Surprises, well I guess they have an upside.

Most my life I have not been a fan of surprises.  Not really sure why.  I guess I like to know what is coming so I can prepare.  People who know me know I  analyze just about everything.  A surprise does not give me a lot of time to analyze.  I am all about the details at work, even the minor details.  I apologized to my current boss one time because sometimes the details I think about point out issues we need to address on what might seem like a no issue plan.  He called it my “super power”.  I felt a lot less sorry after that.

So far there are a few major surprises in my life that supported my aversion to surprises.  Coming home from summer camp in Jr High to find out we had moved.  We were still in Issaquah, but I had no conscious knowledge we were moving.  According to my mom I was always reading a book and not paying attention.  Sounds about right.

When my sister’s family moved to Alaska.  Sounds silly, I know.  But I just had not considered anyone in my family would move so far away.  I have recovered, barely.

Finding out my dad had prostate cancer about 25 years ago.  As my dad says, none of us are getting out of here alive.  But he was still young…just 55.  I can call that young since I am 50 this year.  50 isn’t old, so 55 can’t be either.

More recently, finding out Steve had Parkinson’s about 8 years ago.  Then 5 years ago finding out it was not Parkinson’s and he was terminally ill with MSA.  How could this be?  He was physically active, didn’t drink, smoke.  He had a weakness for sweets.  He lived live fully.  He couldn’t die first.  But he did.

A few days ago my dad sent us an e-mail about an encounter he had at his medical appointment.  And this reminded me.  Not all surprises are bad.  So here are a few good surprises that I don’t mind at all.

Finding out Chris has loved me as long as I have loved him.  Since we meet at the age of 5.  We were slow getting together, but worth the wait.

Seeing the Tigers at the Cougar Mountain Zoo this last Friday.  We missed the Tiger feeding because they had 2 tiger exhibits and we were at the wrong one.  The zoo staff was so nice and walked us to the correct exhibit and arranged for the tigers to be fed again for us.  Being so close to my favorite animal and the kindness of the staff brought me to tears.

Showing up for the rehearsal of our wedding and seeing the Christmas Tree decorated in the sanctuary.  All of our, well my, wedding decorations were wrapped up in that tree.  A week before the wedding we found out the church was not going to put up the tree that year.  I was devastated.  But my dad had connections, having been the minister of that church in the past, and he and others made sure the tree was there.

Getting a text from someone special on Mother’s Day.  I don’t have children so Mother’s Day is about celebrating my own mom.  But this year someone texted me on Mother’s Day to let me know how much they loved me and appreciated me and my support in their life.  Best Mother’s Day ever.

Getting to meet Jax while working in Yakima.  So this was not a complete surprise.  It took a little coordination and planning.  But their original route to Colorado did not include going by Yakima.  So when the route changed and the timing worked out it was fabulous to have that hour.  So very thankful.

Oh, and the surprise my dad shared that got me thinking…the nurse asked him if he was Steve Birdsall’s dad.  Absolutely.  She then shared that her son has Aspergers and Steve was his teacher in elementary school.  She said Steve had always been so patient with her son and she was thankful.  What a small world, right?

I laid in bed, tears streaming down my face.  Sad tears?  Yes.  But also tears of something else.  Not sure what to call it.  But every now and then I am surprised by something new I learn about him or am reminded about how Steve touched so many lives in such enduring ways.  I have done blogs on the items below so I will try to keep the details slim.  But this is what I am reminded of.

The stranger that Steve sat by on his last return from Hawaii in 2010.  This man was not thrilled to see he was going to have to sit by Steve.  By then MSA had taken over Steve’s physical body.  He leaned to the side, couldn’t straighten up, he moved slow, talked slow and soft.  By the end of the flight the man told us his life had changed.  Six hours with Steve and he was transformed.

The way he could connect to people who others would ignore, bully or pity.  We learned about this from an old high school classmate of Steve’s who had cerebral palsy and limped.  Steve not only noticed her, but found a way to make sure he saw her and that she was not alone.  When other kids might have walked around her, avoided her, Steve would walk right up to her bump into her gently, smile and say something funny to make her smile or lean in and say something to let her know he got her.

And imagine my surprise when I found out a couple years ago that Steve used to take my guy friends fishing when we were kids.  This may not seem so surprising…but remember Steve is 8 years older than me.  So when he was 20 I was 12…so my friends were 12 or younger.  When I found this out I was like Hey, that was my brother!  I wanted to go fishing!  I was surprised by how jealous I was.  But I can’t begrudge those times when I hear how much it meant to them.  That Steve reached out to them, took them fishing, spent time.  Steve was not a big talker, but time spent fishing spoke volumes.

I could go on and on.  This encounter with the nurse was another pleasant morsel about Steve, a surprise encounter at a medical appointment that I am sure my dad was dreading.  He has these appointments every 3 months and he never likes having to go.  But at least this day, it might have felt worth it.

So the tears, I still don’t know what they are.  Still grieving, so a dose of that.  The Birdsall emotions when hearing something so sweet about Steve from the mom, yep that too.  Feeling a little lacking, probably…when I hear these things I ask myself if I think people will have these kind of stories about me to tell my family…maybe a few but definitely not this much.  Some sadness that I did not know all these things while he lived, absolutely.  Don’t get me wrong, Steve could be a stinker…but he was quietly sweet too.  And lastly, gratefulness that these people take the time to let us know.  They don’t hold back, afraid to tell us these stories.  Instead these little surprises sneak up on us at the most normal times in our lives and give us a little smile…even in a medical appointment getting ready to get a shot in the keester.

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Yellowstone Confession

Five years ago today we arrived in Yellowstone.  I can’t claim that I remembered this, Holly did. She has such a great memory for things like this.  My conscious mind did not remember this but yesterday (we left for Yellowstone 9/23) I talked to someone about how the loss of him affected my brain.   Becky was up in the mountains today and talked to a friend about the trip but she also did not realize it was 5 years ago today.  But even though Bec and I did not remember the actual day, it was on our minds. It was such a great trip, but hard.

I read the blog from our trip to Yellowstone. I laughed. I cried. And now I must confess. I did something on that trip that I have never told my family. I didn’t tell anyone till a few months ago, I did not even tell Chris. At work our project manager sometimes has us write something down that no one knows about us then we try and figure out who it was. I couldn’t think of a lot since I talk so much (no really, I do). But then I thought, I will write down my Yellowstone confession. They will never think it is me.

I took my parents car to fill it up with gas (not the confession).  When I fill up my own car I throw away garbage while I wait…fast food bags, pop cans, paper, etc.  My parents car had no garbage, so I sat in the car and waited.  When I heard the click from the gas nozzle.  I was like great and I started the car and began driving.  I heard this strange noise and looked in the side mirror and see the gas hose hanging from the car and trailing on the ground…not connected to the gas station tank at all, but connected to my parent’s car.  No gas was leaking out.  The hose just popped off at some connector point.  I thought, I can’t just drive away…they may have cameras and they will go after my parents since I am in their car. So I parked, took the gas pump out of the car and walked into the gas station. The guy looked at me, I held up the gas pump and hose wondering how much is this going to cost me. Imagine my relief when he said “Ah, that happens all the time. Set it down and don’t worry about it”. So I said “Oh thank goodness! Thank you!” and drove back to the condo and acted like nothing happened.

I couldn’t believe I did this.  But apparently my co-workers did…they knew exactly who it was when this was read aloud.  I thought I had a good one…I even included that I had never told anyone about it.  I figured if they even thought it was me the would think again because I usually tell on myself anyways.  But no, they were not fooled.  They laughed and there was a resounding “LISA!” when it was time to make their guess.  I was like “What the hell! Why would you all think it was me?” I was actually surprised.  I shouldn’t be surprised they knew it was me.  But I really was.

