Friday, July 26, 2013

Remembering Clairisa....5 years later

Last year, my mother in law encouraged me to enter an essay contest for a magazine. The topic was "The Moment or Day that Changed Everything". Although nothing came of it, I am grateful that it is written down because it is one of those times that is really hard to write about it, but needs to be recorded. I thought today would be the perfect day to post it on my blog.

There are hundreds of thousands of moments in one’s life. Some come and go and may seem as inconsequential as the ticking sound of a clock. But then there are others-the ones that can alter the course of a life. I believe that each of the moments in our lives-the mundane and the monumental-are significant. The combination of these moments defines who we are, and ultimately, who we will become. Some of the most powerful and important lessons I have learned in my life have come from moments that seemed terrible and inescapable. But today, they stand as pillars of strength and beacons of light as they have defined my character and refined my spirit.

One of those moments took place years ago on a humid July morning. Although this moment took place within about two hours, in retrospect, it seems as if it was the longest, yet shortest, moment of my life. I remember the exact dress I was wearing. In fact it still hangs in my closet today, although it has never been washed or worn again. I remember the silver beaded earrings and matching necklace that I was wearing. I remember that I had to force myself to wear make-up, put jewelry on, and put mousse in my hair as I had gotten ready that morning. I remember pulling up and seeing all of our friends and family gathered under the tent waiting for us to get out of the car. But, I couldn’t move. Physically, and emotionally, it hurt to move. In my mind, all I was thinking was that at some point I was going to wake up and realize that this was just a nightmare. There was no way that this was really happening, and so there was no reason I needed to get out of the car. We were parked at the base of a small hill. In front of us stood the most beautiful willow tree I had ever seen. The long flowing branches hung down and gently waved back and forth in the wind. My emotions seemed to be just as vulnerable and yet, my body felt anything but flexible. I felt stiff and numb. I turned my head and began scanning the crowd in search of my daughters, who were sitting in their chairs waiting for us to join them. Katelund, our oldest, was just weeks away from her fifth birthday. Sitting next to her was our three year old, Cloey. Cloey had no idea what had been going on over the last month. In her innocent three-year old mind she was just as happy as ever as she contentedly sat next to both of her grandmas and grandpas. Katelund, on the other hand, knew that something was very wrong in her little world. I could see it all over her innocent, beautiful face. I knew that I needed to go and sit next to her, but I just didn’t know if I had the strength to do it.

I was sitting in the back seat of the car next to my husband, Cory. I looked over at him and saw in his eyes exactly what I felt in my own heart. I saw agony, sorrow, and confusion. I saw exhaustion, weakness, and a whole new level of vulnerability. It seemed as if his face had aged. There were lines of worry and stress that I had never noticed before. His eyes were swollen and red from the seemingly endless tears that had been shed over the last week. And yet, behind the stress, exhaustion, and sorrow, I also saw strength. I thought of the tender moment that we had shared earlier that morning as he had helped me into the shower and washed my hair. I thought of his gentle hands as he replaced the bloody gauze and tape that had been secured over my incision. I thought of his warm embrace as he stood in the shower with me and held me in his arms as I cried in agony, not only for the physical pain I was enduring, but also for the event that I knew was coming. The last year of our marriage had been anything but easy. We were tested and tried on a level that we had never experienced. We had a better understanding of what it meant to completely submit to one another and to learn to trust and rely on each other in a way that we hadn’t known before. As the memories of hardship and sweet forgiveness rushed through my body, he must have known what I was thinking. He lovingly intertwined his fingers with mine and pulled my face toward his. Once again, the faucet of tears started flowing. At this point, I would’ve thought that there would be no more tears to cry, but there must have been a reserve reservoir. Through the ugly sobs that were escaping my throat, the uncontrollable heaving that had taken over my chest, and the most intense and horrific pain that was coming from the six inch incision that ran vertically down my lower abdomen, somehow I uttered out the words, “I can’t do this.” As lovingly and reassuringly as he could, Cory squeezed my hands and said six words that have repeatedly rung through my heart and soul ever since he uttered them those many years ago. “I know, but together we can.”

