While grief is fresh every attempt to divert only irritates.  You must wait till it be digested, and then amusement will dissipate the remains of it. ~Samuel Johnson

Day 4 started with a trip to get Donuts for the Underwarriors.  Underwearers?  Undie brigade?  I forget what they called themselves.  Half nakeds?

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Luckily I did manage to get them in clothes by the time we left for SIX FLAGS!

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Grace accomplished one of her summer “goals” and rode Mr Freeze.

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I reveled in having a 5 year old along.

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The kids were very adventurous. Addie wasn’t posing, she was excited/terrified.

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The boys were equally terrif—happy to be going along too.

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I’m not sure I’ve mentioned to anyone how often, recently, I find myself thinking “what could go wrong?”

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Yep.  Two wheelchairs, ONE mom, five kids.  Nolan got quite queasy after that loop-de-loop ride.  We tried an ice cream stop to get something cold and rest sitting down for a bit but he felt too yucky for ice cream, so we called in first aid.

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Please note that I did NOT get to finish that whole entire ten scoop, fresh made waffle, ice cream cone before we got to the first aid house.  I sure tried but it would not have been appropriate to keep slurping up that ice cream in the nurses station.  Would it have?  I debated the whole walk there.  I looked like one of the kids when we got there – ice cream all over my face and hands.  It is SO HARD to push a wheelchair and eat a giant waffle cone in 108 degree heat.   I sure did give a point back to the universe for this one.

Nolan was feeling pretty pitiful for a few minutes but rebounded very quickly.  Don’t let that face fool you – he and Max were super mad there because their side of the boat didn’t get soaked.

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Overall, it was a great day.

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We bonded like only an amusement park can help you do- being filthy and sweaty and pretty sick to your stomach and going back for more together.

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The best part of the whole day, for me, was riding the taxi ride with Walker.  I kept telling him to drive straight, which he couldn’t do as those cars are on that little track.  It cracked him up over and over and over and over.  We rode it 5 times.

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This day may have been the best day of this whole year.   It was a purely good day.  I felt my love for my kids and their cousins so deeply and with attention that has been hard to give over the last year.  I was in heaven spending so much time in one big chunk with all of them.

We stayed until they closed down the park.  In memory of my mother.

 

I find standing and posing for photos very awkward.  ~Nicole Kidman

Day 3 of Cousin Camp was a bit of a lazy, recovery day.  Everybody lazed around in the morning and then we headed out to the movies.  We saw Jurassic World.  The crew mostly gave it thumbs downs.

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There wasn’t much noteworthy about the day besides the normal chaos.  Trying to get this picture at the theater at least provides for one thing.

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It shows how Walker is in some sort of phase with photos.  He either opens his mouth really wide and acts incredulous or throws a few gang-ish signs.  I didn’t catch him off guard here; he’s posing.

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Just in case anyone started to get jealous of me and think I only show the good parts of life (I know, you’re so jealous!) … I think that fake chair broke during this.  I think everyone blends right in with the backdrop.  Yes?

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Obviously I quit before we got a good pic, otherwise you would see Walker looking much more thuggish.  And you’d probably see Max’s face.

After the movie, the girls went for a sleepover at Missy’s house and the boys played the night away.  This is the real stuff.

The cave you fear to enter hold the treasure you seek.  ~Joseph Campbell

Day 2 of Cousin Camp was another good day.

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We took the advice of my dear friend and MO family friendly outdoor adventure expert, Jodie Allen, and drove down to Onondaga Cave State Park.

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We hiked the mile or so into the forest to take the lantern tour of Cathedral Cave.  Half of us were scared out of our wits to go in, especially me.

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But the cool temps and wondrous geology distracted us.

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The tour was two hours long.

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The kids were enthralled.

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They imagined super heros building their command centers deep down in this cave.

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The best part was when everyone in the tour group turned their lights off and we were all silent.   Lights *accidentally* came on only four times during the two minutes of dark silence.  I’ll let you guess if all four times were caused by our little group or not.

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This group gives two big thumbs up to the cave exploration.

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We then had lunch by the river and played a little bit.  Max broke down for the first time since he broke his ankle.  His frustration at being held back by the boot was intense.  We decided to make him king-of-the-moment and all 6 of the rest of us carried him down to the water on our shoulders.  It did the trick.