I wish I had told Steve about this. Five months later we had our last night with him.  We all had a moment to speak privately with him and I should have whispered this to him.  I could have shared my secret, and he would have taken it to his grave, literally.  I describe Steve’s normal laugh as a giggle.  He couldn’t really giggle anymore.  But we knew when he found things funny.  And this, this would have made him “laugh” hard.  I say “laugh” but MSA changed his laugh so much using the word “laugh” does not really describe the sounds he would make when he found things funny.  Some times it was a high pitched steady noise, other times he would cry.  Not cry from laughing too hard but actually straight crying.  It was like MSA messed with his ability to express his emotions accurately.  Oh how he would have loved this story.  There are a lot of things I miss about him, his giggle is one of them.  When I find things funny, I imagine his giggle.

Re-reading our Yellowstone blog, I was struck by another tattoo I want.  I have a fishing fly tattoo in Steve’s honor.  He would not be thrilled with this, he was not a fan of tattoos.  But I love having this image representing him.  Now, I want a tattoo that says “Shambala”.  I love this word, love the song.  I define Shambala as “Joy”.  This is what my family gives me, joy. Now I need to figure out where to put it.  Sometimes that takes me a long time to decide.   When the right location strikes me, tattoo parlor here I come.

This is my New Year’s Eve

We all have moments in our lives so large, so impactful, so joyous, so tragic that we will remember not only the date but also the little moments within the moment.  For me one of those moments actually spans two days.  February 17-18, 2011.

I think back on these two days as the end of a year I wished could have lasted forever and the start of a new year I did not want to face.  I find myself often referring to things as before then and after then.  I don’t want to say “before Steve” and “after Steve” because he is still so much a part of my life and who I am.  And tonight, three years after, I feel like this is the time of year I take stock of what I have done, who I am and who I want to be.  Have I been a better person, made better choices, treated others with as much kindness as possible?  February 17 is now my New Year’s Eve.

As I have remarked in other posts, you never know when and where your actions may impact someone else.  Seeing how Steve touched so many people in such quiet yet life changing ways challenges me each day to not forget this.  I still feel the loss of him so deeply and wonder if it ever gets better.  Yet I am thankful for the lessons his life gave me.  I am still learning from him.

He wasn’t perfect.  In fact he could be quite the pest.  I miss him so much.  Even when he was a pest.  Maybe especially then because that was one way he showed he loved you.

I read these two posts often:  Our last night with Steve and the day we said good-bye.  They make me cry as I relive our pain in letting him go. But they make me laugh as I remember all the fun memories we talked about and the teasing glint in his eyes that night.  And I feel so lucky to be part of this family who was able to go through this together.

https://grumpybutterfly.wordpress.com/2011/02/17/just-another-thursday-night/

https://grumpybutterfly.wordpress.com/2011/02/18/the-dignity-in-death/

One Cool Looking Dude

I have known for years that I suffer from a condition that influences many parts of my life.  It is not necessarily a life threatening condition, although if not managed correctly, it could be.  It is a condition that defines me in many ways, and sometimes when I am not vigilant, it can control me.  At work today someone mentioned this condition and I thought “Finally, I can give it a name!”  It is, FOMO, the Fear of Missing Out.  (Sorry mom and dad, hope I did not scare you too much.  I figure I owe dad for a few tricks he has pulled, and mom, you were just collateral damage.)

I am the youngest of 4 kids.  Three were born fairly close together.  I came along a little over 4 years later.  When we were younger, Holly would say I was 5 years younger.  For a long time I would say I was 5 years younger…then I realized I was only 5 years younger for about 2 months.  I am slow at math.  But 4 (or 5) years is not really very many years.  But when you look at it from the perspective of school years it can really make a difference.   Steve, Becky and Holly were in school together pretty much their whole lives…including the same college.  There were many things they experienced together that I would never be able to share in.

One of the things I missed out on was being part of the church youth group while our dad was the minister.  I remember Sunday nights when my siblings would walk to the church for BYF and being left behind.  They were all in High School and I was still in Elementary School.  BYF would sometimes go camping and I know my dad went at least once.  I envied them, to be able to have this different relationship with dad that I never had.   Another time I remember waking up to find dad, Steve, Becky and Holly had all gone fishing on our boat.  I was devastated.  I could not figure out why I didn’t go.   In 1990 dad told us he had cancer.  As the years passed I constantly worried I would not be married before he passed, and that would mean I would be the only kid who did not get married by dad.  Frankly, if that were to happen I don’t know if I would have bothered to get married…I would have continued to live in sin with Chris (again, sorry mom and dad).  But I think the biggest thing I missed out on is not having kids so that I could have the relationship with my parents as grandparents to my kids.  I love watching them as grandparents.  I know they worry as much about their grandkids as they did (and still do) worry about us.  But there is also a freedom and playfulness in them that is a joy to watch.

Becky said something to me once, I think on our trip to Yellowstone (http://birdsalltrip.wordpress.com/), that after they went to college I had several years as an only child.  I had not thought about those years quite like that but she was right.  And being the only child and not part of a pack, I had very different experiences with my parents than my siblings did.  Things they missed out on.  Like driving with mom from North Bend to Issaquah every day to go to 9th grade, not many kids get that much alone time with a working parent.  I also got to work with them and did not have to compete for attention with other siblings (I won’t count having to compete with football, golf, baseball, boxing, etc.  I mean really, who could compete with TV sports?).  I could also be more outspoken than they were allowed to be.  I call it outspoken, my parents called is “snippy” and would hold up their fingers like scissors.  I believe I was allowed to express myself this way because I was the only child…they could not let 4 kids get snippy, I mean outspoken…that could have led to a mutiny.

By now you are probably wondering what this title has to do with having FOMO.  This is one of my all time favorite pictures of Steve, I think from the late ’70s.  This picture speaks to me, gives me peace, centers me. scan0135_edited-1

For work I make these notebooks that I put pictures on.  I have 3 so far and I always have at least one picture of Steve on it.  The one I am using now has this picture, and some pictures from our vacation this year.  A coworker saw the picture of Steve and asked “Who is that?  That is one cool looking dude.”  And you know, he is right.  Steve’s coolness transcends time, wild hair, bushy beard and oozes from this picture.  I could list many cool qualities, in fact this blog has many examples.  But this post is about one specific cool attribute, his ability to notice something you need and find a way to give it to you.  Maybe Holly, Becky and Steve all planned this…I don’t remember.  Maybe it was not even his idea.  What I do remember is Steve convincing mom and dad to let me go back to college with him after his spring break one year.  I was 15, in 9th grade, and they were all at Linfield.   I don’t know how much convincing he had to do…how many parents would let their 15 year old spend a week on a college campus with just other siblings as chaperones?  Somehow he convinced them and I spent a week attending college classes.  I stayed a few nights with each sibling and went to a few parties (and no, I did not drink, only danced). From my growing up years it is one of the best weeks of my life.  Nerdy, I know.  But I will never forget that week and how it felt to be almost like an adult and like a peer with my siblings, not just the little sister.  For that week I definitely did not suffer from FOMO.

Is he one cool dude?  Hell ya.

