Just Keep Swimming

I posted this on social media two days ago: Monday, 6/24.

Just keep swimming.

This past Saturday was three weeks since Nana’s passing; two weeks since her funeral. June 22 is Nana and Papa’s wedding anniversary. Z woke up, and she led me through her morning routine. I asked what she wanted for breakfast.

She looked at me and said, “Nemo.”

I very deliberately paused. “You want to watch Nemo? Ok, let’s go turn it on.”

We watched about 30 minutes of the movie when Reilly got home from the gym. After pausing the movie, we went upstairs and started eating the donuts he brought. Then Z headed back downstairs to finish watching. I followed her.

While the movie was playing I had my laptop open, writing and reviewing some personal thoughts. Then I heard Dory sing, “Keep swimming, just keep swimming.”

I stopped typing. This was the motto Nana had applied to her own struggles and afflictions the past couple of years. No matter the procedure, the pain, the fatigue, nausea, heartache: she pushed on. With a smile, even.

As Dory sang, I cried. As Marlin guided her through the swarm of Portuguese Man-o’-Wars stinging her, and Dory fought to stay conscious, she sang: Keep swimming.

After Finding Nemo, Z asked to watch Finding Dory. Young Dory sang “Keep swimming” when a current swept her away from her parents. She sang it throughout her search for her parents. That was how she survived. And succeeded.

I cried again.

It had been a while since Z watched either of these movies, and Reilly suggested she was feeling nostalgic. I agreed, but not just for the movies, but for Nana. I know she misses her.

Z knew what the day was. It wasn’t a coincidence she wanted to watch those movies.

Then while we were in Payson yesterday for dinner, Cousin Jessica made and brought these dogtags for all of us. A reminder of Carla; a talisman for how to live our own lives.

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We’re gonna just keep swimming, Nana. We love you.

A Break for the Tear Ducts

Places I’ve cried in descending order of frequency:

  1. Garden/Flowerbeds
  2. Shower
  3. Work
  4. Car, on the way to/back from work
  5. Talking to Z, tucking her in
  6. In my own bed, trying to fall asleep
  7. Family room

Today might be the first day in over a month I haven’t cried at all.

Weird.

 

It Was A Beautiful Day

June 8, 2019

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This was two weeks ago. I don’t know how that happened, where the time went. Not that it passed particularly quickly or slowly, but that it . . . moved.

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The service at the church was beautiful. Poignant music. Heartfelt words. A lot of tears. Some laughs. Many hugs. There are a million stories that could come from that hour and a half at the church. And a million more that could come from the hour-long viewing beforehand.

Graveside. Sunny, mid-60s.

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Z could not have been been better behaved. She understood the day.

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Carla would have loved these flowers. A coworker relayed that Carla actually chose her spray. Her colleagues were more than eager and happy to oblige her. For this day. This one wish. Something in the way her coworkers regard her is particularly touching to me. They were also her friends, but there was something about their relationship that somehow resounds with me.

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Two weeks sometimes feels like a million years ago. Sometimes it feels like yesterday. These perceived lapses occupy the same space. Or maybe they’re layered on top of each other. Or interwoven. I don’t understand it. Maybe a part of me wants to believe that understanding it will help me feel better. But what I should understand is that I’ll feel better with time. Whether that time is in slow-motion or warp speed.

And “feeling better” isn’t a singular event. I’ve felt pretty darn ok in certain moments. Laughed, even. I’ll take what I can get.

I’ll give what I can, too.

Today is Blake and Carla’s 41st wedding anniversary.

This isn’t an easy month right now.

We’re all going to watch Reilly’s brother play in the Utah Symphony as they accompany a screening of Harry Potter and Goblet of Fire.

Should be fun.

A Voice

“I sure do love you.”

This.

This is the soundbyte.

Over the last few months. Probably the last year. Carla would say that right into Z’s ear whenever she gave her a hug.

Whenever this memory bubbles up, I hear her loud and clear, as if she’s in the very same room. As if the memory is present. In real time. The inflection. The tone. The depth and pureness and sheer truth of this statement.

I don’t ever want to not hear it, for it to fade.

