The rain has passed for the moment, the sky over the valley lightening up. The earth breathes deep the moisture, Rocky Creek overflowing its banks, swelling out into the fields, Bridger Creek tumbling brown and swift down the hill. A few patches of bright white linger along the edges of the trees, trees that know to grow near water, a line of aspens through the meadow. Deer everywhere as though spontaneous generation were possible, they appear out of nowhere. The wild prehistoric call of Sandhill Cranes echo through the hills and the silent mountain blue birds flit their scraps of sky. It is April. At long, long last April has come and with the end of the month, Spring. It is Montana after all, but even for us, even for the creatures, the winter has seemed unending. The animals are ever face down in the grass, and we, our faces turn up to the sun.
I hurled the car seat into the back of the Suburban, surprising myself with the force. The garage has been an agitant for years, a silent declaration of my absence, both in body and in mind. It was on my list, clean up the garage, go through the junk, discard, discard what no longer pertains to this life. There sat the car seat, a bulk of ugly plastic once justified by a young nephew who has now grown too large for it. Knowing no one will take a used car seat and appalled at the thought of its plastic leaching into the earth for eons, I was elated with flat face that for two weeks Target was collecting car seats for recycling.
I stood there a bit stunned at the flex of my muscles and the explosion of force that had succeeded at the car seat sailing into the back of the car, so hard it ricocheted backwards. Do you know how many hours that car seat held the flesh of my sweet girl with its five point harness? How many water bottles of fluid had sat in that cup holder demanding her consumption, 40 ounces every single day? How many times did I look over my right shoulder to see her face with the backdrop of that car seat? Somehow that car seat had embodied my greatest fear, a horror beyond all horrors – driving home, driving away from Seattle with a car seat empty. I had seen it happen. All of the cells of my body screamed in desperation that would never be me, that I would never ever have to know that fundamental ripping of my heart. And then it came to pass. On Mother’s Day 2016, I sat alone in the Suburban, having packed up our apartment in Ronald McDonald house, I had to will myself out of the parking lot, ever aware of the black emptiness of that car seat.
It is April. The 11th marked three years since Jens died. Tomorrow marks two years since Allistaire died. It is a hard month, the events of April tied tight to my heart, moments that sear in the mind, never ever to be forgotten. The sound of Sten’s sobs on the phone as I stood in the Cardiac ICU visiting my friend Christi, fearing it was Solveig and then my mind reeling to comprehend that it was Jens. I only remember I kept yelling “NO!” and the security guard had to inquire if I was okay.
With Allistaire I plod, walking so, so slow through the days, remembering each with clarity, the outlines of moments crisp, moments that separated years of action with limitless “last times.” The tube of fancy hand lotion sits in my bedside table, retrieved weeks later realizing it had been tested out, “the last time” Allistaire and I ever went to Anthropologie together. The last dinner she ever ate, the last clinic visit, the last time in the toy store, the last time of taking pills, the last time we ever heard her voice, the last time I ever held her as she was eventually in so much pain I couldn’t even gather her in my arms, the last night I ever spent by her side, her last breaths, the last beating of her heart, the strangest stillness I have ever know. The pictures and videos of those last weeks and days are still on my phone. I can’t take them off and I can’t bring myself to look at them. There is no one who will sit by my side and watch these horrors with me, be witness to them with me. I feel so radically alone.
And this is the Lord’s answer, “Jai, Jai, you are not alone”. For in the moment I wrote the sentence above, I let release bellowing screams of pain, horrible sounds ripping the air, thinking I was alone with no one to hear, no one to be horrified at the ragged sounds coming from my gut. And then a soft sound that made me pause and moments later the quiet sound of a car driving slowly out of my driveway. It was Alison, Alison who quietly left me daffodils and a card with a bright, chubby, fierce mountain blue bird. Ever since my days in college, I have always bought myself daffodils, the surest sign of spring. And here they were, an elegant bunch of buttery yellows, hints of orange and bright singing yellow. And a mountain blue bird card, our chosen spirit animal Allistaire due to their abundant presence in her dying days, a staggering blue echoing her eyes and the vast sky above.
There was Marilyn and Dave who I just happened to see this morning at Target as I was dropping off the car seat; Marilyn who had been praying for an opportunity to greet me in remembrance of this hard anniversary. There is the card from Jim and the text from Heather. And there are the countless other times friends and family have inquired of my heart, my life. There is no one, save but one, who will ever really know the heartbreaking terror of those last days, hours and moments, but I am surrounded by many who have kindly, gently, faithfully reflected the loving and gracious face of God to me.