In dreams

This is a post I drafted on Steve’s birthday last year.  For some reason I never posted it.  So the dream Chris had is over a year old.  I figured out the other day that I never clicked the [btn Publish] (check it out P1 peeps, I haven’t forgotten!).  I think now there is a reason this was sitting out there…waiting for the right time to be published.  Recently we visited Chris’s dad’s grave.  Fred was a man of the woods so he is resting in a very peaceful spot, in the trees with the sound of a stream nearby.  We found the log but we were not sure of the exact spot by the log.   Chris, dad and Mike F. looked and looked by the log but were not sure of the exact spot.  We wanted to be sure we placed the new marker in the right place.  Chris whispered to himself, “Hey dad, can you give us a little help?”.  And Fred, being Fred, lent one of his big hands and the next place Chris placed the garden hoe hit an old foam block, covered in moss, with a very weather worn, moss covered artificial plant.  This was it.  Thank you Fred, for guiding Chris through his life and that day.  And thank you mom and dad for doing this.  We know Fred meant a lot to you two as well.  His mark is all over the lodge.

So, even though the post below is over a year old, because we visited Fred recently and because another person from Steve’s past shared a story about him from Jr. High this week, this is the right time.   His life continues to touch us in sweet and surprising ways.

_______________________________________

Chris dreamed of you earlier this week. You, Fred, Chris and I were wading in a river getting ready to fish. Chris needed more leader and for some reason I brought a bunch of it. So Chris came to me and picked some out. You came over to look at the leader I had. Your face lit up and you were impressed (since I don’t even know what leader is, it is pretty impressive I had any). While you were talking about how the leader would make it better to catch fish, Fred waded up the river and around a bend out of site. You soon followed him. Chris and I stayed and fished.

Chris said the dream had a happy feeling, but sad when he woke up that you and Fred were gone and we did not have more time in the dream with you two.

Of course I have to analyze the dream, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t ask a bunch of questions.  What are you trying to tell us, Steve?  What river were we fishing? Why leader and not bait or flies, I actually know what those are?  How many fish did we catch? What the heck is leader!?  Why don’t you visit us more in our dreams?

We miss you. No words can express how much we miss you. There are days when we miss you more, and other days even more.  Never a day we miss you less.

I am glad you and Fred are fishing buddies.

Missing Socks

Last week I visited the lodge, the first time in years.  I did not expect so many memories of you there.

That is the river we floated down in the summer to cool off after chopping up wood.  I don’t think we even had inner tubes or swim suits…I think we just jumped in the river in our clothes and floated to the bridge where dad picked us up (don’t try this at home…or in a river).

There is where Becky and I leaned through an empty window frame to dump a glass of water on you one time.   You got us back and then some later but dowsing us with a pitcher of water.

Here is where you performed “We are Family” with Becky, Holly and I.  We have the video of you in the dress to prove it.  And how can I forget the duet you did with the puppet that made Katelyn scream.

In the kitchen I can see the rows of cookies you made each Christmas.  How you would protect the cookie dough…except for the time you so sweetly gave Bethany the ball of cookie dough you covered in garlic!  (hmmm, tasty!)

Gone is the “pit” where you stayed by my side for a couple of days when I was sick with my cyst…keeping me company and bringing me ice packs in the middle of the night to help dull the pain.

And every where is the laughter.  Down each hallway, around every corner, in the pit, at the table, by the cookies and cinnamon rolls.  Although it is the middle of the day, I can hear us all playing socks in the lodge in the dark. Sometimes I did not mind being one of the first to lose…it meant I could sit by the fireplace and listen to you laugh somewhere in the building when you were in a life and death battle with another armed with dad’s socks.

Your laugh, just about the best sound in the world.  I get mad that the only way I can hear you laugh now is by memory or videos.

I miss it, and socks.

Aloha, my brother, Aloha.

In 2011 I had the hardest couple of days of my life, but also two of the most beautiful.  Don’t get me wrong.  I would rather not have had the hardest day, but if it is going to happen, and it will, then let it be as it was.

If Google treated me right, ‘ohana is the Hawaiian word for family.  Not just family relations, but those we enfold into our family, and those with whom we share a common bond.

I believe there are many lives encompassed by the ‘ohana born from the strangely beautiful tragic loss of Steve.  It is not just the void left behind, rather it is the way we gathered to say good-bye.  It is such a fragile bond we share, one that could easily have torn our family apart, separated friends.  Instead I think our family is closer.  We know what it is like to hold our broken hearts in our hands while we watch such a vibrant being slip away.  We know.  We can look across at each other, not say a word, just know.

Steve touched so many lives, many people I will never meet.  He knew so many people but would not have considered himself social.  You also share in this final farewell, this aloha.  Many had a special moment to say a farewell.  You also know. You too belong in this ‘ohana.

It was a beautiful day today on Hawaii…windy but beautiful.  We ate one of Steve’s favorite meals.  Steve would have loved this day.

Aloha, my brother.  We will never be the same without you.

2/17/2011  Just Another Thursday Night

https://grumpybutterfly.wordpress.com/2011/02/17/just-another-thursday-night/

2/18/2011 I Voted for WHAT?

https://grumpybutterfly.wordpress.com/2011/02/18/the-dignity-in-death/

I’d like to make an appointment for a grief wax, today, if possible.

I finally used up the spa gift card I won at Steve’s retirement/fundraiser event from 2010.  When I won the spa basket I was excited…helllloooo massage.  But, it turned out it was harder than I realized to actually use it.  It felt strange to benefit from my brother’s illness.  Your brother is dying, here have a massage.

I used the gift card mostly for leg waxing.

If only it was as easy to rip the sorrow out of my heart as easily as the hairs off my leg.  What a wonderful idea.  See, you have this pesky grief hanging on you.  You just need someone to forcefully rip it off.  The treatment would start with a hug, like the warm wax, it is soothing, comforting.  You say, this feels good.  Then, rip, off comes the grief.  It hurts at first because the grief became a part of you.  But like the hair, you say good riddance.

If only it were that easy. But like the hair, the sorrow would probably just come back.

I guess it was fitting to use up the last of the gift card today since tomorrow I am on my way to Oahu then next week Kona (by the way, the waxer lady used to live on Oahu, interesting).  My mind knows he will never again walk the beaches, body surf at Hapuna, jog in the early morning and bring us back a cinnamon roll, eat at that Thai place he loved so much.

But my heart knows he is there, and I can’t wait to see him.

DSC01721_edited-1

I can never look a PB&J in the eye again

Been craving PB&J sandwiches the last few weeks.  Don’t get me wrong, I love them, and that should be enough of a reason to crave them, right?

But, as I opened the cupboard to make a sandwich it hit me.  Two jars of peanut butter stared back at me.

The last time I noticed there were two jars of peanut butter it was not my proudest day.  Back then both jars were empty and I cried.  And cried.  I think I may have thrown one on the ground (plastic, thank goodness) and shook my fist at the sky.

Now I do love peanut butter, but really, I don’t looooooove it…not enough to cry about it.

Just like two years ago, I am reaching for some comfort food.  THE DAY is getting closer.  It can’t really be two years.  It feels like forever.  It feels like yesterday.

I can’t believe it has been nearly a year since I posted.  I started one after Katelyn’s wedding.  It is still in draft.  Someday I will finish it.

I think of him every day.  I hear him laugh when something funny happens.

And in case you are wondering, I make sure we are not out of peanut butter since that day.

(link to my tantrum post, even though I freaked out that day, when I told some friends about it we ended up laughing.  If you hear someone ask me how many jars were there and I say “TWO!” and start laughing, you will know why)

https://grumpybutterfly.wordpress.com/2011/01/22/tantrum-thy-name-is-me/

Avoiding the Past (tense)

A year has passed.  My dad did a great blog of our day 2/18/2012…so rather than compete with my dad (hard not to do, we are a competitive bunch) and recreate the day myself, here is a link to his blog post  (Just between you and me, I would probably win.  Not that we are competing or anything, and it is not like I have to win.  It is just better that I do.  His ego is big enough already, we have to keep him in his place.  Mom needs all the help she can get.)

http://skinhorsereal.wordpress.com/2012/03/01/the-deceptiveness-of-dread/ 

I usually write a post and re-write it over several days before I actually post it.  And as some of my subscribers know, I post and then usually make changes almost immediately.  This is the first one I wrote and posted in the same day, so if it jumps around some, that is my excuse.

