Last Thursday I left for Arizona. My little sister, it was reported, was talking. Slowly talking.
When I was allowed into her room her eyes were closed due to a grafting surgery. In the four days I was there she never saw me. Just heard my voice.
And that was all I could think of to say.
My head became crowded with thoughts. Her thoughts. About waking up and finding that she has been asleep for over two months. Motherhood paused, her children had been living, growing, surviving without her physical nurturing. Wife of another burn victim, her husband visits in a back brace and bandages. Her worried mother comes as often as visitors are allowed. The blog she had tended to for the past three years is now being read all over the world and by a-much-expanded audience. She woke up to being a newly-founded celebrity raised up by fellow bloggers. How many thank you notes would cover the massive amount of service given to her family? Would she ever get to meet all of the seekers who sought out her faith after learning of her story? Waking up to a new body with different color and texture. Short hair after she'd worked so hard to grow for the past few years. An image she won't recognize when she looks in the mirror for the first time. The lingering memories of a traumatic experience, which took the life of her good friend Doug.
"I love you." Was all I could say.
"I love you too." She replied.
I have never known the heaviness that I have felt the past few days. It weighs upon your heart and never leaves your soul. Though I have prayed for it to leave, I have come to understand that this is part of the process. Sometimes there is nothing to do but feel the depths of humanity. And I can't even begin to imagine those who will feel it much deeper than I do now.
But, God is with us. Eventually He will help us carry this and lighten our heavy in due time. We believe in better times. We believe in eternal happiness. We know that an atonement was made and all is not lost. It is times like these where faith is more valuable than anything in this world. This is how we become more like our Father in Heaven.
Stephanie knows this too, and she will be fine. That is the amazing aspect of faith. When you allow for hope to grow in your heart you find that peace takes root and is not easily destroyed. She knows. Christian knows. Doug's family knows. We know.
On my last day in her room I told her that I had to leave for the airport soon.
"Tell everyone . . ." She asked me in her slow, breathy voice. " . . . that I love them."
So much has been done for my sister. You've donated, fund-raised, sent cards and packages. You've read our stories, fasted and sincerely prayed. But today, will you just know that she loves you? You. You. You.
Then be glad to know that you've allowed for Stephanie to have one thing she has spent her lifetime trying to cultivate, a God-given gift that the flames didn't touch: her grace.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Last Thursday I left for Arizona. My little sister, it was reported, was talking. Slowly talking.
Monday, November 10, 2008
And apparently the responsibility.
Timmy would always be the last to order. He would stand up at the counter, lean forward and breathe deeply. He'd put his hand on his forhead, thumb on one side, fingers on the other, and RUB, like he was trying hard to remember an easy vocab word while taking his SAT's.
He would slowly get out the words, "I would like..." and pause and keep rubbing his forhead. He'd swallow hard and finally come up with, "A Small Vanilla with Rainbow Sprinkles." And he'd be done for the visit.
And we'd all laugh, because with all that pressure felt and time spent, he'd order the same exact thing EVERY time!
And we tease him about it whenever we go out to eat and it's his turn to order. Poor TIMMY!
Now to TODAY!
The generous owners of Golden Spoon: Frozen Yogurt at Stapley & McKellips in Mesa, AZ, have dedicated a day at their store to the Nielsons.
Thursday, November 13, 2008 from 10:30 am - 10:00 pm
A generous percentage of all sales will be donated to Stephanie and Christian’s rehab fund.
Click HERE for a high quality version of the coupons Golden Spoon is offering.
Enjoy! Hope to see lots of NIE SUPPORTERS there.
(Hope you don't get stuck behind TIMMY!)
Thursday, October 30, 2008
NIE DAY' PARTY AT HABIT SALON will be a day full of what is important to Stephanie:
- 40's Style (Yes, all of our stylists will be sporting fabulous "Fourties Victory Rolls"!)
- and RED LIPSTICK!
EMILY HEAP, a fabulous stylist at HABIT SALON, has recruited our sassy sister-in-law, BETHANNE JOHNSON, (another amazing stylist at Habit) and myself to help her put on the "NIE DAY" PARTY AT HABIT SALON!
The owners of Habit Salon, Chrissy and Rich Rasmussen, and their wonderful staff of stylists and astiticians, have generously donated Habit Salon and their services for an entire Saturday! 100% of the donations made will go to the NIE RECOVERY FUND.
There will also be a variety of handmade bracelets and barrettes, homemade baked goods and Nie T-Shirts to add to the ways you can treat yourself and help the Nielsons.
Click HERE to go to HABIT SALON'S BLOG and pick your appointment time and services. This will secure your time with one of Habit's Stylists and your chance to participate in a heartwarming and uplifting event. It's that easy!
We have suggested donation amounts for the services, which are just that suggestions. Donate all you can, whether it be a little less or more. Items created for the event and raffle tickets will have a set price.
