Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Reflecting on a Decade

I suppose all decades represent seasons of significant growth and change because let’s face it, would our lives really be worth living if one stretch of time wasn't distinguishable from the next? I knew going into this decade I would see the last of my thirties. I would launch my children into the world of adulthood, and my role as a mother, a wife, a teacher and mentor would continue to evolve--possibly to the point of painful discomfort--I just didn’t know to what degree. 

I had no idea this would be the decade I would find my voice with The Central Utah Writing Project--starting a personal blog, submitting articles for publication, traveling on assignments, and benefiting from lasting friendships with co-directors and other Fellows who not only encourage me to keep writing, but to keep living. 

The past ten years took me to Vernal, Boulder, Mesa, Minneapolis, Washington, Vegas, Charleston, Port Townsend, Victoria, Nashville, Boise, and Irvine for work and fun. While many trips to Atlanta, Yakima, Logan, and more than a few small towns in Idaho connected and reconnected me with family in ways that can only be described as healing--worthy of heartfelt song. That is, if I could sing... 

It was a decade of coaching, pioneer trekking, deer hunting, camping, fishing, 4-wheeling, temple dedicating, skiing, crossfitting, teenage driving, missionary farewelling and homecoming. It brought the beginning and ending of outlandish dance proposals and their even more clever replies, track meets, basketball games, plays, dance recitals, orchestra, choir and rock concerts. It was a decade of discovery and accomplishment mixed with the brutal realities of life. 

In many ways, our family's past decade reflects a microcosm of life itself. Half of it spent for the most part on track, its trajectory seemingly predictable, comfortably common. Until it wasn’t. Until death stole my mother from me a good ten years sooner than I had anticipated. And then, as if it hadn’t taken enough, stole from me and my children again some 163 days later--this time taking the head of our family, our leader, our trusted, wise mentor and friend. The only thing worse than losing my husband of twenty-three short years, was knowing that Kyle only got him for twenty, Lane eighteen, Anna fourteen. Perhaps enough time to leave a lasting impact, but certainly long enough to leave us all desperately longing for his counsel and love yet given. 

And so, the second half of the decade was spent in a humbling, numbing fog, grappling with the unknown as we were not only knocked off course, but were forced into a world that vaguely looked like it did days, even hours prior. Since 2015 we have learned to both embrace and resent the word resilient in our home. Social media, gaming, fast food, and Amazon Prime--the world’s empty antidotes--gave us some reprieve but not like our faith, connection to family, and the volumes of heartfelt prayers sent up in our behalf did (and let us not discount the impact of a good therapist and medication that sometimes make the world just a little easier to face).     

The second half of this decade took me to my knees with grief, despair, and prayer. It saw me rocking widowhood for a whole nine months before deliberately deciding to break every rule in the widow handbook, hoping to spare me and my children from anymore pain. But instead, we faced new challenges and opportunities for growth that death alone did not offer. Spending the past few years as a newlywed in my late forties, trying to create a new life while hanging on to some of the past, and watching my kids struggle then give up on college, religion, and relationships was not what I expected in this stage of life and has been almost more than I could bear. But by the same token, this unexpected, Plan B approach to life has taught me to worry less, especially now that I know what it's like to live after all you've planned for and hold dear turns to dust in an instant. The worry isn't worth it and only steals from what may be known as the good ol' days...much sooner than you think.

Now we find ourselves pressing forward, walking into the next decade bound together by hope. This past year has taught me to accept my children’s choices as I have gained a firm testimony of  the integral role agency plays in all our experiences here on earth. Likewise, my children have taught me to trust them in their decision making as they have fully trusted in mine. While the healing balm of gratitude has always been a key factor in my life’s happiness and outlook, the past six months especially have confirmed to me, with some of the most intense realization, that God is in the details. He does not forget his children, and he keeps his promises when we keep ours--mothers' especially. How can I not be grateful, full of hope?

