North

I’m sitting here wrapped up in a warm fuzzy blanket all by myself with a fancy Sam Adams Rebel Grapefruit IPA that someone left in the fridge, listening to Boston and looking out at the freezing cold channeled waters of Lake Huron. 

It was a beautiful warm day, but it is starting to get chilly again as the sun gets lower in the sky. I’ve been up here in the Les Cheneaux Islands of the Upper Peninsula, Michigan since Monday evening after an 8 and a half hour drive. I have come up here to start writing my book that perhaps, maybe, might get published someday. The rest of my family has taken this opportunity to go visit William’s family down in Texas. This is the longest and the furthest I’ve been away from my husband and children since I’ve been married. While I certainly love and appreciate my introvert’s heavenly solitude when I can get it, it’s been quiet and even just a little bit lonely at times. This place is usually so bustling with activity and laughter when I’m here. It was strange at first to adjust to the quietness! I’m excited to see my hubzbind and my kids next week and I hope they’re all having fun without me! It turns out that ten days is a long time!

I’ve had very productive days of writing and being active. It’s so easy to go for 5 mile walks when there is just endless beauty to look at. The mostly flat terrain and cooler climate is also a huge bonus! It has been bittersweet to reminisce about the walks we had gone on with Nora along much of the same route. A lump welled up in my throat as I approached the intersection I had been at with Nora when an elderly couple approached the stop sign in their car. 

They smiled so big and craned to look into the stroller at the sweet sleeping baby. There was no pity in their eyes at the sight of the portable oxygen tank dangling from her stroller. In that moment I was just simply a mom on a walk with her baby. That scene did not contain any extra 18th chromosome, no anxiety, no prognises, and no grim statistics. For just in that moment, everything was perfect. I remember tearing up, and stopping to kiss Nora as the sound of their tires crackled along the gravel in the distance, taking that moment with them. 

I’ve gone on walks, I’ve gone on bike rides on my sweet Oma’s old bike, and I’ve taken the kayak out a couple of times, Norns Doll always with me. 

Yes, I’m that weird lady seen around with the doll peeking out of the back of her drawstring pack pack. I don’t even care. 

On Wednesday, my birthday, I kayaked from Island 8 over to Government Island. There are no houses on Government, just a collection of trails and more serene beauty. Once I was on the island I had it in my mind that I wanted to cut across to the other side instead of going the way that I was used to.  I started off on what appeared to be a trail, but it gradually faded. Fortunately I had worn my creek boots. The next thing I knew, I was sloshing through mossy marshes, climbing over fallen trees, literally squeezing in between pine trees, trying to untangle my hair from their branches, wiping spider webs off my face and getting scratched to hell and back. “This is not fun anymore,” I commented to the curious little chickadee in the tree. 

Imagine this ALL around, except even worse. I didn’t get pictures of the bad parts!

I started to get a little bit nervous and eventually got my phone out. I had been tracking my hike predicament on Map My Run and I was none too happy to see the big red trail making a horseshoe shape. I was basically heading in a circle, and not the straight line I had imagined. It felt like I was turning around to go back the way I came when I set myself back in the direction I was supposed to be heading. I hadn’t realized how easy it was to get disoriented in that type of environment, but yeah! Isn’t this just like life, I thought to myself, specifically our time with Nora. We received her diagnosis and from that point on, we lost the trail. We thought we were heading in one direction, only to get thrown completely off. There were moments of panic as we tried to regain our bearings. There were times of struggle, terrible discomfort and fatigue as we unknowingly walked in circles. We tripped and we fell several times along the way, but we would get back up, dust ourselves off and continue on. We greatly appreciated the clearings when they popped up, but just as soon as we grew comfortable with the lack of obstacles – there we were again trying to snap branches out of the way, sustaining more scratches and bruises. We got to spend so much time in the lush and beautiful meadow — much longer than anyone ever would have guessed. But then we were thrust back into the tangle of forest again. It was interesting that even in the scary, painful parts — if we would just stand still for a second and stop fighting our way, there was still beauty. There were beautiful carpets of moss, sprouts of wildflowers never before seen by anyone else, tiny pine saplings bursting forth from the lush soil, and the skittish little birds that warbled up in the high branches. We missed all of that when we were so focused on getting to the other side. 

