Finding words

MomDuring my time with Mom I’ve been having fun going through the shoebox full of old photographs while she’s resting

I stopped writing the day my mother confided to me that she knew her time was short. I knew the truth of her words. It’s not that there were no longer stories to tell, it just became harder to find the right words. And easier to retreat from the reality in the moments it wasn’t staring you down in the face, rather than dig a little deeper into the raw to tell it like it really is.

It became easier to tell the story in pictures (Thanks Instagram), but memory is often fleeting for me and those still-frames in my mind will fade along with the photographs unless I find my words. I need to record some of the bitter as well as the sweet. Lest I forget.

So I will try to find the right words to paint the moments that strike me to the heart throughout this journey.

They won’t be in any particular order – maybe I’ll sort it out later. Maybe I won’t.

I’m standing at her fridge, helping her find room in her freezer for the groceries I just picked up for her after work. Marie Calendar frozen dinners (Mongolian Beef, Turkey Pot Pie, etc). and another year’s supply of Häagen-Dazs (white chocolate raspberry truffle, vanilla swiss almond, milk chocolate almond covered ice cream bars) and Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia. (note to self: write Häagen-Dazs a thank you note. She came to love you late, but I’m pretty sure you added months of quality and life to her shortened time here as your ice cream became the one thing that always sounded good to her.)

She mentioned her obituary, which I had offered at the middle of the summer to write for her. Her words caught in her throat and tears welled up in her usually sparkling eyes,

“I feel my time is running out.”

Sensing her fear for the first time at this stage of the battle – she has fought bravely and stoically this whole time – I looked her in the eyes.

“You will not go this alone. And there will be a sweet reunion. I know this.”

“I will have to trust your knowing.”

I hugged her, no longer able to fight back my own tears.

“You have been holding this in. You don’t need to carry this alone. We are here for you. You need to talk to us.”

“I’m not holding it in.”

“Look me in the eyes. You are holding this in.”

I hugged her again, then we turned back to fitting the Häagen-Dazs ice cream bars into the packed freezer. It was easier to move on.

Last Friday the hospice nurse brought up the hospital bed. There was resistance. She knows what that means. We know what that means as well. It’s time for round-the-clock care. Her sister, my Aunt Jean, has been there this week. My SIL D’Dee and I schedule the weekend until my sister, Jayne Anne is set to arrive Wednesday. D’Dee and I tag team the weekend until I get sick and D’Dee has to go solo.

Häagen-DazD’Dee sends a fuzzy cell phone picture of Mom with her ice cream (which she was still holding when she later fell asleep)


“I am amazed at how things come together. Ready or not, here it comes.”


(note to self: someday recount the game of telephone that was played as we tried to run interference for Mom to reduce the number of incoming texts and calls that were overwhelming her. Nurses orders: reduce stimulus, help her simplify her life.)

As Saturday night draws late and Sunday morning draws near, ideas pop into my head of ways we can simplify and shorten Mom’s bedtime routine – both for her and for her caregivers. Sunday morning is the first fall. Mom’s legs gave out from under her. It’s a good thing she still has some upper body strength, because I can barely get her upright again. I couldn’t have done it if she weren’t helping. First I say a prayer of thanks I was here – falls have been our worst fear, particularly as Mom has insisted she continue living in her home alone. Next I wonder what I would have done had she not been able to help a little. I wonder what D’Dee would have done if Mom had fallen on her watch. “We need a short list of neighbors we could call,” I think to myself. We take the door off the bathroom. I run home long enough to shower and find a ward I can join long enough to take the sacrament and then head back out to Mom’s. Until D’Dee comes to take the night shift. Later that night I realize I’m coming down with something. Worst possible time. We’ve only just begun and things are about to get more difficult. I do everything in my power to fight it. Monday morning there is another fall. The hospital bed becomes mandatory and a wheelchair is recommended. Resistance is futile. Hard reality checks are coming by the day now. Both are delivered on Tuesday.

Acceptance juxtaposed with denial. Mom talks freely and specifically about her wishes for “after.” Yet says things like “My drivers license expires on my birthday (Jan 31, 2015). I hope the swelling in my cheeks goes down before I have to get my picture taken.” and worries over whether she canceled the long-term health policy too soon (warning – read the small print. Waiting through 90 days of helplessness before becoming eligible for the help you’ve been paying for isn’t so helpful with cancer). Sad truth, she doesn’t have three months. We are down to weeks. Even as I type this and knowing what I’ve witnessed this week, it is difficult to accept.