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It was such a great getaway.  Revision to original post:  We went home and the BOYS spent the night with Aunt Missy and the GIRLS did some art and had Strange Donuts to refuel and prepare for Day 3.3.

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I find hope in the darkest of days, and focus in the brightest.  I do not judge the universe.  ~Dalai Lama

The first full day of cousin camp was a success!

Highlights included a morning movie.  Was there a lone gunman keeping these kids hostage?  IMG_0040

We celebrated Walker-man turning 5.

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We served lunch on the breezeway.

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And then went to the zoo, Barmann style.

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I laughed to myself and even half-insanely out loud for the better part of a half an hour at the sight of this motley crew at the zoo.

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Missy and Elise had to leave because of the heat, so I was there with 5 kids, one in a wheel chair, mind you, and Amy.  Why does someone always have to be in a wheelchair in a Barmann outing?

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No one pooped their pants, which was actually quite a disappointment.  I throw my arms in the air to you, universe; you always keep me guessing.

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I loved every minute at that zoo with that crazy crew.

Day 1 Cousin Camp 3.0, thank you!

 

 

 

Everyone is flailing through this life without an owner’s manual, with whatever modicum of grace and good humor we can manage.  ~Anne Lamott

We’re kicking off the third round of Cousin Camp 3.0.

Because when life socks you in the belly*, I say take out all of your first floor plumbing, pull up the flooded carpet in your bedroom, put your youngest in a broken ankle boot, let the dog throw up on all carpet not already flooded out, give an extra pillow to prop your special needs sister who also got stuck with sleep apnea, give a bonus dose of ibuprofen to your oldest knowing that 103.5 fevers don’t *usually* cause too much trouble and BRING ON THE COUSINS!

Some things have to stay the same.  Do you hear me gods (devils?) of chaos?   I mean it.  We love the tradition of having our MN kids with us for a week in the summer.   Quit trying to get in our way!

*Missy and I have both had a pretty bumpy last few months juggling the demands of closing out our parents’ estates and caring and planning for Amy’s needs.   And seemingly unrelated, but most likely pretty related, our house seems to be falling down around us, including the people inside it.  A dear friend (enemy?) said the other day that she did not trust my karma.  Another dear friend (frenemy?) said that I am a good candidate for botox.  It’s all actually funny because I have started wondering if I did something really wrong in a past life.

But as always, I land on the fact that if I did do something wrong in a past life, it must have also been a prank that went a little off and nothing deeply horrible, because as bad as some of this stuff is, I see some good in every last bit of it.

With regards to the botox comment, I did something wrong in this very life and intentionally got sunburned.  Repeatedly.

Anyway, this is just a heads up, it is cousin camp week and pictures will follow.

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Boys waiting to get picked up by Dan, who was already in the game.

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They thought Stan Musial was weird looking in this statue, “probably because he played for the Cardinals”.  They were NOT HAPPY that the Royals lost.

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Addie and I had a little date and went to get frozen Custard because Grace went to bed early not feeling well.  It was such a treat to talk to her all about her favorite part of Circus Camp – the trapeze!!!

Whatever satisfies the soul is truth. ~Walt Whitman

It has been exactly one month since our mom died.  Almost 9 months since our dad died.

I’m in the mood to talk about how I feel.

I feel that people dying is confusing.  I get it that people die as part of the cycle of life and I *hope* and *believe* that their souls are dancing and belly laughing with a constant runner’s high on a blue sky 68 degree day in the mountains.  I hope and believe they are with us still.  I’m not confused about where they are.

Sometimes I feel like I don’t know where I am.  I see the same walls but it doesn’t make any sense because I know for sure I’m not in the same place.  Sometimes the floors feel tippy.  And the most I ever drink is one drink, so it’s not that.

Sometimes it feels like I’m not afraid or anxious about anything at all any more, because the worst thing is over.

And then I think about the fact that something worse could actually happen; what if someone else gets sick and we had to rev up our engines to deal with that.  Or something else even so much worse it is unimaginable?

But then I’m certain something worse won’t happen, at least not soon, because did you know that God never puts more on you than you can handle?

Ahahahaha.  I’d like to invite the jackass that made that up over to my house.  I’d also like to ask them what kind of sweet life they have been living that left them never once exposed to something they couldn’t handle.  I’d also like to ask if they’ve heard of any of the recent natural disasters.  Or malnourished children.  People in this world are suffering more than they can handle.

