The Realities of Grief

The realities of my grief have been as opposite as the east to the west. 
In one moment you can have clear blue, sunny, happy skies over to the West hovering over the islands and to the East, the darkest, meanest black skies coming down in vertical stripes as the clouds open flood gates across the mountains. There is an actual line drawn in the weather pattern that separates the two skies. 
Grief is, and can be, as tumultuous as the stormy skies or as hopeful as a clear blue sunset to the West. 
Because many have asked how my family and I are doing, I thought I'd let you into my world for a brief moment and tell you what the past three months have looked like for us. 
In one word, I'd say it's been 

The first month after Traci passed was busy making sure the services were handled per her requests, getting her apartment cleared out, managing final accounts and trying to prepare for our pre-planned family trip. The second month was all about finding a routine once again and making it through a day in one piece. We now passed the three month marker since she left this earth and I find some days harder then those in the beginning. Suffocating really.
Finding the motivation to do anything more then meeting everyone's basic needs was, and still can be, an exhausting task. Some days I find myself walking in circles not knowing what to do. Other days my one task is getting to the gym for class so I can at least keep moving. 
There is an unsaid expectation that the first year after someone passes is the hardest simply because of all the firsts you have to emotionally manage. That can't be more true.

April 30th, Traci would have celebrated her 38th birthday. The entire weekend felt heavy, burdened and caught me off guard in many ways. I found myself wrestling with moments of extreme sadness coupled with components of undeniable joy and peace. I'm so thankful for my stable husband who has been my rock because honestly folks, I seem a bit bipolar these days with my happy/sad tears. 
The day started with church. What a mess I was. We've started this new sermon series about Heaven. You'd think it was a funny joke, but it's not and probably is good timing once I can get past the topic word Heaven. My third row family are familiar with my tears as they usually start during worship. I'm easily moved these days and tissues go with me wherever I go. That particular Sunday I was deeply touched by Pastor Kurt's words and was wrecked all service long. 
We packed up our tribe and went to visit Auntie's resting place on our way to my parents place. Myriam and Addison drew some pictures which we secured in Ziploc bags and placed by her spot under the maple tree. Charlie's flower still stood tall and bright in it's cheerful teal vase.  Myriam insisted on singing 'Happy Birthday' which she did beautifully. 
It was a moment of pause, reflection, remembrance and utter grief that I could not put my arms around her to wish her the best damn birthday a girl could have. 
As perfect timing would have it, Jason and his family along with Melissa and Mickey showed up as we were about to leave. A party in a cemetery. This should not be.
That afternoon I took the girls shopping as Auntie so loved to do, grabbed coffee drinks which she spoiled us with often and played by the Marina as the sun beat down our backs. We then surrounded Papa and Nana with a family dinner and just being with each other. Myriam once again insisted we celebrate with cake which she and Papa picked out together.
"I'm getting a birthday cake for my Auntie!" she cheerfully explained to the cashier at Haggen's.
Friends in Portland took to Traci's favorite hiking spots and the Pink's remembered her on the water.
The first birthday was met with complete honesty in our emotions. 

 { New birthday traditions; do things Auntie loved to do. }

Some of the other realities of grief I've experienced was exposed at the dentist office. 
Yep. That explains the jaw pain, ear pain and fatigued mornings when I wake up. Now that I'm aware of it, I've been catching myself lock down and hopefully, not causing permanent damage. I fight back tears clenching my jaw. I fall asleep to images of the last few hours and minutes bearing down on my jaw. I drive tense and feel the knots form all over my body from sore muscles. 
I have no shame telling you I probably have, as do others, PTSD from being with my sister in her final fight. 
I hate being sad. It's not like me. My Cheer Doterra oils are not doing their job well. I started taking St. John's Wart as an herbal anti-depressant. I have no shame and will tell you I think after a month of popping Mr. John's I can feel a difference. 
I drove my sisters car and smelled the steering wheel in attempts to gain one last scent of her presence. Her sunglasses stared at me from the dash. Hanging from her rear view mirror a necklace with the words: 

Grief is hard on kids. 
This month marks a year since my Grandma Van Dyken passed away. Our kids were very close to Gigi and were present up to the day she passed visiting her, kissing her and telling her they loved her. Addi and I sat with Aunt Betty after she passed and watched hospice gently wash Grandma with lavender before they took her body. 
We made the conscience decision to fly Charlie down to be with Auntie those last few hours. Addison spent Auntie's last week here with us, and with Nana, in Portland, playing card games, taking naps together and just being in each others presence. Charlie witnessed his Auntie march into Heaven. Our kids were present in her passing and we don't regret having them there, but it does affect them. There are high highs and low lows. Random temperaments, anger outbursts, lying, tears listening to worship songs and on the other side beaming smiles remembering a funny moment together. Auntie's paddling medals hang directly above Charlie's pillow. Some of her blankets continue to tuck us in at night as we climb in bed. 
I find that I get angry when the kids snip at each other in a flash of jealousy and longing to be able to have that still with my sister. A few times I have reminded them that you never know when your sibling will leave this earth so appreciate and use wisely the time you have with them. 
Cleaning our rooms we'll all come across something that was gifted to us by our spoiling Auntie and instantly be brought back to that celebration, or for what ever reason why, she blessed us with a card, a toy or simple note to say she loved us. 
Grief is present as it faces you daily.

