Friday, August 26, 2016

The Day our Lives Changed Forever (Part 1)

It was a Thursday morning like any other, except it wasn't.

I remember that I awoke greeting the day, rather than the day greeting, or rather tugging and pulling at me.  Troy was hustling about, grooming for another long day at work.  He asked me if I could iron his work shirt and I was happy to oblige.  Usually he does all the household ironing, but on this morning his request made me feel useful and helpful.

The three older kids rolled out of bed and one-by-one trickled down the stairs.  Dad kissed us all goodbye as he ALWAYS does.  I prepared lunches, and served breakfast to the kids.  We sent Jack off to school.  He was characteristically chipper, puckering up for me and Sam to kiss him goodbye before he rode away on his bike.  I stood at the corner with a smile on my face as I watched him ride down the court.  My mother heart was bursting with pride for the young man he had become.

I went back inside and finished getting Lucy ready for school.  I had plans for my friend Chris to come over that morning and peruse a selection of drapery panels I had purchased on sale.  I was looking forward to her visit, but I wanted my house to look presentable after the before-school whirlwind.  I started to do dishes and clean my kitchen.  I was admittedly enjoying the focused time I had to accomplish a task while Charlie slept in.

You see, with a toddler, you really don't accomplish anything.  Most of your day is spent doing damage control.  You are constantly monitoring for saftey and intercepting danger.  As soon as you clean one mess, another one has been made behind your back.  Charlie was no exception to this kind of toddler behavior.  He loved to climb up on chairs, tables, countertops, or spray and dump cleaning supplies, or draw with marker on the floor or upholstered chairs.  So naturally, I was enjoying his later wake-up time so that I could do a speed clean.

I can remember feeling like Cinderella, whistling while I worked.  I had my 4 year-old Sammy right by my side with a desire to be included in my chores.  I passed him a paper towel and together we washed some windows.  He and I were having a great time together...laughing and cleaning. 

Magical mothering moments like these are sporadic for me, which is probably why I took note of it.  I LOVE being a mom, but I also find the job description incredibly challenging.  Emotionally I struggle to find the joy in the mundane of motherhood.  I am often times impatient and selfish.  Perhaps every mom feels this way occasionally.  The nature of the job requires putting your own wants and desires on hold many times for the immediate care of your dependent children.  I was happy to be having a moment with Sam where I felt complete love for him and satisfaction in my calling as a mom.

By this time it was around 8:45 am.  The thought did cross my mind that Charlie was sleeping a lot longer than he usually does, but it made sense to me because he had skipped his nap the day before and was feeling sick the night before.  So, I wanted him to get all the recovery sleep he needed to feel refreshed and healthy.

Around this time, my daughter Lucy wanted to go wake Charlie up.  We all loved Charlie and the house didn't feel alive and fully awake until he was bopping around with his usual grin.  The kids often fought over who was going to go in and get him from his crib.  I heard his door crack open and I quickly snapped at Lucy to close the door so he could get as much sleep as possible.  I can't remember her exact comment, but she hurried and shut the door and said, "Don't worry mom, he didn't even budge".  Again, I didn't think anything of it.  I was relieved that her excitement to see him did not wake him.  (also a blessing I wouldn't realize until later)...

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

My Last Day with Charlie (excerpts from his funeral)

[This was my talk from Charlie's Funeral, which details my last day with him.]

This view makes me so happy.  I look around and I see people who love us and love Charlie!  In the Bible, in the book of John, the Savior taught his Apostles that he would not leave them comfortless.  He would send them the Comforter to abide with them, or he would visit them as well.  I testify to you, in this moment, that amid what is an unimaginable loss, we have felt that promise come to life.  We have felt the comfort of the Holy Ghost with us.  And though the Savior has not come to us, He has come to us through all of you. 

We have witnessed armies of people working and serving on our behalf, some of that service we will never know the extent of. 

A few years ago, an Apostle of our church, Elder Bednar gave a talk in General Conference titled, “Tender Mercies of the Lord” in which he defined the scriptural references to tender mercies as the “very personal and individualized blessings, strength, protection, assurances, guidance, loving-kindnesses, consolation, support, and spiritual gifts which we receive from, and because of, and through the Lord Jesus Christ.”

We have seen these tender mercies in abundance in the last week.  Today I wish to speak about one of the tenderest mercies that I have been given since Charlie’s passing, and that gift was a crystal clear rememberance of my day with him before he died.