Habit Salon's fabulous variety of hair and skin product will be available, with 25% of the purchase price going to the Nielsons.
Be sure to pass this on to your mom, daughters, sisters, friends and co-workers. There is limited space, so BOOK EARLY to get the time you want, especially if you want to come with your gang!
Walk-ins are welcome but you will have to wait for the next available stylist. Please come and visit with other NIE Supporters, buy some treats for yourself and as holiday gifts and leave infused with the LOVE OF LIFE.
Mark SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 22 on your calendar - It's NIE DAY!
So I will wait to do that, for now.
I want to jump right to an incredible evening Emily, Lynn and I spent at the Mindy Gledhill Benefit Concert. I'm sure our lack of sleep from skipping the whole sleep sceee the night before prepping for the Garage Sale intensified the need, but Emily and I BAWLED during several of the songs. Here is the YouTube link to an audience member's video of Stephanie and Christian's oldest two children singing. Emily and I went out and bought the baby lullaby CD that Mindy sings Golden Slumber on a few days later.
(Get some Kleenex before you hit play. I'm not kidding.)
Here is a link to the professional company's version. It is very clear sound and picture. Claire and Jane's expressions are priceless.
Claire, Jane and Mindy sing a lullaby Stephanie would sing to them.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
by Jaimee Rose - Oct. 27, 2008 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic
Last Tuesday, Christian went to the hospital to see Stephanie again. This time, her eyes were open.
Her doctors have begun to wake her, to lift Stephanie from the heavy sedation that's kept her sleeping for 10 weeks while doctors covered her burns with skin grafts.
"My wife's back! My wife's back!" Christian told the nurses.
Stephanie drifts in and out of consciousness, not yet fully aware of her situation and surroundings. She can nod yes and no. She tries to mouth words, but a tube in her throat keeps her from talking. When her family visits, they can make her laugh. When Christian was in her room, he watched her cry. They were happy tears. She'd missed him.
He touched her dark hair, which is beginning to grow back. He focused on her green eyes, which followed his movements.
"I'm here for you," he told her. "I love you. Things will be all right."
Stephanie's face is nearly free of bandages now, and after 19 surgeries, almost all of her burns are grafted, says Dr. Kevin Foster, one of the burn surgeons leading her care. Her new skin is patchy, red and scarred.
Her eyelashes have grown back, long and curling. Her lips are as full and lovely as before. She has one perfect ear, the other grafted and healing. Her eyelids will need some reconstruction, but her nose looks great, Foster says. She might get to talk to her family by Halloween. He looks at his patient, blinking and laughing, and is astonished, still.
Stephanie's strong, slender body has defied the complications that are expected with burns this severe: organ failure, infections. More than half the people who are burned as badly as Stephanie die, Foster says.
"I kept waiting and waiting for her to get sick," he says. "It never happened.
"I've been around long enough to know that something special is going on. I don't know what it is," Foster says, "but it's something."
Lucy came to visit her sister on Friday. She was scared to see Stephanie, the sister who looks so like her. Lucy knew it would be hard. But she had something to say.
Stephanie was sleeping. Lucy waited for her to wake.
"I'm pregnant," she told Stephanie. Lucy and her husband are expecting their first baby in May.
"Steph, you've got to be there," Lucy told her. "You've got to just relax and get better so you can be there, and help me."
Stephanie cried, which made Lucy cry, too. Lucy cuddled up close to her sister, and their green eyes locked onto one another, their faces just inches apart. Lucy stayed that way for a long time, just staring.
"When she opens her eyes, she's there," says Lucy, 24. "It's wonderful, because it is her."
Christian goes home
Saturday was a big day. Christian was released from the rehabilitation center, and will be staying with his parents in Mesa while he heals and continues physical therapy.
A benefit concert was held Saturday night, and Courtney flew in from Utah with Stephanie and Christian's three oldest children: Claire, 6, Jane, 5, and Oliver, 3. Courtney is Stephanie's older sister, and has been caring for the kids at her home in Provo, Utah. They haven't seen their dad since the crash. They couldn't wait.
As soon as the car stopped in front of Christian's parents' home, Jane and Oliver jumped out and ran inside. Courtney had prepared the children for what they might see. Christian's hair is still growing, she told them, his face still a little red from second-degree burns, like a sun burn. There might be some scars, Courtney said.
Claire was afraid. Courtney's husband had to carry her inside.
"She had to just look at him," Courtney says, "and then she was fine."
Christian's therapists gave him Legos to work on stretching and strengthening his fingers. He got them out and played with his children. Oliver never left his side.
Sleep, pretty darling
That night, at the concert held to benefit their parents, Claire and Jane stood on a stage before nearly 1,000 people and sang their mother a lullaby.