When Mom went to buy her summer patio flowers there was no choice in the color; pink. A few weeks ago we planted the dogwood tree purchased in memory of my sister and I stood watching from the living room with tears and anger thinking how no little sister should have to go on without her big sister or worse yet, remember her with a tree. There are many tokens of pink in our yard that will only grow to bigger sizes as a memory, reminder and sweet scent of my big sister.
When Mom plays on Sunday's it's a given the box of tissues will be used. Dad looks at the clock every night at 5:15pm expecting his daughter to call and let him know about her day. The door to Traci's bedroom at home stays shut; the bed with new bedding and position not being used.
There is an almost unsaid identity crisis as my parents for ten years were Mom and Dad plus doctor and nurse. Thursday's are for driving to Portland; Friday's for treatment;
Saturday's for cleaning and driving back home.

There are moments where I have guilt for not thinking about Traci and then moments I long to not have her death consume me as it seems all that passes my thoughts are about my sister. Her computer sits under my prayer chair as I still need to deal with it and all her journals are in the bag off to the side of my safe place. I catch myself sending her text messages, dialing to Face Time or talk on the phone. I hear the word Portland and think to myself, "I should plan a trip to visit...."
Accepting the reality is part of this grief process.
There are no more phone calls, Face Time laughter's and kisses from the kids or sleep overs at Auntie's place in the summer to splash in her pool.
There was a page in her story that wrote:
The End.

On our way home a couple weekends ago, we saw grief displayed in the most beautiful way. Out to the East, the rain was falling vertically, the sun rays from a small white patch of clouds were attempting to break through at a diagonal while the clouds were horizontal and in one area twirling in a spinning motion. 
And yet, when you looked closer in the depressing skies you saw a beautiful rainbow from the couple of rays that were trying to press through the weather pattern. 
It was a circle of color that reminded us that there is hope through the grief and despair.
Broken but hopeful.
We'll all get there eventually, but for now time is our gift in this process because no one needs to rush it and we all process at a different pace. The hole in our hearts both here and in Portland are wide open and we continue to thank you for the prayers as we heal, move forward and remember our sweet sister, daughter and amazing friend.

Move On Over Showers

The amount of rain we've had so far this spring is down right crazy. My fingers and toes are constantly in a state of looking like raisins from the dampness in the air. 
(Not really; possibly an over exaggeration.) 
You can walk anywhere on our lawn and the sounds of a wet sponge echo back at you.  There's really no point in washing your car because you know within a few hours nature will wash it again for you. This has been on record a wet season. 
Thankfully, we've managed to find a few bright spots during the wet weeks and I've found some moments to soak up with the kids during spring break. 
Here's a glimpse through the clouds of what's been going at our home...

 A double date to REI ended with a dinner date at Menchies. Not the best choice, but there was talk of sushi, ribs and Jimmy Johns before we landed with sweets. I love having the one on one time with this dude.

 If you live by a baker, you can expect donuts for dinner. Yes, no shame. These tasty tiger tails and twists were dinner, breakfast and even a donut was placed in Charlie's lunch box. Thanks Julie for the sweet delivery right at 5:30pm! 

Charlie and his friend Damion found a struggling Sterling that needed some TLC. The little tweety bird had no reservations of Charlie picking him up, petting him and honestly clung to his finger for quite sometime. The boys made a twiggy bird house in a box and after awhile were able to transfer Tweety into his recovery home. It wasn't more than a few hours later Tweety felt rested and hopped along somewhere after his caring encounter with the Bird Man. 
(side note: I made Charlie wash his hands multiple times after touching 
Tweety and pulling the stick out of his eye.)

Spring Break was filled with sleep overs, play dates and a few outings keeping the kids busy as the weather didn't agree with school days off. Charlie and James have become best of buds at school and bounced their sweaty self's for two hours at the Trampoline Zone. Love seeing the new friendships blossom and grow. 

