Friday, February 25, 2011

I'm so glad February is a short month

8**This post is super long. I wrote it a lot for me, but also for my family and relatives who were not able to be there with grandma during the last couple days.

February---the month known for love and romance---has taken on a new theme for me this year: Loss.

It started out with a friend from high school dying. Which was shocking and sobering. Then my friend David died. Then two more last week as another friend from high school passed away in a car accident, and then my friend Laurie lost a long battle with cancer. We went to her viewing on Monday. My parents sat with the kids in the car, and we went to dinner with them after the viewing. At this point I was feeling a little overwhelmed and very mortal.

Grandma, Me, Claire, and my mom. Halloween 2006

Late Monday night my mom's sister called to tell her that my 95-year-old grandma was having a lot of stomach pain and was asking to go to the hospital. They checked her in to the hospital and stayed the night while they assessed the problem. On Tuesday we found out that she had an intestinal blockage. Surgery was an option, but the chances of her surviving the surgery were slim. They weighed the options throughout the day planning that if surgery did happen it would be on Wednesday. My brother Jake was in town on business so I spent most of the afternoon and all of the evening with him. It was wonderful to be with him, as it just doesn't happen that often since we both have families and live more than 100 miles apart.

On Wednesday morning I was just stepping into the shower when my mom called and said to come quickly to the hospital. Grandma's kidneys were shutting down and her time seemed short. Taylor called in to work and got the day off. We threw everything in suitcases and plastic bags and drove rather quickly to the hospital (missing my shower the whole time!) When we got there there were probably 30 family members there. Grandma was happy and laughing and talking and really looking forward to being with Grandpa and her parents again. We sat with her and basically said goodbye. She reminded me what beautiful children I had, and we took a picture with her.

About an hour after that my brother and my in-laws arrived, and we took another picture with all of us and gGrandma. Right after the picture, Kyle (who was so sick of the hospital and starting to get sick) said, "Let's get in the car NOW!" Grandma laughed and said, "So cute! Such a joy..." Then Claire sang "Be Still My Soul" to her, and she fell asleep. Her sisters arrived right after that, but she really didn't talk to them, and I don't know that she was ever truly conscious after that.

Taylor took the kids and I spent the rest of the day with my mom and siblings (and other family) in the hospital. My sister and I painted her fingernails, and we spent some great time together. I went home for dinner and to finally shower around 7, then the kids and I went to my sister and sister-in-law's indoor soccer game (They won!) Claire and I went back to the hospital around 10 to say goodnight to my mom and let Claire say goodbye to Grandma again. As I left I whispered a small request for more babies in her ear. I hope she's good for that one :)

I slept at my parent's house (well, tried to sleep---poor Kyle came down with a raging fever and cough). I gave the kids a bath in the morning then took them up to Salt Lake to stay with Taylor's mom. I felt bad leaving Kyle there sick, but I also really felt like my mom needed me, and I really wanted to be with Grandma.

When I got to the hospital they were taking her oxygen and blood pressure. At this point she was receiving oxygen, but they explained to us that the oxygen was no longer helping as her lungs would only take in a certain amount of oxygen no matter what air she was breathing (room air or oxygen saturated air). So they removed the oxygen and took out the tube which had been suctioning her stomach after the blockage. At this point they also realized that her kidneys had completely stopped working as well as her stomach and intestines.

She was still breathing and still receiving a lot of pain medication because of the pain caused by her bowels dying. She didn't wake up or call out all that morning. She wasn't on any monitors throughout the time we were there, and the only sign of life to us was her constant, sometimes labored breathing.

My brother Dan and I were there with my mom and her two sisters who were in and out of the room. Dan and I had a long time alone to just sit holding her hands and chat with her. Dan had the extremely thoughtful idea to bring one of Grandpa's favorite hats, and we placed it in her hand. We talked with her about grandpa, and about her parents and siblings who were waiting for her on the other side. She gripped my hand occasionally. I have to believe that she could hear me. She gripped especially when we gave her grandpa's hat, when I talked of her parents and grandparents, and when I talked about how she was going to meet her sister Idelia (who died at birth) for the first time. We talked of how free she would feel, how unconfined by her aged body she would be, how we would be okay but that we would never be the same. I put in a few more requests (okay, a lot more requests) for more beautiful babies for me and my siblings. She loved babies.

