Houston, We’ve Had A Problem

On December 23 around noon time, a phone call from my mother catapulted me into a bit of distress. A nephew had suddenly passed away. Family in Nebraska was gathering to be with my sister, and I knew I needed to be there. I also knew there was no way FD and I could trust anyone to care for Emma and Ronnie deer and we really were not prepared to release them just yet. To boot, one of our little dogs continued to have health issues, and the other dog is terrified of people. Given all this it was quickly evident that I would be flying solo to Nebraska.

I have only flown a handful of times since 9/11 and I felt anxiety welling within me. Many years ago, however, I took flights all over the country and even out of country. Back then I was completely comfortable flying alone and on a whim. But over time, I suffered a breakdown of sorts. A series of ill-fated friendships and relationships destroyed my trust in people. As a result, I closed myself off and retreated to a quiet life – a protected life where I felt safe and secure. Since then, our little ranch and the surrounding area has provided me solace and healing. Over time, I have learned to venture out in the early mornings to do my shopping and run errands, that way avoiding large groups of people whenever possible. And, I did manage to make a handful of new friends in the area – people who had proven to be trustworthy and loyal. But now I would have to think of traveling by myself to the cold, winter climate that I dislike so much. On top of this, I would have to deal with the holiday season which had always been a sad time for me. I knew I would have to find a way to overcome my anxiety and offer my compassionate side to comfort my sister and her family during this time of grieving.

As much as I fretted and worried about the impending trip to Nebraska, preparation for my absence here, along with holiday visiting with out-of-state family and friends, kept me plenty busy. I made sure the house was clean and beds were made for company that would arrive before I returned on New Year’s Eve. I prepared meals ahead so that FD would not have to worry about cooking. I laid out Bear’s medications and made sure there were plenty of pee pads and newspapers so FD would not have to do much cleanup if Bear had an accident. Thank goodness deer chores did not require very much these days!

Truly, I had nothing to worry about the day I flew out. FD helped me check in and both legs of my flight went without a hitch. Looking around the airport, I saw other people who were unsure or seemed anxious. I heard several people complain about the freezing temperatures that greeted us at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. I had carried my coat with me, knowing winter is harsh in the north country, but nothing could brace me for the icy cold that greeted me upon my arrival. As I boarded the smaller plane that would take me to Lincoln Nebraska, I was thankful to see the couple across from my seat holding hands. The man looked as if he had fallen and banged himself up pretty bad. He looked down most of the time, avoiding eye contact with anyone. I wondered if that was how I looked to others. The introvert in me needed space and quiet to recharge my anxiety-sapped inner spirit.

After arriving at my baby sister’s home early that afternoon, I realized the days to come would be difficult. There was very little comforting about the situation my sister Lisa and her family faced. Nothing seemed fair as Lisa unwrapped the box containing a new shirt that was to have been her twenty-one-year-old son’s Christmas gift. Now, Zach would wear these threads for the first time… and forever. As our family and a few friends gathered at the old country cemetery next to the grave of my father, we braced ourselves against the bitter north winds, and huddled under the flapping canvas of the graveside tent. To combat the cold, old quilts were tucked in around those who were seated, offering an extra layer of warmth. Beyond the cemetery fences, I looked over the desolate fields, and even far beyond – we had buried many loved ones here before. And despite the bitter of the cold and the sharp sting of Zach’s sudden parting from this life, there was a sweetness in knowing he would be surrounded with family who had gone before him… especially my dad, Zach’s Pop Pop.

