It was a rough week. Ellie had been sick for some time, and her patience with it was wearing thin.
I was in a "funk" over yet another delay in this interminably slow testing process.
So when Ellie got home around 9:30 the other night, pale, stressed and exhausted, it was so wonderful to push the big mystery box that had appeared on our doorstep in front of her and invite her to open it with me. I told her "the person who sent it says there's "a little something" for each of us in there!"
Ellie's eyes lit up as her countenance did a "180". Before I could even get back from the garage with the box cutter, she had broken into the box and started pulling things out.
There were lovely baskets and bags full of pampering, fun indulgences: scented candles, make-up, body lotions, earrings, bracelets, a cell phone purse, a travel purse, inspirational books, beautiful notepads and pens. One bag and basket were definitely geared toward teenage girls: bright, hip, spot-on gifts, while the other set was a bit more mature in its' subdued and elegant style.
Each of the women had included notes with warm words of encouragement. Then, as if this wasn't enough, most of the cards contained store gift cards tucked inside. So we will set those aside for a future day, when our moods need lifting once more and get to enjoy all over again the generosity of these most excellent gift givers.
If you are assuming the box is from family, you would be both right and wrong. It didn't come from our biological relatives, but instead from a group of nine women--only one of whom do I know: my friend Karen, whose friendship dates all the way back to Mrs. Romney's "homemaking" class in 7th grade.
The rest of the women are part of Karen's weekly Bible study group. So, in this sense, we are "sisters". It sounds as though they have been meeting (and growing) together for years.
Karen shared our story with them as it unfolded over the past year, and since the beginning they (like so many of you) have been praying for the search and for our little family, as well as getting to know me a bit through my posts.
About six weeks ago Karen asked if she could share my latest dilemma with them so they could pray for us. So when she told them I had just been told I probably had a brain tumor right up against the top of my spinal cord (the area that controls breathing), I think they decided an over-the-top uber care intervention was in order to try to lift my spirits. (I have since had an MRI which was able to--in a much more diagnostically sensitive way--rule it out. Whew! There definitely were a few days at the beginning of that roller coaster ride when I felt like this just might put me over the edge!)
But I am down off that precipice for now, thoroughly enjoying the feel of (relatively) solid ground beneath my feet.
So there you have it: one more experience of the lavish love of God being expressed through the exquisitely-timed generosity and compassion of His people...my sisters.
Thank you, ladies, for how thoroughly loved we feel tonight! You are the best!!!
The first time I went, the air in the room felt thick and heavy. My body was like a hollow, fragile shell. So empty. So numb.
Yet here I stood; surrounded by 7 or 8 women, ranging in age between 45 and 70. One more group that graciously invited me to join them. I knew it would be good for me, but wasn't sure I could get myself to walk through that door.
I moved around the kitchen slowly saying my "hellos", glad to listen to others' conversations, hoping I wouldn't have to make my own.
Let me be clear: It's not the PEOPLE I didn't want to face--just the PREMISE.
You see, this is a "Widows' Group". Is that the kind of group you would look forward to joining? By joining we--in one more way--highlight our loss, make it real. So, do I REALLY want to do that?!
We meet for dinner and conversation in my good friend Catherine's house. Recently, in order to make the group a little more approachable, we suggested a name change. So now, instead of "The Widows' Group", we are "WIT" ("Women in Transition"). Last night it metamorphosed into "The Nit Wits" ("Not Intirely Together Women in Transition")! That title suits me just fine!!
Most of the group has lost a spouse within the last 18 months--with the exception of our fearless leader, Catherine, who has several years under her belt. (This is the same woman who drove me up to Trinity pulling a trailer full of supplies, helped me cook for the team, even billy-goated it up and down a particularly challenging search zone. And as if that wasn't enough, she and her husband just slipped me a generous check to help us make ends meet during this never-ending limbo time. To say she has been an amazing friend would be a gross understatement!
And while we all have "widowhood" in common, we have arrived at this place by different means: sudden medical events, prolonged illnesses that eventually took a loved one, accidents on roads and mountain tops.
Different stories of loss, different ages, different stages in the process, and yet we all have in common a sense of displacement, the mix of anxiety and hope that accompany major life transitions, and a faith that continues to both challenge and comfort.
