Tuesday, June 06, 2023

Three Years

My brother, Topher, wrote a journal essay about my accident
and shared it with me before he passed away three years ago.
I've posted it on my blog before, 
and I am starting to think I'll post it every year 
from now on.  It means so much to me.
These were HIS thoughts, HIS details, and HIS feelings
on a part of my life that changed me so dramatically.
I love that he shares this story with me and, in turn,
I share a little of his story, too, because we both
have experienced hard things, but also because we share the same
blood and that connects us forever and ever.

I miss you, Topher!
I love you and have faith that we'll see each other again.
Actually, I don't just have faith about that,
I KNOW it.
* * * * * *
"When I was thirty-six, my sister Stephanie and her husband Christian were in a small engine plane crash on the border of Arizona and New Mexico. It's a well-documented story by this point, so I don't need to go into the details of it. And my own interaction with the story was minimal; not because I wasn't affected by it, but because the story wasn't really about me. I'm just a small piece of it. But it significantly impacted me and my family anyway, and it's worth sharing my memory of it.

I remember flying home from London in mid-August; I'd been there for a month on study abroad, and I was listening to Andrew Bird on my ipod. Somewhere over Iceland his song "Fiery Crash" came on, and I smirked a little at the irony of being in a jet plane while listening to these lyrics:

turnstiles on mezzanine
jet ways and Dramamine fiends
and x-ray machines
you were hurling through space
g-forces twisting your face
breeding superstition
a fatal premonition
you know you've got to envision
the fiery crash

I was only home a day or so when I got a phone call from my sister-in-law Katy, telling me that Stephanie and Christian had been in a plane crash but were going to be alright. Lisa wasn't home then, but when she got home I told her what had happened and assured her they were fine. They weren't, but we didn't know that. My parents flew to Phoenix, where Stephanie and Christian stayed at the Maricopa Burn Unit. The next day was a Sunday, and Mom and Dad called a family meeting over the phone. This was the first time I think we realized that the situation was more grave than we had thought.

In a few moments, gathered at my sister Courtney's house, the situation morphed from a few bumps and burns into life and death. It broadsided me, to be honest. And the gravity of the situation settled in deftly and hopelessly. I felt like I only had a few moments of contemplation before making the inevitable preparations for the loss of a sibling. Everyone deals in grief in their own way, and I wish I could say I was a crier. Or a hugger. Or an emotional sharer. But all of these things make me uncomfortable, so I dealt with this situation by being strong, moving on, and assuring everyone that things would be fine. I kind of believed that, actually.

There were discussions among us, privately, of course, that Stephanie's death was probably the best thing at this point. She had been severely burned over 80% of her body. If she survived she would be in chronic pain for the rest of her life, and she would never look the same. In some ways, it felt selfish to hope for her survival, since it felt like we wanted her to live for us. So that we'd feel ok. Or to spare us the loss of a sister. But we also wanted her to live for Christian, who was burned as well, though not as badly, and Stephanie's four little children.

We took turns visiting Stephanie in Arizona. I flew down and met up with my parents and my older brother Matt. My first introduction to Stephanie was a look Matt gave me as we walked down the hall to her hospital room. Clearly not meant for my mother to see, Matt focused his eyes on me in a way that told me to prepare for a shock. But it wasn't a shock, necessarily. I had already been told to expect a mummy, and that's what I saw. My brain didn't really connect this white bandaged, comatose, slab of a form to my sister. Only her eyes were visible, but they fluttered and squinted and I couldn't see much there. We talked to her and I joked with her, but I had no faith that she was really hearing me. I'm a realist in these situations, and I go through the motions to make the people around me comfortable, but I never sensed that Stephanie thought my jokes were all that funny, or that she even heard them. I had made her a CD of mellow tunes, which I played in her room and which the nurse would quickly turn on when she saw us coming, though I do feel that this was just a gesture on my part.

