Requiem

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This piece was originally posted at By Common Consent, on Sept 2, 2015.

The call came in the dim, grey light before dawn. She fumbled for her phone in the dark, and saw the number; her stomach dropped and adrenaline and dread flooded her body, suddenly both wide awake and numb. The aging voice was fragile over the line, as she tried to make sense of the confusing jumble of words. Hospital. Collapse. David. Ambulance. Intubated. Heart failure. Non-responsive. Half-formed questions bubbled to her lips, interrupted by shock-formed half-answers from the other end. “Wait…? what…? how…? is there a nurse…someone I can talk to…?” she pleaded into the phone.

She was in Utah for the summer, nestled near Cache Valley and the northern peaks of the breathtaking Wasatch Mountains. Her children were all still asleep in various beds around her new in-laws’ house. They’d been playing outside the night before, getting to know cousins and grandparents again, and overjoyed with the deep azure sky, the pasture, the chickens, the enormous dog, and the sheep named Maverick.

She motioned for her husband to close the door- she didn’t want the children to hear any part of this phone call. Six years before, they had seen their father overdose. They had seen him, during the divorce, seizing and convulsing on the floor of his mother’s house, where she had taken the kids for a supervised visitation. She had screamed for her mother-in-law to keep the kids in the front room, to not let them see, as she rushed to call 911, but they saw anyway. They had seen the paramedics pounding on his chest, had seen the firemen rushing into their grandmother’s genteel living room, had seen the mad, brutal rush to save his life. They were too young, but she could not protect them from it.

He survived that day. She had gone in the ambulance at the paramedics’ insistence, while protesting that she wasn’t his wife anymore. She couldn’t make any decisions for him. Her head swam as she tried to answer the doctor’s questions in the ER. How many times? How much? Of what? He’d been in and out of rehab half a dozen times in the previous three years, before she finally filed for divorce. “If he does this again, he will die.” Yes. She knew.

He knew it, too. And over the next few years, he got help. He followed a program. He stayed sober. It was hard. Every day. There is a reason 12-step plans use the phrase “One day at a time”. For an addict, it’s often broken down into one hour, or one minute at a time. A day seems to large a hurdle. But a minute? A minute can be done. Until someday, for some reason, it cannot.

Less than a year earlier, she had had him fly out to stay with them on the east coast. She had invited him many times, but he was finally feeling strong enough, and he came for almost two weeks. He stayed in their home, met her new husband and her step-children, and immersed himself in his own children. It had been a singular joy watching the harmony between loved ones, and see the kids bask in that light. It had been a beautiful visit, and they had spoken about repeating it again this coming fall.

They talked frequently. She valued him- not only as the father of her children, but as a constant for more than twenty-five years. They had met when she was still a girl. He was her ex-husband, but prior to, and after that, he was also her friend.

Now the phone call she had feared for years had come. Waiting on a call-back from a nurse, her heart was leaden. He had been doing so well… But she knew the frailty of that protest. She knew how it could go, and how fast it could go.

Her husband joined her outside in the gathering dawn. His parents, out for their morning walk, were silhouetted against the rising sun as they approached. The cat had joined them and their giant dog on their walk- they made a peculiar and oddly beautiful quartet. Strange, the things you remember when the world is shifting.

It was Pioneer Day in Utah. July. It would be hot, and the roses were opening in ridiculous color and bloom, despite the early hour. She remembers noticing that, too, along with a stray chicken wandering in and out of the roses. The phone rang.

He was gone.

There are moments in life that transcend time, where everything stops, the birds hold their song, and the enormity of the silence is deafening in it’s vastness. There are moments where a person can, ever so briefly, see the curving arc of the horizon and can feel the curling crest of the wave of time under their feet. Thank God those moments are fleeting, because our earthly hearts really cannot breathe in that paralyzing enormity for long. In that moment, she understood why people fall to their knees before angels.

