Dear Mom [Week 14]

Hi mom,

Wow, I’m fired from my weekly writing duties. I don’t even want to apologize because it seems so trite. I know you don’t expect an apology anyhow. You, of anyone, have an understating of my time constraints.

I know I already told you this on the phone, but I just think it means something  more to read a sentiment in words. I hope you know how much you are the highlight of my life. My conversations with you have become one of my Top 5 life joys. I’m so glad we battled our wills and differences out to get to this point. It is such a powerful place to be in a relationship where there is full honesty, yet no enmity.  I hope and pray I can reach this same place of pure acceptance and love in all my relationships. I wish it didn’t have to be such a struggle.

Joy is the word of the month. I already posted on instagram and told you over the phone about my Christmas decorating epiphany, but I want to write it here as well. Please humor me again. For the record. I know you, like me, are a fan of the record. It’s probably ingrained in us to write things because of our lack of memory.

joy
As I was decorating for Christmas, the word joy kept repeating. Over and over again. I started to suspect the universe was trying to send me a message. I then chuckled thinking of dad controlling the universe in his new elevated state.  Immediately, I was dumbfounded. If dad was controlling the universe and its messages to me, why in the world was he exaggerating the idea of joy. That seemed so awful. Surely, he couldn’t expect me to be joyful this Christmas. Not when he isn’t around. Yet, it kept coming. In tree ornaments and on the new wall vinyl. Joy. Joy. Joy. It was shouting at me. I shouted back from the grieving recesses of my heart. NO JOY. NO JOY. Go away. I have no need for you this Christmas. I just want my dad back.

I had already decided that I wasn’t going to unpack my precious Willow Tree Nativity because I was sure Max would destroy it one crushed figurine at a time. But, something kept biting at me. Mom and dad wouldn’t care if it was broke. They don’t care about materialistic things. They wanted that unpacked. They wanted it to be enjoyed. So, I started unpacking. One box at a time. Abigail helped. We marveled again and again at each and every piece and there was a palpable feeling of reverence as we place each piece on my beautiful turquoise buffet. The buffet that is  also a gift from you and dad. I pondered in my heart about the baby Jesus and how grateful I was for him and what he grew to do.

I got to the last box and immediately noticed one significant difference from the rest. Each box had my name written on it in black sharpie. With your signature angled cursive, you had labeled my boxes to be differentiated from the 6 identical ones meant for my siblings. But, the last box had my name, yet it wasn’t in your deliberate and feminine scroll, it was written in dad’s boxy and rushed block letters. It was as if he was in the room with me. My eyes welled with tears. “Oh dad, I wish you  were here. I don’t want this box with the last remnants of your handwriting. I want your hands. I want your voice. I want you!” I hugged the box to my chest, and the name of the contents slowly focused upward through my tears. One dropped on the spacing of the letters. S-O-N-G  O-F  J-O-Y  A-N-G- E-L. The universe whispered. “Hey it’s your dad here. I’m right here. I’m an angel now. And angels only declare one thing. JOY. Glad tidings of great joy.”
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I placed the angel among the other figures in her place of honor. Looking down on mortality. I quietly thought about the glad tidings of great joy. What exactly were those tidings? Why should I be joyful when my dad and I were separated? The answer came powerfully. The joy is that because of Jesus, you will see your dad again. Jesus paved the way. Jesus opened the way. Jesus made it all possible. I alarmed Abigail as a loud weeping escaped my mouth. I sat on the couch. She stared, not knowing what to do. I told her I was okay. I was just thinking about my dad. I showed her his handwriting. I told her how he used to write me letters from Alaska and how he always included a smiley face and an X and an O. Max climbed  up on the couch beside me. He pointed to our family picture. He was listening to the message from the universe. His chubby finger announced, “Families are forever. Because of Jesus.”

Thank you for teaching me, mom. Thank you, dad, for indulging mom’s wishes to get all of her kids a nice nativity. It was your last Christmas gift to us. And it is everything. Literally everything. You are both so wise. You always had your priorities straight. You weren’t perfect. No one is, but you had perfect perspective. You still do.

I love you, mom. Merry Christmas. I hope you will feel the joy that dad is shouting from the heavens. It rings crystal clear.

I know you can’t watch the video I am including here. It shows dad as he talks to all of us at Erick’s house in 2014. (I’ll show it to you next time I see you.) It was the very last time we were all together. You and dad had just handed out all of our  Christmas nativities.

I quote dad: “Most of all I want to thank you all for staying close to the gospel and  bringing it to a setting like this today. You cannot imagine what  it means to grandparents to know that all of our children are close to the gospel. And are being taken care of by Him. I don’t have anything else to say except I love you. “

Dear Mom [Week 10 + 11]

 Hi Mom,

A 14 page research paper is calling out to me from the recesses of this here laptop. I’m ignoring it, like I do Max on his first blood-curdling scream every morning. I have no idea why he screams like that. Maybe it’s a boy thing? He screams like it is the end of the world. Every. Single. Morning. He doesn’t say, “Mom” or “I’m awake” or anything. He just screams like he is the about-to-be-murdered star in a horror film. And, yes, I ignore him the first time. Because, one, I have to wake my body up to actually get out of the bed. And, two, I  try to muzzle my ears from the world before the second scream so that the second time I can pretend that it’s a nice lovely bird chirping that is actually waking me up. Ha. Well, I’m ignoring my paper. I’ll get to it on the second scream. Right now, I am here with you and the bird chirping.

I love you, mom. I hope you have a tiny glimpse of how grateful I am to you for everything you’ve given me. You gave me everything when I was small, but you give me even more now. I do not know how I would be getting through my days without you. I look forward to our conversations every Monday and Wednesday as I am driving to school. I am always so weary, and you never fail to buoy me up by giving me some perspective and a chuckle or four. It’s so peculiar how the words “I am so proud of you” make a person proud of themselves. Thank you for always saying them. Thank you for meaning them. What would I ever do without you?

Our phone call last night left me speechless. I am sorry it ended with my stunned silence and sobbing tears. I had the worst day yesterday, mom. I was so tired after a week from LG being out of town, Caroline being sick, work, school, YW in excellence, volleyball coaching, and long nights of make-up housework because kids had been home babysitting the sick one – and when kids are left alone, the house is always a disaster. Then to top it off LG got home and our marriage is so painful right now. So much work. It leaves me totally depleted and hopeless.

All day yesterday I kept thinking about dad, and how I wished I could call him. I just wanted to hear his voice tell me everything was going to be okay. I took LG to Del Taco on his way to work. We only have two cars, so I often get the carpool duty to make up the difference. I sat in the parking lot with Max as LG ran in. The drive-thru was ridiculous. As LG disappeared into the building, Max started crying for him. He hadn’t seen LG all week, and he worships the ground he walks on. LG and I had had words right as LG shut the car door, and crying Max put me over the edge. I cried with him.  Just cried and cried, until I laid my head on the steering wheel. I was parked next to a white sedan, just like dads. It was Veterans Day.

I turned my head to the right and out of the corner of my tear-filled eye I noticed an elderly gentleman trying to squeeze between my van and his car to get into the driver’s door. He was using two walking sticks and couldn’t quite navigate the narrow gap between the cars. I immediately wiped my tears and backed my van into the space across the parking lot. He smiled and waved. His Veteran’s cap belonged on dad’s head. I bawled even harder. More than anything I wanted him to be dad. More than anything I’ve ever wanted. I wanted dad to come and hug me and tell me everything was going to be okay. I was mad that this guy was alive, and dad wasn’t. I then got a strong feeling that said, “Your dad is free. It would have been too hard for him to be stuck using walking sticks.” Then I cried some more because of my selfishness.

Then, last night on one of the darkest I’ve had in awhile. You call. You tell me that when you were praying you had an impression for me. You wanted to help me. You wanted me to know that by next year things will be better. I swear you’ve been saying that to me for 10 years straight. It was your voice, but all I could hear was dad. Dad saying to me, “Alice, I see you. Don’t give up. I heard your cries for me. I see how hard everything is. Even more than I did when I was alive. I will help you however I can. I will never stop helping you. Stop crying because you need me. I am here. I am always here. I am watching over you. I love you, my beautiful daughter. You make me proud. Stop worrying. Stop crying so much. Stop missing me. I am here.”

So many things make me think of him. This week, perhaps the man at church in Sunday school, who fidgeted with the paper on the table, was the most profound for me. He barely touched the paper with the tips of his fingers and gently bent the paper to his will, one clock-wise 30 degree twist at a time. Exactly like dad. I can’t tell you how many times I saw this exact movement from dad’s hand. His huge rough hard-working hand could move mountains with a touch as gentle as a feather. The image is nothing short of God. How can a man possess a strong hand full of callouses and muscle, yet also have mastery of delicacy? The juxtaposition is exactly what we all must master to be like our maker.  I closed my eyes. I pretended I was sitting next to dad. I breathed deeply. Meditating to make it all true. This stranger-to-me’s scent made it true. He smelled just like Old Spice.  I swallowed my emotion as I let my tears trickle down my throat. I was in a room of just six people and didn’t want to embarrass anyone. For just a second, I was sitting in a church classroom with dad again. How many times I took that for granted!

