A Few Thoughts About Andrew

A few weeks ago, my little brother Andrew died rather unexpectedly.

I shouldn’t say unexpectedly; we’ve kind of been waiting for his body to give out for the past few years. He’s been in and out of hospitals most of his life. Cardiologists have been impressed his flawed heart has made it this long—even half this long.

Still, that almost made it more unexpected for me. I’ve been living my life with the understanding that Andrew was a medical miracle, that he would stay until he died, and that I had no way of knowing when that was. When he was actually dying, I only really had about two days’ notice.

Mom sent out a text from the hospital (where Andrew was staying, again, and nobody seemed to bat an eyelash, because he’s in the hospital all the time.) Anyway, Mom sent out a text talking about how difficult it was to watch her son struggle to breathe, and she felt like he might not have much time left. She hadn’t slept all night, watching by Andrew’s bedside. I assumed she was overreacting and sleep-deprived, and called Dad to find out what was going on. Dad confirmed what Mom had said, though; Andrew didn’t have long to live.

Ethan came home from work early and drove me down to the hospital, then waited with John while I went up to say my goodbyes. Andrew was ornery, mildly sedated, and unamused by my comments about the cute nurses. Eventually, I got a smile, a hug, and an understanding that he wanted me to go back to Provo. Which I did.

The next morning, my parents gave the okay to take out his IVs. I came back the next day, just to see how he was doing, and walked into the room just as he was taking his last breaths. I stayed to hear my dad give him a final father’s blessing, then to watch him die. It wasn’t as fast a process as I thought it would be, but it was also more peaceful than I had expected.

Over the last two weeks, I’ve been blessed by friends and family willing to help me clean, talk, cry, and laugh. My cousins’ children learned enough sign language to perform a musical number in ASL at the funeral. My aunt and uncle stayed while Andrew died, and then stayed in town throughout the next week. We’ve received a lot of support as a family.

It’s been an unusual grieving process for me; when my cousin’s wife died last year, I had a harder time accepting it. She was young, healthy, and had a husband and child to take care of. My brother, on the other hand, probably took a step up by leaving his body behind. His health was crap, and has been getting worse for years. As his pain levels went up, his personality clouded, and he got crabbier and crabbier. Besides all this, he had special needs, and looking at the afterlife raises interesting questions there.

I have never doubted that there is life after death, or that we will be the same people there (wherever) as we were here. But leaving behind his physical body means, technically, my brother might not have Down Syndrome anymore. I don’t know whether he’s autistic now—I don’t know enough about it to feel out whether that’s a physical-body-only thing, or whether that’s a personality thing. At any rate, I do have a strong impression that he’s much better able to think, function, and express himself now than he has been for the past twenty-four years. I just wish I was as able to listen.

We had a remarkable opportunity on Saturday to meet with a General Authority from the Church, Elder David Warner, who was in town for a stake conference. Apparently, my parents’ stake president told him what we were going through, and how much our neighborhood had banded together around my parents. The two of them arranged to meet us at my parents’ house.

I was expecting to be intimidated, or at least to feel a little guilty. I’m pretty sure that was anxiety talking, though—he introduced himself as “David,” chatted with my parents about favorite cars, and ate cookies while trying to make friends with my son, who was running circles around the room and chattering like a monkey. He asked about my brother, listened to our funny stories, laughed with us, sympathized, and assured us that Andrew was uniquely equipped now, more than ever, to sympathize with people who had led difficult lives. “You have a missionary in the field,” he told my parents,”and you should expect blessings to come to your family as a result of that. Andrew can now share the gospel with those who’ve already died, and he has experiences to draw upon that few others do.”

I was also struck by the reverence with which he looked at my  parents. “You’re doing this right,” he said. “There’s joy in this room. And that means you appreciate the time you were given with Andrew. Don’t feel guilty for being happy without him—he’s still here.” He then gave each of us a personal blessing before leaving us with a smile and a request to stay in touch. Mom, of course, gave them cookies for the road.