After finding Charlie lifeless in his bed, and fumbling through what you can imagine was horrific fear, I almost instantly felt myself being carried through the day with peace and direction.  My mind was filled with happy events of the day before with my Charlie boy.  Each flashback was like a gift, hand delivered from God. 

I had remembered how I woke up feeling happy.  As a mom, I admit that I don’t always go about my tasks with a smile on my face.  But that day felt different.  I made the kids lunches.  I remember taking great care to balance all the food groups just perfectly, but not forgetting to sneak in a little treat, too.  I remember Charlie scooting down the stairs and everyone greeting him as they always got excited to do.  He had recently learned how to turn his round doorknob to let himself out and he was always as proud as could be when he would finally escape.  We sent the big kids off to school.  We had a day with nothing on the agenda.  I had hoped to get some cleaning done, but I didn’t have plans errands or appointments or the gym.  I got a text from my friend asking if I wanted to go on a bike ride.  I now believe this was special inspiration she had to text me.  I am not always the type of mom to set aside my duties to play with my kids, but for some reason I responded “yes, that sounds like a blast!”  I told Sam and Charlie to get ready for a bike ride and they were ecstatic.  Charlie loved to ride his bike.  He had a little yellow Strider bike that he was just learning how to pump and glide on.  He rode that bike or his blue truck at any chance he got.  And it was usually barefoot.  We ran into the garage and gathered our bikes and helmets and rode around in the street while waiting for our friends to arrive.  I can remember watching Charlie with such focus.  I was absolutely tickled about his new bike tricks.  I just thought he was the cutest.  When our friends arrived, he protested a little when I switched him from his own bike to the bike seat on mine.  I scooted forward so that he could see his friend, Elyse, and he let me buckle him in.  We rode to the park first where we played and spent some time on the swings.  He was so darling.  I can hear his laughter now with every upswing.  He was having the time of his life.  We then rode a little further to the duck pond.  All the kids took turns feeding the ducks bread and chasing them around.  I was talking with my friend Emily about life plans and our futures.  I again remember looking at Charlie with such a different focus.  He was standing at the edge of the pond watching all the ducks.  There were these little yellow flowering water blossoms all around him.  I wanted to pull out my camera, but for whatever reason I felt more like living in the moment.  We continued our ride back home and I can’t remember much how the conversation started, but we were talking about motherhood.  I said to Emily, “Isn’t it strange how motherhood works.  We yearn for peace and quiet, or some time alone without a thousand questions and interruptions, yet we know that when it is all gone, we will miss it desperately.”  I feel like that moment of conversation was helping me appreciate even more my role as a parent, and particularly a mother.  It was the most idyllic and heavenly morning.  Again, like a gift that Heavenly Father knew I would need the next day.

The rest of the day was really not much different.  I decided to make some chocolate chip cookies for the kids when they got home from school, just like June Cleaver would do.  Charlie and Sam were both busy helping me.  Which means they were picking more than mixing and spilling more than measuring.  Charlie loved to scoot a chair up to the counter when we were cooking.    But again, the moment was out of the norm…cookies after school were not unheard of, but certainly not the usual.

The feeling in our home was peachy.  The kids sat and did homework obediently.  I sat with them and chatted about the day.  Nobody was fighting or ornery.  It was just perfect.  Lucy was being helpful and Jack was playful with the little kids. 

I took Jack to a playdate and scurried off with only Charlie to do a quick grocery run.  Just he and I.  Before going into the store, we sat in the parking lot making our list.  He climbed all over me while I wrote.  I loved having him there alone with me.  In the store he started to protest being strapped in the cart, so I unstrapped him and let him sit in the big section of the cart.  That seemed to make his day.  In fact, I had two mini watermelons I was buying.  He took an entire watermelon and chucked it over the cart leaving a wet explosion in the store.  Instead of feeling annoyed or frustrated, I picked up the drippy watermelon in my hand and was laughing to myself thinking how darn adorable he is.  We gave it to the store employee and went on our way. 

(taken the day before Charlie died)

As the evening approached, I could tell he wasn’t feeling well.  He started to get fussy and wanted me to hold him.  When troy got home I had him sit with him for a minute while I got some Advil and a warm bottle.  I took him in my arms as I always do, pausing at the bottom of the stairs for him to say his famous Nigh Night to everyone.  I put him down for the night.

