Sunday, December 22, 2013

Family Tree

Just a Note: The following piece was written last Christmas, our first Christmas without Addie. I'm choosing to share it this year because it shows a little bit of the growth that's taken place over the past year. And by growth, I mean adjustment. I've added a few thoughts from 2013 plus lots of pictures. Lots.


If it were any other year, you can bet our tree would've been trimmed within two hours of clearing the Thanksgiving table. If it were any other year we would've had turkey on Thanksgiving, not turkey loaf. Hey, gotta give props to my mom for trying.

If it were any other year.

But it's 2012, our daughter is gone, and decorating the Christmas tree was the last thing I wanted to do.

So I didn't.

At least not that day.

Considering all that's happened, skipping the tree altogether probably would've been acceptable.

But we have a 5 year old and a 3 year old and the magic of Christmas is alive and well in their hearts.

We have a beautiful pre-lit tree sitting in a couple of totes in our basement. But two sections of the pre-lit tree bit the dust last year and I had to string lights up, down, and around its wire branches.

I figured I'd start working on stringing the lights, the baby would need to be fed, or I'd find myself mentally tapped and there we'd sit. Looking at a half-lit tree with no ornaments on Christmas Eve.

So I ordered a new one.

Waited. Waited. Waited for it to come.

And then it did.

It sat in our doorway for a full five minutes before my mom and I decided to tackle it.

It took about five seconds to assemble, which was good.

And bad.

That meant later that night we were going to have to dig out the decorations.  You know how it is with Christmas ornaments. Each one has a story.

Take this one, for example.

My sixth grade teacher gave it to us on our wedding day 14 years ago. Since all this has happened, I've often wondered about God's commentary on that day.

I picture Him saying, "Here's this couple that's so completely happy, ready for life, poised for the future. And they'll have a great life, but they will suffer a loss. The biggest loss."

Or this one.

The first of our Baby's First Christmas ornaments. Inside is information detailing what we did for Addie's first Christmas.

And this one.

Addie made it in pre-school. I can't even imagine the glittery mess that went into making it.

This one.

We picked it up on a trip to the Nebraska-Colorado game in 2005. We cheered. We won. And had an interesting exchange with some fans before the game.

Another Baby's First Christmas. This one is for Isaac and it's double-sided.

And these creations crafted by the littlest of hands.

This is one of my personal favorites because it has Addie's fingerprints all over it.

A new baby means a new ornament.

And another to show our growing family.

One for Baby Landry.

And one from Addie that we'd never ever seen before.

An ornament to let her know she will be forever loved.

And these from so many people who let us know how much they love us.

And how much they love her.

You know how it is with ornaments. Each one tells a story.

This is our story.

And our story continues (even on days when continuing doesn't seem possible).

With creations crafted by the littlest of hands.

And a love big enough to fill all of our hearts.

Until we meet again.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

So About that Mom of the Year Award

Looks like I picked the wrong day to yell at Isaac about his inability to keep track of his gloves (again).


Yes, after listening to his teacher read Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Isaac said:

"It makes me grumpy yells at me."

While I'm glad to see Isaac doing a great job of connecting to his teacher's classroom read-aloud, I'm sure happy the first-graders didn't go much further into analyzing this Christmas classic because I'm sure Isaac might have to come to the conclusion that I am, indeed, the Grinch.

OK, maybe not, but I can certainly kiss the 2013 Mom of the Year Award goodbye.

Not that I was ever in the running anyway.

I'd like to say I never yelled at my kids before all this.

But that would be a lie.

Now it just seems the emotions are right there, fully exposed.

The Good. The bad. And, unfortunately, the ugly.

And on this particular day, with the school bus idling outside our house and chaos ensuing inside our house, Isaac got the how-many-times-do-I-have-to-tell-you-to-put-your-hat-and-your-gloves-in-the-same-spot-so-you-can-find-them-in-the-morning ugly.

This was followed by a dramatic unzipping of the backpack to reveal the missing gloves, so all was well, but ugly nonetheless.


