Thursday, April 28, 2016

All You Need Is Love

Last night I had a dream.
I was in "The Walking Dead". Not in the actual show, but rather living it in real life. It was a post-apocalyptic world and my family was on the run from both Walkers and Survivors. It was terrible and thrilling all at once. I remember having bloody clothes and the washing machines were being used and I was really bugged by it. My bra was soaked red with blood (who's blood, I'm not sure and that's scary) and I was holding my laundry and really upset because I couldn't walk around braless...or could I? Last night in real life, I had to make a late run to the grocery store and I walked into the garage wearing my sweat pants, tee shirt, and no bra. I was holding my purse and ready to get into the car when I realized how inappropriate it would be to go in public braless. But then I thought how amazing it would be if it WAS appropriate. I hope that in the post-apocalyptic world, all women will be braless. After all, there have to be some perks to living like a homeless person. AmIright??
Somehow that dream morphed into something far more poignant and it's had me thinking all morning about what it meant and if it's in line with my true feelings. You see, when you lose a child, one of your biggest fears is how it will all be made right in the Hereafter and how your family will be whole again. I want and need Garrett back as a three year old. I need him to snuggle in my lap while I read to him and I want to make him mac 'n cheese, the gross kind from the blue box. I need to teach him to ride a bike and kiss his boo boos and push him on the swings at the park while he tells me to push him higher. I need all of the things that I've been cheated of, as do my children and as does my husband. All of us have been robbed of a life; not just Garrett's life, but the lives we should each be living with him here.
In the next life, will we pick up where we left off? Will we be transported back to July 11, 2014 and get a re-do? Will all of my children be young again and will Cody and I be young parents? I can't imagine it working that way and it breaks my heart as I try to come up with a solution. In what scenario will I be satisfied? Is it even possible to EVER be satisfied, given what I've lost and been cheated of?
So in my dream we went from running from zombies and worrying about bloody bras, to being in California in an earthquake. I was with my parents, my children, my older sister and my oldest brother. We were sitting around a table in some sort of apartment building and the world was shaking around us. And then I started talking about this cosmic pull that connects us to each other; the energy that flows between people when they love one another. What is it that makes me love my children? Just because they came out of me does not mean I have to love them. But I do, and why? Why do I love anyone? Why do I love my brothers and sisters and parents so fiercely? What is it that would make me lay down my life for any one of them? What makes me love my husband like I do? I was saying all of this as we sat around this rickety table as the world was crumbling around us, and it was as if the words were coming through me but were not my own.
And then suddenly, I knew. I knew that this force between us is so strong, so connective, that nothing in the universe and the infinite space that is time can ever break it. This energy is called LOVE and it is the greatest power ever created. It is so strong and when our mortal bodies give out and die, this power lives on and it is strong enough to create worlds upon worlds. Nothing else will matter when I see my son again; his age, the age of my other children, whether or not they have families of their own...all of it will be of no consequence because the power that connects us, the love between us, will be strong enough to make anything possible. My greatest desires and wishes and all that is owed to me will be manifest.
And maybe that's what the Atonement of Christ is really about. I spend a lot of time thinking that it's too good to be true and that it's more of a bedtime story that has been passed down for thousands of years. Is it myth and magic or is it fact? Does Christ's sacrifice hold the power to really secure my future with my family and give me every desire of my heart? Is it strong enough to really make this hurt go away someday? How does it work?
Love. Such a simple word, such a simple notion, yet powerful enough to mend every broken thing. Christ exuded love from every poor and every faculty as he suffered for us. I don't understand even the tip of the iceberg, but today I woke up believing that in His suffering lies the key to my eternal happiness and that just maybe, love is all that will matter in the next life. And right now, it's enough to get me through another twenty-four hours.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Graduation Fair and Baind-Aids

One year ago I was up on campus for an exam and afterward I headed to the bookstore to get something for another exam.  Graduation Fair was taking place and the bookstore was filled with chaos as people were trying on gowns and ordering class rings and vendors were hawking their graduation memorabilia.  It was March 2015 and my heart ached as I realized I was supposed to graduate the following May.  It had been my plan for a while, ever since I went back to school to study something new.  I would graduate May 2016, take a year off while I interned and applied to graduate school, then I would start grad school in 2017.  Things were choreographed quite nicely and I could look to the future, my future and my family's future, with certainty.  At the age of thirty-four I finally knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life and my career goals were set into play.  

And then on July 12, 2014......

You know the rest.  

Garrett died three weeks before the summer termed ended.  Up to that point I had a 4.0 GPA, something I was proud of and had worked very hard to attain.  I did not finish the term, and I did not go back that fall.  I didn't know if I would ever go back, really.

But I did go back and it was so much harder than I anticipated.  On bad days, I had thoughts of ending my life.  On better days, I had thoughts of just checking out of life, but not ending it.  I cried and screamed each day while the kids were in school, then I picked myself up off the floor and forced myself to study.  It was during this time that I happened upon that Graduation Fair and felt hopelessly bereft.  Then summer term began and triggers came at me from every corner of the world, but I got through it.  I had to almost double up on my class load to make up for lost time, all while finishing the incomplete classes from THAT summer, but I got through it.

And now, I graduate in thirty-six days, just as I planned in the beginning.  Perhaps I should have been kinder to myself and allowed more time to pass before I jumped back into school.  But honestly, I think it is school that has kept me alive this last year.  It has given me purpose and something to work toward and without it, I don't know what would have happened to me.

A year later, today, I took my children up to the University of Utah to participate in this year's Graduation Fair.  As we walked into the bookstore and were met with banners and the hustle and bustle of fellow graduates, a lump formed in my throat and I thought back to this time last year.  I don't know what carried me through to now, but I am grateful.  And as I stood there hand in hand with Devin, I knew I would never take it for granted.

Yesterday I texted a dear friend and asked him if he would like to meet us for lunch on campus somewhere after Grad Fair.  Mike is one of my favorite people in the universe, and he also delivered (well, almost delivered) four of my five children.  It may seem odd to have such a close relationship with your OB, but Mike is different and I've always thought of him as a big brother.  I hadn't seen him since a month after Garrett's death, and it was time to make good on the "Hey, we need to meet up for lunch one of these days" sentiments we always share, but ever follow through on.  The kids are huge fans of Dr. Mike and we lucked out that he happened to be available this afternoon.

