Wednesday, August 15, 2012

You don't have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.

I wondered if I'd escape it this year, I thought, hugging my knees to my chest.  It seemed such a silly thought; naive, even, now that the pain had hit again with the same bitterness of all the years behind.  The cemetery was still, the only movement coming from the wind.  I could feel it softly brushing the wisps of hair that had escaped from my ponytail.  I could hear it gently rustling the leaves in the trees.  I could see it playing in the grass around the running shoes on my feet.  Such beautiful grass.  Deeply green.  Cool.  Alive.  I suppose there was movement inside my head and inside my soul, too, but though that movement was consuming me it would have been invisible to any other eye.  My breath came in deep from the short jog up the mountain, probably would for another minute or two, but my lungs felt awake and capable of handling the extra air gracefully.  The earbuds to my iPod shuffle still sat in my ears, though I'd run the last quarter mile in silence.  The podcast had become irritating and distracting as soon as I had seen headstones in the distance. 

I wasn't planning on coming here yet.  Not like this.  Though, you wouldn't have believed it from the direct route I'd taken.  I hadn't been in Utah for more than 12 hours, and 9 of those hours had been encased in darkness.  I had awoken feeling happy, invigorated by being close to so many people I loved, excited about the next two and a half weeks I would be spending with them.  I had tied my running shoes to my feet with a smile, anxious to enjoy a 0% humidity run, energized by the spark Utah had ignited.  I had set out at a brisk pace, feet pointed toward the cemetery long before my head caught on, noticing the beautiful flowers and carefully manicured yards along the way.  The run had felt great, my podcast was interesting, I barely felt winded as I climbed the mountain... I was about as far from pensive as one could get.

And then the headstones came into view.

Wait... I don't want to be here. Turn around.  My brain scrambled, but my feet kept along their direct route.  No... I'm enjoying my run... I'm happy and lighthearted... this is not the right time.  Yet deep inside, as I approached the section of the cemetery dedicated to babies and children, I knew I had come here purposefully; of course I would want to come as soon as I could.  As soon as I could... but not yet.  I flinched at the conflicting emotions... why are they so common when it comes to Jess?

I've asked that question hundreds of times.  And, after seven years, I think I'm starting to understand that it's just a consequence of being a spiritual soul in a mortal body.  My spirit, my soul, connected with Jess's when we were together for that short time, and consequently is always reaching for him, yearning to be with him, to feel him, wishing to see him again.  My mortal mind doesn't understand that connection and is always reaching for closure, reminding me to live today, working for less pain, encouraging me to let it go.  I appreciate both parts of me.  But, they don't understand each other unless I consciously sit and give them quiet time to sync.

Which usually happens every June.  Around his birthday.

I hadn't had time to let it happen this year though.  The weeks leading up to June 11th had been so full...  Each time my soul felt Jess's birthday approaching, my head pushed it away in an effort to save it for a more appropriate time.  A more appropriate time that, if left to my mind, would probably never come.

But there I sat, two days before the date engraved in the stone next to me, realizing that my soul had overridden my mind this time and led me to this place.  This place where I could sit by my son's headstone in complete silence and solitude to let that sync take place.  There's a protection I enjoy in keeping the two apart, though; it's not so painful when your spirit can't speak to your mind about what it's feeling.  But when the communication is opened, the pain that flows from it is not buffered, and the spirit communicates fast.  In seconds my cheeks went from completely dry to being soaked with the tears dripping from my chin.

Eventually my soul and my mortal mind began to feel more understanding of one another, though never completely.  Much like the way in which a husband and wife often come to understand each other, I think.  My soul weeping,  I miss him, and it hurts.  My mortal mind thinking, I know.  I can see that. I wish I could understand exactly why so I could try to fix it.  But I care, and I'm sorry it hurts.  But no matter how hard my mind tries, it cannot actually feel the pain, which leaves my soul... me... feeling alone.  Misunderstood by even myself.  I wonder sometimes about what it would be like to lose an older child.  A child that has had time to fill your mind with memories and experiences.  Would those memories be an added source of pain, or would they console?  Probably both.  I wonder if a mind full of memories would help bring my mind and soul together more...

After 30 minutes, a black SUV pulled into the small, empty, parking lot and stopped on the far side.  A woman jumped out, around my age, carrying a handful of flowers.  She walked briskly to a small headstone next to her running car and, after arranging the items in front of it, walked briskly back to her car and drove away.  I wondered if the land for babies and children extended across the small parking lot, and if she had lost a child, too.  Yes.  Only one date inscribed.  Two years ago.  My heart reached out for her, knowing how fresh her pain still must be.  I wonder how different my early grief would have been had I been close to Jess's grave through it all.

