Sunday, May 31, 2015

Timeline entry: June, 1988

If you read my last post, you know that I am preparing for a Counseling Grief and Loss class, and need to create a summary of significant losses in my life. Thanks to all who suggested a timeline would be better than trying to condense it all into two pages of narrative. Just this story alone will illustrate the futility of that approach!

This week we pass an anniversary of the most pivotal loss that I've experienced. On Thursday it will be 27 years since I gave birth to twin sons at 27-weeks, in the car, on the way to a hospital in Japan that had only one English speaking nurse (who was not on duty that night). One boy lived only a couple of hours, the other one fought on through the night. Not only did the hospital not have a neonatal unit--we found out later they performed abortions to kill babies as old as the ones I held on my lap through the streets of Tokyo. 

There are few photos of me pregnant with the twins--this one was taken in March when we visited
a former English-student in Karuizawa.  Our oldest was just 2 years old.
A few months earlier, I remember the day that the ultrasound showed two little glowing bodies--how the staff surrounded the screen before the nurse told me what was going on. Stan hadn't come with me for that appointment, and I remember stopping at a pay phone (no cell phones in those days!) to call him and tell him. We were ecstatic.

I also remember that when I told the women of our mission there was little response, little joy shared with me.  I'm not sure why--and maybe I don't remember this the way they did, but I have always carried a bit of sadness with this.  My best guess is that parenting in Japan is hard, and we were all just barely functioning as parents of young kids. The thought of twins would have been overwhelming to most.

My most favorite photo of this time was taken with our oldest as we walked through the park that spring.
Our plans were to leave Japan for our home assignment in mid-to late June. We would be near my parents for the last part of this pregnancy. We had people coming to stay in our home for the time we would be gone, so we needed to begin the packing.  In retrospect, I clearly underestimated the time that would take. This was during our first term, when we didn't have an air conditioner and our house was blistering hot.  Hot, pregnant wife is not a happy wife...

A photo taken from THAT picnic...
On June 4, our mission had a summer picnic.  Hot, not happy wife that I was, I remember vividly being quite angry with Stan that we had to go to this. Our two year old may have been acting up at the time, too... In retrospect, I know I was also in labor...  we made it through the picnic, and then were hosting the young ladies who would be staying in our home over for dinner.

But I wasn't feeling very well, and went up to our bedroom to rest a bit. At some point, I realized what the pains were that I was experiencing. Stan came up to talk with me, and I shared with him what I thought was going on. We tried to get a hold of the English speaking nurse, but couldn't. Yet, we knew we needed to get to the hospital.

The rest of the evening is snippets in my memory.  We left our daughter with the two young women, and headed in the car to the hospital 40+ minutes away. [Yes, there were closer hospitals, but this was the one we had affiliated with because of the nurse.  Would we have done something different in retrospect? Yes, though the outcome would probably not have been different.]

I realized as we got into the car, that this would probably end up with the babies being born, and that it was too early for them to survive. [Technology has changed a lot since then--with the right neonatal unit they would have survived and possibly even thrived.]  Stan and I decided, right then, that whatever happened, we wanted to honor God.  That decision has made all the difference in the days, weeks, months and years since then.

I remember being stuck in traffic, remember the night and the lights, and remember the delivery of the babies. I don't need to go into detail... Stan remembers looking over when stopped at stoplights and seeing that they were boys.

I remember getting to the hospital, how they were awfully slow in caring for me at first. How they kept asking us about a "McDonald." [No, seriously, I haven't had anything to do with McDonald's!--more on that in a minute.] I lost a lot of blood. The boys were put in an incubator. Three men from the mission came to be with us that evening--the only other folks outside of us and the hospital staff that ever saw our sons.

Eventually I was moved to a private room, and Stan spent some time with the boys. I don't remember when they told me that the first one had died. I think Stan told me that the other one had.

The next day, I remember a Japanese person from our church coming and telling me (probably thought it would help) that the doctor had said that if they had lived they would have been vegetables... My dad called from America--into a hospital that had no English speakers back in the years when a phone call was so, so expensive.  But what a comfort to both my parents and  us to be able to talk briefly.

The English speaking nurse came that day or the next. She explained that they had determined that I have an incompetent cervix--my body couldn't have held the babies full term. Our oldest had come one month early--that might have been an alert. The "McDonald" they were asking about was a cerclage procedure whereby the cervix would have been stitched closed, and the doctor on call was concerned that I might have had that.

