To know me, is to know the real thing.

14725582_10157611300170693_6112392010538025485_n Due to a domino effect of used refrigerators trading places, we now have, in our kitchen, a refrigerator that has never had a lock. It sat empty for five days like an alien life form that was a complete mystery. I was unsure how to approach filling it. There aren’t Katie drawers. No insulin or Bydureon rattles around in the “butter” compartment.

275 days into this life of grief, I still buy too many fresh vegetables and yogurt nobody ends up eating. Trips to the grocery store find me standing in front of a shelf not having any idea what to put in my cart. More then once I have walked through the store, pushed my empty cart back into the rack and driven away with nothing in my trunk. One day the butcher found me in such a reverie he said he almost jumped over the case to see if I was alright when I was not responding to his inquiries.

I don’t tell you this looking for pity or sympathy. I tell you so you know the real thing, the real me. I have this firm belief that it is important to share with others the lows as well as the highs. I think it might help somebody else to know what I am experiencing; it might mirror something they are enduring and help them to know how another feels, or it might help somebody who in the future will be in my shoes, or it might simply help you to know me better. To know when my participation in a conversation is non-existent, or distracted at best, that my mind doesn’t always focus or concentrate on what is being said or what is happening around me. Also, I tell you this because you endured all of my griping about the damn locks. You listened and comforted me when I complained about Kathleen‘s stupid syndrome. You knew it was never the inconveniences to me I was bemoaning, but the tragedy of a girl always being hungry which was my cause to wish for a day  I could have a refrigerator without locks. I have one now, I wish it was due to a cure instead of a death. Even without locks, at my house, we are still hungry for a cure……

~~“What we hunger for perhaps more than anything else is to be known in our full humanness, and yet that is often just what we also fear more than anything else. It is important to tell at least from time to time the secret of who we truly and fully are . . . because otherwise we run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are and little by little come to accept instead the highly edited version which we put forth in hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing. It is important to tell our secrets too because it makes it easier . . . for other people to tell us a secret or two of their own . . . ” buechner

…because there is a game called baseball.

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I wrote. I deleted. I pondered how to write a post about Challenger Little League’s 2016 Great River Challenge less about me and more about others. I wanted it to be about the passion of the parents, the exuberance of the players, the eagerness of the volunteers, and the glory from the fans. I found out I couldn’t discuss this day without it being about me.

As this day was looming in front of me on the calendar, I had much trepidation about attending. I have always had a purpose for being at these games. I had a daughter who was a player and I had a function to fulfill during the games, but this year I had neither. For anyone reading this who is not aware; my daughter, a Happy Joe’s Challenger Little League player, died unexpectedly earlier this year. She loved being with her friends and playing America’s game, especially on the River Bandit’s diamond. The league has been tremendously supportive of us, for which I am grateful. Yet, I was fearful of attending this event. I suppose I had fear of feeling envious of the other parents who had children playing, fear of feeling useless due to not participating in my usual capacity, fear of feeling alone without my daughter playing, and fears which are too dark and deeply hidden to bring to the surface to try to analyze or share publicly.

The day of the 2016 Great River Challenge games was the perfect Mid-western September day. Even though storms had been predicted, we ended up with white puffy clouds in a blue sky which reached down to meet the lush green field and the smooth river reflecting the same clouds and the arches of the bridge.