I spend a great deal of the day keeping the emotions in check and holding it all together, all the while lugging around what feels like a 50-pound weight. This weight - this big ball of grief - it doesn't go away, and by the time I go home, I am spent.

And my family gets the worst of me.

It's not fair.

It's just the way that it is.

I am hurting.

We are hurting.

And while my little guy may not carry the weight all day long like I do, he does feel it.

Just look at the other half of that picture.

It makes me feel happy when Addie is back.

I can't bring Addie back (oh how I wish that I could), but I can try to give more of my best.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

All over again

If there's one thing I've learned through all of this, the pain never really goes away.

Sometimes it's a dull ache, a tug at your heart when you find yourself in the middle of a pickup game of basketball in the driveway. When your 6 year old asks you to be on his team (the good team, as he calls it) and orders his dad and younger brother to be players on the bad team. You realize this isn't the way the teams should be at all.

It should be boys against girls.

Addie and me (with a little help from Lands) vs. Scott, Isaac and Tripp.

Sometimes the pain is piercing.

A gaggle of girls at the mall. Giggling, smiling, texting. Walking in and out of Justice.

And sometimes the pain is unbearable.

Like when you decide to go through the two-inch medical chart that details the last six days of your daughter's life.

It arrived Saturday.

I'd requested it a few weeks ago, along with Tripp's immunization records for preschool.

Part one arrived last week and included a record of every doctor visit from birth to age 9. I glanced through that stack briefly, settling on a piece of paper from her kindergarten physical.


Spelled out in her very best 5-year-old handwriting. And next to her name, a smiley face and a square.

I couldn't help but smile at the smiley face and remember that particular trip to the doctor and our stop at Goodrich dairy after it was all over.

But Saturday's stack wasn't quite so smiley.

Not at all.

First, a form filled out in my handwriting.

How do you know your child is in pain?

"She gets quiet. Tears," I had written.

What concerns does your child have?

"How long we're going to be here."

And there were others too.

Concerns you won't find in any chart.

She wondered what her friends would think. And so, in the early morning hours we went through each friend and considered them one by one. And each one came out as a good friend and good friends don't think anything - except how they can help.

I wondered about the chemo.

And whether I should be in the room when it was administered.

When a nurse comes in wearing nothing short of a haz-mat suit, you do kind of wonder what effects that could have on your unborn child.

And the child that's lying in the hospital bed.

There were concerns about a heart beating way too fast, way too hard. Concerns we voiced.

And then a half-dozen people tearing into her hospital room and me demanding, "What the hell is going on?"

There was the waiting, the waiting, the waiting, for an elevator that seemed to take a million years to get there (when in all actuality it was probably mere seconds).

There was a team of ICU doctors doing the best they could. An intensivist barking out orders, yet functioning as the calm in the storm.

And someone, tapping me on the shoulder, explaining that we could stay here in the hallway or go to the waiting room.

Us. Stranded, our legs in cement.

Blood pressure, dangerously low.

A doctor telling us a machine that would give her heart, her lungs, and kidneys a must-needed rest was our only option.

Making it through the night.

A doctor telling us our child would die.

Our families crumpling inside themselves.

Making it through another night.

And another.



Two blinks from my sweet baby girl.

A heart soaring.

And the next day, breaking.

These are the things you won't find in the chart.

It's filled with numbers, either dangerously low or dangerously high. Medical terms I was barely beginning to grasp. Notes. Evidence of the great lengths those doctors and nurses went to in order to save Addie's life.

Two inches worth.

It's up on a shelf now. There if I want to look at it, but in the basement and a little more of a bother to get to.

Sometimes I feel like I need to put my feelings on a shelf. A place to set them while I make lunch, knowing full well they'll be there waiting for me when the table's cleared.

Sometimes I do.

But I'm not sure I'll ever be able to put those six days anywhere.

I sure wish I could.

Because living there, in the thick of it all, I get to feel my heart break all over again.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Up then down

My morning routine goes a little something like this:

Feed the baby.