When asked how many siblings I have, I say 3.  I still have 3.  Will always have 3.  No amount of time will make that number decrease. I find it is hard to refer to Steve in the past tense.  When I talk about him words like “used to” or “had” don’t sound right.  Nor does adding “ed” to words make any sense.  I don’t say “I loved him” because the love never stopped.  I love him.  Simple.

To me he still is.  He IS a fisherman, an athlete, brother, son, husband, father, friend, baker, prankster, promoter, cousin, uncle, nephew, brother-in-law, son-in-law, story-teller, shit starter (yes, I went there…you all know it is true).

And teacher.  There are so many ways he still teaches, not only us but people he just met for a brief moment and people he never met.  I am touched over and over by how much he impacts others.  Makes me realize we don’t often know what others will remember about our interactions.  Probably not how our hair looks (Yes, have to mention the hair.  It is always on my mind, no pun intended.)  Or whether our shoes matched, and I don’t mean match the outfit, but match each other (I don’t know how I made it out the door with two different shoes.  In my mind I told Steve about my shoes and heard him laugh and laugh.  That laughter, though only in my head, was worth looking like a fool for a day).  Maybe people will remember our witty comments, or sarcastic remarks.  Hopefully we will be remembered for our compassion, generosity, and heartfelt kindness that surprises the giver as much as it surprises the receiver…we don’t always know what we are capable of till we reach beyond our comfort zone (I know you will like that one dad, you risk taker you).

And Steve is still full of surprises.  Visiting us when we think we are alone or when we dream.  Sometimes startling us, sometimes making us laugh.  Sometimes just calling out our name, maybe to remind us we not as alone as it feels.  He still tries to comfort us the only way he now can…even if it freaks us out a little.  Actually, he probably likes that he makes us jump every now and then.

He is all he ever was, but I don’t think he is all he will ever be.  Holly found an article written about him in April 2010.  A man commented on the article in November 2010 after having sat by Steve during a flight back from Hawaii.  A total stranger, but after having spent 5 hours next to Steve this man states he “is a better person from having met Steve”.  Five hours and this man was touched by Steve.  Most people don’t leave that kind of impression after 5 years.

That kind of magic never fades, and I am oh so proud every day to be his sister.  (Sorry to those who have to keep hearing me brag…just kidding, I actually am not sorry because I am going to keep doing it.  You have been warned.)

A few bragging articles:

http://abcnews.go.com/Health/MensHealthNews/rare-disease-forces-popular-teacher-retire/story?id=10429408

http://www.komonews.com/news/local/91524984.html

http://www.issaquahpress.com/2010/06/15/never-say-quit-teacher-leaves-a-final-lesson/

http://www.flintofts.com/  This is still available, including the guest book comments

Do Not Disturb

I find myself still spending a lot of my day thinking of Steve.   At work, in my car, at home, at the movies, with friends (sorry friends but you probably can tell I am sometimes not paying attention…not on purpose and nothing personal).  I know I am missing what people say to me.   Sometimes during the last year it feels like I don’t even understand English.  Words sound foreign to my ears, and I often can’t remember words I want to say.   I used to be able to multi-task but now I feel like I can only process one thing at a time.  So I try to focus really hard, and I often have to ask people to repeat what they said or re-explain something.  All that focusing is exhausting.  About the only time  I don’t spend a lot of time thinking of him is when I am with my family.  I realized that just now as I was typing.  That is very interesting and something I will have to think on.

So what consumes my thoughts?  Where to begin?  I think of the days I picked him up from work when he could no longer drive.  The jokes he would make in the car, his excuses as to why he needed a vanilla shake.  Or the day I went with him to try out walkers, that was surreal.  I imagine him telling his stories and laughing.  I see him teasing others, pushing buttons to get a reaction.   Telling us girls he was afraid to ride with us in Yellowstone, laughing as he called out license plates.  I remember so much laughter.  I can still hear his giggle when we all would play “Socks” at the lodge and he would be in a sock missile battle with someone somewhere in the lodge.   How much he loved to laugh and make others laugh.

I think of what an amazing person he was…how many people he impacted.  He makes me want to be a better person…more  accepting of others, healthier, active.  And less of a complainer, definitely less of a complainer.

I can see him cooking or frosting cookies.  Then I remember the last time I saw him frost a cake.  It probably took him 30 minutes but he didn’t give up or complain.  With his careful and methodical way he focused on that task.  For every one move he made we all made many as we rushed here and there.  If I was able to capture it on film he would be clear and defined, his movements slow but steady, while we all become streaks of color fluttering by him.  Moving a lot but probably not really doing anything.  But that is not what I want to remember.  So I remember the time he gave Bethany the cookie dough covered in garlic, or the yummy snickerdoodles he made with a secret ingredient (not garlic).  And the cinnamon rolls that make Christmas morning so delicious.  Or the time he convinced me Crisco tasted sweet, like vanilla or ice cream (in my defense, I was very young).  Or when he would sit with me when I was in elementary school and we would make bowls of ice cream and toppings and we would race to see who could stir them up the fastest, then talk while we ate.

When I relive these moments, he never seems to be rushing around.  Even when he was healthy I don’t think he rushed.  His mellow presence brings me a sense of peace.  And he always makes me smile.

If I could I would wear a “Do Not Disturb” sign most of the day.  I don’t want to be interrupted.  I am busy.  I am spending time with my brother the only way I have left. (does this count as complaining?)

Always, always when I think of him I tell him how much I miss him.  And I hope he knows how much he is loved.

My turn

Well, my birthday came and went and I survived.  I still don’t know why the birthdays are such a big thing to me this year.  I have not spent every birthday with my family so this fixation is a little weird.

I got through the headache, the shakes, the tears and spent half the day at a casino.  In memory of my brother?  Nope.  He was not a gambler so this was definitely not in his memory.  But he would have gotten some major giggles over the machine Holly found.  Steve got a lot of laughs from a college nickname I had (thanks Deltas) that I was totally innocent of  (totally!).  Thanks Holly, that made my day even if I did not win any money.  Thinking of how much Steve would have laughed at the game and your impression of the main character is priceless.

What did I do in memory of him…spent the other half of the day watching football of course.

I have no title

I don’t remember Christmas 2010.  I got home Christmas day and realized I couldn’t really remember the last 2 days.  Everything was a blur.  I had a couple of memories but not many.  So my last Christmas with him is full of holes.

My first Christmas without him?  Also full of holes but of a different kind. 

His absence weighed heavily on my heart.  But I heard him in the laughter, saw him in his kids, felt him while helping to make the cinnamon rolls with Polly, heard him giggle as we played games, and honored him with the candles we lit in his memory (thanks Bec).

Seeing all our candles together was one of the most symbolic moments of my life.  I felt  I could put all my loss into the flame and it would hold it for me so I could enjoy the holiday.  I knew I would take it back later, but for a moment I could let the flame carry it for me.  All those flames was like one big, warm group hug.              

(picture from Mitch, lovely)

Five down, one to go.

