There will come a day when I have to tell my children the story of me and my parents.
Right now they know pieces of the story, like that both of my parents have died, and that I ran away after high school and didn’t make good choices before I got baptized, and that I found my parents again after getting baptized.
They know that I tried, and that trying to do well with them is part of that trying still.
They also know family is more important than anything else, which is a piece I want them to know, and it’s a piece that includes their biological families.
They know my father died of cancer, and that it was a different kind of cancer than what I have.
They know my mother had the same kind of cancer as me, but that it’s not how she died.
They know my mother was killed in a car accident by someone who wasn’t making good choices, and that she didn’t make a good choice when she did not wear her seat belt.
They know that my brother and I openly forgave the driver of that jeep immediately, before we could change our minds, because we know the atonement is what has saved our family and it wasn’t worth falling apart again.
Those are the dramatic pieces, and those are the delicate pieces that must be told in truth but also in compassion on this side of repentance and healing and temple ordinances.
It’s a challenge to me, such a vivid application of my faith in such a temporal setting, while my darkest shames are paraded out in front of everyone once again.
But the atonement is big enough, even for me. He promised.
Mostly the healing pieces come in the same stories that I was given as I grew up: that story about how my grandmother had to get my mom down out of a tree when she got her first call from a boy, or that time my father blew up the fireworks stand, or Nathan’s stories of how my mom cheated at scrabble just because she thought she got to always win.
The stories we tell them about my parents are the stories of healing and grace. They are stories of truth and laughter, revealing who my parents were at their best selves, and who I know they are now. The stories I tell them are sibling stories, stories of me and my brother on so many adventures: catching a rabbit with a paper carrot, building a fort in the woods, and my brother riding his big wheel down the highway one afternoon.
The stories we tell them are of the Old Testament, and how it is a story of a family, and the Book of Mormon, and how it is a story of a family. We tell them their own stories, and how they came to be here, and how glad we are to have found them. We tell them stories of the prodigal son, and the redemption he found when he came home, and we tell them of the love of a Father who was waiting to welcome him.
We read novels and classics and children’s stories about families. We watch movies and musicals and ballets about families. We read poems and prose about families. We talk about what is hard, about what is good, about why it was ordained of God that we are born into families and what that must mean for us. We talk about redemption, about forgiveness, about love, about helping, about kindness, and about happiness. We sing songs, and memorize verses, and play games. We learn together, and play together, and grow together.
The story we tell is of family, because we are trying to learn it ourselves.
We don’t get it right, and even tonight lost our “6” for six days of no baby fits.
But tomorrow we start over again.
And we don’t hold grudges.
And we offer forgiveness.
And our arms stay open to each other.
And we invite each other “home” – whatever that means at any given moment.
Sometimes it’s a hug. Sometimes it’s tape and scissors and glue and crayons. Sometimes it’s an afternoon of painting. Sometimes it’s being a mom instead of a counselor. Sometimes it’s being a dad instead of a lyricist. Sometimes it’s being a kind brother instead of the fastest kid on the block. Sometimes it’s sharing the videogame your Nana got you for Christmas, just because your heart knows no one else has a Nana. Sometimes it’s taking deep breaths to calm down. Sometimes it’s rocking instead of being busy. Sometimes it’s a messy kitchen full of little hands instead of a quick meal with easy clean up.
It’s family, is what it is.
And we believe in families.
It’s not about being perfect, or prissy, or put together.
It’s about holding hands, crying together, praying on your knees, taking two years to get all the way through the scriptures with little ones who are learning to read, and trying again tomorrow.
It’s about letting there be a tomorrow.
Today’s the anniversary of the death of my mother. It was easier than last year, which I didn’t expect, even though at times my heart was heavy in my belly, and other times about to pound out of my throat. I almost cried at our family prayer before dinner, but otherwise breathed my way through the day. My mother-in-law brought me flowers for my mother, and I nearly lost it then, except we had therapists all over the house and I couldn’t visit or chat so just kept moving.
Like my mother, you see.
She’s the one who was busy, who couldn’t stop working, who broke all kinds of pioneering barriers to care for me and my brother and pay our family bills. She’s the one who used work as a coping skill. She’s the one who ran libraries all over the country, the one who taught English in universities, and the one who gave me the gift of words.