The nurse then asked if we wanted to see the babies.  I'm so glad that we did. They were perfectly developed, beautiful, identical twin boys--nothing was wrong with them, but with my ability to carry them full term. Now we wish we had taken photos [no iPhone to whip out back then]. I remember we were reminded that they looked like one of the photos of our oldest right after she was born--now I can't remember which one that was.

I remember lying alone in the hospital room and the words of Philippians 3:20 & 21 running through my mind:  But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body. These little guys didn't have a citizenship on earth...

We chose to have them cremated rather than disposed of as hospital waste. We chose to have them cremated in our town rather than sent out somewhere and brought back to us in a jar.  We chose to have a memorial service. Many people facilitated these things for us.

I remember asking God to make this count for His glory. We occasionally hear stories about how it moved someone in their walk of faith. I remember Isaiah was a book of comfort for me. But I also don't remember a lot during these days. Somewhere I have a journal that I wrote during these days that I haven't read since then.

Our oldest daughter was cared for by several families from our mission. I don't think she has many first-hand memories of that time, but we were very grateful for them stepping in during that week.

A few days later, Stan drove me home. I slipped into the house wearing a housecoat, and Stan carried in a Styrofoam box with our sons' bodies. Stan's Japanese host family from Osaka came down to take care of us for a few days and to mourn with us in ways that were unfamiliar. We had flowers everywhere and many Japanese visitors who came to visit. We met with a couple from another mission who had also lost preterm twins shortly before us. Their experience was similar but different--they were in the large teaching hospital nearby and despite the neonatal efforts, their children didn't survive either. They may have been the only people we told that the Styrofoam box with our sons' bodies was in our freezer until our appointment at the crematorium. Stan and I often cried together--this is not what is supposed to happen.

Inside is a small
ceramic urn used to
hold the ashes of our sons.
And then a few days later came the time for us to go to the crematorium. Accompanied by a Japanese coworker, we carried this box in, and were met by men in work-clothes. The box was put on a metal tray [which way are their heads facing?  Stan made up an answer--we hadn't looked in the box, and we knew it didn't matter in our theology.]  Large elevator-looking doors opened up and the box was sent into the chamber to be burned. While our sons' bodies were being cremated, we were waiting in a lounge, looking at the bamboo in an interior garden. We had to buy an urn for the remains from the snack shop in the crematorium.  "How big does it have to be?"  And then, after an hour or so, we went back to where the tray was pulled back out from those elevator-looking doors, and the little bit of ash and small pieces of cartilage fragments were swept into our little urn, and out we went. This is not what is supposed to happen.

A few days later, Stan and I drove to a nearby park with our two-year old. We sang hymns. I haven't yet unpacked the InterVarsity Hymnbook we used where I marked with small dots each solid hymn of the faith that we sang together in a clearing inside a grove of trees where we sat. Stan and our daughter picked clover, which was in bloom at the time, and added them to the ash in the urn that was the physical remains of our sons. Then he cast them across that clearing. As we walked away, I turned and took a photo of the place, which I can no longer locate.

The following Sunday we had a memorial service for our sons at the Japanese church we attended. Our non-Christian neighbors and friends attended and heard a gospel message. We sang "Great is Thy Faithfulness." A couple of years ago, the Japanese wife of a fellow missionary told us that her first act of Christian service was to light the candles at that memorial service.

We still had tickets to leave Japan -- now it was down to a few days, and I was still extremely weak. Friends from other mission organizations came over to help pack. I remember the horror of watching one take a drawer of things and literally dump it into a box. Not quite how I would have done it, but  yet I was so thankful for their assistance! Somehow we made it out of Japan on time. I remembering tears as we lifted off from Narita Airport because I was "leaving my sons" behind.

The next year and a half was one of walking through the pain of grieving children that few had seen, healing physically and emotionally, and then becoming pregnant again, this time under a US doctor's watchful care.

When we returned to Japan the next year (1990), we discovered that the grove of trees where we had scattered our sons' ashes were cherry trees. Every year or so we would take the walk to that part of the park, sometimes alone, sometimes together, sometimes with our children. It was like those occasional visits that people make to the graveyard to visit "grandpa's grave."

Probably about 10 years ago we discovered they had put new lights up for the park, with a bi-plane frame, and one of them was in our grove. There is something uplifting about this--turning our eyes heaven-ward so to speak.  I shared thoughts on this in a blog two years ago: A Walk in the Park: Another look at Good Friday.

