Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Kristi's Journal

I didn't even know that Kristi kept a journal until a few months ago. Kristi is my husband's little sister, my sister-in-law and this week marks the anniversary of her death a year ago. A few months ago, my husband came home from his parent's house and told me that Kristi had written a journal during her fight with cancer and when we wanted to read it, we could. I wasn't sure at first if I even wanted to, it was her's, her journal, her words and most intimate thoughts. Did she even want this passed around for the family to read as was happening now? But as December drew on and January approached, I wanted to. Her death was a struggle for all of us and in some way, I hoped reading her words would give comfort and clarity to the meaning of a life taken so early and in such a torturous way as cancer.

My husband and I began the new year with Kristi's journal. Fifty something handwritten pages of Kristi's words pinned together with a paperclip in a simple file folder. We decided to read it together and memorialize her words in a keepsake for her closest of family members. While I began with apprehension of disrespecting her privacy, her so called journal was more of a testimony. She did not write it for herself, she wrote it for others to know about God's sufficient grace and unfailing faithfulness. My husband read and I typed for a few days until all of her words were within a document on my computer. Some periods of this process were shortened by tears and cracked voices as we read her words aloud. While it did not take that long, the emotions involved made it a tiresome project, but one that we felt was necessary. Maybe not for those family members we planned to distribute the booklets too, but maybe necessary for us. Her fifty plus pages became twenty five typed pages that I embellished with pictures of Kristi, her husband, children, parents and other family members. While I have a second job in marketing which involves graphic design and publications, this project was by far the most important publication I have ever worked on. It was beyond close to my heart, beyond necessary and I felt a huge responsibility to Kristi to do it in a way that she would hand and to handle her words with care.

It took three weeks to complete, two issues of reformatting to meet my perfectionist and specific desires and we finally took Kristi's Journal to the printer this past weekend. After additional edits to the format and a reprint due to the printer's errors, we finally left the retail chain with seven copies of Kristi's Journal; seven copies of her words, her thoughts, favorite scriptures and prayers. I wanted to distribute the copies to her husband, parents, children and other brother before the 26th. I don't know what is customary on the anniversary of someones death as Kristi is the closest family member I have had to endure the loss of. I know some families gather around a gravestone and change out flowers, but I felt like memorializing her words in a keepsake were a better way to pay tribute to her and pass on to her future generations. I hope that her children, grandchildren and others will find comfort in the words she left for us, the words that I found comfort in, that remind me of her voice, her smile and the light that she held in her eyes. Though she is not here with us, she will live forever in our hearts, our memories and the words of her testimony.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Still Waters, Warm Sun & A Lunch Break

I meant to post this picture a month ago. I even saved the title in my blog list so that I would do it, but I never got around to it. Thankfully I have a quiet day here to find the time to catch up. I was having "one of those weeks" back in December where I couldn't get my head above water. No, I am not under water in this picture, I was speaking figuratively, not literally. Just having one of those weeks so I went to the river boardwalk to gather my thoughts and get away from the world as best I could in an hour's worth of time. The only reason I took my phone was to keep track of the time so as to not return to work late from lunch. It was unseasonably warm and I sat and eventually laid there in my business clothes, soaking up the sun and enjoying the peace. I highly recommend it!

"Oh God, this is it"

Some dates just ingrain themselves in your memory, January 13th is one of those dates. Not because I am superstitious about the number 13, but because on January 13, 1994, I totaled my first car. Not intentionally of course, but completely totaled nonetheless and almost totaled myself in the process. I was sixteen and driving my little red Pontiac Fiero to school one Thursday morning when I suddenly lost control around a curve in a roller coaster of a road. I wasn't speeding and don't know the cause of the control loss, but I found myself turning to the left and then after over correcting my steering wheel to the right I saw the edge of the pavement before me in slow motion and remember saying to myself "Oh God, this is it!"

I woke up alone and cold with the car still and the only sound coming from a cassette tape still playing in the radio. I looked around me taking in account what had happened to realize I was in the confines of a broken and mangled corpse of a car. I knew that my parents would kill me if they heard the music I was listening to and in severe pain I leaned forward in a desperate and thankfully successful attempt to press the eject button to silence it. I then reached to my door handle to open it and emerge from the car, but the door didn't move and I looked down to see that though I thought I felt my attempt, my arm had never moved from my lap. I was trapped and couldn't move my left arm or legs.

I woke up next to a woman's voice asking me my name, asking me my phone number and telling me it would be okay.

I woke up again to sirens, lights flashing up above me, the sound of my mom's voice and several people talking all around me. The cold was getting colder and pain was overcoming my body. I still could not move within the confines of my car. I began yelling for someone to get me out of this car. I'm going to blame the expletives I was using on pain and shock and finally calmed after my mom instructed me to calm down and hold still. The firemen and paramedics were working to get me out of the car and did not want me moving my neck as they did not know the severity of my injuries. I fell in and out of consciousness as they worked. My sunroof was already broken from the accident, so they cut and pried the roof more and in protection covered me with a sheet to raise me up through the roof.

