Category Archives: Slice of Life

I Hope They Don’t Call Him on a Mission

P and Elder N

Patrick with Elder Nielson, the first missionary he ever met, 1998.

In the greater Brisbane (Australia) city area, if there is a news report of a stabbing, armed robbery, police car chase or drug-related arrest, chances are it’s in the southern suburb of Logan. So, obviously, that’s where my sixteen year old son was called to serve for a week on his “mini-mission”.

Cue parental heart attack, anxieties and worry.

I dropped him off one Saturday morning to the missionary flat, where two elders came out to the car to help with his bike, his suitcase, backpack and groceries. A final “Bye Mum, love you” tossed over his shoulder and I was driving back home, an hour north of where I’d just abandoned my firstborn to the cruel uncaring world. The entire way home I was praying – pleading – with God to make sure Patrick would be well, and happy, and gain something positive out of his mini-mission (and not be mugged, or hurt, or…) Continue reading

The Grief Linebacker

Jack Lambert

He hits me blindside, like an unprotected quarterback.  Pinned to the floor by a 400-lb wall of angry flesh, I am cracked, broken, concussed.  Everything was going so well.  The day was progressing normally; I was functional, productive even.  As a final insult, he gives me one more push as he arises, sauntering off into the mist while lay there, awash in tears, my chest crushed from sobbing, my head reeling.  It takes me a day to recover.

In her book, “On Loss and Loving Onward,” Melissa Dalton-Bradford describes her Grief Beast:

“The Grief Beast is enormous – a hybrid of Jabba the Hutt, Sasquatch, and Grendel.  His head scratches any twenty-foot ceiling, and he doesn’t speak; he transudes.  He is warted and hairy and lumpy – a shaggy, slate-khaki thing with hair balls and sodden patches of a matted, grimy pelt from sitting for long stretches in pools of tears and mucus.”

Melissa is a dear friend of many years, and I can see her Grief Beast vividly.  As she has shared her experiences with me, and as we have wept together, I have imagined her with this “blubbery, slavering mass” following her around everywhere she goes.  I see her lying on the cold tile of her bathroom floor as he sits there next to her, a “hulking, stinking, unwelcome sidekick.”  In the years before Ethan passed, I knew his death was coming – his health was fragile and deteriorated year by year, and  I mourned this horrifying fact together with my dear friend.  She, mourning the loss of her beautiful son, Parker.  I, mourning the child that never was, that never would be, whom I would inevitably lose.  She, dragging around her Grief Beast, becoming accustomed to its presence while my Grief Linebacker stayed on the sidelines, waiting patiently to be called up by the coach.

And now, nearly six months after Ethan’s passing, my Grief Linebacker hits with semi-regularity.  Some days, he comes out of nowhere, but others, I see him coming, barreling down the field, gaining speed and momentum.  On the seventh of every month, the anniversary of Ethan’s death, I stand at midfield, my feet planted, my body relaxed and waiting for the hit.  I look him in the face, see the beads of sweat on his brow, smell the foul odor of pain and loss emanating from his hulking frame, and feel his powerful arms in a vise grip around my chest as we hit the turf together and I am crushed under his weight.  I lay there on my back, gasping, tears flowing into my ears, waiting for him to retreat to his regular position on the field so that I can roll over into a fetal position, a pulpy mass of mucus, tears, and pain.

The other day, I went to the science center with my two sons.  As we entered one of the exhibit areas, I spotted a woman sitting next to a little boy with spastic cerebral palsy in a wheelchair.  I smiled at her, and she smiled back, looking away.  Knowing all too well the smiles of well-meaning strangers as I have sat with my similarly disabled child in his wheelchair, I have used the same deflection technique.  Acknowledge, look away, engage in something else to avoid uncomfortable conversation.  Undaunted, I bravely walked up to her and said, “That’s a great wheelchair!  Is it a Quickie?  My son had a Quickie (brand) wheelchair.”  Instantly her face relaxed and she smiled, realizing that I spoke her language.  We chatted a bit about her grandson as I knelt down next to the wheelchair and smiled at him.  The grandmother was in town with this sweet boy and his two siblings while their parents were away on business.  An indoor activity away from the blistering Florida heat and humidity was the perfect way to pass the afternoon.  “What is your name, sweetheart?” I said to the little boy.

