…Joy continued

My mood today can be summed up by telling you that I’m wearing the same pair of jeans I wore the last 3 days and the Earl May sign that reads, “now is the right time to treat crabgrass” made me mumble under my breath “you can kiss my butt.” Like it was adding one more thing to my list of things that aren’t going to happen.

We had a clinic visit last week that didn’t go well. I shared it all on our MRC Facebook page so I will quickly sum it up here, using a word I really don’t like and don’t let my kids use, but in short, it sucked.

Like, literally, I think it sucked some life right out of me. And yesterday we had to put our very loved, wonderful dog down.

I know I keep saying that these last 12 months and now I am amending it to the last 15 months have been rough. But, is has been, one thing after another. Just as soon as we are about to get our legs underneath us, something happens and takes them out again.

I realize that at times I’m losing sight of the joy along the way.

The last two weeks have challenged me and even as I write this my eyes feel swollen and dry from all the tears and physically I am just drained.

But every time I’ve stopped to find the joy, the source of joy has been the same.

My husband.

A year ago as he was losing and had just lost his dad, I can be honest and share with you that it was rough for a couple of months. We had to learn news ways to be there for one another.

After the loss of my sister, he had to hold me together for a couple of months.

And now as we navigate the changes with our boys and prepare for a different future than we had imagined when we first said, I do, we are in sync.

This is the strongest we have ever been and the strong foundation our family needs. I’ve always thought that we were one of the lucky ones, we found each other when we were 19 and have been smiling together ever since. But what we have now is beyond what I knew could be. We know each other better, we are softer with each other, we try harder to make the other laugh, our hands feel better when they are holding the other’s, and there are times we don’t need words to communicate.

I never knew a love between parents like I experience as a parent. It is a gift given to us that we can give to our children. We may not be able to fix their muscles or give them a big house or fancy vacations, but we can give them a home full of love. That is a great joy to me always, when my heart is aching, and when my heart is rejoicing. It is perhaps one of the greatest joys of my journey.

Neon Lights, Purses and Metaphors

I want a flashing neon light pointing me in the right direction answering my questions.I ask Him often for one, but God has yet to send me one.

This week he sent me a purse instead. Let me explain.

I have a friend that has great purses. This week at a dinner I shoved my disheveled purse under the table and didn’t think about it much until I saw hers. It was beautiful. I think what I liked most was that it was clean and sat there nicely. I didn’t look inside, I’m sure it was organized though. I was jealous of that purse.

The more I thought about it I was almost embarrassed of my own. For one, there is a blue paint stain on it. I have no idea where from. It is as old if not older than my youngest child, I think it is closer in age to my 7 year old actually.

It was old and tired looking, just as I’ve felt the past couple of weeks. My friend’s purse, if it is a thing, looked like it had energy and was ‘put together.’ I wanted to feel put together, not old and tired.

I wasn’t going to buy one. We are a large, single income family, and our budget doesn’t have a “mama needs a new purse” category.

I didn’t look online or go to a nice store to look at one. But…as I was getting groceries at Wal-Mart yesterday, I perused through the purse isle. I saw a cute little purse. It didn’t look like my friend’s purse, but it was small and would lay across my body and I would not have to worry about it falling off my shoulder when helping kids and carrying everything else I carry. Better yet, it was on clearance for $7! It came home with me.

I didn’t have time to switch it out before I picked up kids from school. When we got home, I put one backpack over my shoulder, my old purse on the other shoulder, grabbed my water bottle, coffee cup, and a lunch bag. I walked around the van and used one arm to help my son out of the van. As I put him down, he was on one foot and couldn’t hold his weight. He fell to the ground. My son with weak muscles fell because my hands were full. I didn’t even realize how full they were until I set everything down to help him up. He was okay, but I felt horrible.

Our day went on. Eventually, I switched my purses out. I found 4 little people princesses, 20+ grocery receipts, 13 or so pens, dollars worth of loose change, 2 toy cars, gum, glasses. The worst though was a piece or several pieces of disintegrated gum had left sticky residue over everything in the bottom of my purse. That left over residue was holding everything down. I cleaned up what I could, tossed the rest, and put only 4 things in my new small purse. It felt therapeutic!