Put the baby on her play mat, enjoy a gummy smile or two.

Put a few toys in front of her and pop two pieces of toast into the toaster.


Fire up the iPad, crack open a Mountain Dew and read through the obituaries.

Because that's normal (the daily reading of the obituaries part).

I think we all know I bid normal adieu 15 months and 1 day ago. Read more about that hereherehere,  and here.

Today when I reached for the iPad something was different.

I picked it up and staring back at me was this beautiful picture of Addie.

Certainly this must be a sign from my sweet, little girl (because looking for signs from your child is totally normal too). We pick up pennies on the street. We pay special attention to the skies. We relish the dreams featuring our children front and center because for that half-second we can see them, hear them, touch them again. For one brief moment, they are ours.

But I didn't intend this post to be about signs.

It's more about how something as sweet and beautiful as a picture of your child can make your heart soar and crumble at the same time.

Because that picture quickly faded to this one.

And then this one.

That's when I realized the slide show was rolling through picture by picture. In chronological order.

We received the iPad as a Christmas gift in December 2011. Addie died in March 2012. For three months there's no arguing it, that iPad was basically Addie's.

And I get reminders in the form of iPad updates all the time.

Scarlett misses you.

Scarlett is Addie's virtual horse, "purchased" the week before diagnosis.

Still listening? Pandora doesn't like playing to an empty room.

The last time we listened to Pandora was in Addie's hospital room the day before she died. According to Pandora, that was 458 days ago. Thanks. Like I needed the reminder.

But this slide show, this chronological record of events that comprised the last three months of my 9-year-old's life, really, really cut deep.

Because there we were - mugging for the camera, cracking ourselves up with the distorted pictures of ourselves, and loving every minute of it.

There was Addie on the couch. Addie by the door. Addie with Bailey. Addie with my mom. Addie with Virginia. Addie with a friend - the day before I took her to the ER.

I looked at each of those last frames carefully, searching for some trace of the monster that came in and took our daughter from us.

There was nothing.

Yet I couldn't help but look beyond the goofy smiles and think about the cancer coursing through her veins, tricking her little body to turn on itself. While oncologists can't pinpoint exactly when this seemingly perfect little girl's cells began their mutation (there is no Stage I, Stage II, Stage III, Stage IV with AML), I have to think that on that afternoon - an afternoon where two girls rode their bikes to a friend's house, lounged lazily on the grass, and returned to our house to dink around on the iPad - the cancer was there.

And that makes me sick.

So while we continued on just like everyone else, enjoying unseasonably warm weather, sorting through the past year's summer clothes, and trying on Easter outfits, we were deliciously unaware that the world that turns so slowly we can't hardly feel it, was going to turn completely upside down (for us anyway).

And sad to say, the iPad is a reminder of just how far our world has tilted.

Because Addie isn't the only one whose pictures are on it.

I see Tripp and Isaac in their brand new superhero costumes, compliments of Santa Claus the same Christmas we received the iPad. Today, Isaac's Spiderman costume is literally hanging on by a thread and Tripp's Captain America costume actually fits. The pants were at least a half-foot too long in 2011, a gross reminder that time has passed and life, no matter how painful, has continued. Kids are growing up, growing out of their clothes.

I see Tripp and Isaac recording messages to Addie in the hospital; Isaac telling her he was going to get her a pretty dinosaur for her birthday, Tripp simply saying, "I love you, Addie."

I see me in the background of those recordings with a smile on my face and hope in my heart.

I remember playing those messages back to her, hoping so desperately that she would hear them and maybe, just maybe.

I realize today I don't hardly recognize the person I once was.

That person is gone and selfish as it may seem I mourn that loss too.

Don't get me wrong. The person left in her place has good days.

There are smiles. Laughs. Superheroes.

And there are days like today.

Where my heart soars and crumbles at the same time.