After getting my graduation supplies, we headed over to the med center to meet at the cafeteria.  All of our children but Ethan were born there, and I hadn't been back since the day we brought Garrett home when he was a newborn.  In fact, in all the times I've been on campus since going back to school post-death, I have deliberately avoided everything associated with the hospital.  Although my memories of it are only good ones, I ache at those memories.  I literally spent years at that place, pregnant with at least two other babies in tow.  I would maneuver through the parking garage and usually park in the same stall each time, load the kids into the double stroller, and waddle my way to the fourth floor.  It was so routine that I could do it in my sleep.  

But I decided today that it was another band-aid in need of removal.  I WANTED to see the place.  I wanted to remember the good times of stopping at the coffee shop to get a turkey and pesto sandwich while listening to the volunteer pianist playing the baby grand in the lobby.  I wanted to remember walking through the corridors and going up the elevator with my toddlers, dreaming of the day when we would welcome a new baby into our family within those very hospital walls.  

I knew the parking garage would be too painful.  Of all things, I knew that would make me very sad so I opted to use the free valet service.  When we walked into the lobby, memories and emotions flooded me and I smiled and fought tears at the same time.  The kids remembered the place, all of them but Devin because he was only a baby himself when he was there last.  Seeing Mike was like taking a drink of cold water on a hot day.  His very presence calms me and I can always count on laughing when we talk.  When I met him eleven years ago under very uncertain circumstances surrounding my complicated pregnancy with Hailey, I never could have imagined that all these years later, he would still be so important to our family.  So important to me and such a good friend.

After lunch he had to get to a meeting, so we said goodbye.  The kids wanted to go play on the escalators for a while, but I was ready to get out of there because it was becoming too painful.  But I obliged, and then they asked to go explore and see where they were born.  My heart sank. I looked ahead and saw the very elevator that would lead to the fourth floor, to the maternal fetal medicine clinic, and to the maternity wing.  I don't know what made me agree to it, but the next thing I knew we were on the elevator.

When we stepped off, I was immediately hit with the smell.  It wasn't a bad smell, but a very medical smell and one I used to know very well.  I was overcome with feelings of dejavu and it was hard keeping my emotions in check.  I could recall with clarity the last time I'd been in that clinic.  I knew what I was wearing, I knew Ethan was in school, I knew I was pushing Devin in the little blue umbrella stroller, and I knew Hailey and Lauren were wearing the matching striped sweaters Granana had given them for Christmas.  I also knew it would be my last OB appointment ever, and that Garrett would be born the next week.  

After walking through that corridor, I was impulsive and decided to head in the other direction and go through the big metal security doors into the maternity wing.  What was I doing, and why was I doing it?  And then we were there, standing at the check in desk, and I was telling the nurse we were just going down memory lane and wanted to walk through the halls.  She gave each of us masks to wear, but the boys decided they didn;t want to wear masks so they sat in the waiting area near the big doors.  The girls and I walked hand in hand down the hall and when we got there, I knew exactly what room had been mine when Garrett was born.  I stayed there for five days and I knew it.  I saw the door, and I was taken back to the first time I saw Garrett's face.  I knew him and loved him so intensely that my heart felt like it would burst.  It was as if I'd been waiting for him my whole life and when I saw him, I knew him.

I couldn't control the emotion and I stood there and shook all over.  I buried my face in my hands and wept as I remembered.  I remembered the first time he laid on my bare chest and how he nursed like a pro from the start.  I remembered those first few hours in the room together when it was just the two of us.  It was snowing outside and I laid there in the dark room and watched the snowfall out my window.  I was so in love with this new person and I laid there and cried.  I knew it would be my last time to ever experience this kind of thing, and I breathed every bit of it in.  

I starred at the closed door, knowing another mother was on the other side, likely loving on her new baby as well.  I wanted to be her.  I wanted to have those feelings all over again.  I wanted to change everything about the events that lead to Garrett's death.  I wanted to fix everything.  I wanted to go back to a time when I could fully protect my little boy....but instead, I stood there, powerless to change anything.  So together with my daughters, we cried.  

I don't know if it was at all healing to have done what I did today.  All I know is that it has rendered me useless since we got home, and that I've spent the afternoon and evening in bed crying myself dry.  I know I wanted to remember my precious time with my precious baby, and that I've been tempted to do all that I did today for a long time.  Although it hurt tremendously, I think it was good to go back and live all of the goodness one more time.  Sometimes I worry that I will forget the pain, but I want to hold on to the pain.  Sometimes I need it to hurt like it did today, because it reminds me that nothing has been forgotten and that Garrett is as real to me now as he was the last time I saw him.

It was a terrible band-aid to rip off.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Forgive Me

One of the last pictures I ever took of all five kids together.  We stopped in New Mexico, right outside of Albuquerque for gas and snacks before checking into our hotel.  Garrett would be on life support less than 48 hours later.
Agent Scully just found out she has cancer.

As I've watched countless hours of The X Files while binding blankets, I heard her say these words and in my head, I could almost hear Garrett saying them to me.  Forgive me for not making the rest of this journey with you.  It has so, so, so many meanings.  I forgive you, Friend.  I just wish I knew why.

"For the first time, I feel time like a heartbeat.  The seconds, pumping in my chest like a reckoning. The numinous mysteries that once seemed so distant and unreal, threatening clarity in the presence of a truth entertained not in youth, but only in its passage. I feel these words as if their meaning were weight being lifted from me, knowing that you will read them and share my burden as I have come to trust no other.  That you should know my heart and look into it, finding there the memory and experience that belong to you, that are you, is a comfort to me now as I feel the tethers loose and the prospects darken for the continuance of a journey that began not so long ago, and began again with a faith shaken and strengthened by your convictions. If not for which, I might never have been so strong now, as I cross to face you and look at you, incomplete, hoping that you will forgive me for not making the rest of the journey with you." 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A Busy Weekend

So much is going through my head right now and I feel the need to spit it out.