They had practiced for weeks, but still Claire was nervous and stared at the floor. Jane was afraid she might cry. The Beatles' Golden Slumbers is the song their mother liked to sing to them.
Golden slumbers fill your eyes, smiles awake you when you rise.
Sleep pretty darling do not cry, and I will sing a lullaby.
They held hands. They're sisters. They knew just how to help each other.
by Jaimee Rose - Oct. 26, 2008 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic
She knew just how to hold her sister.
Eleven years older, Page would slip across the hall and scoop that crying baby from the crib before their mother could stir.
Into the rocking chair they'd go, back and forth, Page and Stephanie together.
Don't cry, Page whispered, I'm here.
"I had this feeling that I knew her and she knew me," Page says, "and we would help each other."
Now, Stephanie whimpers, and before the nurses come, Page is there. She climbs onto Stephanie's hospital bed, wraps her sister, now 27, in her arms.
"Don't cry," Page says, "I'm here." She knows just how to hold her sister.
Stephanie Nielson and her husband, Christian, 29, were injured when their private plane went down Aug. 16 in St. Johns, Ariz., while on their way home to Mesa. Christian, the pilot, was burned on 35 percent of his body, and Stephanie on 83 percent of hers. They were taken to the Arizona Burn Center in Phoenix.
In the hospital, Page winds the long bandages around Stephanie's burned arms and legs. She wraps Stephanie's face carefully so she can still see the freckle on her lower lip. Page Checketts, the oldest sister, is the strong one.
All three of Stephanie's sisters are here, at the hospital. One cries in the corner so Stephanie can't hear. Another stands by the bed, whispering in Stephanie's ear, her hand on Stephanie's strong heart. She likes to feel it beating.
As soon as Stephanie's three sisters heard about the crash, they came. There was a pull, a panic to be near her. There was worry for the four children Stephanie and Christian left at home.
The sisters decided to do all the things Stephanie couldn't. Her children came to their homes. Her care became their responsibility. They even inherited her blog.
For three years, Stephanie wrote the NieNie Dialogues, read by hundreds across the nation. It was a daily picture, both lovely and honest, of the life of a mom. There were self-portraits too, all red lipstick and green eyes, pale skin, a child often on her lap.
She shared sadness, also. One of nine children raised in Provo, Utah, Stephanie was the only one who moved away from home. Sometimes, she missed her sisters so much that she called Provo, found them giggling in someone's kitchen and cried into the phone.
Before Stephanie's sisters left for Arizona, they posted news of the crash on her blog and asked for prayers.
The first visit
The first August day the sisters came to the hospital, only Stephanie's toes and ponytail peeked out from beneath the bandages. Her eyes were swollen shut, her face wrapped, too. Heavily sedated, Stephanie was silent and still.
Her mother could only stand to be in the room for 15 minutes. One sister saw Stephanie's once-bouncy, happy ponytail and talked loudly in a weird high voice, trying to diffuse the angst.
"Stephanie! I'm just so excited to see you."
The nurses looked at her like she was insane.
The doctors said Christian would fully recover in months. After skin grafts to his arms, legs and one ear, he'd learn to walk again, to curl his fingers, to bend his arms. His face would heal on its own.
But Stephanie's prognosis was grave. She had a 60 to 70 percent chance of survival, her doctors said. Third-degree burns took almost all the skin from her back, chest, face, neck, arms and lower legs. Her organs were strong, her slender body working hard, but there would be months of recovery and years of pain.
Her hands were burned to the tendons. The doctors were able to preserve the cartilage of her nose, but that sweet face full of the freckles she shared with her sisters, gone. The sisters felt like Stephanie was gone, too.
The funny sister
Courtney Kendrick, the second-oldest sister, is the funny one.
In the hospital room that first day, she bent and whispered into Stephanie's ear.
"I'll take your kids," she said, "but you gotta promise me I'll be skinny in return."
Standing by Stephanie's bed, two thoughts crept into Courtney's mind.
Take care of Stephanie's children. And tell her story.
Courtney promised to continue her sister's blog. She knew Stephanie felt her message was important, that somewhere in the photos of Stephanie's laundry basket and dinners under the mulberry tree, other moms might find a laugh or even strength. Stephanie once posted a photo of Courtney nursing on her blog. Courtney forgave her.
The four children could come home to Provo, Courtney thought. They could attend Stephanie's grade school with their cousins, hike Stephanie's favorite mountain and feel their mother in the autumn air. The children needed to escape the worried visitors that kept talk of the crash in their minds.
Already the mother of a newborn, Courtney took Claire, 6, Jane, 5, and Oliver, 3. Another sister took Nicholas, 2.
Courtney and her husband packed the car so quickly that clothes and baby blankets flew off the roof rack somewhere near the Arizona border. She lost her voice in that car filled with little ones, but Courtney found her sister.