 We are blessed to have communication with Myriam's Bio-Auntie Nadene and occasionally she treats us with gift cards to Menchies. This sweet trip was thanks to her! 
Thank you Nadene!

Addison has always had an artistic approach to life. Painting, drawing or doodling comes naturally to her. Lately, sneaking my camera and going for nature walks with her girlfriend Annie has become something often that happens after school. I am AMAZED at the raw talent Addi has behind the lens. Her ability to use the camera correctly and snap the angle giving life to simple moss, 
maple starts or cherry blossoms astonishes me. 
Theses are just a few of her shots...there is no editing done to these pictures. 

 Come sunshine; come bubbles. Chalk art and bikes to follow. Myriam was loving the challenge of blowing the biggest BuBbLe possible and trying to catch it back on the stick. Kept us busy for a little while!

Yeah. It finally happened. The egg hunt was over, tummies full of yummy food. This was happening. I must say, it was pretty sweet to watch Myriam listen to Daddy explain all the rules of riding on his bike. 
The girl has no fear. None. Zilch. Nada. 
There may have been some nipple pinching as her arms wrapped around clinging to Daddy and also possibly some misplaced hands in his lap, but overall she did great and stayed on the bike. I'll make sure the kids' seat is on next time so no hand grabbing happens! The little stinker even let go to wave at me as they came back from their trip around the block. 

Happy Easter. Happy Spring. 
Move on over showers; May will be dry as April has been washed away. 
We're ready for sunshine!
(I have no explanation for Charlie's face. It appears to be a new reaction 
when it comes time for family photos.)

These Four Words

April has been a month of reflection.
A reconciliation of what Jesus did for us on the cross. A reminder of anniversaries and birthdays. A reminder that eight years ago our marriage came to life. 
I find myself getting lost in thought going back ten years when we wheeled my sister into the operating room for her first surgery a week after receiving her cancer diagnoses. I can hear the words she spoke to me as I told her I loved her. I can see Tim with open arms ready to catch his bride as he surprised me at the hospital in Portland, I remember the first moments after surgery quickly brushing Traci's teeth before visitors came and can smell the Olive Garden dinner that fed the waiting room of friends and family. 
I look back at the first moments in the Mission House post surgery as Mom and I got Traci comfortable before I needed to head back home.

I think about my parents as they celebrate their 39th wedding anniversary this month with one less child verbally telling them, "Happy Anniversary." What was it like when they got married? What were the political news stories at that time? Did they have dreams and vision for themselves and how have they met those dreams years later? Did they ever think for a second they'd bury a child before themselves? Did they ever talk about what it would be like if one of their children got sick and how they would deal with that news? For better or worse; through sickness and health.
How did Dad's cancer change the dynamic of their relationship?

April second will forever be etched in my memory as it's the day Tim confessed to me about the sin he had been struggling with in his life. It's a day that changed the course of our marriage and family. It's the day our marriage was given meaning and purpose. Recently, Tim cleaned out his closet donating the exact fleece he wore the night he confessed. It instantly placed me on our leather couch in the living room. I can remember the exact clothes we wore, the dinner I was cooking in the Wok and what the weather was like that evening. How was that a part of my life and purpose God had for me? How did that fit in with my parents marriage and sisters health? Why do some people have trials and others seem to have none?
How is there enough space in our memories to place these details?
It's sad knowing too many people have no faith to fall back on when these question come up and life changing diagnoses fall into their laps. I struggle to answer the whys when honestly we don't need to know the why, but rather how will you handle what's given to you. Why do some people have such loss and torment in their lives and others seems to dance daily in fields of daisies and roses?
It's been a time of reflection these past few weeks especially as I sift through my sisters journals. I find resolve reading through them. I find her faith bouncing off the pages even though they are riddled with seeds of deep rooted depression and anxiety. I talk with other women who have been through betrayal and hear hope, restoration and individual hearts growing stronger in their vertical relationship with Jesus.

Last weekend Myriam and I had to drive to Burlington for a few things and listened to Traci's service both there and back. I knew it would wreck me, but Myriam was asking about Auntie. We chose for her not to be at the service that day so this presented to be a good time to listen to the service together. I explained what was happening and then she tells me to be quiet because she wanted to sing. What I saw next was Myriam, hands folded praying in her seat as the worship began to play. When I asked her what she was doing she rather calmly stated, "You said if we want to talk to Jesus we pray. I wanted to talk to Auntie so I'm praying because she's with Jesus." 
A moment of reflection through a child's eye.
This lasted for two entire songs. When we made it to our first destination, we both wept together listening to Daddy and Auntie Becky sing. This was Myriam's time to celebrate Auntie, but also a reminder that she's not here with us and we miss her greatly. 
As a mom, it's hard to know if we're allowing our kids to grieve properly. I don't question anything we have done, but I pray we're giving them the right opportunities to remember.
Yesterday the kids and I brought flowers to the cemetery. It was the kids' first time visiting the grave. A physical place to remember the person who meant the world to many of us.

