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Change your hair, change your life

Kaitlyn and Missy have a private joke.
"Change your hair, change your life."  
The lesson is:  if you want something to change, take action.  It's simple.

Except when it's not.

Sometimes change is something we yearn for and pursue.  We pull on our boots and face it head on, welcoming a move to something, some place different.  We embrace the edge of anxiety, relish the sense of disequilibrium that comes with growth.

Sometimes we fight it, kicking and screaming, digging in our heels in futile resistance.

And sometimes, like this summer, we take it all in, and just try to keep breathing, praying a lot.

This has been the summer of letting go.

Zach finished at Oregon State and came home.  For a week.  He got a job at Walla Walla Juvenile Justice Center.  He got married.  He moved into a cute little apartment with his beautiful wife.

There are a lot of changes in that last paragraph.  Changes that he worked for, dreamed about and deserved.  His life is forever different, in the very best way.

My life is different, too.  Our house is not the same without Zach here.  We miss the funny things he says, the way he dances a little, the way he always knows what to say.  But we release him to his own future, where he belongs.  He is strong, mindful and passionate.  He makes everything around him better.  He is Batman.  He is Simba.  And although my heart does twinge a little when Koda brings me a tennis ball with that sad look, I am filled with joy.

You have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have.J. R. R. Tolkien

I know that Dave is proud.  Of him.  Of me.  I sacrificed much to make sure that our children would be okay.  I promised him to protect them.  And I did.  And it cost me a lot, in more ways than anyone knows.  Nothing about the journey without him has been easy.  In fact, it's been the hardest thing I've ever done and required strength that I did not have.  I had much help and love, but in the end, the responsibility rested on me and I shouldered as best I could.  In the last nine years, I have lived "if you can't change it, you gotta stand it."  And I kept breathing. There are a few who understand what that means.  Very, very few.

And then...there is Kaitlyn.  My Kate, his baby cakes.  Yesterday, I drove away from Tacoma, leaving her at the University of Puget Sound.  You guessed it.  Another huge change.

 This was another change that was eagerly anticipated, worked for, and deserved.  Kaitlyn studied hard, worked two jobs and financed a $54,000 year of education almost entirely on grants and scholarships.  You might say she's driven.  And smart.  And am I ever going to miss her.  That sunny smile, "fight me," "say it back," snuggles and pedicures, silly and serious.  Jim Wilson called her a force of nature, and I tend to agree.  She's something to behold.  Sometimes all you can do it sit back and watch.

"The maiden with the flaming hair, is as fierce as she is fair."

She's ready.  She was ready last Christmas.  Ready to learn, grow, challenge herself, meet new people, be in a new place. Ready to work, stretch herself, and discover who she is, what her calling might be.  She's in the perfect place to do that.  And if the texts, snapchats and instagram photos are any indication, she's off to a flying start.

Of course it wasn't easy to release my baby to the great unknown.  Even having survived this "circle of life" moment with Zach four years ago, it was hard.  I know she's ready and more than capable.  I know she will accomplish much and surprise even herself.  I also know that she'll have moments of doubt and loneliness.  I know that she'll be faced with excruciating choices.  She'll make mistakes.  She'll learn.  She'll change her hair, change her life.  And I can no longer fully protect her.  I fight to let go.

At Zach and Kailee's wedding, Erik Haroldson sang the song Dave wrote and sang for me at our wedding.  "Growing Older With You."   "Letting go, it's not that easy, don't you know."  "The laughter and tears, as we conquer our fears through the years...bringing new meaning to love, new meaning to life."

Mark Nelson was supposed to be singing, too.  He called to say there'd been an emergency and he couldn't be there.  Over the next few days, I talked with him and he told me that he'd been diagnosed with a brain tumor.  I can't describe the feeling I the world was tilting, spinning crazily out of control.  Everything in me screamed, "NOOOO!"  Friends and family were still here, it was good to have Rufus, Shelley and Erik here.  But I had to talk to Peter Bain.  And cry with him.  And then drive to Seattle.  To see Mark.  

The hospital bed.  The bandage on his head.  The pink pillow Kate brought. Kenny's anguish.   It was a flashback that didn't end.

And Mark's smile.  Radiant.  Strong.  His laugh.  The same as it ever was.  My heart broke a little more.

Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.Khalil Gibran
And I cling to hope.  I pray.  I hold on.  Another storm, another change.  And others.  Tracy, Bob.  And D.  Closest, D.  

Sometimes I scream in my head.  Sometimes I cry.  Always I pray.  Sometimes those prayers are hollow.  Sometimes they are brimming with fear, hope and love.  I understand less than I ever have.

This week, summer is waning.  The nip of autumn is in the air.  It's early this year.  Nine years ago, when Dave died, August 23rd was full summer.  Sweltering hot.  You could see the waves of heat in the air.  Days later, on the day of his funeral, autumn began to show.

It's been nine years.  Nine years I have been KOKO.  Alone.  With indispensable, generous help, but still alone.

Kenny has finished high school and community college and is working full-time.  He has a life full of friends and activity.  Zach is working, married to the love of his life and happier than he's ever been.  Kate is at her dream school, achieving her every goal.  I'm content and happy.  I think Dave must be pleased.  I hope he is.  I did my best, and although it's not perfect, it's good.  Damn good.

As we go into fall, embrace the change.  Jump in some leaves.  Celebrate something.


  1. Trueda Gooding8/25/2014 12:20 PM

    Michelle, what a beautifully written and lived post. Yes, you have koko, stood it when you couldn't change it, breathed over and over and over again, and done it all one step at a time in the face of many obstacles. I'm sure Dave is pleased; we who have watched from afar are inspired.

  2. Michelle, I KNOW Dave must be pleased. As I told you on Friday, I could FEEL Dave with us in the stands at the convocation for Kate & Liv, beaming and tearing up as his youngest flies from the nest. But more than anything, I KNOW Dave would be beaming and tearing up watching YOU... how you've managed these nine years (and the years before) with such strength and tenderness, confidence and vulnerability, anxiety and grace. You are "fearfully and wonderfully made." We are all very, very proud of you, Michelle.

  3. OMG, tears my friend, tears. So beautifully written. Love you so much for all you've done, for all you are. Well done mama bear, well done. Now it's time for YOU a bit , maybe... just maybe? Come see me!

  4. Erik Haroldson8/25/2014 7:43 PM

    Shelly - I am honestly in awe of you - and all that you have accomplished, despite all that life has thrown at you. You have raised amazing children, and should be so very proud. I'd give you an A+. But Dave would give you an A++. You are also an amazing and gifted writer - finding just the right words to capture what the rest of us can merely feel. You could easily make writing your career if you wanted to. You've given selflessly and endlessly for decades. I think you've more than earned a little Shelly time to do what you want to do. Maybe you should change your hair? :). Love you. -Erik


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