Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Moving, Moving, Moving

I am not a runner. In fact, I am not an athletic person at all. Growing up, the only sport I really participated in was swimming and really I only did that in the "I swim on the country club's summer swim team mostly so my parents can socialize" kind of way.

I didn't like balls coming at me, or balls that I had to chase (really? what's the point of that?) and so I just avoided most sports completely and willingly accepted myself as "non-athletic."

As a mother with children who are athletic (and of course now I'm also the wife of a soccer coach), I have learned to appreciate sports but still mostly in the "I'm just here to sit on the sidelines and socialize" kind of way.

And I was fine with all of this.

But earlier this summer, a friend who is helping to organize the Pekin to Peoria St. Jude Run (a satellite event to the Memphis to Peoria run) tried to convince me to sign up. At first, I just laughed but she insisted the event isn't about running, it's about raising money. And she insisted anyone - runner or not - would be able to participate. But still, I balked. Too many other things going on this summer. I didn't need one more thing to fill my schedule.

But then I had two friends who unexpectedly found themselves St. Jude parents. One of them was the friend working so hard to convince me to join the run. Another has a 4-year old diagnosed with a brain tumor. In the back of my head, I kept hearing a voice.

"Why are you resisting? So running is hard, so what? It's no harder than what these kids are doing. Don't turn your back from this opportunity. You have something to give, and you have something much larger here to receive. Do it."

So, I signed up. And in the roughly two weeks since I started "training" (boy, do I use that term loosely!) I have racked up about 16 miles. That is approximately twice as many miles as I have run in my entire lifetime prior to this point. (Probably not as exaggerated as you may think. :) )

And guess what? I like running. Or more specifically, I like the way I feel after a run. I like that I have discovered I CAN run, a lot further than I ever imagined - up to 3 miles at a time without stopping so far. I like the quiet time to myself, and I like the camraderie of running with friends.

I do run slowly though. Partly I think because I am such a terrible runner and partly because I have a lot of slower music on my iPhone. I like to pull up the playlist and hit "shuffle" and then get lost in the songs that show up and the meaning they have in my life.

There are a lot of songs on my phone right now that relate to my dad.

Earlier tonight, I was clipping right along in my run... just about to reach the 2-mile mark and only a few blocks from my stopping point. I was doing great, focusing on my breathing, enjoying the spirit lift that comes when you know a good workout is coming to an end.

And then the song on my phone changed and suddenly Josh Groban's "To Where You Are" began to play.

Who can say for certain
Maybe you're still here
I feel you all around me
Your memory, so clear

It's such a beautiful song, and it speaks right to my heart.

And right there, I stopped running and started sobbing. In the middle of the block, right there in the street, sweat pouring down my face amidst the tears. Gut-wrenching, ripping your heart out sobbing.

You see, just before I left for my run tonight, I got a text that my little sister is engaged.

:)

This is GREAT, happy, WONDERFUL news! It's the kind of engagement that makes you say, "finally!" because you've known it was coming for many years now. My dad knew Ben, my dad loved Ben, my dad knew Ben and Tiffany would get married one day.

But now it's happening and my dad isn't here.

And I jump back on the grief roller coaster again.

I felt the same way last May when my other sister graduated from high school. There are certain life events that you just *expect* your parents to be present for. High school graduations, college graduations, and weddings are not out of this realm. Many people take them for granted.

I never did.

With each passing milestone in my life, I thanked God for the presence of my family. My dad started chemotherapy two weeks before my wedding and as he walked me down the aisle, he brushed away hair that was just starting to fall out from his eyes.

But he was there.

I don't have any pictures of myself with my dad at my college graduation (an unfortunate slip-up that still haunts me to this day) and only one of us together at our house before I left for my high school graduation.

But he was there.

And when my first three children were born and I was miscarrying my second baby in the emergency room of the local hospital, my dad was there. The hand holding mine in the photo just after Elisabeth was born (while I braced for a shot for stitches) was my dad's.

Again and again and again, my dad was there. Because he wanted to be.

And I know he'd want to be here for my sisters too. And sometimes, I just get so mad at the unfairness of it all. It's not fair to them, it's not fair to him. It's not fair to my children.

Fly me up to where you are
Beyond the distant star
I wish upon tonight
To see you smile
If only for awhile to know you're there
A breath away not far
To where you are

It's not fair.

Damnit.

And I feel guilty too. Guilty for the experiences I got to have that they won't. Guilty for wanting more. Guilty knowing some people don't ever have the kind of relationship we had with a parent, let alone get to have it for 34 years.

Are you gently sleeping
Here inside my dream
And isn't faith believing
All power can't be seen

As my heart holds you
Just one beat away
I cherish all you gave me everyday
'Cause you are my
Forever love
Watching me from up above

Just yesterday, I was emailing with a friend who lost her father a few weeks ago. As I explained the concept of "grief bursts," I thought about how long it had been since I'd experienced one. They're the sudden, unforseen things that suddenly set you off and they happen when you least expect it. I cried when I heard a stranger whistling at Wal-Mart, but did just fine when my 10-year old son made sure to include his Papa Tebben's birthday on his new planner. Sometimes, the happiest of events are the ones that evoke the strongest, aching longing deep in the soul.

That's how I'm feeling tonight.

Life is moving on. And of course I know my dad is watching and smiling. I know he's even smiling as he watches me, the emotional one, work through and process all of this with excitement, tears, and finally... writing.

I know he'll be there. I suspect he will even make his presence known.