I took another long while meandering among the headstones.  Unexpectedly, my heart started swelling with love for the babies surrounding my own little one.  I hope someday to meet them.  It's comforting to have that visual cue reminding me that Jess is not alone; he is surrounded by friends.

When I realized my heart felt better and that the last tear had dried several minutes before, I walked back to Jess's headstone.  I stood in front of it for a few seconds and let my lips naturally turn into a gentle smile.  I would be a different person today without you, I thought.  Thanks.  I lingered, sending love I hoped would reach him, then turned my back and slowly walked back to the main road. As the cars sped past, my steps became faster and eventually transformed into a light jog. I felt contentment and peace as my pace quickened and my breathing became deeper.  But even though an understanding had been reached between my mind and my soul, I knew it would be several days before my life returned to normal again.  In the meantime, I would handle myself gently.  Take a few long walks.  Disappear to my room for a while to read the uplifting book I had brought.  I was lucky to be with my in-laws.  Though we'd all be staying together in a little cabin, they wouldn't notice when I took an hour here and there to myself. And my sweet husband would be there to pick up the slack.  Just like he always is.

With the cemetery at my back, and a little more peace with Jess's sweetness filling my soul and mind, my hand paused at my side just long enough to push play on my iPod.

*Title quote by C.S. Lewis

Monday, August 13, 2012

Greater Than a Strong Tree

  • Alder
    Alder, part of the birch family, is a softer hardwood from the Pacific Northwest. Consistent color, stability, and uniform acceptance of stains and finishes are some of the characteristics that have made Western Alder a preferred wood for furniture. Its elasticity makes it ideal for carving intricate details. Ranking second only to oak as the most commonly used wood, alder offers the look of many fine hardwoods at a value price. source

Who knew that by marrying into Brian's family, I would end up with a last name hiding a brilliant analogy?  If you know me or talk to me much (or read my blog consistently), you know that analogies are generally my communication of choice.  So I lapped it up when my mother-in-law, Jean, introduced an analogy tied to my name.

Be Strong was the theme of our Alder Family Reunion.  Be Strong like an alder tree.   Jean put together a touching, beautiful family home evening and shared it with us while we were all nestled together in a little cabin up in Eden, Utah.  She even wrote a song, people, and mailed it out to her whole family weeks in advance so we could all learn it to be able to sing it that night.  A song about being strong, about sticking together, about loving each member of the family for who they are and what they do, and about letting the Alder name be a strength in each of our lives.  It was peppy and easy to learn (even Miles knew all the words by the end) and listening to those six little grandkids sing it was maybe the highlight of the reunion for me.  Oh how I hope they stay strong...

At the end of the lesson she pulled out a thoughtful gift: five pieces of alder wood, one for each of her children, cut and stained by her hands, each one adorned by a metal plaque engraved with a message: Be Strong.

Throughout the week, she found time to pull aside each grandchild on his own and talk about his life.  About what it means to stay strong and how he, personally, could do so.  I love it when my children get reinforcements from the outside.  When they see that mom and dad aren't the only ones encouraging and expecting them to make good choices.

She also planned a ton of fun things throughout the week.  A hike - complete with a checklist of things to find,

A puppet show - complete with color-you-own puppets,

White shirts for all the kids - complete with sharpie markers, rubber bands, and bottles of rubbing alcohol to turn them tie-dyed,

And lots and lots of relaxing time on the shores of Pineview Lake - complete with an entire bin filled with new beach toys.

The duck looks fun, right?  It took forever to blow up...30min? 45? (with three of us working simultaneously) and wasn't even a big hit with the kids.  At least Brian liked it.  And take a look at how high my brother-in-law, Chris, has his little Emmy!  He did it over and over and over again (enough times for me to see it a couple of times, realize it would be a cool picture, get my camera out from it's backpack, take a practice shot, fiddle with the settings, and snap). I'd call that a weeks worth of work-outs.  Then again, that's probably why I'd never be able to do it in the first place.

You wouldn't have believed the amount of cotton floating around in the air.  The top left picture shows it a little bit.  It was actually kind of pretty...not as gross and annoying as pollen, I have to say. I also love the bottom left picture... Brian's little brother, Dave, just as he's getting a face full of the football Brian threw for him to catch.

So many people I love... thanks for a great week, Alders!