Well, today is the last birthday in the family before mine.  Unlike the other birthdays I am unable to be there.  I know family members end up living other places but I have never gotten used to you being so far away.  And never more so than this year.  I felt a sense of desperation that you were so far away as Steve made this one life changing decision that forever changed us all.  We talked about that a little in February, I so wanted everyone in one place.  When you were able to change your schedule the relief I felt was overwhelming.  Though still emotional over what was to come, I felt calmer and less hysterical.  We would all be together.  I could not imagine you not here with us.

While I know your life will continue to take you to new adventures and places, I still regret the distance of land and time between us.  I miss your calm and healing presence, my sister.

Every (damn) Day

Every (damn) day I miss Steve.  The holidays just make me miss him more.  Every year Steve wrote a Christmas letter.  He would take one word and write a paragraph that started with a letter from the word.  This year Polly wrote a beautiful letter using the word “traditions”.  It was a great way to honor Steve, so thank you Polly.  I know this was not an easy thing to do.

Every (damn) day as the holidays approach, I find myself feeling more and more vulnerable.  When making the Christmas calendar for my parents this year (oops, that’s a secret…don’t tell mom and dad) I was often distracted by pictures of Steve.  The memories the pictures evoked whisked me away and I found myself floundering.  They are all happy memories, but also reminders we won’t be able to create new memories of Steve, with Steve.

Every (damn) day I carry Steve with me (right here I could say, “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother” but I won’t).  He is tucked into my heart, and my purse.  Yes, my purse.  The coral heart Becky gave us all to hold the day we said good-bye to Steve, the fishing flies (kept in a butterfly container so I don’t poke myself rummaging in my purse).  I also keep the memorial pamphlet and the letter I had Greg read at the service. 

I read these often to remind myself how much laughter was part of Steve’s life.  I cry but I also laugh remembering what a personality he had.  I will need to remind myself of this often in the next week or so.  If he could he would make us laugh and laugh often.  Especially when the tears start to show.  Steve had a way of not letting people take themselves too seriously.  I need a little of that right now.

So here’s to you Steve. My good-bye letter that Greg read for me at the service in February.   Greg described it as a love letter to my brother.  That doesn’t sound the least bit creepy.

I have been doing a lot of writing about Steve the last few days, one would think I am out of things to say.  Anyone who knows me will know I always have something else to say.

Sometimes when someone passes everyone talks about how wonderful and perfect the person was.  So let me start by saying Steve teased me constantly, tricked me over and over (I fell for the same prank more than once), knew exactly what buttons to push, and he was hugely competitive sometimes he would do anything to win.  He hated to lose to anyone especially his youngest sister and we had to play Boggle with a dictionary to catch the words he would make up.  When he realized he would never win that game he refused to play. 

Now that I have that out in the open, let me say Steve was wonderful and perfect.  He took me fishing even though he knew I would talk the entire time and scare the fish away.  When I was 15 he took me to college with him where I spent my spring break attending classes.  I did not know how much I would love that, but he knew I would.  When I was 18 and he was 26 he took me with him to one of his baseball tournaments in Eastern Washington.  When we got back I got sick and he stayed on the floor with me for three days and brought me anything I needed.  He always made me laugh, and laugh, and laugh.

We watched some videos of Steve this weekend and I was reminded of how vibrant he was, how much making others laugh and be happy was important to him.  I believe Steve showed how he loved others by his actions…baking, making us laugh, teaching us to fish, and remembering little details about us.  How hard these last few months must have been for him as some of these avenues slipped away from him.  How hard it must have been for him to watch our hearts break when he spent his whole life making us laugh.  But he never lost his sense of humor, making us laugh till the end, despite our tears.

We honor Steve with stories, memories and laughter.  Polly, Maddie and Kellen will have no doubts how much Steve is loved and missed.  Polly brought out the best in Steve and I see many pieces of Steve in Maddie and Kellen.   They embody many of Steve’s qualities and will find their own way to pass on his legacy. 

There are so many things I do not know about my brother.  In this last year I got to meet him many times over through how other people see him.  

I am proud to be his sister.  He is beautiful.

What’s in a date? That which we call Thanksgiving held on any other date is just as sweet…

Today we had Thanksgiving.  Yes it is only November 19th.  Yes, thanksgiving really is the 24th.  But I tell you, we had it.

Not everyone could be here today, but we took the opportunity of my sister and her husband traveling through Seattle to have thanksgiving a little early. 

Nearly everyone forgot at one time or another this week that it really wasn’t thanksgiving.  It was just Saturday November 19th.  But what a Saturday it was. 

As we were leaving it hit me.   Every time  my family gets together like this, it feels like a holiday.  It doesn’t matter the reason why we get together.  Getting together feels like a celebration.   It felt good to be together.  To perform the rituals that bring us peace and comfort.

We ate, laughed, played games,and laughed again.    It was fun to watch my newphew who is just as competitive and funny as my brother.

And we missed him.  Missed him so terribly.

Last year at Thanksgiving I was thankful for knowing.  Knowing my brother was going to die gave me the chance to spend more time with him.  To learn about him, to appreciate him more.  I learned more about myself as well.

I do believe knowledge is power.  So why do I feel so powerless?  Powerless to make him better, powerless to stop the tears.   The grief has a much power over me today as it did months ago.

This year I am thankful for laughter and for my family.

A time to dance

It’s funny.  The things you remember.  I went to see the new Footloose  with Holly.  I love the original movie.  The dancing and music really stand out to me and make me want to dance.  It is hard to listen to the title song and not want to shimmy and shake.

I totally forgot the premise of why dancing was outlawed in the movie.   The death of a son, brother, friend.  I have to admit I was a little frozen for parts of the movie.  I forgot the happiness in the movie was preceded by sorrow that tore people apart.

The last few weeks have been rough, but also special.   Birthdays, basketball games, I got to take Kellen to be fitted for his homecoming tux, Maddie off to college, Kellen breaking his leg (missing his homecoming).   My mom and a sister had milestone birthdays this month. 

I feel an intense need to be with everyone on their birthday this year.   And true to my nature I have been trying to figure out why. 

Is it because I don’t want any of us to feel our birthday is less than?  That would be rather egotistical, like I can really make up for Steve being gone.

Am I trying to figure out what it will feel like?  Later this year it will be my turn.  My birthday missing Steve.   So, what does it look like, feel like?  Maybe I can lessen the blow by easing into it, watching other birthdays.   I hope that is not what I am doing, it is creepy and voyeuristic.

So what does this have to do with Footloose.  This movie is about creating a time to dance, giving ourselves permission to dance, even after a tragedy.  One of the memories of Steve I think of a lot is him dancing at my wedding.  And by dancing, I mean he turned in a circle.  All the men lined up and danced one at a time to “I’m too sexy”.  When it was his turn, I wondered what he would do.  I am sure this was not in his comfort zone.  But he went with it.   He danced, and by dancing I mean turned in a circle.  I think he even kept his hands in his pocket.  That simple turn he did meant a lot to me.  This was him dancing. We laughed and laughed.  He could always make us laugh.

I am settling on wanting to help make it as happy a birthday as possible.  I want us all to be able to dance on our birthdays. 

(And I am probably watching.  I prefer to call it being observant over voyeuristic.  It’s my blog so I can call it what I want.)

Since when does good news make you want to throw up?

Today I heard the best news I have had all year.  And it made me almost sick.  Believe me it was good news.  Wonderful, joyful, knock me to my knees news, almost had to visit the bathroom news.

The radiation my dad went through earlier this year is working.  If I believed in a god, I would be thanking him/she/it.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I did not realize how much my body was stewing on this.  Whatever poison of worry that was running in the background of my soul was released.  I was immediately drained, exhausted.  I wonder if I could have used the sick bed at work to cry my eyes out?  I have to sign a log sheet explaining why I need the room.  I wonder if “my dad will live” counts.

