Wednesday, August 19, 2020


On the more brutal days when everything is hard, we all find our solace, comfort, joy and strength in the people, places and smallest nuggets of goodness around us. Lochlan astounds us with his budding sense of humor, his abundant laughter when we tickle him or one of his brothers does something he finds hilarious (and his parents usually find alarming). Yesterday, he curled onto my chest and fell asleep in my arms… I wish I could bottle up that encounter to dip into in darker times. The boy/man I see each day is still incredibly locked inside himself, but we see glimpses and more each passing day. And those glimpses of the REAL him make me want to fight so hard and conquer every obstacle to help him find himself.

“The brothers”, they call themselves… they are a fierce pack of warriors on Lochlan’s team. Each day they help me keep my 2-minute watch, give him rides on the lawn mower/wagon to help distract him when he’s falling apart, pull him up the trails when he is weary, run and capture him when he's on the loose, and hold him in their arms when they fall asleep at night. They cry when I pray for Lochlan and beg for his healing; sometimes, at night, I hear them praying, alone or together, for Lochlan to find his voice and to be set free to express himself. 

Kelton is terribly naughty right now, but he makes up for it, most of the time, by being faithful to love. His desires clearly differ from his actions, most of the time, and the war within himself is transparent. He has a desire to do what is good, but has difficulty carrying that out. :-) He improves every day, though, and it is evident that he will succeed and become the incredible man he is to become. This morning, I overheard him tell Declan: “Finders keepers. Keepers sharers.” Apparently he wasn’t the finder. Recently, he asked me, “Mama, how are you today? Because I’m worried about your heart. Do you know how much I love your heart?” Stop. It. Are you for real??? One night as I tucked him into bed, he said, “Mama, will we always be together?” I did not know how to respond, as the truth feels too harsh for this time in his life. I just held him closer. He then responded: “Mama, you’ll always be my number one girlfriend.” 

Declan's kindness and care for others is remarkable. His gratitude toward others for EVERYTHING is enough to melt the most frozen/hard heart. His biggest temptation is to exasperate Kelton to absolutely no end, holding the "big brother, therefore..." card openly in his hand (and on his face) and Kelton is often seen with anger-induced lava pouring out of his ears. But, Declan genuinely cares about the hearts, feelings, minds, and even physical well-being of others around him. He sees (really sees) PEOPLE when other people are oblivious to them. He is oblivious to almost every practical matter in life, but he is abundantly perceptive of people and their needs. He shows me everyday what I cannot see for myself.

Madigan is STILL a force of nature. He, too, has a profound desire to do what is right/good, but sometimes his will to do things his own way (I mean, the ONLY way) takes the driver's seat. We've been talking about flexibility and what it means to consider others (and their desires) as important as your own. He has encountered countless "opportunities" to lay his own plan down and consider/act upon another plan that often differs largely from his own, and it has been extraordinarily painful for him (and hence the rest of us). I just feel that it is so vitally important for him to understand and realize in a very tangible/physical/emotional way that life DOES NOT and WILL NEVER go the way we plan for it to go. We will constantly be disappointed with an unexpected turn in direction but may find that we are surprised by joy if we are willing to adapt and adjust ourselves to the path that is put before us.

There is no way that sanity would be a reality (for any of us? but definitely me) if it weren't for "cousin Kaysee" who is not only (my cousin, yes) Lochlan's Respite Care provider, but my right hand and my beloved friend. Her companionship, her true empathy (because she LIVES the frustrations right alongside us all), her cleaver wit, her desire to know each of my boys well, her wise counsel, and her absurdly amazing ability to connect with Lochlan makes her absolutely vital to this family, this life. And she works harder than anyone I know. Truly. Except maybe Susan. But that's an absurd standard, let's be real. :-) I am more thankful than words can express for all that Kaysee brings to my life.