Well, I want to keep writing mom, but the paper is on its 15th scream now. Just like Max, it cannot be ignored any longer. I love spending this time with you, mom. It is one of the highlights of my life to have time with you like this. To tell you I love you. To remember dad. And to do it in a way that I love. Where would I be without writing? Without you and dad?

I want to leave you with two songs, mom. The first, I just heard on my drive to the library. It immediately made me think of dad and you and our conversations of your loneliness. I heard dad’s voice again. On the chorus. This time it was for you. “Carry on
Give me all the strength I need. To carry on.” Yet the voice didn’t say “give me all the strength I need” it said, “Sharon, I have all the strength I need, and enough for you too…”I’ll give you all the strength you need.” Mom, you may not see dad, and you may not even have the experiences you want or the assurance that you want about seeing him again, but this morning while listening to this song, I knew without a doubt that the reason you are functioning and moving forward is because Dad is giving you more strength than you’ve ever had before.

He is transferring his strength to you now. When you feel down, just know that you have dad’s strength now. You must feel like you can lift your entire garage 100 times over. Dad did it more than that. ha ha. Dad’s strength is bigger than I can even try to measure. I can’t imagine how strong you should be feeling. His strength is the best gift that he can give you. I don’t know exactly how that works, but if dad had to learn to time-travel and run at the speed of light and lift the sun straight from the sky, and then transfer DNA from one cell to another, I am sure he did it all in an hour just to get you what you need. How lucky you have always been to have a man’s love like that.

See You Again

It’s been a long day without you, my friend
And I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again
We’ve come a long way from where we began
Oh, I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again
When I see you again

Why’d you have to leave soon, yeah?
Why’d you have to go?
Why’d you have to leave me when I needed you the most?
Cause I don’t know really how to tell you without feeling much worse
I know you’re in a better place but it’s always gonna hurt

Carry on
Give me all the strength I need
To carry on

It’s been a long day without you, my friend
And I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again
We’ve come a long way from where we began
Oh, I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again
When I see you again

How do I breathe without you? I’m feeling so cold
I’ll be right here for you ’till the day you’re home

Carry on
Give me all the strength I need
To carry on

So let the light guide your way, yeah
Hold every memory as you go
And every road you take
Will always lead you home, home

It’s been a long day without you, my friend
And I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again
We’ve come a long way from where we began
Oh, I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again
When I see you again

When I see you again
When I see you again
See you again
When I see you again

And as I was typing after listening to the last song, the next one came on. It was like Dad wanted me to know that he not only can give you strength and send an angel to me, but he can control the internet, too. I can just see him laughing. He’s in humble awe of his new abilities wondering what he ever did right to earn privilege and trust and abilities like that. He whispered, “Watch this, Alice. Tell mom what I’ve got now. Tell her she doesn’t need to pray for me anymore. I’m just fine. My anniversary present to her is all of my love and strength.”

I hear you, dad. I hear you. I will tell mom. You’re only one call away. And yes, Superman has nothing on you.

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My mother-in-law just sent this to me. It’s from our wedding BBQ. Yeah, the night you should have been packing for the move the day after my wedding. Sorry about that shotgun wedding mom, but you and dad always had the right priorities.

One Call Away

I’m only one call away
I’ll be there to save the day
Superman got nothing on me
I’m only one call away

Call me, baby, if you need a friend
I just wanna give you love
Come on, come on, come on
Reaching out to you, so take a chance

No matter where you go
You know you’re not alone

I’m only one call away
I’ll be there to save the day
Superman got nothing on me
I’m only one call away

Come along with me and don’t be scared
I just wanna set you free
Come on, come on, come one
You and me can make it anywhere
For now, we can stay here for a while, ay
‘Cause you know, I just wanna see you smile

No matter where you go
You know you’re not alone

I’m only one call away
I’ll be there to save the day
Superman got nothing on me
I’m only one call away

And when you’re weak I’ll be strong
I’m gonna keep holding on
Now don’t you worry, it won’t be long, Darling
And when you feel like hope is gone
Just run into my arms

I’m only one call away
I’ll be there to save the day
Superman got nothing on me
I’m only one, I’m only one call away
I’ll be there to save the day
Superman got nothing on me
I’m only one call away

I’m only one call away

Dear Mom [Week 8]

Hi mom,

I can’t believe it has been a whole week again already. Time flies whether or not you  are having any fun. I haven’t been having much fun lately, as you know from both of our conversations that ended in my tears. I really need to get it all together. Ha. I guess it’s a good thing that I am still young and can look forward to a lifetime of perfecting. I need so much!

The 25th marked 2 months that we have all somehow managed to  keep  living in a world without dad. I meant to do something in memory of dad on that day, but really the only thing I seemed to have time for was thinking of him both times we went over the date in my ESL classes. It was Tuesday and when my classes repeated with me, “Today is Tuesday, October 25th,” I silently reflected on my love for dad. How I wish he was here! Every dad seems like an eternity without him. I weep now just thinking about living without him. Without his quirky sense of humor that sometimes made him seem like a creepy old flirt. LOL I miss knowing that when I get really down with life’s hurdles, I can call and hear him tell me to just keep on keeping on. I miss his expertise when I need any kind of homeowners or automobile owner advice. I miss his laugh and his twinkle in his eye. I miss his big old rough strong hands. I miss him giving me a hard time because I would never give him a kiss. I miss him reassuring me that if all goes to hell at any given time I could come home and he would take care of me and my kids. I miss him telling me what it’s like for LG and how I can be a better wife. I miss his whistle. I miss his special potatoes. I miss his homemade tacos. I miss him telling me how lucky my kids are to have me. Every day there is always something that I miss. I cry knowing that I will never know those things again in this life. I will never experience them unless in memory. I don’t like that. Not at all.

I found some pictures tonight. I was so glad when they resurfaced as I had looked for them without any luck. I was so worried I didn’t have any picture of the kids with both you and dad. Even though we got a separate one with Abigail I am overwhelmingly relieved that I found these. And look at dad. He looked sick. I always noticed him declining for so many years now, but his health looks even more alarming to me now that I know what would be about a year later.

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I want my dad back so bad!!! I think I am in the angry stage right now. Unfortunately, that anger is kind of not helping me function at home. I wish people could see into my mind and heart and just know that I’m grateful to just function, no matter how limited I am compared to normal. I wish that we had some kind of ancient weeping rite that allowed mourners to check out of life for a bit. It’s as if we are supposed to be full-throttle upon return from the funeral and burial. I know, for me, LG and the girls were pretty tender with me for the first couple of weeks, but now it’s back to the usual grind. I don’t want to be in the usual grind. I want to be in the mountains listening to birds whistle like dad. I want to be at the beach digging for sand-crabs. I want to be in the Eucalyptus Forest with some zip-ties and some wheat to feed the ducks. I want dad snapping his fingers at us while we misbehave and drive you crazy on the front row of church. I want to be at your house watching dad fall asleep in his chair. I want to be telling dad to stop working so hard. I want to be back in my basement with its ugly bright blue carpet with just you and dad. I would  gladly take the horrendous carpet back if dad came with it. I was so content for that 30 minutes just laughing about the past and reflecting on the work of the present. I bragged that it may have been the first time in my entire life that I had you two to myself. I want to be eating gourmet hamburgers that cost you a fortune and neither of you liked. I had recommended the place, and both of you would have been happier with Burger King. Ha!

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This quote is often attributed to Plato, but researchers believe it’s origin is actually 1897 Maclaren in The British Weekly.

Oh mom, I don’t even know if this letter will be anything for you to look forward to. My intention of writing once a week was to give you something to look forward to and to keep dad’s memory alive. Right now, it all just feels to painful. I want to go to the temple and sit in the Celestial Room until dad comes and gives me a hug. I need to hear him tell me everything is going to be okay. I’m supposed to be writing a paper right now, and now I am exhausted from crying. How I wish I was a better daughter. It’s funny because last April’s Conference I was  reflecting on the question, “How can I be a better daughter?” And I didn’t take enough time to listen or do. I hope you know how much I love you. I need to come visit soon. I’d like to get away, but I have so much writing to do for school in the next month it may not happen ’til Thanksgiving or Christmas.

Well, I have to go, mom. It’s 11:30 pm and we have early church tomorrow. Wish me luck on getting to church on time. Ha.