And then Good Friday. 
That brings me to the cross.
Pondering the cross brings me great sorrow and joy. Sadness for the why and joy for the triumph.
Mary shared in this grief we have been navigating over the past two months. She understands a mothers heart as you watch your child take their last breath. She feels the pain of seeing your child suffer. 
Regardless of knowing the purpose for her Son's life; the weight He carried for all our sins, she was human and had the same emotions we struggle with today.
I often ask why my mother was chosen to watch her child suffer; an emotion I never prepared myself to experience. 
I think about what it was like for Jesus to look down at His mother from a child's perspective. Set aside the fact that He's Jesus, knows all things and is King of all Nations...He had a mother. I wonder if it changed things? What did Traci think as she heard the words our Mom spoke to her in those last twelve hours? If she had the strength to speak, what would she have said? Did she feel betrayed when we told her to go, when Mom repeatedly said, "Honey, you can let go. It's okay. Stop fighting." Was her spirit already two feet into Heaven that she didn't even hear our pleas and feel our emotions over the worship from the angels?
Jesus knew His path. He knew the purpose in His death.
Traci knew her diagnoses. She was told she was dying. Her faith had no doubt where she was going.
My parents promised each other 'till death due us part' and have been wading through extremely challenging diagnoses over half of their marriage. Never did they know the outcome, but always trusting that through treatment and prayer diseases would be healed.
I still stand in awe that Tim and I are more united than when we said our 'I do's' and can only testify that it's by the grace of God and our faith, that we have overcome a potential devastating confession.
I found myself with bipolar tears last night as our Good Friday service came to conclusion. Tears of anguish contemplating what Jesus did for me and tears of mourning for the sweet sister I miss terribly.
We ended by singing a classic hymn and never before has it hit me like it did last night...

What can wash away my sin? 
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus. 

Oh! Precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

This is all my hope and peace, 
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
This is all my righteousness,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Now by this I'll overcome-
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
Now by this I'll reach my home-
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

By the time we were done singing there were tears of joy for what is to come.
For two months, I have been tossing around these four words and find myself in deep conversation with God asking why, how, when and finally reaching the point where tears become silent questions. I've scoured the pages of my sisters journals, read pages of notes from Bible studies and sat with the Bible open begging for a simple answer to the grief I wake up to in the morning. I look over years of pictures and repeat conversations in my head.
The only conclusion I come up with, the only words that seems to settle all my lingering questions and put pause into my thoughts are these...

It was and is God's will that Jesus died on the cross because now, more than ever, does it bring purpose to our story; to your story.
Traci is white as snow; she has overcome and her victory came through the cross. It's not our place to understand God's will and timing, but it's through our obedience that we trust in His plan.
She has reached her home.
We celebrate my parents marriage because of the hope and peace God
has given them through difficult situations.
Tim and I have overcome and our marriage is what it is today only by the blood of Jesus.
It's not God's will for people to choose sin; for health to derail us, but it's His will that we trust and follow because He trusted and followed in God's will for His life.

Tomorrow we wake up and celebrate an empty tomb.
We celebrate because in His perfect will, for our imperfect and broken lives,
He gives us reason to rejoice and be joyful.
It still hurts, the questions will still find me.
But I know that in the end it was God's will for Traci to find life through her cancer and her journey home to be quicker then the rest of ours.
It was through obedience that my husband and I are deeply in love.
It is God's will that we have a second chance and that should be good enough reason to celebrate.

He Is Risen Indeed.
Can't even fantasize what Easter is like for you this year sister.

Finding Joy on Our Family Vacation

{ Self-note: Much of this blog is like a yearbook. Sorry for the length of this post. }