I don't think it would be possible to take this magical, albeit it crazy difficult, life for granted. We watch today come to it's end and we will welcome tomorrow as another day to live, learn, and probably just survive, in certain moments. And we will find joy and laughter in the most unexpected places.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Rescue at Navajo Lake

Life seems to be filled with moments/encounters/happenings that we hold onto, but that were never ours to keep. We are handed time, put into a place, given (sometimes endless) choices of what we will do with that time, as though each day is a canvas, awaiting the Painter. What is sometimes lost on us is how the canvas of our lives does not stand alone, but is merged intricately with so many others and as the colors from each of those canvases converge, the picture(s) of our lives is often irrevocably altered, by even the addition of one color we did not expect, or plan for.

Declan awoke on Tuesday morning, in our campsite at over 11,000 feet elevation (Day 4 of our big hike) with altitude sickness. He exited his tent and promptly vomited. Our plans for the day landed on the dirt beside his vomit and we all readjusted our expectations. Instead of hiking down to Navajo Lake to spend the afternoon, we decided we would stay in camp and maybe just wander around the plateau around us, if Declan improved a little. About an hour later, Declan started to feel almost completely normal, ate some breakfast and announced that he wanted to go ahead with our original plans for the day. So, we excitedly began our descent toward Navajo Lake. 

As we rounded a corner, less than a half/mile from the lake, another hiker ("Jacob") looked up from the trail where he was standing and asked me if I had cell phone service. I told him I didn't, but that we had an SOS device (Garmin InReach), and asked if he wanted us to call for help. He hesitated, looking back at the young woman sitting next to him ("Sadie"); she shook her head, but he turned back and said, "yes, please call for help". His partner was having a personal medical issue and had been declining rapidly as the morning had progressed. Jacob had been hoping to get them off the mountain (assisting her and carrying all their combined hiking and camping gear) but Sadie simply could not walk any further because she was so weak. She was still communicating minimally, but it was obvious her energy was completely depleted, and she rapidly declined as the minutes ticked by. Dad called in rescuers, giving them a detailed description of her condition, as well as our specific surroundings, as his device would give them coordinates, but no specific details. 

We initially requested a ground rescue, but as her condition deteriorated, it became obvious she would need a helivac and much to our relief that is what the first responders had already concluded and prepared for. We placed orange emergency blankets/jackets on the scree slope above where we were sitting. It was a dicey area for a helicopter to land. Meanwhile, Sadie became almost completely non-responsive and her heart rate began to increase significantly. She was clearly showing signs of shock, so we elevated her legs and tried to make her as comfortable as possible. We saw the helicopter approach, circle and continue circling for several minutes. Eventually, it landed "upstream" of our location, near the lake. The pilot later told Krista that it was his most difficult landing to date (though I daresay, the subsequent landing near our location probably proved to be far more harrowing in the end of it all). Krista, who had positioned herself near the lake with Madigan and Declan, was able to guide the medical team to our location, because in spite of our detailed description, it was still difficult for them to spot us from the air. 

The paramedics checked her vitals, verified information we had about her/her condition and immediately began preparing her for transport. It became evident that landing the helicopter nearer to our location would be preferable to transporting her across the distance to the chopper on foot (though several hikers had stopped to offer their services, and were waiting, if such an endeavor should be required). Due to the incredible skill of the pilot and the paramedic who helped him to navigate into position, the helicopter was able to safely land on the rocks (not 30 feet above us) that precariously formed the scree slope where we were perched. Six of us lifted her onto a stretcher and into the helicopter. That moment when she was lifted into the air on the chopper was a moment of intense relief for us all, and I think everyone had tears in their eyes as the helicopter disappeared over the horizon. The anxiety of not knowing the final outcome or even really having any idea of her likely prognosis weighed on us all. Jacob gathered all their gear and another great human being and fellow hiker on the mountain that day offered to assist him in taking it back down the mountain. We hugged Jacob, who will forever be a friend - something about those kinds of experiences leave an indelible imprint on the hearts/minds of the fellows who journey it together - and he set off to meet Sadie at the hospital. 

