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Posts tagged ‘Inspiration’

Five Years Later: Remembering “One Mother’s Dream”


The night before my son died, I opened mail, standing in the kitchen. My boy sat at a round table, watching. Soup heated on the stove. I had worked all day, and needed to attend a class later that evening. He had stayed home from high school, sick with the flu. I opened a white envelope, and in it was an advance copy of Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul 2 containing a story I wrote, “One Mother’s Dream.” I said to Justin, “OH! Our story arrived!!!” A grin lit his face as he replied, “Let me see!” I looked at him, then asked, “Would you like me to read it out loud to you?” “Yes,” he said.

I opened the book, and began reading out loud. Occasionally I snuck a peek at him. His entire body emanated love.
I don’t have words to describe the experience–best I can find right now is as if compassion and grace pulsed between us, expanding floor to ceiling, wall to wall. When I finished, I looked at him and said, “Justin, I love you. I’m so glad you are my son.” He replied, “I  love you, Mom.”

Later, when I came home from my class, he was asleep. I looked into his bedroom, pausing. His sixteen year old boy body was buried in flannel sheets and a lumpy down comforter encased by a denim duvet cover I’d sewed for him years earlier.

The next day was a Tuesday. I had to go to my office in Denver, an hour away.

Justin asked to stay home from school, said he was sick. His head was warm. I dampened a washcloth, adding a few drops of lavender essential oil. I held my hands on his forehead, softly saying, “I’ll stay home honey.” He said, “No Mom, I’ll be okay. You go.”

I left barely in time to make an 11:30 lunch meeting. I’d put the telephone near him, already dialed his Dad’s office so all he had to do was press redial if he needed anything. I told him I wouldn’t call, in case he was asleep. I asked him to call me when he woke up.

By 2:30 when I hadn’t heard from Justin, and he wasn’t answering the telephone, an eerie, icy coldness gripped me. I couldn’t explain it–a slight panic grew in me. I called my husband, Jim, asking if he’d heard from Justin. He said, “no.” I asked him to go home and check on him. I insisted. He was at work too–but he was only twenty minutes away from home. I knew if he couldn’t, I would drive home from Denver to Fort Collins. “It’s really important, please,” I said. Jim promised he would. I hung up the phone, wrapped a few things up, and left the office to cross West 32nd Avenue to get a double espresso before a few more hours of meetings.

In the middle of the street, my cell phone rang. Answering quickly, I listened to my husband carefully speak five words: “Justin has taken his life.”

I stumbled toward the sidewalk, beginning to moan, “No, no, no.” I needed to stop time. Questions erupted in me: Why? How? What if…? If only…? Suddenly I stopped. A very deep part of me began to ask, What am I going to do with this?

I didn’t want this, wouldn’t choose it, but from a faraway place, I knew I would have a choice to make. Blessed shock began to flood my veins, numbing me to full comprehension of the nightmare beginning to unfold. My life had already borne witness to God’s transformative grace in difficult circumstances. I could only hope that this would be no exception.

Five years have passed. It is 2011. I now live in Alaska, with my two dogs. The anniversary is 24 January. But my body remembers a Tuesday. And then that Wednesday, and days following. Memories return more frequently now–from days and years prior to 2006. I smile and laugh often, even as grieving roars through me, taking me by surprise. I’m not sure how a forty-eight year old woman can cry and moan in agony, knees to gut. It is a wave I ride. It comes less often now, and resembles a shorebreak wave. Harsh and powerful. However, I’ve learned to stay with the current, the flow. I’m not afraid I will drown. I’m grateful for salty tears, and my son’s life.

I suspect that if he could, Justin would rock me now–like I did him when he was a boy. In truth, he often does–through dreams, signs, jokes, nature, my writing, and in conversations with people who share stories. Death is a part of life, and life is part of death. Perhaps life is a sacred circle, and the circumference is love. I’m grateful for God, for family, for friends, and for strangers. Most of all, I’m grateful for my son. I’d chose him again, again, and again.

This is a link to the story, “One Mother’s Dream.” It’s my story of becoming a foster adoptive mother, Justin’s mother.  It’s also Justin’s story of a forever family.

I love you my son. I’ll be okay. I know you can hear me, too.

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A Dog Teaches Me To Trust Love, Trust Myself


Around ten pm, a few days before Christmas,  I sat cross-legged gazing through the burnished glass of a wood stove. Heat rippled toward my face. Flicking flames evoked emotions and memories: a needlepoint Santa stocking for a boy who no longer lives, the ending of a marriage I held precious, decisions that tangle and untangle a life. My two–outdoor only–dogs snoozed nearby. A few weeks earlier I decided to bring them inside with me. It was the best present I’ve given them–and myself.