I wanted to tell you one more quick thing. I called you on the way to our cabin and explained how dad was with us on our trip. We had traded our four days of campsite fees that we weren’t able to use when dad got sick for one night in a cabin. Then I was sad to not go camping with my family, and now how I would have loved to go back to the hospital with you and dad instead! It’s funny how perspective changes everything. Anyhow, we had a good time, but I wanted to tell you how dad was with us.

Look at this. Right as I took out my camera to capture LG with the kids at the reservoir, I had a series of flashbacks of dad. In Alaska. Then dad at the Carlsbad lagoon. Dad at the beach. Dad at the lake we went to on Abigail’s first birthday. Dad at Sandy Hallow. Dad always loved to be near the water, and in this moment I had pure joy. I shared it with dad.

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Look at these three-tall bunkbeds in our cabin. I told all the kids how this was just like Alaska, except our bunks were tighter fit and a lot smaller. In Alaska, there was just enough space under the bottom bunk for our suitcases that held our clothes and suitcase full of barbie dolls and clothes. I still have that DAV pink satin-lined suitcase. It now holds all of my childhood journals. I wondered if Dad intentionally designed our bunks with space for our luggage or if it was just a provident coincidence in our tiny living quarters. I thought how dad made a tiny house thirty years before anyone else. I wanted to call and tell him how cool he was and ask him about the bunkbed design, but I had to settle for eating cereal from a box. Tradition!  Tradition! These little boxes of cereal are a tradition on LG’s side, too. I tried to read a story out loud to my family because I needed to get some homework done. No one was interested in listening, and they all told me to stop ruining their vacation. I laughed and told them how dad did the exact same thing to me in the hospital. When I tried to read, he turned the TV up really loud. Ha ha.

cabin cereal

How I miss dad. While driving home from the cabin I remembered my drive to and from dad’s hospital room. On the way down it was storming pretty good. There was a lot of lightening shooting across the sky. The stars got swallowed by the storm clouds, but as they swept away with the storm the bright moon peered from behind. I can’t explain what really happened, but somehow I kept correlating all the different kinds of light to dad. His influence had been felt as small stars, and a large moon, and at times like a powerful and shocking electrical impulse. I was so worried that dad wasn’t going to make it ’til I got there, and I kept feeling him say goodbye in the form of light. This may not make any sense. When I got to the hospital he was still there, and I thought I must have just been overthinking things. But, then again on my way home four days later, just as soon as I hit the highway the sky was once again engulfed in storm clouds. There was a large group of clouds way to the west and I could see the electrical lightening pulses contained within the cloud. Once in a while one bolt would shoot down to the earth, but they mostly just stayed in the clouds. I thought of dad weak in bed and how he felt trapped..as if he was stuck inside a storm cloud. Then, on this camping trip, when we got out of the minivan at the very rural spot of Palisade State Park, we all exited the car and stood in place gazing upward. The unending stars were brilliant, but the most majestic and breathtaking was The Milky Way. It shot from horizon to horizon. I thought again of dad’s light, and how it was no longer limited. It was now going farther than we could see and longer than we could know. I can’t wait to see that up close and personal someday.

Love you mom! We’ve survived eight weeks. I’m so proud of us. I know dad is really proud of you. I’m sure he’s watching you like a hawk.

 

Dear Mom [Week 7]

Hi mom,

It seems every time we have talked on the phone lately , I’ve put you in the position of giving me a pep talk, and I should be the one giving you the pep talks! I guess that means we are both mothers. Ha. Oh, how I love you, mom. Thanks for keeping me going, even when you may not want to keep going. You are such a strength to me at this time in my life. Thank you. Now, the tears are forming again. It’s a good thing we aren’t on the phone.

I’ve been an emotional wreck lately. It’s not just that I am tired. And, oh, how I am tired. It’s because I’ve got so many emotionally draining issues going on simultaneously. I know I don’t have to rehash that here because you already know all of them. It’s amazing how much it helps to hear, “Oh Alice, try to stop worrying, I promise it will all work out. I wasted too much of my life worrying.” Because even when I am reminded that everything has a way of working itself out at every turn, I still have a hard time believing it. Plus, I want it to work out the way I want it to. And it never does. Even when it works out better than I thought it would, it’s like I am still mad that I didn’t get my way.

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I went to the internet to look for the “It will all work out” picture above, and when I saved it noticed it was titled, “yielding our hearts.” Yeah, I really need to get better at that.

You know, it’s funny how life gives you perspective that can lead to greater faith, if you let it. For so many years, we all worried about Adam and Renee, and they are doing so good now. It really did work out for them. If you ask them, they would probably say it hasn’t worked out completely, but a lot has worked out. I have to remind myself that a lot of my own life has worked out, too. I hate being a perfectionist and an idealist. I just need everything to be worked out. And NOW. I have to learn to be happy in the moment and in the storm. There is always so much that still needs to be worked out, and I let it drag me down. Maybe by the time I am your age, I will have it figured out.

So, I want to write briefly about our conversation of your hopes that dad will visit. I loved your story about your friend’s deceased husband who didn’t visit for five years. Then the moment she started lamenting, he disappeared. It didn’t surprise me one bit when you said your newest goal is to not be in mourning because you want dad to be able to visit. I chuckled because the thought of you not mourning is comical. Not only because it’s an impossibility, but because you’re totally convinced that it’s the only way to see dad again and you want it ASAP. So, you are determined to make it happen. I’m sure you will succeed.

I haven’t lost a lot of loved ones, but from the people I have lost, I have learned through experience that we will do just about ANYTHING to see them or feel them close. In a dream. In a coincidence. In a voice. We just need to know they are still living. The thought of just being dead is horrible. I don’t know how anyone survives life with that kind of outlook for their finality.

So, really quick, I want to tell you about three cool experiences I’ve had in the past few weeks that are my own little tender mercies in knowing dad is alive and well.

First, this construction site right down the street. One day I was stopped in front of this house-build waiting at the stop sign. I looked ever and was watching the workers and my mind took me straight back to dad’s hospital room when we all looked out the window. You may not be able to see it, but they had those framing boards that dad explained were super expensive. Remember, they were slathering them with oil, and dad told us that they use them over and over again? Anyhow, I started talking to dad and telling him how much I wish he was still here. And, I am not kidding, mom, just then, a white dove flew straight toward my driver-side window, and just 1/100th of a second before hitting my window, it shot straight up. I’m pretty sure dad wanted me to know he is still close, and watching over me. It was a really hard day and that dove did more for me than 12 hours of sleep ever could.

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The next story is just silly, but it still meant a lot to me. Another day, another hard day. I checked my e-mail, and the only e-mail waiting to be opened was this random invite from dad to connect on his Linkedin. I know it is just a glitch from the website, but even if dad appeared himself at that stoplight, where I was trying to find the energy to keep moving forward, it wouldn’t have been more helpful.

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You will love this last story. I won’t mention any names here publicly, although I don’t think she would mind, but this happened with an old Carlsbad friend. She has left the church and lives in Hawaii. Two days ago she shared an article on Facebook and suggested that if members of the church would read it, it would help them have more empathy for those that have left the church. Well, that baited me in. Because, of course, I try to have true compassion, understanding, and empathy for other people.

Anyhow, I only read a few paragraphs of the article because when it started talking really disrespectfully about Joseph Smith, I couldn’t swallow anymore. I told the friend so, and told her I tried to read it, but couldn’t do it. “I still love, you, and respect your right to feel how you feel,” I said. She was nice about it. Some of her friends got onto me a bit, but I didn’t let it bother me, as they know nothing about me, and were just acting like a bunch of trolls. Anyhow, the friends didn’t bother me, but the little content that I did read kept pestering me. I questioned, “Am I wrong to believe in a latter-day prophet?” “Do I really belong to a cult?” “According to the articles standards, don’t all Christians belong to a cult for worshiping Jesus Christ?” You know my mind. It was just tumbling and turning with all kinds of facts, figures, and questions. I just wanted them to go away as I already had a million others things running around up there, and my brainwaves were feeling like Toys-R-Us on Black Friday. I was seeking the quickest checkout line and fastest route back home to my comfortable bed.

No one had any way of knowing my torment. But, dad did. And just like he always used to do when he was here, he eliminated it with one swift punch. Oh, mom, he has always been my hero. How lucky I have been to have a man that has always understood me in my pride, stubborn, obsessive, foolish ways. In a lot of ways LG is different than dad, but in the way of loving me, I married probably the only person capable of loving me like dad did. And LG is all the better because he doesn’t even think like Dad and I do, and he’s so patient in trying to understand.

Sorry, I got sidetracked from my story. Anyhow, in less than 24 hours after the initial reading of this article that had me shaken up, the same friend, who lives in Hawaii now, shared this photo on Erick’s Facebook wall. Of all the people for her to see, she ran into Connor at Costco. Yes, our Connor. Elder Wills. Serving a mission, in Hawaii, to teach people about Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith.

