Mom and Dad

In May of 2002, just four days before I left to begin work as a missionary for my church, my father, who was also the Bishop of our congregation, was diagnosed with lung cancer.  He was told he had three to eight months to live.  This news was devastating.  But our faith was strong and we could not despair.  We felt the Lord would take care of him.  I left for the mission field with thoughts of concern for my father, not knowing if I would ever see him again.  I was leaving for 18 months.  I loved serving the Lord and the people of Virginia!  I began to gain new knowledge, more faith, and a love for the gospel I never imagined I could have.
The day before I left.  We had just received the news of his diagnosis a few days before.   I remember feeling how proud of me my Dad was.  

Throughout my mission I received much encouragement and support from my family and loved ones at home, and often my mother would update me on the condition of my father.  As his only daughter, I cherished his letters and the advice he gave me as both my dad, and my Bishop.  Miracle after miracle occurred and that “three to eight months” had gone by with a newfound hope that maybe he could endure this dreaded disease.  Everyone was amazed at his ability to go on despite his pain and discomfort.  I was informed by tapes, letters and pictures of the miracle that the Lord blessed him with more than the expected three to eight months.  

Below are some of the pictures I received in letters. 
Even starting treatments, he was smiling.

The grandkids shaved their heads to be like Grandpa!  When I saw these pictures of him, I panicked.  I didn't know he had lost his hair and was surprised to see him so sick looking.

My youngest brother, who was 12 at the time.

With six weeks left in the field my mission was winding down and thoughts of home crept into my mind often.  Especially thoughts about returning home to see a super cute boy I had been writing every single week.   I loved serving, and loved being a missionary!  One day in late August my companion and I were having a quick lunch break before going back out into the humid heat of Virginia to find more people to teach.  The phone rang and it was our Mission President calling.  He informed me that he had just spoken with my mother and that after much prayer she felt it very necessary for me to return home early.  The condition of my father had weakened, new complications had taken over and he wasn’t expected to live much longer.  My mother had told my mission president if I wanted to see my father again, I needed to come home.  I was shocked!  I hung up the phone and immediately asked the Lord for his guidance.  Many questions flooded my mind but in the back of it, I felt confident knowing my mother had always known best and always sought the Lord’s will.  I was on a flight the very next day.
I was scared, worried, and confused, but the Comforter I had depended on for the last 16 months was again right there with me as I boarded the airplane and left for home in Arizona.  Although I was returning to my family who loved me, I knew I was going home to the reality I had always dreaded from the day my dad was diagnosed.  My family greeted me at the airport and we immediately headed for the hospital where my dad had been for the last week.  My mother tried to prepare me for how different my dad would look since the last time I had seen him and she sputtered medical lingo at me that went right through my head.  Everyone else in my family had been with him through the whole experience and although I had received occasional pictures I was not prepared to see him so differently.  I hesitated to enter the room, but my oldest brother put his arm around me, assured me it would be alright and walked me in.  Nothing could prepare me to see my father, whom I remembered as an agile, friendly, healthy person, now in a hospital bed, bald, thin and pale.  It was difficult.  I didn’t quite know what to think, how to act, or what to say.  I took my father’s frail hand and as my mom announced to him I was now right there at his bedside, he opened his eyes.  Immediately he smiled, teeth and all, a smile mom later informed me they hadn’t seen in weeks.  With all the strength he had, he lifted both arms and motioned for a hug.  “Oh Hillary”, he said, “It’s so good to see you!”  I was in his arms again.  Although this time they were not as firm and strong, they still held bundles of love and fatherly protection.  As I began to release myself from him to stand, he again motioned for another hug and held me tight to him.  

