Monday, June 27, 2016

Some pictures

My sisters helped me take some pictures last night and I mentioned I wanted to post some pictures showing Steven taller than me, so here we go.  I forget because I see him everyday how much he is growing, but then we'll see an old friend who is blown away by how much he's grown in the past few years.

After losing my sister and father-in-law, I've been keenly aware of how important it is to take pictures.  And then I learned another hard lesson--you need to back them up.  A month or so ago, our hard drive crashed and most of our pictures and videos were lost.  I mainly have anything I've ever put on a blog or printed off.  We still have some hope to recover them, but there is no guarantee it will happen.  So BACK UP YOUR PICTURES!  Just a little reminder.

Summer is going well here--nothing major to report.  My kids are growing up fast and every day flies by.  I continue to work on enjoying the moment.  

Thursday, May 19, 2016


I've started 20 blog posts in the past few months.  I've got a backlog of them: from Steven's new leg, to soccer videos, to wedding pictures and thoughts on that, to a picture of Steven taller than me, and even some thoughts on being five years out from Steven's diagnosis and surgery.  I feel like bragging about the many great things Steven is doing, and showing off his successes from my little blog.  I've had thoughts on my father-in-law's passing and the grief my kids seem destined to know from a young age.  My heart is really so full, I'm sorry I've been so silent.  There is so much good going on in our lives, we truly have so much to be grateful for.

But I will post today because it has been a year since Alisa passed away.   So much has happened in that time, it feels so unreal that it has only been a year, and yet it feels like a lifetime for how much I've missed her.

I have had so many moments where the only thing that feels right is to call her up and ask how things are going.  I've had day dreams (and actual dreams) of doing that--if I don't have exact conversations memorized, at least I know what she would say.   I seem to know how she would respond to a question or problem.

I'm not sure all of my blog readers know that her husband, Josh, got remarried in March.  His new wife is lovely and so much good will come of their marriage.  But there has been a lot of change as they start their new life together.  On the day of their wedding, I felt such polar feelings of happiness and loss.  I kept going back to the day Josh called to tell me he was dating her.  As he described her situation and how they met, I had a very distinct feeling that Alisa had a hand in picking Katie for Josh and her boys.   But even still, it has not been easy.  Alisa often spoke about how sadness and happiness could happen simultaneously, and this has been an example of that for me.

My sisters and Josh's mom have been helping pack up the house and today I just felt I needed to be there, to kind of say some last goodbyes to the places and things that are so full of memories.

I was boxing up some journals and scrapbooks and I took a peek.  It took me back to the Alisa I knew when we were little who would defend all animals and love all her friends.  I remembered the fun times she had in college and her faithful letters to Josh when he was on his mission.  I read some of the love notes from her kids and some of the love notes to her kids.  I found notes on her cancer research and letters from her adoring friends.

My favorite find was a little notebook full of ideas, I believe for a book she wanted to write.  It's a very loose compilation with ideas she's gathered from life.  One thought that struck me was under the subtitle "Cancer."  She wrote, "Your heart has to break first, in order for it to be opened."

It's hard for me to tell if my heart has been opened yet, but I know for sure it has been broken.

I miss Alisa every day.  I know I'm not alone.  Her grave today was covered in flowers and my phone has been lit up with texts from her friends expressing their love for her and their thoughts of me.   I very much look forward to the day I will see her again.  Until then, I hope I can live a life half so brilliant as hers was. The brightness of her life still shines into mine, and I know it will forever.

I love you Alisa!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

A beautiful life

Saturday morning we got a devastating call from Rob's mom:  his dad had passed away in the night.  They were in California, had spent a lovely week at Disneyland with Rob's brother and his family.  He hadn't complained of any health problems during the trip and had no known health problems so this came as a huge shock to all of us.

His passing has brought to my mind a wealth of memories shared with him. He has been such a huge part of holidays, birthdays, vacations, home projects, and really just our life.  He was a humble man with a very big heart.  Steven was named after him and as a little kid, he idolized his grandpa.  I hope that his biggest aspiration is to be as kind and good as his namesake.

I have so many pictures of him and my kids.  I keep thinking about Alisa's admonition to take more pictures.  I'm glad I have as many as I do.  I wish I could take more.  Here are a few that tell a little about him as a grandpa.

Here is one of my favorites: Steven and Grandpa on an evening hike at Yellowstone.
Grandpa loved Yellowstone as much as Steven and they went there together three times.  Steven has
spent some time this week planning another Yellowstone trip.

Grandpa was one of Steven's biggest cheerleaders--whether it was at a ball game
 or concert, and especially during his cancer fight.  

Laura and Grandpa this summer.  He gave hugs often and sometimes awkwardly,
but there was never a doubt about his love.

He rarely missed a birthday, and then only when he was out of town.

His last church assignment was at a church farm that provided vegetables to the Bishop's storehouse.
  He put his whole heart into his assignment as he did all his church service.

He was the kind of Grandpa to play with the kids.  He loved to play board games or
read them stories, or go on walks, anything as long as he was with his grandkids.

This picture isn't great, but I love that I have proof that he was a play-on-the-floor kind of grandpa.

Grandpa loved to hold the babies, and would scoop them up whenever he could.

He took lots of time off when we lived in Ohio to come visit us and get to know our kids.
 I love this one of him with Andrew.  

Here is Steven getting ready for a fishing trip with Grandpa.  Steven loves to fish but
 we don't, so he begs his grandparents to take him and they make time to do it.  

He's been at all our kids blessings and baptisms and priesthood ordinations.
Family was his great priority, and none of us doubted it.

My dad was gone the morning we lost little Daniel, and Steve rushed to the hospital to give me a
blessing and then went to our house to be with our kids as they woke up and break them the
news of his death.  I will never forget his sincere love and compassion at that time.

I've seen death slowly take my sister and now I'm watching Rob's family endure the shock of Steve's sudden death.  They have different challenges, but both have brought on intense feelings of loss, and also very deep feelings of peace.  I feel so sure there is life after death and that through Christ we will all be resurrected someday.  And while that certainly makes the loss bearable, I would give anything to be able to call him up one more time and tell him I love him.

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