As for me, I could not handle the past nine months.

I guess that’s why sometimes I don’t know where I am.  Because when we do end up in places and circumstances that are more than we can handle, we are spit out the other side completely changed.  We are stretched and changed and beat up and some relationships break and some relationships strengthen and our activities change and we get wrinkles and bags and we break down when it would be better not to and we don’t break down when it would be good to let it out and we. are. changed.

The “you” that was there when the more-than-you-can-handle started is not the same “you” that is there in the end.

Sometimes I feel that I have lost everything: the way life was, prior to the last nine months, is over in many ways.

Sometimes I don’t feel anything at all, except that I have to pee.

Sometimes I feel mad at people who lost a parent and then went on a six month hike or did drugs or otherwise imploded their entire life.

But I’m only mad at them because I’m jealous.  I’d really like to be reckless and irresponsible and I’d definitely like to hike for six straight months by myself and then write a best selling book about it and turn that into a movie, thus turning my parents’ death and my self-involved-fancy-white-person’s-implosion into a big fat cash cow.

Instead, my self-involved-implosion consists of eating too much at lunch time and trying to recover by dinner but eating too much then too, dreaming of spending one solitary night in the Glendale jail to get some rest, and writing this silly blog.

But the simple truth is that people are suffering in this world right now, way more than I will ever suffer.

The truth is that I have way too much to lose to risk letting my whole life implode.  Nothing is the same as it was before, but the three other people also inside these strange walls deserve more than me imploding.  They have been nearby the whole time and even though they look different to me now too, and they too have been changed, and there is a fourth one in here with us, this more-than-we-can-handle gave me a little bit of clarity.

The clarity is age old stuff like: you can’t take anything with you when you die; death happens to the best of us; even when you can’t handle something you usually have some choices about the next step; your health is everything; people are generally awesome; life is short.

The most clarity is around this truth: a lot of things matter in the world we build out of our pride, but only a few things matter in the world we build out of our love.  And the only thing that really matters is the world we build out of our love.

So there you have it.  If you’re still reading then you have suffered through my self indulgence and I ask that you forgive me and I also thank you.  It so helps me to get some of these thoughts out of my head so they can go on and leave me alone.

Love.

 

 

 

Your problem is how you are going to spend this one odd and precious life you have been issued. Whether you’re going to spend it trying to look good and creating the illusion that you have power over people and circumstances, or whether you are going to taste it, enjoy it and find out the truth about who you are. ~Anne Lamott

After I had kids, I accepted the truth that I am not perfect at anything at all.  In fact, I’m mostly fairly shitty at many, many things.  What I knew after having Grace and Max was that it doesn’t matter because my job is to love and hug and cheer and read and advocate and create a safe space and provide food and shelter and experiences and there is no exact right to those things.  I figured out that if we’re honest, most everyone else is wrangling to be ~good enough~ too.  Thankfully.  I thought that parenting was the ultimate humbler.
When both of my parents ended up sick at the same time– and since most of you already know that I mean sick to the point of the end hanging, hovering, creeping nearby, really nearby, for a long, really long time —  there was a whole new chance to be humbled.   If you’ve ever wanted to find out the truth about who you are, join a family with two dying parents and a special needs sister.  Try it.  I dare you.  [<—-And that attitude right there, that was part of my problem.  It seemed like our situation was unique, which created a very isolated space in me.]

All of the above was drafted on 28 April because I had a very humbling revelation that day.  But I didn’t finish it because it has been a hell of a year and my thoughts don’t come out whole.

And then, on 4 May, my mom died.

She lived right up until the moment that she died.  (That sounds ridiculous when I re-read it.  It is profound in my head.) Her death was in some ways the opposite of my dad’s.  He dimmed out over many years; his body giving up more and more while his spirit did the same in parallel.  She refused to accept the disease that infested her and it refused to accept her refusal.  It was a boxing match where each opponent kept getting knocked aaaaaalllllllmost aaaaaalllllllll the way out and then kept. getting. back. up. and taking another swing.

