grief and loss, family

School Pictures and Dorian Gray

October is that time of year when school children all across America are bringing home portrait packages. Parents will wonder at how fast their children are growing up. For us, however, we decided that we wouldn’t be purchasing a package this year. Last I heard, college students don’t bring home those adorable posed shots so only our youngest would be receiving school photos this year. Additionally, since the loss of our son last year, the idea of updated family photos this year took on increased urgency.

It was my desire to take individual photos of our kids that would more closely resemble the last photos we have of Sean. Sean’s portrait, taken at our last family session, had an autumn backdrop. It sat in a 4-photo frame next to posed school photos of our other three kids. As I removed the old school photos of our three children to replace with the newer pictures from this summer’s shoot, I was taken a back by my own emotions. Sean would never age. The changes in the faces of our other children were blatantly obvious, but Sean would never have a new photo. He would forever be 31. Each year the vast age difference between Sean and our other kids will shrink until in time, God willing, they will surpass his years. It brought to mind the dark classic, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Unlike the story, this portrait is a blessing not a curse. Painful, yes, but how grateful I am that we made the time four years back to gather together and take those family photos.

frame 1frame 2

As difficult as this realization was, there were a few take aways from that brief moment of grief.

  • Moms: Get in the picture. One day your kids will be so grateful to see your face on vacation, on Christmas morning, at the beach, or cooking dinner. Document both the ordinary and the extraordinary.
  • Schedule family photos. Don’t just buy the school pictures. School pictures don’t include the rest of the family. Maybe alternate years with school photos one year and family the next.
  • Let your kids be themselves (I say with trepidation), and don’t Photo Shop out the realness. If your kid has blue hair and a nose ring or they refuse to wear anything but a tutu, that’s what you want to remember about this moment.
  • Pictures make fleeting moments timelessness. They connect us to our loved ones, our history, and the moments that made us who we are.
  • Balance is important. Don’t get so wrapped up in capturing every moment that you never experience anything. Two photos from a day at the zoo or ten from a week’s vacation is really all that you will want to look at a decade from now anyway, so just grab one or two here and there.

I’m ever grateful for the moments that we have captured in photographs of my parents and my kids. What photos do you most treasure of a loved one that you’ve lost?

 

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food, refugee, social justice

A Taste of Hope After the Long Journey

 

Quietly and with only the barest of necessities, a family leaves the only home they have known. They are fearful of being apprehended by authorities, so they travel at night. Moving from safe house to safe house, organized by a system of compassionate local heroes, these people sleep during the day in preparation for their nighttime journeys. When darkness falls, husbands and wives, fathers and daughters are separated as they walk in groups across the wilderness towards freedom. Mothers pray that their small children won’t cry because if they do they will need to do the unthinkable lest the safety of the numerous other travelers be endangered. It is this exact kind of collateral damage we try to push from our minds when we think about the cost of freedom, but this trek ends not in freedom, but rather in a holding camp, a purgatory of sorts. Crossing the border, leaving their homeland, leaves them once again at the mercy of strangers, but for those who make it, it may be the beginning of a new life.

History has seen this scene played out time and time again, in various continents and ages. In America, we saw the Underground Railroad carry thousands of people to freedom from the hands of slave masters. Europe saw a similar story as Jews were smuggled out of Nazi occupied lands. Today, this scene plays out in the Middle East and parts of Africa where thousands of people are seeking refuge from the atrocities of civil war in Syria or the terrorism of ISIS and Boko Haram. The setting might change, but the characters are largely the same. There are the brave yet fearful families willing to risk an uncertain future that is more secure than the known terror of their homeland. There are local heroes, risking their own security to help strangers on their way to a better life. There are receivers, who are at the end of the long journey, helping people make their way in a new and unfamiliar land.