Just Fore Fun

How I ended up playing in a two-person golf scramble on Tuesday night is beyond me. It started with a text that went a little something like this:

"Hey, just checking to see if you want to tag along at golf tonight. Ride in the cart. Maybe swing a few. Or meet up later."

It ended with me toting around my husband's clubs and tossing around terms like eagle, bogey, and, regrettably, slice.

I sliced a lot.

And I laughed a lot too.

Which is good for the soul (and particularly good for a battered one).

So I want to thank those who encouraged me to take up this new sport.

And let my husband know that I totally get it now.

Not golf. I'm not sure I'll ever get that - or what the deal is with all the clubs. Seems a little excessive (as I opted to only use three, maybe four of them).

But I do understand that spending time on the golf course helps him deal.

And it really is peaceful.

Until someone yells, "Fore!"

Which, by the way, I never had to do.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Dear Landry,

I look at you and see nothing but innocence.


And love.

You're oblivious to the sadness that often surrounds our family.

You don't realize that our world is askew; our compass, lost. And, when you look back at me with those big blue eyes, it's apparent that you have no idea what you've walked into.

No idea that this used to be a perfectly good family.

Perfectly good; not perfect.

There's a difference.

We fought over things like money and how little it seemed we had.

We took things for granted. 

There were tears over toys.

Addie and Isaac and Tripp didn't always get what they wanted, but I'd like to think they got what they needed.

And I'd like to think they knew the difference.

Our house was in a perpetual state of disarray and dinners usually came from a box (sometimes a cereal box even).

So things weren't exactly perfect.

But they were perfectly good.

Only we didn't realize it.
And here you are.



I asked for a good one.

And I asked Addie to pick one out (not sure she had much say in the matter, but I did ask). On my runs last summer.

I'd get about a half-mile away from home - far enough away so the neighbors couldn't hear the crazy - and I'd yell and scream and ask why, why, why.

And then I'd turn my focus to Addie and I'd say, "Pick out a good one."

A good girl.

Because I just knew.

And here you are.

I promised your sister that I'd tell you just how special she was if she promised to tell you just how special we were (to sweeten the deal, I guess).

And she was.



And, all things considered, we aren't too bad either.

Not perfect.

Perfectly good.

Like you.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Moving Forward, Looking Back

Every now and again I find myself remembering what I like to call Little Addie.

Addie at age 3 decked out in her best princess attire.

Addie at age 4 making the shirt her dad wore with pride for so many years.

Addie at age 5 learning to ride her bike.

Addie at age 6 with a baseball cap on her head, glove in her hand, and gap-toothed smile across her face.

Addie at age 8 riding her scooter around the block.

Fueled by video tape footage, pictures in an album, or something as simple as a pair of Tripp's outgrown pajama bottoms, I travel back to a time when our days were filled with Dora the Explorer and nights were spent enjoying each other's company and popsicles on the front steps.

Lately, I've found my mind settling back into my old classroom in Gretna with a 7-year-old Addie by my side.

One of the perks of being a teacher was the fact that the buses would transport all the teachers' kids from their schools to ours after school. So there she'd sit, eating a snack, thumbing through her backpack, while kids who were there on their own accord (and those who were not) worked on their assignments.

She'd doodle on the board, sigh a few times, and eventually ask, "When are we going home?"

Ten more minutes, I'd say. And when those 10 minutes were up, it'd be 10 more.

And when it was finally time to go, we'd lock my classroom door, head toward the car, and more often than not, end with a conversation that went something like this:

"Mom, when I'm in high school, I hope I have your class last."


"That way I can walk home with you."

I know what you're thinking (it's probably what I and the scores of other people I've shared this particular story with were thinking too).

We all agreed that 7-year-old Addie's sentiment might change when she's, oh, 17.


What I wouldn't give to have 17-year-old Addie.

Even when I switched jobs three years ago and took an assignment at an elementary school, she always wondered why I couldn't teach at her school.

Now I can.

I recently accepted a position teaching at Addie's School (that's how the boys refer to it when we drive by each day). And as with everything these days, accepting that position was bittersweet.