This morning with my new purse slung crosswise over my torso, I used both arms to gently and easily lift my son out of the van and put him securely on two feet safely on the ground.

It hit me just at the moment. It wasn’t a flashing neon light, He didn’t use the purse to hit me on the back of the head to wake me up, it was just a simple thought.

When you don’t carry so much, you don’t drop things.

In full disclosure, this happened after a therapy appointment for my son. I am the mom that hijacked some my son’s therapy appointment. I love when health professionals see the whole family. She reminded me that our situation is unlike just about anyone else’s. When I need help, it is because I have a lot and it’s okay to need it. I knew everything I was being told, but it makes me feel better when someone licensed says it.

But that conversation, my new purse and my literal and metaphorical lighter load all were telling me the same thing. When I don’t carry as much, I don’t drop things.

Holding everything yesterday and still thinking I could help my son out of the van is a metaphor for what I’ve been doing the past couple months. I’ve been holding everything and still thought I could help everyone. Maybe I didn’t get the easy flashing light answer I would prefer, but maybe then I wouldn’t have learned from it.

Acceptance creates Accessibilty

I am not an expert on accessibility, culture or acceptance. Before my sons were diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy I didn’t know what I didn’t know. After 8 years, I am still learning, but I have meaningful insight.

Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) is a progressive muscle disease. Children living with DMD can walk, run, climb, some can even jump or ride their bikes as toddlers and young children. As their muscles weaken however, they lose those abilities and during various stages of the disease will slowly lose the ability to walk and levels of independence and will use strollers, scooters, manual wheel chairs and power chairs to maintain mobility and independence.

It doesn’t happen overnight and is a gradual process. For the first 4 years of my oldest sons life he walked, rode in the cart at the grocery stores, or was carried. Once he was diagnosed and we learned more about his muscles and preserving them, we incorporated a medical stroller, he now uses a mobility scooter and someday, unless better treatments or a cure is developed first, he will need a power wheelchair, as will his brothers.

We have been fortunate enough to travel with the boys and of course are active participants in our own community. Our boys are still mobile, but at times need their scooters, especially for lots of walking or long distances.

The things we encounter as barriers to accessibility are limited parking spaces for vehicles with handicap placards, buildings with steps at the entrance with no other accessible entrance, limited amounts of seating for individual using mobility devices especially in theaters and gymnasiums, blocked accessibility like cars parked illegally in handicap accessible parking stalls, or door buttons that are blocked or disabled, narrow isles, curbs, accessible entrances that are awkward to get to, hard to find, and often send you on very scenic routes through buildings and back alleys.

Some of those issues are policy issues or programmatic issues as individuals we may or may not be able to impact alone. I encourage everyone to look at the structural barriers to accessibility though and make suggestions, advocate, and make future plans that will remove those barriers.

As a mom, and that is where my experience begins and where my heart remains, an attitude of acceptance has either been then deal breaker or maker.

When we travel with all 3 scooters, especially outside of our home town, people stare at us and they make rude and insensitive comments, like, “kids these days are so lazy.” People avoid eye contact with the boys and sometimes avoid them all together. Traveling out of state, airports, and vacations all can be anxiety provoking. We figure out how to navigate airports, accessible transportation, elevators, and hotels and restaurants with 3 scooters though; we have plan B’s and C’s. It is poor human behavior that is the greatest barrier to accessibility.

I can tell you this, our good experiences have probably been greater in number than our bad experiences, but the bad ones are hardest to forget and steal some of the joy from the good ones.

I truly believe that more often than not, the people that hurt us with their stares and comments are not bad people. I think when people are uncomfortable or scared they lose common sense. Because all it really takes is a smile or a friendly hello. It is okay to say you like their scooter or introduce yourself. It would be fine to hold the door open. Those are common-sense thing, use your common sense. Meeting new people that use a scooter or a wheelchair does not have to be unlike meeting any other person new to you.

Do for others what you would want done for yourself. It’s the golden rule. It’s not rocket science. It’s common sense and it is kindness.

In my experience, the right attitude can overcome any barrier to accessibility. The right attitude can overcome a structural barrier.

Kindness and acceptance creates accessibility.

We chose a small private middle school/high school for my son that was not accessible. That’s right, my son with DMD goes to a school that IS NOT ACCESSIBLE. And we love it. That’s right, WE LOVE IT!