I realize that even now, after 27 years, there are still some raw places in our hearts. I cannot compare this with the loss parents experience whose children walked with them, talked with them. But this was our experience. If you know us, there is a story that comes nearly eight years later when we adopted twin boys--but that is another story and it doesn't erase this loss.

One of the last things we did when we left Japan two years ago, was stop by "our spot."  We played Chris Rice's version of "It is Well With My Soul"--one of the songs we sang at the scattering of the ashes. We can truly affirm that "It is well with my soul" through this loss and the years since.We have been able to weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn as a result of God's mercy and grace to us through this loss. Of course we wouldn't have chosen it, but it is well with my soul.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Getting ready for class...

This week I have launched into reading and writing for another graduate course in member care. My last course was in January of 2014, and while I had intended to take the next offered class last summer, I decided that it was more important to focus on my role at SIM during what I anticipated to be a very busy season.  In retrospect, I am SO THANKFUL that I listened to the Lord's prompting because as you may remember, from July 26 on I was swallowed up in our Ebola Crisis Team. I spent several weeks overseeing the care for our evacuated missionaries, while trying to help others who were holding our normal debriefing processes for other missionaries who had come back in the midst of it all.

We had a schedule adjustment at SIM this summer that freed up the week of June 15 for me to head down to Columbia, SC to study Counseling Grief and Loss. There is usually a fair amount of pre-class work to be done, and I was gearing up to start it when I discovered that I had been out of the program long enough to be required to reapply. That process stalled me for a few weeks, but I'm back in, have access to the course material and have started the reading.

The reading isn't that hard on this side--it appears the prof has assigned the more technical and theoretical reading for the time after the class (better get a head start on it, though, if I have time!)--but there is also a personal processing assignment:
Complete your loss inventory (from birth to now) and send to me by email. This may be graphed, as a time line, or written as a 1-2 page narrative. Be prepared to discuss the completed inventory in a confidential small group setting.

Now, my loss inventory...I'm nearly 60, started life as an MK, lived in a number of places, done a number of things, lost significant people, lived with some disappointments, etc... How am I supposed to write it in a 1-2 page narrative?  But getting it onto paper will be the easy part. Thinking it through will be much more demanding, both in time and emotion.

Which brings up another challenge...time and emotional energy. The next couple of weeks are nearly non-stop in my schedule, and several of the things on my calendar demand my focused attention and utmost care.

Good news is that I think I'm generally emotionally healthy, and have faced my grief and my loss in normal ways.  There's always going to be places of pain that will reappear as I review them, but that is good, too.

I also have a couple of concerts to go to with Stan on upcoming weekends, one of which involves an overnight get-away. That's something to look forward to!  And then, if the weather is nice enough, I have a lovely deck to sit on when I read, write and "process" while being distracted by cardinals coming to our bird feeder.

For those of you who pray, I would appreciate you praying for me and my family (who get a very short end of me) during the next month! Thanks!

Saturday, May 09, 2015

On Moms and Mother's Day

My Mom has been with Jesus for 17 years, and I miss her a lot. Many times I wish I could talk with her about life. I was 41 when she died.  My mom was 31 when her mother died. This photo was taken on my parent's first Home Assignment from Brazil.

My dad's mom was a widow for many years and lived to quite well into her 80's. She lived near us when I was in grade school. She played piano and mandolin, and had a distinguishing laugh.

My oldest daughter met her grandmother on a trip from Japan when she was just over a year.  This was taken at our airport farewell, if I recall.

She also met her great grandfather (my Mom's dad) and his second wife, our loving step grandmother.

Much of their growing up years were spent in Japan away from our US exended family, but we always looked for ways to celebrate togetherness. .

But there were the occasional visits back to see the grandparents. On this occasion, we headed to Nashville, TN around "Halloween" time and as an afterthought I threw their yukata into the suitcase for "costumes."  They were a hit.  My mom had just had her first surgery for breast cancer before this visit.

A year or so before she became ill again, mom accompanied me to Japan with our newly adopted sons, and met some of our Japanese friends.  She returned one more time with my dad the next year, and it was at that trip that she began to have pain that was diagnosed as metastasized breast cancer. She was gone less than 18 months later.

Though my mom isn't here to enjoy my girls, I have made every effort to do so.  We traveled from Japan for one's senior recital and college graduation.

And a month later all gathered in the UK for the oldest daughter's wedding.

And now I'm the grandma, enjoying the little man and feeling blessed by watching my daughter as a wonderful mom. And thankful for technology that doesn't make our distance feel quite so far away.

