Courageous Vulnerability

There are days
that feel like years,
and years that
have felt like days.
Through each,
I am thankful
for every moment
with those I love.
I craft my story
from their example.

For those of you who know me, it is rare for me to cry out of happiness. I only cried at my wedding when my father walked me down the aisle and I saw the rose petals my mom and mother-in-law had scattered to lead the way. These two women have shaped the wife and mother I am more so than any other influence.  I am thankful daily for their unconditional love.

Recently, Courtney and I received news that physically stopped my actions and caused me to joyfully sob (in the middle of a formal district-wide assessment scoring). We learned Emma will be transferred out of foster care and into the adoption unit. In the same moment of overwhelming excitement, I also felt a sense of loss for the woman who gave us so much.  My heart goes out to this mother who I will more than likely never be able to thank. I am grateful for her courage and the strength of her decision.

As my emotions continue to flood in, it reminds me of my pregnancy with Josh.  So many of Emma’s first moments are memories we were unable to make with Josh: first steps, first words, first hugs, first bike. Yet, I also know we hold experiences and memories with Josh that we will be unable to experience with Emma: when he first kicked me during pregnancy, his delivery, and the maternal bonding we shared during nursing.

A few weeks ago, we celebrated Emma’s second birthday complete with green party hats, a homemade apple pie, and a trip to the hot springs with our friends and family.  My sister, Emily, came in for the week and Courtney and I enjoyed watching Aunt Em and baby Em. Together they are Team Em.  My sister has always been one of my heroes. I am eager to see how she will influence the woman Emma will become.  Aunts hold a special place in the lives of their nieces.

The same weekend Emma turned two, Courtney and I celebrated what would have been Josh’s eighth birthday.  We took one of the party hats from Emma’s birthday and placed it on his stone.  It is easy to want to dwell on what could have been.  A friend pointed out that Josh would have been in the third grade. Often, I find myself lost in the what ifs. I am working to transform my thoughts from what if to what was.

This week, I had the privilege of listening to Agnes M. Schwartz share her story. Born in Budapest, Hungary she survived the Holocaust as a hidden child thanks to the courageous vulnerability of her family housekeeper, Julia.  Schwartz returned time and time again through her story to share what she was thankful for during this traumatic time. It was hard, it was dangerous, but she is thankful for what she was given. When an audience member asked “if the roles were reversed, would you take Julia’s place and hide a child?,” she answered more honestly than most of us would. Schwartz said she wishes she would be able to say yes, but if it meant jeopardizing the safety of her own children, she did not know if she would have been able to make that sacrifice.

When Josh was diagnosed, we had to make the decision if we were going to give him copper injections. Children who have Menkes Disease (an x-linked neurodegenerative disease) lack sufficient copper in their brains. All the specialists could share with us about the treatment is that it would be painful for Josh, and that there were no clinical trials proving its ability to prolong or improve the quality of life. We held Josh in our arms and made the selfish decision to not subject him to further medical research. We have never regretted our decision.  We are thankful for the families who are able to provide knowledge for future generations.

The January edition of the English Journal includes an essay from Sarah Gompers titled “‘Sounds Like Truth and Feels Like Courage’: Teaching Vulnerability” in which she models the risks needed to write something worth writing. Much of my daily professional schedule mirrors her teaching style and structure. I am thankful for her advice, which found my ears on a day I particularly needed to hear it.  Gompers poses two main questions about the purpose of her writing, “what benefit will ensue from writing about a topic that previously caused so much turmoil and pain? [and] Will this benefit outweigh the discomfort I might feel in telling the story?” Her questions linger as I compose this post. How much am I willing to share? Will this willingness bring benefit to others?

Agnes Schwarts in the preface to her memoir A Roll of the Dice: A Memoir of a Hungarian Survivor explains that she has an urgency to share her story not only for herself and her own mortality, but for us her readers and the generations to come.  In choosing to write this blog, I took the risk to write for the public sphere because I knew if I continued to write without risk, in the end, my purpose would only serve my own grief. I worried I would not heal and Josh’s story would be forever lost. Please note, I do not compare my story to that of a Holocaust survivor. There is no comparison, but instead an authentic thankfulness for her choice to share her story.  

Gompers identifies the need for writers to be able to distinguish between a productive and nonproductive risk: “a ‘productive risk’…could have value and, therefore, is worth taking… a ‘nonproductive risk’… encourages dangerous behavior or wallows in sadness.” For the past two weeks, I have been mulling over if my vulnerability in sharing as Josh’s mother is productive or nonproductive. What makes me return each day to draft his story is a feeling of urgency to write before there is nothing left to hold onto.

Grieving parents each find something to hold onto. There is no perfect remedy, no right way to grieve a loss. As we prepare for next month’s Ramsey Keller Memorial (RKM) Run for Heaven’s Sake and the Joshua Tyree Half Marathon, I am honored to be able to work with Kori and Jeff Keller.  The legacy they have created in their daughter’s name has been able to ease Montana families of the financial burden of funeral expenses. I am not envious of the phone calls they answer, but am empathetic for the emotional expense they endure to help other families.

The first Wednesday of each month our high school staff gathers for an all staff Professional Learning Community. Our building principal graciously allowed me a few minutes to ask for volunteers for this year’s race.  Each year, I have to mentally and emotionally psych myself up to share Josh’s story. It is a risk to share our story with a room of coworkers many of whom I do not know outside of work. Each year, I make the decision that the risk is worth the potential benefit. As a result of their volunteer hours, donations, and race sponsors, the Ramsey Keller Memorial is able to continue to support baby loss families.

Reflecting on the fiercely strong women in my life, I recognize I am blessed. I once had a female student-athlete remind me when I was coaching that “we are not given more than we can carry.” The origination of the biblical quote deals with temptation, but her interpretation of it showed a need for physical, emotional, and spiritual endurance. The women in my life provide testament of this statement through their displays of unconditional love both of life and for the people in it.  Daily, they make me want to live life not just better, but more fully.  They are vulnerable. They are courageous. They are graceful.  

There are days
that I cherish
and memories to
fill years of loss.
Through each,
I am thankful
for each moment
filled with love.
I write his story
to not lose mine.

4 thoughts on “Courageous Vulnerability”

  1. Powerful, defining thoughts that give all of us a time to reflect with thanksgiving for having the blessing of your presence in our collective lives.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You are such a wonderful, caring representative of that line of strong women and I am sure Emma will benefit from that tradition of strength and love that surrounds everyone! What a lucky girl Emma is! And so happy for you and Courtney!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s