, etc.

Maggie's trees.

Maggie’s trees.

Bo was very methodical and painted the whole section.  Maggie had much less patience.  Then we glued some googly eyes in the middle of the cave for the bear in the cave.  Bo was so excited to use the glue himself.

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We talked about what a habitat was and went through each one and listed animals that lived in them.  Bo was very excited about crayfish living in mud because he had found one when they went on their Habitat Scavenger Hunt.

Day 3 was all about Bears.  Bears are my favorite animals, so I was excited about this.  We filled in our animal information worksheets and practiced terms like carnivore and omnivore.  We looked at photos of various species and watched some videos.  We compared species and mentioned how to tell the difference, so Bo knows to look for the shoulder hump on a Grizzly bear now.

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Maggie drew a bear on the board.

Maggie drew a bear on the board.

Then we talked about how we can compare things in a simile using the word “like” because I wanted to link bears and my Dad (their Papa) in their minds.  My dad died suddenly in April and he was obsessed with bears (both Chicago and the animals).  So, we looked at a photo of him and talked about how he is like a bear.  “Papa is big like a bear and strong!” “Papa likes to eat meat and plants like a bear.”  Then we talked about how symbols and images can help us remember someone.  We went around the house and looked at the pictures hanging up – we have a moon painting by my Aunt Bim to remind us of our baby Luna, a bear painting to remind us of Papa, drawings by Uncle Jake and Aunta Nina’s handprint.

My dad gave me this picture of a bear that hung in their house for as long as I can remember.  It's always been my favorite.

My dad gave me this picture of a bear that hung in their house for as long as I can remember. It’s always been my favorite.

We practiced with other similes and I said “Bo is like a strawberry because his shirt and shorts are all red.”  We then had a lesson in the difference between metaphors and similes because Bo said if he was a strawberry he’d be small and a triangle and covered in seeds.  So we talked about how being LIKE something and being something is different.

We ended the day by reading several other books starring bears.  There are a lot of them – even in our collection.

On Thursday, we learned all about Noah’s ark.  I told them the story and we talked about a few different lessons we can learn from it.  We talked about following God’s directions even when they seem ridiculous.  We talked about being righteous when everyone around you isn’t.  Then we acted out the story using a wooden Noah’s ark set we have.

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Then I gave each of them a pile of popsicle sticks and a sheet of paper and told them to build me an ark.  I didn’t give detailed instructions (although, thinking back on it now, that would have illustrated how Noah followed God’s directions well), but they had fun trying to build something that looked like an ark.  Bo’s actually did look like a boat!

Bo drew a pair of bats in his ark.

Bo drew a pair of bats in his ark.

Then we talked about the number 2.  We practiced writing two’s on the board and did a couple of worksheets.  Maggie is not interested in those pre-writing activities and could not follow the lines and didn’t try to. Bo can do his worksheets completely on his own now and was done in record time.

Maggie circled her 2's instead of trying to draw them.

Maggie circled her 2’s instead of trying to draw them.

Then I made them a couple of “counting boards” where I hot glued pipe cleaners to a sheet of paper and gave them beads to string onto them.  This was intended to help them practice the fine-motor skills, but also to teach them to add by 2’s and count by 2’s.  We put two beads on the first pipe cleaner, four on the second, six on the third and so on. Maggie loved threading the beads onto the pipe cleaners, but asked me not to take a picture of her while she was working.  “It’s really hard, mommy.”

Maggie's chubby fingers stringing beads.  So cute.

Maggie’s chubby fingers stringing beads. So cute.

Bo practiced his mental math by adding two to each number to figure out how many beads to put on the next pipe cleaner.  Then we took the beads off and counted how many beads we used total.

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Friday was a special treat.  We had spent the night at our Oa’s (my grandmother’s) house and left early to go to the National Zoo in DC with my sister Jes and her daughter Lo.  We had spent a little time the night before creating a checklist of animals we wanted to see at the zoo (so we could ‘hunt’ for them), but we left that list in the car back at the house when we walked to the metro.  The metro was a fun adventure for them too because my kids are country bumpkins who don’t know what escalators and elevators are.