"I felt Stephanie around me all the time, talking to me, whispering in my ear," she remembers.
The first week was long while Courtney learned how to mother Stephanie's children. She solved who wanted what on their toast, chanted "shoes, girls, shoes" over and over. And Courtney listened for her sister.
Have Jane help you vacuum if she gets too hyper.
Whisper something in their ears before they go to sleep.
One night, Courtney surveyed the day's mess with exhaustion. As she bent once more over a pile of errant toys, she heard her sister.
Thank you. Thank you. I know it's hard. Thank you.
But I love this, Courtney wanted to say back.
"Ollie wakes me up, and I think what an honor," says Courtney, 31. "What an honor to make this guy Cheerios with one eye open and one eye closed."
At night, Courtney always thinks of Stephanie. She tucks the children into bed, whispering "your mom and dad love you" to each one. Claire and Jane take the longest, demanding story after story in the big bed they share.
Sometimes, when they listen to Stephanie's favorite lullaby, Jane clutches a photograph of her parents and cries into her pillow.
Sometimes Claire has bad dreams, she says, "so I snuggle with my sister Jane, and that makes me feel better."
Every morning, Courtney finds them huddled together, holding each other like only sisters know how.
"Sisters are the closest thing to you, the closest thing to yourself," Courtney says. "We knew we were as close as these kids could get to their mom."
The careful sister
Lucy Beesley, the youngest, is the careful one. She looks just like Stephanie. The two share the same brown hair, peaked chin and pink puffed cheeks covered in freckles. They both worry over clothes and feelings and if the homemade pizza crust turned out right.
Lucy is caring for the 2-year-old, Nicholas. He calls Lucy "Mom."
"Mom! Mom-mom-mom-mom," Nicholas insists, toddling toward her with eyes bright, a new toy in his chubby fist.
"A copter?" says Lucy, 24. "Oh, you lucky boy!"
Growing up, just three years between them, Stephanie and Lucy shared a bedroom. They shared dresses.
They slept in the same bed until Stephanie was 16. They would giggle under the covers until their mother came in, ordering everyone to sleep. Night after night, the sisters slept snuggled, born knowing just how to hold each other.
"I do miss her, I miss her so," Lucy says. "I miss asking her questions."
Sometimes, she hears Stephanie's voice.
I need you to teach Nicholas.
Sometimes Lucy talks back.
I took all your clothes, she tells Stephanie.
The clothes "remind me of her," Lucy says. "I want to feel her close to me."
When Lucy kisses Nicholas, she does it just like her sister: feasting on those soft, fat cheeks. She combs his hair and brings him to Courtney's house every afternoon for family dinner and story hour with his siblings.
"I put him down to bed and . . . we say a little prayer together," Lucy says. "I lie there until he falls asleep, and I know she's there with me. I can just feel her, and she's comforting him."
Nicholas turned 2 on Oct. 6, and oh, how Lucy worried over his party. Stephanie always made birthdays so magical.
Lucy and her husband held the party at their farm: chili, scones and a hayride to a pumpkin patch.
Stephanie always told her sisters that someday, she wanted to move back to Utah and live on a farm. She wanted grapevines and apple trees in the backyard, pumpkins growing and Christian by her side.
Standing in the farm, surrounded by family, about to release balloons into the air, Lucy felt that deep pang for her sister. How sad that she missed this. As a toddler, Nicholas changes by the week. He's a new version of himself every Sunday.
Stephanie's been sleeping for 10 Sundays. Nicholas is losing his chubby cheeks. His wispy tufts of baby hair have been trimmed, tamed, combed to the side. He's talking now. He's growing from a baby to a boy. Stephanie's missing all of it.
Lucy worries about time passing, about this boy who sleeps near his mother's photograph but calls Lucy "mom."
"What's going to happen," she wonders, "when he leaves me and sees Stephanie for the first time?"
His mother looks different, too.
Love and flying
Stephanie loved to dress up for Christian: a pink hat on Easter, his favorite skirt on a Friday night. Stephanie, the second-youngest, is the romantic one.
She liked to write her husband love letters, even posting them online. Her brothers teased her. She didn't care.
"You always knew Stephanie and Christian were going to be late for everything," Courtney says, "that they were going to . . . dress up, to look good for each other."
Stephanie and Christian fell in love when she was 19 and he was 21. Months later, they married in the Provo Mormon temple and started their family. While Christian finished his degree in facilities management at Brigham Young University, Stephanie stayed at home with the children. They moved from Provo to a job in New Jersey and later Mesa, where Christian was raised as one of 11 kids.
In Arizona, Stephanie and Christian lived with his parents while they saved for a house, but Stephanie felt that tug pulling her home to Utah, to her parents, five brothers, and three sisters. She tried to ignore it, her sisters said. She wanted to make him happy.