And I know he's proud that we all keep moving. That we all face the challenges in our lives and keep moving, moving, moving, trying new things and not shying away from the things that seem hard.

We all just... keep... running.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Royally Entranced




Yes, I’m going to blog about it.


Today was the big “Royal Wedding” between Prince William and Kate Middleton. Facebook has been jumping all morning long and there seem to be two extremes of people... those who got up early to watch the wedding and those who want everyone in the royal family to vanish from the face of the Earth.


Maybe not that extreme, but there seem to be very few people who truly feel ambivalent. Most either love or hate all the media attention and “hype” surrounding this historical event (and it IS history, regardless of your opinion of the attention paid to it.)


I’m not sure why, but I’ve felt a need to defend against the naysayers. I didn’t really “plan” to get up and watch the wedding when it began at 5am CST, but I woke up just as the big moment was starting and so I watched. (For the record, it’s beyond “extremely unusual” for me to wake up that early so I took it as a sign that deep down, I really wanted to watch. Sometimes watching things recorded isn’t enough, when I have a chance to watch history happen LIVE, I tend to gravitate toward it.) Even Edgar commented on how funny it was to see me awake when he got up for work, since I do tend to place a very high value on sleep.


Anyways, as I drove around this morning running errands, I kept thinking about all the negative comments people had thrown out there. My mind has been racing, so this is my attempt (as always) to quiet it down.


First off, when did we become so darned negative? A wedding is a CELEBRATION of LOVE and HAPPINESS. When two people love each other enough to stand before God and everyone they know (and maybe a couple billion they don’t) and profess their intention to love each other until death... why do we immediately turn to skepticism? Shouldn’t we be rejoicing? Shouldn’t we feel happy for them? Shouldn’t we take the opportunity to reflect on our own relationships and the milestones we have celebrated in our own lives?


Why instead do so many turn to negativity? Will these two stay married? Who knows? In reality, I figure every marriage has a 50/50 chance of lasting. Forget statistics, it’s simple math - either you stay together, or you don’t. Period. None of us starts out with better than 50/50 odds. But we all (or at least most of us) do start out with the intention to carry through with the promise we are making. Does that sometimes change? Sure. Does it mean the love wasn’t real at the time? I don’t think so. I have certainly loved more than one man in my lifetime (it’s ok, my husband knows this!) and I think I have even encountered more than one soulmate. It was not just love and connection that led me to marry the man I did, it was also about timing and circumstances. My parents loved each other, but they got divorced. My dad and stepmom loved each other, but they got divorced. It happens. And it doesn’t take away from what they felt on their wedding day. Rainbows don’t last either, but I believe they are real while we can see them.


Being a member of a “royal family” doesn’t ensure a “happily ever after.”


NONE of us are ever guaranteed that.


But I’ve found the subject of the royals also brings out other emotions in people. They are wealthy, and certainly have power most of us can’t begin to understand. What’s more is that they did nothing to earn either of those things other than happen to be born into the right family. It’s not “our” tradition, but the monarchy is a long-standing tradition in England and it seems to carry with it a number of old-fashioned values and belief systems. Members of the Royal family are still human, and of course they fall victim to the same sins any of us “mere mortals” do. (With the added disadvantage of it becoming world-wide news) So they’re not perfect of course, but they do seem to follow some basic etiquette and moral compass that a lot of us could probably learn from.


Discretion. Manners. Service. Charity.


So while on the one hand, we rebuke the “antiquated” system of a monarchy and the so-obvious-to-us unwarranted power and prestige it bestows upon unworthy subjects, on the other hand we talk about the need to return to more traditional, time-honored, old-fashioned values. We complain that kids don’t respect their elders or find self-motivation to help others. They’re rude and impertinent. They don’t know their “place.”


So which is it?


We complain about the amount of money spent on an extravaganza like today’s wedding and how that money could be put to better use helping the poor and underprivileged. When we don’t like how someone with more money than we have is spending their wealth, we are quick to criticize their actions.


But on the other hand, we all know that money doesn’t “buy happiness.” Money doesn’t make everything better.


So which is it?


We complain that the news is always doom and gloom and never has anything good or happy to report.


Then we complain that so much media attention is being focused on this wedding, when there is real suffering and pain and crises in our world.


So which is it?


Look, I’m not trying to defend the monarchy. I don’t even disagree with ANY of the above statements but I try hard to see things fairly without talking out of both sides of my mouth.


It’s their money, and I think they should spend it as they want to. Princess Diana was the same age I am now when she died, and yet she served on or chaired the boards of more than 100 different service organizations in her short life. Some may say I’m an “over-achiever” in the volunteering department, but even I can’t imagine matching that. Unless, maybe if I was a Princess who had access and resources available to me as a result of my status in life. Power CAN be used for good.


And I think that sometimes, a little old-fashioned etiquette and rules following is a good thing. Actually, I’m a BIG stickler for following “rules.” It’s probably a weakness, but I digress...


Sure, there are other more pressing "issues" happening in our world today. But depriving myself of enjoying this event isn't going to make them better. What WILL help is my attitude. I choose to be positive. Gas prices are crazy high. But it's just money. I still have my health and my family - and today's wedding reminds me of that. I hope and pray and pray and hope I will be around to see my own children's life milestones. I recognize there are no guarantees, no matter "who" you are.


But at the end of it all... here is what I saw today when I watched the wedding.


I saw a beautiful woman beaming with love and with incredible grace and poise - knowing the whole world was watching her but not showing the slightest sign of fear or trepidation.