Hearing the chatter of the players as they walked through the fence, onto the diamond at Modern Woodmen Park was delightful. The excitement to be playing ball in that special place rang clear, but this year I noticed a different excitement. I am sure it has always been there, but I was seated closer to the diamond and had a different perspective which allowed me to notice. What I saw was friendship and camaraderie between people. Coaches were kindly giving instructions to eager volunteers. I watched players giving hugs to other players or high-fives accentuated by giant smiles to coaches. I experienced hugs, smiles, and tears from players who had not seen me for a while. They remembered me. They remembered and missed my daughter. Nothing could have moved me more. I felt ridiculous that I had feared returning to this, to these players who are the bravest people I know. These athletes face fears everyday that put my fears to shame: fears of isolation, ridicule, physical pain, hunger, and of not being able to do things so basic that you and I don’t even realize…well, some of you do realize, because you are their parents. You, their parents are the second bravest group of people I know and you just keep doing it all because that is what needs to be done. You, the parents have not only supported me through these past months, but for all of my years associated with Challenger Little League. Golly, the past twenty-four years. You, their parents welcomed me on the day of the Great River Challenge. You welcomed me with smiles, hugs, and tears showing me where these players learned their compassion, and showing me that CLL is more than a sport, more than a pastime; it is a family. It is the family of Challenger Little League. We are a family of folks related by the common bond of our children. We are siblings who have grown up together, just as our children have. We have learned from each other and leaned on each other over the years, and just like my blood siblings reminisce at holiday gatherings, we have stories to tell when we are together. Memories of our growing years, of our children’s growing years and no matter who is missing from our family we will always have those memories. Memories we get to cherish because there is a game called baseball.


This is just a drop in the bucket of what I could tell you about my perspective, about my gratitude, about my Challenger League family. With a gratitude that moves me to weeping, I thank everyone responsible for this glorious day for the bravest athletes I know.

Wish!

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For more than half of my life as I blew out my candles, I only had one wish. I wished for Katie to no longer be hungry.This was my constant wish, not just for candle-blowing time.  Now she isn’t. My wish came true, not quite how I had imagined it would, but it came true. Tonight, at age 57 I needed a new wish. It came to me quickly. I wish everyone would have the opportunity to fully understand how much they are loved. It is a humbling feeling, one which will have you thanking your lucky stars, Almighty God, or your deity of choice. Every day since Katie died earlier this year, I have experienced love, care, and generosity from family, friends, neighbors, and almost strangers. There are so many people I have not yet thanked, so if you are reading this and have heard nothing from me, please know I am eternally grateful for whatever you did or provided for me. The magnitude of the love is overwhelming and inconceivable. It is also completely palpable. Grief is the hardest thing I have ever done. I was completely unprepared for grief. I have often stated, and still believe I have been in mourning since Katie’s birth. I mourned the child I expected her to be, the child I had planned on having and raising. She wasn’t who I was anticipating. That form of mourning did not prepare me for the slap in the face, punch in the gut mourning in which I am currently engulfed. I vividly remember the lecture and book by Kubler-Ross, but I don’t remember ever once being told how physical the grieving would be. I know I was never told that somebody who loves me would do my laundry or dishes or carry my purse and open my doors because I simply have no strength. Often I feel like a pile of tar in the middle of a Disney World parking lot on a 110 degree day. The Disney World reference is intentional, because I often think the rest of the world is running on Disney happy place steroids…..while I am the tar. People have been able to temporarily love me out of the tar state. Love has been made visible to me. I don’t wish the death of your child or any other calamity which might be the opportunity for you to realize the depth of love others have for you, so instead I wish you would be open to love whenever it knocks on your heart. Watch for love. Recognize love. Accept love. This I know…wishes come true. Allow yourself to be loved. Allow others to love you. It is, after all, my birthday wish.

good enough.

Katie has always been difficult to buy for, for any holiday or gift giving occasion I would wrack my brain trying to come up with a decent idea of a gift for her. I always wanted to find something to make her happy, but my gifts were never food. Instead, my gifts were Uno cards, a new game, a movie, craft supplies, or music; all which she was happy about, but I never felt like I was able to give her what she really wanted. I never thought what I could give her was good enough.  Today, I think I chose good enough. Today, I understand I gave good enough.

One thing about me which was bothersome to Katie is the fact that I am a procrastinator. If taxes don’t have to be done until April 15th at midnight, I’ll turn them in at 11:55pm. When I think of something that needs to be done, I figure I’ll do it sometime this week. When Katie thought of something that needed to be done, she wanted to do it immediately.  Our sense of time, or rather our sense of the importance of time differed. Perhaps she knew tomorrow wasn’t promised, it should be done today.