This May will mark a year since Gigi passed. My Dad decided rather than investing the inheritance from her deed, he would give our family an experience in Grandma's honor. For six months now we have been planning, preparing and getting excited about our family Disney Cruise. 
It wasn't until a couple months ago that we started to become worried about how it would be made possible with my sisters health. If there was anything she wanted more than her health, it was to see our family go on this cruise. She was adamant about this trip happening. Traci loved to go on cruises and having her nieces and nephews there to experience the fun gave her such joy to look forward to.
We took off from Seatac airport one month exactly after she passed; the wheels leaving the ground almost to the minute she passed. I tried to hide the tears, but this was truly a reality that things happened and my sister would not be with us on this trip. 
Miss Bee had to stay behind as she's not quite ours yet and doesn't have the clearance to leave the country. We have the most AMAZING respite care givers and friends who love our girl like their own. Just a couple of weeks prior, as we were in Portland, Chris and Karla cared for Miss Bee when she got sick in the car, the bed and took her to the doctor. Thankfully, this visit was met with our happy, cheerful chatty gal who slept great and wasn't sick at all this time! Knowing she was well taken care of made being away from our baby for ten days a little easier. 
I don't need to tell you that driving away from our baby girl I had tears there as well. 
This was an emotional trip. This trip was hard, busy, overwhelming and reflective, BUT it was also joyful, filled with laughter and one where we made new memories with our new normal. 
This trip became one where we remembered Gigi and also our Traci. 
Here's a glimpse and a few pictures (I'll spare you the other hundreds of pictures...) from our time at sea with our family.

{ Animal Kingdom }

Animal Kingdom was a perfect introduction to our family Disney Cruise. Once we had coffee in hand, we took to the African Safari where we saw many animals from our land cruiser. Hippos, giraffes, rhinos, birds, elephants, deer, crocs and much more. There were characters to meet and many rides to explore. The favorite was Mt. Everest which took you on a fast, twisty, sometimes backwards roller coaster ride. On the last run the gang sat right behind the voice of Olaf and his friends! Myriam's face doesn't show her love for the ride with the look of panic, but if you ask her, she'd tell you she enjoyed it! After our paws were tired from walking we headed back to the Disney Resort to relax by the pool and enjoy the outdoor movie theater where they served you a fun size personal bag of popcorn. Myriam and I watched Zootopia on the first night there. She loved it! So was the random guy in the back who recited every word for word with much enthusiasm at a noise level that overtook the movie itself. Had a little chuckle with myself over that entertainment. 

Sunday morning we loaded the cruise shuttle and headed for Port Canaveral to board the Disney Wonder. This was our first cruise so the process was all new to us. I was impressed with the organization and ease of getting our family checked in, luggage in our rooms and making it personal to our family. The barrage of food started already that night at dinner where the pictures came to life at the Animators Palace. If you wanted one of everything you could. Self control come dessert time usually ran a few deep with bites from all options. And let's talk about the soft serve ice cream for a moment. 
At any moment you can grab a cone and go. There may be withdrawals from that option. 
Once we were well underway, the sea churned enough to make the boat sway as you laid in bed. That first night I had one in tears from the unfamiliarity of the big sea and another on sensory overload. Thankfully the next day was much calmer!

{ Castaway Island }

Our first destination was Castaway Island, Disney's private Island, where we found inviting sand and warm, crystal clear waters to greet us. The beach we found home for a few hours had roped off areas that never went over the kids' heads. Smart. Funny how one bucket and a shovel entertained the kids for hours. There was the water slide, snorkeling and jet ski rentals we took part of as well. Addison tried snorkeling for the first time and did great! The mask with braces took some adjusting, but once we got in the water she took to the hobby quickly. Now to get her in more open waters with more variety. In the afternoon, Tim thought it would be fun to take the big kids out on jet skis. I was a Nellie Newbie being a little nervous having to operate my own machine plus keep the kid on the back. If I had known how rough the ocean was going to be and how cold I'd get, I would have opted to stay in my chair in the sand with my toes dipped in the water. Now I can say I did it...and I think I did quite well for never doing that sport before. If anything, I impressed my hubby by trying something new!
Oh and don't forget...they had a soft serve ice cream machine on the island so we wouldn't have withdrawals on the beach. 
The dinner theme later that night was all about pirates which we had planned before to have these shirts made. There were moments that evening where the memory of Traci was just too tough, but it was always met with, "She would want us to enjoy this trip!"

{ Tougher than Cancer. }

The next day was a day at sea where the kids played in the pool, Tim and I read some books, Mango Mojitos filled my cup, met some characters, had more soft serve ice cream and in the afternoon watched the new Beauty and the Beast. Addi and I caught Myriam crying when the beast died...she gets so into her movies! If you haven't seen it we recommend watching it. 

At night during dinner, Savio and Emma served our table with smiles and the need to please our busy table of kids. Emma was amazing doing magic tricks and setting up table games for the old and young. Savio knew exactly what we wanted and even made a connection with Tim as they figured out he's from the town Tim will be traveling too later this year! Now that we've been home for a couple weeks, Myriam reminds me at most meals how she misses Savio and Emma. I'm sure she does because with every plate Savio would make Mickey ketchup for the french fries and cut whatever food needed to be made smaller. Guess I don't have the table service up to par here at home like they do on a cruise!
{ The Van Dyken Family }

It's hard not to post the others from our little family shoot because Myriam's expressions are priceless. These were from our formal night. Oh, and Myriam looks upset in the one above because she wanted to stand by Auntie when I said she had to stand by me. She won but with a forced frown. 