During my time in Nebraska I chided myself for having been afraid to make the trip. Why had I allowed fear and anxiety to rule the last fifteen years of my life? After all, I had managed this trip just fine. And perhaps it was more that I longed to be with my family. My mom and my siblings are all aware of what a hermit I am. But I was met with love and acceptance. I did not need to worry about what I had become or what shortcomings I had. We all came to be with my sister and her family, surrounding them with love and compassion. And as long as I knew Zach, I never once thought about the aspects of the life that he dealt with. He did not have the choices or opportunities the rest of us have. His body and his brain dictated developmental delays and he suffered countless seizures. And yet, every time I saw him, he was smiling. Always the infectious and contagious smile. Why did I tend to clam up and shrink into a corner when my anxiety got the best of me? Clearly, Zach knew how to enjoy every situation and help everyone around him feel good too.

The day of Zach's death and in the days after, rainbows were spotted, even when there was no rain! Photograph courtesy of my niece Emily.
The day of Zach’s death and in the days after, rainbows were spotted, even when there was no rain! This was an exceptional shot of a double rainbow on Christmas Day. Photograph courtesy of my niece Emily.

At the Lincoln airport, awaiting my return trip, my anxiety was not as high as it had been earlier in the week, and the check-in folks were super friendly. But I saw a very nervous woman at security who was nearly in tears. Happily, the TSA people were very kind and helped to reassure her and calm her. When I thought about it, I had seen kindness in people throughout this entire trip. But when I boarded the plane and sat in my seat, there was clearly a problem – an apparently intoxicated man was seated behind me at the rear of the plane. He was moaning out loud and reeked of alcohol. The lone stewardess on the flight kept checking on him and speaking to him in Spanish. She was kind and upbeat, but I sensed she was a bit uncertain. Finally, she moved a few of us up a row, and relocated a strong-looking man wearing a Union Pacific Railroad shirt into the seat in front of the intoxicated fella. After this, I think everyone felt a bit safer with a big, tough guy at the ready!

While waiting on the runway for takeoff, the stewardess spoke to the intoxicated man, and in a short time her tone became understanding and softer. Soon, a few words of English could be heard and, in time, the man’s story began to unfold. The man drove a semi-truck for a company out of Houston. His truck broke down before Christmas, and his company told him to leave the truck where it was and they would take care of having it hauled in. They told him to either drive a rental or fly back to Houston. But he could not find a car to rent over the holidays, and he was afraid to fly since he had never done so before. After several days of missing his family over the holiday, and not finding a rental car, some new friends at the motel he was staying at convinced him to fly. To help with his fear of flying and to settle his nerves, they instructed him to have a few drinks before his plane departed. So, after going through security at the airport, he went to the bar and had a few too many drinks. When asked why the airline simply did not deny him admittance on the plane, the stewardess indicated that the flight crew knew that if this man were to be thrown off the flight, he would never be allowed to fly that airline, or possibly any other airline, again. Moreover, he could possibly lose his Commercial Drivers License as well, which is required to drive a semi-truck . So, instead of seeing him face these consequences, all because of a little fear of flying, the flight crew made the decision to help the man get home. The stewardess was eventually able to provide drinks and snacks for everyone while the Union Pacific fella and a few of us visited with the trucker. At the end of the flight, the trucker was feeling much better, and the Union Pacific guy offered to make sure he got on the flight from Denver to Houston, as he was headed to Houston himself on the same flight. As I deplaned, the stewardess was arranging for them to be seated together.

As I considered all this, it came to me that we are never alone. I am sure the Apollo 13 crew felt very apprehensive and unsure out there in space in the wee hours of the morning when they contacted Houston. But they were not alone. Teams of people from Mission Control offered support, and people from all over the world prayed for the crew’s safe return. Faced with tragedy in our own lives, I believe we all have that same network of love and support available to us. All that is needed is an open mind and heart… and maybe a smile.

And that was Zach’s gift to me…

© 2017 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…

 


55 thoughts on “Houston, We’ve Had A Problem

  1. As always your words touch my heart.So sorry for your family’s loss. I’m off to PA tomorrow flying into Pittsburgh. I’ll think of you as I fly. I’m proud you made the trip. I’m not the best flyer either.

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  2. Lori, I’m so sorry to hear of Zach’s passing, especially at this time of year.

