Tag Archives: death

Farm Pond in NebraskaWhile casually chatting with some new friends, one looks up and glances toward the lake where our kids are exploring. He asks about a noise he heard. The other Dad listens. “That’s not a good yell!” He says – and takes off running.

I didn’t hear the commotion, but knowing my kids are about 600 yards away by the farm pond, I too took off running.

Since lunch wouldn’t be ready right away, the kids decided to go explore the farm. I didn’t think too much of it, but later when I heard they were out by the lake, a small voice urged me to go check on them. And yet, I ignored it.

Well, I didn’t actually ignore it, but I did argue with that little voice. As an older father with a long history in EMS, I tend to be a bit cautious. I want my kids to inherit my adventuresome spirit, but I’d like them to survive.

I never feared death until my kids were born. Now, I feel vulnerable to death. It would kill me to lose them, and I’d hate to abandon them through my own death. For someone who embraces adventure and dangerous activities, it’s a weird place to be.

So here I am, running through waist deep grass and weeds about 30 feet behind my friend. We still don’t know what’s going on, but we can hear panicked screams of terror from at least one child. But we can’t see them. I’m praying the whole way and preplanning resuscitation scenarios in my head. I’m also steeling myself, emotionally, to do CPR on one of my kids.

Suddenly the weeds get thick and we can’t run. The vines are wrapping around our ankles and the nettles are stinging our legs. The urgency is still there, but I feel like a turtle running through peanut butter. We’re really in deep weeds now.

I catch a sight of my Smiling Son’s white cowboy hat, and I can see he’s walking around – but he’s near the lake. I call our my Darling Daughter’s name – once, twice, and she finally answers. The screaming calms and the kids appear out of the deep weeds. Just then, I get dive bombed by bees.

As I continue to struggle through the vines and grass, I’m waving my arms trying to fend off the bees. The kids tell us that they were attacked by bees. Ah, now they tell me! 😉

I get through the weeds and away from the offended nest. I have a million grass seeds in my socks and shoes, and few stings from the nettles, but I escaped the angry bees. The kids are fine, except for a few stings, but they are all scared and relieved to see us. I, on the other hand am out of breath and filled with the adrenaline rush of fear, panic, and genuine parental concern.

I take turns holding my kids and soothing their fear.

That’s one of the hard things about being a parent. It doesn’t matter what emotions are in your own heart, your kids’ needs come first. They feared bees, I feared something more tragic and scary. They feared the physical pain of stingers, I feared losing one or both of them. Clearly, my fears trump theirs – but that is irrelevant. I held them. Their fears are real, and deep, and tragic.

At their ages, they could never understand the depth of my love for them. My Smiling Son and I have a little bedtime ritual. He tries to one-up me on how much he loves me more than I love him. I love his confidence and enthusiasm as he tries to show me how much he loves me. It’s a form of worship really. But, without crushing his spirit, I can never let him win this game.

First, he doesn’t understand, really, the depth of love we are really talking about. Second, he can never love me more. And finally, the stakes are high – our kids have to know the depth of our love for them. They have to know that our love is a nearly bottomless pit.

As we walked back to the farm-house, the kids shared their stories of the “hundreds and millions of bees” that attacked them. We two Dads, just held them, listened, and thanked God for the opportunity to still hold our kids.

The kids have been sleeping with us due to the flu and all the changes lately. Last night my son had a 102° f temperature and was feeling really miserable. About 2am, I rolled over and put my hand on his chest – partly diagnostic, partly to comfort. As a paramedic, I’m attuned to temperature, skin condition, and breathing. But what I found disturbed me.

I sat up awake. Smiling Son was motionless, and I didn’t sense he was breathing. I put my finger between his ribs, where I should be able to feel his heart beat. I felt nothing. I still couldn’t sense any breathing – nor could I hear him breathing. I grabbed his arm to feel his radial pulse. His arm was cool and lifeless – I was now fully awake and fully intent. I couldn’t feel a pulse in his wrist, but as my hand moved up to check his brachial pulse, he stirred and pulled his arm away.

Joy and relief shot through my body and then I was filled with a wave of nausea like I’ve never experienced before.

I hugged him close, kissed his forehead, and then fell asleep praying for my whole family.

Living on the edge is not easy. We are poor, unemployed, and living on the kindness of new friends. But we’ve never been at more peace. In retrospect, I would not change the course of the past several years. I still would not back down to those who think I should sacrifice my family for the sake of a mere career.

Just down the road from Rainier is a weathered sign indicating a Whistling Swan refuge and nesting wetlands. The sign, as are the wetlands, seem to be unnoticed and even forgotten by most. I had never heard of Whistling Swans until I saw this sign, but a quick check online revealed they are now called Tundra Swans. They spend their Summers in the Arctic Tundra, and they Winter in various places throughout North America.

