Resiliency

Resiliency
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Those of you who have been following along here know that this spring I was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor that laid a good portion of real estate down in my airway, nearly blocking both of my lungs entirely.

Five months, two surgeries and a big ‘ol scar later, here I am, cancer free and able look back on this as a blip. Hopefully it stays a blip…

And there were many things I learned during this process, of course, but what has been the most interesting outcome has been people asking me how I stayed strong and kept hope during the uncertainty and pain, as if holding the scar meant I held some sort of secret.

Because don’t we all need some hope about now?  Don’t we all just want someone to tell us it’s all going to be ok?

The truth, of course, is that I haven’t always stayed optimistic. I didn’t always hold hope up. I had plenty of moments of completely losing it, going to the darkest possible outcome in the middle of the night, or when the sun was shining, or when my kids wouldn’t stop whining in the car for fruit snacks I didn’t pack…

I had my moments.

I still do.

I’m still terrified sometimes. 

But not as terrified as I am grateful.

When I was first diagnosed with the tumor in Bismarck, my husband and I sat down with my doctor to take a look at it and make plans for Mayo Clinic. I remember telling them, “I can’t believe I recorded an entire album with this thing!”

And then my usually stoic husband chimed in–“Maybe you should rename it ‘Tumor Tunes.’” My doctor about choked on his mask and we all started laughing.

And I didn’t know then how bad it was going to get, or what the next six months were going to look like, but after I let my thoughts wander, I find that I somehow always default back to the place where everything is ok. Because being terrified doesn’t work for me if the end goal is that I want to go on living.

It doesn’t mean that I’m naïve, or unaware of precautions or process or the worst of it, but I’m pretty good at convincing myself that I will, we will, get to the other side, whatever that side looks like.

Having that mindset then frees up some space for things like laughing. Because even in a personal crisis, the world keeps on turning and I didn’t want to miss it.

But am I saying optimism is hope? In some cases, yes. But being raised out here in the rough country of western North Dakota, I’ve watched enough calves brought inside from winter storms, witnessed Mother Nature change the best laid plans and have been bucked off of enough to be able to confidently call bull on that ‘ol phrase  “Get back up on that horse again.”

Yeah, sometimes getting back up is the only way to get through. But other times resiliency means knowing when to put that horse out to pasture before he kills you.

Knowing when to quit can often be the bravest thing we can do.

But you don’t have to be brave to be tough. Sometimes in order to see what we’re capable of, we have to be scared out of our minds. What turns us from afraid to resilient is what we do about it.

I wish I could ask my immigrant great grandfather Severin about how he felt coming across a million miles of ocean from Norway to lay claim on a property he’d never laid eyes on.  Or what it was like riding his bicycle 80 miles cross-country to his homestead. Think he was scared as a teenager on that ocean, wondering if he’d ever see his homeland again? Think he was scared raising 12 children on this unforgiving landscape.

Think he was scared walking through a herd of cattle that a group of cowboys ran across his farmstead and sorting out the ones they had stolen from him, one by one?

And if I could ask my great grandparents what made them keep fighting through the fear and tough times, I bet they would say what my grandparents would say, what my parents would say and what I would say now to my daughters now…

If it’s worth fighting for, it will give you a fight. And if that fight looks like sailing the ocean or walking miles alone, then you do it, even when you’re scared as hell. 

But sometimes the fight looks like asking for help, and, you wouldn’t guess it, but that might be the hardest part of all of it. But then, when you come up for air, screaming and kicking and ready to live again, you will know exactly how to pass it on.

The heartbeats in between

The heartbeats in between 
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My husband and I celebrated our wedding anniversary in my surgeon’s office on the fourth floor of Mayo Clinic, almost 700 miles from the oak tree on the ranch in western North Dakota where we were married 14 years ago when I was on the edge of turning 23. We vowed for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, as if we really knew what that meant at all.

But we never know what’s coming, do we? We’ve sure learned that lesson in these 14 years, watching our plans try their hardest to fly out the window while we hang on for dear life. Turns out, even when you think you might never come up for air, there’s always the surface, the other side of the hard things. We just have to wait for it.

And so we treated our latest visit to Rochester as if we already knew the news. Eight weeks out of a sternotomy to remove a cancerous tumor attached to my airway, I was feeling a bit more like myself, a bit more like laughing, a bit lighter from the weight of pain easing. After dropping the kids with the in-laws we took to the road like we were going on vacation. Because why not? We were together. We were OK. We were driving along Interstate and highway surrounded by sunflower fields reaching toward the sky and corn taller than two of us stacked up.

We spent the five days between doctors and tests eating as much as we could and finding shelter from the rain and sun under Minnesota trees and patio umbrellas. Once, as we were indulging in a 2 p.m. cocktail and late lunch, the woman a table over stood up to tell us that we really know how to live. We didn’t know if it was the calamari, the drinks or the loud laughter, but we decided it was the best compliment we could have received.

To know how to live.