I don’t love the stairs to the lunch room. I don’t love that there is a wing in the school that he won’t have access to in years to come. But, I love the way he is accepted and treated. He is included. He is wanted. He is blossoming in that environment.

Once the school district knew Max was coming, they fundraised thousands of dollars to install a lift in the school so that he would have access to the library and upstairs classrooms. I didn’t ask. They did it. They had an attitude of acceptance.

There are stairs to the lunch room with no lift, so they used common sense. They offered to bring lunch up to him. My son wanted to be with friends so when we offered to carry him up and down instead, the school said yes.

The kids at this school have an attitude of acceptance. When I carry Max they don’t see a middle school boy getting a piggy back ride from his mom. They see Max getting the help he needs however it will work. They are kind to him. They smile at him. They hold doors open for him. The school and it’s students help him. I can’t say often enough that kindness and a dose common sense have made this building accessible.

It’s not perfect. Parents park in the handicap stalls when they pick up kids. The gym has no space for someone sitting in a wheelchair to utilize. These are things that I challenge all of us to do better at and plan better for. Be advocates!

Just as important though, this mom says be kind and remember to smile.

Dog Crap Kind of Day

It’s been a day. After reflecting on my yesterday, I should have seen it coming.

I cleaned bathrooms yesterday. I hate cleaning bathrooms. But I cleaned them. I even painted the basement bathroom before cleaning it. I literally scrubbed them both so hard that my arms and shoulders were sore this morning.

Later in the evening I sat down to read with one of the kids and our little dog jumped up with us. I started to pet her until I realized she was covered in her own crap. If not her own crap, then the crap of her dog brother. I had to give her a bath in my clean bathtub and then clean it again. That is 3 bathtubs in one day; my least favorite chore ever.

I woke up this morning to a press release that informed us that the FDA had denied approval of Ataluren again. There is still a path forward and boys will still get medicine. All good news. Except after months and months of the process, after waiting for months for the answer…that is what I wanted, an answer!

Now we will wait, I can talk to the drug company or other parents, but it still means we wait longer for an answer. What if the answer is no again? What do I do for my boys at this point? Wait!? It is not what I was expecting despite having an understanding that it could happen. I can’t process it today. It worked out because today was not done with me yet.

Max has been home for 2 days now and today it was confirmed that he has Influenza B. Yuck. He’s going to miss school and play practice. 3 of his 5 siblings are starting Tamiflu with him. I’m washing bedding and have cloroxed the entire house and have the diffuser going.

I have a headache and can’t decide if I’m getting sick, tired, stressed, sore or all of the above. I also forgot to eat lunch until 3:45. Food helps.

Mister Charlie asked me if he was going to die when he was 13 as we pulled into the drive way after school.

(( This is the silence in my heart for the few moments before getting out of the van, walking around to his side and giving him a big hug ))

It hurts as bad as you imagine it does if you are fortunate to have never been asked such a question. I know other Duchenne parents read this blog so I know that some of you know the feeling too.

Another first grader told him that. I want to be mad at that kid, but he’s a first grader and probably overheard something he didn’t understand. I’m really not mad.

It didn’t happen today, but today is when Charlie asked me if it was true.

We had a good talk. I told him we are doing things that have never been done (no thanks to the FDA) and we are changing the outcome. I told him that no one knows how old they will be when they die and neither do we.

Rowen ended it with, “We are Duchenne history makers!” I’m glad he felt like a warrior about it because I mostly felt like a pile of mush about it. Not a conversation you can prepare for.

I’ll have to see about going in and talking with his friends again. Still stings.

So now, I put a hold on all homework doings. We are watching Teen Titans, eating yogurt (Charlie in his underwear) and putting off the real world for an hour. Except me, I am processing or trying to as I write this…it’s the only way I know how to process a day such as this.

There were good things today, I’m sure. I paid preschool tuition on time. It’s the only bill I am responsible to pay and this is quite possibly the first time I’ve paid it on time all school year. So there’s that.

I may not clean the bathrooms again for awhile.

Max’s Blessings

I met Max at school yesterday at 11:05 so that I could carry him downstairs to the lunch room. It’s the same most days.

