Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Fourth of July? Its for the birds...

The Fourth of July is a "great" day, right?  NOT!  I do not like this holiday, AT ALL!!!  Now, Ive had some really good Fourth of July holidays.   Like the one at my Father in Laws farm.  (Keri - Remember that one?)  And I like it when my kids get excited about things like this but there are good (I think) reasons why I hate it!  Here ya go...

First, it's HOT!  I am a well known heat wimp!  If its over 90 degrees then Im inside.  If it's over 100 degrees, Im inside complaining!  I don't like to sweat, I don't like to smell and I don't like to see other people do either.   Then, it's LOUD!  Crack, Boom...I hate it.  Im usually the one everyone makes fun of for jumping every time one of the loud crackers go off.  Im even known to scream a time or two.  Third, its dangerous.  Watching my little ones holding a sparkler gives me anxiety.  The thought of those little hands getting burnt...well, lets not go there!

But, the main reason that this holiday is miserable for me...Landon.  Every year for 8 years I've thought of him on this holiday.  For a long time I couldn't figure out why.  For many years I spent time trying to wrap my mind around why such an insignificant holiday could work me up so much.  Then, last year, I finally figured it out.  You see, I knew something was wrong with Landon from the time he was conceived.  I couldn't say what it was, it was just a gut feeling I had the whole 9 months I was pregnant.  So, while I was pregnant I never had daydreams about what it would be like to have the baby here.  I just knew. Last year I had a memory, one I had blocked out for 7 years.  I was sitting on my back porch watching Tyler light black snakes on the sidewalk.  Nathan was helping him light them.  I looked over on the ground beside me and, for the first and only time, I imagined a little boy sitting on the porch with me.  He was smiling and laughing and loving every minute of it.  I smiled.  Then it faded.  It was the ONLY time during my pregnancy that I imagined something happy with this baby.  It was the ONLY time! 

Now, 8 years have past since that moment in on the porch.  Holidays have come and gone and the pain is still there.  But on this hot and loud holiday I can't help but imaging a little almost 8 year old boy blowing things up and loving every minute of it.  I imagine myself on the porch having a small but wonderful daydream of a healthy baby boy growing up with me. And all of that makes me very sad. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

Growing Pains by Ryan Hellmer

This is a guest post from a friend Ryan Hellmer.  He posted this on his blog and it was just too good to not share.  Ryan and his wife Jessica lost a baby girl, Abagail, to Trisomy 18 just a few months ago.  Abagail Mae was a beautiful little girl who was, and continues to be, the love of their life.  She had a beautiful little Irish twin Josie who will one day understand all that has happened over the last 8 months.  This is for Abagail...Traci 

So it’s been quite a while since my last post. I really don’t know if that’s good or bad. I have felt the need to post a couple times, but apparently not strong enough to get motivated to actually do it. We got a (relatively) pleasant surprise the week of my birthday, Abigail’s marker has been installed. They must have gotten several in the same week because a couple of her neighbors also got theirs. It’s sad, Abigail was the second kiddo in the new section at Mt. Calvary and already there are several more neighbors. I still find it to be a very relaxing atmosphere and spend lunch with Abigail a few times a week.

At least once a year I try to get out and run. It usually coincides with Lent. I view Lent as my kind of “new years resolution.” I think it’s a little easier to make a resolution that you only “have” to keep for 40 days. Plus its springtime and I think even humans need to get out and shake off the hibernation that we indulge in through the winter months. I ordinarily wouldn’t admit to liking running, but I do find it quite therapeutic. I think I have my most profound times of thinking while running or mowing the lawn. There’s something about the relative silence of those activities that really lets me think.

One thing I don’t like about running is pain. There’s always pain involved; sore muscles or joints or that cramp in your side that always hits you on the last lap or just the pain of discipline, forcing yourself to do something every day. I think in the physical sense, pain can be put in two loosely organized piles. There’s the pain that accompanies growth and the pain that accompanies damage. I think the key is identifying which is which and how to properly address it.

That first week of running, the muscles in my legs and even my shoulders can just ache. This pain accompanies growth. It is the breaking down and repairing of the fibers because I simply haven’t used them in far too long. I know that this is the pain that I can remedy with stretching and a decent warm-up and that I can push through it to help my body get back in shape.

I’ve been very fortunate to have never suffered a serious sports injury. I know plenty of people in my life who have had a couple knee surgeries well before age 30, others with more catastrophic injuries like broken bones or hips. Sometimes it’s as simple as a strain or sprain. The pain that comes with these types of injuries tells a different story. That pain is like the check engine light in a car saying “something is damaged and continued operation may result in failure.”

Response to pain is something that only the individual can control. It is really disappointing to see an athlete, particularly a young one, suffer an injury on the field. The pain makes them unable to perform. Is that pain growth or damage? How should they respond to the coach’s recommendation that they “suck it up” and get back out there to help the team? What if the athlete were offered steroids or a cortisol injection? Something, anything, to mute the voice of the joint/bone/muscle crying out for rest and healing.

I think this illustration has helped my understanding of emotional pain. There is pain that accompanies growth and pain that accompanies damage. I’m sure everyone has heard the old saying, something like “life is a marathon…” In the course of events, we don’t get to choose when a loved one will die or when we might get laid off or suffer a natural disaster. There are very few things that we can do to prepare our minds and spirits for the unthinkable. The question isn’t whether a painful event is coming, it’s when, and perhaps, how often?