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I’ll tell you now that the doctor, on our 14th wedding anniversary, told us I am going to be OK. He said he couldn’t have done a better job repairing my airway. And that the cancer? Well, he got it all.

Life will now look like a big scar down the middle of my chest and a CT scan every six months for the foreseeable future to make sure the cancer stays gone, moving it to the back of my mind, instead of the center of our worries.

And for that we are the lucky ones.

Fourteen years ago I carried sunflowers in my bouquet as I walked down the “aisle” in that cow pasture, toward the man who would become my husband that day. Little did I know that it takes so much more than a wedding to make a marriage. Little did I know that the only thing you can really count on is that things go wrong.

And then, right again.

As we headed west out of Rochester and toward the rolling buttes of home, I imagined those fields of sunflowers waving us on into a new year, a new season, spectators with encouraging smiles, reminding me of the love and support we’ve received from our family, friends and community during these past several months.\

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Reminding me that life is just a series of triumphs, roadblocks, joy and heartache. But my favorite times have always been the millions and billions of heartbeats in between.

The promise of spring

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I wrote a version of this week’s column for a presentation I gave to a congregation and community celebrating Harvest Fest. I wrote it after roundup and shipping and selling our calves, a special time of year for us and one we were so grateful to do alongside my dad this year.

On Saturday we celebrated my oldest daughter’s third birthday and on Sunday we celebrated my baby, who turns one this Saturday. We were surrounded by friends and family in a life as parents. A life that just four years ago, I wasn’t convinced we would have.

And while I won’t deny that there are hard and sad and hopeless things in life that will not and can not be changed, but simply endured, sometimes there is light. And we have seen it.

Read the full version of my talk below or click on the link for the newspaper version. I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend filled with gratefulness.

I am grateful for you.

Coming Home: The promise of spring

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When I was a kid, on the first warm day of spring, my dad would take us to the top of the nearest hill to find a dry spot where snow gave way to grass. We would sit down then on that piece of ground, maybe without our snowpants for the first time in months, and lean back, letting the warm sun shine on our faces and my dad would say something like, “Such a beautiful day. Isn’t this marvelous.”

Dad is the only person I know who regularly uses the words “marvelous.”

But it makes sense for a man who’s been accused of being optimistic, sometimes to a fault. On his way to roundup cattle or to fix a fence, my dad never passed a raspberry bush, a chokecherry tree or a plum patch without taking a detour for a taste. He’s never driven by a deer in the draw or an eagle in the sky without stopping or slowing down to recognize it. And when he sees a feather from a turkey or a hawk on a ride through the hills, he stops along the trail, gets off his horse, and picks it up to put in his hat. Or when we were younger girls, to give it to one of us.

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This is the way I grew up. The fourth generation born to a ranch that has now been in the family over 100 years.

As a kid it was hard not to fall in love with a world, with life, when someone was walking in front of you pointing out all of the things there was to love about it. And that bluebird that followed my father while I was following him, well, it was hard to live a life without her following me too.

As a ranch kid, though, you don’t get the benefit of being sheltered from some of the tough lessons of life. The unexplainable stuff. The things you can’t control. I remember saying silent little prayers to myself when my dad would bring a calf in from the cold, feed it and warm it in the basement, only to delay the inevitable.

I saw how his eyes dropped, how he shook his head and paused for a moment before sucking in breath, exhaling and moving on.

I remember my heart breaking and somehow knowing, that he could only do what he could.

The rest wasn’t up to him.

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Last week I sat on the top of my horse and rode next to my father as a grown woman. We were chasing the cattle we own together on the place where my dad was raised, where I was raised and where I’m raising two daughters of my own.

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Last year at this time my father lay in a hospital bed at the beginning of a five-month battle with pancreatitis that had him fighting for his life. And while my mom sat by his side in a hospital hundreds of miles away, my husband, young daughter and I were home, taking care of the cows, shoveling snow, carrying out holiday traditions, waiting for our new baby to arrive and feeling powerless to change the trajectory of my dad’s circumstances.

His prognosis was dire and our hands could not do anything to fix it.

Losing my dad so soon was not in our plan.

And while all I wanted was a big, extraordinary miracle to save my father’s life, I have never lived in my faith that way. When I lost my grandmother when I was only eleven years old, I remember looking at her casket at the front of the church and wishing she would just sit up and tell us it was all a bad dream.

But I did not pray for that, because I didn’t believe those were the sort of miracles God sends.

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I find my faith in the small miracles, the way the setting sun illuminates our world in glowing pink and orange on it’s way to the other side of the earth. The way it rises every day, regardless of our joy or our pain. I see my faith come to life in a newborn calf, just born minutes before, standing steady on his own four legs as his mother licks him clean. I see it in the snowflakes piling up on my doorstep, knowing, when I look closer, each one is perfect, unique, and so, so fleeting.

I see God in the red on the tomatoes I planted with my daughters our garden, each one round and perfect and ready for picking with nothing but dirt, water and that trusty sun.

