The Twenty-Fourth of July

Screen Shot 2017-07-24 at 12.59.19 PMTwo years ago this morning came that terrible phone call. For half of my family, today is Pioneer Day. This is the day the immigrants and refugees who trekked across the great plains seeking peace and a place to make a life finally found their home in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake. For me, this day will always be the day that David died.

I’ve been a loss for how to process—let alone write about—the complicated feelings and swirling emotions that accompanied flying with Jeffrey to California to claim David’s remains. Alone, I never would have presumed to do so; it wasn’t my right. It was Jeffrey’s inspiration, and Jeffrey’s belief that David belonged with us, which led us to the coast of Mendocino county to claim his father.

But I cannot lie; am so grateful he is with us.

Throughout my life, David was my constant. In writing The Burning Point, one of my desires was to show the David I knew and loved to our children. Jeffrey has the most intact and cohesive sense of who his dad was, but Bean and Abby remember broken things, fractured pictures. I wanted them to understand—to deeply believe, as I do—that David was so very much more than their fragmented and incomplete memories.

I wanted them to remember his laugh, to know why I fell in love with him, why I believed in him, why I chose him as their father, and why, even now, I do not regret any of those decisions. It will be for them to determine how well I have told that story.

In some very real ways, I owe David my life. I’m not being bombastic because he’s gone; we had this conversation many times. He changed the course of my life, and he helped me realize the person I wanted to be, who I am able to be today. He felt the same, and used to say to me, “I am who by virtue of you.” Our marriage was a disaster, but the flaxen ties to one another are absolutely eternal.

My responsibility towards and love for him are real. When Jeffrey handed me the box in which his ashes rest, I was shocked at the density, and at the physical reality of his remains. Just as I cared for him in his life, despite our mutual brokenness, I will continue to care for him after death. I feel protective; I do not want him scattered and lost. His spark of madness and glory will be sheltered in my words forever.

In the car the other day, Jon and I were talking about the logistics of David’s final resting place. I alluded to this in my last post, but here is what is real: David will be interred near the place set aside for Jon and I in our family cemetery. Our three children will make the decisions regarding his headstone, and they will have the peace of knowing where he lies, and that someday, their other two parents will rest nearby. They will also know, forever and ever, that all three of their parents loved them enough to choose mercy and forgiveness above and beyond any earthly pain and sorrow.

David loved them enough to not just allow, but fully support their sealing to me and Jon. I loved David enough to fully forgive him and myself for the mistakes we made. Jon loved us so much that he warmly welcomed David into his home while living, and then literally made room for him in our family after his death.

If you ever find yourself at a fork in the road wondering between judgement and mercy, I have some advice…

Life is hard. Life is unfair. Hard and painful things are going to happen. When–not if, but when—you have the choice? Leave the judgement to God, and choose the path of merciful love.

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For where David will rest, please see this piece at By Common Consent.

In Which We Make a Surprise Trip To San Francisco to do Very Grown-Up Things

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About a week before we were set to leave for Utah and family-reunion-ing, Jeffrey and I were in the car alone. Out of the blue, he said, “Mom? Where’s dad? I mean, where is…his body?” I don’t know why I was surprised. David died two years ago this month, but when he died, I was not his widow, and I rightly had no say in what happened. His mother and surviving sister made the decisions and I was grateful they kept us informed.

I looked gently at Jeffrey sitting next to me in the car, the top of his copper head already touching the headliner, his shoulders broadening visibly in the last few months. Fifteen. He’s still only fifteen, but he’s shouldered so many grown-up things in his fifteen years.

“He was cremated, and I believe your Aunt Emily has his ashes in California.”

He looked out the window for a minute before turning towards me. “No, mom. That’s not right… he belongs with us.”

I was quiet. “Well,” I ventured cautiously, “I don’t have any rights, but you do. Would you like me to talk to your Aunt Emily for you?”

“Yeah.” In his mind, it was settled. In some ways, he’s very much a teenager.

When we got home, I emailed Emily with Jeffrey’s questions—she responded immediately and kindly, and wrote that she agreed the kids should have a say in the resting place for their father. She offered to ship David’s ashes to Jeffrey.

When Jeffrey went to Jon with the news, Jon said the right thing for us to do was to fly out and retrieve him, and carry him home with us. We had no idea how to make that happen, but we realized that since we were going to be in Utah, maybe we could move things around to get Jeffrey and me to California.

Over the next three hours, with family and loved ones working on it from four different states, we managed to change our airline reservations, move around vacation schedules, and coordinate the lives of half a dozen people, so that the pieces all miraculously fell into place. After the family reunion, Jon and three of the kids would fly back to Virginia, and Jeffrey and I would fly to San Francisco where my parents would pick us up and drive us to Ukiah. We would meet Emily at the retirement home where Nana lives now, and she would give Jeffrey David’s ashes, which he would then carry home.

And that’s exactly what happened.

***

We spent a quick four days in California, before we had to fly back. Football practice apparently waits on no one, even a boy doing the emotional work of a grown man. It was his choice, and I was there to support and help lift where I could.