Just a few short hours later, family members and friends gathered in the hospital room to sing hymns both comforting my father and ourselves.  He took his last few breaths, just 12 hours after I returned home.
When I look back on the experience and the timing of how everything happened, I am amazed at the blessing of having the Gift of the Holy Ghost.   Although his passing was difficult, I can only imagine how much harder it would have been for me, had I not been there with the rest of my family.  I am grateful I could have that spiritual experience with them.  My father's life touched so many people and I truly believe the battle he fought was not in vain.  Even though he wasn't victorious, everyone in his life had experiences that made us all stronger.

I struggled tremendously with the loss of my dad.  I had never experienced death in such a personal way.  I had faith in Christ and knew there was a plan, but still, there was a hole in my heart.  I couldn't get out of bed.  I didn't care about anything or anyone.  Reality was a fog to me.  I even felt like I couldn't feel as close to the Lord as I once had been.  I can remember one particular day, after months of feeling numb to the world, I told my best friend, (and now husband) I thought there was something wrong with me.  I had always thought of depression as some kind of funk people needed to just get out of.  After meeting with a therapist and doctor to treat my particular issues, I slowly, over time emerged from a dark place I never want to return to.  But it wasn't just the medication or the therapy sessions that did the trick.  I learned about the Atonement of Christ in a very real and personal way.  Sure I knew I could overcome sin through His sacrifice and I knew He could heal me of other imperfections.  But through this experience of immense mental pain and sorrow, I learned that He knew me.  I learned that His Atonement also covered my heartache.  He was the only one who knew of my suffering.  And when I realized that and turned to Him to take it from me, He did.  

A few months after this, I can remember writing a letter to a friend who had just lost her mother to cancer.  I was just trying to be Christlike and give her some words of understanding.  I told her I more or less knew how she was feeling, but I also told her, as hard as it was losing my father, I didn't know what I would do if I lost my Mom.  A girl without her mom is like a....well I didn't want to know.  My mom and I were the best of friends, more like sisters really.  I couldn't imagine the loss my friend was dealing with.

In the midst of this "recovery", 6 months after my father died, I married my sweetheart in the Mesa, AZ temple.  He was the one anchor I had.  I can remember many sleepless nights asking him over and over why he would even want to be with someone as messed up as me.  He was patient, and understanding.  He prayed for and with me.  I will admit that first year of our marriage, I was a mess.  And he knew it.  But he didn't give up on me.  We moved to the Bay Area while he went to school and started our family there.  Our oldest 2 children were born in California and we had such great experiences while living there.  After three years, we moved back to our home state and began his future practice and my life as a mother.

Incredibly, just 6 years after my father passed away, we received news that my mother had been diagnosed with lung cancer.  My third child was just 3 days old.  This news was heart breaking.  I had overcome depression, post traumatic distress, and anxiety after watching my father die.  The same dreaded disease we lost my father to, now took hold of my mother’s body.  Although the doctors were somewhat hopeful, all I could think of was cancer = death.  Thoughts of losing her caused me anxiety.  With a newborn and two more young children at home, I couldn’t spend all the time I wanted to with her.  But my church family stepped in and organized a babysitting schedule.  They took turns watching my children while I took my mom to her chemotherapy treatments, doctor appointments, or even just to take her shopping. 

 For a year my mother went through radiation and chemotherapy and all the while she did it with a smile on her face.  Never once did I hear her complain, (you can read her journey here) even when she lost her beautiful dark hair. After just 11 months, her body succumbed to the cancer and she too, passed away. 

