October 9, 2013

I walked a mile with Sorrow.

I walked a mile with Pleasure;
She chatted all the way;
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.

I walked a mile with Sorrow,
And ne’er a word said she;
But, oh! The things I learned from her,
When sorrow walked with me.
-Robert Browning Hamilton

It starts a little bit like this, "How long have you lived here, what brings you to Houston?" Pause, do I say my husband's work, because, then the question follows, "Oh, does he work in oil and gas?"

Not so much...

And if I give the answer, it's followed by an awkward cheesy joke, "Business must be dead!" or "Death and Taxes, at least it's a recession proof job." Or the alternative, "Ewww, gross" followed by the, "I could never do that." and the ever popular, "Isn't it depressing?"

I, on occasion, had the opportunity to help my husband study for school, something that struck me during one of our study sessions was the concept that - we are a death denying society. And yet, it's common to everyone of us, the same as we are born, we will all die. Nobody wants to talk about it, much less think about dealing with it, day in and day out, as a way to make a living. I admit, it sometimes makes me nervous. In some way, are we inviting this shadow over us, are we too comfortable with the discussion? I have reasoned that this doesn't really make any sense. That would mean the divorce lawyer was inviting an unhappy marriage, the doctor inviting disease or the psychologist inviting depression.

Many times people say things like, "I bet he has seen some strange things." Truthfully, he has never shared anything "strange" or "graphic" with me. What he has shared, the story of those left behind, not very often, because part of his "job" is to separate himself from the extreme of human emotions which he encounters. But on occasion he has shared stories of parents trying to make sense of a tragedy which took their son, a mother, bent over, aching in pain from the loss of a baby (not the first), children wailing over the loss of a father who took his own life. On those days he has asked for Tylenol to quiet his head from the pain, not from seeing what people think, someone deceased but from observing the hurt of the living.

When we started on this journey of going back to school, we explained to our children what daddy would be doing for a living. I asked our oldest son, only 7 at the time, if he understood and he replied, "Yes, when someone dies Dad will help their family." A simple explanation but so very true. His job is so much more about assisting the living, than dealing with the dead. There are few among us that could do both of those things.

I came across a blog, while looking at photography, at the beginning of the year, a woman who is an amazing photographer, she lost her young husband to cancer. She described the night he died, how he waited to go until he knew their children were asleep, how their family had gathered in their home and then she described "the men" who came to take him away. It hit me like a punch to the gut, you could feel the hurt in her words as she described them driving away in the night. I envisioned what it might feel like to walk into meet with that family, as the outsider, the necessary evil. To be met with nothing at the end of your service to them, but a sincere, "I hope I never see you again."

Many days his work involves the celebration of a life well-lived, with music, stories, photos, family and friends. Then there are those times when life is cut short, when children die before parents, when little ones never take a breath, when illness takes someone before their time or an accident takes someone by surprise. It makes me proud that he is able to stand with those families and guide them, at times when I could not. It makes me proud of my Aunt for recognizing the need to develop and support programs to help guide children through grief, when they may not otherwise find their way. Not a typical choice, to position yourself with this pain, to stand along side it. This type of work, this "job", it's important, not weird, not gross, not morbid, not strange.

I am grateful for this journey so far, I see the way it has stretched the man I already loved. I am proud of the way he chooses to spend his occasional days off during the week, volunteering at the grade school, improving our home, searching for fun little getaways, helping with laundry, dishes, etc... Not the most glamorous, but shaped by the experience which proves life is too short and there is never enough time with those you love.

It's not easy to run around drinking everything in and loving everybody like crazy. Life throws all kinds of things at us and a variety of reasons not to be happy. We wonder what if, what if we chose a different path, a different person, a different job, etc... It's easy to get frustrated with our children, our spouse, our co-workers, our friends, our families. People don't always treat us as they should. I am trying, I say trying, because many days I fail, to use this experience to increase my level of patience. Along with patience, using it to fuel the connections I make with people, listening more intently, loving more deeply. Not discounting or dismissing our daily struggles, but giving them less real estate in my head. Holding on tighter to the regular everyday amazing moments that make up life.

I am grateful for what many have considered or thought to be a strange, morbid or depressing choice.
It is what I have learned from sorrow, that has taught me more. The quiet moments, the silence, the reflection, were the human spirit breaks open and raw emotion sits, the center. In those I see beauty, potential and love, just plain and simple.