"She was just a softie," Page says. "She wanted fun and happiness all the time."
Stephanie and Christian mined the magic of life. They wanted each moment to matter. Stephanie wore her trademark red lipstick even to the grocery store and sent thank-you notes to the dentist. Christian liked to dance in the living room and pick Stephanie up and carry her to bed.
Stephanie knew Christian always had yearned to fly. He ate birdseed at age 6, hoping he might grow wings.
For Christian's 28th birthday, in 2006, she bought him his first flying lesson. Stephanie called him Mr. Pilot Nielson and loved to be his passenger. She played the Out of Africa soundtrack on her iPod, lost in romance, pretending she was Meryl Streep.
He told her that whenever she needed her sisters, he could fly her to Provo.
He earned his pilot's license in July, and a few weeks later, Stephanie came to him with a request. On a recent vacation to his family's ranch in Bluewater, N.M., she had spied a pair of suede moccasins at an Indian reservation nearby. She mentioned how she wished she'd brought them home, and Christian said he'd fly her over on Saturday to get them. It would be good practice, he said. Their flight instructor, Doug Kinneard of Mesa, could join them, and they could leave the kids with Christian's mother.
It could be a date.
The flight home
On the way home from New Mexico, Stephanie wore those moccasins. They stopped in St. Johns around 3:30 p.m. to refuel. During the landing, the borrowed Cessna's engine quit and wouldn't restart.
Christian and Doug pushed the plane to the fueling area and filled the tanks. The engine started easily, according to the National Transportation Safety Board's preliminary report.
Christian stopped to call his mother and told her they'd be home soon.
He taxied the Cessna back to the runway, and the plane climbed slowly. Witnesses say it never got the altitude it needed. At the end of the runway, the plane veered to the left and crashed onto a residential street about a block away.
Neighbors heard the power lines snap as the plane came through. They heard the plane hit a truck parked on the street and then another. They heard the scrape of the plane's metal belly shredding as it skidded across the asphalt into a woodpile next to a home, where it caught fire. The power lines had sliced off the left landing gear. Then the neighbors heard footsteps, running.
Christian and Doug jumped from the plane, their clothes on fire. Christian ran across the street, still burning, calling for help.
"My wife," he cried, staring back at the airplane already lost to flames. "My wife."
Stephanie escaped, and neighbors found her beneath a tire swing.
Doug, burned on more than 90 percent of his body, called out instructions.
"Call my students," he said, "tell them I won't be there this afternoon." In the end, he talked of his family and how much he loved them. Doug, 48, died the next day.
Neighbors helped Christian across the street. He asked someone to call his aunt and uncle, who live in St. Johns. They arrived just behind the ambulance, and Christian sent his aunt to Stephanie.
Stephanie lay on the grass, her head in the lap of a man who happened by. Stephanie reached up and cradled his cheek in her singed hand.
"Thank you," she told him. "Thank you for being here."
Stephanie was worried about her injuries.
"My mother's going to be so mad at me," she told Christian's aunt. "I'm all burned. I'm going to die."
As they waited for the helicopters to arrive, Stephanie became quiet.
"I don't want to do this," Stephanie said. "I just want to go home and make dinner for my family."
Christian woke up in the burn center one month later asking about her, his injuries healing but his worry fresh.
"Where is she?" Christian asked, as he came out of sedation. "How is she?"
They waited a few days before they wheeled him into her room.
"He didn't really look at her," Page says. Christian kept his eyes in his lap. He wanted to touch her, but he didn't know if he could. A nurse picked up his hand, placed it on Stephanie's. And then, though his voice shook, he couldn't stop talking. He told her of his love, how all the good in him and the children was because of her.
"Come back," Christian begged that day in the hospital. "Come home."
For weeks, all he could talk about was her. He guided his walker to her side three and four times
a day to touch her, pray with her, talk to her. He tried to explain the magic of his wife to everyone who visited, to his mother every night, to his own sister when she came to sing him to sleep.
"She's just so wonderful," Christian said. "Nobody can really know how wonderful she is."
No one except her sisters.
The three women came to see him together one weekend, a quick flight to Arizona from Utah.
He smiled at their freckles, at their mannerisms so like his wife's.
"When he looks at us," Page says, "he sees Stephanie."
Page, Courtney and Lucy stop before they go into Stephanie's hospital room. Their arms find each other for a long embrace, like they're summoning all the strength they have and passing it to each other. It's still so hard to see her.
The sisters don't hear Stephanie's voice anymore, whispering in their ears. They feel her here, in this hospital room. They feel her fighting.
"We feel like she had a choice," Page says. "She could choose to go, and it would have been a beautiful life. Or she could choose to stay and fight. We feel like she's made her choice."