After visiting Charlotte and Emily, we spent the remainder of the week with my parents and siblings, and I was able to take Jeffrey to some of the important places his dad loved. We visited some of David’s favorite restaurants, and Jeffrey found the stool in Jake’s Pizza where I first met his dad 27 years ago.

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We went for walks with my mom, had dinner with the extended family, and enjoyed the San Francisco summer—which meant 30 degrees cooler than Virginia and Utah. He didn’t believe me when I told him he’d need a sweatshirt in July, but once that fog rolled across the bridge he marveled at the amazing cold. Usually my time is so divided with the kids, it was really a treat being able to just enjoy the needs of one. Making one-on-one time a priority just moved up my life list.

This may be my favorite picture of the summer:

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When we got on the plane to come home, Jeffrey carried his dad in his arms.

The three kids together have talked about what to do and have decided they want a permanent resting place for their dad, with a headstone and a place for flowers. In another example of the generous healing provided by expansive hearts, it was suggested that we might have David buried near our family spot in Logan. We were all in Logan that summer morning two years ago when we got the call that he was gone. Logan was the last place I talked to him. The pieces just keep falling into place. In this world with so much sorrow and grace and beauty, it may be that our children’s unconventional modern family can be together forever.

Family Reunion-ing

IMG_0729My husband comes from a grand, boisterous family, and I completely love them. One of the litmus tests when gambling your heart on a second marriage is how well your partner can merge with your family—as we get older, we realize how incredibly important a mark this is, and how far-ranging the effects are if we miss it.

Jon is one of seven siblings, and they are close, dramatic, funny, loud, irreverent, sincere and ridiculously welcoming and loving. My children and I were folded in seamlessly, even before our sealing, and in the years since, it’s as though we’ve always been here. It’s kind of awe-inspiring to feel so completely loved and at at home.

Jon’s youngest sister (at 8 months pregnant with #3) and her husband championed the planning of the reunion this summer—a massive undertaking for seven siblings, their spouses, a dozen-plus children, and far flung lives. This was the first time all seven kids and their parents would be together in more than a decade. Everyone was all-in, and despite the herculean effort required to make all the spinning plates of so many lives line up, it was totally worth it.

A cabin was reserved in the wilds of Southeastern Utah, and while the kids wailed initially at the promise of no wifi, no cell signal, and no internet, not a single one of them cried boredom all week. With fifteen cousins, a dog, a reservoir, two ATVs, kayaks, paddle boards, a dozen aunts and uncles, birthday celebrations, fire-pits, s’mores over open flames at midnight, telescopes for seeing the rings around Saturn, tie-dye parties, outdoor cookouts, homemade ice cream, and trips to a wave pool, no one ran out of anything. It was an embarrassment of riches.

I was worried at first about Bean in a house with so many people, but it turned out my fretting was for nothing. He managed with grace and a level of maturity that surprised me. All week, not one meltdown. Jon taught him to ride the ATV, and his obvious joy at having that level of responsibility and also independence was beautiful to witness. He would take off with Jeff through the dirt paths of the mountain and come back bug-bitten and filthy, but radiantly happy.

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Each of the kids got one-on-one time with their grandparents, and we had family history lessons, quiet time for visiting and reading, and just enjoyed the conversations that can only naturally happen when the margins of the day are wide, and people are relaxed.

We celebrated my father-in-law’s birthday and the other summer birthdays, but this gleeful rendition of Happy Birthday gives a solid sense of the general tenor of the family:

Throughout the week, I found myself deeply touched at being able to call this extended family my own. My San Francisco family is so much like this; we, too, are big and bold. We, too, laugh loudly and share our opinions with gusto. We, too, are a raucous group who might make more reserved people feel a little shy. For me, it’s truly coming home. These are as much my people as my family of birth.

When Jon and I married our lives forever, we weren’t just joining the two of us, and we knew it. We each came with the people who made us who we are, and it’s truly a gift that those people have become a home for each of us, too. My family. His family. Our family.

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An Evening at Writ & Vision

Before we headed to the family reunion, I had a quick pitstop to make. Jon and I spent the 5th driving all over Utah, trying to deposit children with grandparents, get me to my book-signing, and navigate a horrific traffic jam in a canyon with zero cell service and a dozen family members in different vehicles. It was more than a bit of a monkey circus. And this time, they were my monkeys, and it was my circus.

Jon ended up dropping me off with old friends from Spokane who had relocated to Utah, while he navigated the canyon and children, and I got to spend the afternoon being a nervous first-time author before a book event and enjoying a quiet lunch.

Honestly, I was so worried no one would show up. My friend Brad owns a charming little book shop in Provo called Writ & Vision, and while I had attended events there before, this was my first solo event. It’s easy to get up and talk when you have a co-editor (hi, Emily!) but when it’s all you, and you’ve written a gut-wrencher about the most painful parts of your life, well…

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An old friend stopped by before the event began to bring me a By Common Consent (for reals, it’s on the menu!) from Sodalicious. Seriously. They have a soda named after us! If you like Diet Coke with lime, coconut and a splash of grenadine, you’ll swoon. It’s so good. I sipped my BCC Soda while I worried no one was going to show up.

