Sharing Life

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Mourning a Little Child

Barbara 1962
…except they humble themselves and become as little children.” Mosiah 3:18

3 January 2018

I believe that writing your feelings and thoughts is a very good way to work through your grief. It’s hard. Grief. Grief for things not done or rather couldn’t be done. Grief for how hard mortality really is.
Exodus 34:6-7:
And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth,

Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.

Deuteronomy 5:9-10
Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me,

And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments.

Somewhere in my adulthood I came to understand a few things about the above verses. First, ‘those that hate me’ probably means those who don’t/can’t/won’t see/know or throw off fallacious teachings from their parents who got them from their parents, etc. for at least three, maybe four generations back. Bad people? Nope. Just didn’t know any better.

The second thing I finally came to understand is that there is a promise that somewhere in the third or fourth generation someone would have the scales fall from their eyes through the gifts of the Spirit and would be able to break the damaging, hateful, wrong-thinking behaviors used on/with them.
What I am coming to understand now, with the passing of my innocent younger sister is the pain that you experience as you look back on the wrongs that were done. Commissions and omissions.
I was asked to speak at her funeral and tell stories of her childhood so that these people who would be attending and only knew her as an adult, would be able to get to know her as a child.

Barbara 1971
What kind of stories are there to tell? She had febrile convulsions as a baby. Dr. Wheeler said that most babies with this issue died before they were two years of age. Later in life I read in a Family Medical Guide on causes of convulsions in babies and discovered that it can be because of a malformation in the kidneys. Since then it also looks like a UTI, undiagnosed and untreated can cause kidney damage. 

When she was big enough to be put in the Johnny-Jump-Up, she would spend all the time she could in it. In the mid-1950s the unit attached in the doorway via a large, heavy duty eye-screw. Babies left unattended for an extended period of time could spin around enough times to unscrew the unit. Older siblings (I was about 2 ½ yrs.) could be playing with the baby, spinning them round and round, causing all sorts of joy, smiles, giggles, laughter and unwittingly cause the unit to unscrew. Either way the baby would end up crashing to the floor-generally head first. Later mom said it was my fault she was so dumb from spinning her in the Johnny-Jump-Up. Where was the adult authority in charge to monitor and make sure this didn’t happen?

Barbara, 1981
Who knew why for sure (difficult and long labor and delivery, febrile convulsions, landing on her head too many times) but she ended up very slow in learning. She repeated kindergarten and the school wanted her to repeat first grade as well, but mom said no. Plagued with whooping cough as an infant, with amblyopia, wearing glasses from 2nd grade on, anemic, and later in life kidney failure (age 19 for her first of three kidney transplants), breast cancer, squamous cell carcinoma (lost 1” from her lower lip and a decade later lost 1” from her upper lip) she sure had a tough row to hoe.
She used to wet the bed. Every night. The stink was horrendous. She had two pair of pajamas. She’d wear one and the next morning drop them on the linoleum floor. That night she’d pick up the pair that was most dry and wear them. Once a week her PJs would get picked up and washed (wringer washer) and hung on the line to dry. Only to repeat this again week after week.

Mom & Dad tried to shame her into not wetting the bed. They called her “Piss-pot Pete”. Sick of the smell, dad made her sleep outside. Santa Barbara wasn’t too unpleasant temperature-wise for most of the year but it was damp (fog) and humid. Sometimes the ground was damp. She had her blankets, but that was all. She ended up getting a ‘cold’ in her kidneys. That’s what mom said the doctor described it as. So, she was allowed to sleep in the house. In the bath tub. Cold, cast iron bath tub. Guess what came back? So, she was allowed to sleep in her bed. Ever seen a mattress and bunk board rot away from urine every night? I have. Did mom try and get her up 1-2x/night to go to the bathroom to see if that could keep the bed-wetting from happening? Yes. Did it work? No. What about stripping the bed down and washing sheets, blankets and PJs every day? Nope-didn’t happen. They didn’t have plastic/waterproof mattress covers back then either. This was back when bread wrappers were made of wax paper. 

She and I entered a pie-eating contest at a store that had recently opened, Disco (an early version of one stop shopping like Wal-Mart is now). Because there weren’t enough entrants for both her and my age groups, our groups were combined. There may have been one or two other entrants. The Simple Simon pies were half frozen. Dad was chanting eat, eat, eat, eat… So we kept taking bites and swallowing. After a while the other contestants dropped out. Realizing the frozen pies were frozen and more than she could handle, Barbara dropped out. I was declared the winner. I did have blisters in the roof of my mouth from all the frozen pies. I think I ate three. I won a Coleman Cooler/ice chest. I used it for the next 40 years. BTW, pie is NOT my favorite dessert.

1996-Barbara and Marva Nelson, BFFs
Bob once cut the lid off a #10 tin can and bent the sides up. It now had the shape of a square. The sides were not folded down. Sitting it on a surface made a cute little tin table. He decided to toss it in the back yard like a Frisbee and see how well it flew. It didn’t. Like most kids, he left it there. Days later Barbara found it, the hard way. It about cut her big toe off. She bled really badly from it. Mom was all in a panic like Barbara would bleed to death. She could have. Bob had been taking a first aid class and so when he got home about 20 minutes later and heard the commotion, rushing to the bath tub, he immediately applied pressure to the femoral artery and got the bleeding under control.
Another time Barbara was operating the wringer washer. She got her fingers going through the wringer and didn’t know how to use the emergency release, nor how to reverse the wringers rolling direction. It was little girl against the machine. She didn’t have a chance. Pulling and pulling her arm eventually the skin on the inside of her elbow gave way. With all the screaming and hollering mom came and got her out. Yes, she got stitches on that one.

