Saturday, May 23, 2020

Five down... Hopefully many more to go!

Today is Adam's and my fifth wedding anniversary. As I wonder what the future holds, I recognize tomorrow is not promised, and to embrace the moment.

Feeling nostalgic, I read up on these update stories from Catholic Match. I don't believe that I have shared them here yet so enjoy this stroll down memory lane!

Update # 1

Update # 2

Update # 3

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Advocate - - what a powerful word

It has been one month without Dad. What a long month.

 In some ways it feels like much more time has passed but in other ways it feels like April 17th, and the time my brothers, Mom, and I had with Dad those last few moments, just happened.

Such a strange juxtaposition of emotions.

Today's gospel gives comfort but we all miss him so. 💔

In reading today's gospel, as I shared in the spiritual reflection I sent to my students, I am trying to remember and trying to stay in the joy of the present.  How can we work to allow the Holy Spirit to work through all things...even when we think nothing good could happen amidst grief and sorrow? Let's all be open to letting that happen...the word Advocate is used in the scriptures. This takes me back to my thesis and dissertation research. Educators/parents should be passionate about being advocates for their students/children to help them get the instruction and services they need. Dad was one of the biggest advocates for my brothers and me alongside Mom. God is the ultimate advocate, though. As much as our parents love us, God's love for us is so much more.

I am thankful Charlotte was there for Mom and me to do an impromptu photo shoot after the reflection. Dad would not want us to wallow but it is going to take time for all of us to adjust and these little moments of finding joy do help. Hope your first month in heaven was a beautiful one, Dad. #onedaycloser

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Rebreaking and Rehealing of a Heart

To my only child, I write this today on the ten week anniversary of your last day of school. It has been ten weeks since you were in your classroom with your friends and singing songs with your teacher. You still remind us that "there is no school today" but you haven't forgotten the songs you sang or how to build a tower or string beads. You still ask to help pour the juice and like to work on writing letters and numbers. You share stories about what happened at school "yesterday" and refer to your friends by name.

The last social event you attended with your friends was your birthday party at All4Kids followed by mass. What a wild unusual time of your life these past two months have been.   Has it really only been two months? Time has flown by yet stood still at the same time.

I am wrestling with all that has happened and all that seems to have been lost these last several weeks and am struggling. And I am the grown up here. My dear child, with no warning, your life as you knew it, too, seemed to disappear overnight. You turned four on Saturday and by Tuesday, the world was shutting down due to COVID-19. No more school. No more All4Kids. No more play dates. No more eating out at restaurants. No more going to church and giving fist bumps to Deacon Steve. No more seeing friends or playing at the playground.

What did all this seem like to you? You saw Daddy and Mommy staying home with you. You saw day after day of our being glued to the computers trying to stay on top of all the online learning. You spent time in the car traveling to Grammy and Pappy's house or to Uncle Pat's house.

You have been spending your time in your house and in the homes of your loved ones. Yet you always find something to play thanks to your incredible and active imagination.

You saw your uncles, aunts, and Mommy caring for Pappy with Grammy. You saw Daddy trying to revise his thesis amidst it all. You played with toys Mommy and her brothers played with when they were little. You were able to play with your cousins so many times during these last ten weeks.

Back in Ohio, you watched as your Grandma and Pa began to get settled in their new house!

 We took walks and looked for teddy bears in the house windows. You saw siblings playing in their yards, riding bikes down the street, and heard their giggles and squeals.  My heart broke a little more for you as I watched you go through this quarantine in isolation. But you didn't seem to notice as you asked for a piggy back ride or were too engrossed in putting more "rock presents" in your coat pockets or ran with reckless abandon chasing our two little pups as we continued walking.

Today was the first time I witnessed, in a tangible way, some of the struggles that are built in with living as an only child. You didn't know I was watching you from the window as I tried to do a lecture for work. You were happily swinging on the swingset one second then the next minute I saw you on the merry-go-round. You grew frustrated and began crying because try as you might you couldn't make yourself go around by yourself. You got off and dropped down to your knees crying aloud. My heart splintered off a little as I experienced your anguish over not being able to play the way you wanted or had when you had been out there another day with a cousin.

