Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A birthday

I wrote this a few days ago and am just getting around to posting it.

Grief is strange how it can hit you unexpectedly and also be kind of predictable, too.  I knew Alisa's birthday would be hard.  All week I've been obsessed with her--everything reminds me of her.  Every song on the radio seems to be about her, everything she ever gave me (which is a lot!) screams out to me and no matter what the weather is, it reminds me of times spent together.  What is my deal?!

One snowy morning last week, I was driving along and Coldplay's Paradise came on.  It took me back to a Sunday four years ago.  Alisa had just found out that her cancer was stage IV.  It was in her bones and liver and she was starting to have pain.  She called me as I was getting ready for church and said, "Do you want to skip church and drive up to Paradise with me today?"  (Paradise is the small town where we spent out childhood.)  Of course I said "yes," because suddenly there wasn't anything else in the world I would rather do. 

She picked me up and we had a great drive.  It had just snowed and bright sunshine was reflecting everywhere.  We talked about many things--her thoughts on dying and what would happen to her kids.  I treasure those conversations.  Along the drive somewhere, she told me that she had called our brother, Jon, who lives in Idaho, and invited him to meet us.  I thought, of course, Paradise is our town.  We were the ones old enough to remember it well.  But then it came out that she had some ulterior motives for inviting him.  She was almost embarrassed to tell me that she was having him bring his camera equipment and was going to have him film her "last run."  She wanted to run up a hill that our house faced.  She had always wanted to know what was on the other side.  And she wanted to make a music video to one of her favorite songs, Paradise.    

So that is what we did that day, and it was so fun, such a great memory.  A few days later we were at Target and I found her just staring at a big picture of a woman running in the athletic wear department.  She couldn't take her eyes off it.  "Sonja, look.  She's running.  Does she even know how lucky she is?"  She tried to look at the clothes we came for, but kept looking up at the picture.  "I just can't get over this picture.  See how she is smiling? It seems like she doesn't have a care in the world." 

The good news is that Alisa had many more runs after that day in Paradise.  The bad news is that she isn't around to protest me posting this video to the world.  



Last night Alisa's husband and her best friend threw a small party in honor of her birthday.  My parents couldn't be there but wanted to see pictures, and I'm sure a few of you would love to peek in as well.  Alisa and I used to marvel at Stephanie's decorating skills and thoughtful gifts and it was so fun to get a glimpse of  what a love for Alisa plus some serious talent can come up with (with a week's notice).   We did a balloon launch at the end and I thought about what I wanted to write on my balloon, one sentiment overwhelmed me,  "Alisa, I'm so happy you were born."  

I walked in and this is what I saw:  her bike with flowers and a copy of Anne of Green Gables in the basket.  I was so touched that anyone would love my sister enough to make this kind of effort.  Steph!  You are a wonder! 

A peek at the tables and a banner by Stephanie.

We all brought a few things that reminded us of Alisa.

Me with my sisters and Stephanie.

 
Getting the balloons ready.



Friday, December 25, 2015

A merry Christmas

I'm all mixed up with emotion today.  I went walking with my dog after today's beautiful snow storm and somehow the air cleared my head, but after coming home, it's jumbled up again.  I've thought a lot about this past year and the hard things it has brought, as well as the great things.  The first half of the year, I said goodbye to my sister.  As the year began, I held out hope that she would live, but soon I had to accept that my life would have to go on without her.  Since she passed away in May, I've been figuring out how to do that.   I've been okay, but there is no doubt that everything I do is a little harder, like walking through deep snow.  

But as the year has advanced, things have gotten a little easier and I'm feeling more like myself.  Still, I admit that the holidays have been hard.  If you hadn't heard, my parents moved to Germany in August.  To go through this month without my sister and without my parents has been rough.  Little things will trigger huge feelings of loneliness and loss.  On top of that, I've been stressed with all the holiday preparations, feeling like there is never enough time or money to do everything I want to do. I admit I've done my fair share of yelling at my kids.  Addie even told me that I was probably on the naughty list for being so mad all the time.    