We have lived here for five years and I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a Tundra Swan. But last week, just before collapsing into bed, I heard an unusual calling in the night sky. It was softer and more melodic than a Canadian Goose. It wasn’t ducks. It almost sounded like the squawk of a Great Blue Heron, but softer – and there were many birds. The herons don’t fly in flocks.

A few days later, I heard them again. And then the next night both of us heard them. After a quick search of my Audubon Bird app, I was able to determine we were hearing Tundra Swans. It was exciting to read about this magnificent bird with a 10 foot wingspan, a tremendous migratory history, and their faithful mating practices.

I heard several more flocks going overhead last night, and when I got up this morning, I watched two flocks overhead. Now, recognizing their call, I didn’t even need binoculars to identify them – for they were high in the sky.

As I stood on our now empty back deck on this cool, Fall morning, I could feel change in the air. Fall, for whatever reason, has always been my favorite season. This might be true for many introverts. It is a time of change, a time of reflection, and a time of mourning. We mourn the loss of Summer – and this has been one of the best Summers the Pacific NW has experienced in quite sometime.

Maybe it’s a melancholy thing – Fall that is. Nothing brings out the depth of melancholy like the changes of Fall. Winter, and its bleakness are soon to be here, and Summer celebrations are winding down. Fall is the harbinger of death, Winter epitomizes death itself.

I thought I’d made peace with our foreclosure and departure. But yesterday, I realized I hadn’t. As I walked beside our house, up a gravel path my friend Jack helped me lay, I was struck by a sense of mourning. This is a good house, it is on a great piece of property, and everyone mentions how peaceful it is here. If I were one to cry easily, I would have cried at these thoughts. Nonetheless, I was struck by a sense of grief and loss.

In a couple of days we will be throwing away everything that has no real value; we will be donating some stuff to a local charity; and we will be selling the last of our furniture and appliances. In a few days, we will be joining millions across America in a homelessness brought about by a decline in the middle class. We will retrace the long journey of our ancestors on the Oregon Trail, but in reverse. What took them months, we will undo in a matter of days.

The Whistling Swan is now called the Tundra Swan, but I’m sure you won’t find a single one that is even remotely concerned by the name change. Like those who have criticized us for letting ourselves fall into poverty, unemployment, and homelessness, I am unconcerned. My concerns lie in the health of our family. It’s better to be concerned about issues that actually affect our lives.

This morning, I awoke at 3am. I saw the brightness of the night, illuminated by an almost full moon. I heard the Tundra Swans flying south for the Winter. My mind raced through the thousands of details yet to be dealt with before our evacuation. My mind was not at rest, nor was my heart at peace. I prayed, I surrendered, I accepted.

I opened a book to a chapter describing Lot and his family being evacuated from Sodom before its destruction. They were hesitant, they were afraid, and they were confused. The author described Lot as being “stupefied by fear.” I’ve seen this, as a paramedic dealing with some of life’s most terrible events, I’ve seen people in complete disarray and totally undone by what they have witnessed and/or experienced. I understand this phase.

I have good reason to be afraid. I have good reason to be hesitant. I even have good reason to be in mourning. But I also have good reason to be courageous. I have a very good reason to be bold. I even have a good reason to celebrate the changes that lie ahead. Not that I naturally pursue the positive outlook, I tend to be too cerebral for that – too melancholy – and way too prepared for the “what-if.”

As I read last night, I was reminded again about the consequences of leadership. One can lead into success or failure. Lot’s leadership, or the lack thereof, resulted in hesitancy in his family. First, his wife, grieving for the past, turned and looked back on the wealth she was leaving behind. No doubt memories, mementos, and friendships lost to the destruction flooded her heart with sadness. She lost her life and Lot lost his wife – all because of doubt and hesitancy. Later, his daughters committed detestable acts because of their own doubt.

We have struggled, we have prayed, we have grieved, and we have been discouraged. I lost my job three years ago because I would not put my job before my family. I gave up my job five months ago for the same reason. We believe we are being led into a new adventure – one filled with greater peace, greater health, and great opportunity than what lies here.

We are done here. It is sad – but don’t grieve, don’t pity, and don’t offer condolences. Please help us to celebrate a new opportunity to trust God fully, Yes, empathize with the challenges, but do not encourage us to wallow in grief – that is not only dangerous, but unnecessary.

Note: In the short-term, we have been invited to stay with my Wonderful Wife’s aunt, on her ranch in Nebraska. We don’t know what the future holds after this.

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