It's true you don’t have built in playmates in siblings like so many of your friends do. You only talk to kids your age, or close to it, these days when you see your cousins which I am so thankful has been happening a lot given all the time we have been spending in PA thanks to the virus. You have way more screen time than I care to admit right now due to teaching remotely and having virtual meetings. I often wonder if the adults in your life are enough for you right now - enough to replace the interactions with other children when you aren't around your cousins. How will you remember this time? How will you remember Pappy? I hope this time of hunkering down will not only bring up memories of our always working from our computers or of the profound loss we are reeling from in the loss of the patriarch of our family. I wonder what your friendships will be like after all this. What will re-entry to school be like? Will you be shy or excited to see everyone again? Will this time of only being with family affect your social skills?

When life picks back up again , will you be willing to separate from us? Will I?

How will you look back on this time in your life when you are older?

Are you spending too much time with adults and not enough with kids?

Yet, I can feel the healing of some of the broken pieces of my heart when I see you interacting with Grammy. You help us to forget some of the pain for a moment. You happily build a tower after creating an orange and blue pattern and watch as it topples over before building again. We retell the main parts of Peter Rabbit as we consider the reasons why he was in Mr. McGregor's garden. You squeal with delight as you race to the window to watch the groundhog look for his next meal in the backyard. We play finger people and make our shadows dance. "Yay! It's going to be so fun" you say when I oblige and say I can play with you in five minutes after I finish grading an assignment. You do come up to me and say a cousin won't play with you but those moments are rare and when they do happen, you often will find something you can play with alone. Over these last ten weeks, I have seen you handle not being able to do the things or go to the places you love and our schedule has gone out the window, but you seem to still enjoy being with your dad and me, and other adults you are close to, and happy. Praise God!

I’ve watched you handle the disappointment of not being able to go back to school or to the playground or making yourself spin on the merry-go-round and I have grieved in those moments with or for you. Yet you bounce back and are resilient. Oh, my darling, as you like to say when we play house or with your dolls, you bring such joy and light. You have watched me melt down when the grief of losing my Dad seems too much to bear and then comforted me with a sloppy four year old's kiss on the cheek and warm hug. "He's all better, Mama, and in Heaven with God!"

Thinking back on these last ten weeks, I hope that you are able to see the good. I hope you see the acts of service, the kindness, the love, and can appreciate all the time together we all have had due to the quarantine whether in the car as we wait for Grammy to come out from a doctor's office and you take unknown pictures or at home snuggling under the cozy blanket as we watch Peppa Pig.

I love you, Charlotte Annie, and always will. From, your grateful Mommy

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

First Five Years of Anniversary Gifts

Adam and I enjoy celebrating our anniversary each year with traditional or contemporary gifts. Blame it on my working at Hallmark when I taught school-aged kids and worked part-time at the card and holiday-loving store nights and weekends to help pay for my student loans. Or blame it on Adam's love language of giving gifts but it has become a favorite annual tradition!  I love reading up on the descriptions of why the gifts are what they are each year on the website linked above...sure, it is sappy but so what. 😍

Here is a rundown of the last couple years starting with my wedding gift to Adam!

I purchased a small replica of this statue I had loved for a while. I first saw it on a retreat and remember being blown away by the simplicity of it yet quiet strength of Joseph as Mary sheltered Jesus in her arms. Our church also has this exact statue in the narthex and was a welcome sight when I went there for the first time upon moving to my town.

I was delighted to find a small replica of the statue in the bookstore at work so purchased and gave it to Adam shortly before the wedding. We placed it on the mantle above our fireplace where I just love how the light shines down on the Holy Family. I have been remembering the stillness in this statue a lot these last few months of slowing down with being in quarantine. Since the start of 2020, I have been feeling a strong call to devote and unite our family to the Holy Family which seems fitting as I reflect on this first wedding gift to Adam.

Year 1:  Paper

On the first day I was allowed to drive after Charlotte's birth due to a long and complicated recovery, I ran errands. One of which was stopping at the Center for Music and Art to purchase a gift certificate and sheet music for Adam to take piano lessons. When the gentleman found out why I was so excited to get a paper certificate, he threw in a pen and card to add to the paper gift.