As I dare look ahead to the next decade, I imagine I will officially earn the title of Grandma. I suspect I will get a master's degree and perhaps put it to use by becoming a principal. I plan to finish what I hope will be a memoir worth reading, live my fifties to the fullest, and find a low-impact exercise I honestly enjoy. That said, I have every intention of continuing to eat whatever I want without gaining weight and doubt I will ever learn to sing or play an instrument as my "goals" have indicated the past four decades. I plan to retire from teaching at some point but will stay in the classroom as long as I can, or until former students quit approaching me at the grocery store to tell me how much they loved having me as their teacher. I will more than likely say goodbye to my in-laws and a few aunts and uncles but hopefully no one before they are ready. I plan to read more good books and spend far too much money on clothes, skin care, and eating out. I pray my children will continue to include me in their lives as they realize the undeniable impact they've had on mine. I hope I am afforded opportunities to spend more time with my siblings and extended family as they keep me connected with my parents and my past. Finally, I hope to cultivate the love I need to invest in and benefit from all of the beautiful second chances I have been blessed with in this life. 

Pray more.
Love more.
Connect more.

If I am allowed to do these things with and for those I love, I will consider the next decade a success. I wish the same for you as you both reflect and project on your life in the days ahead. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

A Widow's Return

A Widow’s Return--a tribute to my Grandma Reeder

For years she peered from her side kitchen window, 
An empty house, an empty table, a lonely heart. 
The occasional visit brightened her day 
But was often overshadowed by hours 
Of vain anticipation, anxiously awaiting the simplest of events.

Now, expectation is satisfied.
Her table is surrounded–never to be empty again.
Gone are lonely dinners, empty mailboxes, and silent phones.
Hungry arms now greet her as eternal embraces grab hold,
Never to be loosed again.
Hands, once wrinkled and calloused, reunite with youthful vigor.
Clasped forever, all voids are filled.

For months she stewed and worried
About passing through the veil,
Her vision and memories clouded by earthly limitation,
Her heart trapped between this life and the next.

But now, she is free.
Perfect faith overrides the doubt that once confused.
Understanding tempers fear as she soars high above
The concerns which once held her bound.
While friends and family gather,
Vivid memories replace faded photographs in her mind.
The blur of life is slowed, focused.
Quiet recollections euphorically contemplate the years.
All is clear again.

For days she suffered as her body failed.
Loving visits met silence, strength dissipated,
And the load grew too heavy to bear.
Clinging to what pride and dignity remained,
She endured it well.

Now, patience is unnecessary.
The wait is over on both sides of the veil.
Hearts reach out as joy assuages pain.
Laughter replaces loneliness, unvanquished truth
Fills the gaps of the mind.
A life of work is rewarded and labor rests.
With shouts of acclamation, a lovely daughter returns Home.
No longer a widow. Never again, alone.

Christine Cluff Thompson
September 26, 2009

Monday, December 17, 2018

The Giving Void

On Friday my daughter surprised me at work with one of my newfound favorites from Chick-fil-A--a very rich and highly addictive frozen lemonade. But along with her thoughtfulness came a flood of bittersweet memories. As she walked toward my desk and our eyes met, all I could see was her dad bringing me my weekly Cafe Rio fix four long years ago. Her eager-to-please, smiling eyes mirrored his so uncannily, it may as well have been him extending the heartwarming gesture. In that moment, I saw his love for me reflected in her. Yet another way life after loss does not allow for happy times without the sting of sadness seeping in, especially when we are on the receiving end of love--love that we ache and long for from those who are no longer with us.

Of course I didn’t want to share this with Anna in the moment because I have found that when I do express the bitter-sweet connections, my children (and others) often refrain from offering the sweet in an attempt to shield me from the bitter, not realizing that this is entirely unavoidable. It just is. It’s part of life after loss. And so, I remain quiet...and grateful for the opportunities I still have to give and receive from some. But sad because I can no longer give to others, an undeniable truth I haven’t dared explore...until now.

I was again reminded of this gift giving-receiving dilemma upon opening the mail later that evening when I found that my sister had sent a care package filled with what she called “A taste of home,” complete with homemade sugar cookies, applesauce cookies, and raspberry jam--all Mom’s recipes, all made in her kitchen, all made with the love she would have sent were she still here to share her favorite holiday with us. And while the sweets brought smiles and comfort, they too highlighted how much I miss the chance I once had to both give and receive from those who taught me HOW to give and love so fiercely in this life.

