Sunday, May 10, 2015


Tim (in jest) suggested Isaac give up ice cream until his birthday so that he would appreciate it more. 

Esther-Faith suggested a vote.

I asked her what she was planning to give up until his birthday. 

She said, "Looking at Isaac." 

Friday, May 08, 2015

From the archives... A eulogy

Three years ago, my dad died. There have been more times than I can count over the last three years that I've heard his voice in my head or wanted to pick up the phone and give him a call. Three years seems like a lifetime, even though I can remember all the details about his smile and his laugh and his spirit. My dad was special. To me and my Tim and my kids and countless others who he touched through his service to others.

I miss my dad. Perhaps acutely today, but every day I miss my dad.


Eulogy (originally published May 18, 2012)

My dad used to tell this story about when my baby sister was four or five years old. He would laugh before he started telling the story.

And oh, that laugh.

Kristen was not--and to this day--is not a morning person. But we were often up early for breakfast--sitting around the table eating oatmeal or grilled cheese sandwiches.

That particular morning, it was cold outside and she was especially grumpy. Dad was off early for a job and he was giving his rounds of kisses to us and to mom. By the time he got to Kristen, she turned her head away from him and told him to, "Go kiss the goat."

My dad loved that story. He told it often. He was a big man with a big heart and big humor. He loved telling stories about our growing up years. Especially to our dates or our spouses. I will never live down the time he told my Tim and the boys about when Kristen and I used to lip sync rap songs.

They still ask to see the video.

Which has been destroyed.

But we told stories about Dad, too. Growing up, our house was always filled with "extra" kids. Teenagers mostly. And when we got to that age, our friends were always there, too. Sometimes living there for weeks at a time. And Dad was never shy about coming to the living room in his tighty-whiteys to tell us to quiet down. Or to kick out the date we had brought home.

It was so embarrassing.

But we always knew he cared. Always. About us. And our friends. And we never doubted his love and care for the people we have chosen to spend our lives with. Even when we changed our minds. Even when he wanted us to change our minds. And even though he didn't always understand, he always supported our parenting decisions and how we built our families.

The other day I sat with my oldest son during his therapy session. He asked me to be there with him. Told me that he needed me. Told the therapist that he wanted me there. It had been a very rough week for him, and he needed an emergency session with his counselor.

Sipping on my Starbucks (another thing my dad never understood), I listened, as Isaiah explained how Grandpa D never gave up on him. Even when he was making horrible decisions, he never gave up. I looked at Isaiah's face as his eyes welled up with tears and he explained that he was most upset that Grandpa D always beat him to the "I love you" part of their relationship. That he didn’t know if my dad knew that he loved him the same because he always had to say, "I love you, too." After Papa said, "I love you" first.

And that's how the kids will remember him. Always with open arms. Always with a giggle or a tickle or a twinkle in his eye. Quick with a song if they were feeling upset, but quicker with a prayer. He never let them leave his presence without wrapping them up in his arms--sometimes one at a time, sometimes all five at once--and praying over their lives and decisions and the things that were important to them.

I listened in that therapy session as Isaiah finally admitted his grief--and talked about how much more he had to say. How he's ready to face his losses and honor his grandfather with his life decisions.

And a few tears slid down my face as I realized just what an impact my dad has had on his grandchildren. Loving them before they were born and before they were mine. Praying for their lives and loves before they knew those things were important.

Never ever giving up.

I think given their druthers, all of the kids would have a whole lot more to say. Up to the minute I explained that Papa had gone to heaven, Isaac truly believed that he was coming home and they would have many more summers in the workshop. He admitted that his summers will never be as cool as when he was Papa's apprentice. That maybe nothing in his life will ever be that amazing.

Whenever Jackson was with his Papa, he would absolutely melt into him. Their bond indescribable, Jackson is going to miss snuggling with Papa--and we are going to miss being privy to such immense love.

Aurora was an irreplaceable help in the workshop. Sweeping floors, cleaning up, organizing. Her favorite memories of Papa are perhaps the most simple. Having him around all the time. For those snuggles or songs or prayers.

And Esther-Faith just misses how much his beard tickled her face. And the way he used to sing to her. And make her laugh. And make jokes just for her. And how he knew she would always beat the odds. The way he celebrated her first step--steps he knew she would take even when the doctors said otherwise.

And oh, that laugh.