Friday, August 10, 2012


We went to the movies.
I think we found Miles's true family.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Just Us

"I grow-een up?" you ask.  I look down and lose myself, again, in your beautiful face.  The early morning sunlight filters through the trees and lands gently across your creamy skin.  Highlights the twelve freckles dancing over your nose.  Catches in the mass of untamed red curls that sits atop your head.  Saturates the blues in your eyes to that unnatural depth.  Those eyes, locked into mine, sit beneath your soft eyebrows which almost imperceptibly begin to knot together.  Your head begins to cock to one side and I remember.  You asked me a question.

"Yep.  You sure are." I answer.  I throw one last wave around the corner as the big yellow school bus mercilessly accelerates and carries away my other children.  Boy do I miss them while they're gone.  I subconsciously squeeze your hand as we cross the street to our home.  "An... after I grow-een up, den I can ride onna busss?"

"Yes," I reply.  "But don't forget being little is fun, too."

We enter the house and clean up breakfast together.  I try not to cringe at the clatter of spoons and bowls being thrown into the sink.  Then I listen to you play with your trains while I make a grocery list.  Only when I'm all ready to go do I ask if you'd like to go to the little cart store today.  Your imaginary world of tracks and trains dissolves in an instant and you jump to your feet with an excited clap of your hands.  "We go-een to da liddle cart store!?"  After my nod of affirmation, you sprint to the shoe basket and have your cameo crocks on impressively fast.

We get stopped twice in the parking lot, before we even make it into the store.  It's because I chose to go to Kroger on a Tuesday morning; the same morning senior citizens get a discount.  I did it on purpose.  I've found that we have much more fun (as long as we're not in a hurry) when we shop with them.  I've already decided that I will be a talkative, friendly old woman.

"Oh, I bet you just hate to cut that hair," the first lady comments.  She's leaning up against the passenger side of her car, using the open door as support as her daughter loads her groceries into the trunk.  We talk for only a minute.  And she ends the conversation with, "Well, maybe the Good Lord will bless you with a curly, red-headed girl so you can watch those curls just grow and grow."  Ten paces later we pass a younger lady, maybe 65, who loudly exclaims, "Oh my!  And I thought I had a curly red-head!"  Her hand instinctively reaches out to tousle your hair as she tells me about her own, grown, curly red-headed daughter.  It's small, but it bonds my heart to hers for a minute.

You're always patient with these stops.  They're just part of your life.

I smile when you see the little carts.  Week after week, your excitement seems to grow.  "Dere it is!" you sing.  You try to suppress a smile as you start pushing it along behind me.  But I see it.  We carefully load the produce in the front of your cart and I remind you that we need to be careful not to drop our other groceries on top of the peaches, bananas and tomatoes.  We walk down each aisle and I point to the items we need.

1 of those, Miles...  5 of these...  Can you grab 2 for me?  You obey each instruction with pride and participate in one of the following conversations at least once every aisle:

Conversation A:
Oh!  We need some-ah dis?
Nope.  We don't need any of that.
Oh.  We already have some-ah dis?
No.  We just don't need any.

Conversation B:
Oh!  We need some-ah dis?
Nope.  We don't need any of that.
Oh. We already have some-ah dis?
Yep.  We have some at our home.
Oh!  I can have some when we get home?!

We always do the self-checkout.  Regardless of how many registers are open, or how many items we have.  You love it too much.  I pull each item out of your cart and you scan it and put it in the bag.  You're good at finding the bar codes.

Costco is next.  We eat samples and brace ourselves before we enter the fridge to get our lettuce and milk.  We practice shooting our sample cups into the trash cans and pause to sit on the furniture.  We tell the cashier to put two hot dog meals onto our receipt, and we sit on the picnic tables to eat them.

You happily help me carry our groceries inside the house.  This time you grab the strawberries and cheese in the same trip.  You make sure to point out how strong you are as we pass each other.  I make sure to agree.  When I come in with my load, you're standing in front of the kitchen island, still holding the strawberries and cheese, unable to get them up without a little help.  I take the strawberries, and you lift the cheese up to the counter with two hands. 

Nap time is next, and soon the big kids will be home.  Soon after that, you'll be getting on the bus yourself, and these days will become just a memory.

But that day is not today.  Today, you're my little one.  My buddy.  My constant companion and greatest source of laughter.  I know you're anxious to grow up.  In your terms, riding a bus is almost unbeatable in terms of awesome things to do.  But in my terms, having you with me all day - every day...

... that is what's unbeatable.