Watching this fight was hard for me.  I struggled for months to get through each day with the weight of how to truly love my mother and honor her and provide her comfort and peace and the right medical care.  I dug deep for ways that would serve us both long after she was gone, all while she was dying in front of my eyes.  And while we tried to find the best care for Amy and we tried to still love each other and I tried to still be a mom and wife and friend and colleague. It was tricky too, because, as it turns out, dying for her did not look like I expected dying to look.  I expected days or even weeks sitting by her bedside, coordinating with hospice and family and eventually watching her go.  But since I don’t have power over people or circumstances, it didn’t go as I thought it would.

My mom’s dearest friend was being given a retirement party in Kansas City on what turned out to be three days before my mom died.  So we drove on a Friday afternoon from St. Louis to Kansas City.   But only after she spent the morning in the cancer center getting fluids and blood.   And this was two days after her oncologist had asked if she was ready to be done.  She was not.

The trip was incredibly hard — she could barely walk — everything was painful and a strain.  She changed her outfit in my car and was out of breath and reeling for 30 minutes after.  But she wanted to go and didn’t complain. She wanted to live.

I complained: in my head, to friends, to family, to my spouse and kids and to God for being a jackass and not making life and death a breeze just at least this one damn time.  Who do you think was really the ass in that conversation?  At that point in time, I found myself in a total frenzy.

It turns out that my feeling of frenzy and insanity was actually grief.  The grief of watching someone die and having no idea when her spirit would lose out to her body; having no idea how much longer she or any of us could take it.  Dying for her wasn’t laying in her bed surrounded by family while we held hands and read poetry about heaven and told each other how much we loved each other.  Nope.

Dying for her looked like getting to a party across the state on time and talking and laughing until late at night.  It included having a big breakfast with our best family friends and laughing so hard our stomachs hurt and then driving back to St. Louis, but only after driving past our old house and my dad’s space at the cemetery.  It looked like someone who was at peace after visiting her home and friends of the past 50 years.  And then ordering clothes for grandkids online and personally delivering a plant to me and Dan for our anniversary.  It included going in for a procedure that couldn’t be performed because she was in too much pain.  And then heading to the ER, getting pain meds that calmed her and put her in a restful state; hearing the first sentence of the last rites and quietly taking one last breath.

When I started this post, it was about a revelation I had (with help from a quiet expert) that I had a choice in this odd and precious life.   In the struggle of the past many months, our friends and our community have showed up repeatedly, asking to help, offering to help, begging to help ease our burdens and pain.  Along with the struggle of grief, I struggled mightily with what kind of help to accept and with being overwhelmed by feelings of being insufficient and being weak and indebted.  And I struggled with feeling alone.  I thought that our situation was too awful and messy and that I was too awful and messy to let anyone see it.  I tried to push off offers of help because I thought there would be a time we would REALLY need it.  You know, for the time when we were going to be sitting by her side 24×7 for weeks on end.

I was losing my mind with frenzy and guilt and shame and isolation.  Simply stated, with grief.

Luckily, I learned that I had a choice: to either be overwhelmed and frenzied and alone with how hard things were,  or to accept offers of help and to be overwhelmed with GRATITUDE.  GRATITUDE, not guilt.  GRATITUDE.  I had thought my choices were to suffer alone or to feel guilt and indebtedness for accepting help.   I guess, in a way, they were.  But to be indebted is to be in a state of gratitude.  Indebted actually means “owing gratitude for a service or favor”.  I was simply stunned at the flip of this concept: being overwhelmed with insufficiency and indebtedness was the other side of the coin of gratitude.

When it was pointed out that I could choose to be overwhelmed with GRATITUDE, I felt that I had never in my life heard words that were so true to the core of me.  It shifted pain into a space of truth in my heart.  I was humbled in a way that I can not express.  I can live in a state of gratitude.  I can not LIVE in a state of isolated grief.  I can’t always reciprocate support the day after it is provided to me, but it can be my life’s work show my gratitude.  Looking for ways to show my gratitude turned the grim world I was living in upside down.

So this is a very, very, very long story to say that through the past year of life and death, I have found out a truth about who I am.  Gratitude is the lens that makes sense of the world to me.  I knew that (see my series of gratitude posts) and I had forgotten it.  I have been humbled anew.

I can’t try to look good and create illusions and control – I can taste, enjoy and be overwhelmed by gratitude.

PS I also began to believe deeply through this past year that pain is common among all people.  It looks different for everyone but I suspect it feels the same and it is inescapable.  That thought is for another day…

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