So today, three months from the day my daughter died,  I filled my car with ribbon, wire, trinkets, a potted plant in a basket and a giant glittery, lavender shepherd’s hook. I drove to her grave site, well, I drove to the vicinity of her grave site. I thought it would be easy to find. I thought it would be the plot with the fresh, new, baby grass growing on it. Nope. They laid sod! I found a metal circle in the ground that read 221 abcd, I knew she was at 221 b. What I didn’t know is where those plots were located in relation to the metal number circle. There was a wooden stake tipped with red paint sticking out of the ground to the far right of the number circle. I looked carefully at the stake to see if there was any other marking on it. Nope. I carefully walked in all directions away from the stake until I found a faint sod line in the ground. I walked the perimeter of the sod line and was astounded how small it looked compared to how eternally huge and gaping it looked when her casket had hovered over it three months prior. I backed up to look at it from a different angle, I heel to toe walked the length and decided that yes, she is probably right there. Now to figure out where the headstone would be located. I suppose it would be located at the head, but if it is to line up with the others in the row, it seemed like I was standing at the foot. I decided I would put her stuff there whether I was right or wrong. I put the bottom of the shepherd’s hook in the sod line and pushed it into the soil by standing on it with my good foot while trying to not damage my injured foot. I reached up to fasten the sparkly fuchsia tulle bow to the center with pipe cleaners. The sun sent sparkles all around my head as it shone through the bow. The bright blue sky made me happy as I saw it peeking through the white rattan of the basket I was hanging. I stuck “stars on sticks” from her students in the plants’ soil, affixed various trinkets, a crown, a cross, and an angel, then I hung up the zip bag of craft supplies. Inside was yarn, scissors, and pipe cleaners with a note to friends of Katie to feel free to use those items to attach anything they might wish to the shepherd’s hook. I walked a few feet away to take a few pictures. It sparkled and shone pink and purple and was noticeable from a great distance. It was up before her birthday. She would be proud. She would be pleased.

For my daughter’s thirtieth birthday I decorated her grave and it was good enough.

For my daughter’s thirtieth birthday she helped me understand that I always gave good enough.

grave decor

Leap Day, Katie-style

little katie

 

 

Katie was always fascinated by Little People. She adored “the tiniest dwarf” and the Roloff family on television, but I believe this affinity began when she was in early elementary school. She was little for her age and would hear me explain to people that short stature is a Prader-Willi Syndrome characteristic. She would also hear her father’s family tell about how short their ancestors were; I believe her paternal great grandmother was reported as being 4’8″ or 4’10”, I don’t remember which, but definitely short compared to my family. She was wearing size 3 dresses when she started Kindergarten, so she frequently heard comments about her diminutive size. Sometime after age six, she encountered her first little person. He completely captured her attention. She watched him unabashedly, contemplating how his small stature didn’t seem to accurately reflect his apparent age.

After studying him sufficiently she turned to me and asked, “Do you think he comes from a family where everybody is small? Or do you think he was born on Leap Day?”

Barely choking back laughter, I sputtered, “What? What do you mean?”

With the patience only Katie had, she calmly repeated with more explanation, “He is little. Do you think his whole family is little, like how Dad’s Grandma was little or do you think he was born on Leap Day?”

“I don’t think his whole family was little. What do you mean about him being born on Leap Day?”, I was still perplexed by that part of the question.

“Well,” she began explaining, “if his whole family isn’t little, I figure he must have been born on Leap Day because he is old looking,  but he is still so short that he must not have had enough birthdays to grow big.”

I will never live through a Leap Day without thinking of this delightful conversation and without remembering how Katie loved people, but most especially little people.

 

Peace trumps busy

Christmas is over. Everyone has been busy.

Did you feel joy and peace, or did you only feel busy and chaotic?

The next time somebody asks, “How are you?” or “How have you been?”, consider NOT listing all of the activities you have been involved in. When asked, “What have you been up to?”,  would be a good time to share with the person what you have been doing, which can be quite interesting. I like to hear about what is happening in a person’s life, just not the glorification of busy. I don’t need to know that you car-pooled here, went to six stores, piano lessons, PTA, and softball. Instead, tell me what “Susie” likes about her piano playing and softball. I want to know how the busyness of your life affects you and your family. Verbalizing such information might help you see the value of what you are doing. Or maybe it will cause you to see some things are unnecessary and could be eliminated from your schedules, thus making life less hectic.