I’ve had my faith and my endurance tried over the past few weeks, but one thing I know for certain: God loves me. He loves my brother. And my brother—who is just the same person he was before he died—loves me, too. It’ll take some time before I see him again, but I have no doubt that I’ll recognize him, and we’ll finally be able to sit down and have a good, long chat. ♦

Treeswatting

Today, John and I needed to get out of the house.

I went through the spare change jar, came up with three dollars, and we walked about half a mile to the Creamery. And by that, I mean we walked together for about two blocks, and then John’s little legs couldn’t take it anymore, so I carried him on my shoulders. We slowed down under the trees so he could touch the leaves.

We wandered through the Creamery, looking for cheap treats. (It’s a campus store, so everything’s super expensive. Those poor Freshmen are getting ripped off.) We eventually settled on a bag of mini chocolate donuts and a flyswatter. (John selected the mini donuts by indicating them with the flyswatter.) We paid for our snack (and flyswatter), got a cup of ice to go, and then sat out on a bench next to the store.

Chocolate-covered donuts may not have been the best idea. Soon the baby was covered in dark brown goo. He was happy, though, so whatever. We sat and panted in the heat, taking turns dropping ice pebbles down each other’s backs or stacking them on our heads.

We went in for another cup of ice before heading off, and then I slung him on my shoulders, where he wielded a flyswatter at the tree branches overhead, laughing hysterically when I shouted, “Bam!” and “Pow!” as he hit the leaves. Some days, life is just good. ♦

The Art of Racing in the Rain

the art of racing in the rain

The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein, is a bestseller. So when I wandered through a thrift shop in St. George and found it in their books section for only twenty-five cents, I bought it immediately. Even if I don’t like it, I thought, I’ll just give it to Pioneer Book. It’s only a twenty-five cent risk.

I knew nothing about this book going into it, except that there was a dog on the front cover and the book is popular. I expected some sappy story about a dog doing great things and then dying, and assumed it would be a tear-jerker.

Technically, all of those things were true. But what this book actually is, is more of a philosophical musing on humanity generally, told through the eyes of an outsider (the dog Enzo.) It’s the story of Denny, his wife’s death, and his terrible struggle with his no-good-dirty-rotten-in-laws for custody of his daughter Zoë.  It’s about life, love, death, and the refusal to give up on the things that matter most.

This is a beautiful book. I was not, however, moved to tears by it. I knew I probably should be. And since I weep openly at Disney movies, I was very surprised that I didn’t end up with at least a little water in my eyes. But I think what happened was this: somehow, I didn’t connect with the characters quite enough. I knew it was fiction. Maybe it was because the main character was a dog. Or maybe it’s because so much of the book is musings about death, the afterlife, and ethics generally – and I’ve been brought up in a very spiritual environment that frequently address these as everyday topics. But somehow, I found myself saying, “This book has a lot of soul,” without feeling like it really touched mine.

Also, here’s a content warning: there’s a lot of foul language in this book. Like, at least half a dozen F-bombs. (I wasn’t really counting.) Also some nudey scenes (told from a dog’s perspective, these are less erotic than you’d think), death, sexual assault, and some generally very heavy content. In a nutshell, this book is rated-R. If you want a lighter version, I just learned today that there’s a “for young readers” version (with a puppy on the front cover, which I think is hilarious.) If you’re fine with the content, however, it’s a great book.

I give this book 4 stars. It’s well-written, tells a beautiful story, and leaves you with a lot of hope for humanity. I can’t give it 5 stars, though, because there was still something missing. I don’t know what it is – it just didn’t connect with me like it should have. ♦

Life Without Limits

life without limits

For those of you who haven’t seen or heard Nick Vujicic speak, you’re missing out. He’s one of the funniest, most optimistic, caring motivational speakers out there. Plus, he has an Australian accent, which everyone knows Americans think are God’s gift to the English language.

Also, he has no limbs.

Nick Vujicic is the perfect example of an underdog. He has no arms, no legs, and he’s still a successful husband, father, Christian missionary, and business owner. He struggled during his early life with the idea that he was worthless, or that God didn’t care about him, and overcame those doubts and fears by serving others and realizing that 1) there were plenty of other people who had it worse off, and 2) maybe God had a purpose for him that he could accomplish even without limbs.