{ The Broersma Five minus Miss Bee...don't worry, her matching dress is at home! }

{ Atlantis }

There was simply not enough time here at Atlantis to see and do all that they have to enjoy at this resort. The kids really wanted to swim with the dolphins so Tim took the older kids to the deep water swim as they got to kiss, wave, high five, open swim and be pushed by and with the dolphins. Myriam and I went to the shallow water swim, but our's didn't last long before it became too much for her and we had to cut it short. We managed to get a few pictures of hugging, kissing and standing by the dolphin before we just sat "quietly" with Nana. After the dolphin experience we walked over to the water slide area where some took to the big slides and others hopped in the lazy river on inter tubes. Myriam got to ride with Papa and she loved it! With our time to board the ship fast approaching, our little family walked around to find the shark experience where you can walk underneath the shark tank. Yep, meet saw tooth. He swam right over us as we were walking by. This place had so much to see and we barely got to see any of it...if you asked the kids what their favorite thing at Atlantis was they'd say the dolphins and lunch! Haha, we found a delicious BBQ rib house on our way out of the resort. 

{ Myriam meeting the characters. Charlie getting into the characters on the last night.  }

 { Remembering }

Disney Cruise Line was incredibly respectful to our family refunding Traci's package completely and allowing us a private moment of remembering on the last night. They arranged to have a bouquet of pink flowers for us to toss overboard while cruising through international waters. (Tossing anything overboard is a huge no-no so we felt privilege to be allowed this moment.) It happened to be perfect timing with an incredibly stunning sunset. Savio made sure to have our glasses full as we left dinner and crew members met us on deck four giving us the space needed for our moment. With our flowers passed out, we toasted our sweet sister (sorry Gigi, we didn't even toast you on your trip!) and at the same time released flowers into the sea.
My parents were a mess; I found Charlie weeping as well. We all miss Auntie Traci. We didn't say much, but all felt her presence in this sacred moment. I feel it gave way to closure on this trip that at times we seconded guessed going because it would be too hard. One of the flowers got stuck on the deck as we let them go; as if Traci was saying, "I'm here and don't want to leave you either."
But then the sunset...her reassurance that Jesus had her safe and secure; resting whole and healthy in His arms. This was a beautiful moment.

The next morning we had docked back at port and debarked the ship. My parents and brothers family headed for the airport as we had planned to stay a couple extra nights with just our five. I'm glad we did. Our hotel room was much welcomed with silence coming from a high paced, busy past few days on sea. After we grabbed some lunch, we managed some pool time and early to bed. Friday we spent all day at Disney World. (I have no shame with Miss Monkey preventing our flight child from taking off. She requests it so no judgement.) We introduced Myriam to Splash Mountain and a few other bigger roller coasters. No small World for us; our kids say they're too grown up for that!
In the afternoon, Myriam and I watched the parade of characters with our special treats; cotton candy and jelly bellies which Tim hand picked only the fruity flavors for me as they were Traci's favorite. We had churros, ice cream, burgers and never played it safe with our food choices.
Folks, we were on vacation and enjoyed every bit of our taste buds!

{ Disney World }

Saturday morning I had my 5k race a little outside of Orlando where the kids cheered me on and supported their mama. On the way back, we found a hidden gem of a play park with an old school wooden roller coaster, dangling feet coaster with the option of making it a virtual coaster and a 250 foot swing Tim, Addison and Charlie dared they go on. Myriam found a new friend quickly as they went on the dragon kiddie coaster seven times in a row laughing with their hands in the air. This place had no lines, clean park area and a great mix of rides for the small entrance fee. 
And good thing it wasn't too busy because I still had my running clothes on!

{ Fun Spot America }

After lunch and milkshakes, we headed to the pool and later that night made the kids catch up on some homework at the hotel. We had an early flight the next morning and by this time we were all ready to see Miss Bee again! Our kids did great on both flights to and from which made traveling that much easier. 
When we met up with Karla to pick up Bee she squealed with delight seeing her family again. The rest of the day she was full of giggles, snuggles and more happy noises as we were once again all together...busy doing laundry.

Thank you Mom and Dad for giving us a life-time of memories and the opportunity to experience this trip together. 
Traci would have loved to be with us, but her spirit was there. 
Gigi would have been proud of the time we had together finding our joy once again. 