Adam got me a roll of toilet paper that said, "I love you" on it.

And then a few days later he gave me a paper rose in a beautiful carved wood vase. Whew! 🌹

Year 2:  Cotton

I purchased a dark brown bow tie that looked like the one Adam had worn for the wedding along with a Rams tie. Rounding out the cotton gift, I found a cute little baby Rams outfit for Charlotte complete with football leg warmers, a Rams onesie, and matching headband that went along nicely with Adam's new cotton shirt.

Adam purchased an amazing Christmas pyramid candle decoration from one of my favorite shops downtown. He "wrapped" the gift in a box covered with cotton balls. I am still unsure as to how that gift connected with the theme of cotton other than the gift "wrap" but it was certainly a unique gift idea!

Year 3:  Leather

This gift really excited me as we had just had gorgeous spring photos as a family taken by the super talented Laura of Laura & Matthew Photography.

I printed a wallet sized photo from this photo shoot and slipped it inside an engraved leather wallet that I gave Adam. He still uses it to this day.

Adam gave me a leather bound journal that year. It reminds me of when we would mail a prayer journal back and forth to one another when we were dating long distance between North Carolina and California!

Year 4:  Satin, Fruit, or Appliances

This anniversary found us flying back to the United States two days earlier after having lived abroad for a semester! We lived in Austria from January to May and definitely grew accustomed to the European way of coffee while there. So imagine my surprise when Adam gifted me with an Italian Espresso Machine!!! He made arrangements for this beast of a coffee machine to be delivered a few days ahead of our return so that he could assemble the machine and do a test taste of the cappuccino a few hours after the clock struck midnight on our anniversary. As I think back on the middle of the night shenanigans thanks to jet lag, unpacking, and soaking up time with my parents who had picked us up from the airport, I am so thankful for the memories. I remember my parents watching Adam and me with amusement from the dining room table as he and I happily played with our new toy and sipped the espresso, cappuccino, or latte we made on the spot to test drive the machine.  Who knew an appliance could be such a sweet anniversary gift?!

My gift for Adam fell way short compared to the fancy schmancy gift Adam gave me. Waaaaaaay short! I gave him a satin travel pillowcase in a favorite football team color (that he had yet to use) and.....wait for it.....FRUIT of the Loom socks since he wore holes into all of his when traipsing about Rome earlier in the semester. I had been proud of my creativity yet practicality in trying to meet the satin and fruit parts of the anniversary gift but his appliance gift far surpassed any expectations I had!

So here we are at Year 5:  Wood and Silverware. Adam surprised me tonight by suggesting we pick out silverware together. I can't say that has ever been on my wishlist so this should be interesting! To be continued! 😉

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Coming Home

Mom and I came home today.

It feels like forever and a day has passed since we left but it was only ten days ago.  Soon after we pulled out of my little brother's driveway in Delaware, Charlotte buried herself under her soft pink blanket and drifted off to sleep while Mom and I put on a Fashioned by Faith podcast

Like mother like daughter.
I had been meaning to listen to my friend, Lisa, speak during her weekly podcast for a while now but just never found the time.  So I was excited to have a road trip to play the podcast through the car speakers since I finally remembered to upload the podcasts to my phone.  At random, I put on one of Lisa's talks that happened to be about Natural Family Planning (NFP).  Mom and I shrugged as we began to listen to the talk even though the topic doesn't really apply to us anymore.  Mom remembered my inspiring friend from my Young Adult Days in Lititz, Lancaster, and Harrisburg and wanted to listen to her wisdom as much as I.  It felt like Lisa was in the car with us as we listened to her voice over the car speakers.  Well, that is when folks weren't calling us or the GPS wasn't interrupting us.  It was very stop and go at times with pausing Lisa in mid-sentence to take a call or to more closely listen to the GPS directing us on where to go.