Life Without Limits reads like a motivational speech (I wonder why), so it’s a little repetitive. Having said that, I would recommend this book to anyone who breathes. Especially if you’re depressed. Especially if you’re disabled. Especially if you’re a teenager trying to figure out the transition to adulthood. Especially if you’re struggling with doubts about God.

Seriously, everybody go read this book. But before you do, watch Nick’s movie debut with The Butterfly Circus.

 

Yamtastrophe!

My 4-month-old is an omnivore. If it’s food, he’ll eat it. Yesterday at lunchtime, I set him down on the futon and went to get him some baby food: yams and bananas.

Last time he got bananas, he went ballistic. There were bananas in his eyebrows. Bananas in his hair, even after he took a bath. He went crazy bananas. So I decided bananas would be a good dessert.

Thud! I heard a horrible screaming and ran in to discover he had rolled off of the futon face-first. He was unharmed (the futon is only a few inches off the ground), but super scared. I rocked him and sang to him, and cried (because he was crying, and I’m a new mom, and my hormones are heaven-only-knows-where), and calmed him down to the point where he was screaming out of hunger instead of fear.

So I plopped him back down and shoveled yams in his mouth until he had to swallow to take a breath. And suddenly, the screaming stopped. It was his first bite of yams. What is this? Gum, gum, swallow. Hmm. Lick.

YAMS!! The screams became screams of excitement and delight. Yams! Give me more yams! I gave him spoonful after spoonful, as fast as I dared, while he shoved his fists in his mouth in hopes it would cram the yams down faster. He smeared it around his mouth, on his forehead, across his shirt. He brought his fist down in the lid and smeared it around there. I reached for a rag and moved the lid out of his reach, hoping to clean off his fist before he got yams all over the quilt and pillowcase. As I did, I upturned the entire jar of yams onto the quilt. I looked back to see him sucking on three fingers, with his middle finger shoved up his nose, all of it covered in yams. I gave up on keeping him clean, and turned my attention to spooning the yams off the quilt and back into the jar. He looked at me judgmentally. “You know you’re going to eat them,” I said. “Don’t give me that look.”

He ate them. And he loved them. And, just for laughs, I followed them up with some bananas. We bathed in yams, and regretted none of it. ♥

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The aftermath of lunch.

In Search of The “Duh”

In The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis writes of the “tao,” a universal sense of morality humans all seem to have naturally. Borrowing a term from taoism, Lewis argues that the core similarities in all human expectation of fairness shows that we have some absolutely morality. This is the tao.

I have discovered a more flexible extension of the tao. I call it the “duh.” I began noticing it when I was engaged, and I got a nasty cold. My fiancé stayed by my side for several days, even sometimes while I slept. When I woke up, he made sure I was taken care of. I thanked him, and he just looked at me and said, “Duh.”

He continued to say “duh” instead of “you’re welcome” for several months, until I finally pointed out to him that that wasn’t a valid response. He told me he was responding that way because I didn’t need to thank him for doing what anybody would do.

But, as I pointed out, he wasn’t doing what anybody would do. He was doing what anybody should do. Most people don’t have their act together all (or even most) of the time. I had dated guys before who would have just sent me a “get better” text and left me alone for a few days to recover. He was only doing what he should – but compared to most people, he was going above and beyond.

This is not to say that my husband is the only person who has achieved “duh” enlightenment. We all, through our own experiences and choices, develop our “duh” in different ways. I once emailed a professor to explain that I was helping a friend with emotional challenges through the night, and didn’t have time to do the homework for her class. She held me after class the next day – not to discuss my homework – but to make sure I had the phone number for the campus on-call counselor, and information about free services. An employer of mine once pulled me aside to talk when she noticed I was having a bad day. Both of these people thought this was the obvious thing to do; neither of them realized how rare it was for anyone else to do them.

In order to become good people, we need two things: priorities and practice. First, the priorities: people come first. If a person is in trouble, but your dinner might get cold, you choose the person. Duh. People over food. If your roommate’s having a seizure, but your homework is overdue, take care of your roommate. People over grades. If a person is in trouble, but it would inconvenience you, weigh it out. If you’ll do more good for them by helping than for yourself by not helping, do it.