    I could easily relate to what you wrote about the difference between how Zach dealt with the challenges of his life and how you deal with your own challenges. Like you (I think) I tend to isolate myself when I’m overwhelmed or hurting. In contrast, over the past two years I’ve watched two of my close friends go through breast cancer treatment. And both of them blew me away with their bravery in the face of uncertainty and never-ending medical procedures. I found myself wondering how they found the strength to face each day with a smile and a positive outlook. It sounds crazy, but I noticed that I was almost envious of their inner strength and optimism. I doubt that I would be capable of that kind of response to such a dire health crisis.

    This all reminds me of a concept I’d read about years ago called “adversity quotient.” If I remember correctly, it was about how we each have our individual tolerances for adversity, and different ways of handling stress and misfortune. (I may have to go read about that some more.) I’m sure genetics has a part to play in this, but I also think it’s good for us to force ourselves out into the world occasionally, despite our reluctance. As you’ve shown here, there’s a lot of kindness and love out there if we’ll only allow ourselves to be open to it. Thanks for sharing this story.

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    1. Thank you, Kim, for sharing about your experience with your friends who went through cancer. There is so much for us to learn through other’s experiences. I am always fascinated with how interconnected we all are.
      Was there a book where you studied the “adversity quotient”concept? It sounds fascinating and like something I need to look into. I am not uncomfortable with the life I live – it’s probably the best I have felt in my life. But there are times, like this past week, where I know I need to step off this place, and it was extremely stressful. I want to find a balance so that I am not stressed if I need to travel or be in large crowds. I am open to being healthy socially again.

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      1. I think it must have been this book by Paul Stoltz, but I’m not sure. (https://www.amazon.com/Adversity-Quotient-Obstacles-Opportunities-published/dp/B00E6TM32Y/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1483548331&sr=8-1&keywords=adversity+quotient) I also just found his website, which might have some good info on it: http://peaklearning.com/about_aq.php. There’s a short video at the bottom of the home page. I’ll be curious to hear what you think when you read more about it. I’m guessing we could both benefit from improving our AQ. 🙂

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  3. You did it again. Shared a deeply personal loss with a large group of many, varied readers. Revealed your inclination to isolate yourself from the masses and yet find it was quite doable, even pleasant. Very encouraging words for many who resist mixing it up too much!
    So glad you were welcomed by your loving family, “warts” and all. I sense we see our “warts” more than anyone else does. Hugs to you over your loss of Zach and thanks as always for encouraging the best in each of us.
    Judith, The Lioness

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    1. Oh Judith, you always respond with the most beautiful and heartfelt words. I felt your hug big time! And you made me laugh with the “warts and all” comment. I think you are right – most people never notice the warts. I need to remember that… and I’ll smile every time I think of my “warts”! 😀 I sure have plenty of them.

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  4. This post has really spoken to me, Lori. When we write from the heart, or have open hearts and minds, magic happens. I, too, have a tendency to shut myself away and many times have discovered that what I feared never eventuated, quite to the opposite, as you have told us. Introverts are introverts, and we just have to keep building our skills of connecting, even against all instincts. Emily’s photo is nothing short of amazing! Thank you so much for sharing this. It is a great tribute to Zach’s memory, and will live long in mine. One of your best posts, Lori. Sending much love.💕

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    1. Oh Ardys, you always make me feel like a bright star in the galaxy! Your words offer encouragement and and friendship over the miles and oceans between us. I feel so much love here today, and I know my family does too. I am so glad you, and so many folks here, are people of the “heart”.