My sister-in-law Britten and my dad brought lunch for my mom in the early afternoon. Britten told me I was welcome to come to her house a few blocks away and have some lasagna (I have to say here that she makes an INCREDIBLE vegetarian lasagna, unresistable lasagna.) That was at 2:00. I said no thanks, that I wanted to stay. Then a nurse came in and took her vitals which hadn't significantly changed, and that lasagna was calling to me as I hadn't had a thing to eat all day. So I left with her at about 2:10. I got to her house, played a bit with my darling neice then warmed up and thoroughly enjoyed some lasanga. As I was finishing up my dad called to tell her that Grandma had passed. I hadn't turned my phone off of silent. My sister had tried to call and text, but I missed it. She passed at 2:20.

I got back at 2:40. I was devastated that I hadn't been there. I wanted to be there of course for Grandma, but I wanted to be there for my mom. However by that time my dad and little brother and sister were there, so she wasn't alone. Her sisters and brother were also there too, so it was fine,

Soon after she passed they asked if she had wanted to be a donor, that they could use her eyes to study macular degeneration at the Moran Eye Center. My mom gave a resounding yes. (You'll remember my platform was organ and tissue donation awareness. We spent hours talking with Grandma about donation during the last ten+ years. She even sat at donation awareness booths with me.) A few family members were unsure about what she would have wanted. It really stressed to me that it is important to have that conversation with your family, not just once but often. It is certainly something that we've talked about a lot, but when the pressure was on those conversations are not always easily recalled. This also made me see (again) the great benefit in the online donor registry which can show families that their loved one purposefully went online and purposefully signed up to be a donor (Have you? Click the Donate Life button on the sidebar to check.) In the end everyone agreed that it was the right thing to do (phew!) and her beautiful eyes will be studied and with lucky they will help find the cure for macular degeneration (they said they think they are 3-4 years away from actually curing it!).

My cousin Lee offered a wonderful family prayer, and we stayed with family and with grandma until about 5:00. We were surprised that she stayed relatively warm the whole time. It was comforting to give her a last hug and still feel warmth.

Taylor's parents were headed south so I got the kids from them in a parking lot. Kyle was burning with fever, although he had had a full dose of Tylenol about 1.5 hours early. I gave him Ibuprofen and headed home. I dropped Claire off with Taylor and went straight to InstaCare. Though his temperature was still high he had no ear, throat, or chest infection, so we picked up an amazing prescription (we've loved it before) for cough and congestion that should have him at least feeling better soon. For now he's still fevering terribly.

It's been a long couple days. It's been a long month. The funeral is set for this coming Thursday which seems like so far away. I will miss my grandma terribly. I have a lot to say about her, but that's for another post. But I read this today, and I loved it:
When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice.
Even as we mourn, I know she rejoiced to be free and to have lived such an amazing, joyful life.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

In memory...

My mom and I went to a funeral yesterday. Our dear friend David Nemelka passed away. We met David early in 2001. He founded the Quest for the Gift of Life Foundation, an organization dedicated to furthering the cause of organ donation awareness and specifically to eradicating the organ shortage. The timing of this was impeccable as I was beginning my second (and winning) journey to the Miss Utah Pageant. He was beyond enthusiastic about me and about the cause that had been dear to my heart for the previous two years. His vision and generosity came to donation awareness at a vital and inspired time.

With David, 2001
During my year as Miss Utah I spent at least one day a week (usually more) with the Quest Foundation; meeting, presenting, planning, and driving around the state with the directors of the Foundation, Jeannene Barham (David's sister) and Lisa Hawthorne (and many others too many to name). We made a difference! Plans for the monument at Library Square were put into place and it was dedicated in 2004.  In April 2002 we launched the online organ donor registry, a unique and revolutionary idea at the time (which has since been created in nearly every other state in the nation). As of 2010 73% of Utahns had signed up on the registry---an amazing accomplishment. I traveled with Jeannene and Lisa to schools, businesses, hospitals, rotary clubs, boys and girls clubs, and basically anywhere we could go. The interesting thing about organ donation is that you never really can pinpoint exactly where the difference was made. You usually don't hear about how you directly affected someone's choice to donate (although I do have two or three such treasured personal stories). But lives continued to be saved, and the donation rates slowly and steadily increase---and much of the increase can be directly connected to David and the proverbial ball that he got rolling when he got involved in the cause.
With Lisa at the Alamo
On the River Walk in San Antonio with Jeannene

Obviously funerals are hard because they make the loss final and real. David will be missed for the love and warmth he brought with him everywhere he went; for his amazing generosity and community service. He was larger than life and accomplished more in 71 years than most people could in several lifetimes.

