Monthly Archives: August 2013

Magnitude Of Loss

As I sat on the floor Tuesday morning and sorted the boys’ school books into their backpacks, the gaping void that Kristi’s passing left sucker punched me and I was a mess. Tears steamed down my cheeks while I double checked their supplies. Matt didn’t miss my obvious emotional struggles and he passed the word to Luke that “Dad is sad.”

Soon Luke was hugging my neck and then I heard sniffling and sorrowful whimpers emanating from the pantry closet where Matt had retreated to let his own tears flow. We all pulled it together enough to get the boys off to their first day of lessons at our friend’s house. But I was on the edge of tears all day. Kristi had become so competent with everyone’s curriculum, the scheduling, and the actual instruction that it had become second nature to her. Plus she loved it. These last several years she had come to revel in her roles as mom, wife and educator. Not that it didn’t challenge her to the core, it did. But it was her call and she embraced it.

Just as the boys were leaving the piano tuner showed up. We hadn’t had it tuned since right after moving from Liberty Hill, over two years ago and it was sounding decrepit. The girls started piano lessons again yesterday afternoon for the fall and Katie has four piano students of her own, so it needs to sound good. But as the piano tuner and I talked, he couldn’t remember coming out to our new place and he gave me a baleful look when he heard the condition of the instrument. I had to explain why we hadn’t had him out in the last year. He expressed his condolences on Kristi’s loss and set to work. But every note he adjusted hammered my heart strings with the reality that I won’t hear Kristi play again.

The piano was also Kristi’s domain. She had eleven students when she was diagnosed and even picked up a few of them again during her brief remission. If educating was her call and mission, music was her joy. But as the piano tuner bade us farewell Megan seated herself before the keys and soon lovely music from the movie The Man From Snowy River was dancing in the air. Life does go on. But Tuesday’s events unmasked the raw nerves that have been buried in all the stress, travel, adjustments and daily life of the past two months.

Yes, it’s been almost two months now since Kristi died. Entering her dominion this week as the Fall schedule kicked off in earnest has revealed the full magnitude of her loss. Yesterday was better. I only cried a few times. I got a little more figured out about the school and activity schedules. This evening is Megan’s first volleyball game of the season. Life is progressing. And we are not alone. We are under the dominion of Christ who continues to comfort us in our time of sorrow.

The upcoming trip has also provided exactly the energy I was hoping. In the week since telling the children, it has come up again and again as we anticipate various aspects of the impending adventure. It keeps us from feeling sorry for ourselves and lifts our gaze into the future and off our present sorrows. As we ate dinner together last night we discussed ‘deep vein thrombosis’, a potential blood clot condition that can affect travelers who sit for long periods during international long haul flights. Megan thought that term was funny and as only she can do, affected a humorous accent and made a funny remark about it. Matt exploded in laughter and when he gets his tickle box turned over you can’t help but join him. We all laughed ’til we cried. Then we laughed some more.

When the dishes were done and after the neighbor’s dog cared for (they’re traveling), we gathered in the living room and I read another chapter from C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Yes, life does go on. And though the sorrow may last for a night, His joy, holy laughter comes and brings healing.

B-Gone, B-9, B-Healed…it’s a way of life.

The Journey Goes Ever On

How are you? How are the children? They’re so frequently asked I find I’m wanting to develop a canned response. But then I remind myself that people do care and really want to know; its why they’re asking. They just don’t know what else to say. Usually I don’t have time for an adequate response but if I did it would sound something like this:

Busy? Absolutely! Wiped out by day’s end? Every night. Sadness? Yep, it’s certainly present. But moribund? No way! While I know we are all, as Luke said last week, “Still recovering from the shock of losing mom” and that affects and colors everything we do, we are moving forward with life, energy and a surprising amount of joy. God is good!

I can’t help but smile in gratefulness at our children. Sure they can be petty and they irritate each other at times…normal immaturity, but when Luke ambles up to me, hugs me tight and whispers, “You mean the world to me dad!” I melt inside and gather him up in a bear hug. Or when Megan bounces up, every bit the quintessential 13 (almost 14) year old, and plants a smiling kiss, braces and all, on my lips and says, “I love you dad.” I know I’m blessed and can’t help but stay engaged with and keep building this living legacy that best captures the life and spirit of Kristi.

The fall home school semester starts next week, and I’d be lying if I said it was going to be easy. But staying connected to this community and maintaining educational continuity is essential for the children’s healing. Their entire social fabric would be irreparably rended should we change course (or courses, ha!) at this juncture. I am going to be assisted by two families who live nearby. They’ll be taking the boys and covering core subjects with them for three days a week. Add in the fourth day at co-op and that leaves just one day for us to cover our new unit study subject… New Zealand.