As we returned to our campsite that evening, I felt completely depleted of energy; I'm sure adrenaline was not my friend in that. We heard from Jacob, via text, that Sadie was in stable condition and that she was improving. More tears... of relief. 

Dad was amazing throughout the whole event - he gave the emergency personnel everything they could possibly need to successfully navigate that rescue and it paid off. He was calm, encouraging, and maintained incredible clarity in communicating with the dispatchers about the condition(s) of the patient. His former years of experience as an EMT absolutely paid off, as he helped bystanders understand the conditions to expect with the incoming helicopter and even cleaned up loose rocks, sticks and various debris that could have become problematic as the helicopter neared. 

As I have reflected on that day, it is the details that are profound to me. If Declan hadn't gotten sick that morning, we would not have encountered Jacob and Sadie on the trail. If we hadn't had an SOS device, there probably wouldn't have been time to get Sadie help before her body shut down (by the time any of us obtained cell phone service on the top of some peak nearby). The countless helpful and qualified individuals who were out hiking that morning in that place, who helped assist (or were available to assist) with the rescue. The fact that we were originally supposed to hike out that morning, which would have landed us just shy of the location where we encountered Jacob and Sadie. If Jacob hadn't stopped to pack up their tent/gear, but had proceeded down the mountain without it, we would have missed them on the trail. Krista had taken the boys to the lake to wait, so that they would be out of the way, and so she saw where the chopper landed and was able to help them find our location, preventing more delay. 

As we said goodbye to that magical place the following day, I contemplated that we are each placed in the time/place we are supposed to be and sometimes it will never make sense. But, sometimes it will. Those moments don't belong to us and they are not ours to keep. We are simply to show up, to BE and to never forget that life is beautiful. And fragile. 

Below are video links to the rescue, if you're interested. 

I joyfully report that Sadie and Jacob successfully hiked Mt. Wilson exactly one month to the day from the day of the rescue! Miracle!!! And they had their very own Garmin InReach with them. :-) 

Alone. But not.

Last night I lay awake in my hammock listening to the owl in the tree above my head... the trees were faintly outlined by the barely visible glow on the horizon. I could hear the boys sleeping nearby and breathed a prayer of thanks that even in this very isolated place, surrounded by canyons and trees and sky, I am never truly alone.

Often the battles we fight leave us feeling terribly alone, and unprepared. I see people every day facing that which they fear most, what is seemingly impossible for/to that unique individual. And yet, we all have this driving force (I can't bring myself to call it an energy) to keep moving forward, beyond what we battle, to thrive and live fully, even in our broken state. What is unfathomable in the whole of human survival/ability to endure is not just that we keep pushing forward, but that we find the strength to become more of what we should be. These darkest places and hardest challenges can actually be the catalyst to becoming what we are to become. 

So, this (another) day was filled with Lochlan trying to disappear off the property, necessitating "eyes on" every 2 minutes, followed by screaming when his wishes and expectations were thwarted. He has not slept more than 5 hours a night for 10 nights, but instead is filling my nights with (often outdoor) adventures. During the daytime, if he can be cajoled into staying indoors for a wee tad over the two minute marker, he uses the time to play the current musical fixation (1 song) repeatedly or by filling the bathroom with overflowing bathwater/bubbles at a 2 inch depth. It feels like an existence for all of us that is not sustainable and sometimes I think my personal perspective/outlook in life is characterized by trauma (though that seems like a strong word). Meanwhile, the battles to find Lochlan services perpetually continue. And, hence, I find that my current observation about humanity encourages me when my circumstances are discouraging or seemingly unbearable.

The challenges of some days leave me feeling like the shadow of my former self is haunting the person I am today, taunting me with whom I feel I should be by now. However, most often when I'm alone with my thoughts (which, admittedly isn't often), usually exploring in the mountains, I am able to re-balance my perspective to live fully in the life I have been given, giving no room to grieve the life I might be tempted to feel I was "owed". Because, really, the lives we are given are so much more full of pain and profound beauty (love?) than any fantastical narrative we painted for ourselves in our youth.