Eventually I could hear the sound of the water and saw the sparkle of sunlight dancing off of it through the trees. A few more hurdles, leaps and scratches, I was finally there. Hot, sweaty, bedraggled, with twigs in my crazy hair and covered in cobwebs, but I was there!!


 I stood there for a moment and looked out at the expanse of the Great Lake, Huron. It was beautiful and the breeze felt so good, waves lapping at the shore. 

AAAAAhhhh!!!! I rested for a moment before continuing on along the southern shore of the island. I was familiar with the rest of the way, but took careful steps over the rocky terrain so as not to twist my ankle. No Service popped up at the top of my phone — not that there was anyone close by to come and rescue me, but I could have at least updated my Facebook status about it and my friends could have felt sorry for me! (LOL) The rest of my hike was uneventful. I stopped to absorb the beauty from to time along the way back to my kayak. 


There is this really cool tree that has this crazy curved branch that just begs to be sat on. I couldn’t resist and set the timer on my camera. Hurry!! 10 seconds to jump up there in big clumsy boots… and GO

I literally went out on a limb for my birthday!


It’s funny to look at that tree. If someone were to draw a picture of it, you would look at the drawing and think, “Well that’s not right. Tree branches don’t look like that.” But here is proof that they can and do!

Since it was my birthday, I accepted the invitation to have dinner with my Uncle Roger and Aunt Mary Ann, and Pat and Terry L. later that evening. They were also up here at their beautiful places for a visit. I had joked that I was just going to be by myself on my birthday blowing out a candle on my sad sandwich that I would then eat aaaalllll alone. LOL. That seriously would not have bothered me, but it was actually very nice to be in their company. We had delicious homemade pizza and salad, and then (“eenen“) they sang Nora’s favorite song to me with a fabulous chocolate cake! It was the perfect ending for my birthday — a day that can’t help but be tinged with sorrow, as it is also the anniversary of Nora’s funeral. However, I got some incredible happy birthday wishes from heaven throughout the day, and a gorgeous sunset on the drive home. 

Zoom in closely to see the 3 birds! I followed their path of flight and discovered the rainbow that had been placed in the sky behind me!

Thursday I finally got into the groove of writing. I had been writing lots, but nothing flowed. I found that my words streamed so much more smoothly from my pen than they did from the keyboard. I had even tried writing on my Grandmother’s old manual typewriter that I had brought up here. 

After about 7 lines and yanks of the return carriage, I had to give up. Oh. My. Goodness, how spoiled we are with our neat, smooth-stroke, ergonomically designed computer keyboards and ability to backstroke, edit and revise on our word processing programs that will even correct our grammar and spelling without so much as a second thought!!!! My pitiful, weak finger muscles could NOT HANG, especially my poor scrawny little pinkies who were expected to exert about 10 lbs of force with each shift stroke. And we don’t have to growl at any ink ribbons that keep dislodging every time we hit the shift key. We are seriously, seriously so spoiled with this!!! So yeah, that did not work so well, but my pen and notebook have been great and are easy to travel / kayak with. The typewriter will just be here as nostalgic ambiance. 

Today I kayaked over to my Uncle Greg and Aunt Paula’s house over on the mainland. They weren’t there, but I figured they wouldn’t mind if I parked my kayak there for a bit. 

From there I walked down to Fox Lane where the cottage that once belonged to my Great-Grandma Bohmer sits. I had planned on just peeking by for a quick visit to reminisce. But there was no one there, and the urge to sit down at the familiar old picnic table was too much to resist! I hope no one minds! I opened up the digital albums I had archived on Google Drive and scanned through all of the old photos that were taken in that very place. 