I saw a man and his brother standing at the altar - and it literally took my breath away because we have watched this man grow up and it seems like he suddenly became an adult.


And, I saw a man who was getting married without his mother there to see it. I felt the absence of a mother who continues to miss milestones in her sons’ lives. My heart breaks for them all. I feel the pain.


My sister was 15 when my dad died, the same age William was when his mother died. Even at 36, I sometimes can’t believe how many things will happen in my lifetime that my dad will miss.


(Let me just say - as a spiritual person, I fully believe these people are still with us and watching over and enjoying these events. But please, let’s not pretend that it’s somehow the same as if they were actually here.)


My sister is graduating from high school in three weeks. High school. It’s her first major life milestone. Her FIRST. And he is gone. She isn’t alone of course, but we all know there will be far more students there with dads (and moms) in the stands than without.


I guess, at the crux of it all, is that I watched the wedding and I did not see a Prince and Princess. I saw a young man and woman who seem to be very much in love, taking a major step in their lives. The same step I took 12 years ago and have watched countless other couples take.


They may have money, but it comes with restrictions on freedom and certain expectations. “To whom much is given, much is expected,” no? They also still have loss and pain.


They really aren’t so unlike all of us, on the most basic, human level.


Today, they have love.


I think it’s worth celebrating.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Day in the Life of Ainsley - age (almost) 16 months



7:20am - Hey! What was that? Sounded like my big brother Aidan slamming the toilet lid! Thank goodness he did that or I might have slept in today and since everyone else is already up and leaving for wherever it is they go all day, I KNOW mommy wants me to get up too! Some days I don’t get up until after everyone else has already left and mommy always looks so lonely. I’d better start yelling so she knows to come and get me!


8:30am - Better start asking for some breakfast. Nursing was great but it’s time to sink my teeth into some toast too!


9:30am - Mommy is dozing on the couch. I don’t know why Sesame Street puts her to sleep, it’s one of the few shows I find really fascinating! Oh well, I will sit here in my little chair and watch... but just for a little bit.


10:00am - Got my exercise done for the day. I crawled all over mommy on the couch for about 20 minutes... phew, what a workout!


10:30am - I see mommy’s heading to the bathroom. I’d better go with her and be sure to shut the door behind us! I don’t want her to be lonely in there. But while I’m there, I’ll try reorganizing the garbage can to keep me busy.


11:00am - Mommy opened the refrigerator to make lunch. Oh boy the things I can get into in there! I found a bottle of strawberry syrup and drank some. Mommy just laughed and took my picture. Kind of feeling a little sugar rush now...








11:15am - Turns out, I like egg salad too! Who knew? I ate 2 little egg salad sandwiches... got to keep my energy up!


1:00pm - Mommy thought it was probably time for me to take a nap, and really I’m too tired to arrrggguuuee...zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.


3:45pm - I’m up! Looks like the “guys” are all back home from wherever it is they go every day too, and we’re off to Wal-Mart. Mommy says Elisabeth needs a birthday gift for a friend and we need a few things for dinner and some new socks for the boys. Boy, we sure spend a lot of time in this store! I’ve learned that mommy moves faster when I start standing up in my seat in the cart. And don’t think that strap thing is any use... I know just how to get out of it in no time flat! It makes the old ladies in the aisles nervous but I usually just smile and wave at them so they stop and talk to us anyway. Today we got all the way back out to the car with our stuff when mommy realized she hadn’t paid for something on the bottom of the cart. So, back in we went. Guess mommy got her exercise today too!


5:15pm - Time to drop Elisabeth off at soccer practice. Ethan is going to stay here too, but I’m going to stay with mommy. She said we have to go buy some stuff at Elisabeth’s dance studio, and then we are going home! I guess Elisabeth has a big dance event coming up... geez these brothers and sister of mine are busy! It’s a good thing my car seat is so comfortable because I spend a LOT of time in it! (Don't worry, this picture is a few weeks old and my mommy fixed that turned around strap protector thing!)






6:15pm - We’re home now and I’m trying really hard to help mommy. I noticed that earlier she messed up all the work I did decorating the family room and the kitchen with my toys, so I’m going to work on that. I think mommy is feeling a little lonely without me right by her too so I’m making sure to cry every time she walks out of my sight, even for just a minute. This girl who comes by a lot (I think her name is Jordan and mommy must be helping her get ready for some big competition or something?) came over for a few minutes tonight. She wasn’t here long, but I showed her how good I am at knocking things off of shelves while she was here. I also showed her how good I am at holding on to mommy’s legs and crying. Luckily, mommy took the cue pretty quickly and found something for me to play with right next to her. I guess she needed to get some paperwork done or something, so I finally let her do it.


7:00pm - Mommy gave me some green beans and cheese. Nobody else is eating yet but she must have realized I’m getting really hungry. I wonder how she knows? Eventually everybody got home and sat down to eat and she gave me some more beans and some fish. I ate all of that, plus a roll and some Pringles I sweet talked daddy into later.


8:00pm - These other kids sure are fun. They messed up my family room decorations too (mommy told them to) but they made up for it by playing hide ‘n seek with me. Daddy tickled me and made me laugh really loud - mommy said that was kind of a surprise because daddy is not usually a good tickler.


8:30pm - For some reason, everybody seems to laugh a lot when I make these faces. Ethan taught it to me. First, you tuck your chin way down in to your neck and then you look up at the person in front of you without smiling. Then you stick your chin and neck way out and make a “pa pa pa” sound with your lips, and then you start giggling. I don’t know why they like it so much but it sure is funny every time I do it! I also gave a bunch of kisses on the lips tonight, they love it when I do that too. I guess I’m pretty good entertainment sometimes.