Stephanie is something of a marvel, says Dr. Kevin Foster, one of the burn surgeons leading her care. After 19 surgeries, her wounds are almost grafted completely, he says. Her body fought off the afflictions common to burn patients: infection, organ failure.
She will be in the burn center until at least December, he says, followed by months in a rehabilitation center as she learns to walk again and use her hands. There will be more surgeries over the next few years, Foster says, likely more than 100.
Just coming out of heavy sedation, Stephanie is dimly conscious and can wave her arms and shake her head. She is moving now, responding to her family.
The moccasins saved her feet from the fire, and her sisters like to stand at the edge of her bed, touching her toes.
In the hospital, Stephanie's sisters keep their voices happy and calm. They try not to mention the children too much because such talk makes Stephanie sit up in a white blur of urgency and worry.
"I think we tell her what we need to hear ourselves," Page says. She tells Stephanie to be patient and strong. Courtney keeps her voice light, tells her everything is going to be OK. Lucy tells Stephanie how many people love her.
The sisters have some news for Stephanie in the hospital this day: She's famous now.
Courtney kept her promise to tell Stephanie's story, posting news on her own blog and on Stephanie's. Sometimes, her words sound just like her sister's.
The news about Stephanie and Christian's crash spread quickly, and fellow bloggers offered their prayers. The Today show and the New York Times featured the family, and more than 50,000 readers now visit her blog daily.
Stephanie's hospital room is a scrapbook of love letters and photos from readers on each wall. Piles of packages from strangers arrive in Utah for the children every week. Fellow moms and bloggers have auctioned cookies and homemade dolls to benefit the family. Friends have held garage sales, carnivals, even concerts. They've raised more than $150,000 to help with medical costs, which will stretch into the millions. Insurance will pay some.
"Stephanie, do you want to be famous?" Courtney asks her.
Stephanie sits up and shakes her head no.
Apples and leaves
One day, when Page is tending to Stephanie in her room, Page whispers something else to her sister.
Page and her husband just bought Stephanie and Christian a house in Provo, in the tree-lined foothills where Stephanie grew up. There's a view of the mountains she loved, which fall is painting red and orange as Stephanie sleeps.
The house is in the center of her family: just a half-mile from Courtney, Page and their parents. Lucy is eight minutes away. There's a white picket fence on the side, an apple tree in front, peaches and plums in the back. The eastern fence is covered in grapevines.
In the hospital, Page hears her little sister crying once more.
Later, Page visits Christian in the Scottsdale rehab clinic where he is recovering, anxious to tell him about the house. In rehab, Christian is practicing walking, building his strength and professing his love for Stephanie to everyone. His mother stays with him nearly every night, even though he goes to bed at 8:30. He doesn't like to be alone. He says he doesn't want to publicly discuss the accident until Stephanie can talk about it, too.
Page is nervous to tell him about the house, afraid he won't want to leave his own family or that he won't understand how badly Stephanie will need her own.
A grateful Christian tells Page that what Stephanie wants, he will do.
"In my hardest, most difficult times, it's my sisters I want by my side," Page says.
Stephanie will need lifelong care, help with her children and all of life's routines and indelicacies.
Stephanie will need Page's strength, Courtney's laughs, Lucy's caution. She will need their freckles to remind her of her own.
One night, during a quick visit to Arizona, the sisters find each other at Stephanie and Christian's Mesa home.
Courtney is feeding her baby boy. Lucy is doing laundry. Page is comforting their mother. The day at the hospital was long.
One by one, they all stop and pile onto the bed in Stephanie's yellow guest room, drained. They lie on their sides like a row of spoons, their heads resting on each other's shoulders. They tease their mother, who is nestled in the middle, her hair suddenly much whiter than it ever was before. They laugh at Lucy's pajamas. They stay this way for a very long time, and then they are quiet.
Courtney says what they all are thinking."It feels like someone is missing."
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Last week I went to Arizona to visit Stephanie and Christian, both recovering from major trauma. I’ve had a week now to reflect on what I saw and what I learned, and most of it is very sweet and tender to me, and only a little bit horrible. Surprising to me, however, is what has stayed with me the most is the idea of perspective. I haven’t been able to get it off my mind.
Everyone who had gone down to visit them before prepared me for what I was going to see. For the sights, feelings, smells, and all the logistics, but walking down the winding hallways through the burn unit, I knew that no one could fully prepare me for what I was about to see. Despite understanding that, I found myself walking faster and faster, wanting to be there with Stephanie, as if in the back of my mind I knew it didn’t matter what I thought about the whole experience of being there and seeing her like that, wrapped head to toe on beeping machines of every sort. What mattered is that she wanted me there, and, suddenly, I wanted to be there.