Dad knew. I don’t know the circumstances of Connor being at Costco or my friend being there at the very same time, but I do know it was a really dynamic way for dad to stop my brain from running me off a cliff. Or maybe it wasn’t dad. Maybe it was actually my other dad. My Heavenly one. Either way, I like to think that the two of them work together for my benefit now.

connor

So, there you have it. Maybe dad hasn’t come to visit us personally yet, but he is repeatedly showing me that he isn’t far away. He’s still my hero. Probably always will be.

Hey, mom, for some reason, this just popped into my mind. Remember how you guys used to always play the movie “I’ll Build You A Rainbow” at our baptisms? It seemed so morbid to me to watch a movie at a baptism about a mom that died. I remember feeling really traumatized from that show. I was also always really confused what in the world it had to do with baptism. Well, I just felt a little nudge from my eight-year-old self saying, “Hey Alice, this is the moment your mom and dad were preparing you for all those years ago.” Baptism has everything to do with your eternal family.

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He’s building us a rainbow, mom.

“If I can’t see you, how will I know you are there?”

Families are forever. And there is only one place on earth I know that doctrine to even be claimed. That’s why Connor is in Hawaii. And that’s why dad didn’t let my harmful obsessive thinking last longer than 24 hours. He’s visiting us every day, mom. We may just not be able to see him. But, we will see him. Yes, we will.

 

Dear Mom [Week 6]

Hi mom,

Wow, it amazes me at how much your voice has become a healing balm for my soul. I wish I would have recognized that more for dad before he was gone. Thanks for my pep talk on Wednesday night. Oh, how validating it is to just talk with someone over the phone who can see straight through the cellular airwaves. “Alice, you sound so tired. I hope you can get to bed  early tonight.” Even if I didn’t, just hearing that you wished it for me gave me greater strength to endure. Thank you, mom. For Wednesday and all the thousands of other times just like it. How fortunate I am to have you in my corner.

I was out walking Olive last night at 10:30 PM and a truck hauling a trailer full of stuff drove by. I had to sit down on the curb for a bit because my heart and mind felt like dad had just passed by showing me that he is still hard at work and happy. Then, I had a dream last night. It is my first I’ve had of dad since he passed away. I was showing a friend a video of my dad of how healthy he was on the day he died. He reached out from the cell phone screen jumping and hopping, waving and smiling. He was laughing. I never recognized the  full value of his smile until he was gone. While I dreamt, his smile filled my whole soul with light. It illuminated from his eyes and mouth to his face and everything beyond.  I woke up so happy. I felt like dad was telling me not to worry because he is right back to his old healthy happy ways. How much fun we always had with you and dad! Compared to our neighbors’ possessions, we had next to nothing, but we sure did have everything. I felt like we really got the best of both worlds. A third-world country carefree closeness combined with so many first-world conveniences.

I’m sorry these letters are getting harder to decipher.  I am so tired all of the time, and it is hard to write. I can’t even seem to think straight. When you called last Friday from the DI crying, it truly broke my heart. I wish I could take away your pain, mom. I hated (and still hate) that you were (and still are) lonely, but then when you said, “I feel better, just hearing your voice,” it made me so humbled and grateful that even though I can’t take it away, I could provide a little comfort in the moment. I am so glad Adam could come visit. I am partially jealous that he has the kind of freedom to do that, but I am more grateful than anything. I need to make it a priority to come visit very soon, no matter how crazy busy I am. Adam is just as busy, if not more so.

It’s Friday, therefore I should be getting homework done. It’s 1:13 PM, and I have yet to even start. I’ve had a great day. I woke up and listened to President Uchtdorf’s talk from Women’s Conference, and consequently I just wanted more. I then listened to Elder Holland’s talk from the Priesthood Session. In between my new visiting teacher came over. God has been with me today. He answered my prayers. He never answers in the way that I want Him to, but He does answer. I’ve been really preoccupied with LG and Abigail lately. One of my questions going into conference was how I could help both LG and Abigail with their individual struggles. I get so impatient, and I know a majority of the time I just exacerbate stuff. When I asked the question, I hoped God would tell me exactly how I could MAKE them do what I know is best. Ha. God has never answered me one time, in all my almost 43 years, to tell me anything about anyone else. Today, has been true to God’s pattern.

Between Sunny (my visiting teacher), Holland, and Ucthdorf I got three witnesses all telling me that same thing. I need to have more faith, I need to love better and deeper, and I need to be patient and kind. They all sounded just like you, mom. Maybe someday Abigail will actually write me a letter that says, “Hey, mom, thanks for telling me what I didn’t want to hear. I know you love me. And, you were right. My entire life.” Well, there you go, mom. There is everything you ever wanted to hear. You know me well. I know that you love me. And, I hope I can learn to love like you do, more devoutly and patiently. Why does it have to be so hard? I wish I could just make everyone else change to my liking, instead of having to work on making myself more like-able.

As I sat pondering how I could make the changes I needed to make, I saw a video a friend of mine posted on facebook. It was a song by Andrea Bocelli and Katherine McFee called “The Prayer”. As I watched and listened to the beautiful lyrics, I started praying along.

I pray you’ll be our eyes
And watch us where we go
And help us to be wise
In times when we don’t know

Let this be our prayer
As we go our way
Lead us to a place
Guide us with your grace
To a place where we’ll be safe

I pray we’ll find your light
And hold it in our hearts
When stars go out each night
Remind us where you are

Let this be our prayer
When shadows fill our day
Lead us to a place
Guide us with your grace
Give us faith so we’ll be safe

We ask that life be kind
And watch us from above
We hope each soul will find
Another soul to love

Let this be our prayer
Just like every child
Needs to find a place
Guide us with your grace
Give us faith so we’ll be safe

Need to find a place
Guide us with your grace
Give us faith so we’ll be safe

I almost felt like I was praying to both God and dad. I hope that doesn’t come across sacrilegious. When I got to the part where it says, “Let this be our prayer, just like every child, needs to find a place” I got a fourth witness. It was an answer from God, about me, about you, and about dad. It was jetted straight through my skin and brain and arrived straightway to my heart. “Create a place for every child, just like your mom and dad. Be their place. Be their safe place.” That means, I have to do that for everyone. Not just my kids, but my husband, too. It’s a daunting message. How can I ever do that when I am still such a child needing such a place? But, I will try, mom. I will try. How I love you and dad. You both have issues, but you both keep trying. You are children who need a safe place, but despite your own needs being met or not, you always created that place for others. You know how to love. Thank you for showing me what that looks like. I will try to be like you, mom. And like dad. Because ultimately I know I will end up looking like God.
Two more songs followed as I typed to you just now while listening to “The Prayer” again trying to muster my strength to get up from my laptop. I don’t want to. I just want to stay here where it is safe, and I won’t mess anything up with my controlling, impatience, criticism, or aggressiveness. The songs were “Time to say Goodbye” and then “Hero.” I could hear dad’s voice singing. He told me we will go together again in a ship, and that even though he knows he’s my hero, he was just an ordinary dude who kept trying and loving. I could hear him say, “Alice, you can keep trying. You can keep loving.”
It’s not Wednesday night. You aren’t on the phone. It’s Friday morning, and for the second time this week I got a pep-talk from my parents. My dad called all the way from heaven. How about that? I didn’t even have to ask you to talk to him. He just knew I needed him.
I love you, mom. Until next week… here are the lyrics. I hope you get to hear dad telling you about the ship you will sail again, too.

 

Excerpted from “Time to say Goodbye”
When I’m alone
I dream on the horizon
and words fail;
yes, I know there is no light
in a room where the sun is absent,
if you are not with me, with me.
At the windows
show everyone my heart
which you set alight;
enclose within me
the light you
encountered on the street.
Time to say goodbye
To countries I never
Saw and shared with you,
now, yes, I shall experience them.
I’ll go with you
On ships across seas
which, I know,
no, no, exist no longer,
with you I shall experience them again.
I’ll go with you
On ships across seas
Which, I know,
No, no, exist no longer;
with you I shall experience them again.
I’ll go with you,
I with you.