Getting Closer to Making It Final

 { Me, Miss Bee and 'N'...or Tummy Mommy as we refer to her as. Posted with permission. }

On March 21st, Miss Bee became legally free getting us that much closer to her adoption day. Her journey becoming one of us has been a joy; quite uneventful compared to most foster situations. Her Tummy Mommy and I chat regularly and just a couple weeks ago met at Perch and Play for a visit. We have a friendship that to others seems odd or unfamiliar, but she's family now regardless how you look at things. Bee's Tummy Mommy has expressed some heartfelt words with me that I will hold tight and share with Bee when she's older. I've learned so much about who she is and her own childhood which ultimately has bonded us. Her decision for Miss Bee's life is respected and will be kept safe until Bee is able to understand. 
It was quite funny actually as we were visiting with 'N' because Myriam had the "ahh hah" moment figuring out that 'N' was Bee's Tummy Mommy. From that point on there were some sweet conversations about the sisters Tummy Mommy's. A link that only these sisters will have. 
I made a book of Miss Bee's first year of life which shows her journey through foster care including some pictures from a few of her visits. This is something similar to what we made for Myriam and it's been a great tool expressing at the age appropriate level how our daughters joined our family. 'N' has a copy herself as well. It's the simple things that make the difference for these kids. 
I will say though, when in line at the grocery store I have been embarrassed far too many times when Myriam will gladly tell anyone she has two Mommies....I quickly follow up by saying me and her Tummy Mommy. "Yeah, this is my real Mommy but I didn't grow in her tummy." 
But then you have the other public conversation like I encountered just yesterday. "Your girls have completely opposite complexions. She has your cheek bones but she must have her Dad's coloring." Really? Myriam has my cheekbones? I actually get that a lot. I simply answered, "Actually, Myriam is adopted and this one is legally free in the process of adoption." There are times I want to take back my words and give a more heart-thought answer and then times when I just want to shut the chat down. 
These are our daughters. Our girls. We have different DNA but these princesses are 100% ours. 
Our family welcomes these new branches into our family tree, both Miss Meranda and 'N' and cherish the connections that explain and give depth into who our girls are.
Our next court review is in May and by the time things are finalized Miss Bee will be in our care for over 500 days. Pray with us as these last few details are sorted through. Pray for N as she prepares for this new chapter in her life and for our family as we grow into an official six pack. 

 { Miss Bee on her birthday. }

{ It is only because she's legally free that I now can show her adorable face! }

She Keeps Me Running

{ 7th state race }

The first time back in my running shoes after my sister passed, I found myself on the treadmill with worship music playing starring at a dark gray sky. I caught myself having a conversation with Traci about how I would ever run another race without her telling me right before all the sweet words of encouragement like she would through texts and phone calls. 
The reason why I made the goal of 50 by 50 (50 state races by the age of 50) was to run because she couldn't. It was to run for her, in honor of her and others, with the capability and ability to run and to make memories of traveling all across the country with my sister. We had plans to do big things with these races. We had talked about me running a race after our family cruise in Florida and how excited Traci was that I found a race with such a dear cause; Dash for Downs 5k. She was so excited for me to run! It was a one-sided, possibly a little of an angry toned chat as I sprinted through a few miles hoping to hear 
her voice talk back to me. 
I was almost done with my quick sprint when I was telling her I quit and then...
Right in front of me, against the moisture heavy, dark cloudy sky came a clearing of bright white clouds shaped as a heart. 
I have learned to see things for what they are and I took that moment and treasured it as my sweet sister sending me some love. A soft kick in the pants perhaps to say, 
"Get back up! You will not quit. You will not stop because I have not left you and will be with you on every race; every step."
And so I did. 
That night I registered for the race that she was so excited for me to run here in Florida. 
This morning, driving to the race, the sun rose from the east in gorgeous fashion and I felt her. 
She was with me. 
Every step. 
Today I ran for two Angels:
Traci Van Dyken and Katrina Van Berkum

 { Overwhelmed with emotion crossing the finish line realizing it's now running in memory of and getting another of many firsts out of the way.  }

I won't stop sister. 
The kids have even talked about running some races alongside of me and the family traveling to make this all of our goal; not just crazy Mom with her collection of running shoes. 
Like I've said...
His strength; my feet. 

My Tribute: Daughter, Sister, Friend

I first want to say thank you, on behalf of our family, for walking these past 10 years with us praying, encouraging and showing us support as we cared for our daughter and sister in her fight. It was not only just her fight; it became all of our fight and we can not say how much your willingness to join through prayer and support has meant to all of us. There were successful fundraisers, homes opened up to stay at, meals provided, gas cards given, rides offered to bring Traci to and from treatments or even back home. In boxes above Traci’s closet are every single card written with words of hope, scriptures of truth and sentiments of friendship spoken. Traci clung to your friendships and it is the fuel behind her fight. We humbly ask that you help us finish our Hero’s fight worshipping and celebrating her life, her love for her Jesus and to not focus on her death, but her victory.