Why New Zealand you ask? Because this week I unveiled the surprise trip to the children! We are embarking on a family adventure “down under” to Australia and New Zealand during the holidays. To say they’re excited doesn’t begin to capture the enthusiasm and anticipation that’s already bubbling up in conversations and smiling grins. Our unit study will help them learn more about the people, economy, landscape, history and culture so they’ll be able to better process what they’re experiencing while we are there.

The trip will provide extra motivation to the children to buckle down and get their school work done before we go and it offers us a chance to reset our holiday memories and experiences. That time of year can be tough when you’re missing your wife and mother. This year we will be brimming with anticipation leading up to trip, there will be the trip itself and then when next year finally rolls around, we will be reminding each other about the new lands, strange animals, wondrous reefs and cool accents encountered this year.

The kids still can’t believe we are actually going…that we are talking about flying into Sydney, Aukland and the like. Of course it’s bittersweet. I wanted to take Kristi there. I spent three weeks in Australia during college on a study tour. I promised myself I’d get back there someday. When you realize how short life is, you take action on your dreams.

So we are going. Tickets are booked. Passport applications for Megan, Luke and Matthew go in on Monday. Then we plunge into school, volleyball, drama (theater) and more. Your prayers as I shoulder the home educator mantle are appreciated. Sometimes it still seems like a dream, like I’ll wake up and Kristi will be here and this will all go away. Matthew voiced that very thought on our way home tonight from dinner with my sister.

“Wouldn’t it be cool if mom was walking around the house when we get home?” That stopped the chatter in the car. Yes, it would be cool. And it would wipe away the surreality that each day brings. No we aren’t moping around, the children are cheerful, even joyful. So am I. But Luke nailed it. There is that sense of floating through activities that accompanies shock. You know you’re doing what your supposed to be doing but it all seems to be happening on the other side of a clear glass pane. Like you’re a spectator, watching your life play out but not in ways you expected.

I know it’s part of the process. I’m not in a hurry to short circuit it. My primary goal is stay connected to each other, our family and friends. With Christ as our cornerstone, the pioneer of faith leading us on each day I have hope for the future and even excitement that one day soon we can all say G’Day Mate…and mean it from the depths of our being.

B-Gone, B-9, B-Healed…it’s a way of life!

18 + 482 An Unexpected Journey

To grieve Kristi with friends and family all together is to give voice to the love and life that she brought to our lives. Today was a very good day…

My heart is full from the myriad expressions of love showered over my family and me. We haven’t counted names in the guest book, but the room was packed to overflowing and the courtyard was busy with friendly reunions during the reception to honor Kristi.

There was the reunion of her college roommates who hadn’t gathered in years; Marion even came from Germany to join the celebration. A sizable group from our church in Grass Valley made the journey as well. Then there was the turnout of Wolf Mountain staff alumni. What a fun blessing to reconnect with those who served so many years together and started the journey of parenting with us there at camp.

These folks I knew, we had lived life together and I knew what Kristi meant to them. However to finally have hugs, kisses and blessings from so many of you today that I have only known from your encouraging words here on CaringBridge and/or Facebook, was a true highlight! The God Squad ladies, the Monte Vista crew, YVCS friends, Livorna and Round Hill friends as well as Kristi’s extended family reminded me of how loved Kristi was and the wake she leaves in her passing.

But grieving together today, in public, with all of you reminded me that we are not alone. To receive the outpouring of your love and blessing was a deep encouragement to me, a reminder that we are connected in the most profound ways imaginable by our love for an amazing woman of God.

Yesterday was the penultimate day of this journey. While at Mount Hermon we gathered under the towering redwood trees along the banks of the creek with John and Bev, Kim and her children and spread more of Kristi’s ashes. My tears flowed as freely as the stream into which we laid the ashes. Mt Hermon was always a spiritual home to Kristi. Not only did she grow up going to camp there but, during a camper in leadership training program before her senior year in high school, Kristi made the irreversible decision to fully commit her life to Jesus.

That decision resulted in years spent on summer staff and made it an easy choice for her to come and provide end-of-summer help in 1992 to cover for staff that had left early. That’s when we met, the last two weeks of my year on staff. I crowded the family into the staff lounge at Mount Hermon’s Redwood Camp and, with Katie playing Kristi’s part, I showed them all just where we were sitting the moment I looked up twenty one years ago this month and noticed the blond newcomer in the corner. That day started a journey that ended today, 482 days after receiving the unexpected news of her diagnosis.

I didn’t know such pain and heartache could be repeatedly experienced in 482 days. Nor would I have ever imagined the consistent, faithful care and love lived out that filled the 482 days to overflowing. As I write tonight, the 23rd Psalm comes to mind:

The Great “I Am” is my shepherd, I shall not be lacking.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me.
Your rod and your staff they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies,
You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

I know that the coming days, weeks and months will be filled with every emotion imaginable and that our God will be there with me every step of the way, providing wisdom, counsel and guidance but that is a different journey. That is the new and unexpected journey through grief, through learning to live, love and laugh again in new ways. So changes are in store for this blog.