Yesterday his seven children spoke so lovingly and eloquently. The chapel was packed to overflowing. And I was inspired. He clearly lived by mantras; Some of which I had heard him repeat in person, some of which his family repeated yesterday. Two things stood out to me: First, he always said, "Family first and nothing second" His children said that he was not a perfect man but was perfect in his love. I love that. They also said that he was dedicated to making positive memories for them. It made me really want to consciously take the opportunity to create good, happy memories with my children now and in the future. Each of his children said that he was their hero---and I know that they meant that with all of their hearts.

Secondly a life motto for him was "I am my brother's keeper." I love that too. He exemplified this motto. His life was full of service, and I am sure he was greeted in heaven by hundreds of open arms and thankful hearts. Seeing Jeannene and Lisa yesterday brought back so many good memories. We spent every day that year (and years before and after) doing service for others. If ever I look back at a time in my life and say, "Those were the days," it will be in reference to those days---not the glitz and glamor of the pageant and the crown, but the quiet conversations and busy days spent in service.

Fittingly, last week I finally finished my scrapbook from 1999-2002, encompassing the years that I spent with Lisa, Jeannene, and David. In doing so, I read through my entire journal from that time, including much of my writings in my scrapbook. I truly walked among giants. I owe much to David---for his one-on-one conversations where he inspired me with talk of Mother Teresa and Don Quijote; for his wonderful foundation which introduced me to Lisa and Jeannene who became such vital mentors and beloved friends; for the way that he lived his life in love and service.

When I heard of David's passing my heart was broken for a moment, but I immediately had the image in my mind of him in heaven, giving big bear hugs to everyone who was there to greet him; then I'm sure he looked around and got right to work on his next adventure---his next great cause. And I couldn't help but smile. And it was the same yesterday---I couldn't help but smile; although the feeling of loss was real and heavy, his life was truly a life worth celebrating, and I was blessed to be associated with him.

Even though I haven't seen David very often in the last few years, just knowing that he was somewhere being a force for good was very comforting. I'll really miss him; and our little corner of the world will never ever be the same.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A softening heart

Remember this post about having an open heart? Well, I've been continuing with the experiment. So far it's been great. And it has actually helped me along with my New Year's Resolution to not be the Me Monster. I'm listening to others more and really hearing.

So here's the latest. As it is Valentine's Day, I thought it would be especially appropriate to share today. Today was the day I decided to refill my prescriptions. I needed 5 from two different doctors. The kids needed one each (which as luck would have it they expired four days ago!). I save it for one day because I hate standing in line at the pharmacy. I hate being on hold with doctors waiting to get the expired prescriptions filled (20 minutes 32 seconds today). And really, I hate the lady at the pharmacy at Walmart. She's always bugged me. She's just not nice, nor helpful.

So I made the calls, made sure they were filled, picked up Claire from preschool and then headed to Walmart. I gave Kyle a sucker and put a Dora game on my phone for Claire. The line was not too bad for a Monday (usually I avoid Mondays at the pharmacy and with doctors in general, but I really needed one prescription today). So there I sat, kids occupied and three people in line in front of me. And I saw the lady I don't like; the only employee working the registers. I'll be honest, my first thoughts were of dictating a letter to Walmart (that I would never really send) about how she bugs me. BUT, then I remembered to have an open heart, if for no other reason than to pay homage to the holiday.

I got to the front of the line and she told me that for my eye drops alone (three of them) it would be $215! Last time we had insurance I stocked up on meds, so I had no idea it would be that much. I just stared at her, unable to think of how I could reconcile paying that much for anything. (I say anything because ten dollars is a lot for me to pay for anything). Then she softly said, "Why do you need these?" And for the next few minutes while she was figuring out the rest of my prescriptions we talked about my eye problems and how the meds I need are to stop the constant itching in my eye socket which happens because I am allergic to the prosthetic eye. And how because of those problems I get my health insurance denied every time I apply. She was kind and genuinely concerned. While she couldn't change the prices, I at least felt like someone cared---in fact in her words she said that the prices were B--S---. 