And I see it in the chubby fingers of my daughters, the ones that came to us just as I was losing faith in miracles of any size.

As I grow up I come to understand that I was right when I was a child, that faith and God aren’t wishes granted or one big miracle that answers your prayers, but a million tiny, beautiful moments that pile up like those snowflakes on the top of the hill outside our window in the winter only to melt with the spring sunshine and remind us that, as my husband would say, “There’s more here than us.”

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My dad’s recovery was proof of those small miracles. The kind hands of a caring nurse, my mother’s relentless devotion to her husband, the capabilities and training of the doctor,that moved him to take a risk. My dad’s strong heart that refused to quit beating. His lungs that continued to suck in air.

I looked over at him as he sat on his horse in his wool cap and leather chaps, the cattle in front of us moving their way across the creek and toward the gate. My husband, uncle and neighbor stretched out on horseback in the hills surrounding us, and my dad stopped. He put his gloved hands together, the leather of the reigns between them, and he looked up at the sky. Then he looked over at me and he hollered,

“This is me. Thanking God.”

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And it’s cold today. The snow is blowing sideways outside our windows. Winter is coming to test us. To freeze us. To make us sad or lonely or desperate. To make us question.

But faith? Faith is the promise of sunshine on that hilltop to melt that snow

Faith is remembering the marvelous promise of spring.

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In dark times, hang on to hope

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Western North Dakota has become many different things to so many different people over the last 10 years of an all out and unprecedented economic boom — a refuge. A last resort. A stop along the way. An experiment. An adventure. And for many, a new home.

Last week, it became a place where a family lost their baby to the sky.

And this isn’t my story to tell except that it’s my community and my heart is breaking. In another time of my life here in my hometown, it would have been more likely that I would have known many of the families whose homes were ravaged by a tornado that whipped through a trailer park on the south side of town in the terrifying and devastating moments before midnight.

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MIKE McCLEARY Bismarck Tribune

But then again, in another time, that trailer park was nothing but a field and I was a young girl with plans to leave a place that didn’t yet hold all of these new dreams, let alone my own.

But here we are now, together in this town, together between new stoplights, new foundations and freshly planted lawns, all of us on wobbly knees, all of us so focused on navigating our place here that maybe we forgot about that sky and how it can freeze our pipes and frost bite our skin only to turn around and soak us in sweat before sending down hail stones and ripping homes from the dirt.

And maybe that’s why the lump swelled up in my throat the way it did when I heard of the devastation that occurred while I was lying safe in my bed with my arms around my own baby. Twenty-eight injuries. One child lost. More than 100 people displaced in a town that has yet to become familiar to many of them.

I didn’t want this to be their experience here. I didn’t want this to be the place where a baby lost his chance at a future, where bodies were injured and belongings scattered in the dirt. I didn’t want this devastation to be a chapter in our unpredictable story.

But if we can’t control the sky, we can control how we connect our hearts to our hands and our hands to our actions. And we can carry on the narrative of compassion and neighborly love and muscle that made us a dot on the map in this wild place to begin with.

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A cat found in the rubble of a mobile home destroyed by Tuesday morning’s tornado hitting Watford City rests in the arms of Andrew Anderson, a missionary helping the Red Cross at the Prairie View RV Park.

And that’s what I see happening here now. Even if there’s no blanket soft enough and no hug tight enough to put that baby back in his mother’s arms, at least there’s a community wondering how they might help those new parents bear the weight of their grief.

Because the roads in and out of this town are full of people talking about how they’ve been helped and hurt, how they’re leaving for good or coming to stay forever.

And regardless of the story, I wish nothing for any of us but to hold on to hope. Because the sky can rumble, it can scream and shake us until we break. But in so many ways I’ve come to know it to shine again and that’s the only promise any of us can make here in this place.​

As shelter closes, Red Cross praises Watford City

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Chris Moore stands beside the American flag he has attached to the box of his pickup truck parked next to his mobile home at the Prairie View RV Park in Watford City on Tuesday afternoon. His home was damaged by the EF2 tornado that struck the park in the early morning hours, but the flag remained upright. MIKE McCLEARY Bismarck Tribune

What I don’t want to forget…

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Greetings from Minnesota. We spent the Labor Day weekend here with my grandparents and aunt at the lake cabin and in true family vacation fashion, we get to stay a bit longer because my car crapped out on us.

So send a little prayer up for my radiator so we can get on the road and head back west with the babies at a decent hour today.

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But we’ve had a nice time. Edie and Ada have the relatives wrapped around their tiny little fingers and it’s so wonderful to see Edie at this fun age developing relationships with our family.

It seems like there’s so much turmoil and unease in the news and in our world right now, some days it’s hard for me to stay grounded and optimistic about it all. But spending a stretch of days focused on extended family, creating memories, keeping it close to home, teaching and showing love and affection and feeling it in return reminds me that it begins here…

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It begins with our children.