Week before last (out of order, I know) my SIL told me Mom said, “I hope I make it until Christmas. I would really like to have some carrot (steamed) pudding Dalene makes every year.” That Saturday I let go of some of the cleaning and took the time to mix up a batch. She was on bedrest that weekend due to the fluid seeping out of her swollen legs and D’Dee and I were taking her meals in.

Shirley'sPhotobombed by my friend and foundation, lady Timpanogos who was brilliant at such an early hour

Yesterday I got up and dragged my still-sick self to Shirley’s bakery at 6:45 am. Thanksgiving dinner at Mom’s is a go and since I am sick I won’t be baking pies, but have been assigned to bring the rolls. Shirley’s are not only the best, they are Mom’s favorite. But I found out Tuesday afternoon that you have to start ordering them in October and they stopped taking orders three weeks ago. First come first served when the doors open at 7. There is already a line when I arrive well before 7. Bug hugs and special love for the sweet beautiful woman – younger than I – who shed a tear for my mom and hers (whose last Thanksgiving was last Thanksgiving) as we shared a tiny piece of our stories while we stood in line together. And for the kind woman ahead of us who lost her dad this past year. The consensus “Holidays are hard.” I love a stranger who will share a piece of her soul with me.

That’s enough for today. Except two images I wish never to forget. One I caught the after effects on camera, the other I did not, so I rely on memory. There is nothing like watching the process of going from the blank look of surprise, to recognition, and then the mixture of tears and a big joyful smile as a loved one surprises Mom with a visit. This spring it was Aunt Jean, who braved the long solo trip from her mission in Hong Kong to see my Mom at a time we were afraid she wouldn’t make it until Jean came home in June. She has fought hard and long past June and continued to surpise us all with her strength. Then again last late November night as my baby brother and his family walked in after driving straight here from Idaho. Pure joy. Families are forever!

2013 – year in review

1525415_10152520083083065_1927935255_nFarewell 2013

Wow. My first thought looking back is that 2013 is the year that tried to chew me up big time. But I bit back, chewed on it for awhile, chewed it up and spit the bitter parts right back out. When I savor what’s left, these are some of the top notes:

luke and emily
Our first wedding. I never once looked at it as losing a son. I gained a beautiful, gentle, kind-hearted, hard-working daughter. Welcoming Emily into our family is a pleasure and a joy.

#Ihatecancer. I won’t pretend I’m not mad as h377 or that this isn’t one of the most bitter parts of 2013. But if I am to be honest I must also say that the courageous battles my mother-in-law, my mother, several friends, and now my mother again have waged/are waging against this brutal disease have left me gut-punched also by tenderness, love, faith and peace. And it has not tarnished – it will not tarnish – my hope. Now as I look deeper, I realize some of my most sacred moments have occurred as I have been witness to some of the darkest moments of this war. Still chewing on that.

Closing the store is the brave thing to do. (Name that film!) I did something wild and crazy this year and walked away from something I knew well. Something comfortable and secure. From people I loved and who loved me right back. And took up, of all things, rocket science. Aerodynamics. Physics. Managerial Accounting. You name it. The girl who is afraid of flying stretched out her wings and reached for the sky. Yes – I still have much to learn. But I have made new friends, learned so much, and discovered what can happen when you dare to dream.

fam damily
Returned to the sea. One of the best things we did this year was rent a bright red brand new minivan, pile in all the kids, and head to the Northwest. It was the best of times. I need to stick my toes in the sand and let the wind whip salt-water spray across my face more often.

Salt Lake Comic Con. I got a golden ticket. Braved the crowd. Went with a new friend from my new job. And had the time of my life. Geeks are some of the friendliest people on the planet and my favorite part was chatting up strangers from Frontrunner to Trax to Comic Con and right back home again. Oh, and Q. And Barclay. And a Wookiee.

crows on tress
Provo River Trail.
Trees – from bursting with blossoms, to casting dappled shade on green grass, to dropping brilliant reds and yellows for me feet to crunch crunch crunch, to stark black branches against bare sky.
The constant, reassuring presence of Mt. Timpanogos.
Violent storm.
Peaceful, calming, quiet blankets of snow.

It does not get any better than that.

The entire year was made brighter and better by the love, laughter, and living life to the fullest with family and friends. Love and hugs to each and every one of you!

Welcome 2014. Bring it!

Words matter II, or, everybody has a story

I love having this space here to get words out of my head and try to capture moments, places, people, and events that are meaningful to me. I know it’s small and simple and most of what I write here is only relevant to me. And I’m ok with that. Because what I really love is the power of someone else’s story. Especially when that story is told well. Two such stories come to mind. Both made me think. Both made me cry. Both made me want to be a better person and reach out to someone else. That’s what it’s all about.

