Life Keeps Being Tricky: And Now My Mom is Gone

Three and a half years ago, my mom had a massive stroke.  One where the doctors felt she had no chance of talking or walking again.  A true, FOR REALS, miracle occurred and within days she was talking and quickly coming back to her old self.  The only thing that I feel like my mom lost in her stroke was some kind of hardness that was in her heart.  I would never have described her as a hard hearted person by any stretch of the imagination, but after her stroke there was an openness and a softening that made her more fun and more loving and more accepting and more of all kinds of great things.  Although, her body was weakening, her soul heart was growing stronger.

The last three and half years have been my favorite three and half years with my mom.  In these last three and half years, my mom and I have done a lot of growing and we did it together.  
I knew that my mom’s body, and particularly, her lungs, have been growing weaker for years and years, but I am still absolutely stunned that she is gone.  Just last week at this time, I was still talking to her about my day and that the kids will be out of school for a while and how my piano lessons went.  She was in the hospital, after getting pneumonia, but she has gotten pneumonia before and took antibiotics and she would be fine in a few days.  I still haven’t caught up with the idea that she passed away on Sunday night.  Just one week ago, it was barely on my radar that would die from this.  By Friday, I was getting nervous, by Saturday, I was panicked, and on Sunday morning, her vitals looked much better, and by Sunday night, she was taken off of a heavy duty oxygen machine, and she passed away.  She was just so tired of coughing and just so tired of trying to breathe.  It seems so easy to breate, but her lungs said something different. I, for one, was in no way, ready or prepared for her to die. 
The things I’m grateful for over the past week:
1.  She came to see me and my kids a few days before she got sick, after being hesitant to drive all this way for a couple hours. During that time, I sat with her at my kitchen table, before my kids came home and laughed harder with her, than I think I ever have.  I remember thinking in that moment, that I was so lucky to have a mom that I still laugh with. It was a special moment. 
2.  I’m thankful that I got to talk to her on the Friday, before she died.  We actually even laughed then, too.  She was telling me that she asked the nurse the night before if he thought she would make it through the night and he said, “Well . . . .  hmmmmmm . . . .I’m not sure.”  In her shock, she said, “You really think I might die tonight?????!!!!!!!” And he said, “Oh my gosh, NO! I thought you were asking if you were going to have to move rooms tonight.”  We had a little laugh over that.  That was the last time I talked to her.
3. On Saturday, when things were quickly going downhill, I wrote a letter to her, after being urged by friends to put my writing to some real use. I’m so thankful that I did.  I got to say all of the important stuff that I wanted to say to her and she was awake the whole time that my dad read it to her.

4.  The Piano. This one is bittersweet.  It is hard to hear my kids practice this week, but I know that in a short time, that all the piano practicing I hear, will help bring my mom back to life in this house . . . just a little bit.  My mom was my teacher when I was growing up and for the last 11 years, she has taught me how to teach.  I can hear her in a lot of the instructions that I give my kids and other kids.  I also, have her hands, which I never wanted, growing up.  I would think, “I hope my hands don’t look like that, when I get older.”  Well, as it turns out, they do!  But they play the piano well, so I guess I won’t get too hung up on how they look.  Every single time I put my hands on the piano, I think of my mom, because our hands look so much alike.

The things I’m having a hard time being grateful for right now:
1.  The Coronavirus.  I couldn’t be with my mom in the hospital, because of the Coronavirus.  Only one visitor per patient and then on top of that, I had a little tiny, baby cold.  That baby cold, kept me from being able to be with her when she passed.  Plus, my sister was not able to fly out, when we thought things were looking dicey.  Here is the deal, I need people when life gets this kind of extra tricky, but people can’t give hugs and be around each other.  We can’t even have a funeral and be with family and friends during this time.  I hate this!!!! Of course, my dad, being the extreme introvert that he is, is OK with people not dropping in all the time.  
2.  That I can’t talk to my mom on the phone anymore.  I averaged about 2.3 calls per day.  Sometimes we would talk for 10 seconds and sometimes we would talk for 2 hours.  But I was constantly in touch with her.  We could talk about the deepest, most sacred parts of our lives to the most mundane . . .  often ever in the same sentence.  There was no linear path in our conversations, but that never seemed weird.  I told my sister that she needs to start preparing for an increase in phone calls and that many will go a little something like this, “What is a shallot???”  I’ve already picked up the phone to call my mom a few times, because it is such a habit.  I can’t imagine not being able to press “MOM,” on my phone.  I’m surprised my phone doesn’t have a dent in it, where her name shows up on my phone.
3.  After Dave died, I no longer had my person to be as proud of my kids as I am.  My mom became that person.  She thought my kids were pretty great.  Those pictures and videos that you normally send to your spouse, I sent to my mom.  And I would feel like I had someone to mutually share in my proudness. I just feel so sad about this.
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Overall, I am just so grateful to have had a very loving mom, who was always pointing me to Jesus and who I truly believe was proud of who I am.  And I’m so grateful for those three and a half bonus years.  In those years, I left a very destructive marriage. You know how earlier I said that she had softened?  She had, but she also grew strong.  Her heart was so soft towards me and she believed me and she would weep with me and get angry with me and I was so thankful and grateful for the way she always defended my decision to get a divorce.  The way she defended me, was a testament to the strength that she grew, even as she was aging.  As I uncovered, layer at a time, what kind of relationship I was in, she read articles with me, listened to every summary of every counseling appointment, and just listened to whatever I needed to process.  All of that made me feel so secure and loved.  I couldn’t have asked for her to walk that road with me any better.

And then there is parenting.  Less than two weeks ago, she sent me a video from Paul David Tripp about parenting.  It was one of the best talks about parenting that I’ve ever heard.  After I listened to it, she said, she wishes she could have a do-over with her parenting.  I feel a little guilty that I didn’t say, “You were a fantastic parent, and never forget it”!!!  Instead, I said something like, “I’m sure I’ll want a do-over, too.”  But in a way, she got her do-over through me, as we had so many talks about parenting.  Maybe if Dave were still here, Dave and I would have been sorting that out together.  But since he wasn’t, I would go to my mom to talk about parenting.  And parenting has been really, really, tough with one of my kids.  The “normal” way of parenting just doesn’t work.  It’s, again, another area where she supported how I did things.

And one last topic.  Jesus.  My mom loved Jesus. I am truly excited that she is with Jesus right now. The older she grew, the less her faith remained seated in rules and the more it became just about grace and Jesus.  If I counted the number of prayers she prayed for me, my kids, my family and my friends, I would be sitting here for a long time.  When I had a hard time going to church after my divorce, she completely understood.  Instead of giving me a lecture, she would send me an article on how others had the same experience with faith and church, as I did.  That was so incredibly loving of her.  When I started dating a non-believer, she only prayed and I can assume she is still praying.  She noticed the value that he has added to my life.  She handled it with such love and grace.  I mean, think if that had become a point of contentiousness in her last days?  That would have been awful.  The only thing she would say, is that she trusts me and that she thinks that God has a plan in all of it.  I know it wasn’t her favorite, but she and I maintained a solid relationship and because she handled it with love, we were able to keep talking about it.

Her love for Jesus could be seen in a lot of different ways, as she was involved in many ministries and barely ever missed a Sunday.  But her love for Jesus was apparent to me, not through the ministries she was involved in, but through how she loved me.  

She died such a wise, grace giving, LOVING, mom.

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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

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