“Hero”

There’s a hero
If you look inside your heart
You don’t have to be afraid
Of what you are
There’s an answer
If you reach into your soul
And the sorrow that you know
Will melt away

And then a hero comes along
With the strength to carry on
And you cast your fears aside
And you know you can survive
So when you feel like hope is gone
Look inside you and be strong
And you’ll finally see the truth
That a hero lies in you

It’s a long road
When you face the world alone
No one reaches out a hand
For you to hold
You can find love
If you search within yourself
And the emptiness you felt
Will disappear

And then a hero comes along
With the strength to carry on
And you cast your fears aside
And you know you can survive
So when you feel like hope is gone
Look inside you and be strong
And you’ll finally see the truth
That a hero lies in you

Lord knows
Dreams are hard to follow
But don’t let anyone
Tear them away
Hold on
There will be tomorrow
In time
You’ll find the way

And then a hero comes along
With the strength to carry on
And you cast your fears aside
And you know you can survive
So when you feel like hope is gone
Look inside you and be strong
And you’ll finally see the truth
That a hero lies in you
That a hero lies in you
That a hero lies in you

Dear Mom [Weeks 4&5]

Hey mom,

I’m glad to think about you off having fun with your friends this weekend because I entirely missed writing to you last weekend. To make myself feel better I remind myself that I did get to spend good time with you on Saturday night. I’m sorry again for being late to get you at the airport. I was so panicked when I realized that I was at the wrong terminal.

All weekend long I kept telling myself I would get to it later. And, then I told myself the same exact thing all week as well. Boy, has my life been hectic. It has always been hectic, but the past several weeks have been especially hectic. I hope it makes you feel better to know my lack of writing wasn’t because anything is actually more important than you, but because all of my free time went to my kids. I know you would not want me neglect them. Although I’m pretty sure I am doing a little of that, too. I just can’t keep up. I did lesson plans, homework, or cleaned house all day yesterday. My only breaks were when I went to coach volleyball and when we broke from routine to feed the missionaries dinner. We had a wedding reception we wanted to go to and we didn’t even make it. Bummer.

I am sending you a story I wrote awhile back. I just published it on my blog, and I know you will love it. I hope it makes up for my missed letter-writing week.

Anyhow, I don’t want this letter to turn in to my complaining. I truly am grateful to have my job, to be able to go to college, and to have a busy family. We took Abigail to her first session of therapy last week. After the therapist talked to her, he called me back in. He said, I want you to hear your daughter’s 5-year-plan. Abigail explained that she planned to, “graduate from high-school, go on a mission, go to college, and get married.” The therapist said that she was a remarkable seventeen year old with a good head on her shoulders and that LG and I should lighten up and let her figure out her  own relationship stuff. That was not what I was expecting. I started to cry because I’ve  been so worried  that we’ve totally let her down in our parenting. I needed that validation so much. I didn’t even know that I needed it.

I’m sorry that we didn’t give you parenting validation enough when you were in the thick of things, mom. I hope you know how much your kids appreciate all that you have done for us. You are one of the most remarkable mothers. I’m so lucky to have you. I can’t even pinpoint everything that makes you so great, but I know one part of you that I try to emulate is selflessness. I think a lot of moms today get really caught up in meeting their own needs first and that can be really detrimental to their kids. I think some moms only take care of their kids needs and not their own. If I want to be remarkable, I think I have to find a balance between the two. But, I remind myself every day that I am in the middle of the war-zone. Our family is in its neediest stage right now. Some days I just have to hunker down and pray to make it out alive. How many years you did the exact same! Thanks for showing me that it is possible to get to the end.

I’ve  thought about dad so much. LG brought me a surprise of Almond Roca home from his Costco trip yesterday. It was all I could do not to burst out in tears. It’s my favorite candy because it was dad’s favorite candy. Of course LG didn’t know that. He only knew it was my favorite void of the connection to dad. I felt like it was a little message from the universe that I will always have dad with me. Speaking of which, I am going to get some of that candy out of my closet (my connection to you – hiding stuff in my closet) to get me through my homework marathon today. Thanks for giving me a break from a deep-dive into ontology. I hate thinking about “what is real” and “what is not real.” It’s really hard to daily wrestle with intellectuals who want to devalue spirituality. I just read something that said it’s better to ask, “Is God real?” than “Does god exist.” It gave me a little encouragement in stating that God is very real to me.

How many times I’ve  laughed this week thinking about you handing that boy working at Panda Express $10 and Abigail’s phone number. How many more times I will  laugh. It will  go down as one of my best memories ever.  You are hilarious, mom. I think it is the cutest thing that you are always looking out for your kids and grandkids, even if you are totally crazy at times. I will also always remember how much you were impressed by that kid because he was working so hard like your Ricky. Hard work is such a big value in our family. I guess dad is looking down on me proud because I’m not getting much downtime lately. Just like his whole life. I have to convince myself to rest and relax more. I’m sure there is a part of dad regretting having gone too soon because he worked himself to death. I’m sure he has so much pride in all that he accomplished, but he is looking down on you wondering why he is gone and you are still here when you both worked equally hard.

I have to go. I have piles of homework. This letter sucks this week. I can feel the raw emotion of losing dad already weakening. I don’t like it. I want to sit and cry all day every day as a way of keeping his memory alive.  However, I’m sure he’d have me move forward like I am instead of wallow in sorrow.

I  love you  mom. I hope I will l be less distracted by philosophy and literary theory next week. Have a wonderful week. Because who cares “what is.” You are what is. Dad is what is. I am what is. LG and our kids are what is. Being a family forever is what is. No one will convince me otherwise. I  even said so in my class  last Monday. I made a comment about the story “Return of a Private.” I basically argued the the American classic realist story was actually a version of the spiritual journey we might take straight back to our families after we die. That doesn’t go  over well in academia. After I made the comment, I said,  “Look, I know this view doesn’t match with realism, but my dad just died, and I need to believe this right now, so please don’t refute it.” My professor was empathetic and quickly responded before anyone else could, “I’m not  going to argue with you.” It was a moment of true compassion. Someday I will thank him.

And even though there are a lot of intellectuals out there that believe that  when we die we just die, I know  my spirit will fly straight to each and every one of my family members, just like dad did for me. Oh, how I’ll always be grateful that Olive knew “what really was” in that moment. Her bark and perfectly behaved sit will always remind me of my dad’s love for me, and his remarkable ability with people and animals. I can’t get that dog to sit for the life of me.

A Simply Marvelous Life

caroline-harpWhile going through old class notes for my current paper, I found this story I wrote last spring. I remember how it made the student that presented after me cry. I felt so bad as she approached the podium upset. She explained that my story was especially tender to her because her dad had passed away recently. How was I to know that within months I’d be in the same “dad gone” boat?

I remember telling my dad of our plan to take a gift to the orphan boys and how he loved it. He wholeheartedly sanctioned it to my kids and he shared an inspiring story of his own. He cried. What a tender memory. He believed in the art of compassion. He lived the art. How grateful I am for him and his  example. He inherently knew that the true joy of life was within our relationships with others.

I am grateful to have come across this story today. I’ve been in a school slump, not feeling up to the writing task. Today’s discovery reminded me of the importance of storytelling. Even if I am not the most eloquent storyteller.

A Simply Marvelous Life

“Those poor, poor boys,” Mother said loud enough for the room to hear as she read the newspaper. I asked her, “What boys?” She explained. Twenty years before she used to work with this guy. They were nothing more than acquaintances. “But still, it’s just so tragic.” He was dead now among the remains of his personal jet. It crashed on take-off in Colorado. The crash also killed his wife, and two of his five children.

Mother seemed obsessed over the three children left. It was hard to understand how complete strangers to her sabotaged her heart for months. She talked about them to everyone. Her friends. Her kids. Sometimes she would even talk to random strangers about how grateful she was to be alive. “Shopping with a toddler is hard, but it makes it easier when I think about how blessed I am to be alive.” When the family knelt in the family room every night, mother would sometimes pray out loud for the family. “Bless those boys.”  When I complained about chores or homework or getting my phone taken away, she would remind me to be grateful. “You have both your parents, and all of your siblings. Remember, life is marvelous.” When Christmas neared mother told us that in the quiet of one morning she heard a voice in her mind. It was a woman begging, “They must have a gift from us under the tree.” Asking our forgiveness mother said she hoped we’d understand her stealing from us. She had withdrawn from her Christmas account, upsetting her carefully budgeted plan, to buy something for the orphans. She apologized and explained that we might have a little less this year. “But, I just feel it my duty to provide a gift for them from their dead mother. I can hear her voice as clear as day. I can’t ignore it.”

As Father drove us to the next town over, Mother watched her five elves stretch and giggle among the large sack of gifts in the back. The wrapped gifts would be left anonymously. “Because that is the best kind of giving,” mother said. The boys’ names, the ones their mother gave them, were monogrammed on their blankets. A note was included reminding them of their mother’s love, all the way from heaven. “She had found a way to hug them, through the mind of a stranger.”