When you ask someone “How are you?” do you really want a run-down of their obligations, responsibilities and social calendar? Or do you ask in place of saying, “Hello, it is so good to see you.”? Or are you actually interested in how they are? Let’s start asking about what we want to hear and let’s start answering the question asked of us.

People know if they ask me how I am, my response is bound to be an exuberant, “happy!” or a blubbering, “oh, I am so glad you asked, I could really use a hug, a cup of coffee, a sounding board…..”

We each have priorities different from anyone else. I want to hear about your priorities. I want to know what elicits your emotions. I want to know what moves you, what you are passionate about. I bet it isn’t a trip to the grocer or pharmacy.

Do you know the environmentalist’s theory of “Leave No Trace”? It means when you are playing outdoors you should leave it as you found it. Footprints are the only mark which should be left. I suggest we do the exact opposite with humans. Leave a trace on every person you meet. Make footprints on the hearts of those with whom you have contact.

Every encounter during which you attempt to share peace with another brings peace to you…..so, stop the glorification of busy and contribute to an epidemic of peace.

Wishing you peace in the new year.

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The Great River Challenge 2015

Rain was forecast and threatening, I had a baby shower at my house the day before, there were several family birthdays and the beginning of school coinciding with the Great River Challenge; all distractions which made it seem like hours at the ball park would be a challenge to fit into the week-end. Due to a propensity for tardiness, construction traffic at attempted bridge #1, and barge traffic at attempted bridge #2 I arrived several minutes late to the ball park. I was quickly handed what I needed and rushed to the press box where I was given a quick lesson on a new microphone before announcing our National anthem volunteer guest singer and introducing the players for Game One. It was then I sat down and took in the glory of the sun glistening on the river, the verdant green of the field flanked by the shining bridge and Ferris wheel, and an unusual coolness for August, but blessedly, could see no rain in sight.

I was grateful I could rush in to do my small part for the day knowing others had planned, organized, emailed, found sponsors, made T-shirts, set up tables and chairs, hauled tents and coolers, and taken care of every minute detail for these games to flow smoothly.  I was also grateful for everyone who volunteered time and money to make this day possible.

Throughout the day I had several people with me in the press box; some were returning fans and some were new to Challenger Little League. While I was announcing I could hear snippets of their conversations regarding the games. I was touched to learn of the impact our players had on their lives, on their hearts. I can never make it through a day at the Great River Challenge without tears streaming down my face at some point and it seems other people who are not CLL parents have the same reaction to the poignancy of these games. These fans talked about their lives having been changed by experiencing Challenger Little League. It is a wonder our stands are not packed to capacity. The Quad Cities is fortunate to have this incredible event happening here, I am always surprised there are people who live here who have never availed themselves of this joyous opportunity. Every parent who is ever going to enter their child in a sport should attend our game, their child’s sports experience will be different after witnessing the greatest game in the Quad Cities!

One new fan told me she wished the players wore microphones so we could hear them. She was intrigued by what the conversations might be between the runner on second and the two second basemen. She wanted to hear what words were being exchanged between the “bull” runner being blocked on his way home and the “lineman” blocking him who gave him a high-five after they crashed into each other. She didn’t need a mic to know the encouragement being given from the Augustana pitcher to the batters, it was visible in his smile.

Thank you to all who made the 2015 Great River Challenge a successful, joyous event. Thank you to everyone who came to witness our remarkable players reveling in a day of play on a magnificent ball diamond. I know lives were changed. Encourage your friends to attend next year, they will thank you for changing their perspective on life.

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photo by: Alex McGill

“Every day is a new opportunity. You can build on yesterday’s success or put its failures behind and start over again. That’s the way life is, with a new game every day, and that’s the way baseball is.” Bob Feller