Many of them dated all the way back to 1951 which is when Grandma Bohmer purchased the cottage. I was astounded by how much was still the same — a treasured time capsule of not only my own childhood, but also of my Mom’s and her brother’s childhoods. There were pictures of us as babies through different eras on that very porch where I currently sat all these years later in 2017. 

And then I came along, hungry for hotdogs! ~

I gasped with wide-eyed wonder to discover the picture of Uncle Joe & Aunt Nora, my Grandma Bohmer’s older sister sitting in the very spot that I had sat as a little girl and was now sitting today at that very moment.

I took some current day pictures for comparison and then sat there with my pen and my notebook and wrote for 3 hours. Writing came so easy. I imagined that all of these old souls were still sitting around this table, sharing this beautiful moment in time with me as if though they’d never left at all, infinitely connected by our strands of DNA across all time and dimensions.

I mean, even the chairs on the left are positioned the same exact way!! I did not pose them!

 

June 3

Over these past couple of weeks I took on the daunting task of organizing Nora’s closet. After she had died we placed everything organized as best as we could in the closet of the room that was supposed to have been her bedroom, but never was. Putting her things away was in no way an attempt to get her out of our minds. It was all just too painful to look at. It was as if a deep gouge had been scratched into a record, interrupting the beautiful song that had been playing. Terrible static ensued and then those last few notes kept playing over and over and over and over again. All of Nora’s things sat dutifully in place ready to be of service, waiting for the song to continue just as it always had. And now it was abruptly over. My way of turning off the record player was to put most of everything away. The heavy pall of silence that fell over our home was of no solace either. It was a stark reminder of all that was lost. 

I was taking on the task of the closet not to get rid of anything, but to make some semblance of it. I had gone in there so many times trying to find something and accomplished nothing other than making an even bigger mess of her things and of my emotions. I had prepared myself for much of what was behind those sliding white doors – her toys, her books, some of her clothes, burp rags, blankets, wash clothes, hooded little towels, her Bumbo and her beloved nest. I took it all out of the closet piece by piece. Then there were the things I had forgotten about or didn’t expect to see. These were the things that just completely annihilated me. A dried pack of wipies with one wipe standing at attention, ready for duty (“doody”), and then the boogie sucker with her boogies still in it. No one ever imagines that they’d be standing there weeping bitterly over dried snot, but there I was — my lungs constricting in lengthy jagged bursts, tears streaming down my red cheeks. The spot of blood on an IV bandaid. HER blood. The pink teddy bear that played a recording of her fetal heartbeat. These are all just THINGS, I reminded myself. Myself snapped back, “All JUST things?? All of these stupid, insignificant things?? How is it that they are all still here and she is not? How is it that the f#$%ing batteries in her toys and her birthday cards are still alive and singing, while the most important ‘thing’ is dead? These THINGS are ALL that we have left tangible.” I continued to weep. I took breaks from time to time, to go outside and gaze up at the sky, or to pound my fists into the carpet in a rage of tears. I appreciated the day of thunderstorms. It was comforting to have the weather match my own tumultuous climate. I organized it all, put it in labeled bins and boxes. The padded and ribboned box from the hospital that contained the rose that I had brought from home. Although now dried up, it had looked so pretty behind her ear for that moment in time… 


And then the last pair of pajamas she ever wore with the emergent cut down the middle. There had been no time to even remove her pajamas that horrible day in May. The box of mementos from her birth – the tag from her bassinet “NORA”, our hospital bracelets. I marveled at how tiny her little wrist once was as I slipped her bracelet over my thumb. 
  

