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.

Our Anniversary

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.

Carla passed away on June 1, which happens to be Reilly’s and my wedding anniversary. We had plans to go out to eat. And attend a concert his brother’s band were giving at his parents’ home in Payson. Carla had other plans. As we were driving home that evening, Reilly promised next year would be better. I told him it was really nice of his mom to let us spend it sending her off.

Remembering her on our anniversary makes it fuller, deeper? more complete? Not sure what words belong here, except that it’s more. We might start a tradition of visiting her gravesite every June 1 to celebrate her. If it weren’t for her (and Reilly’s dad), circumstances would have been different, and I wouldn’t have met Reilly.

Carla was always really sweet, really friendly. Sincere, genuine. She always put others before herself. Even in her final hours I felt she was making sure we’d be ok. The best human–daughter, wife, mother, friend–she could be until her very last mortal breath. She continues to be her best self.

It’s an honor to celebrate my marriage, to share this joy Carla gave me in Reilly, by giving thanks to her every June 1.

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.

Five Zinger Years

Dear Z,

Last Monday you turned 5 years old. I’m still trying to wrap my head around this little fact that you truly are a big girl. I look back often at your pictures from your first year, and that Dadda and I have been trusted with your life still overwhelms me in the best possible way.

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Look at that smile! Those peeking teeth. You looking ever so thoughtful just after you were born. Standing! You were an expert walker before you turned a year old, and now you strut around like you know where you’re going all the time. Like you own the place. This was the most sleepless year of my life, but thankfully you took to sleep training pretty quickly, and we’re just now feeling we’ve caught up.

You continued learning and growing your second year of life. You were fearless. You had an uncanny awareness of everything in your space. Your energy never seemed to run out, and we were learning that you needed some solid time with your favorite playgrounds and toys and books and splash pads to get you tired enough for the rest you needed.

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It’s true that most photos I included in these collages you look pretty dang happy, but it’s important to point out that you cried and were frustrated a lot, too. We shared these emotional states, because we’re trying so hard to learn each other’s language. For the most part we were able to figure out that most of your needs were pretty simple. As long as you were fed and dry and got sleep and enough play, you stayed pretty happy.

I love how much you love to play. I love how much you love to explore, even if it means that we’re constantly chasing after you and telling you what is and isn’t safe. Is this not a major part of childhood?

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In your third year, we pursued our suspicions about some developmental delays you were showing. We took you for an autism screening at the University of Utah, and they gave you an official diagnosis. Which, honestly, was the best news, because that meant that we could take full advantage of resources to help you communicate and develop in other ways.

You started ABA therapy the July after you turned 3 years old, and it has made such a difference. And you have been attending an autism preschool, where they reinforce a lot of the skills you’re learning in therapy. AND Dadda and I try to keep up with your programs and encourage all the little ways you’re learning to do so many things. These skills will continue to open the world to you, and you will get to explore all the opportunities available that accentuate your strengths and give your life meaning. This is so very exciting and completely terrifying.

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What’s so crazy about these years of growth is so much happens with you physically and mentally and emotionally. As you learn and grow, you’re showing signs of you really knowing who you are. You have a very Z personality; you have definite preferences; a way of speaking; a way of showing affection and manipulating people in your cute way to get what you want. Guess what? We’ve been there, kid. We know those ways, and honestly, some of us have never grown out of those ways.

We have two dogs, but the chiweenie, Sia, and you are true buds. She is your first dog, and you two have a special trust that I can’t quite describe. That makes me smile.

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Two weeks ago we went to Florida, and you got to go to Disney World. I dare say you were the most well-behaved big girl in all of the Magic Kingdom on the first day, and at Hollywood Studios the second day. You also got to go to the beach for a little bit, and you also loved every single moment of that experience. The way your senses process your world intrigue me. Just what does the water on your skin and the sand between your toes make you feel?

This past Friday I attended an autism conference at Utah Valley University. The keynote speaker stated as a general rule, the age of autistic people is about 2/3 the age of neurotypical people. In your life, this rings true that you’re about where most 3 1/2 year olds are in terms of speech and social skills. At your yearly wellness check up last Tuesday, you’re in the 60th percentile of kids your height and the 70th percentile of kids your weight. You’re gonna be taller than both your parents in a few years, but that’s where comparisons end. You’ve begun a path to your own life, and you’ll get to a point where you’ll make some pretty important choices that will shape your life the way you want. It won’t matter how other people your age are doing compared to you. Actually, age doesn’t matter at all. Live your life. You do you.

One of the biggest blessings we have from your supposed delays is that we get to cherish these extended development stages. We get to enjoy your childhood for longer: that curiosity, the amazement at the world; the hugs, the smiles, the wonder. Maybe these will continue on to your adult years, but we’re going to breathe it all in right now, in this very moment. We are present for this, this glorious moment of your turning and being 5 years old.

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We love you, big girl.

Love,

Mom