9:00pm - Heading upstairs now. I sure love these warm, soft and fuzzy pink pajamas mommy put on me. I think she said Elisabeth used to wear them too? I don’t know, but they sure are comfy! Mommy and I sat in the recliner in her room and nursed for a few minutes. Now that I’m older, it’s harder and harder for me to sit still very long so I got a nice drink and then tried to get down and play. Mommy said it was time for bed though, so she laid me down with my blanket and my favorite toy “Violet” and turned out the lights. I guess I am pretty tired, because I didn’t even make a sound. Sometimes I fuss for a few minutes but never very long. I guess mommy doesn’t like that Ferber guy very much so she just waits until I’m good and tired and it usually works out ok. At least it’s fine when we’re at home but when we stay in a hotel I really try to switch things up on her.


You know, mommy seemed kind of tired today and I’m not sure why because I haven’t gotten her up at night for a couple of weeks now. Hmmm. I think that big wedding in England is happening tonight so maybe if I wake her up tonight she won’t even mind so much? Well, we’ll see what the night briiinngggsszzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.


-Ainsley

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Packrats Anonymous

I think I have always been a "packrat."

I consider it a side effect of my sincere, severe sentimentality. I hold on to things because of the memories they evoke and because so many times I've had those "I'm so glad I kept this" moments.

As a result, I've had some of my "stuff" scattered at various places around town. My old ten-speed bike and prom dresses were at my grandparents' house. My wedding gown and every newspaper story I wrote in the year I worked full-time for the Pekin Times were stowed away at my dad's house. My old dollhouse and speech trophies are still waiting for me to recover them from my dad's old house, where my former stepmom still lives.

But since losing my dad and my grandpa and having to pack up and clean out both of their homes, I think I might be turning over a new leaf. Fresh off of the two-week stint of emptying out and dividing up my dad's belongings, we rented a dumpster for our own house and have been steadily emptying and re-organizing our basement.

It is a project that has been five years in the making. The basement was literally the first place we started moving stuff to when our house was inhabitable, and much of what was down there really shouldn't have been, or shouldn't have been saved at all. But we didn't have time for proper weeding out when we moved so we just got it in and figured we'd do it later.

Later finally came. And not a moment too soon, because Edgar and I both were getting anxiety attacks any time we had to go in the basement for even the simplest of things. Not only were things not organized in what had become our dumping ground, but the chaos had been exacerbated by frequent floodings that had us scurrying to move stuff out of water and to dry ground, wherever that might be.

So we dug in and took our time and now we happily walk into the basement with a bounce in our step. Not only do I know where things are, I also now have a place to put things. Earlier today I noticed a stray winter decoration and a card table sitting in the guest room/office. No problem... I now know just where they can go in the basement! I was practically giddy as I put them away.

But even better than the organization we have created is the feeling of freedom from having let go of "stuff." We've thrown the broken and unsafe and unusable into the dumpster. We've created a section of basement dedicated to "garage sale" or "just plain donation" stuff. I even went through old boxes of mementos and got serious about what I really need to save. Maybe it's the image of my kids having to do what I have just done - twice in the past six months - but suddenly the corsages from high school dances in the ziploc bag seemed just well, silly. I threw away dozens of photographs - previously a big no-no in my mind, but they really are starting to overwhelm. Plus, I know there are duplicates (and sometimes triplicates) of them already sitting in boxes waiting to be organized "someday."

Don't get me wrong, I'm still sentimental. And it does sometimes pay off.

In a photo album, I found this - right where I knew it would be, although the album itself has been buried and somewhat MIA since we moved here.

(Ok, having trouble uploading a picture but keep reading and you'll get the idea!)


It is a letter written by my dad and given to me on my Confirmation Day in 1989.

It is three pages long, typed - and much of his prose is devoted to the subject of death and more specifically, life after death. Here is some of what he had to say:

"I KNOW that there is life after what we know as death. Life after death is a TRUTH. Consider this: What we come to know as TRUTHS in this life is largely a result of opposites... of converses. For instance: to really experience happiness, we must experience unhappiness. To know joy, we must know sadness.

And what of this thing we call death? Well, without LIFE, there could be no DEATH. That is a TRUTH. I am convinced that the converse is also a TRUTH... that without DEATH there can be no LIFE."

Anyone who heard my eulogy for my dad may remember I quoted C.S. Lewis from "The Shadowlands" about how the pain now is part of the joy then, that's "the deal." It was one of my dad's favorite movies and was actually introduced to him by me when I performed an excerpt of the play for Speech competitions in high school. Interestingly though, "Shadowlands" came to us years after he had written the letter.

I'm sure it goes without saying what this letter means to me. I have a few letters my dad wrote me over the years, but this one has the most depth. I almost felt him reaching across the divide that currently separates us as I read this letter again.

Reminding me, teaching me, comforting me... helping to heal me.

He wrote, "God has given you many blessings, not the least of which is an excellent mind. You have wit, you have musical talent and appreciation. You are a caring and loving and giving person. You show a genuine concern for those around you and you possess a conviction to be of help... to make a difference. I have watched you grow in your maturity of faith, through instruction. I have watched you grow in maturity of judgment through experience. And I have come to realize that one of the many blessings God has bestowed upon me is a daughter named Shannon."