I bought the least expensive (which fortunately is also the most important) eye drop and hope that my doctor will have some samples of the others. Or that I can find another way to pay for them/get samples.

The most surprising thing about my visit happened right after I paid for everything else. She said, "You're a really nice lady. I'm sorry about all of this." Wow. What a change from our usual interactions which in the past have had me walking away thinking, "You're not a very nice lady!" While I am totally bummed about the cost of my medicine and that I can't get health insurance, it didn't totally ruin my day like it would have had she not been so nice about it. It's amazing how this open heart approach can change me and the people with whom I interact.

**photo by seyed mostafa zamani

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Holding on...

As previously mentioned, my kids had the stomach flu over the weekend. Claire has had an abnormal amount of experiences with throw up in her life. (Do you use the term throw up like a noun, or is it just us?) She's had the flu a few times more than her unscientifically polled contemporaries. She has encountered vomit at McDonalds, at a church nursery, and once in a swimming pool. When I was pregnant with Kyle I threw up constantly. And then when Kyle was born he threw up constantly. She even has a Fancy Nancy book where Nancy throws up. She has an odd obsession and strong aversion.

Once when she was three she threw up in my dad's car (sorry again, Dad!). They stopped at a Carl's Jr to clean up. She got a cup to catch any further problems. That cup was glued to her chin for almost five days. She lived and breathed with that thing. We joked that we needed to attach a strap to hang around her neck.

Fast forward almost two years, and here we are again. I gave her a bowl after the first episode, and it stayed under her chin for three days. Here she is napping (yes, napping---she was really sick) with it tucked under her chin; hand holding tight even while sleeping.
No matter what, that thing was with her 24/7 for three days. Sadly, she only needed it for about 24 hours. The remaining 48 were just in case. She let it go after constant pleading and maybe an outright demand from me.

But it got me thinking. What do I hold onto for way past the time necessary?

Grudges? Yes. It takes a lot to make me mad, and I usually require a long series of grievances before I get annoyed, but I've been known to carry a few grudges. Some for well past their socially acceptable expiration date. Sometimes I've held onto a grudge so tightly that it is my almost constant companion. Sometimes I think I've gotten past a grudge only to find it bubbling through my thoughts and right out my mouth and into conversations where the past is really better left alone. I have two big grudges in my life; okay, three now that I'm thinking about it! If you know me well, you probably know what/who they are. One is resolved. Completely. I put the bowl down and left it somewhere far away. With the other two I'm trying to not dwell on them because the past can't be changed. As far as these two are concerned, I can still see one bowl in the distance (I'll just name this one: the bad parts associated with my year as Miss Utah), but I still manage to occasionally visit, pick up, and dust off the other bowl (namely everything with  my eye and the surgeon who messed up and lied to us).

One other thing that came to mind when I thought of what I held onto forever was mistakes I've made. I don't know if I'm hard on myself, or just appropriately regretful. Either way, sometimes I lay (lie? I never did get those worked out in editing school) awake in bed at night with my stomach in knots over past mistakes and misgivings. Things that happened 10, 12, 15 years ago still haunt me. Things I said, things I did, judgments made, ways I behaved that certainly had better solutions. I play them over and over in my mind coming up with better ways that I could have handled the situation. To me it seems easier to let go of a grudge against someone else than to forgive myself for mistakes. Why is that?

Remember a couple years ago when James E Faust talked about the Amish school experience and forgiveness? He quoted Dr. Sidney Simon who said:
“Forgiveness is freeing up and putting to better use the energy once consumed by holding grudges, harboring resentments, and nursing unhealed wounds. It is rediscovering the strengths we always had and relocating our limitless capacity to understand and accept other people and ourselves.”

I like that---that when we forgive others we increase our ability to forgive ourselves. Also, I think "accept" is the key term. One thing I struggled with my eye problems was that if I chose to forgive the surgeon, then I felt like I was saying what he did was okay; that how I looked was okay. And it wasn't okay. But I am learning to accept it. And it doesn't eat at me day-after-day. It's not strapped to my chin or around my heart.

I don't know how this forgiving myself stuff will turn out. But I do know that it feels SO good to let go of grudges. To set them down and walk away and never return. Too bad it isn't that easy for throw up bowls, we'll always be revisiting them!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Valentine's Day Pillows and other stuff

Taylor had Bishopric meeting last night. I was super productive during it (considering during the last month or two of meetings I sat in front of the TV with popcorn nursing my stupid rib). Last night I managed to make two pillows and exercise (I know you're surprised, right? I call this exercise).

