Thursday, April 28, 2011


We always think we know our extended family. For me, it meant a gaggle of cousins, aunts and uncles all converging at one house or another for whatever holiday was in season. My mom is second-oldest of six children, three boys and three girls so I have 14 first cousins, which made for a lot of people and, as far back as my mind cares to remember, a lot of fun. There was the Ranch in Montana, where I learned how to drive an old, blue stick-shift truck to collect a million or so hay bales each summer, and where I followed my grandfather around like a pesky mosquito, anxious to learn everything he would teach me about cattle, fence-fixing, hailstorms, and quiet evenings where the smell of sage mixed with alfalfa became my preferred perfume.

Almost every memory I have of my mother's siblings drifts back to our gatherings in the most positive of ways. There were issues, tragedies, and triumphs, but as children, we neither cared nor worried about them.

I'm grown up now, and a few months ago my mother's brother sent me a message on Facebook telling me he was coming to Alaska in the spring. Facebook is a marvelous tool for family reunions (ahem, Mother). I hadn't talked too much to Uncle G. ("UG" as he calls himself) in years, since my own sister's wedding four or so years ago. But he says he's coming to Alaska to connect with his niece and her family. Rocking cool.

He spent four delightful days in Anchorage; some time was spent with a family friend, some on his own exploring the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum, but lots of it was with us. UG and I took a walk down along the Coastal Wildlife Refuge one morning. Unusually quiet for springtime, the marsh was a spicy-smelling collaboration of browns and grays and dark water that sat perfectly still. Only a few sandhill cranes poked their way across the grassy fields, and even the traffic was light.

Over the course of these few days we ate together, talked about life together, drank beer together (let me tell you how cool THAT is). I told him about Wolf. He told me about his youngest, recently married. Bear hovered, always near, asking me later "Is that the joking uncle you told me about?" Yes.

I never really knew my uncle. Not from an adult perspective, anyway. How he struggled to find his way during tumultuous teen years, or how my mother brought him to Seattle from Montana for a fresh start. How the death of my cousin, his son, took him to hell and back during one eternally long week in Anchorage in 1994. I never noticed before how strikingly similar in appearance he and my mother look, or knew that airplanes and their innards are as much a part of his body as the hands that built many of the craft cruising the skies today.

He's in his late 60's. I'm 42. What took me so long?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

From the Wolf Den: Mud Song

As Wolf nears the end of his time at CHYC and three years of joy and sorrow for our family, we here at home celebrated another holiday without him. This Easter was filled with a bit more visceral emotion than those I've experienced in the past, in part due to the knowledge that our family will at last be collectively residing in one state instead of two come July. While I know in my heart I am not the same mother who waved goodbye in May 2009, anymore than Wolf is the same child who held his hands together to resemble a heart that evening, I am reticent to admit how terribly tenuous the road ahead truly will be.

It's been a week of trials in our house and I will freely admit Wolf has been on the back burner out of psychological necessity. His brokenness and my brokenness and our family's brokenness all combined together to create one Big Broken Thing that I just couldn't touch. Not this week. And I felt bad for that.

So, sitting right up front of our standing-room only church service this morning was me, the mom and wife of Family Broken, in between two of my three men. Easter, we heard our friend and pastor say, was about finding; an original game of hide-and-seek, as it were. Except we don't do the finding. Someone Else does; because we're too worn out to find Him ourselves.

My oldest friend, D. has posted similar thoughts this week about brokenness and difficulty and pain in parenting children with disabilities. It is dirty work, whether these kids be at home with us 24/7 or away, like Wolf. Just when we think we're on top of medications, behavior plans, treatment reviews, or dietary changes, somethings happens, and we're back to the beginning, stuck, as in a muddy puddle.

This is the Mud Song. It talks about that, and of being found. It's sad. It's happy. Just like parenting.

" made me yours, found my orphan heart, and brought it home, and I'm safe here and I sing..."

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Update From the Wolf Den: Back Where He Started...

Wolf is back where he started. Literally, though.

While the rest of his family was engaged in keeping Yukon alive and well these past few weeks, Wolf's therapists and support staff have been hatching a plan to return him to the unit at CHYC that started it all...

After a tough winter in his current living situation with guys who seemed intent on making his life miserable, I received a call from my fav Clinical Director, R., who manages the original unit Wolf started out on his journey to CHYC three years ago. "I think we need to get him out of there," said R. in his characteristically cool voice. "We've all been talking here and think we can make it work, so let's plan on next week."

To better equip Wolf with the social skills he so desperately needs prior to the transition up North to Fairbanks, a move back to the Asperger's unit will work on group dynamics, leadership (Wolf is now the oldest rather than the youngest), and independent skills necessary for going to a regular school in Fairbanks. Big agenda at even bigger stakes.