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Coming Home: What I don’t want to forget

Yesterday I asked Edie if she pooped.

“Pew Eee,” I said, waving my hand in front of my nose, scrunching up my face.

“Pew Eee Hondo,” she replied, mimicking my actions and successfully blaming the dog for the first time.

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I guess it doesn’t take long for them to start figuring out how this world works. Like, I thought I had more time before she started declaring opinions about my wardrobe, but I was wrong. She demands I take my shoes off when they’re on in the house and when I have my hair up, she makes it clear that she prefers it down until I oblige and she can move on with her little life.

And she’s got even stronger ideas about what she should be wearing. Like absolutely nothing when she’s outside in the backyard, bending over to moon the world while drinking out of the kiddie pool like her BFF Hondo. And when she’s inside? Well, she must be in a dress.

A dress and a winter beanie — I’m sure she’s right in style and I’m just her old pregnant mom walking behind her making sure she doesn’t make poor decisions, like running wide open down the scoria road toward the bulls screaming “MOOOO!”

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These are the types of things I report to her dad at the end of the day when he walks through the door. Because not only do I never want to forget, it feels a little unfair that her only audience is a hormonal woman three months away from giving birth to another one of these mysterious, messy and magical tiny humans.

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Last week my family hit up the local farmer’s market to buy some peaches and listen to my dad and his band play. I stepped up behind the microphone to sing a few songs and Edie cried the cry of heartbreak until I plopped her on my hip to sing with me. It took a couple rounds of the chorus, but before long she leaned in and sang the words to “You Are My Sunshine,” as clear and as confident as a 1-year-old can be, right into that mic. And then she grabbed it out of my hand for another round.

I’ve spent the past few days hearing from my friends who have been sending their kids off to another year of school. So many talks of firsts and nerves and “where does the time go?” and big hopes and worries about tenderness, toughness and compassion as they navigate the time out from under their parents’ wings. It’s exciting and heart-wrenching to know it won’t be long before the little world Edie’s so intent on figuring out gets bigger and more complicated.

I mean, one stage performance has already secured her a bigger audience…

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And there are a thousand things to reflect upon and have opinions on in the tumultuous times we’re living in, but today I just want to tell you how on Saturday, when we came inside from looking at the stars, Edie waved, blew a kiss and said goodbye to the moon.

And it was everything.

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Comfort found in the rain drops

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It’s raining this morning. The windows to my bedroom are open and I woke to the sound of it trickling from the sky in the darkness, the bathroom light on and my husband already up, downstairs, brewing coffee and getting our baby dressed for her day at daycare.

Although it took me a while to realize. That’s usually my job. I get her up and properly snuggled and dressed so he can take her down the road with him. But I blinked my eyes open to listen to the rain, and then I heard them on the baby monitor sitting on my nightstand, the clicking and swishing and chattering of our morning ritual.

“Blankie?” She said.

“Yes baby,” he said.

And I thought, “how sweet,” and that I could just lay here under these covers, under this roof, listening to the sound of the rain and their chatter as I drifted back to sleep.

But then I remembered her hair’s probably a huge mess, some standing straight up, some sticking straight out and the rest down in her eyes and she will need her ponytail, and her dad, with his big, calloused fingers, gets nervous about ponytails.

So I swung my legs over the bed and shuffled down the stairs, rubbing my eyes and sneaking up on them as they entered the hallway.

“Oh good, just in time!,” he smiled, handing me our daughter with one arm while carefully placing the tiny pink elastic hair tie in my hand. She laid her head on my shoulder and we sat together in the chair, putting on her finishing touches for the day, her shoes, her flowered jacket and, yes, her little ponytail before her dad swooped her up and down the road in the rain.

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Eleven years married and this is what our life is now, a series of balancing and handoffs and what’s for supper? Did she eat? Did she bath? Did you see her latest trick? And some days this life feels more overwhelming and out of our control than others, with a crazy schedule and bills and bad news and bad weather and bad things happening to good people and we can’t do much about so much…

But this morning we all rose slowly together under the calm quiet of the morning, a team of a little family who has each other’s hands, and hearts and ponytails under the roof that is a our messy little sanctuary, under a sky that’s raining again…

Thank God it’s raining again.

Coming Home: The hope that lives in a rain shower
Forum Communications

Rainbow over east pasture

It rained last weekend. For the first time since spring arrived, the clouds rolled in during the early morning and they hung over the land all day like a sweet, life-giving blanket, sending waves of drenching water, turned to sprinkles, turned to mist turned back to heavy rain, on and off all day.

It rained. It really rained last weekend. And it didn’t matter if there was an outdoor event planned, or a camping trip, or a parade — we all welcomed it on our skin, remembering what it felt like to be given a promise that the dust will settle.

We’ve been waiting for this moisture for months, although the drought hasn’t affected us or hit us as hard as our neighbors to the south. Our hay crop is alright this year. We have enough grass. Our livelihoods don’t fully depend on the cattle we raise. We’ll be fine.