How could this happen.....again?  I dreaded the depression I knew was coming.  I worried I would go back into that dark despair.  A place I never wanted to be again.  I prayed and prayed.  I begged the Lord to help me through.  And He did.  I can honestly say, that losing my mother was one of the hardest things I have been through.  She was my closest friend.  People knew our relationship more as sisters.  But the Lord helped me through.   
 My brothers and I at Mom's funeral.
I can't even begin to explain the way the Lord carried me.   The reason I share this with you is not for sympathy, but because I want to share what I have learned through it all.  I have learned that there is no greater blessing than an eternal family.  Having a knowledge of a Savior, an older brother, who sacrificed all so that we could gain eternal life with our families, is what gives me peace and hope and the will to continue.  Do I miss them?  Everyday.  I think about them constantly.  I have wished they could be here to kiss the cheeks of all my babies, and to come to all their t ball games, or orchestra concerts.  I have wished I could just pick up the phone and brag to my mom about the latest potty training success or cry to her about the loads of laundry that are never ending!  I have thought about the projects I could ask my dad to do around the house and the building knowledge and talent he had.  I have wished he could have been here when our oldest was baptized, or when our youngest took her first steps.  But they are not here.  And I have come to the point in my life where I am ok with that.  Because I know one day, this life will seem a memory and the reality of a new life, one with no death or sickness or pain or sorrow, will trump all.  

This is how I picture Mom and Dad now.  This pic was taken just days before his diagnosis.  


 Everything was roses to her. She was the epitome of femininity.  Her favorite color was pink and she was a hopeless romantic.  She loved all things vintage and was often scavengering at garage sales and estate sales mostly for old linens she could make into something new.  She was a genius creator and made all kinds of cute things including aprons, baby shoes, pin cushions and so much more and sold them on her etsy site!  She was the author of 2 published children's books, taught etiquette lessons to teen and young adult girls training for pageants, and was part of a women's singing group called the Notations.  She was even crowned the title of Mrs. Arizona when I was 12 years old and served in many charity events.  Needless to say, everyone thought she was amazing.  And she was.

When she was diagnosed with lung cancer, she asked a friend to make her a "chemo" bag so she would have something cute to put her medications, books, and crocheting in when she went to her treatments.  It was black and white polka dots with a pink ruffle.  You would have never seen anyone so excited to go to chemotherapy.  When we went wig shopping, we did a photo shoot and laughed hysterically when she tried on a short blonde wig.  One day, we finished early from a radiation appointment and headed to Home Goods, our favorite store, and I pushed her around the whole store in her wheelchair.  Of course we oo'd and ahh'd over everything and she picked out a porcelain kettle and said she wanted to buy it for me.  I will treasure it forever.

She just couldn't miss this rummage sale we went to twice a year.  
baby shoes she made out of a vintage pillowcase and scraps
Reading her book, "The Little Stream", to my kids, even while she was sick in bed.

I wrote a poem the week before my mother died of cancer.  I can't really explain it, but somehow I knew it was about to happen.  And I was at peace with it.  Maybe because I had done it before, with my dad, and knew I would make it through, even though I know it would be a long horrible road.  I remember my husband looking at me so strangely when I started writing her obituary before she was even gone.  To me, it was a way to honor her and it gave me something to do that I felt was helping.  Since really, there was nothing I could do to keep her here.

Her casket was even pink.  All the flowers were roses and even the luncheon was decorated like a wedding reception!  All the girls in the family, including the little granddaughters, painted our nails pink and wore pink dresses.  The opening song at her funeral was, "There is Sunshine In My Soul Today!" It was a celebration of her life!  Sure it might seem odd to outsiders to see all the fuss we put on for her funeral.  But that's what she did.  She always went all out.  Everything was decorated to the nines and everything was over the top!  Everything was always feminine and beautiful.  

I have learned more about the importance of the presence of a mother, since she's been gone.  Sure, I'm a grown woman and may not necessarily need to be mothered anymore.  But I do miss her opinions, her advice, her support and her love.  She may have had "motheritis" here and there, but I hope to live up to her example and be a better mother to my own children, because of her.


A case of Motheritis

When I was a girl, all I ever wanted to be when I grew up, was a Mom!  It was my dream job!  While other kids wrote essays on being policewomen or teachers or veterinarians, I visioned wearing an apron, cooking with my kids, tucking them in at night, reading to them and teaching them to say their prayers.

My Grandma teaching her children, (my mother and uncle) how to do the dishes.  Doesn't this look dreamy!?