During our morning Hour of Power, Wolf's voice was happy but serious, since the Unit Director, Miss B. told him the leash is pretty short. Really short. Like, don't go out of my sight short. He has some work to do, but this move is the first positive step towards July, when hopefully the final leap will be out of the building forever.

What a feeling.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Trying to Keep It All Together

The most difficult aspect of Yukon's accident and subsequent illness has been the flustery feeling of not quite having my world put together. Normal for me is probably obsessive-compulsive for everyone else, and having to suddenly create New Normal doesn't feel very good (and we wonder where Wolf gets it...).

There is never a good time, I have discovered, for someone in the family to engage in a life or death sort of struggle; but Yukon's could not have come at a worse moment on the Kirkland Family Life Map. A month left of school, Wolf's impending discharge (which has been shifted a few months, for a good reason and one I shall share later this week), Yukon's upcoming trip to Texas, my long list of deadlines. I was stressed before and I'm even more so now.

What's even more difficult is trying to articulate this to Yukon without complaining, a delicate maneuver. My wonderful husband is the epitome of laid-back, accident or no, and moving him along the busy schedule of life at this juncture is becoming a little more difficult, especially since he is not able to drive yet. Medical appointments, blood work, physical therapy, pick up Bear, back to pick up Yukon at the office. Groceries? What are those? Gas for the car? Hey, when did prices go up so far? Took me almost $100 bucks to fill up the Ford Valdez (joke, ask my Travelgram Cohost about that nickname).

Many of you have suggested I take a nap. I would, if I could find my side of the bed underneath Yukon's stash of pillows. See? Here I go.

What I really need is a weekend alone at the beach. I don't think that's wrong of me to wish for it. Is it?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Yukon and His Elbow

A quick Yukon update before collapse in front of my laptop after another crazy day of appointments, phone conversations, and medication juggling.

The patient continues to do well, evidencing excellent skills in the area of eating with one hand, tapping out cryptic messages on the computer, and even starting the dishwasher. Off pain medication but still on blood-thinning injections and oral meds, Yukon must remain close to home for careful monitoring of both. Which also means he is at my (ha) elbow all day; a lovely privilege for sure.

I drive Yukon to appointments and for the brief sojourns to his office for check-ins with the Boss Man Director. Usually he needs a nap mid-day; I guess the combination of stress on his body and stress on his mind means he needs extra recovery time and napping is the best way to return him to his usual bouncy self. I wish I could say the same for me. Nap? HA.

Physical therapy by our fabulous friend S. is tough, but according to Yukon, a wonderful hour of making sure things that are supposed to bend one way, do, and things that are not, don't. Today's session was mainly desensitizing the skin around the incision, an area full of nerves that have been through major trauma.

Friends, we have found, are a wonderful gift up here in Alaska. They have fed us, taken care of Bear, sat with us at the hospital, and, God bless their shooting arms, provided twice-daily injections to my husband's belly. These people are GOOD.

The photo above was taken at physical therapy this morning. Yukon manages a lovely smile despite the forthcoming twisting, turning, and flexing. That's my guy.

Monday, April 11, 2011

These Precious Things Remind Me of You

I mentioned in an earlier post how Yukon and I had engaged in a discussion the very day of his accident. Our commitment to "powering down" a hectic lifestyle in order to spend more time with each other smacked us right upside the elbow that day, and we agree the timing, at least, could not have been better.

The weeks leading up to Yukon's crash were full. Overflowing full, with meetings and deadlines and tearful, late nights when neither of us could sit down and eat a meal together (something we previously did 6 of 7 days). For a family who thrives on traditional togetherness, we were faltering badly and didn't even make time to notice that. Date night? What's that?

Even when, post-surgery, Yukon was struggling to stand upright and figure out the depths of his oxycontin-fogged brain, we still didn't get it. I had deadlines to meet. He still had session work at church. Bear still had to be picked up and dropped off and the dog still needed to be walked.
Until last Friday.

Sometimes things become crystal clear in a moment; for us, it was the long, painful look that passed between us when the ER doctor came into the room and informed Yukon that he did, indeed, have clots floating around within his lungs. At that moment, just about every ounce of air left mine, and time stopped as two pairs of eyes, one terrified and one anguished, looked at each other.

At that very second, our lives changed.

What do you say, then? I'm sorry? I love you? Don't you dare leave me? All that and more came rushing out of my mouth as I struggled to maintain a confidence I didn't at all feel. Looking into eyes that have calmed me, excited me, and led me patiently through valleys of darkness, I tried desperately to comfort, knowing these next few hours would mean the difference between what is and what could have been.

We were lucky; Yukon made it to the hospital in time (ahem, thank the wife's intuition for that one), he received mega-doses of blood thinners, and was released Sunday afternoon. With Bear away at a friend's house, we had time to settle back into what we hope will be a manageable New Normal. With his elbow pain (Remember that? He broke an elbow) now under control and a new splint on board, Yukon decided he could manage to sleep in our bed for the first time in almost two weeks.