To all my friends and family spread out across the country tonight, I love you, I miss you.

September 20, 2011

Filling Buckets

This week we had orientation for Third grade. Drew's teacher introduced to the parent's a book that she has been sharing with the kids in the classroom it's called - "Have You Filled a Bucket Today?" by Carol McCloud. It's a lovely book that talks about positive behavior and kindness to others. The book describes how you can either be a "bucket dipper" or a "bucket filler." His teacher is having the kids write on their own when someone "fills their bucket" and then place that note in a basket to read on Fridays. She pulled an example of one of these notes reading, "Drew, (pause... oh boy, nervous, room full of parents, what is going to happen, what did he do?) filled my bucket when he shared one of his tickets with me when I didn't have enough to get a prize on Friday." Oh sure, I was pretty full of pride but the cool part is last week laying in bed, Drew told me about a girl who helped him when he dropped his books in the hallway and when he didn't understand a problem, she explained it to him. It's the same girl he shared his tickets with, she filled his bucket and then he filled hers. At this point I look at her mom who is sitting next to me, legs crunched up to a grade school desk and I want to give her a big hug. I am sure that she is equally full of pride when I describe to her how her daughter helped a shy boy adjusting to a new school the week before. And so, our children, without prompting, filled our buckets.

Lately due to car problems, apprentice wages and raising three children,  the "Ladner Economic Recovery 2011 Post School" has been a little stressful. I am job hunting and struggling with the balance of wages vs. childcare expense, a job with purpose vs. something just to get by, we all struggle with things like this. Whatever our stress might be, think about the opportunity to lift that stress just a little bit by filling someone's bucket with kindness.

I had the pleasure of driving home to Kansas over labor day weekend for a surprise 40th Anniversary party for my mom and dad. My intention was to fill buckets. I rehearsed it in my head, the moment when I would bust in the back door and tears would flow. I didn't really expect to find that my bucket would be filled in return, to the point that it overflowed. An amazing whirlwind weekend, so much emotion that I am still recovering. At the end of Sunday night, I had a "love" headache, my cheeks hurt from smiling and my tear ducts were all dried out (not really, my tear ducts never dry out.)

The kids and I made the trip without daddy, he was very disappointed, but had to work. We are grateful that he supported us in our trip and proud that he stayed behind to help families over the long holiday weekend. We started out Thursday night, spent the night in Oklahoma City and then traveled the rest of the way on Friday. I took my time on Friday trying to break the trip up a little bit, so that on Monday I could convince the kids to get back in the car and do it again. We stopped at the Wichita City Arts Exhibit and checked out a couple of cool shops.
This is us in the elevator of the City Arts Museum.

A fun exhibit of shovels as art.

Quotes along the stairs, by the way, me too Sarah...

Fountain out front.

There were a couple of really great stores. One where we picked out beads for a necklace for each of the grandma's and the owner was so patient as my three searched thru bowls and bowls of beads. Then we came across another with all kinds of unique gifts.

I am really kicking myself for not buying this key chain.

We rolled into town in time for some swinging and a walk thru the sunflowers.
Thank you to the Kracht's for their generosity and kindness, filling the buckets of our kids every time we come to play at grandma's. The kids love your swingset!

Kansas, I miss your wide open spaces...

Everyone got a turn on the motorcycle. Ava jumped and said, "yeah, I think I could drive this baby". Does she concern me?  Only a little :) I think she is a lot like me and that's not so bad.

Bear and his fun faces.

We put all the grandkids together for a surprise photo for mom and dad before they knew I had arrived.
Three ready to go...

Four ready to go.....

And all five together, the first ever. So sweet.

What a fun reunion with my brothers and their lovely wives. We grabbed a couple of great photos, just before the sun was gone. Thanks to Mom and Dad Ladner for letting us all invade the backyard and house. They know what this means to a grandma and grandpa. With everyone more spread out, moments like this are even more cherished.

The boys headed to town and I stayed behind to surprise mom and dad in a little bit. We burst in the back door after staging a little scheme to make them think we were going to Skype and everyone started whooping and hollaring. You only get so many of those moments in a lifetime. Surprises are so much fun.

Mom, this smile makes me so happy, worth every minute of the drive.

