They are intense crimson red blossoms, with deep green stems, climbing their way up the trellis by my front door. And spilling over the sides of the pot are miniature round petals bedecked with tiny white flowers. Such bittersweet beauty.
You see, they are the first thing I noticed when returning home just after the Sheriff's Department called off the search for Steve a year ago. My Mom and oldest sister had been busy giving my garden some love, in hopes that I would feel their love every time I looked at it. And I have. I do...except for today.
The warmth in the air, the angle of the early August sun and the timely bloom of those lovely petals all serve to transport me right back to a year ago--August 2nd--the day of Steve's accident.
I still have frequent memories of Steve; some coming unbidden, while others are specifically sought after and pulled up from my ample cache of memories, forty years in the making.
But one of the biggest shifts I've noticed with the passage of time is that I don't sense his presence with me much anymore. It feels as though he has been mercifully peeling my fingers off of his arms one by one as I sleep. And when I wake in the morning, I sense he has taken yet one more incremental step away from us.
He seems to know that this is what we need if the wounds are ever going to have a chance to move toward healing. I craved his presence, those "visits"; though I must admit the pain was searing. Love and pain, arm in arm.
But then, that's what so much of this year has been like: striking contrasts living, moving and breathing right alongside each other:
Love and Pain.
Anxiety and Peace.
Heroism and Deceit.
Connection and Loneliness.
Faith and Fear.
It's really almost never just one pure thing. That would be too simple.
I could so easily get immobilized with all of the negatives. But I know they each have something to teach me about myself...humanity...life...faith. So I don't want to just turn my back on them or push them so far down I might not see them for months. Quite the contrary. Rather than push them out of the room, from time to time I've been inviting them in. I can tell they're around by the heavy warmth in my chest, or an almost audible hum behind my ears, as if to say "There's something important going on here. Pay attention, Carrie."
It's a form of being present to myself, loving myself: "weeping with those who weep". (It just so happens that the weeper and the weepee are one in the same!) I think my very natural emotions deserve at least this much from me.
At the same time, it's been a choice to focus on the beauty that has allowed me to get out of bed and put one foot in front of the other each day: to receive the love that continues to come my way so lavishly...to savor the inexplicable peace of God when I slow down enough to take it in...to maintain relationships with those loving and heroic people who continue to step forward and give me fresh experiences of "God with skin on".
I know we all feel a tug of war within our hearts from time to time; a battle over where our focus and energies will go.
So as I rest this weekend in the cozy seaside cabin my new friends, Gayle & Pres, have so generously offered to me, I will soak in their love, the steady rhythms of the ocean, the companionship of my good, honest friends Kevin and Shelly who knew Steve so well, and pray for healing when those welcome memories and waves of pain move through me.
7.29.15 THOSE "BIG GIRL PANTIES"!
Today was one of "those" days: the kind of day that presents you with new challenges around just about every corner. Lots of opportunities to pull up those big girl panties and just "deal"!!
The "simple" water softening appliance ("simple" was the technician's choice of words--not mine!) is proving a more formidable foe than I anticipated. I got a lesson from the technician on its' care and feeding and then proceeded to care too much and feed too little. So when Ellie went to add salt today, things just didn't look right. Time to get serious about doing it right!
Then I had been puttering around in my yard for a few hours, enjoying the pleasant sound of my neighbor's new water feature when I realized it sounded awfully close--may-be-even-in-MY-yard-close! Yikes! I rounded the corner of my house to see my hose bib prostrate on the ground while our oh-so-expensive, you'd think it was liquid gold water came gushing out of the tap and flooding a large area below it. (Can't wait to see THAT water bill!)
No sooner had I cleaned up that problem than I heard my dogs yell "fight!" and race with great speed and purpose to our back fence to mix it up with the dog that lives behind us. Unfortunately, the fence was weak and the pit bull was strong! She deftly pushed the fence board right off its' nails, allowing herself plenty of space to not only bare her impressive teeth but also take a lightning-quick swipe at my very lovable (but not so bright) pup, plunging claws so deep into his chest that she ripped right through his hide and down into the underlying muscle. So off we went to the vet, returning after a few hours with less fur, more doggie drugs, and a whole lot less money.
