Long Lonely Road

It’s been a rough winter – one marked by hardship and tragedy. Since my last post, our world has been turned upside down, and it often seems like we’re walking a long lonely road with no end in sight.

For pretty much the entire month of January, Kid 2 was hit with illness after illness, including Influenza A and a secondary bacterial infection that caused a sinus infection and pneumonia-like symptoms. There were countless doctor visits, including a trip to the ER for fluids. I spent many sleepless nights with her on the sofa, watching her breathing closely, praying she’d get better. And thankfully, she did.

Then the unthinkable happened – something so terrible that it made Kid 2’s illnesses feel like a tiny drop in a vast ocean of suffering.

On a Monday morning commute to school, a horrible accident occurred that took the lives of two sisters we knew and loved. They were both friends with my kids, and the younger one was practically family to us. She was at our house all the time with Kid 2, especially in the summer months. When news came through that they had not survived, it literally felt like our hearts had been ripped in two.

It has been about a month since the accident, and I’d like to say that we’re all doing okay. But the truth is, we’re not. Not a day goes by that we don’t think about one or both of the girls. Tears are a daily occurrence. We’re all trying to cope the best we can, but some days it’s a bit of a struggle.

We each have our own way of dealing with the grief. Kid 1 got a very sweet kitty tattoo, because the sisters were huge cat lovers. I have a slightly altered version of it that incorporates the girls’ initials that I hope to get done soon. Kid 2 has her classmates, and she keeps in touch almost daily with one of her departed buddy’s oldest and dearest friends. They support each other in their loss, because they understand and acknowledge how much their friend meant to each of them.

I keep reaching out to the girls’ mom, who is a friend of mine. Sometimes she responds, sometimes she doesn’t. The family has a lot on their plate right now, and if it’s this hard for us, I imagine it’s a thousand times worse for them. So patience and space (two things I’m not good at) are my new mantras. I worry that we’re painful reminders of what used to be, because the ties that bound us were our girls. I hope I never lose my friend, but if it’s simply too difficult for her right now, it’s understandable.

My hubby still chokes up when we talk about the girls, but he’s throwing his energy into getting a memorial sticker made for Kid 2’s dirt bike. The dirt bike is bittersweet. When Kid 2 got it earlier this winter, her friend was just as excited as she was (maybe more). She would’ve been the only friend we allowed to ride it, and they were both looking forward to tearing up our yard with it this summer. Learning to ride it without her friend is tough for Kid 2 (and us). So we’re trying to get some stickers made for the dirt bike, in memory of her friend. That way, she’ll always be Kid 2’s co-pilot and guardian angel.

There’s a long lonely road ahead of Kid 2 as we move towards spring and summer, when she would’ve spent the most time with her friend. Climbing trees, riding ATV’s, swimming in our pool, shooting the pellet gun, scaling hay bales, giggling in the fort, baking in our kitchen, snuggling into the bottom bunk to watch Duck Dynasty…

The absence of that precious, precious child in our lives is going to be felt for a very long time. And the upcoming events of prom and graduation will be equally tough for Kid 1 and all the other kids who should’ve experienced them with the older sister. So many lives have been altered in so many ways. We are definitely not the only ones walking this long lonely road, because those girls touched the hearts of countless people.

But if we all walk it together, maybe it will be a little less lonely.



Coming or Going?

Everything has been such chaos lately that I’m not sure if I’m coming or going. Some days I handle it all with a certain measure of grace, and some days I’m a complete lunatic. Today, I actually have a moment to stop and reflect and bring y’all up to speed.

A few days after Christmas, my adopted grandma was moved from her nursing home to the hospital, due to an infection. Instead of getting better in the hospital, she kept getting worse. Several of her organs showed signs of failing, and eventually the doctors decided there was nothing they could do. She was released back to her nursing home and put on hospice.

Technically, legally, and blood-wise, this lady is no relation to me. But if you’ve followed my blog for a long time, you know that my definition of family isn’t bound by law or blood. And once you’re in my family, you are never left behind or forgotten. So this woman is my “adopted” grandma, and me and my kids are her “adopted” grandchildren. We take her out of the nursing home for family parties, Christmas, and sometimes just to come out to the farm and ride around in the Ranger. When life gets me down, I go visit her, and she never ceases to put a smile back on my face. I love her.

The news that her life was in serious danger hit us all very hard. I spent many hours at the hospital and in phone conversations with her brother. One particularly bad night, I slept on a cot next to her hospital bed, though “slept” might be an exaggeration. Every time I had to leave to come home and deal with the rest of my life – you know, the kids, the laundry, meals – I felt like I was leaving a piece of my heart behind. I lived in fear of receiving that final phone call.

But then something happened. Once she came home to the nursing home, my fear dissipated. And in those quiet moments we shared, holding hands and eating ice chips, I could feel that hers had too. The love she is continually surrounded by in the nursing home is so huge and so powerful that it’s impossible to be afraid.

Everyone from the administrator to the maintenance guy to former nurses and aides keep popping in and out of her room to greet her and express their love. One of her friends, a petite lady with a memory akin to Dori’s in Finding Nemo, sat by her bed hour after hour, watching over her, ready to alert the nurses if anything went wrong. Suddenly, I wasn’t alone in my worry and my love. A whole army of people stepped in to help.