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  5. I don’t know if I’ve ever referred you to Lori’s blog, I think maybe I have… She also follows Celi. Anyway, today’s post from her is especially good. I felt like she was speaking directly to me. Thought you might enjoy it too. xx A

    >

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  6. So sorry for your family’s loss. Even if Zachs passing may have been a release given his health, to loose a child must be a truly terrible experience. A death at this time of year is especially difficult, when families gather together and we’re reminded even more of those who are absent. My father died on the 29th December last year. We missed him at the head of the family table, made a toast to him, honored him in different ways and found comfort in being together.
    This post must have been difficult to write, but you’ve succeeded in sharing a deeply personal, which by its nature is also universal, with great sensitivity and elegance.
    Wishing you and yours good health and serenity in the year to come Xxx

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    1. Thank you, Henrie. I remember you lost your father last year during the holiday season. I thought of you as I traveled to Nebraska, wondering how this first year without him might be. I started this post on the plane headed home, and it actually felt good to write. I “feel” so much when I’m writing, and I knew that I needed to write about Zach’s gift in my life… and also, to express the new beginning for me overcoming some anxiety I have felt. Thank you for being such a caring and loving friend. My wish for you is the same… good heath and serenity! XOXO

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  7. Sister, your words leave me speechless, and proud! I knew the fears you faced, and yet you persevered. And isn’t it amazing the lessons we encounter and the goodness in mankind we experience, often when we need it most. Most every one of us is dealing with something that no-one else can see. Like the intoxicated truck driver on your flight, many of us would choose to ignore him, and hope he doesn’t make a scene. Yet, when we open our hearts and show compassion, we are sometimes surprised at what we learn, and it humbles us. It reminds me of one of my favorite Tim McGraw songs, (always stay) Humble and Kind. And the song, it reminds me of Zach; his smile was so contagious, you couldn’t help but to smile back.

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    1. Ah Baby Sister, you have no idea the gift of kindness and love you evoked in our family the day you were born. You changed people. Zach provided that same gift – joy and happiness, and that big smile (much like Pop Pop’s!). I didn’t write about it but you know I was dressed for anniversary dinner with FD and Sissy Jo and Patric, and when I first saw the intoxicated trucker, I wondered if he was going to hurl… and how would THAT be to deal with?? Ha ha! Well, nothing happened and it all turned out to be an amazing story of compassion and caring. What a special week it was Jules. Thank you for taking good care of me while I stayed with you. I owe Emily a big thanks for letting me borrow her coat and clothes!! Next time I come I hope it’s warm or hot weather!! 🙂

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  8. What a beautiful story. Oh you dear woman, how I understand you! I have all the same fears and, like you, since 9/11. It is a deep dark burden to deal with as i live overseas and the only way to see my family, my brother, my aging parents, has been to swallow the fear and fly. And like you, almost every time, something warm and human happens. As crazy as the digital and news outlets reveal the world to be, the statistics are in our favor. I wonder, too, if you really were surrounded by as many nervous people as you think or if you saw nervousness because you were nervous. I have long noticed that I tend to see my own feelings reflected as if they are self-prophesying. It is so hard, this fear thing. And it is such a ruthless master. It closes our lives in, in so many sad ways, and yet fear isn’t truth. It’s just a feeling that masquerades as fact. Be brave, you are in so many MANY other ways.

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    1. What a lovely comment, Charlotte. I think you are correct that our radar seems to tune into other folks who share the same nervousness and anxiety that we do. I love your words about fear being a “ruthless master”. This trip was a first step to venturing out and exploring more, a little at a time. It’s perplexing how confident I once was, and how this breakdown of trust in people brought me to this point – of learning to venture out again. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, my friend. 🙂

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  9. You cannot even imagine how good the timing of this post. But first, I am deeply sorry for the loss of your nephew. Your description of the cemetery scene matches one cemented in my mind. That setting holds grief and closeness of family.

    We are never alone. So true. The story of the trucker and the compassion shown to him truly moved me.

    Thank you for this post.

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    1. I suppose because we are women of the plains, and we understand the sometimes harshness of the Midwest, I feel a kinship with you and your prose. It is what I love about your blog… photographs and words I can relate to. There was a loveliness in your recent photos of your mother… and Izzy – of the old and new. Of the cold snow and icy wind… and warm pajamas. Your family photos always brings me back to home… and how life is well-lived. Thank you for your friendship, Audrey.

