2013 began with a date with my mom, for her to hear Nathan play violin, for us to clean her house, walking there with the dogs on a snowy, snowy day. She made us chili. Jessica beat her at trivial pursuit, a feat none of the rest of us had ever managed (it was the Disney edition). We laughed until we cried, and had the best day ever, following the best Christmas ever. We were happy, and at peace, and in a good place together. She was giving the missionaries a hard time, having Christy Moss help with all kinds of chores, talking to her best friend Jo everyday at least a hundred times, and becoming friends with the Johnsons just so she could debate Mormon stuff. Nathan told her his first word was “cheese”, and she told him my first word was “emancipation proclamation”. We loved her, and she was happy for us. The year began with a very good ending, for we did end it well, and that by the grace of God.
A week later, almost a year ago, I was supposed to drive mom to Joplin for a day with my brother’s family. His daughters were competing in debate and swim meets, and she wanted to be there. I was supposed to drive. I always drove her everywhere, partly because she would get tired or have trouble seeing after dark, and partly because she was a really scary driver! But that week I really struggled with morning sickness, and we had already had one miscarriage. So the day before the big outing we were prompted unexpectedly to go to the temple. We hadn’t planned a temple trip that day, but it was a loud and clear and direct prompting, so Nathan and I loaded up and headed to Oklahoma City. When we got to Tulsa, we stopped at the river, which we knew would slow us down, but again we were very specifically prompted to stop and take a walk. It put us way behind schedule, but we had a really beautiful walk at the river on a really beautiful day, and enjoyed it very much knowing the weather was supposed to turn nasty again that weekend. We left our walk, went to the temple, and got home much later than expected. It meant that in the morning, I was not feeling well enough to drive mom to Joplin, and at the last minute I told her I couldn’t go.
She didn’t feel well, either, but she went anyway.
She had the very best last day of her life, surrounded by the grandchildren she loved more than anything, and getting to cuddle with Jessica all day while sitting in the stands. My brother fed her a picnic lunch, and because the weather was going to turn bad later, he made sure she took her brownie with her to eat later in the car so she would have a snack to keep her awake and alert.
She called her friend Jo on the way home, to share about her day.
She texted us to check on the dogs.
And then she was gone.
We had to say goodbye to Kiwi, the bird the Johnsons had given mom and now was going to live with my nephew:
There was nothing sweet Nathan could do to take away our grief, but he played piano and violin for my family and for me for hours and hours and hours, just loving us in the way he could, and soothing our spirits in a way nothing else would. He was so good with all the kids while our house was full of family, and we had no idea that our year would end with us having just as many kids as we did those weeks.
We spent those weeks doing all the things we had to do while we could, visiting the ambulance workers and the highway patrol and the witnesses who last saw mom. We waited to see what would happen with the driver’s charges, writing our story of what happened and how we felt each moment of the ordeal, waited to see how court would unfold, and realizing that none of it would bring her back. We consciously chose to forgive, and said so out loud. Then we faced the site to say goodbye, not to retraumatize ourselves, but because we knew they would spend the next year on construction trying to fix the road where it happened and that we would be having to drive past it every time we visited each other. So we needed closure in some way, just to function. It’s still hard, though.
Even though it was really hard, I am really glad we grieved so consciously.
It made moving forward better in some ways, because we knew she was still there.
We felt her at our first family gathering without her, which was for Billie’s baptism.
Nathan and I experienced our second miscarriage soon after mom died, and spent Valentine’s Day in awe of this love we share, wondering at how it is so real and big and true that it must be so challenged with opposition and difficult experiences. We were grateful to have found each other after so many mortal years apart, and determined to nourish our love as consciously as we learned to live through grieving. It is work, to love legitimately and consciously, but nothing has made us so alive and so happy.
We celebrated that love with a trip to Israel in March, another unexpected adventure. We literally found out the day before, and it meant I spent my first birthday without mom – and her first birthday since she passed away – far away in Israel, the same place where I had grieved the loss of my father. This was good and right and healing, and unforeseen miracle that helped me come up for air, share the land I love with Nathan, and prepare myself to return to living again.
Family Home Evening was not the same without mom there to argue and banter with us, but we continued faithfully just the two of us. Nathan really advanced in sign language, so the two of us are always able to communicate, even without my cochlear implants. We tried to be obedient to promptings, including following through on our honeymoon counsel to become foster parents, even though that seemed like a bizarre adventure for newlyweds.