I woke up again on a hard and even more cold surface and my neck immobilized in a brace. A woman's voice told me she was going to have to cut my clothes off to determine the extent and give aid to my injuries. I pleaded with her in my modesty to keep me covered, still hearing numerous voices all around me. Sixteen and selfishly upset that my brand new jeans and the popular at the time flannel shirt I had gotten only the night before were being cut off my body and ruined.

I woke looking at the ceiling of a hospital room with voices of my mom and friends around me. My neck still immobilized in a brace, I could not see anyone unless they leaned directly over my face. Begging for something for the pain, my mom explained that they would not yet give me anything as the doctors wanted me to be able to tell them where my pain was. It was all over!

Time would determine that I had broken my left arm, left leg and pelvis and the before mentioned shattered sunroof had cut my head causing a substantial loss of blood. A six hour surgery with two of our town's best orthopedic surgeons repaired my arm and leg with rods in both preventing me from having to wear any casts. Yet the combined breaks put me in a wheelchair for a period of about six months. The hospital therapist taught me to walk with one crutch under my right arm within the parallel bars of the therapy unit which I was able to do for short distances. Though my blood levels were low, medicine did not know what we know now about AIDS and blood transfusion, and the decision was made to allow my body to build back it's own blood supply. It was a long process that kept me very tired and just the exertion to take a shower and get ready in the morning would cause me to pass out.

I don't know if I slid on the morning's wet road or if I blew a tire (I had four blown tires at the end of it) causing my wreck. Beyond my mind's distinct picture of the edge of the asphalt my car went over a twenty foot embankment which would have been more if it had not been caught in by the trees in Brenda's yard. Brenda was the woman who I woke to asking me my name and phone number who's schedule never had her home on Thursday mornings ever, except for this particular morning. She was getting ready when she heard the collision outside and instantly called 911, knowing with the landscape whatever had happened would be bad.

I eventually got another little red car, a Nissan Pulsar that time, that I could easily sling my wheelchair in the hatchback of and hobble around the car to the driver's seat. My head healed, my bones healed and through another surgery the following October, I got the rods taken out and as high school senior, I began to play a few sports I had never had the courage to try out for before. After the wreck I had a new sense of trying new things, pushing myself and not allowing intimidation to stop me, I realized the quickness that life could be swept away. I learned about being temporarily handicapped and overcoming obstacles. I learned first hand about divinely appointed timing and the miracle of life.

Yesterday was eighteen years since my wreck. Maybe I am a little superstitious now as I have always picked the number 13 as my lucky number being that it marked the day I beat the odds of living through a wreck the emergency responders said I shouldn't have. I am reminded of it when my little bit of arthritis kicks in after excessive exercise and periods of cold and rain. I still have minuscule splinters of glass that make their way to the surface of the skin on scar of my forehead and my daughters have questioned the surgical scar on my shoulder and the longer one on my leg.  I am thankful that I was wrong when I saw the edge of the pavement, wrong when I said "Oh God, this is it," or was I? Maybe I was wrong in the fact that the pavement's edge was not the end of my life, but right all along "Oh God, this is it," as the edge marked the beginning of my life.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

I never thought I would get sentimental over a tank of all things...

I'm not a military enthusiast, a war history buff or anything like that. To be honest, I feel like I am being a little punished when my husband chooses a military show on the history channel. I know it's important to our history and I do appreciate the education, but I still find little interest in it. That said, I was a little shocked at myself this week when an old army green tank had me with teary eyes. The local newspaper specified it as an M47 Patton, though I didn't know or really care what kind of tank it was, it was one that sat in the front yard of a neighbor's house for decades. It was something of a landmark in the neighborhood as it aided in giving directions, "you're going to go past a house with a tank in the front yard," and was a definite topic of conversation for anyone that wondered about such a large and unique lawn ornament.  I didn't know anything specific about the tank, I never climbed upon it or sat in it's turret, but I did sit in the company of it's owner many times and for that I am very grateful.

What makes this particular tank special is that it was Harry's. Harry McCauley was one of my dad's best friends which gave me the opportunity to sit in his presence many times to enjoy intellectual conversation and debate. Just having a tank in his front yard should be evidence enough that Harry was a one-of-a kind man. To know him and have the blessing to be part of his life only confirmed that fact. Against social faux pas, many of our discussions centered around religion and politics. Both of which he had solid and unashamed stands on and would substantiate his opinions with innumerable historical and biblical references. He wasn't someone who just talked to hear himself or waste his breath, his words had literal and figurative meaning reaching varying degrees of perspective. His words made you think, ponder, study and even question yourself at times. He had a great and unique sense of humor which only colored conversations brighter. As much as Harry could talk, he would listen too and no matter how much more knowledge he had about a subject, he never educated with arrogance or condescension. That is what I loved about our talks, they seemed to just mean something and I always walked away knowing a little more than I did upon sitting down.