Before her lies the task of waking her children this beautiful summer morning, and telling them their father is dead. She cannot protect them from the paralyzing unfairness of life, or from the unforgiving hardness of the devastating reality of addiction. She wants to cry out for someone to shield them, someone more adequately prepared than her, someone who knows better than she how to shepherd children through a valley no child should walk. But there is no answer. So she will do it.

She can see the house over her husband’s shoulder, backlit by the rising sun, where her children are asleep, safe and happy, surrounded by family, summer roses, giant dogs, chickens, cousins and a sheep named Maverick.

She takes a deep breath, and tries to rub away her endless tears, and moves towards the sunrise and what she must do.

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It’s National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month. It takes extraordinary courage and strength to seek help, both for the addict and for the families and friends of those who love them. There are many who triumph over their demons; recovery and finding a way to a happy and healthy life is possible. When faced with addiction, it is not just the addict who needs support, but the families as well.

Please be respectful when discussing addiction. Understand there are times when a person or a family truly cannot have done more. Sometimes, life is just unfair, pain gets the better of people and the world loses what might have been.

For the sake of this discussion, please refrain from comparing non-physiologically addictive habits to alcohol and drugs. For families who have dealt with real addiction, who have lost someone to the battle, comparing substances or actions that may be compulsive or simply unhealthy diminishes the devastating reality of their lived lives and their tragic losses.

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has addiction recovery programs all over the world. Click here for information.

The Church has also just launched an excellent series of videos on the Twelve Steps. They’re raw and hard to watch if this is effecting you or someone you love. But they are very good.

Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are both established organizations that do a lot of good in the world. They are free, anonymous, and they work.

If you are a family member or loved one of an addict, please consider your own support. Al-Anon is 12-step AA affiliated support and provides tools and support for families and friends. I have personally used this program and can testify to the tremendous good it can do in healing and helping.

Reflected Light

David and his mother, Charlotte.

There are things I have to write which I have no idea how to write. It’s been over a month since the pre-dawn phone call came, and I haven’t written a word; I have danced around hard words, looked at them from the corner of my eye and glanced away. If I kept them in my peripheral vision, where dreams and fairies live, they wouldn’t be real. Right?

I’ve tried a hundred ways to internalize the idea that “David is gone.” It’s the period at the end of that sentence that kills me, a tiny black hole I cannot follow. I desperately want the period to be an ellipsis. It’s not.

Words, always my buoy and salvation through all the seasons and typhoons life has brought, have failed me now. I type and re-type sentence after sentence. Tears make paper fragile, and erasers tear through damp fibers yet again. You can only rub out inadequacy so many times before the paper cries for mercy and gives way.

There are people who are who are in the world, but who never belong to the world. David was one of those people. From the literal day we met, when I was seventeen, there was an indescribable bond between us. We had a friendship that transcended time and place, and we thought we could turn that friendship into a marriage. We also learned the hard way it doesn’t always work that way. I am not romanticizing in retrospect— it is this, this abiding and deep understanding of each other that allowed us to forgive each other so fully when our marriage imploded.

There are trite colloquialisms about how the cracked vessel lets the light in… David’s gift to those who knew and loved him was his light. But we cannot ignore that the source for that light, like any star, was internal fusion and catastrophic combustion. So many of his friends grew in his light, warmed their hearts and hands on his heat, and found their own path with the help of his reflection- but there was always a cost to him.

In another day or another time, David might have been a seer or holy man. He had vast spiritual gifts, but in the times in which he was born, finding a home for those sensitive, intangible gifts proved impossible. Even when you cannot find your home or place in the world, your heart doesn’t stop yearning. It is that search for home and for peace that led David down pathways that ultimately harmed him.

While I cannot relate, I can understand, and I can forgive him. My heart aches and I choke on tears when I realize my children will not know the best parts of their father. I again face my own inadequacy at the daunting prospect of only having my words to convey to them the light David gave me. And then, just like that, I can hear him laughing— deep, rich, hearty laughter. He’s making fun of me for my doubt and is genuinely mirthful. “Please. You’re a star. You can do anything.” And he believed it.

For my children, I will tell his stories, giving back reflections of what he gave me. We’re all stories in the end, right?