I began a post-doc study in Jewish studies, taking classes at one school and Hebrew at BYU and covering my hair for an entire semester of Torah study. It was good timing with my grief, which continued to feel so big in this year that began with the death of my mother and then felt like one miscarriage after another. Nathan was so good to me, so kind and patient and helpful, so tender and gentle. We took ourselves on dates, careful to keep courting, dancing when we could, playing in the ways we were able. It was a quiet time of healing, full of hard, dark days that stole my breath. But the healing came, slowly and carefully, and Nathan held my hand the whole time.
After making it further than we had any other pregnancy, we shared the news knowing it was still high risk but wanting to enjoy every moment with that little life while we could, no matter how many moments that would be or not be.
And we carefully continued our lives, enjoying our time together in rest and play.
We flew kites:
Jessica came to visit again, giving Nathan more practice at kids. She taught him how to change diapers, which has turned out to be very useful. I also made him clean her freshly pierced ears, promising that it was not nearly as gross as anything else he would be doing if we really got to be foster parents.
Then I flew out to surprise Nathan at one of his shows, for which I am grateful as now that we have kids it will be a long time probably before I get to go see one of his shows live. It was so amazing!
Nathan spent his summer organizing creative events, including teaching classes for the local little theater, organizing a main street event, starting a theater company locally, and teaching playwrighting classes for the local homeschool organization.
Oh, yeah, and foster kids. Here’s how it happened: we went to the fertility center to get the results of all our testing, which was that because of a variety of reasons for both of us, we were not going to be able to carry a child full term. We went to the car and cried, and then talked.
And then the phone rang, and our first kiddo was on the way, just like that.
If we had not followed the first prompting a year ago, when we still didn’t understand why, and while it still felt bizarre, the timing would not have been so perfect or amazing.
I could not imagine, after the year of grief we had already endured, getting that news of not being able to have children and then waiting another year to get signed up for the process to start.
Because we were obedient when first prompted, everything happened right away, and it was like our prayers were answered immediately – even though we had applied a year before and signed up for fostering before we knew we could not have children.
It was an amazing experience in faith.
And thus began our fostering adventure.
When he first came, he could not talk. We took him to show him the room, and he crawled to the far corner of the bottom punk, the way a sick puppy crawls away to die. He didn’t talk, go to the bathroom, or eat for almost three days. We called the caseworker to ask what else to do. He just didn’t move. That’s how exhausted and traumatized he was, and it took a great deal of coaxing to bring him out. That’s when we discovered he only knew how to eat cereal, couldn’t really talk, and didn’t know what crayons were. It was shocking in way we hadn’t thought of, and taught us a great deal from diving into the experience. He is still here, and we have been given his adoption papers to fill out, and will share more of his story some day if we really do get to adopt him. He’s a mess that kiddo, but always makes us laugh.
The sibling group came next, and they left one by one over a period of six months.
In the middle of the night came the baby, who has now been here six months, and is a pure delight and comfort and joy to us when she is not screaming and hitting. When 5 first saw her that first morning, he asked, “Did you get that little brown baby at the gift shop?” She is happier now, and makes us laugh, and is so very smart. She will always be an adventure, and we are grateful for every day with her. She is quickly turning into a toddler, and we wait news every day for what our future with her will be.
A new sibling group arrived the day after the last of the first group left, and they are as different from the first group as one could imagine. The first group were hippie children, creative and smart and messy in all things trash. This group is redneck as anything, by their own description, and messy in dirt. They are better behaved, though, this group, and easier in some ways. Their issues are more complicated, though, and we know one is about to be moved to therapeutic foster care at any moment. That’s the flux of our days now, never knowing which children will still be here tomorrow. It has bookended our year of grief in subtle ways that are sometimes not so subtle, but always so quick with the incoming chaos: we got our first teenager this month, which changed the dynamics of everything. Always the adventures!
One thing we have learned is that no mater which children we have with us, we are a family and we must continue doing the things our family does. We don’t stop being us just because we agree to help care for them. Instead, we keep doing our thing and just invite them along. That has been critical in maintaining our sanity.
We still go to artwalk:
That’s what makes everything okay again, worth it, and possible.
And that’s what we learned in 2013.