At bedtime, I try to say it to Z the same way Carla said it to her.

I want to keep hearing it. I want Z to hear it. Forever.

To feel it.

A Memory

Disclaimer: I’m grieving and have more feelings than I know what to do with. Writing is one way to sort through them. Not sure if they’ll make sense, but here they are.

Further back. In the month or so of receiving her diagnosis. Early 2017.

The bishop is over to give Carla a blessing. Reilly administers the oil. Or maybe the roles are switched.

I’m crying way before “amen.”

She hugs the bishop. She hugs Reilly.

She says to me, “Come here.” And she hugs me.

Comforts ME.

When she’s the one with less than 30 months to live.

Always a giver; always a fighter. Always loving.

A Memory

Disclaimer: I’m grieving and have more feelings than I know what to do with. Writing is one way to sort through them. Not sure if they’ll make sense, but here they are.

Sometime during Carla’s final two or three weeks. Probably Mother’s Day. Maybe the Sunday before. In Reilly’s parents’ house.

We’ve had dinner.

We’re sitting in the living room, just hanging out. All the kids are there.

One of them asks, “Do you want to go downstairs and watch a movie or something?”

Carla says, “I like sitting up here, talking to all of you.”

We stay upstairs.

We talk.

She loves it.

We love that she loves it.

Because we love her.

Last Monday

Disclaimer: I’m grieving and have more feelings than I know what to do with. Writing is one way to sort through them. Not sure if they’ll make sense, but here they are.

On June 10 after work I went with Reilly and Z to a friend’s dance performance at the Provo Library. This was two days after Carla’s funeral. I admit that emotions were still a little bit raw and just under the surface. We made our way to the ballroom on the 3rd floor. Shortly after we arrived my friend walked up behind me, said, “Hey, sexy!” and gave me a hug. As we embraced she asked how I was doing. I told her I was doing ok. She said, “Just ok?” By this time I was choked up, and tears were streaming down my face. We released the hug. I looked at her and said that Reilly’s mom died. She looked at Reilly, and he nodded. The performance was about to begin, so she went to get ready.

We found some seats and settled in to watch the work: a series of dances choreographed by a master’s candidate as her thesis. My friend performed the second dance, and then Reilly and Z left to browse the library, as Z was getting a little bit restless and loud. I kept watching the dance floor/stage. A few minutes later my friend made her way over and asked if she could sit by me. We talked for a few minutes until she had to turn on the music for one of the following dances.

In those few minutes, my friend listened. She held my hand. She cried with me. She said something that’s often said as trite, but she did it with such tenderness and compassion that it opened my heart up to being comforted and not just vulnerable. She said fortunately most of the world has experienced what we’ve experienced. If we pick a random stranger on the street, it’s likely that they’ve lost a loved one–a parent, a child, a spouse.

It helped being reminded that people would be able to relate. To understand. To empathize.

I told my friend that I didn’t mean to come to her performance to dump my emotions on her. I just wanted to be able to partake of something beautiful that wasn’t associated with sadness. Still, she listened. She danced beautifully. AND she called me sexy. I am forever grateful.

May 19, 2019

Disclaimer: I’m grieving and have more feelings than I know what to do with. Writing is one way to sort through them. Not sure if they’ll make sense, but here they are.

We all went out to dinner to celebrate Mother’s Day at Ruby River Steakhouse in Provo. We were supposed to have gone to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse up in Park City on May 12 for the official Mother’s Day, but snow was (not) strangely in the forecast. Geez, Utah.

The whole lot of us. Eleven of us. We talked and ate. I sat at the opposite end of the table from Nana Carla. I looked over at her every once in a while, and I would see her sometimes lost in thought. Or nibbling at her food. Or talking to another family member. Or taking photos with her phone. More often than not I saw her smiling.

A deep, underlying sadness lay just below the surface of … me? My soul? The dinner? Did everyone know or sense this would be our last Mother’s Day celebration with Nana Carla’s actual, physical presence? I know we smiled for her, too.

On the morning of Monday, May 20, Carla sent five photos from the last night’s dinner to my phone. (Three not pictured here.) I replied.

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Ours, too, Nana.