This year's Christmas shopping has been the most difficult to date as I have found myself feeling hollow and numb in the midst of buying for family members, friends, and colleagues. Even though I'm confident I have found exactly what they might want or need, I realize I am missing out on one crucial opportunity: I miss buying for him. Period. Not because I knew his tastes so well or because I got it right most of the time. In fact, more often than not, I knew I had totally missed the mark with workwear, golf accessories, or shoes he didn’t like or need. But still, I miss buying and doing for him. Likewise, I miss his failed and not-so-failed attempts at buying for me. Two perfectly paired awful gift givers who got really good at feigned satisfaction over the years until we finally agreed to shop together, leaving the surprises for Santa and the kids.

Now, alongside my yearnings, longings, and achings, I realize I can still buy for those I love and revel in their delight as we gather together this season. I realize I have been blessed with a thoughtful, loving second husband who is one of the most adept, heartfelt givers this family has ever known (thanks to his generous nature and Amazon Prime!). I realize I can still give my children a piece of their father by sharing stories and memorabilia with them.  And yes, I recognize I can donate items in my late love’s honor. I can perform acts of kindness and service in his name. I know there is much I can do in his behalf to keep his memory alive. But (and this is a really big but…) I will never again share in the beautiful exchange that takes place when one buys, wraps, and watches as their (missing) loved one opens a gift personally selected just for him. I will not share in the joy of gift giving with him...or my mom...or my dad ever again. The three people in my life who taught me the priceless nature of giving, both the tangible and intangible, are no longer here to share in the reciprocity inherent in gift giving--the symbolic reason for the season as we like to say. And while I cling to the blessings my children, Rod, siblings, and friends are in my life, the void left by those now on the other side is unfillable. That is the power of love. Therein lies the power of giving, I suppose.  

So this holiday, when we are fretting about buying or making the perfect gifts, I hope we can enjoy the fretting. Enjoy the process, the anticipation, the satisfaction, and maybe even the disappointment. Whether our gift-giving is so totally right or so miserably wrong, let’s enjoy the fact that we can still serve and buy for in-laws, spouses, children, and all who play an integral role in making us the givers and receivers we are. Let’s eat it up. Revel in it! Because we never know when the opportunity to give will be taken from us--when we will miss seeing our love wash over their grateful faces or hear their voices of genuine (or feigned) appreciation say "Thank you" one last time as they fold that unwearable shirt, set it aside, and pat it...with love.  

Monday, August 13, 2018

Seasons of Light

Seasons of Light
July 2018

He is the sun.
You, the moon...

Two parallel forces--

One pushing from the past,
a warm, constant nudge.
One pulling toward the future,
an ebb and flow of
shifting tides.

One’s blinding clarity,
Lighting decided paths.
The other,
a reflective shadow,
Waiting in the bright of day
to illuminate
the dark night,
Revealing countless
Wishes otherwise concealed.

Warm comfort
giving way to
cool relief,
giving way to rest.

Until, perfect alignment
Eclipses my world,
snuffing out all light.

And now--

You are the sun.
He is my moon…

Tuesday, August 15, 2017



When I first posted this picture in June of 2015, the caption read “I am confident that my parents look down on this man every day, grateful for the husband and father he is...”  I remember liking the way the light was shining behind Marv as though my parents were there in the doorway, offering their approval from beyond the grave of this man who was able to temper their stubborn, opinionated daughter and give her 24 years of understanding, confidence, compliments, and unconditional love.

Now, when I look at this photo, all I see is an almost-blinding foreshadowing.

On the evening of August 14, 2015, just two months after this picture was taken, I sat on my living room sofa in a state of nerve-numbed shock. Earlier that day, I had been called to Mountainview Hospital thinking my husband had simply passed out (and, maybe, just maybe, it had resulted in a heart arrhythmia that would require surgery). Instead, I was directed to a trauma room in the ER where Marv's lifeless body was still experiencing the violence of CPR--a frantic team of doctors and nurses surrounding him in a last ditch effort to bring him back.