And the result has been miraculous. Each day, my grandma’s strength grows just a little bit. She’s doing things at the nursing home that the folks in the hospital would’ve found impossible. I have no idea what kind of war is being waged inside her body, but on the outside I see changes for the better. For the first time, I have hope. And I truly believe that love is what has made all the difference.

Meanwhile, Kid 1 met with a surgeon about her shoulder, and the news wasn’t what she hoped for. Two different surgeons agree that the labrum tear in her right shoulder isn’t the source of her pain, and fixing that alone won’t give her relief. She has some genetic issues that cause her joints to be loose, and this looseness in her shoulders is causing problems. One surgeon says to avoid surgical tightening of the shoulder capsule and one says he would happily do the procedure.

We were warned over a year ago by her physical therapist that the capsule tightening procedure yields poor results for people with genetic causes, and that’s what the first surgeon said as well. So we’re opting not to do surgery. Instead, Kid 1 has a long road of intensive physical therapy ahead of her. It’s not the magic cure she was hoping for, and we did shed a few tears over that.

But both the first surgeon and the physical therapist are extremely optimistic about her chances of eventually being pain-free and living a normal life. She’ll never play volleyball competitively again, but there’s a chance she could someday play for fun. Since the end of her senior season, she’s been physically and emotionally distancing herself from the sport, so it’s not the blow we once felt it would be.

As far as Kid 2 goes, let me just say that I had forgotten the joys of public school. In the few weeks she’s been back, the school has seen both a strep outbreak and a head lice outbreak. Then there’s lunch money to worry about, a Spelling Bee, tests, homework, an upcoming Science Fair, ice skating in gym class, riding the bus, basketball practice, and a million other little things I’d forgotten about traditional brick and mortar schooling.

It’s overwhelming for me sometimes. The loss of control over what and how my kid learns has been the hardest for me to handle. I’m not exactly in love with her teacher, who seems frazzled and a bit disorganized. But then I have to stop, take a deep breath, and remember that there are 29 other kids in the class who are surviving just fine. And truth be told, Kid 2 seems to not only be surviving, but thriving. Having the structure and the constant socialization fills a void that I didn’t even realize existed.

I am continually filled with wonder when I drop her off in the morning and watch her march up the steps by herself, into the unknown. A year or two ago, that would have been impossible for her. I’m amazed by how she handles the little obstacles that get thrown in her way each day. Instead of letting her anxiety get the best of her, she figures out a way to conquer each one. Before, I always felt like I was handling everything for her. Now that she’s out there in the world and has to rely on herself more, I see that she CAN do it. As a parent, I don’t think there’s a better feeling in the world than knowing that your child can fly with the wings you’ve given her.

So yeah, lots going on here. But I’m trying to take a cue from Kid 2 and meet each obstacle as it comes. And whether I’m coming or going, I will try to use my own wings and FLY.


New World Order

I’m still shell-shocked. Not eating much, not sleeping well. After successfully shadowing at our local school three days last week, Kid 2 decided that’s where she wants to be.

I had a hard time waking her up on Monday to do our usual online schooling, and when she finally rolled out of bed, she dropped the bombshell. A few phone calls and some paperwork were all it took to withdraw her from one school and enroll her in another. It literally happened overnight. Her first official day at her new school was Tuesday (yesterday).

Honestly, she’s handling it better than I am. I am overwhelmed. My world turned upside down in a day, and I am struggling to adjust. Part of me is amazed and happy that this kid, who struggled so much with her SPD, is able to successfully navigate a school situation that in the past would have caused a complete meltdown. But part of me feels like a total failure. She wasn’t happy at home, doing online school with me. It was so bad, in fact, that she chose the chaos of a brick and mortar school over it.

I have serious concerns about whether or not a traditional school setting is going to give her the best education possible. Between the less rigorous curriculum, overcrowding, teacher burn out, and Kid 2’s questionable ability to focus and organize, I’m worried that we’ll have a disaster on our hands.

However, her old counselor keeps telling me that “soft skills” are important too, and a regular school is where she’ll hone those. My understanding is that soft skills are basically people skills – communication skills as well as social and emotional intelligence. And those things sometimes matter more than grades. I can definitely tell that socializing is much higher on Kid 2’s priority list than math or reading!

I do have to face the fact that Kid 2 is probably not going to be the Honor Society student that Kid 1 is, regardless of where she goes to school. It’s just not something she cares that much about, even though she’s very intelligent. Perhaps having some of the responsibility for her education removed from my shoulders will be a positive thing for both of us. If I can step back, she may step up and surprise me – it’s happened before.

So here I am, trying to adjust to days that look radically different than they did just a couple of weeks ago. My new world order is backpacks, lunches, schedules, homework, drop offs and pick ups, school clothes, and meetings with teachers. Early mornings and early nights. More time on my hands than before, yet inexplicably less free time. Lists. Lots of lists. A touch of sadness when I drop her off and she takes off down the hall with her friends, without even a goodbye. A little loneliness as I watch the clock and wonder how she’s doing.

I’m told that we’ll all adjust quickly, and I suppose we will. In the meantime, I’m trying very, very hard not to forget to breathe. Mostly I fail…but I keep trying. It will be okay¬†has become my mantra. And it will be.