He says at the beginning that the letter will be "heavy stuff." And it definitely is. But in case this is just too emotional, here's something else he wrote:

"In a certain sense, confirmation is a rite of passage into adulthood. There will be others. Your first REAL love of another human being as a helpmate, a partner, a spouse. Your first full sexual experience. Your first hangover. (I assume these all to be future experiences, but it doesn't matter.)

:)

This letter is one of my treasures, and tonight it's being moved from the photo album to a safer location.

Sometimes it really pays to be a packrat.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Another Lion King kind of Day...

This past week has been a hard one for me.

The sale of my dad's house - after hitting a few minor bumps along the way - really looks like it will happen. My sister, who had been living there since he died, bought her own house and moved out last weekend. So over the past week I have finally been going through the task of cleaning out and cleaning up the home my dad created and enjoyed the last three years of his life.

I don't know how anyone ever does this soon after a death. I am eternally grateful that time has cushioned the blow, but of course it still stings.

Countless times over the past week, I have picked up something and thought, "wow... this is a (fill in the blank here.) I'll bet most women wouldn't know what it is. I'll bet my dad is proud to see that I was paying attention!"

Other times, I pick something up and think, "what the *&^%^&** is this?"

Or... "why did he need 34546765 of these?"

By far the most dangerous though is when I open a new drawer or peek into a different box and think, "why yes... it makes perfect sense to keep a box of 1000 sticks. I'll take them home, I'm sure I'll need them someday and now I'll have them!" (This is my story for about 80% of what I'm bringing in to my house and I'm not ashamed to say it!)

That last statement is proof positive of the old saying, "I am my father's daughter."

For some people, going through clothes and jewelry may be the hardest part of a job like this.

For me, it was going through my dad's workshop.

In every house I ever lived in or spent time in with my dad - growing up when my parents were still married, during my teen years when he was married to my stepmom, and then this last house where he moved just a few years ago - my dad had a workshop.

It was his retreat, his sanctuary. It was where he kept his tools and supplies neat and organized and ready at the call for action. Whatever it was that I needed fixing, he would take it to his shop and give it a go. 99% of the time he was successful in either a total repair, or enough of a repair to add some extra life. I never despaired over anything broken because just knowing my dad would try to fix it made it seem somehow fine.

As I grew older and moved out, his workshops became the place where he could help fix me. I would sit in the swivel bar chair while he tinkered around working on small projects or a model airplane or just organizing his stuff. While his hands were busy, his ears and mind were solely focused on me and the problem or issue at hand. If he could offer tangible help, he would. If all he could offer was a hug and support, he gave that too. Advice was doled out frequently in those workshops.

As a small child, I remember the incubators full of pheasant eggs in his workshop. As a young adult, I remember sitting with him in there and telling him that my boyfriend had stolen money from me and was cheating on me. Once, I sat in that chair thinking I might be pregnant and would take a test in the morning - but I didn't say anything to him just yet. And in that last shop, we talked about life and marriage and divorce and well, just stuff. Big stuff, small stuff, important stuff, trivial stuff.

Several months after my dad died, I stopped by his house one day to collect a few tools we needed from his workshop. Edgar wanted to go and buy them at Menard's instead. I resisted, and insisted it was silly to spend that money when there were some sitting there, available and ready. So I stepped inside the shop for the first time since he had died and instantly felt an overwhelming sense of loss. He was gone. Really, truly, gone.

On the workbenches that he had designed and built himself sat the tools he had been using to make our front door. Untouched since the day he had laid them down were tubes of caulking, a pair of pliers, and some notepad pages with his measurements scrawled across them. There was still sawdust on the floor and his "City of Pekin" hat hanging where he had left it. Fishing lures for his trips to Canada were sitting out - he always started going through them in the late fall to prepare for the next summer's trip. So many harsh visual reminders that he was gone.

That was one of the times I had what was probably best described as a hyperventilating, gut-wrenching, soul-aching meltdown. The empty place in my heart is something I have come to live with, but every now and then it makes its presence physically painfully known.

From that day on, I avoided his workshop when I could. My procrastinating self knew I had time to go through and clean things out, so I put it off. I knew it would be the hardest room to pack up, why rush?

So for the past week, the work has been stepped up. With a deadline (the closing) looming, I am finally motivated to get it done. Yesterday I spent the entire day working at the house and I noticed that subconsciously, I am only able to work in the shop for so long before I have to go find something else to focus on. But even in bits and pieces, the shop is now almost empty. All of the tools and extra odds and ends and "better save this just in case" items have been divvied up, given away, or in some cases even thrown away. Every single time I throw away something I say "sorry dad." I've kept what's important to me and a lot of things that were important to him but of course I just can't keep it all.

So what does ANY of this have to do with "The Lion King?"

I went back to work on the house this afternoon, but I have to admit my heart wasn't in it. We're nearing the finish line after Saturday's marathon day of cleaning and clearing out and I'm just exhausted. The finality is hard to bear and each hour I spend in his now mostly empty house is just another hour I'm reminded of the loss. It feels good to be doing something for him - it feels like I'm helping him out and fulfilling a responsibility as his daughter - but after this, there won't be any "projects" that will fill that void. The business is sold, both buildings he owned are now sold, and from here on out the work I will do "for" him is primarily financial in nature. I was going through the motions.

And then, my phone rang. It was the husband of a couple I had agreed to be a doula for and his wife was in labor. I could hear her in the background and I could hear a faint glimmer of need in his otherwise calm voice as he described for me what was happening. They wanted me to come to their house as soon as I could and help them navigate the next phase.