Needless to say, I had to tackle the fence. (Maybe I should have tackled the neighbor?!) It only took three kinds of nails, two types of screws, and switching out the electric drill's battery three times before I had success reattaching the fence boards, then laying a long board sideways across all of them for good measure. I think Steve was probably enjoying the show and breathing a sigh of relief that he taught me those basic carpentry skills along the way.
So I guess I feel a little bit more like a grown-up at this end of the day than when it started. The confidence and sense of accomplishment are all good--and it's true that if Steve were here I wouldn't be learning to be quite so self-sufficient. But I would happily trade all that good stuff (and those "big girl panties") in a heartbeat for the love, company and support of my oh-so-handy husband!
Thanks so much to all of you for coming alongside me as I continue to scale this year-long learning curve!!
Like an alcoholic privately sipping from a well-hidden bottle of wine, I find myself giving in to a strong pull. But there's always a tug of war along the way: "My rational self says: "Don't do it to yourself, Carrie. Too painful".....While my more impulsive self whispers: "Go ahead. You miss him. You need this."
So on those days when longing overtakes reason and self-protection, I pick up my phone and hide away in my room.
I know exactly where to find them, marked by date. They're voicemails from Steve, left in the months before his death. Many are just everyday business: passing on referrals, asking if I could go to the bank, or if I needed anything from the store.
But my favorite one came on a busy weekday when I was doing the "Swim Mom" thing with Ellie, and we weren't due home until about 9:00 p.m. It's nothing fancy--just Steve, in an upbeat mood, saying: "Hi, Girls! If you want to tell me what to make for dinner, I could have it ready when you get home."
A bittersweet reminder of his generous spirit. Sometimes I listen over and over. I wish you could hear it. It's the sound of love.
They say "Good things come to those who wait". Well, the waiting has become second nature by now. We are hoping and praying that the "good things" we are awaiting (in the form of lab results that will allow us to progress to the DNA step of this process) won't be too long now.
Had a bit of a setback this week when we learned the lab that is doing the "intermediate" work for us has only processed half of the specimens. So...I assume that means another 2-3 weeks for them to work their way through the other half. I'm regularly praying for patience. But I must admit that I'm not finding myself in that zen zone nearly as often as I would like!
I'm thinking I must have more lessons to learn along the lines of becoming comfortable with being in a dependent position, as I keep having to ask my supportive, gracious family members for loans. I'm also finding that personal pride is actually something a person can live pretty well without. That's a good thing. Humility is a virtue, after all!
Wish I had more clear, good, definitive information to share with you tonight.
We have been busy coming up with various strategies to employ, depending on the results we get at this stage of the game. Trying to get our "ducks in a row" so as to avoid wasting time once this intermediate step is done.
I haven't forgotten all of you out there. You are the reason we can keep keepin' on! So thank you again for helping us get this close to closure. It's just around the corner--could be a large corner--but I can feel it!
Ellie was disgusted with me tonight. We were watching one of the Warriors' basketball playoff games together when I made a major faux-pas. I assumed the team in blue and yellow was our team, the "Golden State Warriors". (I remember those colors from decades of seeing them!) I was a bit confused, though, as to why I also saw some red on their jerseys and was wondering aloud about that when Ellie looked at me in shock and disgust: "Mom, you are SO not into sports! It's ridiculous!" Mea culpa.
Okay, sports are not my thing. While other students were honing their skills on courts and fields, I was happily doing my thing in the dance studio.
But Ellie loves sports. She's her Daddy's daughter. He trained her in the art, teaching her the rules and protocols, modeling genuine enthusiasm. I can try my best to learn about them, hoping to be at least an acceptable viewing companion; but I'll never be able to do it like Steve.
So when I see that disappointment in her eyes, I think I need to look past the disgust and stinging words and into her daughter's heart: a daughter who deeply misses her sports-loving Dad and all of those Sunday afternoons of excitement and easy connection as they shared their passion.
Please pray for her, that she can transfer her father hunger into an ever deepening relationship with God. I came to faith as a teenager, raised by my hardworking Mom and almost never seeing my Dad. So one of the most compelling aspects of my new-found faith was a growing awareness of God as an unconditionally accepting, arms-wide-open father who just wanted a loving relationship with me.
Now, as I find myself in this steep learning curve, still trying to get a handle on single parenting in the midst of fresh grief, I also think I need to save a dose of compassion and acceptance for myself--because I can't be both Mom and Dad, me and Steve. I'm just one person. And I can't spare my daughter the pain of all that she has lost, of her truncated family.