So, that's what makes this next part of the story about coming home so bittersweet.  As we got closer and closer to home, I noticed a church sign that said, "Be still and know that I am God".  This was my pregnancy verse with Charlotte and after listening to nearly two hours' worth of Natural Family Planning information, thinking back to being pregnant with Charlotte and the anticipation of possibly being pregnant in the year leading up to the wedding prior to her joining our family was on my mind.  So, at first, when I saw that sign I thought, "Ok, ok, I'll still try to be still and sit in that knowledge, God" because at first, the verse used to bring me sadness in thinking how it represented the joyful excitement of expecting and not knowing if the baby was a boy or girl and how many more times would I get to experience this feeling at one time but then served as a cruel reminder that it would not happen again.  These days, though, it makes me think of how I should not busy myself to keep the grief at bay and to sit in the confidence that God knows what he's doing with my family and my life.  However, I was mistaken...I think today's sign reminder was for something else.  I pointed the sign out to my Mom for we were both thinking ahead about going home to an empty house that would not have Dad there for the first time.  A few minutes after bypassing that sign, we found ourselves sitting at a red light right outside the hospital Dad had stayed in for nine days prior to his coming home for the last time.  I forced myself to look at the hospital and to try to think of Dad being in that building so close to the end of his earthly time here with us.  It was strange to look at a building I had never been in and to think that he spent so much of his last days there...away from us.  Lisa's voice broke through my reverie (the podcast was still on) when she cited Song of Songs (Ch. 4) about love and a garden.  She made the analogy of usually having access to the garden but sometimes we don't have access to it.  Hearing this analogy made me think of how any other time, folks can enter hospitals but nowadays they can't due to the virus which reminded me of those long agonizing nine days we were all separated from him.  Additionally, I couldn't help but think of how Mom and Dad have always been there for us.  They've always been accessible.  Now my Mom and brothers, and others who loved Dad, and I are unable to physically access him anymore.  Like the garden in the scripture, we don't have access to him anymore when we used to...but I also like to think of it this way.  He is in the ultimate of gardens in Paradise!  We don't have access to Heaven but I pray Dad does and that we'll all be reunited someday!  I was so thankful to hear that piece of scripture via Lisa at that exact moment we were driving by the hospital.  All the pausing and playing throughout the day's road trip lead to that very moment of her speaking those words about having access and not having access at the very spot where we were denied access when Dad was in the hospital prior to his death.

The light turned green, we took a deep breath, and we pressed forward up the mountain as we continued homeward.  Be still and still and's going to be okay.

Mom drawing in a gasp interrupted this little mantra going through my head on autopilot a few minutes later.  Immediately, I knew why she reacted the way she did.  An ambulance from the next town over had just passed us out on the highway...which happened to be the same ambulance company on the exact same route that Dad had taken from the hospital to our house that last drive up the mountain for him.  Be still and still and know....even when missing someone so still and know God is in control and knows what He's doing....down to every little detail like speaking through Lisa on a podcast that aired in January or having the ambulance ride side by side with us as we rode up 61.  It felt like the ambulance appearing at that moment was symbolic of Dad riding with us as we approached the home he and Mom built for the first time without him.

Later, when reflecting on these things in prayer, I wanted to learn more about St. Luke as this is what the name of the hospital is.  He is known as St. Luke the Evangelist and is the patron saint of artists, physicians (that makes sense on the hospital end, then!), bachelors, surgeons (ah!), students, and butchers (yikes!).  I also learned that the name Luke means:  light giving.  Isn't that so reassuring?  Something we heard from a family friend who is a doctor during the last days was to leave the light on for Dad during the night especially during the agitation.  I was surprised to learn that even though Dad's eyes were closed, and he seemed unresponsive to us, that it is suggested to leave the light on to bring comfort to the dying.  As we all took turns holding vigil, we all left the small bedside lamp on for him giving him light.  Then, in thinking about these last few days with Dad, staring at where his bed had been and up at the now turned off lamp, the thought crossed my mind that I hadn't taken the time to see from his vantage point what the view must have been like.

Charlotte often played on the pink rug in the living room.  I remember sitting on the floor with her and positioning myself so that I could see the both of them at the same time:  Dad smiling from the bedroom out at her while she busily played with the Little People or built roads and navigated the toy cars on the roads.  He even tried to wave a few times at her from inside his room when he was too weak to get out of the bed.  However, what I love about this view is that he could see all eight of his grandchildren up on the mantle.  They brought HIM so much light and joy!  How neat that when he looked out he could see their smiling faces!  Now, when I look at this view, I see the fireplace reminding me of the need to give off light and Dad's shadow box of his Air Force medals and flag that is beneath his grandchildren...even in death, he is lifting them up and not far from them.  I hope they always remember Grandpa/Pappy/Papa.