Most importantly, the Lord remains faithful. April is a good month to die. If one is going to die, and we all must at some point, April seems most fitting. April, it is a yellow month, a month of light, and not just light, but light after such a long, long season of darkness. April is the sure breaking of winter, the pressing of life up and out from the cloak of dark and cold into newness, into green, into unfurling, into vigor and beauty and an exhale of giddy surprised joy – the shock that life really does overcome death, that light will prevail over darkness. April aides my hope in resurrection and redemption. I see it with my eyes, my ears take in the sounds, my skin feels the warmth, the light overwhelms. The season of death has broken, life will not be stopped. And imagine, this is just a hint, the skimmest outline, a mere shade of the glory to come.
So I put my hand to the plow as it were, I want to be all here, in this place and in this time that God has given me. God has gifted me with jobs that allow me to constantly be learning. Did you know that there are all sorts of nerve cells who send messages at differing speeds to your spinal cord: the A-delta nerve fibers traveling at 40 miles an hour while the A-beta fibers speed past, competing for attention at 180-200 miles an hour? I’m learning about pain so I can be better equipped to help people who struggle with chronic pain. I’m reading all sorts of things about boys and men, what it is to be a male in this culture of masculinity. You know I never thought to understand my husband through the lens of him being a man? How I wish I could go back and care for him better, to understand him more thoroughly and thus love him more effectively. I can’t go back and it is this that so often radically grieves my heart. The damage is done and I can’t undo the harm I’ve done. But I am alive now, here, and so I’m excited that after months of conversation and preparation, I am collaborating with a fantastic fellow at our local hospital to put on a parenting workshop on Raising Resilient Boys.
And good grief, Sunday school and church alone give me so much to ponder and to expand my understanding. For nearly seven months we covered the topic of Transgender thanks to the incredible commitment to study and learn by my pastor Brian and now I’m learning from Gregg about the history of thought that has brought us through the “Dark Ages” to the time of the Enlightenment and Romanticism and into this age of modernity that proposes the “Separate Sovereign Self.” Alongside these I study childhood sexual abuse and the impact of trauma on the body and in relationships. Everywhere I turn life is throbbing with fascination and worthwhile considerations as everything ties back to who we are and ultimately to this offer from God that we might find true life only in Him.
The Lord is my hope. “Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. For God gives life to the dead and calls things into being that do not exist.” Romans 4:17
Here are links to two videos produced by my dear friend Brian for Allistaire’s memorial. I can’t get over what a spectacular being she was. I miss her so keenly and I long to see her again.
Video 1: Allistaire – Who She Is
Video 2: Allistaire – Boundary Pusher
I’m also riding in Obliteride again this year, for the 6th time. I made a commitment that I would ride every year that Obliteride exists or until cancer is cured. Turns out cancer continues to harm the vitality of those we love and steal away their lives. It seems everywhere I turn, cancer continues to loom. Sadly, a child diagnosed today with Acute Myeloid Leukemia has little additional options than Allistaire was offered nearly seven years ago. But I know there is change on the horizon – an ability to look at cancer in far greater precise and personalized detail so that the means of overtaking cancer will be both more effective and less destructive to the life of the person as a whole.
It would honor me and Allistaire’s memory greatly if you would consider supporting me this year in Obliteride as we again fund cancer research to the greater well-being of those we love. As a reminder for Bozeman folk, our own Cancer Center at Bozeman Health is part of the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance which means that your cancer treatment options are directly tied to the incredible research and clinical trials at Fred Hutch Cancer Research Center in Seattle which Obliteride funds. You can donate HERE.
A few amazing facts from Obliteride 2013-2017:
$12 million dollars raised by Obliteride since its beginning in 2013
$2,800,000 raised in 2017
$23,353.21 raised by Team Baldy Tops in 2017
$150,774.21 raised by Team Baldy Tops since the beginning in 2013
You can also join our Team Baldy Tops as a rider or a volunteer. Check out the Obliteride page for more details.
What can we do this year? Below are pictures from Obliteride 2017 and the slate in honor of Allistaire set in the courtyard of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center – a place most fitting to remember her – a place where she and I spent a lot of time together as she received treatment and the place where some of the world’s top pediatric Acute Myeloid Leukemia researchers are housed.