Losing Abigail hurts. Every day. There are a hundred different ways that I’m reminded that my life is not the same as it was before. Sometimes it’s a dull ache that seems to stem from something “I did yesterday.” Sometimes it’s a tear or sprain that comes on suddently. Most of the time I’m feeling pretty good until I “twist just the right way,” then I’m completely immobile (I’m pretty sure anyone over 50 can attest to that feeling).

Every time I feel these pains I have to do an assessment. Is this an opportunity for growth or do I need to slow down before doing some real damage? I’m certainly no expert on grieving or psychology and I would not consider myself “life coach” material (although I think, like politics, anyone truly qualified avoids the scene altogether), but I think, unlike physical pain, we have a great deal of influence over whether the pain leads to growth or damage.

Much of the growth I’ve experienced as a parent has been entirely painless. It’s easy to forget, especially if all you know is this blog, that I have a wonderful, healthy, beautiful daughter that continues to inspire me to grow. The other half of my parenting experience has been altogether different. Abigail brings a great deal of joy to my life. I am proud of her and proud to have been her father in this life. I keep my favorite picture of her in my office. Looking at that picture never brings sorrow, it reminds me of how beautiful life is.

That previous paragraph seems like a bit of a disclaimer since a significant portion of my recent experience has involved pain. Emotional pain doesn’t mesh well with the current American way of life. It’s not quantifiable, not related to a discrete activity or anatomical locale. It’s not something that is easily “fixed.” We like problems to go away. Fix them, hide them, get away from them.

You know that “pain scale” at the doctor’s office? I’ve looked like all those pictures at some point in the last 4 months. As I trend towards the scary end of the scale, I try to be cognizant of what it is I feel, why I feel that way and whether or not I’m establishing an environment of growth or setting myself up for damage.

Neglect invariably makes pain worse. Neglect can turn pain that might otherwise result in growth into injury. Neglect of injury can turn a simple sprain into irreparable damage. Rest and recuperation are the key; trouble is, neglect ranges from doing nothing to doing everything. In fact, neglect most surreptitiously exists in the form of action.  Think of the injured athlete who gets a shot of cortisol or has a sprain taped up and then rushes back into the
game. But think also of the patient who forgoes physical therapy to get right back to work/play. Sometimes, activity can be a sinister diversion from the reflection and rest that is often required for proper healing of an injured soul; sometimes it’s the therapeutic activity that is the only path to recovery.

One of my primary goals after the loss of Abigail was to find the new normal. I hate it that people think you can get “back” to normal. Time runs only one way. I knew from the moment Jessica told me we were pregnant again that life would never be the same. That’s just as true with Josephine as it was with Abigail. Just as true with a “perfectly” healthy baby as one with a fatal genetic abnormality.

Finding the new normal was not intended to be quick or to get me “back” to the things I had done pre-Abigail. There are innumerable changes in my life even though there may not appear to be any changes to my routine. From the outside looking in, I’m sure it looks a lot like pre-Abigail. I still go to work. I try to get things done around the house. I have goals, dreams, some of which are unchanged. Some of my previous goals have been completely abandoned. Some have been replaced with things I’d never imagined.

I’d like to say I have been overwhelmingly successful in the quest to make the best of a painful situation. Truth be told, it probably vacillates from self-righteous hypocrite to that scary guy that talks about his dead kid at “inappropriate” times. Sometimes I feel like I need to sit a few plays out, other times I know that powering through is the best thing I can do, for me, for my wife, my family and friends. The one thing I’ve learned for sure is that you can’t just take that shot and make things go away.
                                                                                                -Ryan Hellmer

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Tiger, a Vine, a Mouse and a Strawberry

Here is one of my favorite zen stories...

One day while walking through the wilderness a man stumbled upon a vicious tiger. He ran but soon came to the edge of a high cliff. Desperate to save himself, he climbed down a vine and dangled over the fatal precipice. As he hung there, two mice appeared from a hole in the cliff and began gnawing on the vine.  Suddenly, he noticed on the vine a plump wild strawberry. He plucked it and popped it in his mouth. It was incredibly delicious!

I think I like this story because it reminds me of my depression journey.   Lately, I feel like I am walking though a wilderness and running into some very vicious tigers.   It seems as soon as I run I fall into a pit and as soon as I find a rope some mice come along and chew it up.  But I never find a strawberry.?!

Today was a very hard day for me.  I woke up tired, depressed and lonely so asked a friend to the park, then I took her little guy home for a little bit but then loneliness hit me like a rock.  I didn't have anything to do, no where to really go and all I really wanted to do was cry.  Then the phone rang.  My mom, of course, called me after a depressing email I sent her while I was sulking.  We talked for an hour and a half.  By the end of the phone call I felt alive again, not as depressed and the loneliness was gone.  But, honestly, my first thought when I got off the phone was "now who will I talk to". 

I've been told by my mom and my therapist that I need to start giving myself credit for the little things Ive been doing.  I need to give myself credit for the baby steps I've been taking but I can't seem to do that.  I am always searching for the strawberry.  I realized today, after the phone call, that I won't ever find the strawberry if  that's all I am looking for.  After all, he didn't find it until he climbed the rope he found, right?

So, my goal for the next week is to give up on my strawberry search and start keeping track of what I do on the way up the pit.  I am going to appreciate my good things without instantly getting sad they are over.  I'm going to TRY! 

To be continued...

Thursday, February 16, 2012


A student went to his meditation teacher and said, "My meditation is horrible! I feel so distracted, or my legs ache, or I'm constantly falling asleep. It's just horrible!"  "It will pass," the teacher said matter-of-factly.

A week later, the student came back to his teacher. "My meditation is wonderful! I feel so aware, so peaceful, so alive! It's just wonderful!'  "It will pass," the teacher replied matter-of-factly.