Last weekend, my friend and I had the privilege or sitting down and hearing Aminah share her story, a story that is sadly all too common. A Syrian refuge, her and her family fled her homeland to a refuge camp in Jordan, waiting through the numerous government background checks and approvals, and was ultimately relocated to Connecticut, arriving in America the past November on election day. Through the work of Sanctuary Kitchen and hosted by Displaced Kitchens, Aminah cooked brunch for the twenty or so people attending the Refugee Food and Art Festival in New York City organized by Komeeda. While we ate Kufta and Eggs, Syrian Fettah, and Foul Madams, Aminah open her heart to us. We ate and cried with her. We were drawn into her pain and her blessings. She welcomed us with food and vulnerability. At the end we also met several people who were part of organizations that are helping her find employment and establish her family in this strange new land and were offered the chance to help her and others find employment in the food industry. We got a taste of what it is like to be a refugee in this day and age and the chance to see the face of everyday ordinary heroes. It was a satisfying meal in so many ways.

If you would like to support the work of Komeeda or Sanctuary Kitchen, please head over to their websites. You can find opportunities to join one of their delicious events or donate to the work they are doing.

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Adulting, elder care, Gangrene Gables

Poopsicle

I have done many things in my life as a parent that I never thought I would do. I have uttered phrases like, “Don’t put rocks in the dishwasher!” I have done disgusting things like using a thermometer to help a constipated infant get it all out. While one can never be prepared for parenthood, I had expected these things were just part of the territory. I didn’t, however, know that over the course of one year I would experience just as many of these joys as a daughter.

Sharon: We need to get stool samples to a Quest lab. We picked up the containers on the way back from the dr. One will need to be kept frozen or on ice when being transferred. Sure you are all excited about that.
Me: Sharon has power of attorney on medical decisions, which should include taking stool samples.
Sharon: The new medication for the diarrhea has a restriction of no alcohol, which means no perfumes, lotions, mouthwash, etc. I’ll start checking stuff later tonight for any problematic items.
Eric: But we can still drink when we are around her, right?
Sharon: Anyone know where Mom keeps dish sponges or dishrags? There wasn’t one in the sink today.
Me: I used it to clean up poop. I threw it out even though I knew Mom would want to save it for another blow out.
Sharon: She had several false alarms of diarrhea. Or a tiny bit. The collection hat is next to the commode with the hopes that she will use it in the morning so the collection can be done.
There is a little Lysol in the commode so if either of you is the lucky collector don’t use anything in the commode.
Me: I guess I’m the winner. What are the instructions for freezing and packing the poop on ice? Collecting? What should I know?
Sharon: Bring a plastic spoon that you can throw out. Instructions are on the desk in the kitchen. One teaspoon or thereabouts in the large container which is frozen. Add enough to each of the other vials so the liquid rises to the red or black line on the bottle. Those do not need to be frozen.

I don’t know what the doctor was looking for, but he ordered a stool sample. This is not a big deal for the doctor; he just writes out an order and scrawls his illegible signature on a piece of paper. Honestly, with today’s technology, he might not even need to do that much. He probably has an office assistant do it for him. But for us, this is no easy task. We, the caregivers, are left with all the dirty work.
The instructions were to get a sample of Mom’s diarrhea, to spoon a small portion into a testing vial, and put the sample in the freezer. Then, deliver the frozen sample to the lab. Gross, but doable. Certainly not the worst things we’d had to do to date.
I arrived bright and early on a Saturday morning, unprepared for what the day would hand me. After repeatedly trying to explain to Mom that her part was pretty simple, just to sit on the commode and go, I was finally rewarded with the gift of loose stool. Yay! I set up my scientific lab in Mom’s kitchen sink which I would never be able to look at quite the same again. Rubber gloves on and using a plastic spoon, I was able to prepare the sample in the least nasty way possible. I definitely did not need to be told I should throw away the spoon. I cleaned up the commode, and froze the sample in a double wrapped bag. I was envisioning some poor person getting a nasty surprise when they pulled this treat out of Mom’s freezer and decided to investigate its contents. I labeled it to prevent such a tragic situation.

Me: Two things- I hate my life, and we have a stool sample

Me (later): I’m going to drop the diarrhea off at the lab in a few minutes. (I just wanted to have record of the many things I have had to say lately)
Eric: You know, Barb, you may think it is funny…
But it’s really hot and runny!
DIARRHEA
phpplt phpllt!
DIARRRHEA
phpplt phpllt!