The Inadequacy of Words

There are things I need to write that I just have no idea how to write. There are emotions that are too vast, so far out of scale to the rest of life, that you are left bewildered, wondering what happened and what normal will mean now.

My ex-husband David died yesterday.

Looking over and over at those little words on the screen, they don’t seem real.

David came into my life when I was barely more than a girl. He was one of the best friends I have ever had. He walked beside me for a decade as my friend before we married, and he taught me priceless lessons about life, love, growth, change and courage. Our marriage lasted ten years, and contained some of the highest and brightest pinnacles of my life, and some of the deepest and darkest sorrows. In the almost six years since the divorce, we were able to remember and rely on our decades of friendship to forgive each other, to heal, and to place our children first.

There is a lot I want to say— a lot I need to say— stories I want to tell, things I want to preserve for my children about their first father.  More than anything, I am awash in sorrow and grief that my children will not know the man I knew and loved. He was so much more than they got to experience in their young lives, and there is nothing I can do to change the fact that life is hard, and unfair, and sometimes pain gets the better of us and the world loses what might have been.

I can’t believe he’s gone.

Blended Families

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Family barbecue with my dad and my step-dad hanging out with Jeffrey.

My parents divorced when I was seventeen. Not that there’s ever an easy time to go through something like that, but seventeen is a rough time for your folks to spit. You’re on the verge of adulthood, so many things hang in the balance, you’re still a kid in so many ways, but you’re also figuring out how to transition into making some pretty important decisions about life. While that part of my life had the imagined turbulence, there’s one thing my parents did right, and for which I still commend them to this day—My parents never made their issues part of my or my siblings’ lives.

I’ve written a little about this before, but I’m reminded again of how vital this has been to the longterm health and happiness of me and my siblings. We are on vacation in California right now, at a lake near Yosemite. My entire family has come together- my mom and step-dad, my dad and step-mom, my siblings and half-sibling, all the wives and children. My mom and step-dad welcome my dad and my step-mom and their daughter into their home as openly and warmly as they welcome everyone. My dad rents a cabin down the lane from my mom. My aunt and cousins come up from the Bay Area, and there are scads of children, communal means, and summer birthdays to celebrate.

The thing is? It’s always been this way.

I’m absolutely certain, when I look back with adult-eyes, that there was tension and sorrow between my parents. However, both parents always celebrated our milestones together, my dad and step-dad coached my brothers in Little-League together, we share holidays, and it’s not at all unusual for my dad to walk into my mom’s place and just hang out, maybe have a beer with my step-dad, and shoot the breeze. This is the only model I know. This has made all the difference to me and my siblings. It’s the model I assumed  and tried to follow when Jon and I combined our families.

Alas, it takes two people to row the boat in the right direction. If only one person is will to row, the boat just goes in a circle. It’s really sad, because I know what’s possible and what a gift it is to the children for the parents to set aside their differences and get along. But we can’t do it alone.  I do know it’s not only possible, but is a beautiful thing with long-reaching ripples in everyone’s lives when forgiveness is practiced, and the children are truly put first. I’ve seen it in my own family, and I’ve seen it in my husband’s family. Love, without reservation.

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At the lake the other day, there were more than twenty people in our family group. There are new marriages, old marriages, second marriages, adopted children, step-children, natural children, original families, and blended families. As far as the children are concerned, there is no difference. My kids have three grandpas. My children have two dads, and three grandmas. They have more aunts and uncles than I can count- and it doesn’t matter where they came from; I do not rank family. My children loving another person takes nothing away anyone else. The heart is not a limited resource. Family is family, and as far as I can see, no matter which way I look at it, having more people love my children is absolutely a net good. That love isn’t about me, or about my preferences or about me forcing my will on the world. That love is about me getting out of the way and allowing the goodness in others to grow between my children in their relationships with those who love them. And there is no such thing as too much love for a child— or for a family.