We had a sitter that night so that we could meet briefly with our church leader, President Harrison.  When we walked into his home, the Spirit was so palpable.  Everything from the way they greeted us, to the warm lighting, to our conversation, to the music, was just special.  I believe it was where we were supposed to be.  Troy and I then ran to Pinkberry for a treat, and had some very in depth conversations about our kids, family, and plans for the future. 

We got home and put the other kids to bed as we always did.  We had no idea our lives were about to change forever in the morning, but I know with a certainty that God knew and that he prepared us in the best way He could by increasing our love for our children in a way that we would only recognize after.

I miss that little stinker more that words can possibly express.  We all will.  I will miss the way he needed me.  I will miss our quiet moments together.  I will miss him doing all the things that used to drive me nuts.  Like our Jack said, “He was a cool little dude.”

We feel intense pain and sadness when we think about the void he has left, but the miracles and tender mercies we have felt have been innumerable and have assured us that it will all be okay.  We look forward to the day when we will see him again.  Until that day, we will be faithful.  We will be doing all we can to live with him again.  I know that God lives.  I know that we have a Savior who knows us, who carries our burdens when the load is too much to bear.

We love you Charlie boy.  Momma loves you.

Special thoughts from Charlie's funeral

For Charlie's funeral, I felt impressed to ask my friend Emily to share some sweet memories of Charlie.  This impression came very distinctly after kneeling in prayer, with my husband, for guidance and direction as we struggled to put together the funeral program.  We immediately drove to Emily's house to ask her if she'd be willing to take on this somewhat daunting task.  She was so willing, as I knew she would be, and I felt so good about her speaking knowing how well she knew Charlie because he and her daughter were best friends.

A few days later I began doubting our decision.  Was it too much to ask of a friend?  Should my husband or I, or a family member be the ones to be sharing about Charlie?  Did she feel overwhelmed by our request?  So I called Emily with my doubts.  She simply said,  "From the day Charlie died I somehow just knew I'd be asked to speak at his funeral and I am prepared with some thoughts and ideas."  I just started crying.  In answer to prayer, the Spirit had led us both to the same conclusion, and it was definitely meant to be that way.  Here are the words Emily shared at Charlie's funeral.  They could not have been more perfect.


CHARLIE Sept 7, 2015

I honestly feel so honored to be up here today. Our family loves Charlie so much and I know that all of us here that knew him, love him too, so I hope I can share some thoughts and memories of him that we all have and treasure. I have a little girl almost exactly the same age as Charlie, and so we’ve had a lot of play time with him the last 22 months. Charlie is one of her best friends. He is one of the only reasons she will even go to her church class every Sunday. She always says, “Charlie! Charlie! Charlie!” And he was always such a good sport to put up with her “mothering” him. She loved to feed him granola bars, pat his head, rub sunscreen on him, give him hugs and kisses and even, sometimes, look down the back of his diaper to make sure he was clean. He was a patient, sweet boy. And like my daughter, everyone wanted to be around Charlie. People were drawn to him, because they could feel of his love.
Charlie was blessed to be born into such a fun, loving, awesome family! If any of you know anything about the DeGraff’s, it’s that they love to have fun! They are always going on fun family adventures and making special memories, and Charlie was NOT just along for the ride! He wanted to be a part of everything, and he was! Charlie probably had more fun, love and adventure in 22 months than other kids have in years! Charlie was one of the most coordinated, and capable toddlers I have ever met. He could do everything. I remember giving him a ball to play with when he was so little and he threw it right back to me. And he could jump on the trampoline and even ride a strider bike! A few of my favorite memories are: that Charlie loved to RUN! Especially run away from Ali and Troy when they wanted him to come. As soon as one of them would say, “Charlie”, he would turn and look at them, with his cute little smirk on his face, with a twinkle in his eye, he would turn and start running in the other direction! (And usually with only one shoe on!) Charlie liked to run into the dug out, to hang out with Jack’s baseball team, and he also liked to run onto the soccer field to join Sam’s soccer practice and would start kicking one of the balls just like he was part of the team or he would run down the sidewalk, following the kids on their bikes, Charlie always wanted to be a part of everything.
Charlie also loved to CLIMB and was good at it! Anytime you would walk into the DeGraff’s house, you would find all the chairs up on top of the table to keep Charlie from climbing up onto the table or onto the counter or even to the sink to turn on the water. He loved to climb wherever he was and could also climb out of his crib. He would climb and find the toothpaste and squeeze it all out, everywhere. But he was just such a happy, go lucky kid that he made all of these climbing adventures seem fun and easy. He would make us all laugh and his laugh was contagious and made everyone feel happy. And as we know, “Charlie could hang!” He loved to hang on things and was so strong, Troy could lift him up to hold on a tree branch and he could hang there while Ali took a picture. And he LOVED it. He always had a big smile on his face. He could hang from trees and monkey bars and shopping carts and drinking fountains, it was so cute. He is such a fun loving kid.