It’s maybe my favorite gift ever.
I am grateful, despite all the mother-daughter challenges.
Everyone has a mother, and many have lost theirs. It’s hard. My story is that I had been away from my family for so long, and only just gotten her back. My story is that moving her into my home was the hardest thing I had ever done, but now those memories wrap me like a quilt in January. My story is that I drove her everywhere, and should have been in the car that day, but at the last minute went to the temple instead of going with her. My story is that it happened so fast, while we were still grieving my father, when everything was just getting sorted out again. My story is that we worked so hard to heal so much, and everything was so shiny, and she was just gone. And then my babies were gone. And everything happened so fast. And then we had 87 foster children, before we had time to breathe.
Nathan and I had only been married two months when she was killed.
He had returned to New York, gotten caught in hurricane Sandy, and only just come home.
So really, we lived together for only five weeks before she was killed.
But I knew, that day, that he had changed, that we were forever changed. I knew when I saw his face, while I watched him speak, as I watched his spirit follow the Spirit of God in how to approach me and care for me in the days and weeks and months and years that followed.
My husband became a man that day, or rather, my many became a husband that day, when my mother was killed.
He was in the room that one day Alex would sleep in, and later Anber, sitting on the floor talking to Scott, one of his composers. They were talking about one of their musicals being chosen for a festival, and planning what work needed to be done. I was sewing hems on his gym clothes, of all things, pretending I was a wife. We were playing house, back when everything was new and beautiful, back when the fall colors were still on the tree, before the rain, and before the rain began to freeze.
They texted me from her phone, the ambulance driver did.
They said she had a broken arm and could we please call her.
I ran into Nathan screaming, which caused him to jump, startled, and leap through the air toward me.
I think he hung up on Scott.
He called the ambulance driver back for me, and they gave us more details of broken things, and that they were having trouble keeping her heart beating, so we needed to hurry to meet them at the hospital.
Then they sent us to the wrong hospital.
They sent us to the hospital where the driver of the jeep was, walking clear and free from an accident that only damaged his car.
I’m glad I was baptized then, and in a daze. These were protective factors. Factors that protected me from myself, and him from me, because if I had known then what I know now, I would have been so very angry – too angry.
But instead, I was just pushing past people to get to my mother, who wasn’t there, but I didn’t know that.
Nathan went to the desk to find out where she was, and I ran to the bathroom to throw up because I was very pregnant.
That’s when I came out, and saw his face, and knew.
Denial is a funny thing, though, and I pushed out of my mind what his spirit was telling my spirit.
Instead, my mind flew away to another perspective, and focused on the observation that he had changed already, so quickly, just like that, and an awareness that we would never be the same.
It wasn’t just realizing that our honeymoon was over, or that we had lost something, or even a violation. It was just the full impact of knowing that nothing would be the same, that we had already evolved into something new. I knew we would have to choose what kind of new that would be, and it was a new appreciation for having it be Nathan who was my husband in that moment.
I wrote about that night, a few days later, because I didn’t want to forget a single detail, mostly because at the time it was all I had to hold on to her. You can read it HERE, if you haven’t. I was in shock, obviously, and struggled with my grief for a really long time. It was traumatic, in part, but there was also just a large piece of me that needed to experience every ounce of grief that was mine. I had fought hard for my relationship with my mother, and I insisted on doing grief my own way and taking all the time I needed for it. I had that right, and defended it through today, and would not be rushed or squashed into someone else’s version of what my grief should look like or feel like.
I am glad of that now, even though it was legit and intense and all stretched out uncomfortable-ish.
Today my grief was expressed through pacing my work, taking it easy with my kids, making sure I got up and took a shower first thing (knowing I would not get up if I did not make myself), and relaxing with my family at home in the evening.
Because when it’s all said and done, that’s the story that my parents gave me: the story of family.
For that reason, we spent tonight making Grandma Neen’s favorite foods, playing games, and then having her snack mix before bed.
She would have liked that, I think.
And I didn’t drown in crying, I know, not because I am so much “better” as much as because she picked out some of the finest children on the planet to keep me plenty busy.
I felt the weight of my grief today, but it wasn’t in sorrow.
It was love. So much love.