Yesterday, as he was on my back he rested his head on my shoulder and told me Wonder was out on DVD. He wanted to see it.

He told me that Mr. A (the teacher of the class just before lunch) gave a speech on being Kind. His teacher told them that somebody might be having the worst day and you can either make it worse for the person or you could make it better. Even a smile can make someone’s day better.

At that point he was almost whispering and he said, “it reminds me of me.”

We were to the bottom of the stairs and I lowered him to the ground. Lots of days be hugs me and I go upstairs to wait for him.

Yesterday there was no hug and he walked off down the corridor with one arm outstretched running his hand along the wall and holding his lunch in the other.

He was deep in thought.

Less than 2 hours later a text from his study hall teacher dinged on my phone. He was telling her he was very tired. She thought he looked a little sad too.

I had a hunch I knew what was going on. It was the melancholy deep thought he was in when I left him at lunch.

He came home. He was sad. I could sense tears just under the surface. He told me his legs hurt when he walked. He looked exhausted.

At home he surfed through the pay per view channels and found the movie Wonder. We ordered it and watch it together. At the end of the movie his eyes were welling with tears.

I sat next to him. I told him he could tell me anything.

The tears started and he told me to go away.

I was fighting back tears. I needed to make sure he was ok. So I asked him to tell me if the tears were because he was hurting because kids are mean or if they were because he felt blessed to have so much kindness in his own life.

He said the tears were because he was so blessed.

He is so blessed. He is 12. He has a rare disease that is slowly robbing him of his independence. He is the smallest kid in his class and is the only one in the building that uses a motorized scooter to help him around. He needs help on the stairs and in and out of the van. He needs help with almost everything.

With all of that in mind, yesterday when his teacher talked about kindness, he saw his blessings.

His friends are kind. His teachers are kind. He told me he never feels like people stare at him unless we are out of town and have all 3 boys on scooters.

He was overcome by his blessings. He felt so much emotion that it exhausted him.

We both cried. He were so full of gratitude for our blessings that our eyes were leaking. Kindness is a beautiful thing. Everyone deserves kindness. I’m thankful that Max is embraced with kindness.

Shrapnel, Memories, Love, Joy & Walls

I want to write about shrapnel. Shrapnel. The word I’ve decided to use when a little piece of something from the past lodges itself into the present unexpectedly.

There is also my first memory and its reality or lack there of. It’s very vivid and has been my whole life. I think I remember it through interpretation. My childhood mind trying to make sense of something outside the understanding of a child. Instead of a memory, it seems more like a story told from a child’s point of view. As an adult I see through the childhood interpretation, but without someone to tell me what really happened, it’s reality is a question.

All of these blogs will someday be pieced together to form the book I know I have to write and this earliest memory is giving that book a shape, a beginning. I’m excited and scared to write it.

I need to write about love. The amazing love I found through this blog. For the longest time, and I’ve shared it previously, I felt unworthy of love (shrapnel). I am loved though.

I realize my true struggle was always loving myself. My defense mechanism for the majority of my life was to be harder on myself, to hate myself more than the way I perceived others felt about me. That way when someone in my childhood didn’t show up or failed me or hurt me in some way, it would never hurt as bad as what I already believed about myself.

Writing it all out, my journey with joy, the loss of my sister…it all suddenly became so clear. I am the one that needs to love me and needs to be kind to me.

I read a passage today in a book about joy.

“There is a wall in my heart that I know was erected as a protection from being hurt. But I am ready to let it come down so that my heart can heal.”

This is the perfect description of where you find me today.

A big part of finding myself ready to let it come down is faith, my family, my husband, motherhood you, your gifts, the little notes, the kind words. They made me realize that if a person that barely knows me can think of me and see good, then it is time that I do so as well.

I gave an interview today. It was an interview on parenting children with exceptionalities. It was a more difficult interview than I imagined. There was conversation about what I hope for my children’s future. I cried. It is hard for me to think of the future because when I do my deepest fear of my children not part of it is there, in my future. It forces me to think about the uncertainties. I don’t like it, it hurts.At the end of the interview though, I was able to say to myself that I am doing a good job as a mom. I’m not perfect, I still beat myself up sometimes (shrapnel), but I think I’m doing a good job. I think I am not a perfect mom, but I think I take good care of my children.I might as well have moved a mountain. Love is changing me. The wall is coming down.