So I closed the garage door and locked up the house and drove to this couple's home, where I greeted them and focused on the scene before me.

Just a little over two hours later, I had the unbelievable honor of watching as this little baby girl came earthside into the joyous arms of her parents.

I watched from behind the camera lens as the mother handed the baby to the father, and I snapped away as he cuddled and kissed her. When his emotions took over, I cried along with him.

As I look now at the photos, I realize that I really focused in on the father during this birth. As a doula, I have been trained to focus on the mother but this time it's clear my eye was more on him.

Another father and daughter, just beginning their journey together.

When I close my eyes, I can see the days stretched out before them... working together in the garden, learning to ride a bike, him teaching her about tools and listening as she talks about boys. I hope that one day he will walk her down the aisle.

I hope he is able to fix things for her.

And yes, I hope that one day she will feel an emptiness in her soul when he is no longer earthside with her.

My dad loved the movie "The Lion King" and he talked a lot about the circle of life. He taught it to me through words and experience.

He continues to teach it to me today. For every end, there is a beginning. In every bulb, a flower. Unrevealed until its season... something God alone can see.

It was a good day.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ainsley's Home Birth - Finding the Sun

When we got married, I said I wanted to have four kids. I think Edgar thought I would change my mind. After 12 years of marriage, he now knows better - some may call it stubbornness but I prefer to think of it as stoic determination. :) Even after our first three children were born, I always felt like our family was missing someone. I was right. (Something else my husband has learned a thing or two about in the past 12 years. LOL!) Here is the story as I wrote it just before Ainsley's First Birthday this past January. Warning: there are some details that some might consider fairly graphic. If you've ever been at a birth at all, you should be just fine!




Dear Ainsley,


I have wanted to record the story of your birth since the very moment you entered our world. I wanted so badly to record every single thought and memory I had and I knew if I didn’t do it soon afterwards, many of those memories could be lost. So I wanted to do it soon, but it just didn’t work out that way.


Instead, it is almost 12:30am on April 2 and in just 4 days, you will be three months old. You’re sleeping on the floor and the house is quiet, so I thought I should take advantage of this opportunity to put it into writing.


I suppose I should start at the beginning, back when we found out you would be joining our family. It had only been about 5 months since my dad died, and I was really struggling to find my way in a world where he no longer existed. As you grow, I will teach you everything I can about your “Papa T” and so I am confident you will have a full understanding of the impact his death had on me. It is a loss I know I will never heal from, and those first few months after he died were especially hard for me. I struggled to be the mother and wife I wanted to be, and the daughter and “successor trustee” I wanted to be. I began to learn all kinds of legal things and waded my way through logistics and paperwork I never wanted to deal with. I got my insurance licenses so I could carry on with my dad’s business, but I never felt as though I was finding the right path.

Then, the Saturday night before Mother’s Day of that year, I posted on an internet board about some strange symptoms I was having. I even joked that if I were reading about someone else, I might suspect they were pregnant. A woman on that board named Nicole has become pretty well-known in our internet community for being able to see into the future, so when she suggested I get a pregnancy test I took her at her word. I got one and took it that night, and couldn’t believe it when I saw the result.

Instantly, I believed with all my heart that you had been sent here by my dad, to help me heal my pain and to help me find my way once again. One day just a few weeks later I felt a calmness come over me and I just knew in that moment that this pregnancy would be ok, that you would be ok, and that your birth would serve a great purpose in my life. I made the decision to sell my dad’s insurance agency, knowing he was trying to help me get back to the life I had before he died. I also felt strongly that you would be a girl, because my dad loved his little girls and he would know how desperately I wanted a second daughter.

Spiritually, the pregnancy with you was a life-changing and transforming positive event. Physically, I struggled through those first few months just as I had in the past. Through days at the pool, a trip to the ADPi Grand Convention in Orlando, and a week at Walt Disney World on a family vacation, I dealt with morning sickness. I tried everything imaginable to cope including ginger, homeopathic remedies, acupuncture, and finally a prescription medication. In the end, what helped the most was time and eventually it passed and I worked hard to enjoy the pregnancy.

In many ways, I think I was more conscious of enjoying that special time with you than I had been before. I expected this to be my last pregnancy, and it was a bit of a bonus one at that (not unplanned or unexpected - there is a difference!) and so I cherished each moment. I spent the second half of the pregnancy working to finalize the sale of the agency and hoping it would be wrapped up before you arrived. We almost made it, but not quite!

Early in the morning of January 5, I noticed I was starting to have contractions about 10 minutes apart. They were mild and reminded me somewhat of the latent labor I had experienced when Aidan was born. I couldn’t sleep and so I paced around the house and then finally sent a text message to Tammy at about 3:30am that I thought I might be in early labor. Because she is a teacher, I knew she needed plenty of notice in order to call in to work and drive down here in time. (Tammy lives in Lake in the Hills.) When your dad woke in the morning I told him I thought things were happening and we made the decision to keep Ethan and Elisabeth home from school. They had only just returned the day before after the Christmas break, and they were very excited that you were finally coming!

However, the contractions seemed to slow down after the business of the morning waking hours and by the time Tammy arrived around 9:30am, I thought it might all have been a “false alarm.” She decided to stay and see what happened, and we spent the day laying around just talking and resting. By that evening I was feeling restless to get out of the house, so Tammy and I went to Starbucks and then out to my grandma and grandpa Shanklin’s house.