I can’t link directly to the first one, but here’s the best I can do. Scroll down until you see the beautiful and very pregnant girl whose story begins “What are the flowers for?” I was so moved by her story–the loss, the sorrow, her courage to tell her story, and what I hope is hope for her future–but this is the line that struck me hard: “I’m ready to give the pieces of me to others.” I replied to the post quoting that line followed by “Oh sister. Welcome to motherhood!” Because that’s what it is, isn’t it? But that’s not just relegated to motherhood. We give a piece of ourselves every time we reveal ourselves to someone else in order to connect with them in some way. Every time we love. Every time we serve. It’s risky every time. Not so much worrying about what we will get back, but worrying about what someone else might do with the piece of ourselves we gave away. Still chewing over that one, yes I am.

Here is the other piece of writing that punched me in the heart today. I cried like a baby. And then I cried like a baby again when I was trying to share a part of this story with the Primary children in sharing time today. Because I’m kind of feeling if anyone needs to discover and develop their spiritual gifts and be prepared, it’s the rising generation. In any case. I can’t even explain why this hit me so hard. But I’m moved by these sisters’ courage, their faith, and their strength. I’m moved by the thought of their parents and families anxiously awaiting news of them. I’m moved by the despair of their mission leaders as for a brief moment they thought, “There were supposed to be 10.” I’m moved by the miracles that got them out of their watery prison alive, then eventually got them to the airport, then got them on that plane to safety. I’m heartbroken by the unimaginable death and destruction, grief and desperation they must have witnessed. I too want to remember and hold on to this hope:

“It was such a terrible thing we witnessed,” Sister Smith said. “But I learned so much about how people will come together to help others, expecting nothing in return. I saw that from other missionaries, and I saw that from the Philippine people. It’s a lesson I hope I never forget.”

Words matter

Today was a rough day. The specifics aren’t necessary, but I was reminded in a very personal way of the power of words. I once tried to articulate once how I feel about words–using the right words that mean what you want to express, using words that build (thank you Richard Bradford for the reminder), but also not using words carelessly–but my own words did not suffice and are lost in cyberspace in some old draft or another.

I was trying to make arrangements for something and was frustrated at every turn. Normally such a thing wouldn’t phase me, but today the sting of mean directed at me from forever ago–yet another version of “You are not enough”–swelled up in my head and in my heart and tore at me. I thought I had forgotten, but I realized the grave wherein I’d buried the words was far too shallow. At first I let the words beat me down. Then I remembered a recent and very personal call to forgive for the words that wounded. Clearly I’m still working on the forgive part. They say time heals all wounds, but I wonder if the forgiveness won’t come until after the healing or if the healing will come when I can fully forgive.

In any case, as I walked outside tonight to the wonder of freshly fallen snow, I embraced a brief moment of calm and clarity, and longed for the peace of gentle words and pure communication.



Some years ago, lost in a backup file of my blog which I have no idea how to restore to my archives, I wrote of spice cake and Harrison Ford. He must have been coming out with a new film, in which he must have been playing a cowboy, and a photo of him must have reminded me of my Grandpa Rex. I didn’t have any photos of my Grandpa at the time, but I pulled this out of a drawer the other day and here it is.

Grandpa Rex

One of my brothers tells of the hot-faced, heart-racing dread panic he would feel when on the ranch Grandpa would tell him to go into the barn and fetch some tool or another. My brother would have no idea what said tool looked like or where to find it, but there was no doubt or question in the request. Simply an expectation that the job would be done.

I remember that feeling of panic. I felt it myself a number of times as a kid. But it’s come back to me in full force twice this past couple of weeks at work. I’ve been assigned tasks, which, even as I listen to what is required, I know I lack the knowledge or resources to accomplish. There is no doubt or question in the request. Simply an expectation that the job will be done.

Like so many other uncomfortable–even painful–moments inherent in childhood, this one is worse as an adult. No one to have your back. No one else to go fetch/do it themselves if you fail or don’t deliver.

And so I pray for a miracle.

And, probably like my grandpa would have done, roll up my sleeves and get to work.

Remembering Kate

Note: I don’t do death days and I never repost, but today as I ask my friends and family to take a minute to send a happy thought heavenward and to remember to be kind and to love the ones we’re with, I thought it would be a good day to remember Kate here as well. Original post date: July 2, 2006.

I’d like you to meet my friend Kate. I want to honor her memory. But I’m afraid my words won’t do her justice. It’s always difficult to tell a story that doesn’t belong to you. But sometimes you just have to try.