I smiled as I thought about the fat rotund little wrists that she had when she left us. She has come such a long way. I even saved her first teeny tiny nail clippings, taped to a piece of dark paper. I saved those, but I couldn’t save HER.
After I had neatly labeled everything and put it all back into the closet, I went through the boxes and boxes of cards, notes and letters that we had collected since January of 2012. I saved and treasure each and every one of them. I sorted them out in categories: pregnancy, birth congratulations, holidays and birthdays, and then the cards of condolences. I sat in tearful awe over all of the lives Nora had touched before she was even born and continues to do so now 3 years after her death. If I could stack them all up, I would have about 2 feet of cards. I cried tears of gratitude over the drawings from kids and read through each and every card and letter. Nora had captured the hearts of so many people, young and old. It didn’t matter whether you had met her here in person or if you only knew her through pictures. You cheered us on, encouraged us, prayed for us, and then in the end you helped carry this debilitating burden of grief. Nora wasn’t just MY Lady Baby. She belonged to all of us, bringing with her a message of faith, hope and unconditional love, pointing us all toward heaven. She was everybody’s sweetheart.

I think about and remember my sweet Lady Baby every single moment of every single day, but today is especially painful as I remember how we had to say goodbye to her during the fresh early morning hours of this day. I give so much thanks for the precious gift that we all were given. Sweet Nora, what a privilege to know and love you. 

On Monday I leave for the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I’ll be there for 10 days all by myself (!!!! #introvertdreamcometrue) with my laptop, my pens, notebooks, sketch pads, my paints, my Grandmother’s typewriter and a great big story to write. The book. I’m going to try to be “off the grid” as much as possible with maybe some updates on Instagram (@aleisaak). Thank you all for being a part of this epic journey along with us. Thank you for all of your texts, phone calls, messages, posts and comments throughout the day today. You made my heart smile.

Moon Bath

The thrust of warm water hisses through the pipes. My chilled skin welcomes the initial sting as its warmth surrounds me. I lean back on the bath pillow, clasping my broken heart, pretending for just a moment that you’re still here. I Imagine that someone is about to bring me your fat naked little body. That at any moment you’ll be immersed with me, an excited smile on your face. Weightless, warm, cherished and loved, I’d stroke water through your fuzzy hair, kiss your cheeks, squeeze your naked baby bum and sing to you how much I love you. The water continues to splash out from the faucet, coalescing with my tears. Only your faded mermaid sticker smiles back at me. Your bath towel and the precious imprint of where your sweet head used to lie. No kicky, squealing baby to place on it, covered in 1,070 days’ worth of dust. The moon and Jupiter peek in through a gap in the curtain — reflecting the sun’s light over great expanse to this little spot in the world where I used to hold you and love you. The bath is lonely and sad without you, but just like the sun, no time and no distance can diminish the intensity of my love for you. 

In Wait

The merciless ticking of the clock coupled with the fear of the unknown threatened to erode the very core of my being. Methodical and intentional breaths helped keep my head above the crashing waves. It all seems a thousand years ago, and yet only yesterday from where I sit in the corner of this hospital. From outside the window, the silhouette of the towers, concourses and office buildings slowly become visible against the backdrop of the early morning sky. A patterned glow of windows interrupt the darkness, and I contemplate over each one. 


Is that the room where I cradled my newborn birth daughter for the first time? Which was the room where I drew my own first breaths? The rooms where my siblings were born – when I proudly wore my “IM A BIG SISTER” sticker. Which is the window that my Oma looked out of from her hospital bed after she fell and broke her leg? Or the stark room where I spent the night with my sister after her first son was born, waiting for adoption papers, both of us still kids ourselves. This morning one of these rooms holds a mother and a father and a precious baby boy, not yet born. As the sun rises higher in the sky and up over the buildings, I pray for their peace, for visible, tangible evidence of God’s presence — not because of lack of faith, but because we NEED him that close. Inside his mother’s womb, a little baby boy is cradled in pure, unconditional love. He is safe in his cocoon, blissfully unaware of his extra 18th chromosome, and all of the fears and worry that accompany his condition. His only basic primal need is to be loved. He is LOVED.