Thoughts for My Birthday

I turn 38 this week. I know some think that sounds old, more of you probably think it sounds young. I have had enough hard life experiences though to make me feel much older than I am. I sometimes do not believe how much life has been squeezed into only 38 years.

I have often been told I have an old soul. I agree. I love simple things. I love old music and black and white movies. The fast paced world of today does very little for me. I love living in a small town in a rural part of an agricultural state where life moves slower.

I love a house full of Christmas decorations in the winter and a garden full of vegetables in the summer. I want to be surrounded by my dogs and my kids. I look forward to being the Grandma Betty that bakes cookies the grands love and giving them Christmases at grandmas house that give them happy memories to savor long after I’m gone. I love being my husband’s wive. I love to be home.

As year 37 of my life comes to a close it does not do so without painful memories of experiences life brought me in the last 12 months. It was a difficult year to say the least. It took a toll on me. I’ve gained weight. I’ve lost sleep. I’ve cried many tears. I’m tired. I have anxiety attacks.

I have not counted my troubles though, but my blessings instead.

Counting my blessings, finding joy in the journey; that has been the best medicine for my anxiety, the strongest prescription for my broken heart.

I am broken and changed, but I am happy.

Today I am counting 38 blessings; one for each year. This is my gift to me. This is what I count today.

  1. I am married to man that makes it possible for me to say to my daughters, “marry a man that treats you the way your father treats me.”
  2. My children are happy and smile a lot.
  3. I have a village that is 100 percent committed to all the children in it, including mine.
  4. I like to workout and it makes me feel better.
  5. I have a soft bed.
  6. Although there is no cure for Duchenne, my boys live in a time where treatment is available and research is bringing new and better treatments that may change the outcome for my sons.
  7. We have a chairlift that takes my boys up and down the stairs to play PS4 in the game room.
  8. My children are brave.
  9. My children are not shy.
  10. My husband works hard to provide for our family.
  11. My kids love me.
  12. God is good.
  13. When it is cold outside, I sit inside a warm house.
  14. I have cars that start and that are reliable.
  15. I found a chicken dumpling recipe today that made me remember someone very special. I’m making them on my birthday.
  16. Every time I think I need to paint my living room a new color I remember my oldest saying it wouldn’t look like home if I did.
  17. We’ve given our kids a home, not just a house.
  18. We’ve been happily married for 16 years.
  19. We have access to good medical care.
  20. I have dogs.
  21. My cat sleeps curled up next to me.
  22. I have a husband that hates the cat and still lets it sleep curled up next me.
  23. There is always food in our cupboards.
  24. My children wear clean clothes with no holes.
  25. My kids are in a great school system.
  26. There is a new library in my town. I love to go to the library.
  27. We have a favorite place to eat. Macho nachos are our favorite food at our favorite place.
  28. After 18 years of macho nachos at our favorite place, I can now make them nearly as good a home. There are times when you just need nachos.
  29. I have 6 children. I love having a big family.
  30. My youngest child looks just like me.
  31. My oldest child is a good person. It gives me faith we are doing something right and the youngest 5 will be good people too.
  32. I have hope.
  33. My children know and love their cousins. We love our nieces and nephews.
  34. My husband’s side of the family is my side too. They love me and make me happy.
  35. I have sisters. No matter what, I love them and they love me.
  36. St. Cecilia’s Catholic Church
  37. We have a deck that I can thaw out on when the AC makes me too cold.
  38. That God gave me a heart to count my blessings and not my troubles.

May our blessings, mine and yours always outnumber our troubles!

Birthday Boys

My birthday boys, then and now, will be 7 and 9 this week. I’ve been in the worst mood the last two days. At first, I thought it was the more typical mom feeling of being taken for granted and feeling like the last one anyone in the family considers, me included.

I was wrong. It hit me this morning. It’s the fact that my babies are another year older. I’ve not typically struggled with birthdays and holidays with my boys. The celebrations of them being here with me has been such a fun and bright part of the birthday that I didn’t think a lot about the fact that I don’t know how many they will have, or the changes that have occurred in the last 12 months or what they will lose in the next 12 months.