My dad had many gifts. More than I have time to describe. Many he as passed down. His love of all music and his sheer talent to Kristen and Jackson. The ability and tenacity to play trombone to Isaiah. The gift of story telling to Sam. His talent and gift of woodworking to Isaac. His tender heart and love of people to Aurora. And his humor, laugh, and dramatic flair to Esther-Faith.

To say that he will be missed is a gross understatement. And Dad never did anything understated. Ever. Everything he did was with flair. Reading the tributes on his facebook page give us all a glimpse into how long he had been developing that flair. From childhood it seems. From playing dress up with his cousin Karen to "pushing the envelope" with his trombone in chapel during college; from late night conversations at the Sunoco gas station to counseling and baptizing his congregation; from singing in the quartet in college to traveling Europe with the American Youth Symphony; from his booming tenor to his leadership abilities; from the way he loved my mom to the way he loved his kids and his grandkids.

Dwight, Sweetheart, PapaD, Dad, Grandpa, whatever you called him, I'm sure you will miss him. We all will. It is tempting to say that we will miss him more because we are his family--his kids and grandkids, but I don’t know if that is true. The reach and impact of his life is far greater than I ever imagined. His love bigger than I thought possible. His life more valuable than I ever dreamed.

And his laugh, oh his laugh.

© 2015 Karin Shirey Henn, all rights reserved. 
Copyright notice: All content, including writings, artwork, photographs, or videos, posted on this blog is original to Karin Shirey Henn and the HennHouse unless otherwise stated and may not be reproduced without permission.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Unfinished stories and second chances

We sat in a dark booth near the back of the restaurant. A single bowl of seafood gumbo between us. Two spoons. Two unopened packets of crackers. The rain outside matched how we were feeling.

I stared at my utensils wrapped in a black napkin. It was as if I couldn't remember what I was supposed to be doing. Tim reached his hand across the table and gently laid it on my hand. I was shaking. I looked up into his eyes. My pain was reflected there. Mixed with many other feelings.

I was holding my breath. I think he did, too. I felt all of those feelings work their way to the pit in my stomach. And I just held them there. I was trying very hard to hold it together. But I felt like I should be spilling all over the restaurant. I could actually visualize myself falling apart. I wanted to scream. I wanted to cry. I wanted to yell until someone would listen. Until someone would help us.

I still want to do all of those things.

I want someone else to stand with us and proclaim that this isn't fair. That what we're experiencing at the hands of an organization whose mission is "Protecting Children by Strengthening Families" is anything but protective or strengthening.

Tim worked until 2:30 this morning. He slept for a couple of hours. Then he got up, packed lunches, got three people out the door for school and work. Then he went back to bed. He's done this three days in a row now. He set his alarm and got up around 11:25 a.m. He jumped in the shower and had planned to pick me up for a quick lunch date.

When he got out of the shower, he had a cryptic message from the social worker who was assigned Isaiah's case. It was actually addressed to Isaiah's therapist.

Isaiah is being moved to a facility out of state on Monday.

We have submitted three formal requests over the last month to have a meeting with the transition team at FCCS. Three independent professionals (including Isaiah's therapist and the psychologist that conducted Isaiah's most recent psych eval) have recommended that Isaiah be kept close to his family. There are two group homes in our county that are willing to take Isaiah. One of them is in our school district. He could finish school where he started.

Instead, Isaiah is being moved to a facility four hours away.

There are other details. There has been some maneuvering by FCCS behind the scenes that is counter to the mission of the organization.

I want to be very clear here. We have met some GREAT people who work for FCCS. We have good friends who work for FCCS. However, none of those great people were assigned our case. We are not being treated as if there is a desire to strengthen our family. And now, all of our work toward reunification is being undermined. For what? Why? What can be done?

Tim dropped Esther-Faith, Isaac, and me off at church early on Sunday. He gave me a quick kiss and left to pick up Isaiah for the day. While I was brushing and braiding Esther-Faith's hair, Tim's parents (the kids call them Nana and Poobah) arrived. There were hugs and kisses and lots of pleasantries.

We settled into our seats while the music started. A children's choir. An adult choir. A special music guest. And then the music... So much music. A medley of all the Easter songs my dad used to sing. I could hear his voice in my soul.

When everyone stands to sing, Esther-Faith likes me to stay sitting next to her. I never mind doing that. She usually leans into me and watches the people around us. We were sitting there, singing, snuggling. The song was about second chances. About the story not being over.