Charlie also loved to SWIM! I can’t believe what a good swimmer he was! Ali would put his floaties on and he would just jump into the water and never wanted to get out! He would walk along the edge of the pool and then turn and jump right in, usually landing on a another kid! He loved to jump in over and over again. And smiling the whole time. Charlie didn’t say much, but he always had this happy look in his eyes, and he knew what was going on. He knew much more than we did. He was like a wise, old soul, with so much love and understanding. Charlie was always happy and everyone wanted him around because they could feel his love through his sweet, kind personality.
Charlie was a LOVER! I remember even when he was little, he would let me hold him and he would wrap his arms around me and hug me and just snuggle right in. And let me hold him forever. He would give hugs to people he didn’t even know, but especially to his family. I know that he gave lots of hugs, cuddles and love to Ali, Troy, Jack, Lucy and Sam. Maybe he was just giving us lots of extra love so that we would know how much he loves us. I asked Sam if he liked to wrestle with Charlie and he said, “he would sit on our heads and pull our hair!” He loved his brothers and sister so much! I know that Lucy loved to tickle his tummy and make him laugh! Troy and Charlie seemed to have such a special, strong bond, possibly because Charlie loved adventure as much as Troy! I remember how Troy would hold Charlie’s feet in one hand and let him balance and hold him way up high and Charlie would just laugh! He also loved to sneak sips of Troy’s soda. And Charlie was Ali’s little buddy. Always hanging out and loving each other! He loved to be on the front of his moms bike for family bike rides. Charlie is blessed to be a part of an amazing, strong, righteous family! As you know, toddlers are your WHOLE LIFE! They demand every minute of your attention, to make sure that all their needs are met and that they are safe and taken care of and they are SO BUSY and it’s all you do! But toddlers are also the WHOLE LIFE of a family! Charlie was the life of his family! Charlie made everyone laugh, Charlie made everyone happy, Charlie made everyone play, Charlie made everyone have fun, Charlie made everyone serve, Charlie made everyone feel better and Charlie made everyone feel loved.
Of all these precious memories, how could I best describe Charlie? It is this: Charlie is love. Charlie loved his family, he loved being with them, he trusted them , he loved others and he showed loved through his hugs and kisses and through his bright blue eyes. He loved every minute of his life which his family helped him live to the fullest. I hope we can all be like Charlie and show this unconditional love to others. Charlie, we love you, thank you for teaching us how to love. We know your love will continue forever and we’ll miss you everyday.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Our Last Summer with Charlie

I am lucky enough to live with a man who loves adventure and creating memories with and for his family.  His zealousness for constant activity is sometimes met with resistance by me.  I am a homebody, I've come to realize.  Or at least that is what I look like in contrast to his constant need for fun and stimulation.  Usually when he is coming up with fun vacation ideas or outings, I grumble about cleaning out the garage, or staying home to do chores.  Boring.  
Never have I been more grateful for his pushing and prodding for more vacations than I was last summer.  The summer of 2015.  Our last summer with Charlie before he died.

Our summer of 2015 was filled with family, friends, vacations and outings.  Charlie was just a toddler.  A busy, exhausting toddler.  Vacations sounded fun to me, but they also sounded like a lot of work and I am the first to admit that the thought of extra work gives me anxiety.  Vacations require planning, packing, loading, flexibility in sleep schedules, laundry, driving in the car for a loooooong time, money, etc.  Sometimes it just sounds easier to stay home.  But Troy was insisting on a few trips, and I knew we would just have to make it work to accommodate all the needs of our children.

One of the first pre-summer trips we took was to Disneyland and Southern California.  True to his personality, Charlie was so easy going at Disneyland.  We really didn't do many activities tailored to him, but instead he was content to follow the older kids around and watch what they were doing.  I do remember taking him on one kiddie ride, Dumbo.  The trip wouldn't have felt complete without letting him ride that iconic ride.  He was ecstatic.  It was at night and all the magical lights of the park were below us.  It didn't take long for him to find the control stick that made Dumbo go up and down.  He and Sam fought for the control.  He wasn't a wildly expressive boy, but you could certainly tell by the smirk on his face when he was elated.  