In the early days, Traci and I shared a bedroom for 17 years. Many called us twins as we were only 15 months apart. We were each others best friend growing up. What she wore first and new, I was bound to wear used. Traci was the pack rat of us two. The things she collected; pencils, erasers, shells, overflowed in our tiny bedroom. At one point I got so mad with her junk and mess I put duct tape on the floor clearly marking out a mini walkway for her to get to her side of the room and then making a guideline of where her junk could go. “This is my side and that is yours.” Then there came bedtime. Oh I had fun with that. Some nights we’d fight over the light needing to be turned off, but Traci was a diligent student and dedicated at getting her homework done regardless of the time of night. On other nights, I’d let her fall asleep by about 20 minutes then I’d carefully slither out of bed, quietly sneak across the floor and with a loud scream wake her up. Oh she’d hate me for that! Of course everyone likes seconds so about 30 minutes later I’d do it again! Usually what followed was “girls, go to bed.”

Then there was the time our feisty baby brother thought he’d annoy us by swinging between our beds and after Traci gave clear warning to stop and get out, she thought she’d send a stronger message, pushing him off the bed and ending up breaking his arm.

Our parents were committed to family time and we spent our summers in the San Juan Islands exploring the beaches, hiking and fishing from the docks. That passion for the outdoors continued into her adult life as she biked miles through Portland, paddled through the river, hiked the falls and mountains in the northwest and shared her love of the islands with her nieces and nephews. Traci was a selfless, giving, loving and easy to persuade kind of Auntie. She never came home empty handed and the kids knew if they were to visit Auntie they’d end up with some special treat. Addison was two when Traci received her cancer diagnoses. Our kids have only ever known their Auntie to be sick. She didn’t let that stop her from making memories and special moments that we will all treasure forever.

But I don’t want to spend your time telling you all about what she did as an auntie because she bragged about her family all the time. She was proud of her family and her walls in her apartment prove that as they are covered with hand drawn pictures, photographs and special tokens from the kids. Her computer is laced with thousands of pictures of those she loved.

Traci over the years has expressed to me tidbits of what she would want for her service. We never spent much time talking about it because neither of us wanted to focus on that. But it’s quite simple: Jesus. She wants it to be all about Jesus.

The last time I held my sisters hand was the first time she stood before her God and Maker.
Without pain or scars of her almost ten year journey with breast cancer.
Surrounded by her family, she peacefully marched her way into glory.

Whenever I had a question about faith, the Bible or just needed to talk about our Jesus, she was quick to help me out often times sending me lists from her Bible reference books per topic or recommending books for me to read.

The hours leading up to Traci entering Heaven, I spent reading to her from her worn-torn Bible. At one point I stopped reading and she asked for more songs. “You want more songs? More Bible verses?” She gently nodded her head yes. Traci longed to know more about her Savior. The pages of her Bible tell us so. Her journals are filled with Bible Study notes as she simply couldn’t get enough Truth learning more about Jesus. Revelations was her favorite.

What I admire most about my sister is her solid faith in Jesus Christ. There was a period of time where Traci and I were not very close. It was rather a relationship of tension, stress and jealousy. What I find profound is how her diagnoses of breast cancer brought her to life. She often wondered what her purpose was and struggled with depression in her aimless wandering of figuring out who she was. In God’s amazing purpose and perfect plan, He gave Traci her eternal purpose and mission field in what ultimately took her away from us too early. It was her cancer that brought back to life our friendship. It instantly bonded us. She inspired me daily fighting through countless chemotherapy treatments, radiation treatments and surgeries. With every setback, her faith gained that much more strength. It fueled her to live brighter, more courageous and to live unashamed of her faith in a God that can move mountains.  

Her cancer became her mission field. We will never know the number of lives she touched through her positive, uplifting and joyful attitude as she selflessly fought cancer.

My Hero, Traci, lived her life racing towards the end. It’s been two weeks since my sister has left us. I can’t explain the weight of missing her presence, the size void she left. What I can tell you is what I have learned since she’s passed and what she would want you to know as well. When I opened her Bible after we got home and started to read through her journals was a common thread. Her end was just the beginning. Even in her Bible you’ll find a page of Genesis in the very back of her Bible because it really is true: The beginning of life doesn’t begin until it reaches the end. When we stand face to face with our Maker in all His perfection and He says to His child…
Traci, well done my strong, joyful, daughter. You have been faithful. You are now free.

Sister, it hurts to breath I miss you so much. Thank you for teaching me what matters most.
God is indeed so very good.