Father God, I pray Your peace and serenity upon this family. Dispatch your legions of warrior angels to thwart off the attacks of the enemy who looms nearby studying and searching for a way in. There is no room for the enemy in any part of this hospital, Lord. Guard the hearts and minds of this family from any fear and unrest. Help them to keep their focus solely on you. Lord, I pray that your glory will shine forth through the life of this little boy who is so very, very loved. I pray that the decisions involving his care will be made clear and concise, that all of the right people will be in place at the right time. Upon his birth, I pray for this little boy’s strength and stability, that there will be no emergencies that would prevent him from spending time in his parents’ loving embrace. We thank you, Father for the beautiful life of this baby boy. He is fearfully and wonderfully made, perfect in Your loving eyes. We have no idea what is going to unfold today, but You do, Lord. You are in control of each and every little detail, mapping out each of our days. We surrender to Your will, our trust is in You. 

When peace like a river, attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul

Amen.

Refocus.

I blinked back a piercing surge of tears as they suddenly wheeled past in a sea of pink balloons and flowers, a tiny pink bundle asleep in her smiling mama’s arms. I stoically held my bleeding, shattered heart together inside my chest and pressed the elevator button. Exactly to the day, four years ago that was us with our new baby. Sweet Nora. I remembered how elated and also how terrified we were to be leaving this very same hospital with a baby that miraculously survived delivery yet “likely won’t live past the week”. But wait!!! We are SO madly in love with her!!!!!!! Doesn’t that count for SOMETHING?!?!??!! I remembered the unstoppable stream of tears that poured down my cheeks soaking my shirt and Nora’s tiny receiving blanket. I remembered the smiles that faded into concerned pity as people passing saw my contradicting tear streaked face. Deep breath, slow exhale. We had so much more than “maybe a week”, I reminded myself. Yes, we were so madly in love with her, and that counted for something. That counted for EVERYTHING. Refocus.We were there at the hospital this evening to visit my Oma (my German “grandma”) who sadly was taken away in an ambulance last Wednesday after she fell and broke her leg at my parents’ house, where she is living. She is 88-years young and has had seen and experienced a myriad of struggles and hardships throughout her brave life. Her insuppressible spunk and willpower combined with the stereotypical German stubbornness has pulled her through each and every battle she’s had to face. This current battle of her broken leg is complicated by the break’s close proximity to one of her prosthetic knees. It will require a delicate and involved surgery with a specific surgeon who specializes in complicated orthopedic cases such as this. The first attempt at surgery was abruptly terminated last Friday because of a cardiac issue that arose after they had put her under anesthesia and positioned her for the operation. She recovered well out of the anesthesia, but in the mean time they have had to figure out what is going on with her heart. The good news is that she did not suffer a heart attack. Surgery was rescheduled for today, but then rescheduled again for this Wednesday to make provisions for specific cardiac anesthesiology to be on hand. Even still, there is a pretty substantial risk involved. Oma could surely use and would most certainly appreciate any and all prayers!  
Oma and I this past Easter

William and I had a nice visit with her today. She is in great spirits, all things considered, and the hospital staff seems to really enjoy caring for her and interacting with her. She is truly, truly a one-of-a-kind character. We prayed over her and I hugged her and kissed her several times before we left. She told me that if something happens tomorrow, she doesn’t want us to be sad. 😭😭😭  I reassured her with a lump in my throat that God is watching over her, and little Norns is too.   William noticed that the hospital campus shows up on my GPS screen in the shape of a heart.

“In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.”

‭‭(Psalm‬ ‭33:21‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

The Night Before Your Birthday 

  
I remember laying here in this same spot four years ago protected in an otherworldly sanctuary of peace. It was almost ridiculous that I wasn’t curled up on the floor in a puddle of anxiety laced tears. My hand hovered over you on the other side of my skin, savoring each and every one of your little pokes and kicks. I was keenly aware that those sweet flutters could very well be some of the last experiences we had together on this earth, but I was blissfully unable to be bothered or upset by that. Oh, the legions of warrior angels that must have been standing guard around us, protecting our gift of serenity with all their might. A grand adventure was about to unfold! There was no time to be wasted or stolen with lies.