Grandpa Shanklin was dying at home, having just been diagnosed on Jan. 1 with late-stage liver cancer. It was another transformational time in our family, and very spiritual to be waiting for your life and his death at the same time. He was still awake and alert that night, and he joked with me again about having not had the baby yet. While we were there, I noticed my contractions seemed to pick up again, and soon they were coming with some regularity.


We drove home (I drove, even though Tammy offered, but they weren’t that intense!) and at 8:55pm I realized it had only been 10 minutes since the last one. I watched the clock and sure enough, they started coming regularly every 10 minutes again. I could feel my adrenaline picking up and at some point we called the midwife to let her know what was happening. I labored in the family room for a while, and a little before 11pm decided to head upstairs and get in the bathtub.

The bathtub offered a lot of pain relief and helped me to relax, and I could tell the labor was intensifying. We called Brande again and asked her to come - no hurry but I wanted her to start making her way to the house. After I talked to her and knew she was on her way, it was like the floodgates opened and my body just barreled into the labor. I got out of the bathtub for a few minutes to use the toilet and quickly realized I was much better off in the water, so I got back in as soon as I could.


That was probably the moment I decided to birth you in the water, although it wasn’t a conscious decision on my part.

(coming back to write the rest many months later, now January 2, and unfortunately I doubt my memory is so clear. :( )


I began to feel very out of control during the contractions, and I wasn’t getting much of a chance to recover between them. They were coming fast and furious and I felt myself struggling more and more to stay on top of them. My friend (part doula, part photographer) Beth arrived and was able to perch herself over the bathtub and do the hip squeeze on me. It gave me so much relief but it was tricky to get into the right position with me in the tub, and I seem to recall that after a few contractions that way I didn’t feel it was helping as much. Brande and her assistant Penny arrived and there was a lot of activity out in the bedroom.


They were setting out the supplies for the birth - both those we had collected (plastic shower curtains, a crock pot for warm water, clean towels) and those that Brande brought with her. I remember thinking to myself that they were doing a lot of unnecessary prep work because I knew by then you were going to be born in the water, but I never said it out loud to anyone else. When the contractions came now, I felt an urge to push through them and so I did. After a few of them that way I told Beth that I was pushing and asked her to relay that to Brande... who of course had already heard me and knew what was happening. She came into the bathroom with these long plastic gloves that went up to her elbows and I knew we were getting close.


By now, I felt a sense of urgency to have you born and remembering a visualization/vocalization I had read in “Birthing from Within,” I started to moan in a low, loud, almost guttural voice “ooooouuuutttttt” during the contractions. It felt natural at the time, but as I look back now at the video of this I often cringe as it seems like I was angry and yelling at you to get out of my body. The reality is that in that moment, every primal instinct in my body was saying it was time for you to come out and the low, deep sound of my voice was a coping mechanism for those last few contractions. Finally, I felt you moving down and I pushed with everything I had - much harder than I remembered pushing for any of my births and on some level I kept wondering if I was even doing it right - when suddenly Brande said, “the head is out.”


I didn’t wait before giving another long, hard push and I felt your shoulders, then your arms, then your belly, knees, and finally your feet come rushing out of my body. I was on my hands and knees and Brande handed you to me back through my legs. I sat back on my thighs and looked up with you held tightly to my chest, saying “Thank you... thank you.” It was a prayer of gratitude to God that the labor and birth were over and that you were in my arms after so many years of waiting.


You were born at 12:50am on Wednesday, January 6, 2010.


Daddy was calling for the big kids to “come see” and there was general surprise and exhiliration in the air as everyone came to the realization that you were here, the baby was out. There was no rush to see if you were a boy or a girl, and it felt like minutes passed as I held you and just enjoyed the moment in its purity. Although it felt like a long time, the video shows it was just a short bit before I leaned you out away from my body and looked down to see if you were a boy or a girl. The umbilical cord was right between your legs and that combined with my deep-rooted desire for a girl made me unsure at first that I was even seeing it right, so I very tentatively announced, “it’s a girl!” to everyone there. When Brande came back in I asked her for confirmation but of course I knew. I had known all along, deep down I just knew and now holding you I couldn’t imagine that you could have ever been anything but. In that moment, I knew I had my little Ainsley girl that I had waited so long for.


After a few more minutes, I turned around to sit down in the tub and with that, the water suddenly turned a dark crimson red. I held you in the water and we put a towel over you and remarked at how perfect you were. We told everyone that your name was Ainsley, but we were still undecided about your middle names. The truth was we knew what they would be, we just hadn’t decided what order to put them in. Ironically, before she left Beth mentioned to me that the last song she remembered hearing on my iPod before you were born was the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun.” That song had become such an anthem for our family and where we were in the grief process that I found myself smiling at the irony and at the same time, not at all surprised to hear it. Beth suggested we name you “Sol” or some other variation of “Sun or Sunshine” for a middle name, and I just smiled because I knew it was already decided.


I was nervous about delivering the placenta but about ten minutes later I stood up to get out of of the tub and before I could step out, gave a little push and out it came. Brande caught it and put it in an ice cream bucket we had lined with saran wrap and then she and Penny helped me walk to the bed. Once we were settled, Elisabeth cut your umbilical cord. I guess this means your birth was also a partial lotus birth... where the cord is not cut until the placenta is delivered. (To this day, your placenta is in our deep freezer and I smile every time I open the door and see it there.)