I remember–



The day I first really met her. She had just turned twelve. She wasn’t sure what she wanted me to call her. Katharine, Katie, Kate. “I’ll call her Kate,” I thought to myself. She seemed quiet and unsure of herself. I always thought she was so beautiful and kind. Her smile warmed your heart.



A few years later I got to know and love her mother like a sister. And I would hear bits and painful pieces of Kate’s story, which parts are not mine to tell. I will just say she struggled and suffered in ways I can’t imagine. Except that because I sensed part of her pain was because she didn’t feel worthy of the love that surrounded her, I felt like I understood somewhat. My one wish for Kate was the same wish I have for so many–that she could see herself through the eyes of those who love her.



Kate invited me to her graduation from rehab. I was so honored to be asked to attend. She kept telling me not to come if it was too much trouble. But I would not have missed it for the world.


It was so real. I remember thinking, “I wish we could do this in Relief Society.”


My name is Dalene and…


I looked around the room–at broken lives and broken hearts–and willed us all to be better.



I was so proud of Kate.



Kate still struggled, but she was working so hard to choose a better path. The spark was back in her eyes. Her smile was dazzling and her heart was as kind and generous as ever. Every time I saw her I just had to take her in my arms and give her the biggest hugs. But with Kate you always got back so much more than you gave.


I remember one Christmas when she borrowed her mother’s credit card to purchase a present for me. A candle, a soothing gel eye mask, and some lovely hand-made soap. Gifts from the heart meant to encourage me to nurture and care for myself. How I hoped she would do the same for herself.



At the beginning of the summer of 2004 I remember one sunny afternoon. Kate–who had recently given me the best haircut I’d ever had–was going to cut my kids’ hair. She was at the house with a friend of hers. Emily was there studying for a test. My kids felt comfortable and easy. Warmth, love, friendship and acceptance hung in the air. It was the perfect day.



July 3, 2004. My family had just endured one more hot patriotic parade. We have been doing this for years–it’s tradition. And so we know very well the worst time in the world to go to the arts fair downtown is right after the parade–everyone from the region is there. We never go to the arts fair right after the parade. So we headed our van full of hot, hungry and tired kids toward home. Then, inexplicably, we turned the car around in the midst of all the traffic and drove to the arts fair. No one was having a good time, but we went anyway.


As we stood in the line for the snow cones we saw Kate and a guy she’d been dating. They fell in line behind us and I bought them a snow cone. It was a simple thing, but it gave me pleasure.


Kate and I visited for a minute. She told me of her plans for the future. She was looking ahead with a little uncertainty, but with definite eagerness. She was working to prepare herself to be able to go to the temple in time for good friend’s wedding. She told my Lindsay she was an angel. I told Kate–as I always did when I saw her–“I love you.” She stopped and asked me “Why?” It pained me that she didn’t know. So I tried to tell her what a great person she was, what a kind friend, how amazing, beautiful and wonderful. My words were insufficient, but I hoped she was listening to my heart and not my voice. Now I wish I would’ve simply replied, “Because you’re you.”


I hugged her once more and we said good-bye.



I was at Melody’s the next day when Shane came to get me with the news. My memory of that message stands still-framed in the arch of Melody’s doorway. Sometimes I still stop short when I pass through and remember.


I can’t even talk about what followed. But it is one of my worst memories. Such unfathomable grief. Still…


The week was a whirlwind. Preparing comfort food for the family that couldn’t bring themselves to eat. Trying to find the perfect way to celebrate Kate’s life. The exact words to say what was in our hearts. The lingering scent of Patchoulli oil for a bereft sister. The desperate search for a banjo player and the perfect venue (I kept seeing the place in my head but couldn’t remember where it was). It all came together as miracles do. Tears mingled with laughter. Love and loss. Hearts that were broken and yet filled. Floods of memories. Never enough hugs. Heartfelt tributes. Balloons floating skyward. Pleading for peace.


I wanted to embrace the Smith family and give them some comfort. But what could I offer when I was grieving too?



I remember getting my kids ready for the viewing. “We need to say good-bye to Kate.” It wasn’t till afterwards, when I still felt empty, that it hit me.


We already said good-bye.


(Click here to hear a sweet tribute to Kate from local artist Colby Stead.)





In honor of Kate’s memory today, please take a moment and do something to brighten the day or lift the load of someone–anyone–around you. Give them a helping hand, a big hug, a warm smile, or a kind word…

Choose kindness.

My brain on ADD

(Note: This is only the Reader’s Digest condensed version. You’re welcome.)