While the fecal matter began chilling in the freezer, my next step was to find the location of the specified lab that also had weekend hours. I scoured the Internet and found one only moments from home. Score! I retrieved the frozen poopsicle from the freezer and embarked on my errand. Unfortunately, upon arrival I discovered that the lab was closed; their hours had changed. Now I am sitting in the car with defrosting poop that I need to deliver it to another lab pronto. I find another lab in an adjacent town, 20 minutes away, but they aren’t open for that much longer. I understand the absurdity of this situation. I am a poop delivery girl, racing down the highway trying to assure the proper temperature of my poopsicle. This is where my life has taken me. This is my new normal. I check yet another item off my bucket list: Deliver frozen poop to laboratory- check.
The front desk nurse was kind and efficient. She assured me that the temperature of the poop was fine, and they would return it to the freezer promptly. Deep down, I was hoping the staff had a separate freezer for their lunches.

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Christian, gifts from God, marriage

Marriage: Having Each Other’s Back

I wish I could say that I have total faith in God and His strength to carry me through any difficult circumstance that comes my way. The truth, however, is that I rely far too often on the flesh and blood people around me when times get tough. I have an amazing support system of family and friends, which I thank God for. Truth be told, I feel like I could handle almost anything with God and Jay. The struggles we have seen are not for the faint of heart. The strength of our marriage is in part due to the sheer need to cleave to one another as we pass from hardship to hardship. It is something we have done well these past 20 years (though far from perfectly). When I look back on the last few years, the hardest and most terrible moments had less to do with the circumstances we were going through and more with the state of our marriage in the midst. I have grieved many things in the past 20 years, from both of my parents to one of our children, and from my  dreams to my sense of self. I have confronted many trials and worked through many hurts, but there has yet to be a pain that cannot in some way be softened once wrapped in the arms of Jay. There is something about knowing that there is someone whose primary role in life, before any other earthly job, is to have your back. I suspect that it is this mutual goal that makes our marriage strong. It isn’t about seeing eye to eye (though that’s always a nice treat) or everything around us being perfect (it never will be). It isn’t about evenly dividing the chores (though that helps ease some burdens) or trying to meet each other’s every need (we can’t). It’s about “where two or more are gathered,” and one person lifting up the other who has fallen. It is a three-strand marriage, and it is very good.

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him- a threefold cord is not quickly broken. – Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

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adoption, gifts from God, grief and loss

Passing Us By

It is not uncommon for some of  the most life altering events to pass us by without our realizing. That moment when the stripe turns pink and you realize you are going to be a parent is typically weeks after conception. The acceptance letter to college arrives days after it was mailed and maybe weeks after the admission board made their decision. That first meeting of someone who will one day become your best friend or spouse might not even warrant you taking much notice. Even that tragic phone call with the passing of a loved one can come hours after the fact. There are moments, days, weeks, or even years in which we live oblivious to the big moments that have already occurred and will alter life as we know it. It is our human nature to look back and wonder, “What was I doing then?” We calculate back to the day of conception or think about those blissful moments before our life shattered.

Sean came into our lives like this, and he left our life in the same manner. I could not tell you what I was doing when Sean was born, completely unaware that someone had entered the world that would change my life forever 15 years down the line. And when he left the world in a similar quietness, he left me blissfully unaware of the pain that was soon to come. Part of me is sad that I cannot go back and know exactly what I was doing at that very moment, but I suppose it is okay. In the quiet mystery, there is deep truth. A sovereign God, who knows all things, is still in control. My knowing or not knowing does not alter the course of such things. Maybe a few more oblivious days/hours of life as I knew it was simply a gift to hold off my sorrow for a moment more.

A year has passed since Sean’s death, but this is a date that I am grateful doesn’t stick in my memory quite like it should. My memories of Sean, however, will never fade.