We just finished a long but way too short but kind of long weekend with Granana, Gov, Grandma, and Grandpa in town.  We celebrated Ethan's 12th birthday on Friday night at the giant trampoline complex in town, then had a cousin sleepover at our house that night, then the girls had dance rehearsals all morning and afternoon on Saturday, then Granana and Gov flew in that morning, then we had everyone over for dinner that night, then we got to bed WAY too late (after Lauren and I had to make a last minute late-night run to Wal Mart because all of her church shoes were missing, and let's face it, Wal Mart has a bad selection so it was pointless anyway) then Ethan was ordained with the Aaronic Priesthood at church on Sunday.....

And I'm too tired to write anymore about it.  I stayed up way too late working on school work, washing, ironing, cutting, and pinning fabric for quilts, watched a lot of X Files on Netflix while working on quilts (I have such a crush on Fox Mulder), and rather than sleep, I researched more and more and more about the three possible graduate programs I will be applying for this fall.  I'm so stressed about it because I have a lot riding on it, I have one shot to get in, my chances are slim (in one of the PhD programs that I really want to get into, I have about a 5/78 chance of being admitted).  Gosh I'm tired and my brain hurts.

And this weekend my parents and I did much sitting around talking (which I love) and crying about life (which I hate) and namely the children that we have collectively lost.  It's crazy to think that I've lost a child, just like my parents lost a child.  You NEVER want to have that in common with your parents, ever.

Yesterday Hailey woke up in a panic attack from a dream she had, and couldn't get it under control.  Huge fat crocodile tears and lots of hyperventilating.  I couldn't send her to school that way, so she stayed home.  Normally she protests missing school (she is such a scholastic over-achiever and I have NO clue where she gets it from...ha ha ha) but yesterday she quickly agreed that staying home would be best.  Then after Lauren and Ethan left for school, Devin said he always has a stomach ache when it's cold outside so he needed to miss kindergarten and hang out with me, Hailey, Granana, and Gov.  He did not have to twist my arm very hard for me to agree.

Today I checked the kids out of school for lunch and we went to our favorite Mexican restaurant as one last hurrah with Granana and Gov before they had to catch their flight home tonight.  Before they left this evening and then after, my heart ached as I said goodbye again.  They are both getting older and I never know what will happen to them between now and when I see them again.  I hate it.

Angus went with us to the airport and was in hysterics when Granana and Gov got out of the car and walked into the terminal.  He sure loves his grandparents, but he has been super depressed since they left!  Me too, Buddy.  Me too.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Prayer Quilt- A New Project

This quilt is a stock photo, not Garrett's real quilt.  His is sacred and I did not want to post it publicly. 
Our family has had a pretty rough time lately. Lots of tears and confusion and upset which manifests as anger. I guess anger is a disguise we wear for sadness, right? Last night while Cody was at Ethan's basketball game, the three other kids and I found ourselves on the big bed watching Garrett videos on my computer. It wasn't a planned activity, but somehow it happened and we cried hard. We cried ugly. We cried loud. We went through half a box of Kleenex. And then on an impulse, I pulled a box out of our closet that I haven't dared open since the day Garrett died in the hospital. I told the kids that something very sacred lie inside the box and they were all very interested to see what it was.

Moments before they wheeled Garrett into the OR to remove him from life support, they made a cast impression of his precious little right hand. I've never seen the cast or anything else in the box that was put together by the amazing staff at the hospital. The locks of his hair in six individual baggies; one for each of us to keep forever. Gently folded underneath everything, was the prayer blanket that was laid over him as soon as he arrived at the hospital. The blanket was made by a local ministry there in Fort Worth and with the blanket, came a note from the ladies who made it, saying they cried and prayed as they put it together, knowing it would go to a child just before he went to Heaven.

I laid with Garrett under that blanket for several hours as his body fought to stay alive, and ultimately lost. I don't know if I felt the prayers then; I felt nothing but numb. But last night as I held the blanket and tried desperately to breathe in any remaining scent of Garrett, I felt the softness and could somehow feel the energy it carried with it. Maybe it was the energy from the sweet women who made it, or maybe it was Garrett's energy. I don't know. But I believe that energy can not be destroyed; it only changes form and it was still there.

I slept little last night and woke up this morning with a crying hangover. Right now I'm in the waiting room of the girls' therapist's office and I should be writing a paper for school, but all I can think about is that blanket and how I need to make one for another child, another family, who will inevitably suffer our same fate.  And in this moment, I am filled with peace as I think of cutting little pieces of fabric and stitching them together, and offering up prayer to The Heavens that the recipient of the blanket will feel the love and energy of our family.  I will cry over it as I tenderly piece it and tie it together.  And maybe my tears will fall on the fabric and those tears will somehow become strength for the Mama and Papa who will one day cling to it as a last remnant of their child. 

And maybe that Mama will snuggle her baby one last time beneath it, just like Cody and I did.

And maybe I won't stop at just one; maybe I will make a dozen, or three dozen, or enough to comfort every family in the entire world who will lose a child. One can dream, right?

I am thinking about starting a little non-profit foundation called "Garrett's Gift", or something like that.  Fabric and supplies are not cheap, and I want a way for people to donate money or items to the project.  This foundation is only an embryo as I only thought of it an hour ago, but I want it to happen.  I NEED it to happen.  I've been searching high and low for a purpose, to turn our grief into gladness, and perhaps sewing little pieces of choo choo train fabric together can help our hearts mend, if even a tiny bit.  

Right now, there is the tiniest bit of resolve in my soul as I contemplate doing this. And for that, I am grateful. 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

How To Make Cinnamon Rolls

Well, here I am again.  It's mid-afternoon and the kids are at school and the house is quiet.  I should be at the gym right now, but the house is so warm and cozy and I'm comfortable here.  Maybe I'll go work out tonight, but who am I kidding.  I say it all the time, but I hate the house when it's quiet.  When will I stop thinking about who should be here with me?  Maybe when Garrett SHOULD be in first grade, I'll stop looking at the clock and thinking that he should be here, right now, at this very moment, telling me how bored he is and that he can't wait to be in school full time and eat in the big kid cafeteria. 

