Don and Janel Farr

I came across this photo of my grandpa's youngest sister and her husband today. My grandpa passed away my sophomore of high school. I was 15, he was just shy of 82. He passed away in his sleep on January 4, 2001; it was a surprise. We'd all been waiting to hear news of his brother just older, Denzel, and his other sister just younger, Nathel, as they had been ill for quite a while. Two days after my grandpa died, Uncle Denzel died, and a day after that, Aunt Nathel was gone too. The three oldest siblings in a family of six children. In 2003, two more siblings passed away, Cloyd and Gail.

(Agness Macdonald Lund with her three oldest children: Denzel, Irl, and Nathel)

Janel has been holding down the fort for quite some time. They were all born between 1916 and 1927 - Nine years to come together makes fourteen years a part seem like a mini eternity.

I was lucky growing up. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents and, in so doing, I spent a lot of time with their siblings. My great aunts and uncles are giants in my childhood, and some were even my neighbors for a while. I love when my girls get to spend time with my aunts and uncles (and Jake's too), not only because that generation is so important to me, but I know how rare and lovely it is to be close to so many in a generation beyond that. I like thinking that I'm helping my aunts and uncles be the greats my greats were to me. In that sense, I never get to spend enough time with any of them.

But the sweet photo of Don and Janel. The women in my family are fiery. They are sturdy stock who are filled with wit and humor and stubbornness. And they are strong. On an afternoon when I was 18, Aunt Janel gave me one of the greatest compliments of my life during a casual conversation. I keep it tucked away with a handful of other compliments I've received throughout my life that haven't really transformed how I see myself, rather, they've illuminated how I see myself - glimpses of who I am through the eyes of someone else.

To Remind Myself...

From Rising Strong by Brené Brown...

I want to be in the arena. I want to be brave with my life. And when we make the choice to dare greatly, we sign up to get our asses kicked. We can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can't have both. Not at the same time.
Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it's having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it's our greatest measure of courage. 
A lot of cheap seats in the arena are filled with people who never venture onto the floor. They just hurl mean-spirited criticisms and put-downs from a safe distance. The problem is, when we stop caring what people think, we lose our ability to connect. But when we're defined by what people think, we lose the courage to be vulnerable. Therefore, we need to be selective about the feedback we let into our lives. For me, if you're not in the arena getting your ass kicked, I'm not interested in your feedback. 
When we own our stories, we avoid being trapped as characters in stories someone else is telling. 
Once we fall in the service of being brave, we can never go back. We can rise up from our failures, screwups, and falls, but we can never go back to where we stood before we were brave or before we fell. Courage transforms the emotional structure of our being. This change often brings a deep sense of loss. During the process of rising, we sometimes find ourselves homesick for a place that no longer exists. We want to go back to that moment before we walked into the arena, but there's nowhere to go back to. What makes this more difficult is that now we have a new level of awareness about what it means to be brave. We can't fake it anymore. We now know when we're showing up and when we're hiding out, when we are living our values and when we are not. Our new awareness can also be invigorating - it can reignite our sense of purpose and remind us of our commitment to wholeheartedness. Straddling the tension that lies between wanting to go back to the moment before we risked and fell and being pulled forward to even greater courage is an inescapable part of rising strong. 
If we're going to risk engaging, we're going to experience disappointment. 


There is a house in Oklahoma City that just went from "Active" to "Pending" on the MLS. We are the reason for the pending. I am pinching myself and doing my best to stay low-key excited. I never thought I'd ever in a hundred bajillion years buy a house without setting foot in it first. Jake's parents face-timed us through on Saturday. I still feel like owning a home should be so far off, but everything that's happening means our lives are transitioning out of grad school.

Inspections are next week. Two car garage, basement (this is big time in OK to also serve as a storm shelter), yard with so many possibilities, front porch, original tile in two of the bathrooms, original doors and hardware, ridiculous closet space for an old home (built in 1938 - Dot could technically be her/his mother), and more than three-times as big as our grad housing apartment. So many more floors to clean. So much more space.

We couldn't swing our beloved Mesta Park this time around because the market continues to balloon, but I'm hopeful I'll quickly feel cozy in our new 'hood (knocking on wood that all goes smooth to closing). We'll be one block away from one of Jake's cousins and his sweet family. That is rad.

This is happening.



Jake is out of town this evening. I got home right around seven because of a track meet. I put my girls in the bath and started dinner. They went to the meet with me because I wouldn't have been able to make it back to school in time before the after school program closed. They enjoyed it. It rained in various intensities the whole time. They also got to hang out with some of my students, which they loved. After dinner, we got in an episode of The Magic School Bus, and they were off to bed.

As I ran around putting food away, cleaning out lunch boxes, doing dishes, and preparing a few things for tomorrow, a wave of nostalgia come over me. Sometimes I'm caught off guard by the fact that I am the adult in the room. There's no one here to put me to bed or make sure the dishes are done. It's me. How does this happen? I'm a grown up but still feel like a child. I've been a mom for nine years now, but there are moments when I can't believe that another human being is depending on me for pretty much everything. Jake and I still have moments of bewilderment when we look around and say "Two little people live with us."

We pay bills and make weird plans and are pretty exceptionally responsible people. I get caught up in the idea that time never moves backwards. I'll never be in my twenties again. I'll never be seventeen again. I'll never again be a nine year old riding her bike through alleyways in Mesa, nor the high schooler who did her homework on the roof. I'll never be so many of those things again, yet I'll always be all of them.