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Also, here is a shot of Bean paddle surfing. He rocked it. Straight up. Even when he fell off and lost the paddle. My cousin and Jon were down at the shore, coaching him on how to get back up, and he did it. Abby took a turn, too- though she ended up riding the current into a mud bar and getting rescued by a kayaker. So she got a kayak ride, too. Always an upside…

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What’s Goin’ On…

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I loathe camping. I mean, I’ve camped a lot in my life- my dad is a hunter, and a campfire with sleeping bags in the back of the pickup truck are not foreign to me- I even set a sleeping bag on fire once when I put a too-hot towel-wrapped brick near our feet in a futile effort to keep warm during winter camping. If I have to, I can do it. But since having children, the desire to rough-it has utterly departed. The thought of camping with Bean when he was little was enough to make me nauseated. Can you even imagine…? I feel sick. So of course, I got asked by my church to help with the young women’s Girls’ Camp this year.

It was far more fun than I expected. I met some lovely new friends. Another woman and I were in charge of the Craft Cabin, and we had to come up with fun things for the girls to make during the week. I was able to head to the camp, spend the day, and then return back home to sleep in bug-free solid-walled glory. It was the best camping experience ever, and I totally fell in love with working with the teen girls. My tables were filled with honestly remarkable conversations floating in and out all day, peppered with clever observations, thoughtful ideas, and hard questions. I would join in at times, and at other times, I would sit back and just listen. I feel far more optimistic now about heading into the teen years with my own kids than I did a few days ago.

For my part, I taught a lesson on computer coding, put together by my friend Cynthia, which you can find full support for at BCC. The girls learned about binary code, and then made necklaces using the code they’d learned. As a nod to my hippie past, we also made prisms on beaded hangers. It went swimmingly, and I’m so glad I was called to help.

Our car has been kaput off and on for a couple of weeks now. The dealership finally gave us a loaner car while they farm out the beast and build it some new insides. Of course this happens at the worst possible time, with summer and five kids filtering in and out. We have to take two cars everywhere, and it’s a first world problem and I’m super glad for the loaner. I still want my car back. Soon.

For the first time in about a million years, my family is having something of a reunion this summer. We haven’t all been together in… well, maybe ever. The east coast contingent will be there, the northwest contingent will be there, the local contingent will be there, moms, dads, steps, cousins, siblings and all he grandkids. I’m pretty excited, and plan on spending the better part of the week dividing my time between my mom’s pool and the lake where she lives.

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Bean’s got a new teacher for home-study this summer, and she has made all the difference. This teacher is patient, kind, thoughtful, specific and firm, and tremendously patient. Did I mention patient? He loves her, and she’s working on supporting him as we head towards middle school in the fall. Middle school is such a nightmare for any kid, but when you add in ASD… well, I’d do anything to help smooth the way for him. I’d even go camping, if it helped. Which it won’t.

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This kid got an award from the POTUS for good grades. He also spent a week at Scout Camp, and while he initially thought he loved camping as much as I did, but it turns out he actually had a great time. He chopped wood, hauled food, swam, learned to make stuff, and earned five merit badges towards his Eagle Scout, which he’s decided he wants. He also starts (gulp!) football this summer. I’m not ready. And high school this fall. I’m REALLY not ready.

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Abby spent all her birthday money buying rocks. Er, excuse me… MINERALS. (They’re MINERALS, Marie!) She’s planning on doing some geologic exploration this summer, and I think it will require her pickaxe, a brunton compass, and perhaps a USGS topographic quadrant map. Oh, and she got a perfect 4.0 for the entire year and is starting AP classes in the fall.

Things are going lovely at our new ward. People have been kind, thoughtful, friendly and considerate towards our family, and we’ve been made to feel welcome and even loved. What a nice change of pace, eh?

I’m beginning to warm up my mental facilities in preparation for heading back to grad school. I’m not ready to talk about it yet much beyond acknowledging I have unfinished business, and I want those extra letters after my name. The wheel goes round.

