Sunday, June 19, 2011

Memories and Milestones

Note to the reader: I began writing this on Fathers' Day morning. Katie woke up and seemed to think she needed some food and clothing, so I had to set it aside. I am just now getting back to it. It is one of the joys of my extremely full, parental life: I finally have a valid excuse for taking forever to get anything done.

Two days ago, Katie, Mom, and I hiked up to Middle Fork Falls. This is only about a three mile round trip, with just under 400 feet elevation gain: Hardly worth mentioning in better days. But it was our first time hiking since all the bad stuff happened last winter, and we made it without hitch.

I was outrageously happy, whooping and laughing, and Katito picked up on my mood. Sarah was more quiet and thoughtful. But for all of us, it was a big event.

The whole way, I kept thinking of Sarah, four short months ago, unable to even get out of bed without assistance. I kept thinking about how wonderful it was to have Katie with us at this moment. I kept thinking of those pictures I had put of the wall of her room to remind her of the outside world. Several of them had been of this same trail.

Four months ago, P/SL Hospital in Denver: As the stay in the hospital got longer and longer, with no end in sight, the outside world seemed less and less real. It's amazing how the walls of a hospital room can become the patient's whole world. Thus began the "Wall of Motivation": Pictures of favorite hiking spots, of favorite camping spots, and of our beautiful daughter. Sarah, in her more aware moments, would ask me to tell her long, detailed stories about all the places we were going to hike when we got home.

When we could finally not stand it anymore, I drove back to Lander to get Katie. She was happy to see me, but she was very shy for 20 minutes or so. It had been six weeks since we had seen each other. I felt a bit uneasy; how must she have felt? The uneasiness soon melted into hugs, the Crash Into Dad Game, and belly raspberries, and we didn't feel like such strangers anymore.

It was a surprisingly uneventful drive down to Denver. Six hours is an awfully long time for a one-year-old, even with rest stops. With the help of numerous books, silly conversations, and a very comforting stuffed bunny, we got there.

When we finally pulled into the parking lot at the Ronald MacDonald House, Katie was very quiet as I put her in her stroller for the walk to the hospital. She knew we were going to see Mommy. She clutched her rabbit tightly and looked wide-eyed around her at the big city, the traffic, the elevator up to fifth floor. I suppose if I had had a bunny, I'd have been clutching it too. I was worried that Katie would be shy and distant, or worse yet freaked out by the sight of mommy so sick. I wanted their reunion to be a good thing for both of them.

When we got to mom's room, one of the nurses from third floor was visiting with her. I could see mom had been crying, and I stuck my head in to ask if this was a good time for Katie to visit.

Katie heard mom's voice and I could hear her, in her stroller in the hall, saying, "Mommy? Mommy?" Sarah heard this. The time was wrong, but the attraction was irresistible. She said to bring her in. I quickly warned mom that Katie might take a few minutes to be OK with all this. Then I went out in the hall.

It was hard getting Katie out of the stroller, with her death-grip on that bunny, but we managed. The nurse opened the door. Katie peeked in, saw mommy, and hesitated. I asked her if she wanted to bring her bunny with her.

She looked at mom. She looked at her bunny. Then she said, "Bye bye!", threw the bunny on the floor, and ran across the room and crashed into mommy's bed. It was the biggest smile I had seen on Sarah's face in weeks. It was one of the best moments of my life.

And now we were here, all three of us, hiking up to the falls. How could we not laugh?

***

We had David's memorial the other day. It was hard. I had wanted to play a song on my guitar, and when I got it out Sunday afternoon, I had completely forgotten it. It is hard to describe how that felt. But long story short, because I took so long to get myself under control, we were late for our own memorial service. When we got there, Sarah's music wouldn't work, and thanks to me, there wasn't time to fix it. Everyone was sitting in the wrong places where they wouldn't be able to hear anything, and I had to ask them to move. It was a disaster.

Except not quite.

Triston led a prayer, and things started to happen. Grandpa Wilson, Uncle Scott, and Pete shared some thoughts. The singing was lovely, despite the fact that no one had remembered to pass out hymnals. My buddy Charlie sang an Arapahoe honor song. It was beautiful. We planted David's tree, a Canadian red cherry that should be blooming in a year or two.

And at the end, we released dozens of balloons and watched them float away as Ray played "Amazing Grace" on the pipes. He walked off into the distance, the music fading out as the balloons gradually disappeared from view. It was amazing how far away we could still see them.

Then back to the house for a feast out by the pond with a few friends and family.

People talk about closure. I'm not sure what that means. It doesn't just go away because you have said goodbye. But it felt right to say goodbye.

***
Sarah and I celebrated our seventh anniversary a few days ago.

I have often wondered what it is about the number seven. Many consider it to be a lucky number. In the Bible, the number seven often symbolized perfection or completeness. I wonder why.

But in our case it's appropriate. Our marriage has been strained beyond all reasonable limits, and yes, we have come out stronger. I love my wife in a way that I never did, never could, before. I can't say we've achieved completeness or perfection, but perhaps in some way we're closer than we've ever been. I have learned that faith is not a destination, but a journey. Perhaps love is the same: Completeness comes, not in arriving, but in being on the right path.

So, here it is Fathers' Day. I have lost a son, and that loss will never go away. But I have gained a wife and a daughter: The wife back from the brink. The daughter, growing and learning so startlingly fast that every day with her is like the first day.

I am so thankful.

***
That waterfall is still up there. And we can go back whenever we want to.