Dad leaves behind a huge void and it's easy to get sucked up in the blackness but he wouldn't want us wandering around in the dark.  St. Luke reminds us to be pinpricks of light.  As my brothers and I gather around Mom yet again during these days of being reunited at home, I like to think of the little bobbing lights getting stronger and stronger as we flicker in unity. 

The biggest flame is missing but God is sustaining us and allowing our small flames to still give off heat and light.  Just like for the companions on the journey and on the road to Emmaus - - it's different.  It's not the same - - but we're still burning with love.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Finding a Way

The other night before I set out to go see my mom and little brother, Dad was in my dream.  We were at a family gathering and attempting to take a big group picture.  As is usual, it was a bit of mayhem and chaos trying to coordinate and figure out who would go where and was everyone looking at the camera.  I was hanging back a little bit watching the scene unfold and was amazed to see Dad light on his feet and joking around...I turned to my Mom who was by my side and said, "Wait a second, Dad's here?!" to her.  She was as shocked as I was and we both kept shaking our heads in disbelief.  Then, Dad ran a circle around the group, jumped up in the air and kicked his feet, then snuck back in for the picture.  He was full of mischief with a huge grin on his face and a twinkle in his eye.  I sputtered out, "But wait, he's standing without any help, he just jumped up, look how fast he's moving!" while Mom stood there with her mouth hanging open...then in walked some family members and friends who had not been able to come to the funeral.  No one was wearing masks and six feet definitely did not separate individuals.  I walked around asking, "Where is your mask?  Aren't you afraid you're going to get sick?  What are you doing here?!" to which folks responded saying, "The virus is gone and your Dad got better!  We still came anyway because we wanted to celebrate."  The party wasn't for a celebration of a life after a funeral as it was a celebration of a life and celebrating that Dad was healed!

As that realization sunk in during my dream, I cautiously allowed myself to go back to the picture group and slipped inside for the picture.  Dad threw an arm around me and beamed a smile at me.  Immediately, the dream shifted and my brothers, Mom, and I were all around the bed by Dad.  He was still energetic and talking with us but was sitting up in his bed.  Immediately, some of the joy from the picture scene of the dream turned to anxiety as I recognized the scene but was confused as to why he was so energetic in that bed compared to how he was the last time I saw him on that piece of furniture.  I forced myself to stay in the present moment and pushed the worry and anxious thoughts aside.  As this part of the dream came into focus, I realized that he was saying bye to each of us with special messages for each brother.  He grabbed each face and looked us in the eye as he said whatever it was that was being said.

With each goodbye, the emotion built up as if we were all ascending a mountain together as a family.  Dad was at the bottom lifting each of us and Mom was perched atop our hands.  As we got closer to the top, Dad slipped further and further behind not holding as much weight as my brothers bore the weight more...eventually, as we made it to the top, Mom and I were at the front of the pack with my three brothers standing tall and strong around us in a protective arc.  This was so interesting in the dream as this scene played out side by side next to the bed scene.  I was acutely aware of both scenes side by side during the dream but forced myself to stay more in the scene with my Dad for my turn to hear from him.  He placed his hands on my shoulders and pulled me in for a big bear hug.  He was sad but I could detect a glimpse of joy in him.  It was as if he knew what was next and where he was going.  It felt like he was going on a trip but he wanted to say one more goodbye before getting on the road.  I wondered what he might say when it was my turn and pulled back from the hug so I could see his lips as he spoke.  He simply said, "I love you, Schmeggly Annie", then I woke up...left reeling and feeling as if I had just had a hug from him.

I couldn't sleep the rest of the night as I thought about how different this scene in the dream was from what had actually happened on April 17th. 