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  10. I’m so sorry for your loss and this difficult time. It’s hard enough to lose someone who’s older but a young family member – that’s devastating. I’m glad you were able to be there with your sister – to conquer your fear of flying and do what you needed to (had to) do. You’ve a huge heart and I’m so sorry that it’s pained over all this. My love to your family during this horribly difficult time. Paulette

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    1. Thank you, Paulette. It did my heart good to write this post. And I wanted to honor Zach’s life. So many readers honor life throughout the year – for love, kindness and caring is reflected in many ways and places. It is what I love of you, my sweet, dear friend… your deep compassion and caring for the dogs (and cats sometimes!) who get a second chance at life. Each time I look at those photographs you post, and I see the anxiety and fear in those little eyes, I am reminded how each of us sometimes fears the unexpected, something new, or letting something go. Your gift is to help these sweet babies find a new life… a better life. Bless you for sharing your gift of writing, and the gift for giving second chances. Much love to you, Paulette.

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  11. So sorry about Zach, Lori. Just this last year, one of my very favorite students, also named Zach (who i really loved when i worked with the multiply handicapped, before i retired) passed away. He also, like your nephew, had seizures from time to time. He was blind and hydrocephalic, but had the best sense of humor and was always smiling. I spoke at his funeral service… and it was a very tough day. I never saw Zach, my student (when i worked with him), angry. He was always caring and he would often say “I love everybody!” What a sweet way to be!

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    1. Your work with the multi-handicapped brings to mind another special aspect of the home that Zach lived in, when my sister could no longer handle Zach when he needed care that she couldn’t provide. The caretakers, teachers and staff were wonderful, caring people. Many of them were present at the funeral. And Zachs friends (I believe Zach was the “baby” of the group and much loved by the others) were lined up in wheelchairs, also present. It meant the world to my sister, to know that Zach was continually surrounded by loving and caring people throughout his life. Thank you, Tom, for your loving and caring spirit. Thank you for sharing about your experience with your student, Zach.

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  12. Lori, I am so sorry for your family’s loss. I have nieces and nephews who are young adults and I, nor my siblings, can imagine losing them so early in life. I am so glad your family was able to come together in support and solidarity at this time.

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  13. Lori, your loss has brought tears to my eyes. How absolutely awful what you and your family have gone through, especially around the holidays. Zach was so young, so young that he never had the chance to fully live life. It breaks my heart. I can truly relate to you on the anxiety you feel around family and old friends, as I have gone through that myself and it’s an awful feeling. You never know your true strength until it’s tested, and considering all the challenges you had to go through, with your nephew passing, flying, and then facing your family…you inspire me to want to be a better person. You and your family are in my prayers. xoxo

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  14. Lori, it seems my first comment did not load but, after reading this, it has brought tears to my eyes. I am so sorry for the passing of your nephew Zach. At only 21, he was so young that he never had the chance to fully live life. I can’t imagine, my heart breaks for you. I can truly relate about how it feels to have anxiety around family and past friends, it’s an awful feeling, and so hard to overcome. But you never know how strong you are until you are tested. You were faced with so many challenges all at once, with Zach passing, the flight, and family…you inspire me to want to become a better and stronger person. You and your family are in my prayers. xoxo

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    1. Thank you, Brittany. My longing to be present for my sister Lisa, and her family, catapulted me to deal with my anxiety about getting out in public and dealing with travel, especially during the holidays. Love often causes us to be courageous and overcome… and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. 🙂 Thank you for your beautiful words.

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        1. There will come a day when I will meet you, Cherity! I am hoping some summer I can do some travel where I can visit a few people in that region. It is exciting to think one day we can meet in person! 🙂

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  15. A beautiful post.
    What I know about anxiety and phobias is that when we back away from the object of our fear, it takes more and more of our power and the fear grows. This was an important act for you, in many ways.