The following hour was filled with many more tears, heaving, and pain. But, there were also other emotions. As my father spoke, I felt as if I was transported back to my childhood, to a time when my whole world revolved around the comforting and reassuring words of my parents. I needed those words and those feelings more in that moment than I ever would have imagined. I began to believe that my life actually would move on from this day, and that I could be happy once again. The beautiful peaceful words and music continued as my faith and hope in a day of reunion was restored. The sweet tears of joy gushed out of my eyes as I felt a strength within me that I hadn’t known for days. Next was the moment I had been waiting for, her song to be sung. My thoughts took me back to our hospital room where we spent our one and only day with Clairisa. We kept the room as cold as the thermostat would go, so we could keep her for as long as possible. With each passing hour, her skin got darker and darker as the evidence of death set in. As the time approached for us to say our final goodbyes, everyone left the room so Cory and I could be alone. As Cory gently embraced her stiff body and held her sunken chest against his, he started to sing. As is custom with each of our children, he had chosen her song. His voice was trembling and the notes hardly came out, but I had never heard anything more beautiful. As the chorus approached, I joined in as together we sang the prayer of our hearts, “Till we meet again, till we meet. Till we meet at Jesus’ feet. God be with you till we meet again.”

The memory of that moment in the hospital room was so powerful and so sweet. I clasped Cory’s hands as tightly as I could as we sat there amongst our family and friends and remembered together. But then, the moment I had dreaded had come. The little casket that held the beautiful and perfect baby that I had carried for 28 weeks would never be opened again. All that I had was the memory of holding her lifeless cold body on my chest for the first and last time. I remembered looking at her face and praying that for just one second she could open her eyes so that I could see within the windows of her soul. For the last month, I had lived and breathed by the sound of her heartbeat as I laid in a hospital bed praying that the bleeding would subside and that we would both make it to the 28th week, with a 90% survival rate. But instead, here I was standing underneath a majestic weeping willow tree trying to figure out how a mother was supposed to just leave her baby to be buried in the ground with only a small plaque to be remembered by. All I could do was stand there and weep. As each person individually expressed their sorrow and love, they instinctively reached out and embraced me in a hug. Although their love and affection were appreciated, even their embrace brought intense physical pain to my post partum body. The bleeding that had plagued my pregnancy from the 19th week, now seemed to be gushing from my broken heart.

As I carefully fell into the backseat, after the service was over, I realized that my whole body was shaking. Physically and emotionally, I had hit a wall. My head was pounding and I felt completely empty inside, literally and figuratively. All I could think about was getting home to the comforting and familiar blankets on my bed. I wanted to crawl inside, pull them over my head, and lie there for the rest of my life. I didn’t want to move forward and I wasn’t ready to start healing. I just wanted to lie there broken and bleeding until there was no more blood or tears to shed. But then the sweet precious faces of my daughters came to my mind. I knew that for them I had to keep moving and I had to start healing. It was the first step in a very long and painful healing process.

The moments of that day were very dark ones for me. But even amongst all of the pain and darkness, there was still light-the light that comes from the love of others and from within the recesses of your own soul. That light is what guided me through such a dark moment. I knew as we drove away from that sacred ground under the willow tree where Clairisa’s body would be laid to rest for the remainder of my life, that someday I would see her again. I knew it then, and I know it now. The light that comes from this kind of faith and hope, somehow, eventually overtakes the darkness of despair. Cory was right. Together we made it through the most difficult time in our lives. With our hands embraced, we slowly picked our lives back up and with the Lord’s help we put our broken hearts back together again.

The longer the clock of my life ticks onward, the more I am discovering the importance of appreciating every moment. All of them are significant, but some of them will forever stand as pillars and beacons to all the rest. Although I have experienced suffering and sorrow in other ways throughout my life, those two hours are the ones that changed everything. They have changed how I mother the four children I have today. They have changed the level of compassion and empathy I feel for others who are suffering. They have given me greater faith and hope for the future. Even as painful as it was to endure, this moment in my life has become a source of strength and light. Although the incision has healed and my bleeding heart has been mended, there are still scars that will forever remind me of this moment. Sometimes, the moments that seem to take everything and leave you empty, are also the ones that give you more purpose and fill your heart with greater love. Even today, many years later, I am still holding on to those six words as I hold tightly to all those little hands reaching up to me and to the memory of the angel looking down upon me.

Singing at the Hospital

On Sunday, ten of us went to go and visit Brother Johnson in the hospital. Since Brother Johnson loves music, we chose six songs that we were going to sing to him. As we began our first song, I Am a Child of God, an incredible spirit rushed into the hospital room. It was amazing. Each of us were touched deeply, especially Brother Johnson. He was overcome with emotion, and so were we. As we continued to sing, the same powerful feeling remained in that room. At times it was hard to even get the notes out because of the emotions that were felt. I have never heard a YW group sound so beautiful and angelic. It was almost as if the veil was extra thin and the angels were singing and testifying with us of the love of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.