Others are not so lucky this time around.

And I can’t help but think of how the weather controls us as I stand with my face pressed to the screen door, letting the rain speckle my cheeks, watching it drip off of the deck railing, shiver the leaves on the trees, turn the garden dirt black and open my purple petunias up for a drink.

It’s magic really. I’ve been watering those flowers for months from the sink every day with Edie and her little green plastic watering can. And they were fine, if not a little sad and hopeless sitting there stuck in the hot sun in those pots.

And then it rained like it did and they grew new leaves, petals sprouted overnight, vines reached toward the sky and they were alive again, with one big gulp.

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I felt like those flowers, sluggish and worried about lightning strikes and fires, stuck inside in the afternoons with Edie, eating popsicles and both of us refusing to put on pants.

I remember hot summers like this from my childhood, the sharp, dry grasses scratching our bare legs as the buzz of the hoppers cut through the heat.

The dog days of summer had its own smells of dusty hay bales and sprinklers waking up the lawn. It tasted like water from the hose and sweat and push-up pops on Grandma’s front porch. It felt like the prick of a cactus after a misplaced seat and mosquito bites itched clean off the skin and sweaty horsehair sticking to your legs after a bareback ride to pick chokecherries.

But when it rained, it changed our world from dust to mud, from popsicles to warm soup, from itchy legs to soaked jeans, from grasshoppers to chickadees, from sprinklers to puddles.

And maybe it’s just how I was raised, but even as a kid, even on the days I planned on swimming in the big lake or meeting friends at the pool or riding my horse in the parade in town, I can’t remember ever being disappointed by a summer shower, knowing full well, maybe even then, that in those tiny drops, hope lives.

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Listen to my song, “Raining”
From the album “Nothing’s Forever”

Buy it on iTunes, Amazon, CDBaby or on jessieveedermusic.com

Our responsibility. Their Future.

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This week’s column was written in the chaos before the election, before the results. It was written in the dark quiet of my living room after I put the baby down for the night. While my husband was serving the chili he made at his monthly volunteer fireman meeting.
It was written after months of agonizing over the choices we were facing in the race for the leader of our country, on the eve of election day with the weight of what our decisions mean for our children sitting heavy on my heart.
In my last post, on Veteran’s Day, I asked for you to share your stories of kindness, given or received or witnessed. Please continue to share your accounts of good in the world, as we all need to be reminded that we have one another’s backs…
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by Jessie Veeder
11-13-16
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com
I just put the baby down for the night. I rocked her a little longer after she fell asleep in my arms, kissed her head and sat with her in the quiet darkness of her room before I laid her down in her crib.

Because I don’t know what babies dream about, but I do know it’s not the state of our nation.

She will not lose sleep over the big decisions and important matters we are faced with as members of our free country.

No.

She is too small.

She is too innocent.

And so it’s my job to worry for her. To make these decisions for her.

To speak for her future as I head to the polls.

By the time you read this, we will have elected the next president of the United States.

By the time you read this, that civic duty will be done.

But tonight, as I write this, the big decision is hanging in the air, looming in sound bites and accusations, scary threats and big promises and words assembled just right and I know for certain I will not sleep the way my baby sleeps tonight.

In the years I’ve spent writing this column, I have not mentioned many words about my politics. I promise you friends, I’m not going to start with it tonight as I sit in my easy chair in the middle of my life full of big plans.

In the middle of my country making big decisions.

No, I haven’t spoken much about politics, but I have spoken about kindness. I have mused at length about community and finding comfort there. I have talked about the importance of sharing our stories and how those stories connect us, turning strangers into friends or, at the very least, into people we have come to better understand.

Because we do not and we cannot and we should not all have shared experiences, opinions or beliefs. We shouldn’t expect it, no matter how it ruffles our feathers or makes us nervous or takes us away from our comfort zones.

It might be one of the most difficult tasks for a human (believe me, I know), but the acceptance, recognition and curiosity about all of our differences can be what make a full and well-rounded life. It’s what fuels our suppertime discussions, keeps us educated and, above all, gives us the chance to cultivate our compassion for people in situations we will never understand unless we try.

I’m writing this tonight as a reminder to myself as much as anyone else.

Because that baby sleeping in her crib down the hall? I don’t know who she will grow up to become. That’s the thing about children—their story is as much written as it is unwritten. They are as strong-willed as they are vulnerable.

And as much as I want to protect her from any harm or ill will or hurt feelings, more than anything I want her to grow up to find herself in a country, in a community (because we are a community aren’t we?) that accepts her and respects her for her accomplishments and potential as well as her differences and struggles.

And tonight I just can’t shake this sense of urgency in doing my best for her and all of those sleeping babies who are going to grow up and into our decisions.

And maybe that’s my politics.

Or maybe that’s my religion.

Or maybe that’s just my hope for our future.