There are the days when the pain of being without you is excruciating. I want and crave nothing more than to sniff you and kiss you, stroke your sweet cheeks and nibble on your knee muffins and your little elf ear. You were (and still are) such a huge gift. Tomorrow is the anniversary of a HAPPY day. Even though you won’t be here with us in the sweet “stinky” flesh to celebrate with us, I don’t want the beauty of your LIFE to be tarnished with the sadness of your death. (***ADD moment: Is it weird that a song called “Life and Death” is playing on Pandora right now?!???!***) So warrior angels? If you follow this blog and you’re reading this right now, will you please keep a watchful eye over us as you did so efficiently those four years ago? 

You brought unfathomable love and joy into our lives, Nora. I am eternally grateful for our statisic-defying 777 days together and the absolute privilege of having you as my daughter. Although we are apart for now, you are still very close in my heart and ever on my mind. Tomorrow we will celebrate you with cake, ice cream, sparkles and balloons and of course your favorite song “Happy Birthday”. We certainly won’t sound as beautiful as the angels, but we’ll do our very best!

Happy, beautiful birthday, sweet Lady Baby!

“In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”‭‭(1 Peter‬ ‭1:6-7‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

January 9th

I squeezed my husband’s hand, as he prayed out loud over my round belly. Moments later, the warm yellowish fluid accumulated into the sterile syringe. Shallow breaths, and the fears of “what if” pulsing through my mind. “These things only happen to OTHER people!!?” I frantically reassured myself. We left and we waited and we waited. Five never-ending days later, January 9th at 1:30 pm, the phone rang. We hadn’t thought to be together on the expected day of the call, because certainly “everything was completely fine.”

2012.01.26 001

My eager optimism was shattered into a million pieces as the geneticist sorrowfully explained to me that our baby’s amnio results showed a triplicate of the 18th chromosome. Trisomy 18. I don’t remember anything else she said as I crawled screaming out of the bathtub into a hysterical heap in the middle of the bathroom floor. I laid there numb, with my heart ripped out of my body. Why. Why. Why, oh, God, WHY. In those fresh, horrible moments we suddenly became trapped in a world of horrible and vague uncertainty. There would have been no way of knowing what a precious gift lay curled up, snug inside me. That I regarded her as some terrible genetic disaster makes me weep sad and bitter tears. I won’t beat myself up over those illogical apprehensions. How could I have known otherwise? As the agonizing layers of days, weeks and months were peeled away, our gift was revealed.

PACE1756

Not a diagnosis. Not some horrible anomaly. A beautiful, precious, angelic, amazing, wonderful and perfect little girl. She might not have been perfect according to medical standards, but she was beyond perfect in our eyes. As I look back at today, 2012, my eyes well up with tears. Yes, I’m sad to have said goodbye to my own hopes and dreams of a “typical baby”, but once I held Nora in my arms, there was no other baby I would have traded her for. God had a much greater plan for me – for all of us.

I love this quote by Pope Francis that my friend Maggie shared with me this morning:

“Health is certainly an important value, but it does not determine the value of a person. Furthermore, health in and of itself is no guarantee of happiness: for this may occur even in the presence of poor health. The fullness towards which every human life tends is not in contradiction with a condition of illness and suffering. Therefore, poor health and disability are never a good reason for excluding or, worse, for eliminating a person… A society truly welcomes life when it recognizes that it is also precious in old age, in disability, in serious illness and even when it is fading; when it teaches that the call to human fulfillment does not exclude suffering; indeed, when it teaches its members to see in the sick and suffering a gift for the entire community, a presence that summons them to solidarity and responsibility.”

How blessed I am to KNOW this firsthand. Thank you, God. Thank you, Nora.