I can't believe it's been a month since Heidi's passing. In some ways it feels like it's been much longer, and yet at the same time, it feels like it was just yesterday. I would say most of my interactions with people over the past month start with the question, "How are you and the girls doing?" An easy question and yet not easy to answer in a passing conversation. Usually I answer "OK" or "We're managing" and then measure how much more the person wants to know by how they respond. I thought I would expand on that answer here in this blog post.
The girls are doing pretty good, all things considered. We have had our share of anxious moments, emotional breakdowns and sleepless nights, but those have lessened as the days go by. One of the mixed blessings of the last few months of Heidi's life was as her body was slowly shutting down, the girls were able to slowly pull away from her. From Thanksgiving on Heidi spent most of the day sleeping, and as the sleeping increased the girls went into her room less and less.
The challenge with the girls right now is finding a new routine. The past few months there has been no routine: we had the holidays, Heidi being sick, family and friends visiting and now my return to work. Now that I am back to work full time the girls have been extra clingy to me, but I am sure that will lessen once we have a more set regular schedule.
As for how I am doing I feel like I am okay. There are times when life feels a bit overwhelming—be it managing the girls' schedule and the corresponding childcare, or the return to work—my plate definitely feels full. In many ways I have been grieving (and have been a single parent) for the last seven months as Heidi's health was failing. And yet everything about this grief still feels brand-new and foreign to me. There are still plenty of random moments when the loss of Heidi really hits me hard and I am a heap of tears.
I think the most challenging part is the lonely moments. Whether it's longing for more adult conversations than talking about Shopkins and Paw Patrol with the girls, or just wanting someone to commiserate with after a long grinding or emotional day. I do have my adult times scattered throughout the week and plenty of help with the girls, but I am still the sole adult in our household.
A New Project
In some of those lonely moments I have been able to channel/process some of my thoughts and emotions through art, my own and others' work. Throughout the last year I have been writing down ideas that came from our family's journey with cancer and also inspirations that came from reading the psalms. This idea is still very new to me, and I am not sure what direction it will go, but I plan to sit with this for awhile and see what develops.
Aside from the psalms, there have been two songs that have resonated in tone with how I envision this work taking form. The first song is one I rediscovered around Christmastime, Henryk Gorecki's Symphony Number 3 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs). It's a powerful piece. I recommend listening to it with speakers or headphones; the dynamic range of the piece is pretty large (parts of it are really quiet and others really loud). Being a symphony it's also a pretty long piece, the first movement alone is almost 30 minutes long.
The second piece is from Andrew Peterson called "Rejoice" which came out about a year ago. His whole album was been a touchstone of where I have been over the last year. The song itself may not be where I currently am personally, but where I want to be.
As I said before, this is just starting to gain momentum in my mind. It may be quite a bit of time before anything tangible comes out of this idea of mine.
I cannot thank you all enough for taking interest in Heidi and my journey through this challenging season of life. I thank you all for the continued prayers and innumerable gifts you have showered on our family.
Much like a stream forced to change its course to the ocean, the last couple of years of life have been filled with plenty of adjustments on our journey. This past week was yet another change in course. The company I work for, Rose Publishing, was acquired by Hendrickson Publishing. So what does that mean? On April 10th this year Rose will close its California offices and move to Massachusetts and I--as well as many others--will be laid off. However, I will continue to work as an independent contractor to assist in the integration of Rose's data and web systems with Hendrickson's systems and complete any other pending projects.
It's not how I envisioned returning to work after caring for Heidi the last seven months, but I am at peace with the situation. In some ways this will be a blessing in disguise. Yes, working a salaried job with benefits does give you a sense of security and consistency, but as this past week proves not even that is certain. Doing contract work will give me the flexibility to be more available for the girls as I adjust to being a single parent. At the same time I can also seek out other clients and take on web and video production projects I didn't have time to do while at Rose. I will also be able set aside more time to promote my photography and art. One of the first things I want to do is finish migrating my website to a more robust platform which will enable visitors to purchase prints or license images directly from the website.