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A permanent scar: The beauty and tragedy of loss

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I have a tattoo on my back. It’s a rendering of the old oak tree in the middle of the ranch where my husband and I got married. And out from its branches three little blue birds are tattooed on my skin, flying away, in different directions, caught mid air in the most unsure stage of flight.

My husband has a similar tattoo covering his shoulder, only his oak tree features three red and orange oak leaves.

His leaves, my blue birds, they represent three pregnancies we lost.

The oak just represents us, the place where he asked me to become his family.

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I was 27 or 28 when we made the decision to put a permanent reminder on our bodies of our love and our loss. Since then we went on to lose three more pregnancies.

When I list it like that, in a sort of chronological order, it makes it seem like an occurrence, a medical issue that we’ve since figured out and moved on from.

I suppose that’s the reason for the tattoos, although we couldn’t really say at the time except that we both felt the need to mark our bodies in some way, a physical representation of major emotional events, painful losses that leave invisible, emotional scars that we can’t sort out or figure out what to do with.

So we made our own physical scar. We went through the process of the needle dragging across our skin and oddly, the burning pain of it, the seven-plus hours of sitting still and gritting my teeth was cathartic and meditative in a way the actual process of losing those babies wasn’t. Because I was in control. I had the power and I made the decision to do this to myself.

And when it was over and I saw what would forever be inked on my skin until I’m a 100 year old woman sitting in my rocking chair on the front porch, it was a relief to know that story would not get buried in the deepest pit of my chest.

We didn’t know at the time what would become of us becoming parents. We didn’t know, but sort of sadly assumed, there would be more birds, more leaves, to add to the picture, but it didn’t matter. We put ointment on our new scar and moved on.

Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. It comes every year as a way to bring people together to recognize an often-silent pain that affects 1 in 4 women. 1 in 4 families.

As one of those families, this is the first time I have really paid attention, or set out to recognize this official day.

I’m not sure why.

I haven’t been silent in talking about our experience, so why not embrace an event that encourages us to support one another and tell our story?

I don’t have an answer except that I have not coped with these six losses by looking back. I have chosen not to remember loss dates or would-be due dates. I’ve kept the couple of ultrasounds pictures we were able to see tucked away in our safety deposit box, cried the sort of cries that come up from the pit of your guts and make you feel like throwing up, climbed to the top of the hills out here on this ranch and wailed some more, and then came home.

I’ve sought out doctors. Avoided doctors. Embraced the pain and then put it away.

I was determined to not let this struggle be at the forefront of the definition of me as a person, or let the heartbreak tear us apart as a couple. I didn’t want to be looked at as the poor people who might never have a family. I didn’t want pity. I just wanted answers.

And then I found myself scared of the answers. And I’m not just talking about the “you will never have children of your own” answer.

I was also scared of finding the solution.

I found myself asking, “What happens if it all works out after all? Who will I be without this pain that I’ve kept messily crumpled inside my bones, until, in the strangest moments, the wind catches it and sets me off?”

“If I get what I want, and I cry sometimes anyway, what will it be for?”

I woke up this morning to kicks in my belly, my back and hips aching under the weight of a swollen, almost eight month pregnant belly I’d never thought I’d see.

Almost two years ago, after eight years of losses, we got one of those answers I was so scared of. Nine month’s later we got a positive pregnancy test. Three agonizing, hand wringing, breath-holding months after that we saw our baby’s forming profile in an ultrasound.

IMG_6051

In a little over a month we will meet him or her.

And we’re elated and terrified and in utter disbelief.

And every day I think about those women who are crying those gut wrenching cries at the top of a hill or in the quiet of their rooms.

Some of them reach out to me and want to know what doctor I saw or how they figured it all out, how we got to where we are. I will talk with them for hours about it if they want to, in grocery store lines or around a table at a wedding reception or in the bathroom at a restaurant. Because I have suddenly turned from a hopeless case to a story of hope and how refreshing and frustrating our story sounds to a woman who’s suffered loss and spent thousands of dollars, traveled hundreds of miles, taken dozens of pills to get to where we are right now…placing our hands on my big belly and worrying about trivial things like setting up the crib or replacing the carpet in the nursery.

But truthfully, we were just damn lucky.

I had a condition that was finally recognized and one that could be remedied. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that, if there was another word for guilt that wasn’t defined as doing something wrong, I feel it. I wonder why it worked out for us but not for others. I am aware at how my growing belly makes women who struggle with infertility or loss feel. It’s not an easy sight to lay eyes on.

Sometimes, in the midst of celebrating or telling a story about my pregnancy, or making a complaint about my heartburn or my lack of sleep, I hesitate, I look around the room and wonder who might be wishing and praying for morning sickness that turns into swollen feet that turns into a prayer finally answered.

I was that woman. I am that woman.

And I don’t want to leave her behind or forget her in my impending date with motherhood. I want to tell her everything will work out, but I know that’s not what she wants to hear. She knows it might not be true.

I want her to know that I know how she feels, to call me anytime, but it’s different now, now that we’re getting what she wants.

I want to tell her to keep trying, to keep hope, but I know how impossible it is.