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    1. Thank you, Sandy. I love what you say about anxiety and phobias robbing us of our power. I have had many opportunities lately, to venture out of this place I’ve backed myself into. Like the pendulum on a grandfather clock, I seem to have gone from trusting people too much (and being hurt terribly) to not trusting much of anyone at all. I need to find balance somewhere… these opportunities to venture out keep showing up. It is time to trust instinct. Thank you for your empowering words, Sandy.

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  16. I just came across your post, and what a touching story. I am so sorry for you and your family’s loss. How devastating for your family, especially his parents. Children are not supposed to die before parents, my mom always said that. God works in strange ways. I am glad you found some good in all of this, knowing you have overcome your anxiety of travelling to see family. Now that I have kids, I am always fearful when I fly. I hold my cross necklace and pray on the way up, and on the way down. Thank you for sharing your difficult time, and keep looking for the good everywhere.

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    1. Thank you so much for your kind words. I think when you have kids, the way you look at and approach everything changes. I cannot imagine the loss and pain my sister and her family are dealing with. Zach was indeed, a gift to us and he came as a teacher of joy and happiness. Our lives are so interconnected… we must always look for the goodness or message in everthing. Zach’s legacy was his smile and his joy.

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  17. I am deeply saddened by your loss and I wish your family my deepest sympathies . I am also proud of the way you have learnt to conquer your fear and I suppose Zach would have been so proud of you . It makes me happy to know that he was a very happy child and it inspires me to find the speck of joy in my life

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  18. Dear Lori. Deeply saddened at your loss. It’s a pity youngsters have to go so early. Of course, we all get out of these situations but the pain remains deep within. As usual, you’ve written so well, I feel a part of the story! Thank you for sharing.

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  19. Lori, there is so much beauty and warmth in this story, despite the loss of your nephew and the cold Nebraska weather.
    I’m glad you found comfort with family, and that you experienced nice folks around you.
    I especially am glad for the story of the flight attendant and the trucker.
    Thank you for sharing, no matter how difficult this must have been

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    1. Thank you, Laurie. Isn’t it just wonderful when you land smack dab in the middle of some scenario that suddenly brings everything full-circle, and you realize you’re a part of something amazing? 😊

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  20. For such a long time I’ve seen your thoughtful and heartfelt comments over at Celi’s Farmy and it never occurred to me I needed to “follow you home” until now. I’m so grateful I did! What a beautiful testament here to your nephew’s beauty, to the kindness of strangers, and most of all, to your own courage and insight despite the impediments of your own struggles. Clearly you’ve mastered the art that my mother taught me for coping with deep anxiety and its constant shadow, insecurity—look for the person around you who is in even deeper need than you are, and attempting to help him or her will put your own troubles in a different perspective when they begin to take second place to your compassion. It’s one thing to relish solitude and retreat, and another to be imprisoned by them, and you have shown that you have the spirit and heart to step out of your comfort zone for the sake of others. What a lovely gift.
    Peace,
    Kathryn

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    1. What a lovely and heartfelt comment, Kathryn! Thank you for the phrase, “your nephew’s beauty”. He was a beautiful boy, and what a gift he was to our family. Your words, “deep anxiety and its constant shadow, insecurity” really hit home for me. Being imprisoned really hadn’t been so bad for me, until I had to step out of that place. I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to be surrounded by so many “signs” that I was not alone, and certainly, to know that the same anxiety exists almost everywhere we turn. I am so glad you came by to visit, and now I shall venture over to your blog! ~ Lori

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    1. Thank you, Steve. That whole trip just came full circle for me. And this week, my sister Lisa has come down here to visit and spend a little time basking in our warmer climate, and walk the woodlands and orchard. I hope Nature brings her the same healing as it has for me for many years.

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