Sunday, September 30, 2012

An update (on a downdate).

I have been back in California for two days, and I am still exhausted, in almost every single way that a person could be exhausted: mentally, spiritually, emotionally, physically, etcetera. I also bore my testimony at church today, which I wasn't expecting. But, that may have been because I wasn't expecting it to be Fast and Testimony Meeting. I forgot that next week is October, and hence General Conference, as well as the fact that that can expedite an opportunity.

There was a baby blessed today, and afterward my heart started doing that pitter patter thing, where you know you are going to get up, even though you don't know what you are going to say. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I shared my sentiments on birth and death, and then even less surprisingly, I started to cry, and then I sat down and cried harder. I couldn't stop, for what felt like a long time. At least until the end of the meeting. A friend of mine, sitting in front of me, turned around to give me a package of kleenex. It was a small gesture in such a time, but it was a gesture, and I was grateful. Strangers were kind to me after, which I guess is one of the reasons we sometimes say something out loud in church. Or maybe it is just why I do, and on a day like today, when I needed kindness.

The services for Spencer's mother happened on Wednesday (which happened to be Yom Kippur, the Day of Holiness or Atonement). They were I think, just what she wanted, that is: simple and based largely on the Savior. One of her brother's spoke, the other sang, and her sister read the eulogy. Each of her children also spoke briefly, as well as her husband. Everyone's remarks were sweet and brave. Her grandchildren are mostly small, but they sang "I am a child of God," and one of my little nephews blew me a kiss during it, after I blew one to him. (Which means that maybe I shouldn't have done that, but it warmed my heart.)

There was a viewing the night before, and that is where I cried the most, aside from the night of the actual passing, or the days preceding it, when we knew it was immanent. What made me cry so hard? A conversation with one of Spencer's closest friends, wherein he asked me how Spencer was really doing, because he wanted to know, and also understood that most people in Spencer's situation just nod and say that they are fine, when they are really not fine. I was grateful that someone was that caring towards my husband in one of his greatest times of need.

The other moment of vast tears was when I noticed a bouquet of flowers that was not like the rest. It was vibrant and beautiful, but made out of some material, rather than living leaves and buds. I soon found out that it was from her students, and that each flower contained a note written in a unique child's hand. I started to read them, and there was no way that I could not cry. One child expressed gratitude to Mrs. Steenblik for teaching her how to read and write, another for teaching him how to speak English, still another for teaching her her multiplication. Each child mentioned Janice's smile and kindness. Many mentioned specific moments when she showed her smile or kindness to them. Many more told her that she was the best teacher that they had ever had, and that they missed her.

Sometime later I noticed a woman in line to pay her respects, that I recognized. She was the teacher who subbed for Janice, when she was on her 6 months of sick leave. I met her because the very first day that Janice had to return to work she was still sick, and exhausted, and nervous, so Spencer and I accompanied her, and helped her teach for part of the day. The teacher was so kind then, so I greeted her now. She was hired full time and teaching the next grade up, meaning the same students Janice had last year. She had them make the flowers, and told me that they needed it for themselves, they were so distraught. One of the students, a girl, was standing in front of her with her dad. At class that day she begged her teacher to bring her, and convinced her father instead. She wanted to be there. I watched as this little girl looked at the body of her former teacher, and could not help but feel for her and with her.

Many others gathered together that day and the next to show love, and also to mourn with many others who were mourning, as well as to rejoice in Janice's life.

In picture form:

Love notes from children.

Love notes to each other.

Post-crying eyes.

Pretty flowers designed by S's oldest sister, Aunika.

In peace.


Maybe this is my child's namesake.

Nephews x 2.

Nice niece.

I'll fly away, oh glory.

Farewell car ride.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A time to mourn.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: 
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; 
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stone, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace. -Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
For ones I love, these days are mourning days. And weeping days. And laughing days. And loving days. And embracing days. And sometimes dancing days. And for one among us, today was a dying day.

The one was Spencer's mother, Janice, who passed away this morning, at 2:00 am, after a year of mornings, and afternoons, and evenings of battling cancer. Spencer was with her, holding her, as were nearly all of his siblings. I had slipped downstairs five minutes before to read about Zion, but bounded back up when Spencer called my name.

His mama's breath was no longer labored; it was no longer breath. Before or after, her strong heart beats beating in her strong heart quieted, until they too were silent. Everyone hugged each other for a long time, gently weeping. This passing was expected, but still painful. Despite that, it was still peaceful. So very peaceful.

Throughout this hard but tender week, I have frequently found myself thinking, "Death is holy. It is sacred. Mourning is sacred." It was sacred to watch Spencer's sisters flutter around their mother, administering care with a combination of grace, gentleness, and skill. It was sacred to sit beside Spencer as he sat beside the woman who bore him, who is his exemplar in almost all things. It was sacred to hear him speak to her, and tell her firmly that he will see her everywhere: in his sisters, in himself, in his father, in his next building, etc.