Sweet because that's what she always wanted.

Bitter because she's not there.

Or here.

Addie, me, and my first teaching certificate.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Promise

Eleven years ago today I celebrated my very first Mother's Day.

With a baptism.

Exactly 11 years ago today.

I know this because around 7:20 this morning I found this:

When I was looking for this:

I was rummaging around for that beautifully crocheted blanket because, well, we had scheduled Landry's baptism for today and every single baby I'd birthed had been wrapped in that blanket on the day they were christened. Well, not so much wrapped in the blanket; more like accompanied to church by the blanket because, let's face it, the blanket kinda smells. 

That's because it's old. My mom actually wrapped me in the blanket 30-some years ago for my baptism.

On Mother's Day.

And 11 years ago I'd wanted to do the same thing.

So we did.

And it was a super-big deal.

Family galore. A gathering afterward. Pictures. The whole bit.

Six short days ago I'd gotten this crazy idea that we should do the exact same thing for Landry (minus the gathering and the pictures and the whole bit).


I don't know.

It just felt right.

And when so many things feel just plain wrong, if something feels even a little bit right, we jump on it. We know Landry deserves the exact same childhood that the other three have had. We know that. But knowing and doing are two entirely different things.

Doing is hard.

But lucky for us, it doesn't take a whole lot to set up a baptism (on our end anyways).  It might be a different story for the church. Lucky for us, we have a very understanding pastor.

We just had to dial up our moms and dads, search for something to wear that fits, and find that blanket.

Except I totally forgot about the blanket until 7:20 this morning.

That's when panic set in.

And I had to dare myself to sift through a tote or two in our storage room.

Like this one:

It was marked "Addie's Keepsakes" and I'd started it years ago. Among its contents are her going home outfit, her first swimming suit, a handful of sleepers, a handprint, and a book titled I'm a Big Sister. So yeah, basically a time bomb waiting to go off.

And it did.

Especially when I pulled out her baptism banner and realized my daughters were being baptized on the exact same date. Of course I'd planned for it to be on Mother's Day (what with the stinky blanket tradition and all), but the same date?  That wasn't planned (as evidenced by my desire to crawl right back into bed this morning).

But, like always, we put ourselves back together, got to church on time, and got it done.

Flowers for Addie in the background.

Even though we kept this one a little low-key, I have to say that this baptism really meant something.

Not that the others didn't, but when you have someone (and a child at that) who is living the eternal life promised during baptism, you kind of pay a little bit more attention. After all, it's not just words on a page. It's a promise.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

One Year (and one week in review)

Time's a funny thing when you're dealing with a loss.

It's been 410 days since I last heard my daughter laugh, felt her hand in mine, twirled her hair between my fingers. On one hand it feels like it was just yesterday. On the other, well, it feels like it was a million years ago.

And I hate that.

I hate everything about this actually.

And every day for the past 35 days I've hated that I've been in such a downward spiral that it's been all but impossible to share the wonderful ways so many people remembered our daughter a year later.

Wonderful. Ways.

Here's just a few:

Letters and cards to let us know you haven't forgotten.

You still love us. Pray for us. Ache for us.

A birthday candle.

A birthday cake.

A package of Golden Oreos.

An angel pin.

And more.

Letters from Addie's classmates.

A scrapbook filled with memories.

And a beautiful balloon release to mark what should have been Addie's 11th birthday.

As blue and green balloons filled the sky, two little boys led a gaggle of 10 and 11 year olds across our yard and into the alfalfa.

Together we watched and watched as the last of the balloons disappeared from sight (and presumably into the hands of our little girl).

And we watched as groups of three, sometimes four, girls broke off into groups around our yard. To talk. To cry. To remember.

Later that night we celebrated Addie's birthday as a family.

And what about that run?

More than 600 of you came out that day to remember Addie, support two wonderful causes, and show us once again how much you care.

I'm not sure words can describe that day, so I won't even try.

I'll just leave you with this video and two words.

Thank you.