You were rooting around right from the start, and took to nursing like a true natural. I think you had nursed from one side to the next before we even got a chance to weigh you! One of my favorite parts of the home birth was getting to weigh you using the “fish scale” Brande had brought, although I was surprised when you came in at 6lb. 7oz... making you the second smallest baby when all through the pregnancy I had been so sure you would be the largest! We continued to take video and pictures and laugh and enjoy the moments. Brande and Penny did all the “usual” assessments on you and of course, everything looked great.


By 3am, everyone had gone home, our room and bathroom were cleaned up and back to normal, and the only sign of what had happened just two hours before was the beautiful baby girl cuddled in my arms.



In the days that followed, we had many interruptions to our “baby moon.” You had dangerously high bilirubin levels due to an ABO blood incompatibility and had to be admitted to the NICU in an emergency situation when you were just 48 hours old. Within hours, they were performing a complete exchange transfusion while your dad and I sat a few feet away, feeling helpless and scared and vulnerable. I lived with you in the hospital for 3 days and we were so grateful when you rebounded so quickly. At the time, it felt like one of my worst fears being realized to have to be there but in retrospect, of course it really wasn’t. It wasn’t the start I had hoped for and envisioned for your life, but it was just a bump and we got through it. You were admitted on Friday afternoon and you came home on Monday night. We were so lucky.


Two days later, just one hour short of you turning one week old, your great-grandpa Fred died in his sleep at home. Because you were born at home and the bilirubin issues didn’t manifest right away, we were able to take you to visit with him while he was still conscious and lucid and you were just 12 hours old. I took your picture with him, and I will treasure it always. By the time your hospital ordeal had ended and I could go visit him again, he was unconscious and slipping away from this world. The last time he and I talked together, it was so I could introduce you to him. Your connection runs so deep, I am sure of it. Born and died within a week of each other, both at home. His death and your birth both had so many lessons to teach us all about the circle of life and the importance of respecting and honoring those passages by allowing them to happen as our bodies and nature have both intended. When we made the decision to birth at home, I knew we had made a very spiritual choice but I couldn’t fully understand the impact of that until it all played out in our lives.


I learned so many lessons from your birth. I learned again that birth is a powerful force that cannot be summed up as one experience... it is the transformation of woman into mother, man into father, and bump into living, breathing being. I learned that I am even stronger than I thought I was, and that birth is even more beautiful when you leave it be and let it be. I learned there is a difference between a “natural” hospital birth and a home birth. I learned that we can feel very alone in this world, even when we are surrounded by people who love us... but that there is also great power in that loneliness and rather than fear it, we should embrace it and welcome it.


And I learned again that God does answer prayers. For years I had prayed to be blessed with another child if that was God’s plan for us. I didn’t pray for it, but deep in my soul I wished and longed for another daughter. And to this day, it absolutely takes my breath away that you are here. That I carried you, birthed you, and have the amazing honor of being your mother on this Earth. You have completed our family, and you are sent from heaven... sent by my dad, who won’t ever know you on Earth but does know and love you nevertheless, and sent by God who had planned it this way all along.


In just a few short days, you will turn one year old. The memories of your birth and the days that followed have already started to fade with time. But the intensity of your place in our family is secure and strong and our love for you continues to grow. We love you Ainsley Rose Sunshine!










Wow, how time flies




So, I'm blogging again.

There, I said it. I made it official and after I post this I'm going to let others know.

I'm making a commitment.

It's funny to see that it has been almost exactly two years since I last posted an entry. Ironically, it was Election Day that had inspired me that day and here I am, starting at another Election Day just around the corner. The first time we will elect a Mayor since my dad was re-elected four years ago.

Four years ago. How is that possible? For that matter, how have 2 years passed here?

Funny that I didn't seem to take my own advice. I know (and knew) that I needed to journal more. But doing it was just a commitment and let's be honest, I was in no place 2 years ago to commit to much. It's interesting to look back on those last few posts though and realize that although it seldom feels like it, I AM making progress on this crazy grief ride.

Oh, it's still a roller coaster. And this week has been full of some unexpected twists and turns. But I've felt my dad beside me through it all and when I doubted, he sent me little signs to remind me.

The major change in our life of course came in the form of sunshine... and the best kind of sunshine you could possibly get. Funny that I last posted about being so tired in the mornings... I didn't know it at the time, but of course there was a reason for that. Her name is Ainsley and she is my "rainbow" baby. (No offense intended to my friends who have lost babies as that term is generally reserved for them. In this case, I hope they'll understand my use of it.)

Had she been a boy, we had planned to name her Noah because she was the light after the storm. But the truth is, I always knew she was a girl. And it was a beautiful moment that cold January morning when she entered the world and proved me right. (More on Ainsley's birth to come in another post.)

In any case... here we are, back to another Election Day. Time moves on, whether we like it or not and whether we feel ready or not. I've been working on another person's campaign - someone I know my dad would support and feel very happy about. I find myself, these days, trying to maintain his legacy while foraging ahead with figuring out my own. Some days I find the balance. Others I don't. It's all ok.

I still miss my dad every single day. I am grateful for the people who have taken the time in the past few weeks - out of nowhere (and one of them was a stranger) to tell me they miss him too. They were worried about saying the words, didn't want to make me cry. Believe me, I'd rather shed a few tears and know I'm not alone. Some days, I still feel very alone.

I really am going to try to blog more. I've said it and committed to it, so there it is. I think I need it. And my life doesn't feel so stuck in grief anymore so I hope I can find interesting snippets to write about. We all have a "story" - and this is mine. Picked up from 2 years ago and moving forward. I think it's time.

Thanks for reading!

Shannon