Sunday, February 26, 2012

Choices

The dates I marked on top of my homemade spaghetti sauce are a lie, a simple and innocent attempt at self-deception.  I thought maybe if I put 10/1/11 on the little brass lids I would be able to use the sauce without hesitation, without a second thought.  And yet, there I stood, pasta boiling on the stove, staring into my pantry at the beautifully canned sauce on the shelves.  The false date was powerless against my memory.  I paused for a moment as I reached for the bottle, and my thoughts instantly spiraled back to September 29th, the actual day the sauce was canned, and the day my precious Jonah died.

I made so many simple choices that day.  I chose to spend the morning canning tomatoes with my dear friend Katie, while Jonah played with her children.  I chose to throw some fruit snacks in the diaper bag for Jonah in case he got hungry.  I chose to watch Katie's kids while she drove down the street to pick up her daughter from dance class.  Each choice was similar to those of previous days and weeks, and yet these mundane choices culminated in the most traumatic and heart wrenching hours of my life.  How I wish I could choose differently now.  

The lasting evidence of these choices is 6 mason jars full of spaghetti sauce, a silent kitchen, and lingering questions.  I question whether I felt a premonition to stay home that day.  I question my judgement in giving Jonah fruit snacks.  I ask God why Katie had to leave me with her two small children and Jonah for those few intense and critical minutes.  I ask Him if this would have happened regardless of my choices, if it was His will.  I wonder if I could have made better choices. If things could be different today? If Jonah could be here with me?  All of these "ifs" have the power to run my mind ragged, and torture my soul.  Sometimes I let them, but most of the time I try to stop and think and pray.

When I pray there is something steady and constant in my soul that rejects the accusatory nature of these questions.  I remind myself that the choices I made that day were rooted in love and kindness. I love being with Katie, and feeling the spirit in her home.  I loved Jonah and tried to prepare for our day together.  As a mother I did the best I could each day for Jonah.  I loved him deeply.  I put his needs before my own.  I tried each day to show him the beauty of the world, and to protect him.  That September day was no different.  When he began to choke I tried to make the best choices I could to save him.  When his beautiful spirit left this world I had to make a choice to have faith and hope.  Each day I live without him I find that I have to deliberately choose happiness.  It does not come naturally.

It was not in my power to predict the heartache my simple choices would bring that day, but I am grateful that those choices are balanced by the thousands of good and meaningful choices I made in Jonah's short life.  It would be easy to freeze in fear as I face an uncertain and vulnerable future, as I make daily choices...but I am granted peace as I understand that I can only try my best and love those around me while we weather the trials of life together.

Who knew that so much thought and emotion could be bottled up in a jar of spaghetti sauce?


Always Do Your Best. Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.  Miguel Angel Ruiz

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Taggart Lake

Taggart lake 2010

Our small group shuffled through the new powder that settled on Taggart Lake and my mind swirled with visceral memories. Among the snow laden evergreens a memory emerged of trekking behind Jordan, trying to take advantage of his long steps while wondering if he would ever propose to me.  When we approached the vast expanse of the flat and frozen lake I remembered posing for a squinty-eyed picture with my new husband, the glacial canyon as our backdrop.  As we ascended the steep side of a foothill I thought of my lungs huffing and puffing, my snow pants secured by only a rubber band, making room for Jonah's growing, kicking, form inside of me.  Nostalgia accompanied each breath, and for a moment I resented that I was yet again in the Tetons, immersed in beauty, creating another memory.  It was not a memory I intended to have.

For the past 6 years Jordan and I have made our annual pilgrimage to Jackson with our friends.  It is almost a religious experience in that the journey is steeped in ritual.  We stop at the same gas stations, go with the same friends, play the same games, eat the same burgers, and we always snowshoe around Taggart Lake in the Tetons.  Like religion there is something comforting in the predictable and steady nature of our vacation.  We have only neglected our ritual once...last year. 

Taggart Lake 2012
Last year when February rolled around I was basking in the joys of motherhood, including trying to sleep train Jonah while being tethered to a breast pump.  My definition of adventure had taken a dramatic turn to include leaving the house unshowered to go to the park.  I couldn't fathom schlepping all of our equipment to an unknown cabin, and forcing a wakeful baby on our friends.  So we stayed home, and missed our usual excursion.  While at home, I quietly mourned the end of an era.  I wondered if we would ever make the journey with our friends again.  But my sorrow was met with contentment to be at home with sweet Jonah, and I worked on accepting that this fun-filled season of our lives was changing. 

I didn't expect to be at Taggart Lake again, retracing the labored steps of previous years, up the ravine, down the hill, and across the lake.  I felt in many ways like my former self, myself before motherhood, able to spend a day snowshoeing without worry or commitment.  I was free to careen down a fresh powdered slope without considering consequences, and yet I knew with each step I was not the same. 