Women like us, from what we’ve seen, in the case of infertility or loss, we’ve come to realize that you might rely more on God, or magic, than on finding a remedy for the pain or the missing piece of the equation you need for your body to work.

And so on this day moms and dads who have suffered loss will light a candle in memory of lives that they hoped to nurture longer.

The flames will flicker in living rooms, on nightstands, in would-be-nurseries all over the world, bright with hope yet terrifyingly fragile like the young lives they represent.

And tonight, for the first time, I will light candles in this house too–six for the babies of ours who were never born, and one for the women and couples out there searching for answers or a way to help acknowledge the pain of loss.

Because there is healing in acknowledgement. I didn’t understand that until that needle hit my skin five years ago, leaving a permanent mark on my body, a physical manifestation that screams “this happened to us, and we survived.”

One day I might add the last three blue birds to my body. Maybe one day my husband will fill in those last three leaves.

If we feel compelled to commemorate that chapter, that loss, maybe we will.

And maybe you’ll light a candle tonight. And maybe you won’t.

Maybe you’ll sit in your room and cry, or maybe you’ll go out to a movie or sit side by side and be quiet. Or maybe you will just make spaghetti and watch T.V. and find peace with the fact that because you’ve suffered in this way you have found a level of compassion for others you didn’t know existed before.

Because there’s nothing you have to do when there’s nothing you can do and that’s the beauty and the tragedy of the whole damn thing.

For support or information on perinatal or neonatal loss, visit: www.harlynnsheart.org

Oak Branch

From Lost to Found: A Pug Story

Chug

Search “Chug the Pug” on this blog and you will find countless entries on this little black bean of a dog that came into our lives to help us through a rough patch, and then continued on his merry way,

peeing in my husband’s shoes, losing an eye to a porcupine, snuggling up with the kittens,

chasing bulls out of the yard, showing up the bird dogs with his pheasant retrieval skills, snoring, snorting, howling and just all around creating hilarious chaos and merriment wherever he went.

He was a character in our lives out here at the ranch, one I loved to torture by dressing him up in a Santa suit and making him pose for countless photos.

A lap dog by breeding, Chug the Pug hated to miss out on an opportunity for adventure, proving time and time again that there are no limits, just mind-set.

Dogs on the boat

Chug the Pug, my search partner


My new readers may not have heard about our chubby little one-eyed pet because about a year and a half ago Chug decided to make his rounds to the nearest rigs and oil sites around our ranch to meet his neighbors, get his belly scratched and feast on table scraps and the occasional steak while he waited for us to come and find him.

It was a problem for us, all the kindness he was shown on these rigs, because it meant more wandering for an animal who could previously be trusted to stay within the safe limits of the farm yard.

And it meant that one day, when we went to retrieve him, he was nowhere to be found.

After a couple months of my husband taking daily trips up and down the highway, passing our name around to oil field workers who move in and off site by the days and hours, and checking with neighbors, I finally decided that Chug the Pug had likely hitched a ride with a lonely trucker and was sitting shot gun with a bandana around his head an his tongue hanging out the window, off to find a bigger adventure.

I liked that story better than any alternative. It helped me come to terms with the fact that I’d never see him again. 

And that’s the way that it was… that was the story I’d tell…

Until a couple weeks ago when I found out the rest of the story….

chug

Coming Home: Lost dog finds his way to the right home
by Jessie Veeder
7-26-15
Forum Communications

I sat behind the desk at my office and picked up the ringing phone. Young and determined, we were in our third year of marriage, had just moved back to our home state, just lost our first pregnancy and were chin deep in renovating our first home in an attempt to get our grown-up story on track. 

For two years our lives were covered in sawdust, paint and power tools. We worked during the day and in the evening we re-seeded the lawn, built a new staircase, laid carpet and lost two more pregnancies along the way.

You need to take out a wall? Get your hammer and break it down.

You want a baby? There wasn’t a doctor in the state at the time that could give us the blueprint for that.

When I picked up the phone that day, I heard my husband say, “I just saw a poster. There are pug puppies for sale. Little black ones,” he said. “I’m going to call.”

So he called. And two weeks later he brought home a little black smush of a puppy with a pink tongue and curly, wiggly tail.

Because we needed a distraction. Something else to love.

Fast-forward through six years filled with home renovations, new jobs, three more lost pregnancies, and a move out to the ranch, and that little pug became the star of our lives and the stories on my blog, his cow-chasing, raccoon-wrangling, porcupine-fighting adventures winning over the hearts of my readers across the country.

Until a year and a half ago when he decided to explore a rig over the hill from our house and didn’t come home. When my husband’s nightly searches didn’t yield any answers, I came to terms with the fact that I would never see Chug the pug again.

Until last week when I looked down at my phone and found a message from a stranger staring back at me.

“I think we have your dog Chug. Our friend found him on a rig and brought him home. It selfishly breaks my heart to message you but I just read your blog and I knew I had to … you can call me …”

I couldn’t believe my eyes.