“Ethan,” his grandmother responded.

This time, the Grief Linebacker was kind.  He picked me up and carried me to the other side of the exhibit hall, as I managed to sputter out, “Oh!  My son was named Ethan too.  Have a fun day!”  It was only then, behind one of the brightly colored exhibits, in a quiet, private space that he threw me to the ground and pounced.

[Image of Jack Lambert courtesy of Best Athletes by the Numbers]

Mean Girls of Instagram

I’m a latecomer to the whole smartphone party; I got my first iphone just a couple of years ago. I have certainly made up for lost time, though. I especially love to keep track of friends (both real and virtual) through social media. I find it all harmless fun but I’ve been hearing more and more about the issues grown women are having with it. Both as a friend and as a Relief Society President I’m getting teary calls from women I know who feel bad about not being invited to a party or get-together that they’ve seen plastered all over Instagram and Facebook.

Not being invited to a party is a conundrum that has faced girls and women probably since Eve threw the first harvest celebration and forgot to include one of her granddaughters. I remember crying at being left out and the same thing happens to my daughters. Nobody wants to feel unpopular and not included. In the olden days when I was a girl, you’d hear about a birthday party you weren’t inveted to through the grapevine. Or maybe you wouldn’t. But now every lunch date and bunco party is documented for the world to see.

Part of me wants to tell women who call me with their feelings hurt that this is just part of life. We’ll never be invited to everything. Somebody will invariably get crossed off the guest list. It’s part of being the human beings that we are.

But then I stop to think about it and get angry. Why do some women feel the need to put pictures up knowing that other women, including their sisters in the gospel, will see them and feel bad? Are they ignorant? Do they not care? Do they just think, “be a big girl and deal with it! If you’re sad, that’s your problem.”

So in case you didn’t know this, let me enlighten you: when you put a picture up on Social Media that shows you and a few other people having fun, somebody will feel bad that they weren’t invited. For whatever reason, people will be sad that they weren’t there too. Take it as a compliment—people want to be with you!

If you want to brag (and let’s face it, a lot of the time it’s bragging) about the great meal you ate, how about just taking a picture of the food? Or a selfie with the restaurant sign in the background? Do you really have to prove to the world again and again that you are popular? (This isn’t high school!)

The thing we forget about social media is that there are so many opportunities to interact. No, we are not having deep conversations but there is an opportunity to build people up and there is an opportunity to tear people down. Even in one or two sentences.

Sometimes I look at Facebook in a bad mood and I feel like posting the responses to people that I really feel, “Your kids are ugly”, “you are such an idiot for voting the way you do” and “I hate dogs and they have certainly never left paw prints on my heart”. But I don’t. Because I want to be remembered as someone who had something kind or encouraging to say. (Although let’s face it, mostly I say snarky things but hopefully people will remember that I had a good sense of humor.)

My point is this: we are responsible for the things we say to others, and the feelings that we create by the pictures and updates we post. Do you teach your children to be kind and respect the feelings of other people, or do you tell them that how other kids feel is not their problem? I’m guessing that you teach your kids to consider the feelings of others; we should do the same. Yes, the reactions of other people are their own. We aren’t responsible for the feelings of the women around us; but I don’t want people to feel bad about themselves because of the things I post. Do you?

The Temptation of the Old Boyfriend

As my friend dropped her voice I leaned in, knowing she was about to spill some good gossip. “Shelley reconnected with her old boyfriend on Facebook.” Due to the clandestine overtones of this statement I guessed that this wasn’t a simple update on who Shelley has been friending lately. “They’ve been texting too. Her husband found out but she swears they’re completely platonic.” I groan. I don’t need to hear anything else to know exactly what’s going on.