My happy boys.

My happy boys.

I carried Joe and Patrick pushed our other two in our double stroller.  Jes used her double stroller for Lolo and lunch (yes, lunch took a whole seat in a stroller). We saw all kinds of animals, but oddly, no bears.  We did see otters napping in a tree stump.  Tigers stretched out in the shade.  Elephants throwing dirt on their backs for sunscreen.  Snakes. Owls. Gorillas. Zebras. Crocodiles. Pandas hiding in the trees.  Orangutans swinging on cables over the crowd of people.  But Bo’s favorite of the day was the lion.  The big male lion was up and walking around and we got to watch him take a drink, pee, poop and roar before lying down to take a nap.  I’ve been to the National Zoo once a year for almost my whole life and I’ve never seen the lion that active.

I think this is when they were trying to find the panda hiding in the tree.

I think this is when they were trying to find the panda hiding in the tree.

It was a long day and a warm day, but it was a lot of fun.  On the way home in the car, we went over our checklist and then we rewrote We’re Going on a Bear Hunt to be “We’re Going on a Zoo Hunt” and we changed the environments to animals and practiced animal noises.  (What do zebras say, by the way?) Then when we got home, we drew pictures of our favorite animals at the zoo and snacked on Teddy Grahams.  I had every intention of organizing a bear scavenger hunt where I hid baggies of Teddy Grahams and made them review the stuff we learned this week to get them, but I was beat after walking all over the zoo.

Bo drew a King Cobra.  That was his favorite animal at the zoo, but the lion put on the best show.

Bo drew a King Cobra. That was his favorite animal at the zoo, but the lion put on the best show.

Originally, I was going to do Fireboat by Maira Kalman to align with the 4th of July (it’s about a fireboat in NYC on 9/11), but because my favorite place to pick blueberries put out its blueberries sign, we will be doing Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey.

The Little Things

I have been debating whether or not I would keep updating my blog now that Luna is gone, but I selfishly have become very dependent on this process of writing. There is something so therapeutic about writing down what is going on because you have to know what you are feeling well enough to explain it.

I thank all of you for taking the time to read this blog because part of this is just knowing that the people around me know what is going through my head. I don’t always articulate myself in person very well and sometimes the awkwardness of the moment makes me anxious. Being a pretty straightforward person, I have a hard time when I am expected to make assumptions in a conversation with someone. If I could trust everyone to just say exactly what they mean and be clear about their expectations in return, maybe I would be better at it. Anyway, long story short, I really am thankful for this opportunity to be open, honest and clear about how I am doing.

In short, some days are better than others. It’s only been a couple of days, but already my emotions are proving to be pretty unstable. We came down from such a high on Friday night where we got to see our girl and had such a feeling of spiritual closeness to each other and God. Now we are being reminded of what we could have had if Luna was healthy and we miss it.

It’s the little things really. I feel like I can handle the big things, but something as small as calling MJ “baby girl” can set me off because we had started calling her “big girl” in anticipation of the new baby. Or the smell of hospital on my clothes because it is so reminiscent of when I brought my other babies home.

It’s kind of a testament to the tendency of the human heart to wander because it really takes very little to make me forget that there is a greater plan in all this. But if I take more than a millisecond to think about things, I feel peace knowing that our life is in the hands of a sovereign, righteous and loving God. I realize that I have already been blessed with more than I deserve and even if I never get anything I want from here on out, I will still rejoice because what I truly want is what God wants.

And as we move from here, I will be able to post pictures of all the little things we are doing to remember our baby Luna and those things – even thinking of those things – remind me that my time without Luna and without my brother Jake is short compared to the time I will get to spend with them in heaven. Praise God for giving us these huge hearts with huge emotions so we can spend eternity pouring out our love and worship for him.

The first memorial was Bo’s idea entirely. We gave him a few ideas, but he was so excited about putting out a “flag” that was very specific. It says “We love you Luna! You’re in heaven now!” My sister jumped right on it and it was up before Friday afternoon. Bo also wanted to make sure she didn’t tie down the bottom of the flag because he wanted it to “flap and flap and flap.”