Anytime we’d go somewhere in the car, each kid had an assigned seat. I was assigned the middle in the back seat. That seat was really cool because you could see where you were going. We weren’t supposed to talk while daddy was driving. At all. If you did and something was happening on the road or with other drivers he’d get mad and swing his arm back to stop the noise. One-time Barbara couldn’t stop yakking. He swung. I got the fat lip.

It hurts. My heart hurts. My eyes are tired of crying tears. Not just for her loss but for the loss of what could have been.

What lessons did I learn from our childhood? Don’t ever call your kids names. Piss-Pot-Pete is not good. Hearing, ‘You’re so damn dumb’ is not good. ‘You can’t do anything right’ is not good. ‘Do I have to tell you to wipe your ass every time you take a shit’ is not good. Comparing siblings ‘if you were smarter like…’ is not good.

I learned to teach my kids to love, support and yes sometimes to tolerate one another. I taught them to understand that we each have our strengths and weaknesses and that someday when we’re all grown up, we will love and respect one another for our talents and strengths which we can share with each other to lift and strengthen one another.

The Spirit told me for FHE we should sit in a circle and take turns with each person saying one nice thing about each family member. Another time we’d do the same thing but the Spirit said, ‘and this time have them say once nice thing about themselves too’.

The Spirit taught me to get the kids involved in celebrating their sibling’s birthdays. To do something, serve their sibling. Maybe do their chore that day.

One time, when one kid was complaining about a sibling, the Spirit told me to tell them, ‘In the Spirit World you came to me and dad and begged to be in our family. We warned you that having a particular sibling would be a difficult challenge in mortality and you accepted that because you wanted to be part of a family that would love the Gospel and be strong in it and follow the Prophet, come what may.’

I learned that we HAVE to follow the Prophet, no matter how inconvenient or how hard it may be. So, we used to read the Book of Mormon every night. When the older kids started working at night after school, we began reading it cock-eyed early (for elementary school-aged kids-and the momma) in the morning. Through this we could each see from the same perspective, instruction from God-not mom and dad’s rules-but God’s rules, how to behave as individuals in a family, like in Mosiah 4:14: And ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry, or naked; neither will ye suffer that they transgress the laws of God, and fight and quarrel one with another, and serve the devil, who is the master of sin, or who is the devil spirit which hath been spoken of by our fathers, he being an enemy to all righteousness.

To Mom’s credit, she loved and respected God and taught me the same. She allowed me to study with the Jehovah’s witnesses with her. We did for a couple of summers. This helped me learn to recognize God. She let me go to vacation Bible School in the summers. She let me go with the Cunningham’s to the Church of Christ. These are all things that helped my eyes of understanding open and to be part of a change ‘unto the third and fourth generation’. 

Somewhere there had to be a paradigm shift. From what was, to what could or should be. My kids are even better at parenting than I was, for which I Thank God!

The pain I feel for the loss of not doing family vacations, family fun times, a focus of some sort (serving, food drives), in my childhood family is so great. I have seen and heard of other families with their stories of remembering a vacation that went terribly wrong-we, my childhood family, do not have that to share.

What eases this pain? Knowing my children have stories to share. Delivering newspapers (even super early on Sunday mornings). Going to Church every Sunday (‘I don’t feel like going’, Jacob said, ‘That’s okay, neither do I, but my baptismal covenant-with God-says I will anyway.’). One single trip to Disneyland (and the two youngest getting lost and spending hours in the kiddie care waiting to be found). Taking three of the neighbor’s kids with our six (before seat belts were mandatory) in a little AMC Sportabout Station Wagon to Saratoga Springs to swim in the pools. After an exhaustingly long day getting back home, dragging ourselves into the house to sleep it off and realizing yes, we brought the three neighbor kids back safely, but we were missing one of our six! After that we would count off 1-6 to make sure everyone was in the car before we left home and again before we left where we visited. Going to grandparent’s house to weed the strawberries or other flower beds. Or replace a power box on the side of the house trailer. And yes, even the memory of green bell pepper in sage dressing.

I have the peace and consolation of knowing that I was blessed with being able to change from the way my childhood family was and how things were handled to more of what I believe Heavenly Father wants our families to be like. This gives me hope that the next generation will be even better.

I’ve heard it said that some in the Spirit World were sufficiently valiant, that they only need a body in mortality. Some of them come as what we call, ‘retarded’. Slow in learning, mentally handicapped, sometimes also physically handicapped. It’s one way they can be protected from Satan and his minions. They can’t touch them. They are here also to give us a chance to prove to ourselves when given the opportunity to treat others as Christ would if He were right there interacting with that person. I believe Barbara was one of those. She would say to me that I got all the smarts and beauty. Little did she realize that beauty is a curse and smarts simply mean that more is required of you and if you’re smart enough, you know that there’s always someone smarter. She got the golden ticket. The get out of jail free card. The 'you are worthy to enter' the Celestial Kingdom card.

You have 'bean' here


Time waits for no one and catches you up all too quickly.

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Some people try to turn back their odometers. Not me, I want people to know “why” I look this way. I’ve traveled a long way and some of the roads weren’t paved.