There is no handbook on how to raise a child with a terminal illness, more specifically Duchenne, more specifically three very different boys with Duchenne. I question if I’ve made the right decisions for them. I wonder what the next hard decision will be. I have to accept that I have to trust that I made the right decision with the information I had at the time. And trust that I will make another best decision if that information changes.

This was a hard year full of battles and changes. We are still waiting and fighting for FDA approval of Ataluren, the insurance battle for coverage of another important medicine is still ongoing. At home we installed a chair lift and built a ramp.

We know that soon we need a new vehicle because although I am strong and work hard in the weight room to be able to lift the boys and their scooters into the van, doing so long term is not practical.

When we were first diagnosed we were told the boys would be confined to a wheelchair by the time they turned 9. We found a better doctor and we know because Max that 9 is not the average anymore and that it is 12, 13, 14 and older now before boys stop walking completely.

But, Rowen is going to be 9. There are things that are becoming increasing more hard for my son and he needs growing amounts of help. Bathroom modification is necessary sooner than later. If we are forced to stop using Ataluren in the next year if it doesn’t gain FDA approval, it could be 9 for Rowen.

Last Saturday we couldn’t get a handicapp parking spot and because of snow and frigid temperatures I asked the boys to walk further than usual so I would not have to unload the scooters…there was a door close to us that we could enter and then just walk the hallway to get to the gym on the other end of the school. It was really really hard for him. I’m actually crying now because I felt so bad for not taking his scooter. Seriously, his muscles don’t work like mine and everything is hard for him, but I decided it was too cold to help him by getting his scooter. I feel like scum.

And yeah, I’ve been so damn mad at my husband for leaving me to travel alone with the boys. And I hate that, because they are my children. I hate that sometimes traveling alone overwhelms me. I hate that I’m mad at my husband, he is my partner in all this and really we can’t afford to me mad at each other.

Then last week at church, it was just me and Rowen. He wanted to lift his legs up into the pew. He could not. He had to grab the material of his pants and pull up to get his legs up. It’s those little things I notice that eat at me.

This post really has no lesson to be learned. It is just this. Duchenne is hard. These birthdays are hard for me this year. I do know though, that it would not hurt like this if I didn’t love them so much. To have this love for them, to have them, to be able to celebrate them though….I would take the hurt and stress a million times over…my children are my everything and we will celebrate them this week and always.

Joy, Always

So I’m up at the Y, riding a stationary bike and I realize it is the only time I have to write this.

I wanted this to be profound and my best writing yet, but I can’t find words of my own.

This year I learned than Duchenne is not the worst thing that can happen. Duchenne has actually brought me mercy and grace this year. The many times I wanted to fall apart because we kept losing ones we loved, Duchenne saved me.

I could not fall to pieces. I had to keep my stuff together for my boys. I couldn’t just lose it. I had to keep track of their care, their appointments and keep on advocating for better care and treatments. The job that Duchenne can be, kept me going.

It was not some inner strength. I am an independent person. It would have been my norm to just keep on plugging away on my own. I would failed miserably.

I had nothing left to give of myself. So I gave it all to God. And through the ups and many downs of this year. It was the words in my rosary companion that kept sounding off in my head. That kept me going on the right path.

Please know that it does not mean I prayed the rosary repeatedly, I should have, I should have leaned more heavily on prayer. But I was too tired. I had nothing left to give and so I gave it all up.

These are the words that kept me going. And they are the words that I will take with me into the near year.

  • Start from presence, not impossibility or nothingness or darkness.
  • His presence is basis for true joy.
  • There is no human circumstance that warrants despair because there is no human circumstance where He is not present and so there is never reason to abandon hope and joy.
  • Joy comes from being loved.
  • We experience great sadness in life simply because we forget things, like love.
  • Anticipation is half the pain and sorrow.
  • Anticipation is half of the joy.

I know that I am loved. I know that He is always with me. I don’t ever want to forget love, namely His love. I will never quit hoping, even during the hardest of days. I will always search for joy.

Happy New Year! Prayers for peace, healing, and joy for all of us.