I tried so hard to get him to say, "I love you" one more time in the last hours.  So much so that my brothers and Mom laughed when the last couple of times I said, "Dad, we love you", that he said, "Oh, stoooop!" during one of his restless agitated episodes.  We knew he didn't mean it but it was funny in the moment the way he said it like a toddler who wants to have a tantrum when the parent is trying to calm the child down (don't ask me how I know about that sort of thing).  ;) 

As I mulled over what could the last words have been for each of my brothers in the dream vs. what seemed to be so much shorter when he spoke to me, I realized that my dream was playing out what I had hoped would be closure for Dad or dare I say for us as we work to process through everything that happened two weeks ago.

This is when the rainbow was still pretty far away but we got pretty close to it after a while!

Later, as I drove to Delaware, I pulled off on some random road in Maryland when Charlotte needed to use the restroom.  A small red (Dad's favorite color) cardinal was sitting on the side of the road watching the cars at the foot of a rainbow Charlotte and I had been following for quite some time.  Dad and I had spent a good bit of time looking at the cardinals outside his bedside window in the weeks leading up to April 17th and I had just explained to Charlotte in the car that rainbows are a symbol or promise from God that everything is going to be okay.

Everything is going to be okay.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Trying to Do It All

But we can’t actually do it all. No one can take care of kids full time and work full time. The kids need to come first. So now is a good time to lower your expectations, hold your kids close, and take care of yourself. Do the work that matters most to you, and that will make the most difference to your students, your colleagues, and your fields. It’s not about quantity. Getting one main work task done each day is plenty (and some days even that may seem impossible).

No one knows how long this is going to last, and, in many ways, that lack of certainty goes against the training, goal setting, and planning that have helped us get where we are in our academic careers. As academics we are used to applying for grants and planning research and conference trips months and months in advance. But it’s helped to let go of that need for long-term planning and thinking, and instead to focus on what is immediately in front of us and what needs to be done to move forward to tomorrow.

The above are the last two paragraphs from this article my sister-in-law sent me tonight. She works in higher education as well. These last couple of weeks we have been trading stories about trying to juggle it all as moms of littles while working in academia.

This article helps me to see why the struggle is so real. Professionally, I am hard wired to have many different plans in motion through the research, teaching, and service arenas yet all that has come to a grinding halt or significantly slowed due to the virus. Throw in the changes in my personal life as well and everything has gone haywire. Yet, being busy keeps the tears at bay. When is too much too much though?

Yet again the term, intentionality, comes to mind...the authors in the article say to let go and do what matters the most to you....which leads to the juxtaposition of momming and teaching - - two roles I love and was born to do!

An unexpected silver lining during these days of teaching four full classes online, advising remotely, and attempting to research, I haven't had the chance to be sad over being unable to bear more children. My mind can't help but be grateful that all the struggle with balancing is for one child rather than having to try to meet the needs of more than one at the moment. Four years, one month, and 22 days of the almost constant ache of secondary infertility has dulled during this time of COVID-19. Or perhaps the fresh pain of not having the physical presence of my Dad is overshadowing it. Guess time will tell but if I am being honest, I suppose I need to be thankful for the virus pushing me further on to acceptance and perhaps peace of being a family of three.

In spite of having a smaller family, the struggle of trying to get it all done each day is so... well, large! Yesterday, I literally had to resort to setting the timer for 15 minutes to do some grading then set it for 10 minutes to play with Charlotte before repeating the cycle again. She saw it as a game but I felt guilt and like I couldn't fully devote my attention to both tasks at hand thereby cheating both Charlotte and my students of my full self.

Be fully teacher.

Be fully mommy.

Grade that paragraph with the run-on sentences.

"Stick the My Little Pony in the dollhouse over there, Mommy."

"Can you help me with advising? Should I change my grade to pass/fail or do you think my GPA will survive a C?"

Clean the spilled milk from the smiley face cup as the dogs try to lap it up by my feet.

Fix the exam that didn't auto-release & send out emergency announcement and emails to calm the panicked students.

Color on the back porch with surprise rainbow crayons.

"Thanks for an incredible semester and for teaching me about this great performance-based assessment, Dr. R!"

"I love you, Mommy! That tickles!!!" before dissolving into a puddle of giggles in my bear hug.

I call that a win and lay my head down to sleep to try to balance all over again tomorrow.