I can only come alongside her, ready to walk through this most challenging season with her--trying to "keep it real", while stopping to celebrate and soak in the light and beautiful things we experience along the way.
(Oh... and I guess I could study up on our local teams so I can be sure to recognize them the next time we sit down to watch a game together!! But in case I mess up, I will be sure to bring a big bowl of popcorn with me. Fresh popcorn can be a powerful peace offering!)
Thank you for your continued prayers and support for our journey.
I am breathing a huge sigh of relief tonight, as--thanks to so many of you--we have received enough donations to fund this intermediary testing step all the way through for both specimens that are en route to the new lab. This intermediate step should take only 2-3 weeks, meaning we may have results as early as mid-July.
And because you have been so generous, we also have enough to carry out the third and final step with at least one of them. (Unfortunately, that process is about 3 months long. Still looking to see if I might find someone speedier, but that seems to be the going estimate. It's just a complex, lengthy process.)
In particular, I want to thank Steve's brother and three sisters, for once again contributing a significant amount of money, thus insuring that we can make it through the final phase. Steve would be so proud of how you are showing your love (for him, for us) in such a tangible way.
And our good friends, Doug and Carol (from the church youth group we all attended as teens), have also reached deep and sent us another large donation. But the part that moved me the most in their note to me was Carol's statement that Doug has had his pack and boots parked right next to their door ever since he heard Steve went missing, in hopes that he could come out and help. I don't know if we will be doing anymore physical searches, but if we do, I will be sure to let you know, Doug. There would just be something right about having you there. Coming full circle, in a sense.
I keep having images of happy, plump angels circling us, floating down sweet gifts. But these angels are somewhat counter-culture, not your typical Hallmark image: while equally rotund, they aren't pink and white, with tiny bits of sparkly stuff, but rather, a more serious breed, cloaked in paper bills of every denomination. Very focused, each with a very clear goal (none of that "la la la, float around for the fun of it" stuff!). They clearly mean business, and their business seems to be making sure the most important stuff actually happens! So God bless these all-business harbingers of hope. I am so thankful they have shown up just when we so desperately needed their help!
Today there were no emails to send, no letters to draft, no major decisions to make. Ahhhh! Now I need to let go and trust that God is going to use the good gifts and excellent training of these scientists to bring us to the doorstep of the final phase.
Please pray for vision, focus, and accuracy as they work on these remains.
(An excerpt from the eulogy given at Steve's service by our good friend of 20 years, Phil Culver):
"I watched with awe and respect as you evolved as a man once Ellie entered your life...You seemed to revel in every minute spent with your family.
I knew you would be a great Dad when we all (my wife, Karen, and daughter, Jillian) went up to Blue Canyon (before Ellie entered the picture) to go cross country skiing with you and Carrie.
Even then Jillian was a firecracker...a big, squirming, vocal volcano of a girl...(and I was less than an accomplished Cross Country skier). With her on my back, I stumbled and slipped more times than I would care to count or admit.
Yet you calmly, willingly (and thankfully!) strapped her harness on your back and happily slogged on with her in tow...while I was
still...just...trying...to...catch...my...breath...all day long! I really owe you a BIG ONE for that, Steve!
...When you and I were alone, Steve, you often confided that your GREATEST joy was your family. You did so many things so very well. But nothing gave you more joy, more satisfaction, than participating in the unfolding of Ellie's life from baby girl to young woman.
While you now may not be here physically...the seeds you so lovingly planted in Ellie, Carrie and everyone lucky enough to have known you...continue to sprout and grow and blossom."
Thanks, Phil, for capturing Steve's heart so well.
Thanks so much to all of you who have "shared" our updates and so generously contributed to our campaign.
Since my last post, we have raised enough for two hours of testing, so that's a good start!
Please continue to share our story. We would also appreciate your prayers for the scientists who will be working with our specimens. We are praying for vision, judgment and efficiency. Their results could bring us so much closer to resolution!
As you well know by now, we are in the process of trying to obtain enough scientific proof that the remains we have found are indeed Steve's. The process has been maddeningly tedious and slow, in part because we have such a steep learning curve!
We have three different kinds of specimens, all of which have been confirmed as "human decomposition" by HRD dogs. (Unfortunately, this is not admissible in court.)
