The Missing Birthday

Yesterday would have been Eric’s 42nd birthday. This time of year typically puts me into a spin cycle, hurtling me towards the anniversary of his death on October 29, then to the holidays where his presence is noticeably absent, then finally spits me out sometime in January, when the frigid weather numbs my raw emotions. My brother Luke’s birthday was August 31, and mine is coming up on Sunday. We always celebrated our birthdays together, my two brothers and I. With all three birthdays little more than a week apart, it was not only convenient for my family, but was a special bond we all shared.

This year, we celebrated Luke’s birthday separately, and it felt nice.  I couldn’t help but feel, though, the void in between. With my birthday coming up on Sunday, we’ve lost the connection in the middle. The missing birthday. I’ve struggled a bit with throwing big birthday bashes for myself ever since Eric’s death because it just never felt right. It feels somehow selfish, to revel in the joy of being alive another year, when someone you love isn’t.

Maybe this year will be different. With my oldest in preschool, I can already feel a change. Fall will mean a fresh new start, and not just another reminder of Eric’s death. Maybe this year, my birthday will feel different, too.

Opening presents at one of our shared birthday parties.

Read more of Eric’s story here.

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Let Me Tell You About My Other Brother

For awhile now, I’ve been sharing what’s on my heart about the tragic loss and aftermath of losing my brother Eric. But here’s the thing. God not only blessed me with one amazing brother, but with two. My brother Luke is five years older than me, and although we fought like crazy when we were young, I consider him one of my best friends now. And today is his birthday.

If I could turn back time, I would have a puppy party with him at sunset after finishing the dishes, share a bowl of ramen noodles in front of the wall furnace, fix a bowl of cockadoodledoo, watch back-to-back episodes of Star Trek (Captain Picard only, please), and sing every song in the Jungle Book sound track at the top of our lungs. These are only a few of the inside jokes and memories we share, and I realize now how lucky I am to have so many.

I love you Luke, and I am the luckiest girl in the world to have you for a brother. You’re one of the smartest, kindest, most generous people I know.

 

Happy Birthday big brother!

 

Then…

 

…and now!

Save the Born AND the Unborn: My Thoughts on Abortion

I hesitated before writing this post. I have friends on polar opposite ends of the abortion spectrum, and I know how passionately you feel about the issue, whether for or against. I hope you can read this with an open mind and open heart. But then again, if you’re any friend of mine, I already know you will. 

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Recently, while driving down two-lanes in rural Kansas, I’ve seen two separate handmade billboards positioned in pastures facing the highway. One, I agree with, and one, I vehemently oppose. The first simply said:

Life – God’s Most Precious Gift
I absolutely believe this is a true statement. After having felt my daughters growing in me and seeing firsthand the miracle that is human life, there’s no fiber of my being that believes otherwise. But here’s the thing. I can’t explain why God would allow a rape victim to become impregnated, or why He allowed a baby to form in my Fallopian tube with no chance of survival. It’s growth caused my tube to tear, causing internal bleeding and an emergency surgery to save my life. I can’t answer these questions. And for that reason I know it’s not a black or white issue. And it should be treated with the utmost sensitivity and respect.

And the second:

Abortion Kills!
Now, the verbiage of this sign was obviously hostile, but that’s not what bothered me. It was the picture. Or drawing, rather. It was a crude stick-figure baby, with limbs dismembered and splatters of blood all around. Now, I understand the point. To shock and awe. But really, who are you trying to reach? The woman who’s had an abortion and is too ashamed to tell her family? Hmm, your sign probably made her feel awesome. The teenage girl who doesn’t know where to turn? Hmm, she’ll probably be less likely to seek support from a Pro-Life pregnancy crisis center if she thinks that’s what you’re all about. To me, and this is just my opinion, it seemed to be someone’s misguided attempt to make themselves feel better about their own morality, rather than to actually make a positive impact.

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Where was the march for HIS life?

But, this post isn’t about billboards. It’s about my brother. You see, although I consider myself Pro-Life, I often cringe when I see Pro-Life billboards, t-shirts and other materials? Why? Because I feel that not near enough effort has been put forth to save the BORN, and yet people will shake their fists and wave their signs to save the unborn. People will travel across the country by the thousands to March for Life. But, where was the march for his life? Where was the outrage, the sign-holding, the homemade billboards, the t-shirts, the shouting? The fervor is there. The passion is there. Just not for victims of clergy sexual abuse.

My brother’s life mattered, and so did the lives of the other five suicide victims his perpetrator molested. (And countless other victims.) They never should have been exposed to a pedophile priest. They never should have had to endure years of shame and guilt. They should be alive. They should be alive. If only ten percent of  the effort of saving the unborn was put towards saving the born, the children who made it into this world, where would we be?

That’s all I have for now. I don’t want this to turn into a debate, but I feel like I needed to speak on behalf of the clergy-abuse survivor movement, who struggle with this issue. I’m not telling anyone where they should stand on abortion. But I should hope that if life is precious, all life is precious, then we can agree that children outside of the womb need protection, too.

It wasn’t really about the birds and the bees…

He was an awesome big brother for so many reasons (besides rockin’ big frames just like his kid sister).