Mother had done some serious sleuthing to get the names and address of the boys, but could hardly believe her eyes as they pulled up. When they verified the house number to the information on the paper in mother’s hand, everyone voiced their utter shock. A chorus of “no way” echoed the yelps of surprise as the vehicle reached the top of the mountain. The boys lived in a literal mansion. Mother laughed. “What in the world?” We all told her we should take the gifts back home, but she directed her elves to drop the gifts on the doorstep. “Be quiet. Don’t let anyone see you. Hurry up before someone calls the police.” As we sprinted our way back to the modest minivan that cowered under the massive gate, my little sister spared a glance for a golden harp glowing through the windowed fortress. We jumped in. The tires peeled. My baby sister described the harp’s shine to her amused mother. How badly Caroline wanted a harp. She had even written to Santa for one. She didn’t know what I knew.  Santa had already bought her a harpsichord. It was the last Christmas purchase she had made right after the wrapping for the boys’ blankets.

We never knew it, but in those first few moments driving home, mother deeply questioned the meaning of helping where help didn’t seem to be needed. Those boys had more than she or hers ever would. The answer came quick, at the traffic light on the way home. Flashing behind her eyes, red and green, it spelled one word. C-o-m-p-a-s-s-i-o-n. Mother turned to dad and said, “I guess tonight we got to help meet an emotional need, not a physical one.”  Yes, compassion knows no class structure. Or biases. Only pure love. And that night both mothers had managed, from separate realms, to teach their children the true meaning of Christmas.

The next day mother listened as her baby girl, surrounded by her parents and four siblings, transformed our family’s condo into a two-bedroom castle with music from her harpsichord. As Mother closed her eyes to enjoy the marvelous moment, a familiar angel voice spoke to her mind one last time, “It sounds just like my harp.”

 

Dear Mom [Week 3]

Hi Mom,

I am beginning to dread writing these letters more and more because I know it will just make me cry. Somewhere inside of me there is still a five-year-old little girl who just wants to be at home safe with her mom and dad. I never really realized that I have some form of anxiety until very recently. As a girl, I thought it was normal to obsess over bad people coming into our house at night to rob us or hurt us. I used to lay in my bed and repeatedly remind myself of your words that dad would never let anything happen to any of his babies. I logically and emotionally knew perfectly that what you said was true, but when the anxiety overtook me and I got really desperate, I would think about dad’s gun up in his closet. I knew dad could “take” almost anyone alive, but just in case a mob were to come, there was always the gun. It seems so silly now, but not really. I often talk to LG about whether or not he would actually fight for me or the kids. He’s such a gentle giant, I’m always worried I would have to do the fighting. Dad was a gentle giant too, and I know that he would fight, so I guess I should rest assured.

This photo came up on my facebook feed today. There is a way that facebook reminds you of your past posts. I took this exactly one year ago. Don’t you worry, the fact that dad is holding mine and Renee’s babies together is not lost on me.  I can’t remember where we were when I took this. I want to say it was someone’s baptism.  Eli’s? Isn’t it just so perfect?! Dad always had time for the children! What a wonderful dad. What a lucky bunch of kids. I can’t  believe he looked this good just one year ago. He withered fast, didn’t he? It really is as if as soon as he knew Renee was taken care of, a part of him just moved on. Dangit. I wish we had him for just one more year. Heck, I’d take one more day, one more hour, one more minute. I wonder if I could spit out the words, “I love you,” in just a second? If I could add anything, it would be, “thank you.” He would know all of the thank you’s in my heart.

dad.jpg

Thank you, dad, for giving me life. For loving my mother. For feeding me. For carrying me to the car when I cut off my toe, and for not being mad when I cut it off from being disobedient to your orders. For carrying me into the house every time when you knew I was just faking sleep. Thank you for the buckets at the beach.  Thank you for baptizing me. Thank you for teaching me to love hard work. Thank you for disciplining me.  Thank you for loving animals. Thank you for not beating me, even though you were beat. Thank you for working all of the time, so I could have clothes and a car to drive. Thank you for teaching me to drive stick shift, and for laughing at me when I stalled on the hills. Thank you for the many many adventures. Thank you for killing all the rattlesnakes. Thank you for the pep talk when Matt Jewell broke up with me and I cried for days on end. You told me it was his loss, and I believed you. Thank you for remodeling  my bathroom in Tennessee while you were on vacation. Thank you for giving me a priesthood blessing before my mission that helped me realize much much later that LG was the man I was meant to marry. Thank you for loving my husband. Thank you for all the ways you’ve watched over my little family. Thank you for the KFC months ago and the TV that arrived at my house days after you died. Thank you for LG’s drill. Thank you for my electrical outlet in my garage. Thank you for another remodeled bathroom. Thank you for giving me the gumption to duct-tape stuff and keep driving, and the assurance that it would be okay. “What’s the worst that can happen?”  I heard you say, as I pulled tentatively onto the freeway for a four-hour drive home.  I wanted to call you to be certain, but I just left you sick in your hospital bed. The only way you could make me go back home to my family was to lie to me and tell me everything would be okay. Thank you for the last little talk we had in the hospital when I got uncomfortable. You made sure I listened. It was less than a month ago and I can’t even remember  your exact words. You always understood how hard it was for me to listen, but whatever you said, because of its intensity, I knew you loved me and I knew you were proud of me, and I knew you believed in me and wanted me to be happy. I made sure you knew that I felt the same. How much you must have known I would need that for the rest of my life.

Mom, I’ll never forget that nurse’s baby boy that came to visit us at the hospital. It didn’t matter that dad was tired or in pain, he took that baby right up in his bed with him and loved on him.  I was almost kind of jealous that it wasn’t Max, and as if dad read my mind, he proceeded to tell that nurse all about Max and how amazing he thought he was, how he could make a basket from any part of the room.  I can’t even begin to describe how much it hurts to think that Max will never know his grandpa. I don’t think a second would be long enough, but I would give it to you anyway, mom. I would give it all to you. How you must be so lost without him.

I usually try to write these letters on Sundays when everyone is napping or occupied, so that I can cry and have time to myself. However, yesterday got away from me and I am writing in between subjects while I study in a little private study room at UVU. My eyes and brain were tired, so I decided I coul write as a break from reading and kill two birds with one stone. Bad idea. The study room has glass walls, and I am so glad I am up on the fifth floor where no one is around this late at night. It’s 9 pm. No one but crazy mothers study this late at night on campus. It’s a good thing because the tears are rolling freely down my face. I had to move my laptop farther from my eyes so that the puddle on the table wouldn’t ruin it.

I must get back to studying now, mom, but I don’t ever want to stop once I get started. It’s like you are right here with me. Like dad is right here, too. I wanted to tell you one thing right quick. I’m struggling with the working mom guilt. It’s so hard to let Max be cared for by someone else. He’s my baby!!! But, like dad taught me, I do what I have to do. So, to help with my guilt, I made homemade rolls this morning. It’s my first batch of rolls in the new Bosch mixer my mother-in-law got me for Christmas. Nine months without rolls  tells you how insane my life has been. Anyhow, as I was taking the dough from the mixer to knead and cut, I had a flashback. It was after school. I was 7 or 8. Your mixer looked a lot like mine, but your dough was wheat. It smelled of yeast. My mouth was watering. I knew you loved me. I hope my kids knew of my love when they ate those rolls tonight. I wasn’t even home for dinner because I was here at school. I have learned that pursuing my own dreams is also something important to teach my children, but it sure is hard to spread myself so thin.

One last sidenote: LG gave everyone back-to-school blessings last night. We were late this year with all the craziness of the funeral and Abigail’s pep-talks taking a lot of our time, and my new job and stuff.  So last night it was. I wish you could have been there, mom. In my blessing, LG talked a lot about my new job and how I should pray for my students because they are my fields. The scriptures say we should pray over our fields. And then, he got emotional. He stopped for a long time. Then whimpered. The spirit testified to me that whatever he would say next was something vital and true. He said, “Alice, your father is watching over you.” His voiced cracked as he cried. “Your earthly father.” “He will do everything in his power to help you, and he will always be there when you need him.” I think my immediate sobs kind of scared my kids, but maybe it will help them to have a greater appreciation for their dad who is alive, and for the priesthood. Such a beautiful moment, and I hate to write it here because I always publish these letters on my blog. That was truly sacred.

Well, I must go. It’s 9:03, and I have 150 more pages to read before class on Wednesday. Between work and other stuff I won’t have time to do it tomorrow. I love you, mom. Thank you for so many things. So, so, many things. I sit in my living room and smile. I look ever every thing that you carefully chose, just because you wanted me to have a nice room that was presentable. You didn’t want me to have to be embarrassed ever again. You gave me nicer things then you have ever given yourself. And when I get overwhelmed, I just sit on one of my two leather sofas and I look at my buffet table, and my rug, my pillows, my coffee table, and my colorful artwork above my mantle. I smile, not because it is all so lovely, but because I can feel you there loving me and cheering me on. I smiled yesterday thinking about how one of dad’s last gifts to you was bringing you up two weekends in a row, and letting you go crazy. He never said a word of reprimand. Then I got up, and keep at my life. Just like right now.