I had the best role models when it came to a mom!  My mother and Grandmother were both amazing.

Now I am living that dream.  I have 5 children whom I adore and love with all my heart.  And while I do still know this is the dream I want, it's not always a dreamy.  Sometimes I find it difficult to put a smile on my face while I listen to one more story about how to make the perfect lego figure, sweep under the highchair or find the missing flip flop.   I once told my kids, "if all of you would listen I wouldn't get so mad all the time!  Do you realize if I told you all just two times to get your shoes on I would be saying it 10 times!!?"  Do you think they even hear me?

The rush of the morning is a chaotic hour and one I hope to master someday.  For example, last week as I was making breakfast this is what happened:
child number 1 asked if I could listen to his poem recitation
child number 2 asked if I could help her button her pants
child number 3 didn't want to eat the eggs I was cooking for breakfast and so poured himself a bowl of cereal
child number 2 then asked if I could do her hair
child number 4 pooped his pants and was waiting in the mudroom for me to come help him clean up
child number 5 was crawling around my ankles tugging and pulling and crying
child number 3 then spilled his cereal
child number 2 was still asking for her hair to get done
child number 3 then asked if I could sign his homework
child number 1 asked when I was going to have their lunches done

By the time I got the older three out the door and off to school, I realized child number 4 still had a poop problem I hadn't attended to yet.  And sadly, the kids went off to school with echoes of crabby, yelly mom.  I didn't feel too good and I was sweating and breathing heavily.  I was coming down with something.....
A case of motheritis!  Motheritis is real.  And I have a pretty good feeling, I'm not the only one who has suffered from it.  Some of the symptoms include feeling emotionally drained, mental and physical fatigue, crying for no reason, yelling for no reason, walking into a room and forgetting why, wanting to rip your hair out, questioning what you got yourself into, wishing so badly that you could control your temper, and even being upset with the man who got you into this mess.  After episodes occur, a strong feeling of guilt typically follows, most especially at night when all the kids are sleeping so sweetly in their beds and you look at them and realize you need to try harder.  And you can, and you do.  This cycle often repeats itself and the triggers of these episodes are unknown.

The cure is simple.  Keep trying.

Now I know some may say, "Why did you have so many kids then?"  

  There are sleepless nights and poopy diapers and snotty noses and toddler tantrums.  And sometimes I just want to run away.  But, I am committed to being a mother who nurtures her children and everyday.  All I have to do is try my best.  As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, we believe "Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.  I am working on being more nurturing and some days I have to dig way deep down and recall why I wanted this dream job.  And I'm pretty sure that's normal.

My kids don't always get my best.  And that's not fair to them.  But tomorrow I can get out of bed at the crack of dawn to make lunches and breakfast and sign someone's paper, and comb someone's hair, and laugh with them and hug them and show them I love them.

I sometimes worry that my kids will only remember the mom who had motheritis.  But I remember more than that about my mom.  The best memories I have are when she baked cookies with me, helped me with a poster to run for Student Body Secretary, taught me the harmony to the song Barges, took my side and defended me when a miscommunication happened between myself and a high school teacher and made goodies for the entire cheer squad and gave me the credit.

Mothers, Don't beat yourselves up!  No one is perfect and you are doing more good than you know.

"Big doors swing on little hinges." -W. Clement Stone

Below are several of my favorite mother images.  Sometimes when I am feeling overwhelmed, looking at these helps me refocus on feeling like a nurturing mother.