So for now, I bake.  This is my third batch of cinnamon rolls in four days and I've had a few people ask me how to make them.  So while I sit here and watch old episodes of "The Walking Dead", I'm thinking about the end of the world and making cinnamon rolls and I'll tell you exactly how I make them.  This is (what I believe to be) a Cinnabon copycat and they are darn good.  You'll need:

2 1/4 tsp yeast, or one package
1 C warm milk (remember from my last post, the temperature you'd bathe a baby in)
1/2 C white sugar
6 Tbsp softened butter
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
4 C white flour

1 C brown sugar
6 Tbsp melted butter
3 Tbsp cinnamon

6 Tbsp softened butter
2 oz softened cream cheese
1 1/2 C powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
dash of salt

*I don't want to repeat myself on my bread making technique from my last post on making basic white bread.  I suggest you go back and read it about softening yeast, getting the oven the perfect temp, etc. 

First, let the yeast soften in the cup of warm milk for about three minutes.  In a separate mixing bowl, combine the white sugar, butter, salt, eggs, and one cup of the flour.  When the yeast milk is ready, pour it into the butter mixture and get it really well combined.  Then one cup at a time, add in the additional flour.  Remember what I said about not overdoing it on the flour?  It's crucial with these rolls.  This dough will be a little sticky and soft but trust me, do not add additional flour.  Use no more than one extra tablespoon on the counter surface when you do the final kneading by hand.  Again, this will be a little softer and stickier than normal bread dough!  It will harden up a little when it rises.

Lightly grease a different bowl and put the dough in it to rise.  Put it in a warm oven (see previous post) and let it rise about an hour, or until doubled in size.  This dough will NOT get as big as bread dough, or even other roll dough, so don't get discouraged. 

After it's risen, punch it down and let it rest for about five minutes.  In the meantime, lightly flour the counter surface in preparation to roll the dough out.  Roll the dough out to approximately 10x20 inches.  In a small bowl, combine the ingredients for the filling until well mixed.  Slather it on the rolled dough and use your hands to evenly spread it, almost to the edges.  Don't be afraid to get your hands really messy! 

Very gently, start rolling the dough up along the longer side.  Don't be in a hurry- you want it to me nice and even.  Grease a 9x13 pan.  With a butcher knife, cut off about half an inch on both ends of the roll to make it more even (discard those pieces).  Then cut it evenly into 12 segments.  Chances are the four segments in the middle will be slightly thicker than those on the ends, so those are the pieces you want on the OUTSIDE of the pan because they will need to get more heat.  Evenly space the 12 segments flat side down in the pan.  Whatever pieces feel smaller or lighter to you, put those in the middle of the pan.  Got it?  Heavier pieces on the outside?

Put the pan back in the warmish oven to rise for a second time.  In about 45 minutes, they are ready to bake!  Take them out of the oven while you preheat it to 350.  Then bake them uncovered for 22-25 minutes.  While they are baking, mix up the icing and be ready to slather it on the top as soon as they come out of the oven.  There, you just made cinnamon rolls!!!

Monday, January 4, 2016

Daily Bread

 Right now it's about 11:00 at night and the house is quiet.  Painfully quiet.  The kids were all in bed before 8:30, and Cody has been asleep since an hour after that.  So for ninety minutes, it's just been me alone with my thoughts.  That's usually a scary thing because when things are quiet and my mind of loud, it makes me crazy and anxious.  Tonight I am fighting the urge to sit down and scour every picture and video I ever took of Garrett.  I'm so afraid lately that I'm forgetting the little things about him, like his cowlick around his forehead or the way he said "firsty" when he wanted a drink.  Dear God, this lump in my throat really hurts.

I don't want to wake up with a crying hangover tomorrow, so I'm fighting the urge to intoxicate myself with pain.  Instead, I make bread.  Lots and lots of bread lately.  A few months ago it was cupcakes, but now it's bread.  Or soup.  Or bread AND soup.  In an effort to keep my sad idle mind on something other than hurt, I decided to write down my fool proof method for making basic white bread.  Straight out of the oven smeared with butter and jam, it's my absolute favorite comfort food.  And to me, there is something cathartic about the act of making bread.  From kneading the dough, to uncovering a perfectly risen bowl of dough.  Oh, I love all of it, and I've done a lot of it this week. 

I've made this exact bread at least 100 times in my life, and I guess there's a few tricks I've learned over the years, but over all it's your basic and simple bread recipe.  You'll need:

1 package dry active yeast, or 2 1/4 tsp from a jar
1/4 C warm water
2 C milk
2 Tbsp white granulated sugar
1 Tbsp shortening
2 tsp salt
5 3/4 to 6 1/4 C white all-purpose flour
softened butter for brushing
garlic salt

First, the water has to be the perfect temperature.  A lot of people make the mistake of getting their water too hot, which can actually kill the yeast and make flat bread.  The water needs to be about the temperature that you'd bathe a newborn baby in.  Somewhere around 100 degrees F.  Put the warm water in a bowl and pour the yeast directly into it.  You'll want to very gently stir the yeast into the water to make sure every granule is saturated.  It will stick to the sides of the bowl, so gently push it into the water.  Let the yeast water sit while you do the next few steps.  Yeast softening is CRUCIAL because it activates the yeast.

Next, in a saucepan you'll measure the milk, sugar, shortening, and salt.  You'll want this mixture to be about the temp of water YOU would bathe in.  Kind of hot, but not boiling.  Somewhere around 110 degrees.  You need to constantly stir it otherwise the milk will scorch.  As soon as the shortening is almost melted, take it off the burner. 

In your mixing bowl, measure out 2 cups of the flour.  Pour in the hot milk mixture and mix until fairly smooth.  Now you'll pour in the yeast water.  Use a rubber spatula to make sure you get every bit of the yeast that might be stuck to the bowl.  Mix all of it together and it should start smelling like bread!

I am lucky enough to have a Kitchen Aid stand mixer with a dough hook.  If you don't have one of those, you might be doing it the old fashioned way- by hand.  Mix in as much of the remaining flour as you can by hand, then dump the gooey bread into a flour surface (like the kitchen counter) and begin to knead it.  Remember you are not making a bagel; you are making fluffy bread.  The trick is to add in only as much flour as absolutely necessary to reach an elastic consistency.  If it is still SLIGHTLY sticky, that's perfect.  I usually end up using 6 cups of flour total, including what I've used on the kitchen counter.  Too much flour and your bread will be dense (like a bagel).