I’ll write you again next week. I wonder if I will ever be able to write one of these letters without crying. I hope so. I hope not. Our crying is what connects us. Big boob babies.

Dear Mom [Week 2]

Hi mom,

You probably haven’t even read my first letter yet, as you’ve been on the road. I’ll send this one to you up the street, and then you’ll get the first one when you get back home. I smiled so big when you told me how sad you would be to miss my letter on mail day because my only goal in writing is to give you something to look forward to.

And how many things you’ve given me to look forward to throughout my life. Christmas was always such a joy. I’ll never forget the early years when dad would always pull out his loud video camera and his ultra-bright light. I’m trying to remember the exact sound of the camera, but memory fails. Darnit. I will have to ask Adam the next time I see him. Mom, one of the things I really loved doing with you was going to get the special treatment for school dances. You really knew how to make a girl feel special. You never made me worry about money and you always told me that a girl had to splurge once in awhile. Getting my hair done was always traumatic, but oh how I loved going to the make-up counter. I remember my senior year when we bought a read MAC lipstick. I can still taste the color on my lips. That was a fancy lipstick and even though I may have looked like a prostitute sporting that color, I felt like a princess. Thanks mom for those dances, Christmases, and so many other things.

My intention in writing these letters is to keep dad’s memory alive. I know when Kristen Dillon died it helped me a lot just to get together with other friends and talk about the  crazy stuff we did. You and I just saw each other last night where we all talked about dad and his temper.  Renee got uncomfortable and said she only wanted to remember the good stuff about dad. Annette commented that it is good to remember the whole person.  I especially agree. Dad had very little wrong with him. In fact, his temper might be the only thing I can even think of, and as I mentioned in my last letter, dad kicked all of his anger and aggression to the curb years ago. I hope I can learn to do the same, but earlier in life.

When we went to lunch on Saturday, you just kept on with the tradition of giving me something to look forward to. I LOVED shopping with you, even though you wouldn’t let me pay! I  will get you back for that. You must learn to accept love instead of giving it all of the time. God will not let you go and be with dad until you do, so you better learn it quick. I know you don’t want to burden your kids with taking care of you. We will do whatever you need, just as you have done for us, but we would rather that you let us pay for some stuff than God giving you really bad health until you HAVE to take from us. Anyhow, it was so much fun just to be with you. You made shopping for the kids much more tolerable,  especially when you insisted that I buy some shoes for myself. I love you mom. I loved just sitting with you at Carls Jr. and looking out the window and talking about how we both thought dad would be coming back somehow. One thing I love about you is that I know you  enjoyed our silly fast-food lunch as much as you did your Melting Pot dinner with Adam and Renee. I wish I was one of your rich kids, so I could spoil you rotten, but I take peace of mind in knowing that you find the joy in every little thing. You’ve taught me well that way. I love to just stop and look at the mountains with you, or smile over the fact that Caroline came running up to make sure you didn’t need help up the walkway at the park. Life really is beautiful.

Well, I already told you about my dinner date with LG on Friday night. I got so upset that we had to skip the concert we’ve been looking forward to all summer. LG asked, “Why are you crying?” I am sure I embarrassed him by crying at our table like I did, probably more so than if he was just wearing underwear. I bet everyone at the restaurant thought we were fighting. I had stepped outside for like ten minutes because I had a really bad pain in my shoulder. Well, I think that they can all just kiss their nosy selves all the way to the kitchen, but LG struggles more with delivering on those expected appropriate and formal behaviors. I answered LG, “I just want my dad back.” And, oh how I do. My chimichunga was so lonely too, and must have  been terribly discouraged when it was put into a to-go box and stuck in our  fridge later. Only two bites were missing.  It sure didn’t taste half as good as it did fresh when it came out of the Styrofoam box for “after church, we aren’t cooking anything” left-overs.

I think four things brought on my emotional outburst. First, my pain. I think it was just gas. I get the pains in the same place on the front of my shoulder from time to time. But, after dad’s death, I was so scared the pain was my heart. I was also really hurting. I tried to stretch it out, but it wouldn’t go  away. It made me feel sad for all the severe pain dad tried to champion through for the last years of his life. Second, while I was stretching my shoulder outside the restaurant, our waiter came out and sat next to me. I believe he was done with work for the night. He is a cute 18-year-old kid from the Ukraine. He recognized us from Wendy’s where he used to work. Yes, we do love feeding our whole family for $8 now and again. Anyhow, he’s moved up to work at the Mexican joint. He got off his bike and asked if he could sit with me. We talked about him and his sister being adopted three years ago from an orphanage in the Ukraine. He is such a positive kid. He talked about how he loved the orphanage because his caretaker was such a sweet caring lady. We discussed his pending career choices and his educational aspirations. I sat thinking about you and dad: how you conditioned me to make friends in the most unlikely of places. Guess what? His name was John! Anyhow, ten minutes later LG came out and asked if I wanted to go home. OOPS. When I got back inside, he had eaten his whole meal. As I apologized, and continued rubbing out my pain in my arm, I looked at the avocado on my plate and started tearing up.  Reason #3 Then I got sad because my shoulder hurt so bad, I had only drank 1/8th of my $4 soda. Then I looked at the drink menu, and tried to pick out dad’s favorite. I knew he used to love rootbeer, but I couldn’t think of what he would drink now if he were still alive. I think he would ask for coke in the hospital. Well, if they didn’t have v-8. My tears turned into a burst dam at reason #4. That’s when it got real awkward. Poor LG. He is such a saint.  How I love him, just like you love dad.

Remember how dad used to always ask waitresses to bring him a pitcher of water. They always thought he was joking, but he never was. I laughed when we were down at Brennon’s wedding. We had been outside the temple for about an hour in the heat of the sun, and when we got to the restaurant, we were all parched.  I asked for a pitcher of water, and the waiter thought I was joking. I wasn’t joking. He brought us all  two glasses instead of a pitcher. He still had to refill mine twice.

Oh mom, I wish you lived closer, and I wish I had more time on my hands. I just love you. I want to spend every waking moment with you before you are gone too. How I wish I would have spent more time with dad in the last five years since we moved back to Utah.

So, I must go to do homework now. I still have a whole book to read and two papers to write. I’ve been trying to get to it all day. It’s a holiday, and after cooking breakfast,  cleaning house,  calendaring out the upcoming crazy week (with three people working and two cars), paying school fees ($500!!), doing some laundry, and making  final preparations for my first ESL class tomorrow (I’m a teacher!!! Can you believe it?), I am just now sitting down to do homework. Of course, I just used the last half hour warming up my writing-skills with this letter. Oh, and that sentence before the last was such a run-on. The best thing about English is that you can break the rules. I think that is why I love it so much. I’m a rule-breaker, just like my dad. WHY CAN’T THEY JUST BRING A PITCHER OF WATER?!?! I’m breaking a true cardinal rule by publishing this without even checking for errors.

Anyhow, I’ll leave you for the week with the memory I don’t want to forget at the DI on Saturday. I’m looking through the shoes, and the piano music hits my ear from the other side of the store. It’s an old-timey piano version of a hymn. I can’t remember which. My body walks toward it. The piano player was a beautiful elderly Polynesian woman. I watched her in awe. How grateful I was for the moment of serenity. She reminded my of Sister Cabacungan. Her dress was a white polynesian style with large-print blue orchid flowers. I thought that dad must be getting a very similar concert on the other side. And as I peeled myself away, she ended her first song. You’ll never guess what the second one that she played was. HOW GREAT THOU ART. It was like a sign from dad telling me that my idea was true. I thought of the lyrics, and one tear ran down my cheek. I will never hear that song again without thinking of dad, especially at the part: “and hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.”  How I wish we recorded dad whistling like the birds!

A few minutes later, that teenage kid took over. You went to thank him for playing such uplifting songs. Then you and I went back to the shoe racks. And, then he played one of my most favorite songs. I looked it up on my phone so you  could hear the words. We both had a good bawl right there in the aisle. It felt really good to cry with you.

I’ll include the words here for you to read. They are just so perfect! I wish you could get on your computer and hit the link that I am including in my blog post, so you could listen again any time you need to cry. I’m watching it now, having myself a good cleanse before getting back to homework. The celtic sound is so heavenly. I love you mom. I love you so much.