He adds the disclaimer that he is not cancer free yet.  Knowing dad, he probably wants to keep using this so someone will bring him ice cream.  Don’t worry dad, you have your knee surgery coming and after that your other knee…plenty of opportunities to be waited on coming your way. 

Oh, and love…lots and lots of love.

I Know It’s Taboo, But I Still Thought It Was Safe

Boys against girls.  That’s how we have to play games at my sister’s house.  She and her husband cannot be on the same team.  But do the boys really think they will win a clue giving game against sisters that think a like?  Suckers.

So yes, Hol and I were cruisin’.  Score, Score, Score.  We gave up some points getting buzzed, but hey, we can afford it.  We are way ahead.

It’s my turn, I’m doing pretty good, then WHAM…my clue giving flow is rudely interrupted.  I can’t breathe.  I can’t think.  I can only shake my head no.  At least that is what I think I did.  I pass on the word.  Not just pass…I take it out and put it on the table, it doesn’t belong with the rest of the cards, evil word.  Don’t the game makers know my brother just died?  What were they thinking putting that word in here?   Maybe I could rip it up later?  I wonder if Holly and Mike would notice it missing.  I can’t see the next word.  I am still shaking my head no, at least I think I am.  How much time has gone by, maybe an hour?  A day?   I am sure the timer has run out, it must have.  Maybe this is a nightmare and I am stuck in time. 

Quick thinking Holly knocks the timer over.  We cry a little.  Then it’s back to the game, we are our brother’s sisters after all–competitive.

It’s an innocent game.  Just a game.  Just a word on a card. 

Ashes.

(In case you are wondering, we still won)

Just My Imagination…

Yesterday was my dad’s birthday.  I wanted to ask him what it was like.  The first one without Steve.  I didn’t even mention his name.  Sometimes I am not sure if I should talk about him, maybe it will make someone cry…make me cry.  But if I don’t talk about him does it look like I forgot him?  But if I talk about him too much will it look like I am obsessing?  If I don’t, does it look like I don’t care? 

So I didn’t mention his name.  I didn’t ask what it was like to have a birthday without him.  I just pretended it didn’t happen.  Chicken.

But today, Chris and I went to the cemetery to see Steve’s plaque.  Can’t pretend there. We just sat on the bench and I cried.  It still does not seem real.  It can’t be real.   This was not supposed to happen.  I cannot imagine him gone, and I can’t wish him back.

I don’t know how long we sat there.  The tears just wouldn’t stop.  I used to make a lot of noise when I cried hard.  Now it just seems like the tears silently pour down my face.  The plaque says “Always in our hearts” which is perfect.  He is in my heart.  I thought my heart was incomplete, but it can’t be with him still there.  All the pieces are there, but it hurts.  What I found is my heart is bruised. 

Later we walked around town a little, visited the creek Steve used to fish.  Chris pointed out places Steve used to take him fishing when we were young.  Another thing I did not know about Steve until recently…he used to take three of my guy friends fishing when we were in elementary school and Steve was in high school.  How cool is that?

I find myself wishing I had more imagination.  I could use my imagination to revive memories I did not know I would need later.  Memories of things forgotten long ago that I did not know were important.  Memories of him I did not know would be so treasured now that I can’t create more.  If I could have imagined ever loosing him so early, I could have written down every story he told, every funny moment we shared, every trick he pulled, every giving gesture he made.  I could have recorded his giggle that I miss so much.  

Better yet, I could have imagined a cure and we would not have lost him.  Imagine that.

In Your Living Years

Why, I ask, am I here?  In your living years you asked me to go to Sun Valley with you and your family many times.  I never did.  Why…Look at the name, “SUN” Valley.  I knew it would be hot.  You know I don’t like the heat.  Or hiking, biking, running, tennis, any number of other things to do in Sun Valley…any kind of exercise really.  I never could figure out why you wanted me to go.  Probably to share the price of the condo?

But here I am, in Sun Valley.  Hiking.  In the sun.  Not in your living years.  Why?  To help spread your energy in this place you lived, laughed, loved.  I wanted to be part of this…I really did, but I did not want to hike to Baker Lake.  Before you left us I asked if you would want part of yourself to be taken to Yellowstone.  That I could do, I can drive there.  No hiking required.  But no, you just wanted to be left at Baker Lake. 

I was not sure I could do this hike.  I came, but I expected to either wait at the house for everyone to get back…or maybe try to hike but stop part way and read will everyone came down.  A couple of days before the hike I had a dream.  In the dream we were trying to get you up a river bank.  We laughed so hard because you kept making jokes using one liners like “with a little help from my friend” or “lean on me”.  The whole dream was pulling you, and laughing so hard we would fall back down, in the mud.  I woke up laughing.  You motivated me to do try the hike I was dreading so much.

I talked to you as I hiked, relived memories, and I cursed you a few times.  I really don’t like to hike.  Give me strength to finish Steve.  Why in the hell did you choose this place? Remember when you took me to college with you?  How about our joke when you would call me on the phone and ask me “Who is this?”  Another fly just bit me, thanks Steve.  I miss the way you tell a story, the way you giggle.  I hope you know how much I love you, look, I am hiking for you. The dream of you laughing was such a precious gift.  Help me finish this hike.  I hope I brought as much joy to your life as you brought to mine, still bring to mine.  I miss you, really I do, but this lake better be worth it.  Was that another fly?

The hike was worth it, eventually.  And the lake was beautiful.  I took many breaks to catch my breath but I didn’t mind stopping so many times.  Each pause surrounded me with butterflies.  And huge biting flies, which I tried to ignore.  There were butterflies, everywhere.   When I finally got to the lake I imagined you would have giggled a little at how long it took me.  Not a giggle to mock me.  But still a giggle.  Bec and Polly said you would have been proud of me for finishing the hike.  That was interesting to think about.  I don’t know if I ever made you proud.  Were you as proud to be my brother as I was to be your sister?  That would give me something to think about on the way down…which also took me awhile.

Leaving you at Baker Lake fitted.  You will be at peace, forever fishing.  As Ken went out on the lake to spread your ashes there were times he almost looked like you.  I hope you were with all of us as we wrote our messages to you on rocks and tossed them in the lake to forever with you.  I hope you heard Maddie’s song to you, it was perfect.  There were many people there to send you off, and many more that wanted to come.  In your quiet way you had a huge impact on so many.  The generosity of Polly, Kellen and Maddie is amazing.  To let us all share this moment with them.

I did not like Sun Valley.  I am glad I went though as I got to know more about you.  Polly pointed out all the things you guys would do here.  I was struck again with how much you truly and completely lived.  In your living years, short as they were, you lived life more fully than most people will do in several lifetimes.   Even the days you said good-bye to everyone were full of laughter and living. 

In the living years without you, I will try to never forget the life and energy within you.  I will always try to make the most of my living years.

Ambushed and Thwarted

So I was headed to a garage sale fund-raiser for a past co-worker who has leukemia and needs a bone marrow transplant.   Little did I know this would trigger a near panic attack in my car in the middle of Tacoma.  I think I will call it a tear attack, probably more accurate.  Not sure why going to this garage sale would affect me this way…gripping my steering wheel, making funny sounds, trying to not lose sight of the road (do they make wipers for eyeballs?).  After I parked by his house, I had to sit for a while.  Breath deep, calm down, get a grip of my emotions and let go of the steering wheel. 