But there is also something about Christmas that can melt even my grinchy heart when I let it.  And even when I don't, some kind act will force me to face the joy that comes from the selflessness of the spirit of Christmas.  That happened to me yesterday.  We were the recipients of a generous secret Santa gift.  It was so generous that it has me believing in Santa for what is probably the first time in my life.  When I think about the kindness that was shown to us yesterday and throughout the past few years, I am blown away.  I cannot believe the generosity that surrounds me.  I am humbled and grateful and hopeful that someday I can bless others as others have blessed me.

We got another great Christmas present this month.  Steven had scans a few weeks ago and there was no sign of cancer.  It's great news for him and for all of us.  It has been four years since he finished his treatment, and he will go to yearly chest xrays now, rather than CT scans.  I asked the doctor, "Why not scans, and why not wait until it's been five years out from treatment?"  She said that once patients reach four years out, the cancer is very unlikely to return and that the difference between the four and five year recurrences is negligible.   It is wonderful news.  It means a full year can pass and we can put this behind us.  It means his chance of survival has gone up.  It means we will have less medical bills and less doctors appointments.  It means we are starting a whole new chapter of our cancer story.

And so, as this year ends, I find myself full of hope.  I feel that next year will be a year of recovery and renewal.  I may not ever be quite the same person that I used to be, but I hope that I can find some of the energy and joy I've lost.  I owe this hope to so many people all around who lift and care for me and my family.  But mostly I owe this hope to my Savior, Jesus Christ, whose example and teachings have taught us to love and whose sacrifice gives me hope of eternal life.  

Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Hail, the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail, the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wings.

Merry Christmas!



Addie and her cousin in our nativity play this year.

A few snapshots from December. 



Sunday, October 18, 2015

Fall break

Last weekend, we took a little trip to Bryce and Zion National Parks.  Because Josh has some other long vacations planned, he couldn't take off work, so we brought his boys along.  I'm so glad he let us.  One of Alisa's requests for me was to take her boys on adventures.  I know her ideas of "adventures" are probably way more exciting than mine, but I think she mostly wanted her boys enjoying nature as much as possible.

I often think about how fortunate we were to have our families so close together.  Between the two of us, we had 7 kids in 8 years.  So while Rob and I got a few looks and comments about our large "family,"  cousins make things much more fun.  The boys cracked jokes and kept a good attitude the whole time.  We had a fun trip.  I missed Alisa, but I also loved being around her boys.  I don't get to see them as much in the school year because we are just far enough away and have just enough activities that make it hard.  The kids could hang out all day and all night and still get along.  What a lucky thing to have close cousins.

Steven is doing great, by the way.  I know I've blogged more about Alisa lately than anything, but I wanted to make sure any followers know how Steven is really thriving.  He led the way on most of our hikes and I truly had to push myself to keep up.  He has always had a thing about being first, from the time he was little.  It was annoying to Andrew when they were little.  Then cancer hit and Steven was on crutches and was dead last.  It wasn't long until he was the first in the walking queue again, and he works hard to stay there.  

Here are a few pictures from the weekend.  I realized that my kids had my camera most of the time, so while I have a ton of pictures from our trip, not as many are blog worthy as I thought :).  

Bryce Canyon.  Photo credit: Addie

All the kids in Bryce Canyon.  As one person passing our gang put it to her friend, "Everyone here has like a thousand kids."  I smiled and (sort of) wished it were true.  Who wouldn't want a thousand of these cuties?
An example of this first in line thing Steven has going.



Wall Street at Bryce
Hiking at Zions.  This was my view most of the weekend. Lovely.
We rounded a bend and found this tarantula on our hike.  Just a Halloween touch.
One of my favorite hikes was the Narrows.  We didn't make it very far, especially the younger kids.  But the older boys and I went on a bit.  This is on my list for our next trip.