We miss you so much.

Supporting Loved Ones

Disclaimer: I’m grieving and have more feelings than I know what to do with. Writing is one way to sort through them. Not sure if they’ll make sense, but here they are.

On February 23, 2019 we had a bit of a scare that made us realize the pending and terminal nature of Nana Carla’s (Reilly’s mother) condition. It was a Saturday. Reilly’s sister sent him a text that morning, and he drove up to an ER near Huntsman to be with his family. During the hours Carla was there, doctors were able to relieve some of the pressure and pain she was feeling, and she was able to return home later that afternoon.

This happened two days after Reilly’s accident on the freeway: a large untied object fell from the trailer of a vehicle in front of him. He swerved to avoid the object, swerved the other way, hit the side of a van, then hit the middle freeway concrete barrier. He walked away from that accident with just a few scrapes and scratches. It’s a miracle this accident wasn’t worse.

Carla’s severe abdominal swelling and pain, rushing to Salt Lake to drain the ascites and determine its source: this was a much bigger scare.

When Reilly was in Salt Lake that day, I worried about him. I worried about the family. I worried about Carla. I couldn’t make Z understand. I cried, curled up on the kitchen floor. I remember feeling helpless, wanting for things to get better and not knowing if they ever would.

I wanted to stop feeling helpless, and I wanted to support Reilly better. I wanted to be a better wife to him during this difficult time.

I felt ignorant and guilty for not having better intuition to help Reilly, but I wanted to do something. I picked up my phone and performed the following search:

Several of the articles I clicked offered similar advice. I chose to use what made the most sense to me, my nature, and our situation.

That night we were supposed to host a lecture night, and I received specific instructions not to cancel. The lecture proceeded as planned. Only the family members in the audience knew what had happened earlier. Only the family members were coming to terms with the reality and cruelty and heartache of the situation.

Over the next couple of months I texted Reilly encouraging and sympathetic words, while trying to think of more valuable help for him and his family.

On April 28 I posted this in Facebook:

This past Wednesday I walked into my boss’s office. Closed the door. Sat down, gave myself a moment since I was already crying. He placed a box of tissues in front of me. I told him that I would need to work from home more than usual over the next while. Told him the situation. Told him that we’d like to have Z spend more time with Nana.

People need and accept support just as differently as people offer it. I hope I can continue to be sensitive to what Reilly and his family and our family need.

I wish I had thought of this sooner.

Over the next month, Reilly and Z maximized their time with Nana, with midweek visits and activities, in addition to Sunday dinners. We made cookies; we sat around and talked. All we wanted was more time, and we cherished every moment.

Who would have known we’d have a month left with Nana? From April 28, it would be 34 days.

Parent-Teacher Conference and Kevin

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Last night we met with Z’s preschool teacher. The first thing she asked when she saw us was, “Who’s Kevin?”

Well, Kevin could be a couple of things:

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or

kevinmin

Z’s teacher said that Z often says, “Come on, Kevin” during class. Which sounds totally not out of the ordinary to us. We know who Kevin is (or could be), why doesn’t everyone?

We then talked about Z’s placement for kindergarten. The teacher said that she, the speech pathologist, and occupational therapist agree that Z is on the cusp of going either to a special class or an autism kindergarten class.

We forgot to ask what the difference is.

But her teacher said that Z catches onto academic stuff like reading and colors and shapes and math really quickly. In other areas Z is working on a few skills, and she still has social delays. She’s fine working or playing alongside a teacher or aide, but when another child/peer joins the group, Z leaves.

Y’all, sometimes I’m like that. But I don’t want to be the reason Z can’t interact with people. So we asked what we could do to improve her social skills. And we decided to try scheduling regular playdates with kids her age, just like we tried last year.

Sometimes I ask myself, “What’s kindergarten?” I don’t see a totally regular class full of typical kids–what I and Reilly grew up with. That’s not the normal around here. What I do see is the possibility of the bird from Up or one of the Minions. Both are equally great: Fun, goofy, smart (maybe not so much the Minion); generally happy and unassumingly generous with cheer. That’s our normal. I’m grateful to have accepted and live it every day.

That’s our girl.