This is my favorite part.  Knead it until it is beautifully smooth, squishy, and elastic.  It should still slightly stick to your hand when you pick your hand up.  You don't want it wet per-say, but a little sticky.  When it's like this, it's perfect and read to start rising! 

Right now, turn your oven on to the lowest temp it will go.  The setting should be around 190 degrees or so.  Keep the oven open, and as soon as it feels warm but not hot, close the door and turn the oven off.  This make the perfect incubator for rising dough, but you have to monitor the rising temp as long as the oven is on.  You only want it warm, like the perfect early summer day outdoors.  Shorts and tee-shirt weather.  That's what you want the oven to feel like inside.  If you could climb in the oven and not burn, that's how to want it for the rising dough.

Lightly grease the inside of a different mixing bowl with cooking spray and lay your perfectly formed bread dough ball inside.  Lightly spray the surface of the dough with the same cooking spray to keep it from drying out while rising, or you can brush with oil.  Loosely cover the bowl with a dish towel and place inside the warmed oven.  Close the door and walk away for the next 60-90 minutes.  When you return to open the oven, wallah!  This is what your dough should look like.  It should have at least doubled in size from where you started. 


Your counter top doesn't need to be floured for this part.  Turn the bowl upside down and let the dough plop out.  You may have to slightly jiggle the bowl to make the stubborn and sleepy bottom part give up it's bed.  That bread has spent the last 90 minutes in a womb, and it's very comfy and warm.  It should now be soft and bubbly and maybe a little oily on the surface from the cooking spray.  Perfect!

Knead the dough a few times on the counter.  Tuck the sides under until you have a nice even mound, then cut it in half with a butcher knife.  Now you have two perfectly even twin mounds of dough.  Grease 2 eight inch bread pans, shape each mound into something that looks like a baby loaf, and put each one in a pan.  Again, lightly spray or brush the tops with oil, cover with the dish towel, and stick back in the oven.  It won't be as warm as when you started, but it should still be above room temp which is okay.

After they have doubled in size (again, it will take at least an hour) you are ready to remove the pans and turn the oven on FOR REAL.  After the pans are removed from the oven, turn it on to 375 degrees.  This is likely the step where your beautifully risen dough will fall, if it's going to happen at all.  This happens because of too much movement inside the delicate air bubbles within the dough.  Move the pans as gently as you can when transporting them from the oven and then back in when the oven is preheated. 

Let the bread bake for 20 minutes, then rotate them for even cooking.  Bake for another 12-15 minutes and then remove them.  Wallah, you just made yeast bread!!  Your house should smell divine by now.  As soon as you take it out of the oven, brush the tops (generously) with melted butter.  Run a knife along the inside of the pan to loosen any stubborn bread from the pan walls (if you did a good job greasing, this should not be a problem).  Remove the bread from the pans and into a wire cooling rack.

Brush the sides with MORE butter, and then lightly sprinkle the top with garlic salt.  You can also use a cinnamon/sugar mixture, garlic bread seasoning, or any ground herbs that you like.  Or, sprinkle nothing at all!  You now have two beautiful loaves of white bread that will last less than an hour in your kitchen.  Enjoy gaining a few pounds after devouring them, but know that every calorie is worth it!!  Let me know how yours turn out!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Real and Dirty

A million things contribute to making life exceptionally difficult after your child dies.  Being judged and criticized for how you handle life makes it a million and one.  I have never been more scrutinized than I have been in the last seventeen months since our family went through the worst trial we can imagine ever going through, something that most families will never experience. 

I hate comparing trials because they range a lot on the scale of bad-ness.  What's terrible to one person may not be as bad to another person.  We handle things differently.  We have different strengths, different weaknesses, and we are all cut from entirely different cloths.  But the one trial that affects most people in the same way, is the death of a child.  There is no escaping the devastating wake that it leaves, or the bone crushing loss of self that a parent experiences when they literally lose a piece of their heart.  There is no pain like it in the entire universe and that's why most people don't even include child loss in the normal categories of bereavement.  It belongs to a category all it's own, and this is something I could not understand until Garrett died.  Even when one of my best friends lost her four year old son a few months before, and I "thought" I understood what she was going through, it wasn't until Garrett died that I realized how little I actually understood.  In fact, I barely understood any of it.  I've apologized to her countless times for acting like I knew what she was going through because "my brother died and I had children of my own so I knew what that kind of pain could feel like".  Oh, how little I knew but how much I learned a few months later. 

All my life I was told that challenges in life would be much harder to bear without the true Gospel to lean on.  I always figured that was true, until my brother was killed in a car accident.  Things really started to change for me then, and I spent the next few years in and out of a very significant crisis of faith.  There's a lot more to my background that I won't go into because it's very personal and embarrassing, but my life has been difficult.  Very difficult at times, and my brother's death was the beginning of the new lens in which I saw life. 

My experience since Garrett's death has been that my religion has made it a lot harder.  A lot.  There are many reasons for this and I know it isn't the same for everyone, but my life has been complicated even more BECAUSE of my religion.  In the year and a half since Garrett died, I've thought about leaving this church at least a thousand times.  I've sincerely contemplated it and not because I'm bitter and angry, but because I see things so differently now.  I will never, ever see anything the same way as I did before he died.

I've disappointed many people since his death.  When he died, I was in a terrible place spiritually.  I was on the verge of leaving the church to which I've belonged my entire life.  I was a moment away from taking my family and heading for the hills.  Then Garrett died, and I was scared.  In the hospital as he was dying, I was told by different friends and family members that I needed to change my life and that this was my "wake up call".  At the time, I was so shaken that I didn't stop to realize how terrible it was to be told those my son was dying.  "If you want Garrett to be yours in the next life, you better change how you're living."  My own mother told me this, as I was laying in the bed stroking the forehead of my dying child.  The insensitivity of other people continues to astound me, as I have been told this same thing at least a hundred times since losing him.