Their efforts proved futile.

Our family’s world was turned on end that day. His siblings left the hospital without a brother, his parents without a son, my children without a father, and I walked out of the ER without the one person who, next to my parents, knew me best and loved me the most.

I didn't feel entirely helpless as I could still walk and talk (sort of...), but after losing both my parents and my husband before my 45th birthday, I definitely felt defeated and alone.

Yes, I still had my children.
Yes, I had extended family.
Yes, I had close friends.

But the three people who had played an integral role in shaping me into who I was up to that point, were gone. Two of them within a matter of months. All of them yanked from my life without warning.  

Feeling lost, alone, and just a smidge picked on by God himself, I sat in my front room surrounded by my closest friends and three cousins who dropped everything in their busy lives to be with me and my children while my siblings were enroute. I’m not sure what time it was or if someone else mentioned it first, but I do remember the moment it hit me.

It was on this very day back in 1976 when my mother received the dreaded phone call that her dad had passed away after battling stomach cancer, leaving my grandmother a widow at 61. Five years old at the time, I have few memories of my Grandpa Reeder, but I do recall the drive to Idaho the day following his death--mostly because Dad got pulled over for speeding in Oregon, and when Mom tried explaining to the officer the reason for our hasty trip, his monotone “I’m sorry, Ma’am” sparked a tear-laden fury in my mother that still rings in my ears. “You’re sorry," she said, leaning over my father and barking out the driver's side window, "but you’re still going to write us a ticket! That’s just great! You’re sorry?…”

Needless to say, Dad was cited and the added expense only fueled Mom’s frustration of living so far away from family, especially at a time like this.

To date, I only remember one other scene from my grandfather’s passing: the moment my mom and grandmother were finally able to embrace.

It was a muffled, teary exchange--one of the few displays of tender emotion I ever saw the two share. That was the day I learned what the word “widow” meant. But it wouldn’t be until August of 2000 when Mom and I shared this same teary embrace, herself a widow at the age of 60, that I began to understand the word’s true meaning.

Or so I thought.

Still numb on the sofa, it then occurred to me that we lost my dad’s mom on this same day just three years prior in 2012.  My Grandma Cluff was the only family member I’ve said goodbye to with any measure of satisfaction. Anna and I knelt at her beside just hours before her passing and read a letter filled with goodbyes of gratitude for the 98 years of love and laughter she provided in her lifetime. Her parting words to me and two of my children were “Keep the faith and love the Lord”—a far cry from my Grandma Reeder’s parting words to us when we visited her the summer of 2008 and she bid us adieu with a sarcastic, “Well, I’ll see you all in Hell someday!” shocking my children into a full fit of laughter and providing just the right amount of comic relief she always had.

Aside from highlighting the differences between my grandmothers’ personalities, these encounters showcase the differences between two women who'd navigated the world of divorce and widowhood for 60-plus and nearly-33 years respectively.  And, based on my last exchanges with each of them, I could only conclude that widowhood had the potential to make one much more cynical and bitter than divorce…

So there I sat in my living room, a 44-year-old widow, contemplating the multiple losses that August 14th now represented in my life: a grandfather, a grandmother, and my husband of twenty-three years—all on a day that had been considered a day of mourning in my home since 1976.

I suppose that is when this very picture came to mind, filling me with a measure of unwelcomed peace.

I now believe this photo captures what took place just minutes before I was called to the ER two years ago: Marv being summoned then greeted on the other side by his grandparents and other family members, including my parents and grandparents who were not only heartbroken to see him so soon, but were eager to send a message to me in my desperate state of brokenness.

A message of empathy.
A message of understanding.
A message of love.
A message of concern.
A message of mourning.
A message that it was, indeed, “Marv’s time.”
A message that if he had to go, August 14th meant he was in good company.
A message that I was not alone in my pain.
A message that losing my husband in August was now a rite of passage--one I could navigate with the help of my mother and grandmother's example.

It was a message that convinced me, along with this photo, that there really are no coincidences in life…or in death.

Only messages from those we love.

Messages that, if we allow them, will carry us into all of our tomorrows.