It was equally sacred to hear him tell her that, he "will remember her, okay?" because remembering those who have died is one of the purest works of love that we can give. (If you don't believe me, just ask Kierkegaard.) It was sacred for me to spend yesterday morning dancing with Spencer and our baby nephew across the living room, before spending the afternoon cleaning it. It was sacred to see Spencer's maternal uncle enter the home earlier in the week with the purpose of making every meal, so his younger sister's family would be both nourished and free to spend their time with their beloved matriarch. It was sacred to weep and pray and sing when there was nothing else to be done. When stories were told, it became sacred to laugh.

Again, death itself, is sacred. I believe this, because I believe that birth and death are the opposite sides of the same coin, and that that coin is life, or "the plan of salvation," or whatever you want to call it. Part of me wondered this week if heaven's words for death and birth might be reversed. I can picture spirits in heaven mourning the loss of one they love, prior to that individual's birth into our world, as we mourn the loss of them after they return to theirs. Regardless, I am glad that there is always rejoicing, on at least one side, and that Janice's deceased loved ones can welcome her back again in a new birth.

I also thought of my favorite story, with the Little Prince I love so much. When it was time for the small prince to return to his rose, on a planet, on a star far away, he asked the aviator narrator not to come, saying, "I shall look as if I were suffering. I shall look a little as if I were dying. It is like that. Do not come to see that. It is not worth the trouble..." His friend could only repeat: "I shall not leave you. I shall not leave you." He did indeed, come anyway. At that new moment, the Little Prince said, "It was wrong of you to come. You will suffer. I shall look as if I were dead; and that will not be true..." When his friend said nothing, he continued, "You is too far. I cannot carry this body with me. It is too heavy." When again nothing, "But it will be like an old abandoned shell. There is nothing sad about old shells..."

And there isn't. (Or there is, but it is still okay.) What looks like dying isn't always dying. Or it isn't always permanent dying. It wasn't when Christ was crucified, and it isn't for us.

The veil between earth and heaven is so thin. I can feel its thinness.

This is the way I remember her best:

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Today I visited a doctor, which is something I do not do very often. I visited him for a few reasons. 1. Because I have had a near constant sore throat for the last two years. 2. Because I have had a more severe sore throat, nose issues, and cough that I cannot kick for the last three or so weeks. 3. Because I promised my mom I would.

I described my symptoms (including length of symptoms) as best I could, and he ran some tests, which largely consisted of looking in my ears, nose, and mouth, listening to my hoarse voice and cough and heart, and asking me to do various breathing exercises while placing a device on equally various parts of my back (I think to measure my lungs?).

He ruled out bronchitis. And allergies (which I suspected 1 was). And a few other things. And then told me what he thinks it is, and it is something I would have never guessed: HEARTBURN. I was so skeptical of his diagnosis that the first thing I did when I left his office was google the symptoms of heart burn. And sure enough, chronic sore throat and cough are among them. And there is a type of heart burn that predominantly strikes at night, leaving the poor sufferer to wake up with a sore throat in the morning. Which has been my fate for much, much, much of my last few weeks, and months, and years. It is something about the lying down flat combined with gravity that makes the stomach acid not stay where stomach acid is supposed to stay.

My one concern now is that I went in while I actually do have a more real (i.e., traditional) sore throat, because I am pretty sure that he entirely ignored that aspect, or the fact that as part of this particular multi-week bout, I had also had a very runny nose. Now I think that he may have conflated my hoarser than usual voice and more constant than usual cough as the very long term sore throat issue, when really I need help with both.

The bummer news of the heartburn news is that apparently lots of foods that I like and believed to be healthy (tomatoes, onions, garlic, citrus fruits, chocolate, etc., etc.) make heartburn worse. :( What ever will I do?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Spencer's thesis is making me tired.

More tired than I can say. I am thanking the heavens that it will be over in a few short hours.

Monday, September 3, 2012

A tiny bit of fall, and a big decision.

There are still summer temperatures here, but there are fall smells of ginger carrot soup wafting in from my kitchen. Why? Because despite the summer temperatures and summer season that does not quite want to let go, I am still sick sick sick, so soup (as well as sleep and the ability to breathe) happens to sound, and smell delicious.

I am back to school tomorrow after a whirlwind summer. But it is not as simple as it sounds, and not only for the sickness. Spencer graduates in exactly 6 days, and will be headed to Salt Lake City after that to work and be by his (much-much-more-sick-than-me) mama. I am having trouble deciding whether I should stay California and school as planned, or be Utah/family/break-time too.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

On sickness.

The worst part of being sick is that you're sick.

The best part of being sick is that you may* lay in bed all day, watching Downton Abbey, drinking Naked juice, and eating tomato soup.

*If you are very lucky. And three days away from going back to school.