In the quiet misty morning
When the moon has gone to bed,
When the sparrows stop their singing
And the sky is clear and red,
When the summer’s ceased its gleaming
When the corn is past its prime,
When adventure’s lost its meaning –
I’ll be homeward bound in time

Bind me not to the pasture
Chain me not to the plow
Set me free to find my calling
And I’ll return to you somehow

If you find it’s me you’re missing
If you’re hoping I’ll return,
To your thoughts I’ll soon be listening,
And in the road I’ll stop and turn

Then the wind will set me racing
As my journey nears its end
And the path I’ll be retracing
When I’m homeward bound again

Bind me not to the pasture
Chain me not to the plow
Set me free to find my calling
And I’ll return to you somehow
(softly)
In the quiet misty morning
When the moon has gone to bed,
When the sparrows stop their singing
I’ll be homeward bound again.

Dear Mom

Because we are friends on different social media platforms, a lot of you already know that my dad passed away unexpectedly last week. He had been sick, but none of us saw his death as happening so soon. He had an illness that they could never figure out, a broken back, and eventually went septic, and died of cardiac arrest.

Those of you who know me, know how much I loved and adored my dad. I try to be just like him because he is truly a superhero to me. Even better than Superman because Superman can’t jimmy-rig stuff or listen to you and give you sound advice.

Here, you can find the obituary I wrote for my dad. I’m pasting it in here, in case the link at Pine View Mortuary ever fails.

Richard Carroll Wills of St. George, Utah, was born on August 10, 1943 in Oakland, California to Nellie Irene Moody and Ray Orlin Munkers. His adoptive father was Wesley Nelson Wills. He was the second of three children to Nellie. Although every facet of his childhood was difficult, the resilience it required created a man with highest character and near superhuman strength.

While growing up on a dairy farm in Elk Grove, California, Rick’s oldest brother, Bill, was always praised for his intellect, so Rick decided he would be the hardest working. His momentum never stopped until his heart finally had nothing left to give. He died of cardiac arrest at 2:50 a.m. on August 25, 2016. Rick’s broken back was the last shred of physical evidence that he truly gave everything he could in service of his fellowman. God has called him home to get some rest, but one of Rick’s first questions upon arrival will most likely be, “Where can I start building a home?” He’ll work on it piece by piece, in between whatever else is needed, just as he did while serving as a Mormon Bishop in Carlsbad, California, where he and his wife raised their children.

Rick met his wife of 52 years, Sharon Elaine Hutcheson, in grade school and she became his high-school sweetheart and greatest love. No man ever possessed greater respect and honor for the mother of his children. They were wed in St. John’s Lutheran church in Sacramento, California, on November 18, 1963 and were later sealed for time and all eternity in the Oakland, California LDS temple.

Rick and Sharon knew from their start together that there were only two secrets of a happy life. First: love. They both have a tremendous knowledge of the love of God. Second: family. Their greatest newlywed desire was to have a large family, and it grew into their fullness of joy. They were never happier together than when they were surrounded by their 7 children, 38 grandchildren, and thousands of adopted children, for they loved all children like their own.

Rick started his adult life as a football player at Sacramento City College, but duty-bound, he joined the Marine Corps to serve in Vietnam as a crypto-typist. Later Rick worked as a California Highway Patrolman, a carpenter/foreman/general contractor, and ended his career in facilities management.  Rick normally held two or three jobs to provide for his large family.

There wasn’t anything he couldn’t fix with a stick of bubble gum and some duct tape. Known affectionately to his children as “McGyver,” Rick was a jack-of-all-trades, and master of most.

Rick is survived by his wife Sharon and their children: Erick Wills (Cami), Adam Wills (Annette), Shannon Nelson (Brett), Alice Gold (LeGrand), Sarah Bartlett (Josh), David Wills (Brooke), and Renee Sorenson (Erik), 38 grandchildren, as well as his brother Bill Wills (Jonnie), his sister Marilyn Kirkelie, Sharon’s brother Danny Hutcheson, sister Shirley Clukey (Dale) and many nieces and nephews.  We expect he will be greeted on the other side by his grandson Braxton Wills, his parents, and his in-laws, John and Dorothy Hutcheson.

Services will be held Monday, August 29, 2016 at 11 a.m. at the Cotton Acres LDS chapel 2583 East 350 North, St. George, Utah 84790. Viewing at 9:30 a.m. prior to services.

In lieu of flowers, please consider passing on Dad’s legacy. Hug your neighbor. Love on some gang-members. Stop and help someone with their broken-down car. Look past people’s flaws. Listen and validate someone who is angry or sad. Give a stranger the shirt off your back. Compliment a co-worker on a job well done. Serve in your church. Mentor a child. Save a life. Always keep gum in your briefcase for your kids, and keep a camera handy to capture treasured moments. Adore your wife. Giving money is good, but more noble is giving of oneself.

Honoring his Creator by the way he lived was Rick’s greatest legacy.

Well, I want to say more about my dad here, and I’ve been searching for the right picture to share, but I can’t take much more time right now. Here is the last picture I took of my parents together when I helped out with hospital duty a few weeks ago. Even though dad was really sick, he still had that twinkle in his eye. It’s like a cross between Santa Claus and what I imagine is the light in the eyes of Jesus Christ.

IMG_20160801_234521563

I was really inconvenienced with this hospital stay as I had to cancel our only planned family vacation this summer. It turned out to be the  BEST blessing of my entire life. And, I believe my dad is happy with the way it turned out, as his whole life was one inconvenient service  after another resulting in wonderful relationships and a lot of joy.

Anyhow, I could talk a lot more about my dad, but I will save that for later. Right now, I am mostly worried for my mom. My parents were married for 52 years, and my mom will be lost without my dad. My mom isn’t so good at technology.  In fact, my dad used to print off my blog posts and take them home for her to read. So, in the last 12 hours I decided that it’s my turn to take over that torch. My plan is to try and write my mom letters and mail them as often as possible. Here is my first letter.

Dear Mom,

Oh how I HATED to leave you yesterday. I cried the whole way home. My whole body was shaking with longing for you and dad. I had to pull it together for the last 40 minutes of the drive because LG just could not drive one more second.

As I cried and convulsed in the front seat of the van clutching a pillow, LG would reach over and rub my shoulder or hold my hand. I found myself squeezing his fingers like they were the only lifeline out of the drowning going on in my heart.  And then I would cry harder thinking about you not having dad’s hand to hold anymore. I had to stop the thought from repeating over and over.

I forced my mind into a happier region. You on Sunday night, telling me and Shannon, Sarah, Renee, and Adam that it wouldn’t be the sex you would ever miss. It would be the touch of dad’s hand on your knee when he knew you were scared. The kiss on your forehead just to tell you he loved you. Him holding your hand. And I thought about how right you were. How much just a touch of a hand means. I closed my eyes, and tried to calm my breathe. I thought of all the times dad held your hand, and all the times he will do it again. I thought about him holding my hand and helping me through the mud in Alaska.

At one point, my hand felt small like I was eight years old again, and LG’s hand felt like the exact same size as dad’s, except LG’s was soft compared to dad’s always rough. I reminisced that our family was sitting on the front pew  at church.  Dad always played a game to calm my boredom. He would let me bite down on his hand as hard as I could muster. No matter how much muscle I could amass from my jaw, he would never even flinch. His skin always tasted like a mixture of engine oil and Old Spice.

Oh, mom. How lucky we were to have dad! He was the best man who ever lived. He just was. I know you were what created him into the gentle kind soul he was. His work ethic was always his own, but as we all know, dad had to learn to temper his aggression. Just like he taught me to do with biting his hand. The last time I ever saw dad get upset was at Brett in 2008. I’d say that argument may have been one of dad’s greatest regrets. I know he loved Brett, but of course he loved Shannon more. I never saw dad ever get angry after that. I think it is safe to say that he conquered his last flaw way before he died.

How we are going to miss dad. How we are all going to miss him, but of course, you will miss him most. I hope you can close your eyes and feel him holding your hand and reenact his kiss on your forehead because if I know anything it is that dad will never leave you comfortless. He was such a wonderful husband. What a lucky lady you have been. I know that your last breath on this earth will be the one you take while reaching for dad’s hand to pull you over to the other side with him. As much as I don’t want that to happen, I will be so happy to think of you two together again. Right now, you better keep thinking happy thoughts because selfishly I want to keep you around for awhile.

I love you, mom. I have to get to my homework right now, and the million other household duties that you know all too well. I’m going to try and write you at least once a week, and call you more often than that. I’m so glad our relationship is as good as it is. You’ve always had my best interest at heart, but like dad did, I am still learning how to let go of my stubborn ways.

My kids loved the stories about dad that were told at the funeral. They especially loved the bus and the hole in the backyard. I’m so glad they know dad as well as they do. On the way to the cemetery yesterday we passed by the Dixie football stadium. Abigail remembered  you and dad coming to see her at her track meet. She was laughing about the pink hat dad had  found at Wal-mart and how he passed out water bottles to her whole team. What I would give to have a memory like that with Grandpa John.

Hang in there, mom.

2 Timothy 1:7

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.