But a water hike for Steven means some extra water.  Whenever we'd get to a bank,
he'd lift up his foot and pour out a cup of water.  


I just can't get enough of these cliffs.  



Thursday, August 20, 2015

Don't be mad

I'm feeling completely overwhelmed tonight.   I was lump-like on the couch looking at the mess surrounding me and I felt like I needed to escape to stay sane.   I headed to the cemetery and  walked around in the twilight,  feeling like a miserable failure.  I was angry at myself that I couldn't muster more energy, I heard Alisa's voice tell me, "Don't be mad at yourself, Sonja." 

It struck me again what a gift her last words to me were.  I don't think I've written down yet the story of her last words to me.  I say "last words" a little loosely, as we had a conversation about many things on that last day she was conscious.  She asked me to write her obituary and to help Josh pick a headstone.  She told me that she wanted a plain headstone with nothing on it "Not even my name."  She was not entirely herself that day and some of the things she said she weren't quite right.

Her friend, Jennie, had texted me and told me that I should come see Alisa that day, that she was slipping away fast.  She said that she had been with her for a couple of hours and only a few things she said were really appropriate for the context.  So I made arrangements and went down.  I'm so glad I did.

As I drove, I considered what I wanted to tell her.  Josh was in the room and he got to hear it too.  I wanted her to know how much she has meant to me in my life and how much I truly love her.  I told her so and told her how sad I was that it had taken cancer for me to stop being jealous of her.   I had written her a long letter about it, thanking her for loving me no matter what and for helping me with so much throughout my life.  After I started telling her some of these things in the same spirit as the letter, she told me she had read it.   I can't remember what else she said, but then she said, "Sonja, don't be mad at yourself." Then in a bossy tone, "Josh, don't let Sonja be mad at herself."  Josh and I both laughed and Josh assured her that he wouldn't.  It seemed like a strange comment in the context--a bit of the delirium of someone whose mind was failing.

But it stayed in my mind and I wondered about it as I drove home that night.  The next day I was going down again and was picking up my sister, Kirsten, so she could go see Alisa.  I was late getting out the door and knew I'd have to almost turn right back around to pick up kids from school.  As I was backing out of my driveway, I was cursing my perpetual tardiness and I heard myself say, "I'm so mad at myself!"  As I said it, I realized that it is a phrase that often passes through my mind.  And then just as strong, I heard Alisa's command, "Sonja, don't be mad at yourself."

Many times in the past few months, I've caught myself getting angry at my weaknesses.  And many times I hear her last advice to me.  I can't tell you what a powerful gift they are.  She knew me so well--maybe better than I know myself.   By the end of her life, Alisa had such a beautiful and merciful life perspective.  I think she understood that negativity was wasted energy and time and just did her best and left it at that.   And so with her words and her example, I plan to remember that just like everyone else, I am doing my best.   And while I can certainly strive for better, being angry at myself wont help.

 
My beautiful sister on her 35th birthday

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A trip to Lava Hot Springs

Several years back, Alisa had this fun idea to have an "originals" day trip to Lava Hot Springs.  So my siblings and parents (without spouses or kids) all met in Idaho.  It was so much fun.  I have so many siblings and we are spread out enough that our parents used to take us on separate vacations.  We think that this was the first and only vacation that was with all of us and only us.  

It was such a fun memory.  Alisa and I often talked about doing it again with our kids some summer day.  But it seemed like there was always something else (like cancer treatments) holding us back.  

One day in July I suddenly had the thought that we should make that trip happen for Alisa and her boys.  I almost felt like she had whispered the idea in my ear.  So I set a date and made plans.  And we did it!  It was a rainy day, but the hot springs make all the water warmer so it was really fun and not crowded at all.  We all pushed past some fears and were brave like she was.  Josh jumped off all the platforms and I went down the big slides.  Luke braved the river.  It was just a great thing.  I felt like she was bringing us together. 

Here are some pictures from both trips.


The ride up--not a flattering picture of me, but I can't help but smile when I see it anyway.
All of us
She was a brave one!