Kenai, the five year old Chesapeake Bay Retriever came over, prodding my forearm, seeking attention. I stretched out on the carpet; he laid full length next to me.  I stroked the groove between his eyes with my thumb. Tears prickled my nose and eyes, unbidden. Something melted in me. I want to learn to love this fiercely again. I want to share radical unconditional love. I blinked unexpected tears, continuing to pet his fur.  While wood crackled and popped, I realized how defended and sheltered my heart is. Kenai stayed still, simply present.

Dogs teach us. This was not the first time Kenai had been my companion. I think he is an angel in disguise.

He went missing in the wilds of Granite Canon, Wyoming, for nine months. Only a pup, his loss came three months after the death of my only child. That was nearly five years ago. Then a miracle occurred.

It was New Year’s Day, 2007.  I’d returned to northern Colorado from a visit to Alaska, and welcomed the new year,  standing on a snowy ridge top in Wyoming. I called to my lost pup–the only visible movement  in a vast horizon. Kenai bolted through snowdrifts  into my arms, with whimpers and cries. I buried my hands in his fur that day too–later realizing no human hands had touched him for nine months.  Our story “Lost and Found” was printed a Chicken Soup book.

I remember the miracle, and share my 2011 happy new year wish: May we learn to live with fierce tenderness and unmeasured mutuality.

This is an excerpt from Lost and Found followed by a link to the full story. May peace be with you, and me.

…A new year

January 1 dawned clear and sunny. We drove to Wyoming. Entering the ranch, we stopped to scan the landscape with binoculars. On a distant ridge we saw him. There was no doubt now. My stomach started to churn. Within a few minutes, we met Brenda. I could barely breathe. There was only room for one of us in her tractor cab. Jim stared at me and whispered, “Go.”

Maneuvering to the ridge top seemed longer than ten minutes. Cows followed as we lurched through icy snow drifts. The sun radiated brilliance against snow and rock. We stopped where Brenda had left food for Kenai. Heart pounding, I stepped from the cab.

Brenda backed the tractor away. I walked forward. Suddenly I saw a flash of brown on the other ridge. Clapping my hands, I called, “Kenai, Kenai, Kenaiii,” over and over and over. Could he hear me, would he remember?

Kenai stopped and sniffed the air. Instantly wiggling with recognition from nose to tail, he raced through snowdrifts toward me. Whimpers and cries erupted from both of us. I fell to my knees in the snow, arms wide open, calling him. I could see his puppy collar! A solid, furry hay-smelling body launched into my embrace. He was undersized, but unharmed. We jumped up, tumbled around each other, playing, touching, petting, tears pouring forth. I can’t believe he remembers! He’s safe!

When Jim was within one hundred yards of us, I knelt, presenting to him Kenai. Kenai looked to me, then rushed to Jim as I watched, sobbing with joy.

Oh yes, I hope. I believe.

– (c) Pegge Bernecker, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living Catholic Faith, 2008

Links
Read the full story: “Lost and Found.” See photos of Kenai and the Wyoming landscape where he lived.

Giving Thanks–to CNN, to Life

I thought I was thankful, especially Saturday night with a heavy plate of Thanksgiving leftovers for dinner, nestled into a visit with my parents. Then I watched the CNN Heroes show. Tweets earlier in the week alerted me to it. I didn’t know I’d be crimped, ripped, and left wondering what mystery wants to birth in me.

Driving home, fresh snow brightened the two lane road. Tears bubbled and blurred me for twelve miles. Starry pinpoints lit the pitch night sky. I imagine the crimps and cramps that assist in open heart surgery. Compassion and unnameable longing wrench me open.

I can’t–don’t want to–let go of the stories, the people. Men and women who saw a need and said, Oh, no. Then birthed, I can, I must, I will. All the CNN Heroes stories pinch me, a few in particular:

The stories are not new. Nor is the need. Yet, I am grabbed in a way that is simultaneously unfamiliar and life-giving.  These men and women simply–though I’m sure it wasn’t always simple–responded yes. Tonight, I wonder–ask myself: “Who am I at this crossroads in my life?  What can I do–where does my compassion intersect with humanity?” I will let this question gnaw in me, germinate.

What unknown light is mine to shine? What light might be yours? I give thanks–for you, for CNN Heroes, for everyone who won’t let go of humanity, community, hope.

Survival, Reunion. A new year story to remember.

Reflecting over the past decade, I remember the best New Year, ever. After the worst year, ever. Here's the remarkable story:

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God … Any Time, Any Place?

Ask: “What are the little, very personal, and even ordinary things I do to connect with God … that I may never talk to anyone else about?”

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