Looking back on it, I wonder what it was that was so exceptionally bad that God would take my child to give me a "wake up call"?  I disagreed with certain church policies.  I didn't gush over prophets and apostles, and I had stopped wearing my Mormon underwear a long time before.  But apparently, disagreeing and my choice in underwear warranted God ripping my child from me.  It was all to "shake me" because I had gone off the deep-end, right?  I advocated for women's rights within the church, so naturally God would inflict the most heinous kind of torture a person can experience; finding their child face down in a swimming pool, yanking his lifeless, grey, and rubbery body from the water, flipping him upside down to drain the water from his lungs, perform CPR for endless minutes, and then, watch him die hours later.  It all makes sense, right?


But the thing is, I bought into it right away.  We hadn't even left the hospital before I was inwardly repenting to God of all my wrong doings and praying for forgiveness.  It's sick.  I was so scarred of being separated from my child for eternity that I bought into each scare tactic hook, line, and sinker.  I was repenting of transgressions that were not even transgressions, because people scarred me into doing so.  There is no worse fear imaginable than that of being separated from your children forever.  And for months, I've listened to people tell me that "I have to stay on the Straight and Narrow or else...." 

What, pray tell, it the Straight and Narrow?  It's interpretation is completely subjective.

 I'm rambling now.  But I'm tired of being told I'm doing it all wrong, or that I'm not strong enough, or that I'm setting my family up for failure because we don't pay tithing anymore and depending on my mood and the current state of my relationship with The Almighty (i.e. how angry I am at him on any given day), there is a direct correlation to whether or not I'm sporting my Mormon underwear.  Because after all, my eternal salvation and the likelihood of ever seeing my son again is tied into what I wear underneath my clothing and how much money we fork over to The Church. (Mind you, God already took 20% of our life and we are in debt up to our eye balls for expenses related to Garrett's death and everything we've gone through since then.  But yeah, I should write that check each month because The Church says I have to or I won't be with my child again.)

Oh geez.  Life gets messy when your child dies.  I'm trying, but apparently I'm not trying hard enough, or I'm not trying in the right kind of way.  I'm doing something wrong because things are so difficult for our family...still.  The Gospel is supposed to make things easier, right?  It's supposed to sustain you during hardships, right?  Or is the expectation and threat that goes along with that sustenance actually debilitating and damaging?  It's harming me and it's harming my family.  Families "can" be together forever.  People fail to recognize the tiny word in the middle of the title.  Can.  There is a huge fat clause attached to it that says in fine print (your family can be together again if.......................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................)

Whew, that is a lot of fine print.  I'm not really into the fine print these days because I remember the time when my sons was given numerous priesthood blessings and my children spent sixteen hours praying for him to live, and then he died.  And then they go to church and are filled with amazing stories about so and so's grandma being healed of cancer or so and so's dad surviving a car accident, or Jesus healing people, but not healing others.  And we prayed so hard for Garrett to live, and he died.  And I am left with four incredibly broken children and a husband whom I don't recognize anymore and I'm supposed to have absolute answers for them.  Because families are forever.  And God heals.  And the church is true.  And yada yada yada. 

It's exhausting and I'm tired of the charade because honestly, I don't know what's up and what's down.  I don't know what's true, I have no answers, and you know what?  NEITHER DO YOU.  Stop telling me that you "know" that such and such is true, because at the end of the day, all you have is a hope that what you believe in is true.  Please don't tell the bereaved mother who tends to her oh-so-broken family day after day after day that if she had more faith, things wouldn't be so shitty.  Or that if she read her scriptures more or prayed more (mind you, to a God she doesn't trust) that she would be sustained.  It doesn't work that way, and until you walk this same path, you cannot say that it does.

I'm glad for you, the person who has trials and overcomes them through faith.  But you know what?  It doesn't work like that for everyone.  So rather than criticize someone who struggles (albeit lovingly criticizing...gag...spit...ew) why don't you just put your arm around them and be a real friend and not mention anything about church or God unless it's to say "This is a really shitty thing God is putting you through".  Because that is the only thing someone like me needs to hear right now, and you don't need to always be a missionary.  I don't need saving, I need a shoulder to cry on who will validate how bad things really are.  Because they are really, really bad.  

Sunday, October 18, 2015

About Living

We escaped this weekend for our own family retreat. We were in a beautiful cabin in Wyoming, surrounded by some of the greatest beauty Mother Nature has to offer.  We did some crying, some laughing, and the tiniest bit of healing.  I took this photograph at the Grand Tetons, and these words of one of my favorite authors kept coming to mind.  This blog is about how we mourn and grieve for Garrett, but it's also how we live to honor him.  We live FOR him.  I'm enlarging this photo with the text and I'm framing it in our entry way.  If you would like the high resolution jpeg, please email me at and say "teton picture" in the subject line.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Compassion Over Contempt