While we were in Arizona we stayed at Stephanie and Christian's house. I felt bad for their dog, Jimmy, who seemed confused and left behind. The kids had been shuttled to Utah, but Jimmy was at home chasing birds and waiting for someone to fill him in. I played with Jimmy a little. I worried about my Mom, who tried to valiantly push through everything but seemed to swing between hope and futility. She seemed cheered to have Matt and me around, though, and maybe that was the best thing we could do. Although we gave Stephanie and Christian priesthood blessings and made daily visits, I think we were most useful in helping our parents cope. We took day trips to Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West and local graveyards to find buried ancestors. We ate Mexican food and watched a BYU football game.

One night I sat at Stephanie's kitchen table answering emails online. Everyone was asleep; Matt had gone home to Utah. Through the kitchen windows, I saw sporadic lightning bolts above Mesa and Scottsdale. Everything outside was calm and smelled like oranges. The kitchen was dark and hushed, and I faintly made out the sound of someone approaching my chair from behind. I turned around to see who it was, and had a brief sense of Stephanie. I heard a voice say "Hi, Tophy!" and then it was gone. I still don't know if I imagined it, but it was pretty distinct at the time. I don't have any reason to doubt that her spirit wanted to stop by her old kitchen, 
say hello to her brother, and then get back to work healing her body.

I knew, after this, somehow, that Stephanie would recover. And she did. There was a swarm of publicity. We were on the Today Show and Oprah, and I had an interview with the New York Times at one point. All of this as her body slowly healed and her spirit gradually returned. I always felt like an outsider to this story; I didn't do anything heroic or brave. I didn't heal her myself and I didn't spend hours at her bedside. But I was there off and on, as her life progressed and my life progressed, 
and she eventually came back and continues to mend.

There was one night, however, after she had transferred to the University of Utah burn unit when I slept alongside her in a foldout hospital chair. I had brought several DVD's to watch; classic movies and Christmas flicks, though she sort of drifted in and out of them. Around three in the morning, I could hear her moaning and recounting the crash, almost as if she were reliving it. The sounds she made scared me and I immediately grabbed her hand until she faded back into sleep. She won't remember that, and it doesn't matter if she does. I knew that I was there one night when she needed me. And this was God's way of letting me know that, in a peculiar way, this was my story too."

Monday, June 05, 2023

The FB

Today we bought materials to make the much-anticipated chicken coop.
The chicks are getting so big that they jump out of their bin in the shed
and need their own space.
Nicholas and Christian have designed a coop 
(with wheels to make it mobile)
and started on it while Lottie let the chicks out and watched them hunt 
for bugs and worms.
I kept Angus inside the house because it gets annoying
to tell him over and over and over and over again to "sit."
He loves to smush his beard into the chicks and act like
he will eat them.
He needs a haircut in the worst way.
He's pretty much a walking fart.
In fact, when he gets super hairy and stinky like this, 
we call him "fart bomb" or "FB" for short.
We spoke with Jane and Ollie today, who are both doing great!
Oliver has baptized someone almost (all kids) every week since he's been out,
and Jane has had little luck with baptisms in her area.
But both have amazing stories to share and are growing in many ways,
but especially how they have grown to love the people they serve.
It's inspiring.
I love hanging up the phone with them feeling relieved and happy that
they are doing so well, and I thank God for all the blessings we receive
here at home because of their hard work and sacrifice.

Friday, June 02, 2023

The Days

Mondays are my P-days ( P stands for preparation)
 It's when I do my grocery shopping and errand running.
and Fridays are my work days when I
I clean my house, like the bathrooms, dust, change sheets on beds,
mop and wax my floors, kitchen, etc...etc...
AND I mow and edge the lawn.
That's my favorite of my jobs. I LOVE mowing the lawn!
I love putting my earphones in and listening to music or an Audible.
My lawn is huge, and it takes me a good 3 hours to get everything done.
Then when I am done, I love taking my overalls off and 
sit in my neverminds on my porch swing
with a Dr. Pepper in my hand, admiring my hard work.
I did that today.
I also put up our 4th of July buntings.
Christian and Gigs served in the temple tonight with the 
other kids in our branch (congregation).
Lottie caught fireflies, and I relished my life in the country.
Until it was like 7:00, and I was starving.
It's not like we can hop in the car and drive to Cafe Rio; it's a trek
anywhere, and knowing Chrisitan was out and about among the living,
I sent him a text that said:
Sure enough, about an hour later, he and Gigs, who had finished
their time in the temple brought home food for us.