A reason to design

My dear friend Lindsey and I became friends when we moved to the Bay Area.  We were both young newlyweds, living in an unfamiliar city and our husbands were gone a lot with school and work.  We had a lot in common and really hit it off.  We were both surprised and pleased when we learned we were both expecting our first babies within just a few days of each other!  We spent our days walking back and forth to each other's apartments, just a few blocks from each other, to chat about "what to expect when you're expecting", laying out in our maternity swimsuits on her apartment rooftop, reading magazines and eating cadburry eggs.  It was a carefree time.  
Our apartment was 800 sq feet.  We had a gigantic sofa we scored at a garage sale with a slipcover that didn't fit, a tv stand we bought at goodwill,  a bookshelf someone left on the corner, and our dining chairs were thrown out from the dental's schools clinic waiting room.  Everything else we had were gifts from our wedding.  And we loved it.  Sure, we dreamed of bigger and better, but for then it was enough and the excitement of living away and on our own, and making new friends, made being away from family bearable.
  I had a binder with sheet protectors full of pictures I had ripped out of magazines.....decor ideas, and ways I wanted to decorate my dream home....someday.  We probably rearranged our apartment 5o different ways in the three years we lived there.   Thats just what I did, and still do.  Anyways, I would do the same thing at Lindsey's apartment.  Her ceilings were exposed and the walls were cinderblock.  In the winter on the weekends, the four of us would huddle around a space heater, wearing beanies and gloves while we watched movies and had milkshake making contests.  During the week, when the hubbies were gone, a lot, we would stare at the four walls of her apartment and I would tell her, "you should put that there", or lets move this over here."  Even then, I thought I knew a lot about design.  Not long after our babies were born, we braved a trip with them to IKEA and loaded up her VW with boxes and boxes and more boxes.  Not sure how we fit the babies in there.  And then we got them all home, unloaded, and took hours putting them together.  ( I love Ikea, I hate Ikea)  We hung an enormous mirror above her couch and some floating shelves on the opposite walls.  I talked her into painting her dining room set red!  And then I bossed her around some more and acted like I knew what I was talking about.  Oh....and we ate more cadburry eggs.  When we came back from Christmas break, the mirror was on the couch and the floating shelves were about 1mm from falling off the walls.  (I'm not great at anchoring things to walls).  We laughed until our stomachs hurt.  
  Ten years later, I have 5 kids and she has 4 and a lot more life experiences under our belt.  She now lives in beautiful New Canaan, CT on the east coast, so far from  me.  We keep in touch by texting in between diaper changes and carpool rides.  To me, decorating comes naturally and its fun.  To Lindsey....its anxiety!   I think we all go through funks in life, and for the last few years, Lindsey was in one.   She didn't really know it, but she was.  About a year ago, they had moved from their tiny one bathroom duplex (with 4 kids) into a beautiful home with east coast country appeal and lots of space to spread out... and she just didn't know what to do with it.  And so she didn't do anything.  Making those decisions didn't come naturally to her.  It just gave her more anxiety.  There were too many other things on her plate that took up the time in her day.  She would call me and ask my opinion on what to buy or where to put things.  I missed her, so I hopped on a plane to spend the weekend bossing her around, telling her what to buy, and where to put what.  It was a blast!   I learned a lot spending the weekend with Lindsey.  I learned something about sharing our interests and talents with others.   We didn't make any huge changes to her home.  But we made some.  I helped her make decisions that changed the way she felt about herself and her relationships in her home.  To her, her home felt completely unorganized because nothing really had a home.  And in turn, her life felt that way.  She really felt weight lifted off her shoulders after the weekend was over and we had made lots of progress.  I'm not patting myself on the back here.  I'm simply stating that I realized how much of an impact decor and design in our own home has on us, emotionally, and physically and mentally.  

At the checkout line in Home Goods, where I made her buy a bunch of stuff.  She can't handle making decisions....so I would say, "do you like this?  YES OR NO!!??" hahahha.
Boy/Girl Shared bedroom BEFORE:

and AFTER:

Some of the main tips I gave Lindsey:
-Buy pieces you love, that speak to you.
-Don't feel like you have to put up everything you have.
(In the girls room, I showed her how to put their knick knacky stuff in a "special spot" in the closet!)
-If you don't love it, get rid of it.

Entryway BEFORE:

 Entryway AFTER

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