Why, I wonder, did this visit bring out the tears?  I still cry a little each day, and some things will trigger the tears like a song or a memory.  But why this?  I am getting pretty good at figuring out what will set the tears off.  This was not expected, Iwas actually feeling pretty good. I felt like my body was not playing fair, ambushing me this way.  Maybe the thought of another family feeling helpless in facing a disease and doing what they can to remain a family.  He is lucky, I thought, that there is a possibility of a cure.  Something we did not have with Steve. 

I think any of us would have donated just about anything to cure Steve.  While talking with my past co-worker I thought, I could become a bone marrow donor, help some other family, give them the chance at a cure we did not have.  As soon as I got home I checked into what it takes to become a donor, only to find out a lot of the auto immune diseases automatically disqualify you.  Me, they disqualify me. 

Thwarted.  Cue tears.  This time, I am not ambushed.  This time I know exactly why I am crying.

Hang Loose on Father’s Day

I think my dad and brother were not just father and son.  I think they became friends as well.  Today we can’t gather around my dad and hope to make this day a little less painful.  He is in Hawaii with my mom and one of my sisters.  So I wish for the breezes to kiss his cheek, the waves to embrace him, and the turtles to protect him. 

Hang loose dad.  But not too loose, some of the beaches do have clothing requirements.

Break Out the Day Planner

We plan the most important decisions, days and events of our life.  Or at least we try to.  Some plan how many children to have, and when to have them.  Most plan their weddings and if you are a woman (and some men), you probably started planning it in elementary school (I know I did, even had a folder I kept till my mid 20’s).   If we are lucky we get to plan what job we have and when to move on to the next job, or when to retire.  We plan out where we live as best we can. 

There are some decisions I can make very fast…but I can take an hour to pick out a name for a character I create in an on-line game me and my husband play.  It took me three hours to pick out my eye glasses, three years to pick out curtains, and 10 years to pick a color to paint my walls (I have only managed to decide on the bathroom so far).   If you think I am joking, then you haven’t met me or been shopping with me for glasses or paint.  The curtains I blame on my husband…he insisted on very thick, functional curtains and I wanted pretty flowery ones.  What did we settle on?  Sage green with tassels. 

If we spend time planning other parts of our lives, why is it so strange to plan the last important decision of our life? (disclaimer…only with regards to death with dignity, of course)

After trying to accommodate us by avoiding birthdays, looking at travel plans and school schedules, my brother picked his day and the planning began.   Yet, it was surreal, planning his last day with us and the celebration of his life.   We  grieved while we talked casually with him and each other  about food, preparations, programs, music.  He did not want a service but I and others told him the service was for those left behind, not for him.   We needed this for each other.  As strange as our conversations felt, looked, and sounded, for me it gave me a sense normalcy, just planning any other family event, right?  Though there were times it was awkward and I would think,

“Am I really talking to my brother about his death?” 

“Did I just ask my mom to bring her paper plates to my brother’s last dinner?  I am thinking of being green at a time like this?”

“Am I really using a toothpick to scrape the medicine out of the capsules for my brother’s last drink?”  

But, by planning for his death we were able to give his life the attention he deserved.  Probably over 100 people visited him in the last week, and he received many, many letters.  People were able to tell him how he impacted them, share stories and laugh.  If he had doubts at all that his life had meaning, those doubts should have been washed away by the downpour of love, gratitude, and kindness from those he touched. 

How wonderful is that?

Bring your nickels and don’t forget the kitty

We used to play a game called Tripoly.  It is a combination of Michigan Rummy and Poker.  Not a high stakes game mind you, just with nickels.  We kept ours in a cloth bank bag.  Every now and then when the family was getting together to hang out, someone would say “Bring your nickels”.   And we would play for hours…in our family you have to play till at least some one wins one of the larger pots of money that builds up.  My sister-in-law would pretend nearly every hand she had the winning cards.  What a fun game, we would laugh and laugh.  He would always think he knew what cards people had.  Of course we all knew what my sister-in-law had as she usually showed the person next to her and say “should I bid on this?”

I realized today, that we probably will never play that game again. 

So I did bring my nickels, to the store and cashed them in.   There are many things that must go on with him gone…I must get up every day, remember to breath, go to work, celebrate holidays, enjoy being a family.  But this, Tripoly, I can let go. 

Good-bye Tripoly.  Don’t forget the kitty and thanks for the memories.

Almost as Scary as Karaoke

I stepped out of my box Sunday and started telling people I know about my blog.  Whew that was hard.  I think I drove my husband nuts…should I, shouldn’t I.  Now, or later…how about now?  Maybe later?  I know I drove myself nuts on Sunday.

I typically don’t like exposing myself to people I know, not that I expose my self to strangers either.  Don’t get me wrong, I talk a lot, share my feelings a lot, and brag about my family a lot.  But if I am going to be in an exposed position, like talking in front of a lot of people, sharing the blog, singing Karaoke (which I will never do by the way) I prefer it to be to people I don’t know.  People I don’t see or will not see again because they are strangers.  In high school and college I even took lower grades on assignments to not have to get in front of the class.  I could get in front of a bunch of total strangers….but not someone who I will have to talk to later, terrifying.

So seeing people after they hold my heart in their hands is uncomfortable, to say the least.   The only thing worse that comes to mind is singing in front of others (I sometimes even mouth “happy birthday” instead of sing it).

I have to confess, I shared this blog for purely selfish reasons…it is hard to keep secrets, especially one that is out there for anyone to find.  My dad uses this same site for his blog for goodness sake.   Plus I was stiff and tense and I convinced myself it was the stress of keeping this secret (still waiting for the shoulders to relax).  I kept wondering when I would get caught and how would they feel knowing I had shared this with some family members and not others.  So, see purely selfish.

I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but imagine my surprise when some thanked me for this gift.  That felt weird.  I should be thanking them for letting me unburden myself on them.  Thank you, they said, a gift they called it…huh. That is a wonderful surprise.  And lucky too since if they did not like this “gift” they can’t return it, re-gift it, erase it from their memory or even use it as a white elephant.

Lucky me to have such great family and friends.

Regrets begone

To my sister-in-law, niece and nephew (given to them 4/30).

I have been telling people what a gift being able to say good-bye is.  And that I have no regrets.  I was able to do and say everything I wanted to before he passed. 

I think about him every day and focus on the moments in the last couple days that bring me peace.  One morning few days ago it struck me.  I do have one regret.  I did not thank him for giving me, all of us, the gift of saying good-bye.  That morning when someone asked if anyone wanted to say something, I should have thanked him for letting us love him the way we needed to, which included being there when he left us.

Since I cannot thank him, I am thanking you.

Thank you. 

Thank you for sharing your last few precious weeks with him.   Being able to visit, help where I could, just sit with him was such a gift.  I know how lucky we were to be able to look him in the eye and say good-bye.  You let us share that with you and you did not have to.  A lot of people have told me not all families could have done what we did together.  Of course we would have preferred for the disease to not exist and for him to be with us for many more years.  But since we could not wish the disease away, being able to say good-bye healed as much as it hurt to say it.

Maybe there were times when you wished we would all go away and leave you alone.  But you never let it show.  And hopefully we were able to give you enough time to be alone with him, to be just the three of you (and baby Kai, woof). 

I love you all so much.

Can it be a Happy Mother’s Day?

Even though we didn’t talk about him much, he impacted us today.  We are a close family but we don’t always spend days like mother or father’s day together.  I guess we don’t feel the need to get together on a commercial holiday just because we are supposed to.  We do cards, sometimes small gifts (mom always says not to get her anything but we don’t always listen), or we call.  But we didn’t usually plan to get together.