I dialed the number.

“He just loves cats,” she said.

“I know,” I said.

“And he loves to go out on the boat and swim … We bought him a life jacket … The neighbors adore him. He sleeps in our bed with us … he’s well loved …”

And then the line went quiet. Two strangers, 60 miles apart, connected by an animal, each with her own bond, not knowing where to go from here.

So we made plans to meet up the next day. I would be through Dickinson on my way home from my 20-week ultrasound, halfway through a pregnancy we never thought we’d know with the chance to see the dog that helped us through the worst of things.

I anxiously knocked on the door and was greeted by a woman about my age, a tiny little yorkie and a one-eyed, barrel-chested black pug with a little extra squish around the middle.

I reached down to scratch his chin and pull on his soft ears, and he looked up at me, as well-loved as a dog could be.

I looked at the woman with her clasped hands and nervous smile. She invited me in, introduced me to her friends who had gathered for moral support or to be witness to this uncommon story, and we all started gushing about this small world, missed opportunities and how my online documentation of Chug led her friend to help find me.

And then there was that silence again.

She spoke.

“I contacted you because if it was my dog I would want to know what happened to him. This is a tough situation, but …. we can’t have children, and these dogs are like our kids.”

I looked at Chug rolling around with the yorkie on the floor, then down at my growing belly and back at the woman whose struggle for a family was all too familiar and fresh in my mind.

“Maybe he came into your life for a reason,” I said.

Judging by the sighs in the room and the tears in my eyes, I think we all agreed.

And so the decision was made. I said my goodbyes and pointed my car toward a life we could only dream of when we first called that little dog ours.

A girl needs a dog

What we never thought we’d know…

So yesterday, we saw our baby…BabyOr a little fuzzy silhouette of it anyway, a snapshot of what I’ve been working so hard on growing the last few months of my life. 

There is the hand that I swear pushes on my bladder every five minutes…

And there’s the foot I can feel poking and fluttering on all sides of my belly button at all hours of the day.

Baby Foot

I’m surprised we could get any pictures at all considering this kid never holds still.

Trouble already.

I can’t believe this is happening.

This picture, this sonogram, looks like every other sonogram I’ve every seen really. It’s a little smudge of a baby the size of a mango, but this time the little smudge of a baby the size of a mango is ours.

It was a date I’ve been looking forward to since we decided to put a family together all those years ago. I imagined what it would be like to make plans to head to the Doctor’s office together where I would lay on the table in a dark room with Husband at my side, staring at the screen where our little one would be the star of the show.

I wondered what it would feel like. I wondered what I would think. I wondered if I would cry or just hold my breath.  I wondered if Husband would hold my hand or just put them in his pockets the way he does when he’s concentrating on something. I wondered how he would act. I wondered what he would say…

I found out yesterday.

He said “Oh, look there, I think I see a mustache.”

And so that’s how that went.

And it was wonderful.

We were normal people with a normal pregnancy doing normal things that normal couples get to do when they have a baby on the way.

And then they printed off a reel of photos of little white smudges of feet and ears, a belly and bended knees a whole world and life forming under my skin and we listened to the heart beat and Husband put the number in his memory and we walked on air out of there to sit at a table at a restaurant and order anything we wanted, to sit as long as we wanted, to say whatever we wanted about this moment as we lived it…

Because we never thought we’d really live it…no matter how our friends and family willed it to be or reassured us it would all come together…that they’d been praying.

How do you ever know.

I didn’t.

And if I would have known how it might all turn out in that moment I’d been wondering about, it wouldn’t have mattered as much when we finally lived it.

And it mattered so much. That day, yesterday, with my Husband clutching the reel of our first baby’s photos, practically skipping out into that hot, humid air blazing on his pickup in the parking lot in a town that took us a three hour car ride to reach, was simply one of the most ordinary, extraordinary moments of my life, one I never thought I could give him… give us.

And there we were, eating lunch in the summer sun together talking about strollers and cribs and how much tiny camouflage he plans on purchasing in the next few months.

There we were, two planning on three. Just like that, like we’ve never had our hearts broken time after time. Like we never had a moment of thinking otherwise. Like there was never a doubt we’d ever arrive here.

What can I say about this except that sometimes when you hold out hope, hope gives in.

Some would call that faith.

I don’t know what I call it except maybe a gift, just like every other life that exists here. After all of our trouble and worry and struggle, how it happens at all is a true and utter miracle.

We spent the rest of the afternoon milling around furniture stores, trying out couches and opening drawers on bedroom sets. Husband picked up some jeans and I tried on dresses. We bought a first aid kid and bathroom supplies and wandered through the baby aisle confusing ourselves.

I had a feeling that if I would have asked for the moon that day, my Husband would have set out building a ladder tall enough to let him wrap his arms around it and bring it down.

But I don’t need the moon…no.

Just a scoop or two of ice cream for the way home at the end of a day we never thought we’d know…