I feel older.  As I type a fountain of coarse gray hair sprouts from the crown of my head.  My belly seems softer.  I know how to function on little or no sleep, and I long for a past that I cannot change.  I am a different person now.

As the resentment followed me around the lake, I wished for a different present, a present that involved my child.  I looked at Jordan and wondered if he felt the same.  I watched his mountain goat body step steadily through the snow.  I laughed as he cracked jokes and climbed boulders.  I saw him differently than I did two years ago.  I began to recognize that a change of perspective has joined our change of circumstance.

Indeed I am not the same person.  My love for Jordan is deeper, more confident, and more honest.  We have been tied together by our love for Jonah and through the trials of life.  The love I have for my friends feels less selfish, less self-serving.  I have a sense that time is fleeting and that the moment is all I am promised.  As I hiked I tried to push away resentment and to make the most of this new familiar memory, and the ritual of our journey.  I decided to carry Jonah around the lake with me, like I did before, as part of my body and soul, and as part of the new person I have become.

Change is the essence of life.  Be willing to surrender what you are for what you could become.
Author Unknown

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Tantrum

Jordan was working out of town this week.  When he is gone my sadness settles in, I am left alone with my thoughts, and my too quiet house.  Although there are times when I soak up the silence, at night my instinct is to cling to distraction.  So Friday night I played Words with Friends and watched Downton Abbey until my brain was mush.  I hoped this mindless distraction would lull me to sleep, but the episode ended and I was wide awake alone in my dark room.  I sat in my bed and looked at Jonah's cradle, the beautiful wooden cradle my dad made for him.  It is still right next to my bed, but instead of holding my little one, it has become a repository for books and journals.  I looked at that misused empty cradle and suddenly life felt so unfair.  I felt my heart break again.  In my isolated room I had no one to impress, no one to be strong for, and I fell apart.  No, I threw a tantrum.

David, a little boy that comes to my art class has taught me a lot about tantrums.  He loves coming to my class, not so much for the art, but for the toys, and for the other children.  He especially loves the wooden train.  He laughs aloud as he plays and seems to experience pure joy.  When the time comes to leave, his joy seems prematurely and arbitrarily severed.  He doesn't understand.  Sometimes he collapses to the ground, and sometimes he clings to the toys.  He wails and moans.  His tears and snot flow freely.  When I watch him I am sure he believes that he will never be back, that he will never see his train again, and that there is no reason to leave.  Of course his wise mother knows better and tries to soothe him.  She says calmly "I know you love your train," "It is time to go, but we will come back another day," "This is really sad, but it will be okay." Eventually, David submits to his mother, sometimes by persuasion, sometimes by bribery, sometimes by gentle force. 

I thought about David as I threw my own tantrum, as I wailed and moaned and wallowed in my grief.  I cursed the seemingly arbitrary nature of life.  I felt myself perpetuating the emotion as if to prove to my Heavenly Father how upset I was.  I pounded on the bed, I clung to Jonah's blanket, and wept bitterly pleading for God to somehow change the laws of nature, to reverse what has been done, or to at least give me instant and perfect understanding.  And yet I knew those demands were irrational.  In the aftermath of my breakdown, surrounded by crumpled tissues, I began watching videos of Jonah.  I don't do this often, because it is painful.  As I watched my boy, and sat with my heartbreak, I felt the intensity of the moment gradually distill into peace.  I thought about what a gift Jonah was to me.  I could imagine my wise Heavenly Father speaking to me, like David's mother, saying "I know you love your boy."  "It was time for him to go, but you will be together again." "This is really sad, but it will be okay."  Gradually my heart softened, I accepted my sadness, and I fell asleep. 

I am still trying to make sense of the difficult things that happen in life.  I am trying to understand why this has happened to my beautiful son and my family.  But even as I question, I believe that God is a loving parent.  I believe that he sees the big picture.  He knows the end and the beginning.  Those things that seem arbitrary and unfair in my eyes, have purpose in His.  When the tantrums pass, and I return to myself, I find incredible peace in submitting my narrow perspective and stubborn will to His, because He is a kind and wise and loving parent. 

John 14:27
Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Religion

Disclaimer: I do not want this blog to become a place of contention, or of political and religious debate.  It is a selfish destination for me, a place where I can connect with people who are enduring the challenges of life, where I can post pictures and videos of my beautiful child, and I can momentarily relieve my mind of the crushing grief that rests upon it.  I hope as you read and comment you will approach it as a sacred place, as I do. 

I have felt compelled lately to write about my religion, and I have hesitated.  There are so many negative connotations, and strong feelings tied to this simple word.  My inclination is to ignore the compulsion to address it, and to speak of more neutral topics, but my thoughts on the subject won't rest.  So here it goes. 