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My heart was sweetly aching last week as I watched my Facebook feed fill with photos of my friends at the two California shows of the final five Grateful Dead shows ever. These was the reuniting of the four remaining members, more than two decades after Jerry Garcia died. It’s hard to believe it’s been 25 years since I found my way to my first Dead show in Sacramento. I don’t even know how many shows I saw in the ensuing five years, but it was a foundational segment of my life, and comprises a facet of who I am today. I tried to get tickets to any of the final three shows in Chicago this weekend, but it just wasn’t possible. See: five kids, a new transmission and grad school. Adulthood is hard. So I put on one of my early shows last night and watched film of the Mardi Gras shows at Oakland with my husband. Thankful the Dead always allowed taping, and every show ever is archived and at the tips of your Googling fingers.

I have a new book coming out this fall- it’s a volume of essays my dear friend and colleague Emily Jensen and I edited, and I’m thrilled about it. You can see it on Amazon here.

I think that brings me up to date, mostly. Maybe now I can get back to writing for reals.

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JORD Watch Father’s Day Giveaway Winner!

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Since I have gotten to know a lot of you, the kind folks at JORD suggested we use a Random Number Generator to pick the winner of the Father’s Day Watch Giveaway. Et voila:

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Thus, Kyle M (no relation) was the sixteenth comment on the giveaway! Congratulations, Kyle- please email me with your contact information, and JORD will mail you your gift certificate so you can choose from among their beautiful watches.

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Thank you everyone- this was fun!

Father’s Day Giveaway: JORD Watches

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The Dover 41 Watch

I have a long history of loving items crafted of wood- for years I worked in the toy industry in Germany and my children all had wooden teethers, rattles and a myriad of wooden toys. They still do. I have a wooden pen that is beloved. My cutting boards are Boos, and Bean even eats his English Muffins from hand-crafted wooden plates I’ve had for more than a decade. Wood craft has a place close to my heart.

A few weeks ago, JORD Watches sent Dandelion one of their wooden watches to review. I don’t do product reviews very often, and I told them I wouldn’t take any compensation for a good review; if they wanted a review, it would be honest. They readily agreed to provide Jon a watch, and let their product speak for itself. That’s a good start as far as I’m concerned.

First and foremost, JORD watches are beautiful. Jon’s watch arrived in a wooden box with a sliding lid, which in itself is a testament to careful craftsmanship. The watch had been sized for his wrist (I provided the measurements prior to ordering) and an extra link and directions for additional sizing were provided.

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Jon received the 94A Cherry Watch.

Jon set to wearing it immediately. He works in a federal office building in DC, so he spends a lot of time in a typical business environment. He’s your typical dad with five kids on the weekends. His observations:

  • It’s really beautiful, and people notice and commented on it. It’s something of a conversation piece, and his coworkers asked about it.
  • It’s quite lightweight, even though it’s fairly substantial in size. This is not a low-profile or slim watch- which was totally fine with him. He likes a big watch.
  • He was surprised how well it wore- he had expected it to be fragile, and while it really is more of a dress watch (don’t power-wash the deck wearing it- they can handle being splashed, but not submersed. Really not a surprise given the whole wood thing.) it handled basic bumps and knocks of every-day life well.
  • We had a little trouble adjusting the size- it was slightly snug for his wrist- but the company was terrific about walking us through changing the link, and even offered to have us send it back so they could do it. We didn’t need to.

So at the end of his test-wearing, I asked him how he felt. In true manly fashion, he shrugged and said “I really like it.” More to the point, it looks terrific on his wrist, and I like it. Jon’s brother, who is similarly sized, tried it as well, and had a similar reaction, then spent some time looking at the other models on the company’s website. The consensus was that these are just unique enough to be interesting but not so attention-pulling to be a distraction. And the bottom line, they’re incredibly beautiful and work for both professional and casual wear.

JORD has been kind enough to offer a watch as a giveaway for Father’s Day here at Dandelion. If you’d like to enter to win, please leave a comment about the dad you’d like to see wear one of theses lovelies—even if it’s you. A winner will be selected Sunday, June 21. Please do check out their website to see the other beautiful timepieces (they have ladies’ models, too).

Thank you to JORD watches for setting this up, and for thinking Dandelion dads might like their beautiful product.