I start the dishwasher. I get the kids out the door. I’m going to write a blog post about the bird whisperer. I’m going to write a blog post about my trip to Heber Valley Artisan Cheese. I’m going to write a blog post about my new job. I’m not going to write a blog post. I’m going to clean out my spam (Thanks a lot, not, WordPress). I’m going to email my uncle about buying a Subaru Forester. I’m going to shop for a Subaru Forester. I’m going to do the laundry. I’m going to make soap. I’m going to make cookies. I’m going to go test drive a Subaru Forester. I’m going to go to clean off the sofa so I can fine my parents’ wedding photo and Kyle’s cell phone. I’m going to move the furniture and vacuum (and look for Kyle’s cell phone). I make breakfast. My neighbor is cleaning out her garage and is selling a love sac and giving away good hardwood doors. I go to my neighbor’s house and decide “no” on the love sac but bring home a hardwood door and agree to help her later pull down some more hardwood doors from the top of her garage. I’m going to Vineyard nursery to buy hanging baskets (will they be high enough the dog won’t chew them up?) and a couple of potted flowers. I’m going to pot some flowers by my front door. I’m going to come home and get all that stuff done. I empty the dishwasher. I’m going to go out and clip the last of the fresh lilacs so I can enjoy them for a couple more days. I’m going to pick up the fresh eggs and make sure my chickens have water. The dog jumps on me while I’m carrying the lilacs in one hand and holding my shirt which is full of eggs up with my other hand. There are broken eggs in my shirt. I wash the eggs that remain unbroken and stain treat my shirt. I’m going to make soap. I’m going to write a blog post.

What I really wanted to say in that last post before it wrote itself into something different

I don’t often like photographs of myself. I am ok with the person I see in the mirror. She is a good person. And she is not heinous. But the camera does not love her and is not her friend. I’m ok with that, even if others aren’t.

But I there is something I like about this photograph of myself in front of the home in which my father was raised:

Even though it accentuates things I don’t particularly love about myself (the way my eyes disappear and my lips sort of flatline into almost nothing), I like this photo because it reminds me of a few traits–both external and internal–I inherited from my dad. From my dad’s side of the family. In this photo I see something of my grandmother and my aunts. A steely strength and resilience I admire in them and want to develop better in myself. These are the traits that help me get up out of bed even when fatigue, arthritis or the realities of what the day might hold are somewhat daunting. These are the traits that hold me up during hard times or when I get bad news or have to deal with something particularly hurtful. These are the traits that let me look people square in the eyes and tell them the truth even when I’m not sure they really want to hear it.

(Not pictured is the playful twinkle in the eyes. I hope I still have a little bit of that left in me. That twinkle that used to get me into trouble when friendly was misread as flirty.)

Enough about me. Please tell me about a trait–either physical or otherwise–you inherited and which you have come to appreciate.

Hope and despair

Sometimes I get text from one of my kids in the middle of the day because all chaos is breaking out at home and they want me to fix it for them.

From work.

I can tell you that nothing I ever have to deal with or fix at work is ever as hard as trying to deal with someone’s crisis at school or at home or wherever.

From work.

Sometimes it’s a big knock-down drag-out fight and things are getting broken that may never get fixed. Or, worse, things are being said that can never be unsaid.

In all caps, of course.

And knowing that this is what is going on at home *while I am at work pains my mother heart. And, already being pained by all the things that I know are already broken and all the things I know can never be unsaid, I feel a little bit of despair.

Sometimes I go home and it doesn’t get any better until I go to bed and surrender (if I’m lucky) to the mind-numbness that is sleep.

Sometimes I go home and I plow through it and I try to be some sort of salve on the wounds of the day and I make dinner even though the kitchen is a disaster (you know, because I wasn’t home) and we eat together (or mostly together) and sometimes (but not always) breaking bread together helps just a little bit.

And sometimes a little bit later one of the kids that was fighting asks the other one if he or she wants to watch a movie together. And even though are other places to be and homework to be done, **I let them.

When that happens, hope replaces dispair.

All together again after nearly four years apart

Sometimes Sunday evenings are the best

I love my kids, especially when they collectively and spontaneously decide to strike a pose for awkward family photos at the family reunion








lest ye judge:

*1. I am working outside the home after being a SAHM for 17 years and because the spirit told me I should apply for this job. And when I almost quit the job the spirit told me I should not quit it, so I stayed. 2. I used to work only the hours my kids were in school, so I was still, in a sense, a SAHM. That changed over the summer, when I had to increase my hours and I am still struggling with my my work-life balance.

**Sometimes, particularly when you have teenagers, being a mom is about making hard choices. Maybe one of these days I will write more about some of the hard choices I make (see above).