It was a very productive day.

Thursday, June 01, 2023

The Blue Bucket

Today after school, Lottie got her blue bucket, took all
the baby chicks out of their bin in the shed and into the bucket 
then outside near the garden planters where bugs and worms reside
to let them scratch and peck for hours.
She's been doing this for days.
Gigs claims they are his chicks since he technically
hatched them in the incubator, but Lottie is
being very motherly and keeping them happy and loved.
We are encouraging Angus outside to sit near them and protect them.
He does a great job using self-control.
I don't think he'd eat them, but he bugs them.

Tonight Christian and I accompanied the missionaries on 
a few visits and phone calls.
I love them, and they remind me of Jane and Ollie,
and I'd do anything to help and support them!

 Update on the cows:
There is NO UPDATE!
The cows are still super pregnant, but no babies yet.
We are still patiently waiting!

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Cheese at the table

 Gigs gladly accepted to take a few critters- in this case, lizards
home from the FFA classroom for the summer.
When I picked him up from school today, we loaded up two very large 
aquariums with two lizards.
One of the lizards, Cheese, accompanied us at dinner tonight
along with Lottie's best friends, who were mesmerized by the creature.
Or maybe it was Gigs?  He's pretty cute, too!
Yum!!  On the menu:
Lasagna, salad, garlic bread, grapes, and Cheese the Lizard.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

I won't back down

This evening was the annual FFA banquet, where my boys were
recognized and awarded for all their hard work and dedication 
during the year. It was held in the local church building with
first-class Southern food and sweet tea. 
(Which we don't drink, but it's a Southern staple
and I really wanted to share that).
Both boys received several awards, and I was so proud.
But, this banquet was a mixed bag of emotions for me.
For one thing, Ollie wasn't there to receive his awards and cords
for his graduation next month, and since he's a senior, they
did a little spotlight on him, too.
I cried through it.
This was the only pic we got of his spotlight. Nailed it!

It's pretty incredible that he's in Brazil serving 
a full-time mission, but it makes me sad to see
all his buddies and friends graduating together without him.
But the truth is, he doesn't care.
He worked really hard to graduate early to get on his mission 
as soon as he turned 18 in January, and 
I know he's very happy where he's at right now.
So, I am too!
Gigs was a good brother to receive the awards on Ollie's behalf.
I remember last year at the FFA banquets talking about how
Ollie probably wouldn't be at this ceremony, thinking it 
would never come.
And here we are, and Ollie is gone.
There were quite a few awards that were given out that night
and lots of claps.
Lottie got a little bored, and so this happened:

I was asked several weeks ago if I'd share a little bit of my story 
which I was so happy to do!
(They introduced me as a "motivational speaker,"
well, sheesh, thank you!).

I shared about the hard times I endured and how I overcame them with 
the help of, first and foremost, God, my family, and my friends,
hard work, dedication, and perseverance.
This was the only photo (which was a screenshot from
the video that Lottie was talking while I spoke.
 (Thanks, Lod!)

I told them to keep pushing themselves up their mountains
that they will inevitably encounter in life.
But they will find tremendous strength and wisdom if they fight
for their happiness, for their future, and never back down.
Then I ended my remarks by quoting the legendary (and my favorite),
 Tom Petty and his song "Won't Back Down."
"Well, I won't back down
No, I won't back down
You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won't back down
No, I'll stand my ground
Won't be turned around...
I got just one life
In a world that keeps on pushin' me around
But I'll stand my ground
And I won't back down".
I love that they call Nicholas "Gigs,"
I actually wonder if anyone knows his real name is, Nicholas?

Monday, May 29, 2023

The Hytte

Today we let the chicks roam free outside under our front yard tree.  
Under very close supervision from Lottie and Gigs (Angus too).
They pecked around, scratched, and were super adorable.  
And I have to give kudos to Angus, who was a very 
good boy and well-behaved around the new brood.
And we know we have at least one rooster in the mix since one of the little
brown guys tried chasing Angus off when he got too close.

Gigs and Christian are designing a mobile chicken coop 
for these lucky ladies (and dudes).
We're going to name it the chicken hytte
(That's hut in Danish).

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