He also loved the beach.  We spent a day at Crystal Cove and another at Three Arch Bay.  He loved the water and wasn't scared of the waves, which put us on high alert.  At 3 Arch, Troy dug him a huge play hole of water to splash in with the other kids.  He loved jumping in and filling up buckets of water.  At the end of a long beach day, I wrapped a towel around him.  He LOVED to be wrapped up in a towel and it seemed like the perfect way to "wrap" up the perfect day.

We also enjoyed a good number of boat days.  It was fun to have Charlie with us as a toddler rather than an infant.  He was really mesmerized by the boat, and he LOVED water.  As long as he had his water wings on, he could basically participate in anything.  I have sweet memories of Sam paddle boarding Charlie back and forth between me and Troy.  Charlie was loving the free ride and giggling the entire way.

After Charlie died, I was very happy that we had just spent time with both sides of the family.  We enjoyed a DeGraff reunion in McCall, ID and a Sessions reunion in Lake Tahoe.  It was really special to think that his cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents all got to know him a little better before he passed away.  

In Tahoe, a few memories stand out.  One day we were rollerskating when all of a sudden the skies turned from blue to black and out of nowhere nickle-sized hail began pounding from the sky.  I grabbed my camera and we ran into the hail with the kids, singing and shouting and celebrating.  It was so much fun.  

I can also remember that Charlie was very jealous of my 3 sister-in-laws newborn babies.  Every time I would be holding one of their babies, he would run over and try to get into my arms.  We have him on video trying to weasel his way into my lap for my sole attention and affection while I was holding a baby cousin.  

In Idaho, we went to a rodeo, played on our Aunt Brooke's farm, and spent time at the beautiful Tamarak resort area.  Charlie loved being around his cousins and wanted to be doing what they were doing.  If 20 kids were piled into the hot tub, he wanted to be number 21.  If cousins were riding bikes, he would hop on a skateboard and join in.  We spent 8 hour days at the lake and he was such a trooper.  One of the most impressive things was that he could paddle a child-sized kayak on his own.  He would be out in the middle of the lake right along with everyone else on paddleboards, boats and kayaks.  

I have beautiful memories of him walking along the sandy beach and through the tall grass.  I couldn't get enough of his wobbly walking and his curious spirit.  He just wanted to explore everything!

On the last day in Idaho, we went to one of our favorite river spots.  The scenery is nothing short of heavenly and peaceful.  Charlie and I spent most of the day together on a paddleboard alongside dad, stopping to take pictures occasionally.  Charlie insisted on holding and using his own paddle.  

One of the last trips of our summer was camping in Santa Cruz.  Oh how I fought the idea of a camping trip, and I am so happy I lost.  It was a two day trip.  Yes, it was a ton of work, but so worth it once we got there.  We brought two tents.  One for us and the big kids, and a small one dedicated just to Charlie with high hopes that it would help him sleep better.  That was definitely wishful thinking.  The first night we tried to put him to sleep in his "own" tent with his pack and play inside, he instantly hoped out and started scratching and pushing on the door from inside.  We all sighed, then laughed and tried to put him down again.  And again.  And again.  Needless to say, he ended up sleeping with us that night, the little rascal.

Aside from sleeping, of course he loved camping.  He was mesmerized by the fire.  He loved helping his older siblings gather wood and fire burning bushes.  He spent a lot of time playing in the dirt and during the day, he enjoyed trips to the nearby ocean.  He was such an easy guy to have along for any ride.  

One night at sunset on the beach, Troy grabbed my camera and took a few shots of me snuggling with Sam and Charlie.  I am so grateful for those pictures because usually I am not in any pictures.  Now I treasure any shot of Charlie and I especially love seeing us together.  

I am so grateful for my husband and his push to go on vacations and outings as a family.  We have a lot of sweet memories that aren't vacations, but some of the most tangible memories are of the times we were enjoying one another together.  This year has been rough trying to enjoy and make new memories with one member of the family absent.  To be honest, it is not the same.  It is very sad for us to feel that void.  We miss Charlie as a wonderfully fun and spunky addition to our family.