After we sang about five songs, Brother Johnson spoke up. He bore a powerful and heartfelt testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He told the girls "to never forget that it is true". Listening to a man at the end of his life, in a hospital bed, bearing such a powerful testimony, was a moment that I will never forget. The very last song that we sang to him was God Be With You Till We Meet Again. After the first line or two, Brother Johnson joined in and sang with us. I don't think there was a dry eye in the room. It is hard to even put into words the feelings and emotions in that room. But, I know that everyone else that was in that room felt the same feeling within their heart. A feeling of complete peace, happiness, and renewed faith and love for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

As we were leaving his room, a woman down the hallway requested that we go sing to her mother as well. We chose about four songs to sing to this lady. She was laying on her bed with her eyes closed. You could tell that she was in pain because of the look on her face, but as we began to sing, a calmness and peace settled over her face and it seemed that her entire body was relaxed as she listened to us sing. There were three other women in the room. As the daughter listened she had tears in her eyes as she kept her face down and gently stroked her mother's hair. The other two women listened intently with their eyes closed and their hearts open to the feelings of the Spirit. It was such a beautiful experience. The daughter hugged each of us afterwards and offered us chocolate. We were able to tell them of the church that we belonged to as we quietly left. Hopefully, these women will one day run into the Mormon missionaries. I have no doubt that when they do, they will remember what they felt in that hospital room.

Before we left, we sang to one last lady across the hallway. Her name was Mrs. B. She was a beautiful, old, and lively woman who was so grateful to hear our songs. We sang three songs to her and before we left we told her who we were and then we also gave her a pass along card. Marlie got really bold and even asked her if "she would be willing to listen to a brief presentation."

As we walked down the hallway to the elevator I felt so much love for these young women. They were the best missionaries I had ever seen. Their testimonies were shared in one of the most powerful ways, through music. Mallory put her arms around me and said what I think we were all feeling at that moment. She said, "Sister Mann, I want to do this every Sunday." I believe that this is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Feeling the spirit of missionary work and service is one of the sweetest experiences in mortality. As I drove home after dropping off young women, I felt so much gratitude in my heart. How grateful I am to be alive and healthy, to be a member of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and to be surrounded by some of the most beautiful spirits on earth. These girls are truly amazing. I hope they will always remember who they are and that just as Brother Johnson testified, that this gospel is true.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Life Right Now

Last week was Makayla's second birthday. I seriously cannot believe that she is already two, and yet, I feel like she has been in my life and in our family forever. She is such a ray of sunshine in my life. She is one of the sweetest and well-mannered two year olds ever! But, watch out if she is around kids her own age or younger, because she turns into a little bully. I guess she just feels the need to let the other kids know that all though she is TINY, she can hold her own. She speaks WAY more than any of my other girls did at her age. She can even count to five. My very favorite thing is to hear her pray. She has the most beautiful little features and she is often told that she looks just like a little baby doll. But, she definitely knows how to be mischevious. One of her favorite past times is to lather her hair, clothes, and body down with soap, shampoo, vasoline, or lotion. I guess she just likes to have clean and smooth skin. Together, her and Hailey are TROUBLE!!!

Hailey is three now. She is super active and still climbing into and onto everything. The greatest thing we've ever bought for our kids is a trampoline. Whenever she can she is outside jumping like crazy. She is also quite the little gymnast. She puts on "shows" all the time where she dances, does handstand, and "somersaults". It is basically a flip. People go crazy when they watch her do it. It is really quite impressive. She also does the splits (which are also very impressive). She loves to play on "her phone" (aka MY phone), play pretend, dress up, anything outside and active, and she is quite the comedian. She loves to make people laugh. My very favorite thing she does is when we are reading books. At the end of the book she always says, "Amen". There is no way that I'm going to tell her that what you actually say is "the end". She keeps things exciting in our home and is constantly amazing me with her skills. She can count almost to 20 and she points out letters all the time (her favorite one being H of course).