I know some would call this a tough situation, but it could be worse. I just have to think back to eight years ago. I was coming off the mountain-top experience of helping rebuild a college library in Liberia on a short-term mission trips when I learned that the company I was working for was downsizing and I was losing my job just as Heidi and I were welcoming our firstborn into the world. At the height of the recession I ended up unemployed for 10 months and under-employed for another eight months. We were forced to sell our condo at the time in a short-sale, and yet we made it through. I wouldn't even consider that season of my life a time of hardship. During my time in Liberia I met people who had been through true hardship. People who had lived 20-plus years in the shadow of warlords, civil war, malaria and other diseases. My present circumstances pale in comparison.
In these moments it's calming to reflect on one of my favorite psalms: Psalm 139:1-6.
O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.
Saying 2016 was a horrible and forgettable year is a trendy thing to say and I won't follow suit. I will say this year has been bittersweet. Yes it was a painful and unsettling year but it was also a time of experiencing many wonderful and unforgettable things. As my wife Heidi's fight with stage IV breast cancer continued to progress we were able to make some great memories as a family, and go on some spectacular trips like our bucket-list trip to Alaska to celebrate our 10th anniversary. Another unforgettable aspect of this year was experiencing the amount of love and care that was showered on our family throughout the year. Be it meals, childcare or other practical needs met to just simply loving on our family in this tough time I am so grateful and humbled by it all.
With that said here are some my favorite photos from 2016 in no particular order. I hope you enjoy them.
And one more bonus image for sentimental reasons, mainly because I didn't think we would get to take this photo. Back in June Heidi's doctor gave her 90 days to live after they found the cancer had moved to her brain and spine. She well outlived that prognosis and all the ones they gave her afterwards. In October we were able to squeeze in one more trip to see the Sierra fall colors up by Mammoth and Bishop before Heidi got too weak to travel. On the last day heading home she was awake enough, and the girls cooperated enough to get the picture below. Photographically speaking it's not the greatest image but personally it meant so much to get this fleeting moment documented forever.
So here's to 2016 and the hope of better 2017 to come.
El Niño may not have hit Southern California like the experts thought it would this winter, but we still get our occasional storms. This picture captured a break in a winter storm near Malibu, California.
Reflecting on this year and its many highs and lows is a good reminder that life rarely goes the way you want it. Our trip to Yosemite in the Tuolumne Meadows region this past summer is a good example of having to readjust.
My wife, Heidi, and I planned our first backpack together in seven years for the Fourth of July weekend. It was to mark the new chapter in our lives, especially Heidi's for beating breast cancer the previous year. Our plans changed though as Heidi started experiencing significant back pain the months prior to our planned trip. She was no longer able to sleep on the ground or carry a backpack over miles of rugged terrain. So, our backpack turned into an exploration of the Tuolumne region and other points of interest in the Eastern Sierras. It was a great trip even though it didn't go as planned.
Little did we know at the time that this trip was just the beginning of our 'readjustments.' A month later we learned that the source of Heidi's back pain was the return of her cancer. It had metastasized and was now growing in her lower back. The months since have been challenging, dealing with the emotions of an illness of this magnitude and readjusting to life with cancer ... again. In the midst of it all we hold onto the hope that God is still in control of the whole situation. We have already been overwhelmed by an amazing amount of help and support from family, friends and even strangers that has been truly humbling.
Looking beyond the cancer challenge of 2015, here are my 10 best pictures from the year, in no particular order.
Bodie is a ghost town just off of highway 395 about 75 miles south of Lake Tahoe. Because of it's location in a dry cold high-altitude climate it's surprisingly well preserved. As a state park, and the Bodie foundation there is constant work to keep the structures as they were when they were abandoned.
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Looking back on our trip to Yosemite back in July it seems like a lifetime ago. We entered Yosemite from the East entrance through Tioga Pass to explore the Tuolume Meadows portion of the park. Little did we know we were going witness a very cold summer storm all weekend. Or first photo stop was at Olmstead Point where I was hoping to get a sunset shot of Half Dome. We found this fast moving storm filling the valley instead. Less than 30 minutes from when the image was shot we were completely enveloped in a cloud.
Here's another photo from our family trip to Colorado, specifically this one was taken in Steamboat Springs. While we were doing our family photoshoot with Heidi's cousin, Kel Elwood we had a pocket of sunlight break through the storm clouds that produced this moment.