“Catherine, we need to talk. You know, sometimes, when you see the cats in the yard, and it looks like they’re wrestling on top of each other? Well, they’re not really wrestling. They’re…”

Ohmygodohmygodohmygod…He is NOT talking to me about this! I can’t believe this is happening. This is so embarrassing. Don’t look at him. Just look down. Pretend this isn’t happening. Think about something else. ANYTHING else. 

When my older brother Eric sat me down to have the “birds and the bees” talk at the age of 12, I was mortified. Actually, there has to be a stronger word for my emotion. I wanted to disappear. An avid Star Trek fan, I never so badly wanted teleportation to be an option as I did at that moment. Somebody freakin’ beam me up! My face was hot, my body was numb, my heart pitter-pattering wildly in my prepubescent chest. And I remember being angry. What gave him the right?! Besides, I already knew all about the  technicality of sex. I had an older best friend who’d already filled me in on every graphic detail, although I think she said you could get pregnant from kissing. So glad she wasn’t right about that.

There are only a few things I remember from that encounter, besides feeling completely embarrassed. I remember the drops of dried milk (or some other food substance) that were caked between the ridges on the side of our dining room table. As I sat there, head down, trying to mentally escape the awkward conversation I was being subjected to, I began scraping the white film off with my thumbnail. I can still remember running my thumb down that ridge, letting the gunk that had accumulated over the years build up under my nail, scraping it out, and starting over again. I remember being grateful that nobody had ever thought to clean there, as it gave me something to focus on.

I also remember the end of the conversation, after he’d said vague things about waiting until marriage, finding someone you love, God’s plan, etc. He was sitting on my left side, across the corner of the table. He gently touched my left forearm and said, “Catherine, you need to look at me and listen. If anyone ever touches you in a bad way, you have to tell someone. Tell mom, tell dad, tell me, tell somebody. It’s not okay. You have to tell someone, ok?  Has anyone ever done this?”

“No,” I stammered. At this point, I don’t think I’d ever even kissed a boy, so my innocence was fairly in tact. I did consider telling him about the boy who showed me his penis in daycare before I was even in kindergarten. No, I didn’t think that counted. “No,” I said again, “Nothing like that has happened.”

Looking back now, I realize the enormity of that moment. My mother has no recollection of ever having asked Eric to carry out this task. I mean, how many 12-year-old girls want to get the sex talk from their older brother? No, he chose to do this on his own. It had to have been just as awkward for him, if not more, than it was for me. But he loved me enough to try and protect me. He didn’t want the same things that had happened to him to happen to me. He was 12 when he was molested, the same age I was when we had that talk. I’m so glad he was brave enough to speak those words to me. I only wish he’d been able to speak them to himself.

If you haven’t yet had “the talk” with the children you love, don’t wait. I’ve already talked with my three-year-old daughter about “good touch” and “bad touch.” No, this won’t  prevent her from ever being victimized, but I hope it plants a seed in her mind that if she is, it isn’t her fault. Yes, it’s an awkward conversation to have, but they’ll appreciate it later, whether you know it or not.

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Read more about Eric’s Story

Don’t Underestimate Your Emotional Backstory

Olympic Judo hopeful Kayla Harrison is an incredible athlete. Her strength and skill have propelled her to the top of her sport, and earned her a spot on the U.S. Olympic team in London. But according to this NPR segment, she’s sometimes frustrated at the motives behind the bright spotlight:

“Do I wish that everyone would just talk about how, you know, awesome I am — and how I could be America’s first gold medalist? Yes, I wish that,” she says. “But America wants that comeback kid story. They want the person who overcame obstacles to reach their goals. And I fit that bill pretty well.”

I’ll let you read the article to find out the obstacles Kayla is speaking of. If she’d rather have more attention focused on her atheleticism than her emotional backstory, I fully support her. After all, I can somewhat understand how she feels. You want people to recognize your succeses, and see them as purely that, success. Not success despite obstacles, just success.

Kayla’s perspective really has me thinking about my own emotional backstory. It’s a doozy, afterall. While I haven’t exactly hidden my dark experiences (and have been openly sharing them), I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever be known for anything else. Am I ok with that?

I’ve been amazed at the stories others have privately shared with me while I’ve been on this journey to unpacking Eric’s story. They share stories of abuse, addiction, dysfunction, mental illness, and many other difficult situations. The one thing that has surprised me the most? How quick people are to say, ‘Well, it’s nothing like what you’ve been through.” They underestimate their own emotional backstories. I truly believe that we’re all dealt a relatively similar amount of trauma throughout our lives, whether it be a deep, narrow wound or a constant scratching of the surface that leaves you in constant discomfort. Which is worse, losing a loved one in a sudden, tragic accident, or spending a lifetime in a loveless, abusive marriage? Both probably bring the same amount of pain, they’re just distributed differently.

Don’t underestimate your pain. Don’t think for a second that what you’ve been through doesn’t matter. It absolutely does. It’s helped make you who you are, for better or worse. Hopefully, you can channel that into something positive, as Kayla has. Just knowing what your story is, and telling it to others walking down the same path can be a tremendous testimony. And if you haven’t found a way to do that yet, you will.