As I look around the table, I am moved at the familiar shell-shocked expression one of our newest members wears, at only a few months past her loss. I just want to surround her with soft blankets and bubble wrap, then stand guard to keep all those "everyday" stresses at bay so she can feel protected enough to heal and move through this raw, vulnerable stage.
But when I soak in the confidence expressed by another woman in the group, I also feel something I haven't felt in awhile: some hope for my life and recovery a little further down the road-- I know it's not all sunshine for her, but she seems to be clearly enjoying the stage she's in. I want to be her. Now. Well...not quite...I want to be further through this process so I can re-find my sense of confidence and "can do" spirit. (I seem to have lost it somewhere between the words "We are suspending the search for Steve" and my recent frustration with the interminably slow testing process.)
As we sit around the table outside on this warm summer evening, sharing our excellent meal, I notice that we're getting more comfortable speaking both the beautiful and the hard truths. So healing to be in a place where everyone "gets it".
And then, before you know it, we've shifted to shared laughter at the crazy predicaments we find ourselves in. All real. All honest. All good stuff.
My friend brought me a card tonight that she wrote on my recent "death anniversary". The photo depicts four decimated trucks sitting at the base of an avalanche. It reads: "It isn't the moment you are struck that you need courage, but for the long uphill climb back to sanity, faith and serenity." (By Lindbherg)
So we are on a shared mission, of sorts. We are searching for that elusive sense of stability, confidence and hope.
Those more familiar with the territory take the lead, flashlights in hand, as we try to climb past this avalanche of loss and on to whatever God and life have for us next.
I know we will be taking turns pulling each other up the mountain. And when we slip and fall, steady hands will reach down to help pull us back up, speak words of encouragement, and help us move forward again.
And as we journey together up that mountain and further and further from our own personal avalanches, I know we will continue to dig deep and find treasure along the way: strengths we didn't know had existed--in ourselves, in our faith, in each other.
Well, we finally received some results from the intermediate lab's efforts. Now we have to decide which specimens to send where , in hopes of analyzing them for DNA.
Meanwhile, I've been doing some reflecting and writing, so I've included a bit here:
Three little girls sit cross-legged on the floor, grinning for the camera: two with freckles and striking red hair, while the third (and youngest) is a dishwater blonde with short, freshly cut bangs and several missing teeth.
In later years her father would call her a "homely kid". But on this day, she clearly would not agree. She's beaming, practically levitating off the floor. You see, this is the first chance she's had to wear the amazing, longed-for dress her older sister FINALLY outgrew. It looks a little baggy, but she knows she'll grow into it before long.
I am that "homely" littlest sister, raised along with Anna and Pam by my responsible, hard-working, single mom. When she was pregnant with me, she realized that she needed to leave my Dad--for her sake, as well as ours.
So, in the year 1958, when divorces were rare and divorcees considered something akin to scarlet women, my shy, mild-mannered mother discovered her courage and left, moving her two preschoolers and her pregnant self from Kansas to California to start over, with the support of her parents and in-laws.
She had quit UC Berkeley after two years to marry my handsome, charismatic, whip smart, naval cadette father. So now, without him and without a degree, she had to figure out how she was going to do life.
I don't think it ever got easy, but she gradually found her way, building a career, buying a house, creating a home and a whole new "normal" for her little family. Money always seemed in short supply, but love, consistency and grace did not.
She had never pictured herself as a single parent, and yet...and yet, she found her way.
So now, as I sit here on the floor, newly dressed in my "single parent" identity that feels so strange and overwhelming, I need to remind myself that I will grow into it bit by bit--just as my Mom did--until at last I imagine it will feel right and normal, hopefully even good!
Until then, I will look to my Mom for inspiration. If I can carry forward even a fraction of the courage, determination and grace she has shown through all of those years as a single parent, I'll be doing pretty darn well.
I thank God for all of the ways Mom has come alongside me this year, encouraging and supporting me as I grow into my new role, attempting to figure it all out without falling on my face too many times!
I love you, Mom. Blessed to be your daughter.
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.
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 never met Steve, but reading about him makes me think of him as a kindred spirit. I also love my work, and also love to dayhike in Mama Nature, including the beautiful Trinity Alps! It feels like his departure was a bit early, but as Steve goes on ahead of us, may God's loving and living presence be felt by all the friends and family his life touched. My thoughts and prayers be with you all.
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.