I was wrong.

Brad’s store specializes in collectible and antique books, along with a focus on showcasing Utah artists. The store is charming and eclectic and welcoming. He’d set up a table in front with a large stack of my books, along with cookies and iced lemon water. The pile of books looked forlornly daunting, but he had a few pre-orders set aside already for me to sign for customers who had called in advance. It was surreal.

In the back of the store is a gallery and presentation space. Gradually friends started showing up, and I was happy to visit with people I hadn’t seen in a while. Jon was still running children all over Utah, but I knew he was trying to get back. Slowly, the seats all started to fill—faces I knew and loved well, and more and more faces I didn’t know, but who smiled their encouragement to the butterflies in my stomach.

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Here I am looking quite stern, with Steven Peck (a dear longtime friend) who introduced me and waxed poetic about my writing, and Carina (@JetSet on Twitter and a new friend) who pinch-hit for Courtney Kendrick and interviewed me. I’m not sure what I am saying here, but my kids would know not to mess with me, given that look.

It was weird having so many people there to hear me talk, and I hope my answers to Carina’s excellent questions were at least sort of interesting. I was able to meet several new friends, and finally meet some folks whom I have known online, but had not previously met in person, and even more who I didn’t know at all. It was fun, and exhausting, and exhilarating, and terrifying all at once. I wish I had taken more pictures, but there is one picture I’m happy I got:

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This is Deanna; we went to kindergarten together in California. She lives in Utah now, and I haven’t seen her in close to 30 years. She came to see me. What an amazing world we live in, where these kinds of connections can be maintained.

Jon got there just as everyone was milling around and socializing afterwards, wearing a “She’s my QUEEN” t-shirt he gleefully found at a thrift store the week before, which he thought hilarious and apropos for the night. I love him.

And with that, we headed off to the mountains for family reunion-ing, no cell signal or wifi, and a week of swimming, 4-wheeling, canoeing, cooking, and no way to check statistics or sales. It was actually just what I needed.

p.s. Writ & Vision sold the whole pile of books.

Landing on the 4th of July

It turns out when you fly on an actual holiday, things are cheaper. And it turns out when you are flying six people across the country with quilted-together banked-miles, making it as cheap as possible is a key decision point. So we flew on the 4th of July. Packing the car was a game of Tetris, with seven suitcases and six no-longer child-sized bodies; with some creative stacking we did it:

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Flying with Bean is always fun, but we’ve found that ear-protection, a heavy blanket, a well-charged Kindle, and people who patiently love him all help.

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The airlines are pretty great about accommodation for kids with autism—if you let them know, they will allow you to pre-board and get settled before the rest of the passengers crowd on. I know some folks get crabby about seeing people who appear fine taking advantage of disabled pre-boarding, but trust me folks, it’s better for everyone if he doesn’t feel panicked and has his headphones on before you get your seat. I love this one:

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The sun was setting when we landed in Utah. We expected to miss fireworks, and had arranged to meet some friends and family for the night before we headed to our family reunion early on the 5th. What we didn’t expect, and couldn’t have possibly known, was how spectacular it is to land in the Salt Lake Valley on Independence Day.

We walked out of the airport into the most magnificent warm air. Every one of the kids spread their arms and embraced the glorious, dry warmth—people kept commenting on how hot it was, to 95 degrees with only 10% humidity felt like heaven to our Virginia skin. We re-Tetrised into our Mormon-family-sized rental car and  headed south on I-15.

The freeway was deserted. We rolled down all the windows and laughed as the dry wind whipped our hair and our arms and hands surfed the turbulent waves while we sang Imagine Dragons over the roaring wind. From horizon to horizon, hundreds of fireworks punctuated the indigo sky. From the backseat, Bean yelled over the wind, “I should be miserable, but I am so happy!” We all nodded with joy.

It was the best homecoming I never could have planned, and a magnificent start to our first family reunion in more than a decade.

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Then, as one does when you’re flying west from the east coast, you cap off the night with In-n-Out as your first stop. Even Bean ate a plain cheeseburger.

We really need to work on being less reserved.

Utah Book Signing!

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Hey friends! I’m lucky enough that some great people have invited me to an event at their bookstore in beautiful downtown Provo on July 5th. If you’re in the area, please come by! I’ll be there with Jon (and possibly a kid or two) from 7-10 pm. Come say hi! There will be cookies! And exclamation points!

The Burning Point: It’s Only My Heart

Screen Shot 2017-06-27 at 10.12.32 PMIf you look at it from one direction, it’s been just over six months of work. But that’s not true. Like everything in life, it all depends on your vantage point, and for me this is almost 30 years of life. It is my heart on a plate. But even that isn’t completely true. It’s a facet of my heart—a very important facet that informs who I am today and who I hope I can be in the future—but it’s still only a fragment of the depth and beauty of a life well lived. This is my offering…

Gulp… here goes nothing.

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