Anyway, the pillows were fun, so I'll share them with you. I'm slowly amassing holiday decorations now that I have a garage to store them in and won't be moving annually. I saw this pillow and thought I'd do something similar. In her tutorial she used fabric paint. I don't have any of that, but I do have a lot of Wonder Under (something that essentially makes your fabric into a sticker), so I used that to make the silhouettes.

The pictures came from our engagement photos. You could probably guess that because Taylor had hair and I didn't have a double chin. They were super easy to make, and the best part was that I already had everything I needed, so they were free.

We've just made it through a bout of the stomach flu here. That rounded out about two months of constant sickness at our house. I got sick on December 18 and finally got over that cold (and "cold" puts it mildly) last week---only to be greeted by a week of daily migraine headaches. In the time that I had that cold I had the miscarriage, broken rib (caused by the constant coughing and sneezing), and other maladies of the female kind. Today I feel okay. So far. Claire's at school, although she's worried about how people will react to her giant purple lip (she fell off a chair and hit her mouth on the table and a tooth went entirely through her top lip). My house is a wreck (more of a wreck than usual), due to a weekend of doing nothing but holding sick children, and we haven't slept in days, but I have two nice new pillows.

Now that my rib is healing (I can sit up and roll over without groaning in pain) I'm beginning to attempt to live a healthy lifestyle (aka diet and exercise with the intent of losing weight). This is something that I've never really attempted in my life as all of my previous thin bodies have been induced by parasites, sickness and stress. So it will be interesting.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Ghosts of me

I'm a sentimental person. If you saw my garage and the things I keep for sentiment's sake, you may call me a hoarder, but that's another story. I like to keep things that have memories attached to them. Some things you can't keep---like the entire Splash Mountain ride would never fit in my suitcase, let alone in my garage or backyard. I guess that's why we take pictures and why I love to scrapbook.

Along with collecting pictures and scrapbooks, I think I'm a collector of moments. I like to visit places I have been in the past, to take a second to reflect on who I was at that moment. Sometimes in my mind's eye I can almost see myself. I've come to call it The Ghost of Me.

Whenever we drive to Logan and pass a certain spot just out of the canyon I want to give my old self an encouraging word, "You'll get through this." Every time I pass that field I can't help but remember the day after I got my first horrible prosthetic eye. After crying/hyperventilating for an hour's journey, I was finally able to sob to Taylor, "I was supposed to be beautiful!" And every time we pass I'm grateful that I got through that.

I love to pass by Mountain View High School where the Miss Utah Pageant was held. Every time I pass it I slow down a bit, glancing at the back of the school where our "dressing trailers" were. I can almost feel my plastic shoes and smell the air full of hairspray, fake tanning lotion, and flower bouquets; and I remember how it felt to have my dreams come true.

I love to eat at Los Hermanos in Lindon. I like the food. But along with that there are so many memories at so many tables. I smile at long tables piled high with food and friends during high school. With that thought my eyes go to a smaller table where a few of us gathered after our ten-year reunion. I whisper a prayer of thanks to another table where, a year after high school I sat with the boy I was dating. With a "yes" on my lips I thought he was going to ask me to marry him right there, but instead he told me he was going on a mission---and forever changed my life in ways I never imagined. I see myself there, wearing a lavender woven shirt, unaware of the momentous shift that his decision would make in my life---so much good came out of that.

I love to sit in the Lehi chapel where I attended church for almost 23 years. I see myself on the east side as a young child, sitting with my family and grandparents---I can feel my feet dangling from the bench and smell Grandma Ina, a mixture of perfume, lipstick, and pink mints. I look to the center back and see myself sitting next to Grandma Rhoda, holding her age-spotted hand. We were lucky enough to be in her ward during the first year of our marriage. Later, we were in between wards when Claire was born, so we blessed her in my parent's ward. I can see myself bringing Claire up to the front, feel her tiny body stretching as I held her up to be admired. When I visit my mom and dad's ward I can see myself in all of those life stages.

Wherever I go I'm glad to not be in some moments and wish that I could relive others. More than anything, seeing the ghost of me---in good and bittersweet moments---makes me so grateful for what I have had and for what I have now. Do you do this?