A while back, I saw a depiction of a man yelling at God, telling Him about all the horrible things happening in the world. Human suffering, war, natural disasters, etc. He says to God "Why have you just sat back and done nothing while people on earth are so broken?" And God says to Him "I haven't done nothing. I sent people like you to help others."
You can interpret that one of two ways. Either God is a lazy jerk who expects humans to do all the work, or He is a wise God who expects humans to lift each other's burdens. I choose to believe the latter.
I've spent an average of one day a week since last September at therapy with Devin. He goes to a children's trauma center here in Salt Lake that caters exclusively to children who have been through hell. A lot of the kids have been taken out of abusive homes, some have been in bad situations in the foster system, some have parents who are drug addicts and have gone to prison, some are sexual victims, some have been abandoned, and many have experienced the death of a parent or sibling. I remember back in August when Devin "qualified" to be treated there and it felt surreal that our family was now a statistic in the books. We belonged with all of the other people we saw come in and out of that place.
In the first two months after Garrett died, Devin was all but mute. He had turned completely inward and he actually exhibited most of the signs of severe autism. Of course he was not autistic, but it felt very much the same. Those first few weeks of therapy were terrible and I would leave every day in tears, feeling like I had lost not only Garrett, but Devin as well. But through the miracle work of his therapist (who soon became a cherished friend), the old Devin began reemerging fragment by fragment. We still have a long way to go, but we have come far since this time last year.
Because I spend so much time at the center with him, I have the chance to observe many people coming in and out of that place. A few weeks ago I sat in the waiting room with two women who must have been in their late fifties or early sixties. They had three tiny children with them, and I gathered that the kids were siblings. All of them looked frazzled and tired and shaken. I couldn't help but hear what the ladies were saying to each other and I soon put the pieces together that they were the children's grandmothers. I looked at the kids who were about five, three, and one. The oldest child's eyes had a hollow look to them and he acted a lot like Devin acted when Garrett died. I sat there and watched this group and wondered where the children's parents were. Had they been killed? Did they run away and abandon the kids? Had they been sent to prison? whatever the circumstance, I could tell by looking at these people that their world had been shattered.
I came across something similar today. As I sat in the waiting room, in walked a man who had three little boys in tow. One was a baby in his arms, and the others were preschoolers. Two of the kids were in their pajamas, the man hadn't shaved in days, and he looked like he hadn't slept in at least as long. He had a big diaper bag on his shoulder and he was sweet and patient with the boys, but he was exhausted and he too had that broken look about him. He sat with the fussy baby on his lap and he tried to soothe the boy and I could only imagine what was happening in his mind. I wondered where the children's mother was, and whom I could only infer was, the man's wife. I silently wondered what had happened in their world to get them in waiting room.
And then I thought back to a woman and a four year old boy who walked through those doors on a day last September. The mother had lost her youngest son in a drowning accident only weeks before. The little boy witnessed the death of his best friend. Both of them were plagued with nightmares out of a horror movie and the mother and son were disconnected from everything around them. The boy didn't talk, didn't make eye contact, and never smiled. He startled at loud noises and was scared of his own shadow. He hid under a chair in the waiting room and was terrified when the therapist came out to meet him.
As I think about the massive amount of human suffering that walks in and out of those doors every day, I can't help but think about the therapists, staff, and volunteers who work there and welcome the broken hearted in with open arms. I think about Devin's therapist who has one of the most kind, compassionate, and empathetic souls of anyone I've ever met. People who go into that profession will never be wealthy and will probably never drive fancy cars or have the money to go on extravagant vacations. They do what they do because they take responsibility to help alleviate the suffering of others. THEY are the ones God sent here in His stead. It pains my heart to go there each week and be surrounded by broken people like us. But it also helps heal my heart when I am surrounded by people who work there, who love us, and who are cheering our family on.
Devin had a good session today, but as soon as we got in the car to go home he asked to listen to "From Where You Are" by Lifehouse. Give the song a listen and you'll know right away why it's a Garrett song. When Devin asked for it, I hesitated because I knew it would make him sad. But I also know I'm supposed to follow his lead with his grief. I turned the song on, and he immediately turned somber and he started to cry. Then he wanted the song on repeat and we listened to it for the twenty minute drive home. It was oh so painful, glancing in the rear view mirror to see his face red and swollen and covered in tears. I sobbed as I drove, and my heart felt like it would burst. Why, why, WHY does my child have to endure this? Why do my other children and my husband and myself have to endure this? Why did God do this to our family? Why doesn't He come in and take the pain away or turn back the clock? Why doesn't He FIX THIS??!! Why is this our life?! Why don't I have my Garrett?! Why doesn't Devin have his soul mate?!
As I drove, I didn't get an answer to my plea. But I did think of that Dad in the waiting room, all disheveled and shattered, and I thought that the only thing I have control over in this life is how I treat people. How I make people feel. How I can help alleviate their suffering. I can't turn back time and change what happened to my family, but I can learn from this how to better help other people. I can be kind and smile at strangers. I can be patient rather than react when I'm met with a rude person at the store. I can stop and think that maybe something happened to them to make them that way. I can practice compassion rather than contempt. I can work a little harder to be God's instrument, and to make the sun shine just a little brighter in the life of another.

Becoming Gandalf

There's a monster inside of me that I fight on an hourly basis. It's the monster of jealousy at all the parents out there who haven't lost a child or dealt with another sort of catastrophic loss that flips your world upside down and robs you of the ability to be a "good" parent. A happy parent. An excited parent. An enthusiastic parent.
I fight this jealous feeling every time I'm at the grocery store and I see a little boy in the baby seat of the shopping cart. I fight jealously when I see pictures of complete families, because it means they have all of their children. I fight jealousy of people who don't have to visit a cemetery to have all of their children in one place. I fight this terrible, green monster every time I think about the kind of mom I used to be, the kind of mom I still LONG to be, but the kind of mom that died when my child died.
I don't want to walk around all day with this aching pit, deep in my stomach. It's the feeling of incompleteness; the feeling that something huge is always missing. While walking around a little town in South Dakota this week, we passed by one of those old-timey western photo studios and for half a second, I thought it would be fun to go inside and have our pictures taken. Cody could be a gun fighter, I could be a saloon girl, etc. And then that pang hit me square between the eyes and suddenly the thought of having a family photo taken was repulsive because all of our family wasn't there. Maybe I should have pushed past those feelings and had the pictures done for the sake of my living children. And maybe one day we'll have that picture taken, but I couldn't do it on that day.
I used to be the worst critic of the kind of mother I was. I wasn't patient enough. I did too much laundry and not enough Candy Land playing. I got mad too much. I didn't act silly enough. The list goes on and on, and it's only through hindsight that I can see how good a job I was actually doing. I think my kids always knew how much I loved them and how they were my number one accomplishment and priority in life. At least I really hope they've always known that. I did my absolute best that I knew how to do, in my Old Life. And in this New Life, I'm doing my absolute best as well. Most days it sure as hell doesn't feel like enough, but I have no other option than to hope and pray that it suffices.
This evening I walked in on Devin using the potty and he was sobbing. His eyes were bloodshot and he was crying in those deep, gut wrenching, heaving sobs. It startled me and I asked what was wrong, and he told me between breaths that he missed Garrett so much. I sat on the bathroom floor as he sat on the commode and my heart felt like it would break in half. I cried with him, but felt utterly helpless. After the initial feeling of despair, I was once again overcome with that Green Eyed Monster and I was desperately jealous of the mother who doesn't sit with her little boy in the bathroom as he hysterically cries that he wants his dead brother back.
And right then I wanted to be That Mother. I wanted to go in the kitchen and be jolly as I pull out the makings for homemade cookies, oblivious to the heartache of people like the Real Me. But instead, I sat there and consoled my Devin as he asked for the one thing I can never give him. He doesn't want cookies or Pinterest birthdays or a mom who volunteers for every field trip. He wants his best friend, his soul mate, his brother, and his Old Life back.
It was then that something inside my head, sprang to the forefront of my consciousness and said "It's easy to be that kind of mom when things are going well. But what you're doing for your family right now is not only a million times harder than throwing the perfect party or smiling all the time. It will also be more rewarding in the end. You have been given a huge responsibility to get your family through this, and that's a responsibility that isn't given to a lot of parents. Screw all those parents who have it easier than you. Screw the mom you USED to be. The kind of mom you're growing into is much, much deeper than many parents will ever have the opportunity to become."
I was vacuuming the van as these thoughts came to me, and I wanted to scream. I wanted to raise my fist to the Universe and say "I don't give a F*** about growing or changing or becoming more!! I want my Old Life back!! I don't want this shitty responsibility!! You can take this learning experience and shove it!!"
But the reality is, THIS is my reality. I don't have the choice to go back to the old me that didn't know how the hell of this last year feels like. The only choice I have is to fight with every ounce of strength I have, to take my family through this and come out on the other side as unscathed as possible. Shortly after Garrett died, my sister in law told me that she had a small glimpse of what our family could be like when all this is "over". The only way she could describe it is from that part in The Lord Of The Rings when Gandalf the Grey dies, and then comes back resurrected as Gandalf the White; stronger, wiser, brighter, and far more powerful than he was before. She said that's how she envisions our family one day. That little glimpse has helped carry me through some of my hardest days.
I would give anything to go back to my Old Life. But since that isn't an option, maybe becoming like Gandalf the White isn't such a terrible aspiration. Maybe.