So, the next step has been to prove that the remains are "human". We have achieved that with one type of specimen through the use of mass spectrometry conducted by Dr. Arpad Vass at the University of Tennessee. The results indicate "human decomposition".
Microscopic analysis by Bode Technology Group in Virginia also gave us a "human" result on the same type of specimen.
We are now having two types of specimens shipped to Microtrace Lab in Illinois for further analysis.
Their results may be enough for us to take to the sheriff and/or court. But in case they are not, we will need to use one more lab for DNA processing.
This current step of the process (Microtrace) will cost approximately $4,000. (I got their name from an expert in the field who described them as "the best in the world for this type of analysis".)
Because of your generosity, we have had enough funds to cover the testing so far. But we will need some more help to make it to the finish line.
Would you please share our ever-evolving story with friends, co-workers and family who may be able to help us out?
August and the anniversary of Steve's death is quickly approaching. If we could at least put this testing process behind us by then, it would be a huge relief--freeing us up to move on to whatever the next chapter of our lives hold.
Thank you, thank you for all of your love and encouragement expressed over this past year! Your prayers, kind notes and support have helped so much in our healing process. If it weren't for you, we wouldn't be so very close to closure.
I saved a seat for you, Steve, at Ellie's school event tonight. I knew you would want to be a part of this sweet "Willing"" ceremony where seniors pass along funny objects to lower classmen in hopes they'll be remembered when they move on. Tomorrow is graduation. So yes, our girl has "crossed over" and is now officially a senior. How did that happen?!
Without giving it any conscious thought, I keep finding myself sitting with an open chair on my left. That's where you sat...almost always on my left. So I just automatically find myself in this position, with left arm draped over your empty chair. Seems so natural.
You have to be pleased you came. Doesn't she look lovely, with her beautiful sun-kissed skin, shining brunette locks, open face? She seems to have found a home among these kids. I find myself thinking this tiny school has been a good fit for our shy girl.
But the most striking thing I notice when I look at her interacting with her peers is that there is just more "there" there! (I'm sure you must see it too.) It's been a year of such incredible stress and development. Since the beginning of the school year (which started right after your accident), she has had to "step up" and independently manage much more than ever before. And it has changed her, supercharged her growth. I guess crises have a way of doing that.
I can feel your presence here tonight in a very palpable way. I hear those comments that flow so easily between us. Of course you would come. You wouldn't want to miss a chance to see your girl moving through this sweet rite of passage with her "people".
I know you will slip away again any minute. Meanwhile, I will wait for the next brief chance I have to share a moment with you.
Oh...and you can bet the chair to my left will have your name on it. Always does. Always will.
Thank you for taking a look at our story. The picture above is of my husband, Steve, and our daughter, Ellie, when she was about one year old. Steve was in his element, thoroughly enjoying hiking in the beautiful Sierras and spending time with his family.
He was hiking with our church's yearly men's backpack group in California's majestic Trinity Alps this past summer on August 2nd when he went missing. He had briefly separated from his hiking partner to scout out a better way for them to get off of the peak they had climbed, when he fell off a 30-40 foot cliff.
Search and Rescue teams looked for him for four and a half days before the sheriff suspended the search. Since that time, I have had an army of over fifty volunteers (friends, family and church members) helping us locate the area where he fell and track him over a mile down the mountain below the cliff.
At this point, through the help of helicopter pilots, ground searchers, trackers and Human Remains Detection Dog teams, we have narrowed the search area down from a huge wilderness to just a one half square mile area. We have found several specimens of what appear to be Steve's remains. One is being tested by the Department of Justice, and we are trying to raise funds to have the other three tested by a private lab.
So any help you can offer us would be much appreciated: funds to help cover the testing, words of encouragement, or prayers for our family and the team's efforts. All are very welcome!
There is a facebook page called "Steve Morris Search" where you can follow our progress. There are also articles in the San Francisco Chronicle ("SFGate" online) and The Santa Rosa Press Democrat from October, as well as a January 18th update article in the Chronicle.
Thank you so much for all of your help. Gratefully, The Morris family
P.S. Please do not go into the search area. It could spoil the delicate tracks, and there is an aggressive mountain lion in the area.
I miss Steve very much and think of him often, especially when I look at the beautiful fish tank that still sits in his old office. I wish to send both you and Ellie lots of hugs and love and let you know that you are in my thoughts and prayers every day. God bless.