This is the last numbered entry, but it is not the end, I believe it is only the beginning. A new website is in the works and will be announced here when it is ready. I will be moving this whole blog to that website to free up sever space for the good folks at Caring Bridge. That new site will provide me with the ability to manage how the blog looks and what it contains more freely than the limited toolset here. This entire journey will be posted there in perpetuity and what the site will fully become is not yet known. Yes, there will be a book too.

Stay tuned and I’ll make every effort to make the migration as obvious and painless as possible to the new location when that time comes.

So the journey continues even as this portion comes to a close. Let us forge ahead together, praying, declaring and believing B-Gone, B-9, B-Healed!

18 + 480 Mountain High

As my body eased into Donner Lake on Wednesday afternoon all my skin attempted to crawl up on top of my head to avoid the frigid chill of the clear mountain waters. But I would not be denied the shock of the cold and plunged beneath the surface and pulled hard to make the raft floating on the surface of the sapphire colored lake perched 6,000 ft up in the Sierras.

The boys had preceded me in the aquatic frolic and lay sunning themselves on the dock. Swimming in a mountain lake without a wetsuit is an exercise in controlled shivering. As I climbed up the ladder to the dock I made sure to shower them with some liquid refrigeration eliciting the expected howls of protest from sun-warmed bodies.

While the girls were happily ensconced on the sandy beach we all felt ourselves begin to get into the rythym of the mountains and let the therapeutic beauty saturate our souls.

As we prepared to leave the lake and head to our friends’ house for dinner my buddy suggested we rent a bike for me and I could take a ride with his wife (who likes to ride but doesn’t often get the chance) while he watched their two young children and our four helped with dinner. We snagged the last bike that was my size and before I knew it she and I were pedaling along through pine-studded meadows, climbing up granite mountain grades and racing down the backsides. What a bonus! I got a bike training ride in with a great friend in one of the prettiest places around. Talk about a mountain high!

Dinner was filled with nostalgic visiting and reminiscing about Kristi and what she meant to this young couple. All too soon we had to take our leave and drive to another friend’s house for the night and to grab some quick winks for a very busy Thursday.

The flood-gates of emotion opened as I began to spread Kristi’s ashes around the perimeter of the mountain-top dance floor. I proposed to her on this very spot, twenty summers ago and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to find the hand-built site. But after casting around for the trail, I finally spied it and we plunged under the forest canopy. Ten minutes later the children and I popped out on the rocky knoll overlooking the great central valley of California.

Like the lake plunge the afternoon before, I knew this moment would require my determination to forge ahead in spite what would follow. We all embraced and shared several moments of tearful grief before the children took their own turns with mommy’s ashes. Each spread them in their own way and while full of sorrow it was a sweet time.

What started with a nervous question and exultant response that night under the stars so many years ago has now brought forth four fabulous children and matured a young man into one with some gray wisps of experience on his temples.

After a prayer, a camp song (I Like Bananas) and some laughter, we sat down to a picnic and I shared all about how I built the floor with friends and surprised Kristi there on that evening. We all picked stickers out of our socks while we ate and I told them that was the ruse I used to kneel down and keep Kristi unsuspecting while I fished the ring box out of my boot.

I didn’t know how the event would come off, and tried not to have expectations. I knew I’d be crying and I know its hard for children to express themselves. But I think it was a good time for everyone, there on that mountain top and Kristi will always be a part of that place now.

The balance of the afternoon and evening were a blur of touring the camp where she and I lived and ministered for 10 years and where Katie, Megan and Luke joined our family. Then we visited the ministry where my parents lived and worked and where I grew up from ages 10-18. Finally we celebrated with several former colleagues and friends in a mini-reunion of sorts at an ice cream and candy store. That was literally and emotionally a sweet time. Dinner was hamburgers cooked over the open fire on a mountainside with friends.

Today, Friday was a chance to catch our breath after the day of flying on Tuesday, the trip to the high sierra on Wednesday and the whirlwind of Thursday. We slept in (for Texas time) and then shared a relaxed lunch with yet more friends (my apologies that we haven’t been able to see everyone who asked) before ambling back to Kristi’s parents house this afternoon.

Kristi’s sister Kim is here tonight with her children and we are all, John and Bev included, heading down to Mt Hermon tomorrow which is where Kristi grew up going to camp and where she and I met. But that’s a story that has yet to be told and I need some sleep.

Suffice it to say that the weekend will be equally as emotional as the preceding two days, but my heavenly Father reminded me once again on top of that mountain that I’m loved, that my children are loved and that we are tenderly yet firmly held in the center of his loving affection in the middle of this journey. That brings peace and comfort that no mountain high can match.

B-Gone, B-9, B-Healed!