Cloey turned eight in April. She was baptized in the exact same baptismal font that I was. We were so blessed to have so much family there, especially since it was the same weekend as my cousin, Ciera's wedding. The family that attended was Grandma and Grandpa Black, Grandma Mann, Aunt Andrea, Abby, Ethan, Great Grandma Black, Aunt Katie, Uncle Jason, Callie, Madison, Aunt Brittney, Landon, Kylin, my Aunt Amy and Uncle Steve, my Aunt Nancy and Uncle Mike, Kayla, Alyssa, Jenna and family, and Shanna and family. It was pretty awesome to go from the temple the day before to watch Ciera and Adam receiving the sealing ordinance and then to be part of Cloey receiving her baptismal ordinance the next day. Two of the most special days in a girls' life. Cloey was SO excited to be baptized. Her and Katelund sang like angels, just like they did at Katelund's baptism, as they sang the song "When I am Baptized". Grandpa Black spoke on baptism and Grandma Mann spoke on the Holy Ghost. After the baptism, we had all of our family and friends go to the park and we had lunch made for everyone. It was such a beautiful day, one that I know I will never forget. At the luncheon, when we had gathered everyone around for the prayer, Cory said, "Well now that Katelund and Cloey are baptized we only have three more to go." It took everyone a minute to catch on, but pretty soon they realized that we were indeed making an announcement.

Katelund is the best big sister ever. Her ability to love and care for her younger sisters just amazes me. She is growing and learning so quickly, it is so crazy to think that she will be ten in less than a month. In September, she will be attending an Intermediate school for 5th grade where she will be wearing a uniform. I am scared to death to see her leaving the safety and comfort of elementary school. She just received a letter in the mail last week telling us that because of her test scores she has qualified to be in the advanced reading and english class this year. She was SO excited!! She told me that this year she just wants to do good in school and be a nerd. I really hope she sticks to that plan. :) Unlike Cloey, who has a million friends, Katelund is a lot more selective and has had a harder time making close friends. Really, her sisters are her best friends, which makes me SO SO happy!

I am in my 17th week of pregnancy. I kept telling myself that I was just going to enjoy this final pregnancy, but it is really hard to do when I feel so yucky most of the time. Some days are better than others, but I'm definitely anxious for this sick stuff to go away. I am definitely showing now, which is way better than just looking fat. Despite the sickness and tiredness, the first trimester actually went by pretty quickly since I spent it in Mexico on a cruise with my sisters and mom, at girls camp with 30 fun and adorable young women, and Sea World for our summer family vacation. I would get sick each night, but for the most part I was extremely blessed with a lot of good days. Although I am done traveling for the summer, entertaining four children plus my calling as YW president keeps me very busy. I am also taking a Family History class right now which I am loving. I have really been getting into doing family history work. I have a lot to learn but I am enjoying the process and definitely feeling the power and blessings of doing such an important and vital work. I am still running every morning but it takes me about an hour and a half to do six miles because of the intermitent gagging and walking. It is definitely getting harder as my belly grows bigger, but I'm going to do it for as long as I can. I have found some really great running buddies, three young women who graduated this last year and are all leaving me in the fall for BYU. We meet at 6 am each morning. There is nothing better than starting your day with good company, a beautiful sunrise, and a good run.

Cory is loving his job. He has done such a great job as a general manager for the mall here. It keeps him really busy but he still finds the time to play. He has coached the girls' soccer team for the last two seasons and he has signed up to do it once again this fall. He also regularly plays basketball with a group of guys here, and of course he has continued his passion for mountain biking. He usually runs or bikes during his lunch break and then many nights he comes home and gets another run or bike ride in. He has lost tons of weight over the last year and is healthier than he has been for a long time. I'm so proud of him and all of his hard work and self-discipline. He is very inspiring to me, not just physically but in every other area as well. He always reminds me to love life, enjoy our children, and be happy and content. I seriously don't know what I would do without him in my life. He is my rock. In June, he competed in an adventure race. It was a 4 mile run, 8 or 9 mile bike ride and a couple miles kayaking. He did so wonderful!!! The girls and I went and watched him race. He ended up getting 5th place in the male division. I was actually going to do the race with him but backed out once I found out I was pregnant and would most definitely be too sick to race. In September, he is going on his second annual Moab trip with his cousin and good friend from Chattanooga to mountain bike and camp for 4 days. To say he is excited would be a huge understatement.

Life is great. Although we still miss all the many good friends we have made in all the places we've lived over the last thirteen years of marriage, we are loving Texas. We love living near family and getting together with our siblings and their kids pretty regularly. There is nothing better than to see our kids making so many wonderful memories with their cousins, aunts, and uncles. We don't know how long we'll be in Texas, but we are enjoying the time we have. We are also all super excited to add one more final addition to our family the week before Christmas. Everyone, except Hailey, is hoping for a boy. But, either way, we will be so grateful for another little Mann.

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