The most beautiful sound in the world was listening to Yukon breathe. In, out, in, out, with none of the gasps heard during previous days. I awoke early to him smiling at me.

"I listened to you breathe all night," he said.

"It was great."

Saturday, April 9, 2011


I just had a feeling, all day, something was not right. Not right at all, but couldn't put my finger on it.

Yukon, up until two days ago, had been doing very well. A trip to the surgeon on Thursday meant a new splint applied by our friend, a physical therapist, and a ton of laughter as she and her assistant took careful steps to ensure a cool cast. Yukon had only mentioned in passing that his leg ached, but "just a little." That's what started my uneasy feeling.

Fortunately, the physician assistant took heed of my worried look and sent us promptly to the imaging center for an ultrasound. As the time stretched into a half-hour, I began to worry even more, and when the tech came out to find me, I knew.

DVT (or deep vein thrombosis) is a blood clot that can develop in the legs after extended travel, surgery, or, in Yukon's case, no reason at all. There will be a reason, but we don't know it yet. He had DVT back in 2003 right after we were married and I had been keeping a close eye on him post-accident just in case.

After a few hours in the ER, we were sent home with blood-thinning meds to inject into Yukon's stomach and strict instructions to come back if he became short of breath, dizzy, etc etc. Yeah, try explaining to a man how to tell his wife he feels dizzy, short of breath, yada yada and see how far YOU get.

I slept next to Yukon with one eye and ear open that night, and watched yesterday as he puttered around the house with more energy (seemingly) than he had had all week. Hmmmm. As I fixed us lunch, however, he sat at the dining room table with one hand resting on his chin, looking thoughtful and a bit distressed (hairs raising on back of neck).

"What's up?"

"I'm just trying to decide if I am short of breath or not."

"We're leaving right now."

And we did. Left half-eaten sandwiches and the sattelite guy up on the roof, pounding around to fix our storm-damaged dish. Threw The Dog in his kennel and called a friend to pick up Bear.

Pulmonary embolism. Hospital stay. Frantically hunting for legal papers and signing two of them with the witness of friends.

I went back home around 11 p.m. Thought I was doing okay until I saw all the things of Yukon. Shoes. Our bed. His toothbrush. Wedding ring.

Funny when someone's not there how loudly their presence can be announced in other ways.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Broken Wings Mean Different Things....

This post has had to rest in my mind for a day or so in order to not have it appear as if I am whining about caring for my dear husband, who is exiting Day Four of post-pothole-accident aftermath.

Darn, though, this caregiving thing is difficult. We have three unique personalities involved in this accident, and I've come to learn a lot about how we do (or don't) react to a family emergency. Fortunately, Wolf's understanding of the whole thing is rather limited, and we purposefully left it thus, since he's fortunately not here to witness the daily mockery of our family routine.

On the humorous side, Yukon is rather entertaining in his narcotic-fueled state. Excited about such things as the hospital chapstick and the supply of kleenex next to his bed downstairs in the family room, he has constantly provided laughs to the steady stream of friends who have come to provide comfort in his time of need. Really, though, I'm starting to think they are showing up just to hear what he says next.

Physically, though, it's tough. I've never known Yukon to be injured or sick to the point of incapacitation. He can't put on socks, wash his face, or even get up without assistance. He doesn't like it, I don't like it, and Bear certainly doesn't.

Yukon, I'm also discovering, does not like pain (well duh, who does); but not any pain. After an excruciating experience in the hospital while being x-rayed, Yukon has a framework of the Pain Scale that no one should have to go through, and he wants it stopped. Like, now. Like, "Honey, it's been 3.25 hours since my last pain pill, and if you give it to me know I'll be good to go by 3.50 hours." Oy. Since the pain is quite regular and thus pain medicine must be administered on the dot.0, moi must also be around at the appointed time to untwist the bottle's cap. Poor Yukon.

Bear is trying to figure out a reasonable sort of understanding as to what has happened to his Hero. It took until last night for him to allow Yukon to read him a bedtime story because he was afraid of the enormous dressing on his daddy's arm. He desperately wants the Yukon he knew Wednesday morning, not the Yukon who came home Wednesday night, and is trying so hard to help in his little-boy way.

I'm learning a lot about my family this week; how we respond to hurt, how we interact with each other, how we see each other in a time of our most extreme weakness. It's strangely comforting and uncomfortable. I wouldn't ever want to do it again, but then, I don't think we would know each other in such an intimate way had Yukon's accident not happened.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Yukon's Day

After almost a day of waiting on pins (pardon the orthopedic pun) and needles (ha, another one!) to see the surgeon, Yukon and shuffled into the Alaska Surgery Center early this morning for some elbow fixin'.

I'll let the pictures do the talking, since it's been a long day.

As evidenced by the bottle of wine and bag of chocolate chip cookies from two separate friends who know me too well.