Even when tomorrow never comes.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

What Do I Make?

What do I Make?
a poem inspired by Taylor Mali's What Teachers Make

I helped make my children.
But I aside from that, I haven’t been able to make
them do or be anything since
--at least with any measure of success.

Have you ever tried making a four-year-old clean his room?  

By the time I had raised all three of my children,
I had tried every “loving and il-logical” way imaginable:
over-positive reinforcement,
and my all-time worst mothering method--i-Robot,
in which I stood behind my second son,
his wrists in my hands,
and forcefully bent him over,
refusing to let him up
until he had a toy in his grasp,
so we could walk it to the closet
and put it away in its "proper" place.  

We both cried that day.
And I remember realizing
(much sooner than most parents, I believe)
that I cannot make my children do or be anything.  
I can teach.
I can expect,
I can lead,
I can hope,
I can allow,
I can encourage,
I can champion,
I can ignore,
I can praise,
I can love.

So I did.

Then, I sat back and watched as they became  
a dancer,
a musician,
a runner,
a singer,
a missionary,
an orator,
a listener,
a loving sibling,
a writer,
a funny girl,

and perhaps most importantly,
my children became exactly who they were meant to be
--not out of force or manipulation or because
“You’ll be a nerd if you don’t make the basketball team like Mom did.”  

And, because I was a coach more so than a creator,
I do not mistakenly take the credit for who my children have become.

I now sit in a seat of satisfaction
and honor the beautiful, imperfect human beings they are
--people who any other beautiful, imperfect human being
will benefit from knowing and loving.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Mama Dragon Project--my initial thoughts

While I love the Mama Dragon Project and the individual accounts, I find it ironic that the format of each story feeds into the stereotypical “perfect Mormon” myth by beginning each account with a Mormon Mommy Resume. Yes, I understand these mothers are trying to establish the fact that they are “devoted” members, but by doing so they assume that readers will not find them credible if they didn’t do X, Y, and Z prior to discovering that their child was gay.  It feels as though each storyteller is saying, “I was a near-perfect mother...I served diligently...my husband was the bishop… I was 100%...an all-in Mormon” and this still happened to ME.  And if it could happen to someone as devoted as I am, it could happen to YOU.”  I think this highlights one of the cultural imperfections in our membership--that somehow our works, our service, our callings, our payment of tithing...whatever X,Y, or Z might be, will save us from encountering situations or life circumstances that are contrary to the gospel storyline or even church policy.  

To that I can't help but ask: How arrogant are we?

My mother was what I will call a pre-generational Mama Dragon. She quietly faced this challenge some thirty years ago during a time when no one spoke of being gay--at church or anywhere really--unless it was in mockery or in jest. She went to her grave with many unanswered questions, but she never doubted her faith, she never expected the church to change its policies, and she never questioned her love for my sister--a gay Mormon. They were close friends and confidants, attending church together for family ordinances and other special occasions. They didn’t demand that people understand their circumstances because they themselves didn’t have all the answers. All that each of them asked for was love and respect.  And, really, isn’t that what we all want?  Isn’t that what we all deserve--near-perfect resume or not?

Throughout my life I have watched church policies come and go regarding race, adoption, sexual orientation, and yes, even policies regarding which widows and widowers can or cannot be married for time in the temple. All of these have affected me and people I love dearly, and I feel that these experiences have allowed me to ask tough questions...some of which I am still waiting patiently to understand. However, I have had enough experience to reach the conclusion that God is not homophobic, sexist, or racist (as some have suggested) and neither is the church I belong to. I was taught to love others by imperfect parents and by imperfect people at church (granted, sometimes by their non-examples). I have quietly waited for others to catch the vision of love and acceptance for the LGBT community, but like my mother, demanding that others see things through my paradigm isn’t my style. So...for those who are just now cluing-in to the fact that people say mean things in spite of our basic human need for acceptance, that church policies change on a regular basis (or stay the same) regardless of our circumstances, that our works don’t guarantee us or our children happy lives, and that sometimes we don’t get the answers we want immediately...I say welcome to the real world.  We’ve been waiting for you.