Second, practice. 2+2 is a “duh” kind of question, once you’ve passed kindergarten, but for kindergartners, it’s a mind-blowing concept. If you realize your priorities have been off, figure out what you should do, and try. It doesn’t become the obvious solution until you’re in the habit, but once it’s habitual, it becomes easy.

I’m not saying the answer to all questions lies in doing the most obvious thing – but I think it’s a lot easier than we all think. Most of the time, when we eliminate all the obstacles we’re staring at, we know what the right thing is. We just need to do it. ♥

A New Arrival

New Year’s Eve, we went to my cousin’s house, ate bacon-wrapped smokies and chicken pot pie, and joked about going into early labor.

About 5 hours later, my water broke.

I woke up to go to the bathroom, and by the time I got my huge, waddly girth out of bed, I could feel warm liquid running down my leg. Hooray, I thought to myself. More laundry. (By the 9th month of pregnancy, the whole “having control of bodily functions” thing is no longer as much a priority – or embarrassment.) I made my way to the bathroom, discovered my bladder was still fairly full, and wondered idly whether my water had broken. I cleaned myself up, put on some new underwear… and discovered it was wet again.

“Hey, Ethan?” He opened his eyes blearily. It was 5:30 am. “I think my water broke… or I peed myself a lot.” I was still debating whether to go to the hospital, but Ethan was already up and getting dressed, grabbing our hospital bag. As far as he was concerned, he’d rather risk getting sent home from the hospital with a bladder control story than end up with a home birth.

I was checked into the hospital around 6, and by that time, I was pretty sure my water had broken. I was slowly leaking all the way down the hallway to my hospital room, and although I wasn’t having contractions, I was pretty sure this was the real deal. After confirming that my water was broken, we waited an hour or two and then started pitocin to induce contractions.

Now, I’m not going to tell tall tales about the horrors of labor. In fact, I’d like to take a moment to say that I spent most of my pregnancy terrified of giving birth, because of the way people describe the experience. And not just those who go natural – I’ve heard horror stories from people who were heavily medicated, too. Based on some of these accounts, I was expecting the epidural to make about as much difference as a couple ibuprofen. Maybe my labor experience was on the easier side of the spectrum – I don’t know – but I was dilated to 5 cm before I asked for an epidural, and once the epidural was in, I took a nap. I went from a 5 1/2 to a 9 in my sleep. And then I woke up, pushed for under an hour, and suddenly, there was a squirmy, screaming lump lying on my stomach!

He looked like a Smurf. He was cone-headed, gangly, and very, very blue. I took a good look at him and thought, “I’m supposed to love this child. This is one of the greatest moments of my life. I’m supposed to love this child.” And then I reassured myself that I was also supposed to deliver the placenta and get stitched up, so Ethan could love the child while he was getting cleaned off and warmed up. The nurses toweled off the wrinkled Smurf, and the doctor finished up with me.

With a little more oxygen and a little less mess, the Smurf transformed into a super-cute newborn. We named him Jonathan and spent the next 2 days staring at him. He is the cutest baby I’ve ever seen. (Unbiased opinion.)

When I got engaged, people told me to say goodbye to my social life, because that was the end of it. When I got pregnant, people told me horror stories about labor and delivery. And when I was finally sick enough of being pregnant to look forward to labor, people told me I would never sleep again once the baby was born, and that it was much easier to take care of an infant inside my body than outside.

Alright, doomsday prophets, the day of reckoning is at hand. You’re all liars. My marriage was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made – social life included. Pregnancy sucked, but it didn’t kill me. Labor was actually pretty easy, all things considered. And even though I’m writing this, sleep-deprived, next to a squirmy little boy who can’t seem to keep his own pacifier in his mouth, having a baby is way better than expecting a baby. This kid keeps us up all hours of the night, demanding food at unreasonable times, and fussing for no apparent reason at all. And we can’t seem to stay mad at him. We love the little guy too much. We get mad at him, pick him up, look at him, and just kind of melt.

I’m still alive, everybody. Tired, yes. But alive and well. ♥