So, while I'll miss 
  • my mom, 
  • my grandmothers, 
  • my mother in law and 
  • all my aunts
I am blessed to be 
  • the mother of some wonderful folks, and 
  • a grandmother to one special little man, and 
  • married to a very thoughtful man.
Happy Mother's Day!

Friday, May 08, 2015

Thoughts on a Friday afternoon

Was it just a week and two days ago we sent our grandson and his family back to their home across the ocean?  Time really does roll on!

I am enjoying a quiet day at the office--quiet because my staff is either taking the day off or working "out there" talking to people (which is an important part of their job, by the way). Rarely do I have blocks of time alone anywhere, and this has been a treat.  I love the folks I work with, and I like to have time to be able to clear my head, my e-mail inbox, and my desk.

I have been spending part of this week functioning as the point person for member care related to our workers in Nepal as well as some of our partner organizations. It is always a little challenging to keep track of information coming from multiple sources in order to stay up to date.  I'm grateful to do this for SIM USA, and look forward to seeing a couple of my staff head there in a few weeks to meet with workers and do some groundwork for trauma healing ministry.

I'll admit, when I hear of aftershocks in Nepal it takes me back to the tension we felt whenever the earth moved after our March 11, 2011 earthquake and disaster in Japan. I was recently in a situation where the cottage we were staying was on stilts and swayed gently in the wind--but that wasn't what my nervous system was telling me when I felt the movement.

The schedule really picks up over the next few weeks--we have an applicant SIMStart next week, many missionaries coming through for Home Assignment debriefing, an International Personnel Workshop and in just over a month I have a class on "Grief and Loss" that I plan on attending. It all promises to be good, and busy.

Here is an end-of-the-week reminder for me and I gladly share it with you:

He [the Lord] says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”  Psalm 46:10

Sunday, May 03, 2015

The Gift of Presence

We have just had three wonderful weeks with family. Our UK family arrived first, followed by our daughter from the west coast.  While it was a bit crowded in our three-bedroom home, our sons were good sports and gave up their rooms for their sisters and family.

We saw our grandson in person last November when we were in the UK for a conference I attended.  After that visit, when he saw us weekly via FaceTime  he recognized us. And accordingly, as soon as he saw us from the passageway out of immigration at the airport he was all smiles and responsive. It didn't feel like we were "distance grandparents" with his quick interaction.

This little man has a very pleasant disposition, and as the only one under 20 in our household the past three weeks, he was the star of every show and the center of our attention.

There was "Grandpa Time," and

And "Grandma Time."

The two sisters are best friends and miss being together. They put up with mom photo-bombing one of their selfies on the first evening that the west coast girl arrived.

We spent one week at the Carolina Coast in a rented cottage. The little man seemed to be the center of attention every where we went. His hat was a big hit.  His uncles had school so didn't make it down with us. (I left part-way through the time to be with my brother who needed some family presence while undergoing surgery. The sun came out after I was gone...)

We introduced our son-in-law to Dutch Blitz... 


And then it was time to start saying goodbye.

We sent this one off to return to the west coast on a 7 a.m. flight.

With a few more days to enjoy this one, we watched him get closer and closer to taking his first steps on his own.  He was quite content to walk with help--and preferred pushing the stroller to sitting in it at a grocery store outing.


Before he came, the little man's uncles hadn't been very interested in him.  Since there haven't been little people in their life, it's probably understandable.  But we wondered how this visit would go.

This uncle was amazing. He even allowed the little man to play with his game controller. At one point we heard "Ah, you killed me!" Yet rather than being frustrated or angry, he was sweet with the little guy and continued to let him hang out next to him.

This uncle took a little longer to connect, but eventually he found his own way to communicate with the little man, which blessed us all.

Finally the day came where we had to say goodbye and send them back across the Atlantic. I haven't counted the number of airport farewells we've made with our kids, but it is never easy. 

This time we don't have a date in mind for when we'll next see the UK family.  That makes it even harder.  The little man will be bigger and his parents will be living in a different location  with a job change coming up this fall. 


I am so thankful that we were able to be together. It truly was a gift.  I am reminded daily of the cost of following Jesus anywhere He sends people as I listen to missionaries coming through our offices, whether it is for routine debriefing or because they have special needs in their families that have required them to return for a while. 

And while I had dreamed at one point that we would get the professional family portrait, I am grateful that we could actually get everyone in a photo!