But this year my sisters and I took my mom out to lunch.  Funny, I am not sure we have ever done that for mother’s day before, or at least not for a very long time.  I wanted to say to her “I am sorry”.  Sorry that you lost a very special son. Sorry for this loss that we can never fill.   I know my mom loves us all equally.  But there is probably nothing we can really do on a day like today to make it better.  I don’t think I even said the words “Happy Mother’s Day” today. 

I guess my brother gave my mom black licorice and biscotti every year.  Unlike a lot of men, he probably shopped for it himself.   Last year I took him shopping so he could buy his wife a birthday present.  Even though he could not get  there without help, and he could barely walk, and he could not wrap it himself, he still wanted to shop and pick out the present himself.  So my sister-in-law gave my mom some black licorice and biscotti today.  That was so incredibly sweet for her to remember and think of my mom today.

Happy Birthday, Brother

He would have been 53 today, his daughter is 18. 

I don’t think he liked being the center of attention, so sharing this day probably gave him some relief. 

Even though today was a good day…she did well in track, got asked to the prom, and a friend of mine had a baby today…it still felt sad.   Sadder than some of the other days in the last few months. 

I wonder if she will ever feel like she will want to celebrate this day.  If  years from now this day will always be tainted, even just a little.

When she was born, it seemed so sweet they had the same birthday.  Now, it will always be bitter-sweet.  I prefer white chocolate.

Niche

Today we gathered to put my brother’s ashes in his niche at the cemetery.   He rests in the perfect spot, close by where we lived as kids, overlooking the little town (well, it was little 40 years ago) we grew up in.  His daughter sang.  I could not even talk, I wanted to.  She sang.  Her dad would have been so proud of her. 

I thought today would feel like some kind of closure, help me move on.  It didn’t.

So begins the year of firsts…

Of course we have had the first day after, the first meal, first week, first day back to work, first month, etc. 

Harder still are the first laugh, first memory I wanted to share with him, first time someone asked me how my brother was, the first time I was able to refer to my brothers death without whispering.

Today is my paren’ts 55th wedding aniversary.  My sister that lives here and I will meet them for dinner.  It is also the last day my dad has radiation for his cancer.  So two reasons to celebrate. 

But my other sister who lives out of state won’t be there, and this is the first anniversary my parents  have had without him for almost 53 years.  The first time they have not had all their kids for 45 years. 

Crap.

Why the heck am I whispering?

For some reason, I could not talk about the actual day or moment of my brother’s passing without whispering.  It was the strangest thing.  I can talk very openly about the experience.  But when I would actually say something about the moment of his passing, I would whisper. 

I can actually talk about the moment without whispering now. It was bothering me that I was whispering.  It is not a secret, I am not ashamed.  Not sure what compelled me to whisper.  Thank goodness at least that part is over.  On to the next hang up.

My Brother’s Holiday

I thought a lot about him today.  Well that is silly.  I think about him every day, many times a day. 

But today is kinda like it is his day.  He was always full of pranks.  You almost had to think it was April Fool’s Day every day with him.

I miss his pranks.  His laughter. Him.

The Wanabe Hermit 5/5/1958-2/18/2011

We celebrated my brother’s life 2/22.  For someone who wanted to be a hermit, he sure knew a lot of people.  I think over 400 people showed.  What a testament to his life and how he touched others.  

The location was perfect.  A lodge on a lake the he fished and jogged around and in the last year still tried to walk around.  The large windows faced the lake and falling snow. 

My sisters and I created a slide show for him.  Our tribute. 

I could not talk at his service but I had the following read.  I took out the names as I am still not sure if I want people to know who I am.

I have been doing a lot of writing about my brother the last few days, one would think I am out of things to say.  Anyone who knows me will know I always have something else to say.

Sometimes when someone passes everyone talks about how wonderful and perfect the person was.  So let me start by saying he teased me constantly, tricked me over and over (I fell for the same prank more than once), knew exactly what buttons to push, and he was hugely competitive sometimes he would do anything to win.  He hating to lose to anyone especially his youngest sister and we had to play Boggle with a dictionary to catch the words he would make up.  When he realized he would never win that game he refused to play. 

Now that I have that out in the open, let me say he was wonderful and perfect.  He took me fishing even though he knew I would talk the entire time and scare the fish away.  When I was 15 he took me to college with him where I spent my spring break attending classes.  I did not know how much I would love that, but he knew I would.  When I was 18 and he was 26 he took me with him to one of his baseball tournaments in Eastern Washington.  When we got back I got sick and he stayed on the floor with me for three days and brought me anything I needed.  He always made me laugh, and laugh, and laugh.

We watched some videos of him this weekend and I was reminded of how vibrant he was, how much making others laugh and be happy was important to him.  I believe he showed how he loved others by his actions…baking, making us laugh, teaching us to fish, and remembering little details about us.  How hard these last few months must have been for him as some of these avenues slipped away from him.  How hard it must have been for him to watch our hearts break when he spent his whole life making us laugh.  But he never lost his sense of humor, making us laugh till the end, despite our tears.

We honor him with stories, memories and laughter.  His wife and kids will have no doubts how much He is loved and missed.  His wife brought out the best in him and I see many pieces of him in his kids.   They embody many of his qualities and will find their own way to pass on his legacy. 

There are so many things I do not know about my brother.  In this last year I got to meet him many times over through how other people see him.  

I am proud to be his sister.  He is beautiful.

 

 

I voted for WHAT?!

The Death with Dignity Law became effective in Washington in 2009.  I voted for it.  But actually going through this with someone you love can make you ask yourself, what in the world was I thinking?

When my brother picked an actual day to die, for a moment I wished the law had not passed.  In theory, death with dignity sounds like a good idea.  But when faced with the reality it was a shock.  I have to admit there were many times during the last few weeks I did not feel like I had any dignity, hence the temper tantrum with an empty peanut butter container.

But, it was only moments.  Brief and painful moments. At first I was ashamed of my reaction.  But, I think it was something I had to go through.  Get it out of my system so I could be there for him.

It was a beautiful morning. Some might find it inappropriate or strange for me to say that.  But beautiful it was.

This morning we gathered again.  My brother, his wife and kids spent much of the morning alone together.  Around 9:00 am, his chosen time, we circled him.  Those that wanted to spoke again.  

Their family dog said his own good-bye.  Once we all stood around my brother the dog ran down the stairs and jumped on the bed next to him.  My brother and his wife were holding hands.  The dog licked my brother’s hand over and over.  The dog jumping on the bed and licking are both unusual actions.  After a bit the dog stopped, looked up at my brother very intently for a few seconds, then started licking again.  After my brother drank the medicine, the dog then licked the hand of the volunteer who gave my brother the cup.  Almost like he was saying “It’s ok, thank you for helping relieve his suffering”.

One of my sister’s gave us all a heart-shaped piece of coral to hold.  I know we will all treasure these hearts forever.

His kids were amazing (ages 15 and 17).  They stayed by him, touching him.  After a few minutes he fell asleep.  And snored, which gave us some comic relief.  The muscles stiff for so long let go and it was wonderful to see.  It had felt like forever before we had seen him like this, relaxed with his back straight and his head up.  This disease had contorted him so much.  I am glad his kids were able to see him like this again.  That one of their last memories of him will be of him looking close to like he used to.

After awhile his breathing quieted.  His daughter leaned over and kissed his chest and he made a loud noise.  This was probably close to his last breath.  It was like her kiss released him.

This truly was death with dignity, a most appropriate name.  Despite our tears, anger at this disease, fear of losing him, anquish for his wife and kids, my parents, each other, our selves.  Ultimately I wish my brother never became ill.  But he did.  This is probably the most dignified event I have ever witnessed. I am so thankful I could be a part of it. I am forever changed.

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