Shelley is a friend I’ve known forever and a day. We used to be in the same stake and although we never hung out on a regular basis, we always hit it off and enjoyed each other immensely. She is—I assumed—pretty happily married with three youngish children. But the old boyfriend thing? That is a wedge that I’ve been seeing drive its way into marriages all over the place lately. And it’s the reason I won’t friend anyone on Facebook that I’ve ever kissed.

I’m not going to blame Facebook and turn this into a post about the evils of social media. This temptation-of-the-old-boyfriend business has been going on much, much longer than that. I remember as a young newlywed seeing a fellow young newlywed in our ward suddenly leave her husband and new baby for an old fiancé; only to return, sheepishly, a few months later. This was years before the internet was the hook-up place that it is now.

What is it about an old boyfriend? Is it a hope to recapture youth? Is it the wonder of what might have been? Is it like the old lipstick you threw in the back of the drawer because you didn’t like it, only to fish it out a year later and when you try it on you think, “wow! This looks great on me! Why did I ever get rid of it?” Or is it just the appeal of romance before there were diapers and weight gain and crows feet?

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Mommy and E

Stand as Witnesses

Orlando is a great vacation destination, but its location at the lower east corner of the United States makes it difficult for the majority of my family and friends who live in the northwest U.S. and Canada to pop over for a quick visit.  My nearest and dearest knew about the difficult life of my son, Ethan, and although they knew and loved him from afar, very few had stepped inside my home.  In the nearly 10 years that we have lived in Orlando, my family has come to visit, but very few of my close friends.  In early 2013, all of that changed.  In January, to my delight, Justine and her family came to Orlando for her daughter’s 12th birthday.  We spent some time together at the temple, went to church, and had dinner in our home while they were here.  They stood at Ethan’s bedside, murmured loving phrases to him, and held his hand.

Andrea and Justine

Then in May, Julie came to visit on her way to Cuba via Miami.  She had known him in Sacramento when we lived there, but marveled at how he’d grown since she saw him last.

Andrea and Julie

A few weeks later, the delightfully saucy Kel messaged me and asked if she could spend a few days with us while on her whirlwind trip through the U.S. from Australia.  She brought the little boys gifts of boomerangs and Tim Tams and a kangaroo pelt for Ethan because he loved soft, fluffy things to touch.  Later, she told me this about meeting Ethan:

“I remember walking into his room behind you, checking out the equipment, and as I turned I saw your face as you straightened. I had yet to see you mother, to see you with your kids, and your face in that moment was so soft and fiery and devoted it choked me up. It was a moment of truth, and I realised again that just being in your house, being in Ethan’s room, was a gift, a vulnerability, and I loved you for it and felt honoured.

‘Hey, Ethan,’ you said, “this is my friend Kellie, she wants to meet you.’

My god, did I.”

Andrea and Kel 3

Heather was also able to make it down from South Carolina during Kel’s stay, and showered us with gifts and lively conversation.  I realized after they left that three of my beloved Segullah friends had met my son for the first time.

Andrea and Heather B

Later that year, as Ethan’s health began to decline, Heather and Nate, Brittney and Andy, and Aaron and Stina all were in Orlando and all visited my home.  These were dear friends, some of whom I had known since college, who stood at Ethan’s bedside, stroked his soft hair, held his hand, and kissed his cheek as he neared his last days on earth.

Andrea and Heather

Brit and Andy

Aaron and Stina

Mosiah 18:8 – 9 counsels us to “…bear one another’s burdens that they may be light…mourn with those that mourn…comfort those that stand in need of comfort… and stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things and in all places…”  It is not uncommon to feel helpless in the face of another person’s tragedy.  Death, divorce, disability – these things and more leave us groping for the right thing to say or do.  Our case was no exception.  Ethan’s disabilities were profound and his health was very fragile, and although my friends and ward members were willing, only a person with specialized training or a nursing degree could give me hands-on help with his day-to-day needs.  What meant more to me during that time in Ethan’s life were the people who came into my home, stood by his bedside, stroked his hair, held his hand, and bore witness to the life that he and our family lived.

Not all problems can be solved.  Not all hurts can be healed.  Not all losses can be restored.  Sometimes it is enough to stand as a witness.