Ava was exhausted and didn't make it very far into the night before she crashed. Sweet baby girl, I know that someday we will share talks like my mom and I do now, you will go on and on, and I will politely listen, trying to get a word in where I can, just like Grandma Peggy does with me.

Saturday morning we got to spend with Great Grandma Rita, Grandma and Grandpa L. and Heather, Kevin and the kids. Grandma Rita makes the most delicious desserts, and once again did not disappoint bringing a peach crisp that was so yummy. We had to pull the kids away from playing with their cousins to go on a tour of the "round barn." They never want to leave wherever we are, when visiting family, it's a good thing, they love everybody so much.

Dad had described to me the round barn that was down by Blue Rapids he said it was really beautiful. It was hard for me to imagine what was so exciting about a barn, but one look up when we stepped inside and I understood what he was so excited about.

There are only a few of these barns that have survived over the years and it was truly something to see. Mr. Stump was so nice and took time out of his day to give us a tour around the barn. Sweet baby James and those cute little hands, can't get enough of those hand dimples!

The beauty of the afternoon light coming into the barn was pretty amazing and the paparazzi was out in force.

I love natural light.  Its going to be harder the older I get, but even now, I can't stand to get ready in the bathroom with all the lights on. I prefer the slightly diffused version of myself. There is a place for a flash, there are times when you couldn't get an image without it, but currently I prefer the slightly diffused version of moments like this.

James' mommy is very patient with the amount of love my three want to give to her boy. I love her for that, it fills my bucket. Aunt Janet, love your stories and laugh, your sense of humor is contagious and I can't wait until we get to spend time together again.

Girl knows how to strike a pose.

Wonderful brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles who take time to make my children feel special. My three think that you are all amazing and that makes me smile.

A whirlwind night and morning leading up to the big surprise, not enough time with family and friends, but thankful for what we had. I love surprises and it was so much fun to watch not only Mom and Dad but Amy and Lee, celebrate their marriages. I don't even know how to describe how it makes me feel to have Aunts and Uncles who are willing to spend so much time putting something like this together, in celebration of each other. Whenever we get together, they write a little song in tribute to the honoree and everyone sings a part. My bucket at this point in the day was full.

I didn't do a good job taking photos the rest of the day because my eyes were loaded up with tears, and I was a blubbering mess of emotion. In an effort to fill some buckets, I attempted to say a few words of reflection for both Amy and Lee and Mom and Dad.  Not sure what I said exactly, but I hope my feelings came through the tears, big sighs and sniffles.

How cute are these two?

And these two, no words, just love you both so much.

Speaking of love, my boy loves him some cake.

Re-uniting with cousins.

Sharing photos of dad as a boy, many we had never seen before.

See that cool dude behind the drums, that's my dad.

Dad and Bob looking at some photos, so happy Phil thought of extending an invitation to Dad's brother's and sister's too, it made the day complete.

Bear loves his uncle Lee and I think Lee kind of feels the same.

Starting hugs of goodbye.

Floss, your the best, you always make my children smile and I just couldn't ask for more.

And really when I thought it just couldn't get much better, I came back to Mom and Dad Ladner's to find this guy.

Loving on Pooh, isn't he just the sweetest? He tries to be shy but he can't hide that little grin.

And cookies made by Grandma and Payton.

They ended the night snuggled up in Grandma's bed.

In the morning when I left, I was expecting a quiet exit at 6:00 a.m. Mom Karen woke up at some crazy hour and made rolls and packed treats. Jim, Heather and Kevin all helped me put luggage and sleepy kids in the car. I was overwhelmed and my bucket was so full. It's a good thing Jeremy stayed in Houston because otherwise, I might have not have had the strength to drag that bucket 13 hours home.

It has taken me a couple of weeks to put together the emotion of that weekend, wrapped up nicely in this little blog post. Sure we have had rough times as a family, everyone does, and I am sure there will be more, but when we love, we do it right. All this talk of bucket filling is a little cheesy, but it works, just ask Drew. I am concentrating on finding ways to fill the buckets of others and trying not to dip out of them, even when they are not aware. We are looking forward to Friday when Jeremy will start his 4 day weekend, he has worked 23 of the last 25 days. I am ready to have him home for a couple of days. It's so nice to have a partner in this roller coaster of life, and besides he fills my bucket.

And you know what? I am pretty sure I fill his too, see below. Thanks Ava for the great picture. Have a lovely week and fill some buckets!