While she is sleeping, we, as the family, have had time to adjust–to think about what life will be like for Stephanie and Christian and their children. We’ve formed opinions, thought about all the possibilities, ramifications, choices, difficulties, and processes they will all face, particularly for Stephanie. There are countless decisions that she and Christian will need to make together. So much of her recovery is still unknown, and we are so encouraged and hopeful by every report, but it is a long road of progress and setbacks, and we have to be patient. We. Have. To. Wait.
Through all of this, I kept thinking of all the possible outcomes. All bandaged, without a medical degree or crystal ball, I couldn’t tell. Will she be able to tie little shoes again? Pick up children? Make a meal? Type? Paint? Turn the pages of a book? Make a craft? I asked this really energetic nurse, after I listened to her give this week’s update. I knew she not only had the experience and knowledge of a seasoned nurse, but that she had compassion and real love for each one of her patients. I knew she could answer my question in a realistic way, so I asked her what the most likely outcome would be for Stephanie. I was expecting a specific list of what she would and would not be able to do, but what I got was a 30 minute explanation that has changed my way of thinking.
She explained that there’s no way of knowing what the future will be, and that, basically, I was asking the wrong question. She spoke of other burn victims, how well they’re doing now, what they’re doing now, the successes and happiness they’ve expressed to her. She told me that everything is different now and that things will never be the same. Ever. If we, as her family and friends, are constantly comparing her to the way she used to be, then we’ll never be satisfied. It will never be enough. If, however, we compare her to how far she’s come, each step of the way, and see the miracle that her body is in surviving and changing, then each success will be a leap, not an inch, forward from a devastating moment. If we say, Look how much better she’s doing since September!, we’ll be encouraged. Or, at Christmas, if we say, Look how amazing she is since Halloween! , we’ll find joy in her success, not frustration. It reminds me how the Clarks, on the 4th of July, always say, Before you know it, there will be snow on the mountains, and it will be Christmas! and on Christmas say, Before you know it, it will be hot and we’ll be celebrating the 4th of July! It’s right around the corner! We laugh about it, but we’re always really thinking that. From holiday to holiday, that’s how we mark time.
I’ve been thinking about how I mark progress and how often my perspective, although linear, is off. I’m frustrated when I think of the ideal in my head, whether physical, spiritual, mental, or even emotional. I think I have unrealistic expectations sometimes, mostly in how fast I think I should be progressing. If I evaluate myself in terms of an ideal, I will never feel a period of rest or success. When I look at myself, in all aspects of life, all things considered, from a different perspective of several years ago, a few years ago, or a month ago, and allow myself to see how far I’ve come, then I can see it. I can see what difficult experiences have taught me–what knowledge they’ve given me and what incredible value they hold for me. And any progress, no matter how slow, is progress. But. I. Have. To. Wait.
I spoke with two of my sister in-laws whose fathers both died when they were young, and Topher’s grandma who lost her husband when she had a house full of little kids. They all made the same four points, individually, to me this week: 1. We all have tragedy in our lives–no one escapes it. 2. Looking back, I can see so many blessings coming out of the tragedy. 3. We were meant to help each other amid tragedy, and 4. We can be in the middle of a tragedy and still be happy. Somehow, these points help me see how far Stephanie has really come, and how truly inspirational her healing is. It makes me think that when we think we’re waiting, we’re really progressing."
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Emily, Annie, Bethanne, Tim and Nate for getting the yard ready for the sale.
Venessa and Jen for contacting their world's about donations.
Domestic Bliss/Blissfest for letting us promote the SALE at their event yesterday.
Emily Heap and Bethanne Johnson for their Raffle Donation for Hair Cuts and Styles.
Emily and Bethanne for giving up sleep to make barettes for the SALE.
Jonathon for mailing me CD's from his non-profit foundation.
Family's who I didn't get their name who are dropping off stuff. =)
Higher Ground Dance Company for passing out fliers.
Supports who have contacted me about helping next week. =)
Everyone who forwarded my HELP! email to family and friends.
Tantrum Hair Salon/Beth Jarman for the Bumble and Bumble Product for the Raffle.
Tyler Johnson Photography for the Christmas Pictures Photo Shoot Donation.
Ned's Crazy Sub's $25 gift card for the Raffle.
These are the people can remember off the top of my head. There are so many more.
PLEASE continue to drop off donations for the Garage Sale, Boutique, Raffle and Bake Sale.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
A week and a half until the big Mesa NIE Sale!
Yikes! So much to do; I think I'm going to hyperventilate.
My driveway is quickly filling up. I think we have enough clothes to clothe Mexico! I am thankful for every item that has been donated, but I am sure we do not need any more clothes.
So please, take a look around your house, garage, apartment, storage unit, business and see what you do not use anymore. And ask your best friends, church members, neighbors and family to do the same.