Steven and James down the river.

Out of fifteen pictures of us on the river, this is the only one I don't look absolutely terrified in!  And you can't see it, but we have Steven's leg in the middle of our tube.
Tubing the river is my favorite thing there--and it's the only thing we took pictures of.  Don't miss it if you go to Lava.





Sunday, July 19, 2015

2 months

It's been two months today since Alisa's death.  I still have moments where the reality of it hits me hard.  The other day I felt I had a glimpse of many decades left of my life, all without her.  It took my breath away.  But mostly I can move forward (slowly) and go on with life.  I know I need to spend more time processing and grieving her loss, but I find that life has a way of pulling me along in it's swift current.

I've been wanted to post a few pictures from the graveside of Alisa's funeral.  I know we didn't take enough pictures--she was the picture person in the family, and I know we didn't fully capture the full depth of loss or the love that so many showed for her and her family.  I know there are many of you who weren't able to be at the funeral and more that weren't at the graveside service, so here are a few pictures to help you visualize that day and to remember her.  




  








Sunday, July 12, 2015

Much needed good news



Steven had scans on Friday and thankfully, they were normal.  As you can see from the picture, the new scanner has a pirate themed makeover.  As we sat there listening to the machine tell Steven when to breath and when to stop breathing,  I couldn't help but think of an amusement park ride and how much scarier this is than anything you could strap me into there.  

But in all seriousness, the weeks leading up to Friday have been tough.  I've known anxiety in the past, but this was getting a little out of hand.  If I wasn't careful, my mind would project a dismal future where Steven and I both had cancer, Rob lost his job, we went bankrupt, divorced and I was in a straight jacket in an institution.  Once Rob told me that thoughts like that were the opposite of praying.  I've thought a lot about that and so I started praying instead.

The night before the scans, I knelt in prayer and as I was telling God that I really missed Alisa and how much I needed to talk to her about my fears, I was filled with a peace and distinct feeling that she would be with me at the hospital the next day.   I slept well and woke up the next morning relatively calm (at least compared to the rest of the last week!).  I was able to calmly go to all the appointments and was so happy and relieved to hear the good news that his lungs look clear and his blood work is normal.    And truly I felt like Alisa was there to celebrate with me. 

Cancer fear was something that she totally understood and she was the person I would call as scans approached and anxiety would creep into my mind.  She could always talk me down from my crazy place.   Someone asked me what her trick was, and I'm not sure if I can put a finger on it.  She knew all the relevant statistics and had a good grasp of the reality of cancer.  But at the same time, she saw the hope in the percentage of people of who survived or responded to treatment.  She had lots of hope for the future of cancer research and always felt like if she just had more time, they would figure out a cure.  In Steven's case, she saw only hope because his prognosis is so much better than hers was.  Plus, she felt sure that if his did come back, the cure was just around the corner for him.  I think her trick was just that she understood and acknowledged my fears, but then quickly changed the focus of our conversations to all the reasons to hope.

There is a whole lot of hope for Steven.   He has been out of treatment now for 3 1/2 years and the doctors feel like he is past the time where the cancer is most likely to come back.  They will do a scan in December and if all looks good, we will discuss moving to annual chest xrays instead of the scans.   Xrays are less detailed, but they also emit less radiation.   Moving to an xray is just another vote of confidence that the cancer is gone for good.

By the way, Steven is doing really well.  We've spent a lot of time this summer in appointments with doctors, orthodontists, audiologists, and prosthetists.   They've made him a new leg, but that took two tries, because the first didn't fit right.  He's still kind of figuring out the leg he has--with some adjustments, it is better, but there are still moments when his walk isn't quite right.  He and his friend started a small lawn mowing business.  He is spending lots of time with my parents and the Linton boys.  

Here is a little video clip of Steven at the swimming pool.  This wasn't his best flip, but it was the only one I captured.  My friend thought I should put it on the blog--he certainly gets a lot of interested looks when we are at the pool.