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Christian, prayer

More Than We Ask

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” – Ephesians 3: 20-21

Sometimes I find it difficult to pray. It’s easy to ask people to pray for me, but to actually pray myself is hard. I know a lot of this is rooted in my lack of faith. I feel that what I’d be asking for is impossible, or at the very least highly improbable. What I truly yearn for would require serious intervention by the heavenly host, countering science, and literally being supernatural. I know that God is capable of this, and in fact specializes in this, but I can’t bring myself to ask. Maybe I’m afraid that not getting what I asked for would lead me to doubt my faith; so it’s better to not ask than to be disappointed or disillusioned. It’s not that I have never asked for something spectacularly impossible, it’s just that I’ve never gotten a “yes” answer to those big requests. So now I just send up some token prayers to the general effect of what I desire, but I don’t really petition heaven. 

Tonight, as I read these words from Ephesians, I felt some comfort. It doesn’t let me off the hook in my cowardly failure to fervently pray, but it’s good to know that God can meet me even in this place. “Far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” He knows what I’m thinking. He knows what I want. He knows my fears, my fragile faith, and my weariness hidden behind those token prayers. He can still answer my meager offerings and my broken dreams couched in, “If it’s God’s will.”

God can meet me in my imagination even when I’m too afraid to ask him to make it a reality. 

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Adulting, women

Housekeeping Made Simple

People are always saying to me, “Your house feels so lived in.” You know why that is?  We live here. We don’t have a separate breakfast parlor for company, or a media and game room in the basement for the teens to congregate. We have basically one living area in which we all share. All 5 of us. You might think that this means that our little space is neat and tidy, but you’d be wrong. It is a magnet for everyone’s everything. So here are a few tips that have helped us maintain that “lived in” look without crossing the line into Hoarders.

carpet

Carpet

Get rid of carpet. If you must have carpet, limit it to small area rugs or mats. Anywhere you can have hardwood floors, tile, or linoleum the better. Outside of the occasional spot cleaning, you can go a very long time without cleaning these floors. Hair, lint, dust, even dried leaves and dirt will be blown across these surfaces and collect at the edge of the room and even more specifically, corners. Grabbing a few of these dust bunnies occasionally, can give you home a lovely fresh look with almost no effort. I use my vacuum cleaner so infrequently; I would need to think about how to turn it on.

vacuumChild labor

There is no reason to do a chore that your spawn is capable of doing. The earlier you train them up the better for everyone. They are learning important life skills. Who cares how sloppy they put away their clothes, you didn’t have to do it. Laundry, dishes, scrubbing toilets, whatever. I’m not saying they need to work like little Orphan Annie, but they can be responsible for themselves and contribute to the family. They should be doing all their own laundry, cleaning their room, clearing their place, putting away their things, and doing one or more chores that contribute to family life. What that means in a practical sense? I don’t wash dishes anymore. I do all the grocery shopping and cooking, along with the vast majority of cleaning, so unless they would prefer to do the grocery shopping and cooking every night, they can do the dishes. Oh, kiddo, you missed a spot.

hoopla

Multi-task

There are only so many hours in a day. I barely have enough time to get the most crucial things done, like feeding all the humans I am responsible for. So, I scrub the bathtub while I’m in it taking a shower. This gives the conditioner a little longer to work while I wipe crud from tiles. This is a quick spot clean process done without the benefit of corrective lenses. It’s not going to be pretty, but it’s going to be better then it was yesterday. Occasionally, I wipe down the microwave after I pull out that cup of tea I made and forgot and had to reheat now for the third time. Also, I listen to audio books on my phone while I grocery shop.

bed

Don’t Do It

There are certain chores that are just not that important and, bonus, not doing those chores makes your life easier. Take linens for instance. Sure, it’s nice to climb into a bed made with crisp new sheets, but not only does it take time to change those sheets, but it takes time to wash those sheets, dry those sheets, fold those sheets, and put away those sheets. So don’t.  Put those kind of chores off as long as possible. Win-win.

It won’t look like a Better Homes and Garden Magazine spread, but whatever, I’ve got better things to do.

car freshener

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