Looking For Oregon

We've been en route to South Dakota for the last few days, and made it here last night. Today we went to Mt. Rushmore, one of the most beautiful and American places in America. I watched families walking around, taking pictures, and enjoying the summer. I saw them smiling. My family walked around and took lots of pictures and we smiled a little. The kids smiled, but I didn't very much. It's very hard to smile anymore, even when something is funny or touching. It's as if my cheeks muscles don't work like they used to. It's as if my cheek muscles have atrophied from lack of use.
This time last year we were finalizing funeral plans for our three year old son. Those words should never go together to form a sentence, but a year ago it was our reality, and it will be our reality for the rest of our lives. We picked out a casket, burial clothes, made a program of speakers and musical numbers, and I worked tirelessly on a twenty-five minute video of that little boy's life. That's what we were doing exactly a year ago, and it's hard to think of anything but those horrible days.
As we have driven through one of the most beautiful parts of the country, I find myself continually looking for the Northwest Coast. A week after we buried Garrett, our family took off for a vacation to Oregon. It was a trip we'd been planning for months, and when Garrett died, we knew we still needed to make the trip for the sake of our living children. They needed to have some fun and their cousins were good at distracting them. At the time, I hated everything about the trip. I hated that we made the exact same trip three years earlier when Garrett was a tiny baby. I hated staying in the same hotels and walking along the same beaches. I hated seeing park benches where I nursed him. I hated that around every corner, there was something to drive the knife a little deeper into my heart. Above all, I hated that my littlest boy was not there, and that we would never again take a vacation as a complete family.
We are in South Dakota, home to the glorious Black Hills. The Oregon Coast is more than a thousand miles away, and yet it's where my heart longs to be right now. As I've spent the day in a very sad place, trying desperately to make my cheek muscles work to smile at my happy and adventurous children, it's dawned on me that I feel an insatiable homesickness for Oregon. Today in a gift shop there was a display of magnets from all fifty U.S. states. My hand didn't go straight to a South Dakota magnet, though I love collecting magnets from places we've been. No, my hand reached for the Oregon one. I paid for it and walked around the rest of the day with it in my pocket. Every once in a while I would reached into my pocket and squeeze the magnet and run it through my hands.
All day long as I've felt this homesickness for a place I've never called home, and a place in which I felt miserable last August, I've wondered why Oregon has made my heart ache so much recently. Last year, I spent most of our vacation in bed or walking alone along the beach. Sometimes I'd curl up on the couch in the beach house and write and my eyes were full of tears during every waking hour. My heart was truly broken and my life felt destroyed. So why on earth am I now feeling such a deep emotional pull toward that place?
Tonight at dinner I realized that because it was so soon after Garrett's death, I felt him so near me. There were times on that trip when I felt as though my heart would stop beating at any moment. I would sit on the beach and cry out in anguish and suddenly, I would feel something that was almost tangible. Looking back on it, I believe it was Garrett comforting me. Maybe he was sitting right there on that beach with me. Maybe I could feel him in the misty ocean breeze. And because it had only been a few weeks since his death, I could still remember what he smelled like and it hadn't been that long since I felt his warm skin or heard his laugh.
And even though it broke my heart to revisit the places we'd spent together when he was a baby, they were shared places, nonetheless. I had Garrett memories of those places.
And here in this cozy little cabin in the Black Hills of Custer County, I have nothing. Our family is in a place that was never shared with Garrett. Yes, we are moving on a making new memories, but that's the worst thing about it. It feels like we are leaving him behind and it's enough to make the tears spill from my eyes like hydrants. Right now I want to be curled up in that house in Lincoln City, hearing the waves crash against the shore, crying and listening to music that makes me think of my Baby. I want to be that close in time to him. I don't want to be a year out from his death, because it means it has been THAT long since I've held him or heard his voice. Even though last summer was a miserable time, part of me wants to go back to that misery because at least I felt him and hadn't forgotten the Little Things yet. I'm starting to forget Things, and it scares the ever living shit out of me.
But whether I'm in South Dakota or Oregon or on the other side of the reality remains the same. I am here without my youngest son, and I feel broken.

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