Funeral Dresses

Last spring we stopped at a Marshall’s. I don’t remember what we were looking for, but there was a clearance rack of dresses. I knew I had an important meeting coming up and looked for a dress to wear. I found a black dress with a floral design. It was shorter and more stylish than the dresses I prefer to wear, but it was very pretty and I felt brave. I purchased it. I hung it in the closet and really didn’t know if I would ever wear it, but was happy to know it was mine.

Since spring I’ve attended 4 funerals. In May, my father-in-law died. And although we could see it coming, that 5 AM phone call from my husband telling me he had passed instantly stung my eyes with tears and seized my stomach with fear and anxiety as I knew I would have to tell his grandchildren.

Steve deserves his very own chapter in this blog of mine, and I’m not ready to write it. The one thing I want to say though, is that he was a father figure in my life longer than anyone else that might have called me daughter. It was a loss that left it’s very own void in my heart. Then to watch my husband mourn his father was another heart wound all its own. Even now, there are things we should be calling him for and there is no phone number to reach him at.

I wore that black flowered dress to his funeral. What I remember most about that dress is how it felt against me as my husband tightly wrapped one arm around my waist during the funeral. It was almost as if he was holding on to me so he wouldn’t fall over. I was strong for him that day. I felt brave when I bought it and I felt strong when I wore it. He may never remember holding me that way, but I will never forget it. The grip, how tightly it wrapped the dress around me. It was strong and compelling and comfortable. It’s the way Steve would want us all to feel.

Ten days later my husband’s aunt passed suddenly. She was my mother-in-law’s twin. She was kind and gentle. I can remember a time she sang a lullaby to one of the boys. I remember her sitting on my deck and I love the crystal wine glasses she sent us as a joke.

I wore a different dress that day. It was an old dress. I bought it when I was in my 20’s. It was not a typical dress for a 20 something, but I wanted something traditional. It is a knee length black dress. There is a sparkled broach that pulls it together in the front. It has stood the test of time. Traditional. Classic. Timeless. Beautiful. Things that can be described with those adjectives, they don’t go out of style. They are always. I’d like to think the same of our Aunt Linda.

Then fall came. My sister. My little sister. She had a heart attack and never recovered. This one hurt the very most. She was so young. She had never married and had no children. It still seems not enough. Not enough time. It happened fast and traumatic. And parts of it were slow and excruciating. My time with her was not enough. I am trying to find a way to live with how much time I didn’t spend with her. I miss her, not only her, but I miss the time I didn’t have. Time I didn’t have when I could have and the time I can never have now.

I wore the black, floral dress to her funeral. Dani was beautiful. She could have been a model. I wanted to be beautiful for her and that stylish dress with a pair of heels made me feel beautiful for her.

And then just today. Only a couple of hours ago. A friend’s mother. A friend’s grandmother. I had only met her in passing, but I cared for her in the way you care for the ones that are important to the ones that you care for.

The morning that she passed, my friend text me that her mom was gone. I could read my friend’s pain in the lines of the text. A pain I could recognize from the loss I have endured these past 6 months.

The lines of that same message created tears of gratitude and humility. Her mother had suffered a great deal during a 4 year battle with cancer. She never complained. Instead, she offered up all of it. She offered all of her pain and all of her suffering so that 3 little boys and their family might suffer less. She offered all of it up for Max, Rowen, and Charlie.

I wore a longer black dress. It is cold today, so I wore boots and a black sweater. I wanted to be warm.

DeDe had not spent much time with any member of our family. We did not have an opportunity to know her well, but she loved someone who loved us. It is humbling to be given a gift so big. There are some things that mean so much to you, you know it can never be repaid. I can only hope that someday I can be that to someone else. Her gift was one of warmth, during a very difficult year.

I learned so much about love from loss this year. It taught me that loving someone who is fragile and vulnerable is a soft and delicate love. It is a love with an ability to pull people together and deepen already existing love.

It taught me that having someone to love you and care for you when you are vulnerable and fragile is gift.

Loss taught me that death doesn’t wait for you to reach out and forgive. It doesn’t wait for you to better a relationship. Loss happens on God’s time. Loss taught me that you can’t take advantage of anything, don’t wait for a perfect time or a perfect place. It taught me to hug more, laugh more, cry more, say what you mean, love hard, give freely, forgive always, be kind to yourself, love more and then love some more.

I’m going to find a dress that says all of that. That will be my funeral dress.