Recently my religion (Mormonism) has been thrust into the spotlight by politicians, by comedians, and by the media.  I believe the attention is mostly positive, and generally leads to greater understanding, but occasionally I am disappointed by the portrayal of my faith.  It is so easy to focus attention on hypocrisy, on abuses of power, and on political differences.  And surely these negatives need to be seen and addressed.  However, I find myself wishing that I could remove the generalizations, the stereotypes, and the occasional poor examples that are paraded around as truth.  I long to introduce the world to the many "religious" individuals and families who have cared for us since Jonah died, and even before his death.

I wish you could meet the older couple from our congregation who came to shine Jordan's shoes before Jonah's funeral.  The husband sat on our couch, apron clad, and performed this humble act of service.  His thoughtful wife handed him his brush, and polish while we spoke softly about Jonah.  It was such a sweet experience.  They were not asked to do it, they did not receive special recognition.  They simply felt compelled to help, and I believe they were inspired by the example of their Savior, Jesus Christ, washing the feet of his disciples.  They continue to check on us, to bring us food, and to hug us anytime they see us.

I think of the many women who have come and cried with me, who ask me to walk with them, who call me, and who bring me meals.  I know these women are trying to fulfill the commitment they have made to "bear one another's burdens" and to "mourn with those that mourn."

I think of my mother's charitable sisters, who are not of my faith, but who write me beautiful messages of encouragement and kindness.  These wonderful women know how to strengthen the feeble knees and lift up the hands that hang down. 

I think about the many people around the world who have prayed for God to sustain us in our trial, and I believe He has. 

I know that there are hypocrites in this world.  There are many who would hijack religion to serve their own selfish needs, their desire for power, or to take advantage of the less fortunate.  But it is unfair to judge a religion by those who claim it, but who in fact do not live it.  Hypocrisy is its own religion.  Wouldn't it be better to judge a religion by those individuals who strive to live it truthfully, although sometimes imperfectly...Individuals like my neighbors, my friends, and my family.  

I am aware that religion is not the only source of kindness in the world.  Many people are compelled by generous hearts, inherent charity, and not by religious conviction.  But many are, and I am grateful to be surrounded by people of many beliefs, who strive to live their religion, and allow me the opportunity to be a witness to and recipient of the manifestation of their faith.  Most importantly I am grateful for my religion, and for the framework it has given me to grieve with love and hope.  

Mark 12:30-31
And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Happiness

When Jonah died I knew that I would never feel happy again.  How could I, when he was the source of so much joy and love.  How could I when part of my heart was gone forever?  Shortly after Jonah left us, Jordan's former bishop came to visit us.  This kind man lost two of his children in their infancy.  I knew he understood the pain and hopelessness that enveloped us.  He simply spoke about his own grief, and of the process.  We shared stories about Jonah to make sure he knew how much we loved him.  We wanted him to know the depth of our loss.  Of course he knew and understood.  He listened and then he counseled us.  He promised us that there would be a time when we would feel happy again. He said we would be tempted to squash that feeling, and encouraged us not to deny ourselves happiness.  He said "Do not feel guilty for forgetting your grief.  Forgetting grief is different than forgetting someone that you love."  Other kind people promised us future happiness, and I could not believe them.  But his life was compelling evidence to me, and I longed to believe him.

I am hesitant to tell you that I am happy now.  I don't want you to think that my grief has ended, that I don't miss Jonah, that my heart doesn't still ache.  I feel the pain of Jonah's absence in every part of my day and in every memory.  But I will tell you that on Friday I felt happy. 


Some wonderful women from my church invited me to go skiing with them.  I love to ski.  Well that is not entirely true, I love to ski on a warm sunny day when conditions are ideal.  Friday was one of those days.  The sun was healing, the air was crisp, the mountains were spectacular, and the snow wasn't frozen.  I had a moment, sitting on the chairlift, laughing with these kind women, when I realized that I was happy.  It was as if my focus shifted away from my own misery, and happiness could finally settle upon me.  I didn't expect it.  I wasn't seeking it.  But I felt light and momentarily free from my heavy burden.  I carried that lightness with me for the rest of the afternoon as I swooshed down the mountain. 

I was quite proud of my foray into happiness.  I came home and told Jordan what a great day I had.  I was bubbling with energy and then collapsed, exhausted on the couch.  In the spirit of full disclosure I will tell you that only a few hours later I was sobbing in my bed, telling Jordan how much it hurts to miss Jonah.  I found myself saying over and over, through bursts of tears, "it hurts so much." 

This is the path of grief.  I am trying not to be discouraged that pain followed my happiness home.  I am learning that happiness and pain are not mutually exclusive.  They are not enemies.  They can co-exist.  In our most joyful moments, there is often a twinge of heartache that brings sweetness to the joy.  Hopefully the opposite is true in our sorrows.  I try to hold onto those glimpses of happiness that come to me momentarily, that help to soften the pain.  I try to think about what kind of mother Jonah would want me to be, and I know that he wants me to be happy.


Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder. Henry David Thoreau



video
My Happy Boy