Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Honoring, remembering and celebrating Nora!

This year, like the last several, I found myself thinking a lot about the people who surrounded and supported and loved us through our time with Nora. I'll admit that there wasn't a lot of reflection carved into the days surrounding this anniversary, but in the pockets of time where my mind and emotions could wander, they did so most often to the people who were close to us and to her. And so it felt fitting to spend the evening prior to the morning she died up the hill enjoying a simple supper of soup and cornbread with our neighbors. This time we brought the meal and are hoping we can be a steadfast comforting helpful loving presence, journeying with them as they face illness, loss and pain. When Nora was with us, the meal they brought to UVA is about the only thing I can remember eating during that time. The meal, the music, the conversation - truly comforting!

Months ago we had marked June 4 as one of our "family retreat days" and Jason and I were jointly assigned to planning the day. At that time the only certain activity had been to go for a little fishing excursion. As the time neared the list of potential activities for our "retreat" day seemed to expand exponentially and the day was feeling anything but retreat-like as I envisioned how it might unfold. So either we should rename these days to minimize unmet expectations or figure out how to retreat with three kiddos along for the ride! In the meantime, I'll focus on the things about the day together that were most meaningful, and just mention here that in all honesty it was one of the harder anniversaries for me - partially because of the personal space I find myself in currently, partially because the day didn't pan out as I had hoped for it too and partially because the few tears that managed to find their way out when reading a kind note from Nora's geneticist was only a leak in the dam and I am still longing for way to open the flood gates wide! All that acknowledged, there were many moments of that day (and all our days) that I treasure and want to be the times I think most on when looking back, thus the focus on those times!

We learned that Sunday was a big mountain bike race where we normally hike to Hensley's Pond, so we altered our plans and just walked to our neighbors' small pond about a mile down the road. It wasn't until we were loaded up and heading out that the thought dawned on me: "Kali is probably not going to want to go fishing!" I asked her and she got one of her looks and confirmed that she was very uncertain whether she would or not. In the end she didn't, but we had lots of good conversations going to and fro the pond and there on the pond's edge while Alida fished with pleasure and no reservations. Kali has started to feel a keen sense of compassion for all living things, and a desire to not actively pursue hurting any (this extends to things like ants and mosquito larvae at this point). She is a good mix of her mother and father on this one - I rashly became a vegetarian at the beach one year when one of my sisters and dad were cooking some clam-like things and I felt so bad for them and Jason has always been fascinated with the natural world but also has always had a mix of emotions when observing and enjoying the creatures around him (really liking watching the fish he got and put in his fish tank and then also realizing that they probably would rather not be in his fish tank). I am glad for the conversations we are having together as Kali is not alone in her feelings - I struggle on every butchering day, especially with my/our power. But it continues to feel like the only way for me to have integrity in this struggle is to engage it and not run from it. I will admit that I've struggled to be patient at times - when she doesn't want to take her ducks to our mosquito-breeding little pond for them to help us control the mosquito population on our place or when she is uncertain if she will ride her bike along the road, wondering if she will squish more ants riding or walking. Am I ready for where this personal journey will take her? I hope so! And I look forward to learning from and with her along the way. She is wrestling with important questions and her duck project will be central to this learning journey no doubt!
Alida trying out her birthday fishing rod from Aunt Emily and Uncle Jonas

Terah particularly liked the "baby" fish - she loves all things baby-like!

Kali still enjoyed being there as there were plenty of trees luring her!
Terah didn't even make it the whole way home, sacking out in the jogger on our walk back. So while she napped the older girls and Jason picked about a quart of sour cherries off our tree - first time ever! It was just enough for a very small sour cherry crisp and a few popped in our mouths during the pitting process. That was probably the most low key part of the day - the girls pitting and eating sour cherries while Jason put new strings on his guitar and Terah was still napping so I got to putter around for a bit in relaxed fashion! It was the post-nap time that got a little crazy, for a retreat any way. What, of all the things we could wish to fit into the rest of the day, would we prioritize?

We should know better than to think we could quickly get something in the ground. We do love gardening together and we did really, really want to finish the last seeding before some predicted rains. But things always take longer than expected and in the end the younger girls hung out with my mom while Jason, Kali and I got sorghum planted. It's not that I didn't enjoy aspects of the time, but I felt like I spend a lot of the time feeling sad that we weren't all out there together, that we weren't instead gathering rocks for Nora's garden, that we didn't plan better such that the day could have felt more relaxing and less rushed and then just trying to accept it for what it was...

I think it was nearly 9 when we were all inside and ready for the promised ping pong competitions and pudding with fresh mulberries. I was about to fall over by this point but mustered up enough energy to at least get 5 points playing ping pong with Jason and to chase some balls around when playing with Alida. Terah got pudding all over herself and then was entertained riding tricycle, which she really needs a few more inches on her to do well but makes a valiant effort pushing herself around on her tiptoes! Then we headed downstairs to sit together on the couch and watch the few videos (thanks again and again and again Aunt Anna!!) we have of Nora. Alida struggled to make it through them, tearfully noting that they are too sad. Terah oscillated between calling Nora "I I" when they were the more "normal" pictures of her and getting a little teary herself when pictures highlighted Nora's "oddities" or were ones where she was in the hospital with lots of tubes - it was like she could tell something was different about those pictures. So we comforted our two youngest while we sat with our own emotions and memories of a time before their time. Life with a capital "L!"

Last evening we gathered with others at Virginia Blood Services for our blood drive in honor of Nora. It was a great evening - I'm used to feeling completely wasted by the end of these events but this time it felt oddly smooth and less chaotic. Maybe it is that kids are getting older. Maybe it is that Terah was more comfortable there and even enjoyed interacting with people she never had met before. Maybe it was that I was able to donate with no trouble early in the evening and so that wasn't on my mind. Maybe it was that Mom was there keeping the snack table well stocked and helping watch kids. Maybe it was that they had an extra staff person and were fully prepared for us descending upon them. For whatever reason, we had more donors than ever (18 gave successfully) and I was able to at least greet all of them and even chat for a longer time with a few. I love that it is a mix of new folks and regular donors each time, a mix of people that have known us for years and years and some that have only known us since Nora's death, and people from all aspects of our lives. There are good vibes throughout the place and the kids add a special touch to the time. Already looking forward to the next one this fall - Nora's 10th birthday so we'll make it a biggie!
We all thought it was so cute that when we said we wanted to take a family picture before leaving, Terah got right in line the way she does for the family pictures we take on our front porch the first of each month! So we followed suit, and didn't notice until it was pointed out to us that we left a space for Nora in our line up!

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