And all of those things can come rushing back when I least expect it. When I'm the one putting myself to bed. Staring out the window, with the curtains that are always open when my husband is gone, at the night lights of Los Angeles. This city I used to dream about and is now my reality in a way the younger dreamers in me could have never imagined.

Phone Numbers. Sort of.

I've been laying in my bed crying for a while now. They recently moved my Grammy from California to Arizona to live in assisted living. I don't think that was the wrong decision as the care she now requires is more than a one person job. It dawned on me that this is the first time in my life when I don't know her phone number. It was a bit startling. I don't know a lot of things about her new home, but I'm sure she's probably laying in bed right now, too, thinking about her change of scenery and all the people she loves, and I hope her heart is full of peace.

I'm trying to write myself into feeling better.

I listened to a song my cousin Kiersty sent me a few days ago. When I got the link, I couldn't listen to it right away, but I'm glad it was unintentionally saved until tonight. I'm so sad in this very moment, and the song made me cry even more, but one of the lines was perfect:
A heart that's broke[n] is a heart that's been loved.
Yes. Sometimes things hurt so much because of how much love is involved. And where uncertainty and love meet...

My grandpa moved on from this life peacefully in his sleep sixteen years ago. It's strange to think about this year marking more of my life having been lived with him being gone than when he was alive. It doesn't feel possible. That's love, too. That's a form of eternal life.

Dying in one's sleep at home in bed after a long life seems perfect. When I got to their house the morning that he died, I walked into his room to see Grammy holding up his shirt that she'd hung across his walker the night before. She brought it close to her face and cried. She didn't know I was there, and I didn't want to interrupt that moment of grief, so I quickly stepped out and gave her a minute before walking back in.

I'm thinking of my time in Chicago, when me and Beatrice were Hattie's visiting teachers and we went to visit her in the hospital in South Shore. She'd had several strokes in the years prior. Her body was frail and her speech was incomprehensible. She cried like a child when doctors came to adjust something with her PICC line, and in removing the tape, they removed a good layer of her paper skin. I understood that cry. That cry out in pain juxtaposed with her smile at seeing us. When everyone was gone, Bea and I sat and held her hand and sang "I Am a Child of God."

On the way home, Bea and I talked about our lack of understanding about why people have to suffer in old age. Strokes, heart attacks, cancer - Hattie had been through them all, why couldn't one of them take her before it got to this?

Grammy isn't suffering like Hattie. And I'm grateful for that. But I don't ever want her to. The end is dragging out, and Grammy's hope is to endure well until it comes. She's working at being brave. She is brave. I'm trying to be too. But tonight I'm giving into grief. Getting it out of my system for a moment. Giving myself a moment.
And I'll sing Hallelujah
You [are] an angel in the shape of my [Grammy]
When I fell down you'd be there holding me up
Spread your wings as you go
And when God takes you back we'll say Hallelujah
You're home

Grammy and Love are the First Thing I Recall

There was a collection of her jewelry on the table this afternoon. She's laying twenty feet away, and we're browsing through her accessories trying to decide what the take - there's enough for something for each of her granddaughters. There are twenty of us, eighteen living. I looked in a box and saw her "cornflake" earrings. They're the ones I most remember her wearing throughout my childhood. They're the ones she's putting on in my very first memory. I wrote a poem about it in college: "Grammy and Love are the First Thing I Recall." 

Grammy and Love are inseparable in my mind and memory and being. The two were born together in my awareness and became a force in my life - a force that simultaneously propels me forward and lifts me up. 

She's in what I can only hope are her last days. I don't know how many tears I've cried throughout my life at the thought of her passing - of living my life without her. Buckets of tears. Late night, waking up from dreams, gasping for air because she was gone tears. About two years ago, I made my peace with what would be her eventual death. She had been diagnosed with congestive heart failure, and when I got to see her a few days after she'd been released from the hospital, I was finally able to say "It's okay for her to go."

She recently had emergency surgery to remove a bowel obstruction. The surgery was successful, but the incision wasn't healing as it should. She didn't want any more interventions to fix it. She came home earlier this week on hospice. Family has gathered and is gathering. No one knows when she will leave us, but I know she's ready.

I don't know what lessons are left to learn, and while I hope the end is peaceful and comes soon for her, I know that there is a timing that works out perfectly for each of us. I almost never listen to contemporary Christian radio stations, but I happened to tune to one on my drive to Fresno today, and this line caught me: "I can say God is good, even when He's not understood."

God is so good. Always. He gave me her, and he gave her me. We needed one another. And we'll keep growing to and from each other forever.

Grammy and Love are the First Thing I Recall

The middle of the bed
lumped up as she sat on the edge.
Hazy eyelashes, intertwined,
distorted my first morning view.

The mirror was in front of her,
to our side, the window.
Sun filtered through long lace curtains
that were floating on the morning breeze. 

I rolled over and watched her
pick her jewelry as I have always known her to,
holding up one earring and then another.
She is getting ready to go to work.

Final adjustments are made.
She fluffs her hair between her hands 
and looks on.
Her day outside of herself will soon begin.

She turns to me and leans down.
I feel her kiss on my forehead
and then she whispers,
"I love you" in my ear.


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