Harry passed away last March. While we know that death is inevitable, he was as I said, my dad's closest of friends and to witness my father's quiet grief was a new experience for me and hard in itself. When my dad told me last week that the tank had been sold and he was helping oversee it's move off the property, I was upset. I wanted to be there to see it's move and to somewhat commemorate the day, but I really didn't think that a tank transportation day would constitute a sick day in my employer's eyes or understanding. It's monumental presence seemed like a lasting reminder of Harry and was an emotional link to him. However, the tank was moving to a museum which was in my opinion the most honorable place for it as more people could enjoy and appreciate it than just neighborhood passersby. When people view it in the museum it went to or the the next place it will move in it's journey, they will not see the man I see when I would pass through the neighborhood or will see in it's pictures. They will see a relic of history, of wars fought and battles won and monetary worth. But Harry will be there too, just a piece of him forever memorialized in this tank, forever a part or our personal history and now rightfully displayed in a museum of valued history.   

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A second gray hair, a rite of passage and a metaphor.

I found and pulled my first gray hair about a year ago, thankfully it took a year to find another one at at 34. I was getting ready this morning, did a final spray of my hair and was just having the "this is a good hair day" thought going through my head when I saw this gray hair emerging from the part in my hair. The light hit it just right and the "good hair day" thought fleeted fast as the gray hair seemed to exclaim itself brighter and brighter amongst my dark brown hair. I grabbed the tweezers and plucked the strand from my hair wondering how I had not noticed it before as it was now a little over an inch in length.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a gray hair bashing person, I am not fearful of age or the changing of my skin, hair and overall appearance as I age. Though I pulled out this morning's gray hair, I at the same time felt a sense of a rite of passage in this thing called adulthood. Like maybe this gray hair was that of a lesson learned, an obstacle conquered or a hinderance plucked away from my life and I was instantly given the explanation of where this gray hair came from and what it represented. You see I've had a conflict with someone for a few months now and yesterday, we sat down and had a time of reconnection and resolve to work things out. We equally agreed that the longer we had let the conflict go on without addressing it, the worse it had gotten. Ignoring conflict did not make it go or fade away, ignoring the hurts and offenses had only made them grow in substance and grow the distance between us. Our time together yesterday was long overdue, much needed and well served and all parties walked away from the conversation with offenses dropped, hurts extinguished and a fresh and positive outlook on the restored relationship. With the conflict gone, things can return back to normal with no residual evidence...such is the case with my unwelcomed gray hair.

My gray strand was not something that just came up overnight, the longer I overlooked it the longer it grew. The longer I thought about the hair and the metaphor that had been revealed to me in my bathroom mirror, I wondered how fast hair grows. Being the googler I am, I googled it to find that hair grows at a rate of about half an inch per month. How's that for confirmation? At an inch long, my gray hair had been growing the entire time of this conflict. Yet as quickly as I noticed and plucked it away, my hair had once again returned to normal with no indication of it ever being there. It is the same with resolved conflict and forgiveness in the relationships with those we love. Unlike a head full of gray hair, we can not cover offenses and conflict in a relationship with a bottle of hair dye. We have to address conflicts that come up at the first inclination, indication and instance to prohibit them to grow into something bigger and unmanagable. That way relationships can return to what they once were and grow in beauty.

What I learned in 2011

My Top 10 List of What I Learned in 2011

1. Ignorance judges, experience understands.
2. Sometimes we have to separate from the world to remember who we are.
3. Take time off to enjoy the day instead of working it all away.
4. Summer river days are necessary to my well being and peace of mind.
5. Give myself permission to say no to others, so I could say yes to myself and my needs.
6. Somethings can not be fixed, somethings just are.
7. Sometimes there are no words for the situation, other than a sincere "I love you".
8. Being a good person does not mean being a doormat.
9. I alone dictate how I let others treat me.
10. Death is not just, fair or explainable and grief resonates in different ways to different people.

What I learned in 2010

I'm not one to make new year's resolutions for a few reasons:
1: Part of it just seems too cliche to stick with.
2: The rebel in me just doesn't want to follow the crowd into making goals that for the most part people don't stick with past the second week of January.
3: If your resolution is something you really need to focus on or change, you should do it as soon as you see it necessary, not wait until a specific date to start, thus delaying the goal in the first place.
4: I'm already perfect...no changes needed! Ha Ha...that was a joke people. I am far from perfect and realize the gap to perfection widens more with the passing of each day.

So instead of making resolutions, last year I ended my year by making a list of the things I had learned in 2010, instead of focusing on what I might do for the next. I thought I had only saved this list in a facebook post, but after rummaging through months of status updates, I finally found it in a must easier referenced note. I am posting it here, not only for any readers I might have, but for my own reasons of having an quicker retrieval method in the future and to pass the time while I reflect back over the past year to compile a new list for 2011.

My Top 10 list of what I learned in 2010
1. zumba
2. when you don't fit in, be comfortable standing out.
3. family isn't defined by bloodlines, but instead by heartstrings.
4. some of the best times can be around a fire or in a closet.
5. we are all busy, but real friends always find the time.
6. to stop expecting from people what they will never give.
7. I may be at the bottom of some people's lists, but I am at the top of others.
8. to walk the red carpet without tripping in heels.
9. to be comfortable in my own skin, even when others don't approve.
10. to embrace my role as the crazy, eccentric aunt....cause it's a lot of fun.