You can drop off your generous donations to:
Please contact me if you would like to donate items for
Thursday, October 9, 2008
But let me tell the world, the HOURS and HOURS Emily and I spent collecting, preparing, sorting, setting up, running the sale, cleaning up and hauling everything up to Mesa (in addition to the DAYS and DAYS of HOURS and HOURS that CAROLYN and her friends and family spent) were PURE BLISS!
People asked for another event to be able to donate items, shop again and so we could continue to raise awareness of this sweet family.
I cried (bawled may be more accurate) that night-with my swollen feet, less than flexible knees and bloodshot eyes from staying up the entire night before)-as I told my husband that I had a WONDERFUL day. I shared that every once of energy that was spent on this, was so worth it. I told him I got to experience the PURE LOVE of the people I worked with and the people that attended the sale and donated to it.
As beat up as I was physically, I committed to do it again.
So - here we go again.
But this time in MESA. In the Nielson's "Backyard". (To be clear, it's in my yard!)
AND this event comes with a CHALLENGE from the folks that ran the Gilbert Sale.
They raised just over $5,000 at their sale. They want to know if the exact community where Christian was born and raised can BEAT THEIR TOTAL.
So what do you say MESA?
Monday, October 6, 2008
When my long time friend, Margie Romney-Aslett, found out I was raising money for the Nielsons she quickly sent me box full of scrumptious and beautiful scrapbook supplies from Making Memories. (You know them. The company that makes the scrapbook supplies all scrapbookers HAVE TO HAVE!) As one of their elite product designers, she was able to get this amazing donation from Making Memories to benefit an incredibly worthy cause.
I have decided to break these up into six packs. They will be raffle prizes at the Oct 25 Sale.
P.S. Please send a thank you message to Making Memories for their kindness. This helps to encourage future donations to causes like this.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Friday, September 19, 2008
But then life changed for me on August 17th, when my brother Tim told me that Christian and Stephanie Nielson had been in a plane crash. Christian is Tim's age, and I have known him since he was eleven.
Well, I had really known his sister, Charity.
Charity, Andrea, Alicia, Charisse and I had been friends in Laurels (our 16-17 yr old church class) and spent the next eight years enjoying college, dating, getting married, catching up at birthday lunches and having children. But life was to be different for Charity. She passed away at age 26 from cancer, leaving a premature baby boy and husband behind. The four of us "girls" were at the funeral together, still in shock that the shining life that Charity was, was no longer with us.
I felt that same feeling when I heard about the plane crash. I knew they had not died, but in some ways it seemed what they were about to have to go through was somehow worse. And I thought of the nine other Nielson siblings. And their parents, Russ and Mary. Another one of their children going through terrible pain. They had to go through this again.
So before August, I think the only blog I ever read was my sister Emily's. But in the past month I have spent hours and hours reading the NieNie Dialogues and c jane enjoy it. I check my Blackberry a few times each day hoping Courtney (Stephanie's sister) has added a new post to her site. And when she does, I usually end up with wet eyes.
Over the past month, I learned that there was another large family, the Clarks, far away from their sweet sister. And hey are doing what I truly belive my giant pack of siblings would do. Take the horse by the reigns and GO! They are an AMAZING group of people. They have allowed tens of thousands of us to join them in this journey of love, pain, and hope. (Christopher's blog helps with the laugher.)
So back to why I am here. Well, life is "life-ing" me right now. It is full of stress. And I mean "the cup runneth over" type of FULL. And guess what? I am tired of being ruled by it. I want to take charge and have a "problem" so big that I don't have time to be depressed or filled with anxiety. (I'm not saying they aren't real, cuz sister, I've got the real kind.)
But it's just that hiding under my comforter and gaining 40 lbs that last nine months (and it's 40 of 120 lbs I worked really hard to get off 2 years ago) isn't cutting it! I want something that wakes me up in the morning, because I am so excited to get to work on it.
I'm thrilled to say, "I've found it!"
I am blown away with the amount of donations Stephanie and Christian have gotten in the past month. But I fear that time will pass, and quickly the media coverage will end, the auctions will get fewer and fewer and there just won't be enough to cover what they need. I refuse to let money, of all things, be a stress creator for the Clark or Nielson families. I try not to let myself think of everything Stephanie and Christian will have to go through medically, physically and emotionally. In the short term and LONG term. None of that can be avoided. But stress around money DOES NOT have to be there for them.
So my stand is that 'Nie' Days, Events, Fundraisers, Auctions do not go away.
I say this fundraising is not over by a long shot.
And not just for Stephanie and Christian.
But for all of us, who have found a part of ourselves that we love because:
-we have put other's needs first
-we have become a community
-we have talked to our children about other people's trials and giving service
-we have pushed out the meaningless chats and filled them talking about NIE
-we have remembered how blessed we are and
-we have been in action to make someone else's burden lighter.
And so I guess to help make this happen,
I am officially part of the blogging world.