My tears spilled into Esther-Faith's hair. I couldn't even stop myself from crying. I tried.

My mind flashed back a couple of months to when my oldest son had a major breakthrough in therapy. As one friend said, those breakthroughs come with their own set of issues--and Isaiah's did--but we celebrated that breakthrough. He's still working through the aftermath of that. Wrapping his brain around the implications. Struggling to make positive choices when he's still in a place that isn't necessarily the most conducive to personal growth.

Have I mentioned the therapist? Isaiah has the best that there is. Say what you will about "these kind" of residential treatment centers, and "these kids." Isaiah has the best therapist.

I closed my eyes, let the memory wash over me, and I gave thanks for unfinished stories. And second chances. I heard that therapist's voice in my head, "Do you have a minute to talk?" I remember telling him that Isaac was in the car with me. His voice pregnant with unspoken words, he said it needed to be a private conversation. I turned off the sync and picked up my phone.

"First I need you to know that Isaiah is okay," the therapist started. His voice cracked. Something wasn't okay. "I have him sitting right here," he continued. "He wants to talk to you." I remember forcing myself to just listen. Don't react. Don't react. Don't react.

I felt Isaac's eyes boring into the side of my face. Don't react.

"Okay," I said. "I'd love to talk to him."

The therapist continued, "Before I put him on the phone, you need to know that he's okay. He had a breakthrough, and it was a lot for him to deal with."

Don't react. Don't react. Don't react.

"He talked about some really hard stuff and he's been writing you a letter all week."

Please God. Give this therapist the strength to keep helping my son.

"He was picked on by some boys on the unit. He struggled with redirection from some staff. Then he went into his room, frantically finished the letter to you, locked himself in his bathroom, and he tried to hang himself."

Dear God. Oh, my God.

At this point, I couldn't react. I was shocked. Frantic. And holding every bit of myself together so that Isaac couldn't read anything on my face.

My voice shook and cracked when I asked to speak to my son.

"He's okay, Karin" the therapist said. He hardly ever uses my name. "His roommate suspected something and alerted staff. Two men broke down the door and cut him down."

"I need to hear him," I said. "I need to hear his voice."

"Mom?" Isaiah. Oh, my God. His voice. His voice. His voice. His voice. "Mom, I'm okay."

"I love you, Isaiah. I love you. I love you."

The tears. The ache. The frenetic desire for him to know that he is loved.

"I know, mom," he said. "I love you, too. So much. I'm sorry. I'm okay."

"Isaiah," I said, not even attempting to conceal anything. My voice shaking. Tears pouring. "I love you. Never forget that."

"I know, mom," he said. "I know that. I'm okay."

And he handed the phone back to his therapist. We talked for a bit. There are obviously details that I'm leaving out. Bigger conversations. The admission that led to him feeling that suicide was the only way out. But Isaiah has given me permission to share this bit of his story. He said, "If one person can learn that there are other ways out, it is worth it."

I love that boy. He has changed my life. My heart. Everything.

The tears trickled into Esther-Faith's hair on Easter morning as I allowed myself to be thankful for unfinished stories and second chances. The song changed. The choir left the stage. Esther-Faith continued to snuggle.

Just then, there was a commotion as my oldest son stepped around the pillar into our row. I sat Esther-Faith up and wrapped my arms around that boy. He held on tight. A smile spread across his furry face. I kissed his bearded cheek. He bent over and hugged his sister. Then he wrapped me up again.

Since Christmas, that is how it's been. Real, genuine hugs. Ten years of waiting for those hugs, and now they are easy.

And now those hugs will be four hours away.

This breakthrough has opened the gates for many more visits home and into the community. Many more opportunities to be together has a family.

Yesterday during family therapy, we arranged for a family visit on Sunday. At the time, we thought he might be placed at a group home here in the county and would be able to start playing sports and running track again. So, we asked if we could take him to a metro park for a run. Tim runs pretty frequently and I've started a running program. Isaiah was ecstatic about running with us. So were we.

During therapy Isaiah gave me a letter he wrote to me. He also gave me a letter for a good friend who has kept in touch with him. He working on appropriate tone and language. He's doing a good job. The letter he wrote to me says...

Mom, Hey! Thanks for letting me come to Easter with you and the family. I loved being a real part of the family. Here on the Kauffman unit, we don't have a mother to love and to be thankful for. We barely have any respect for each other.  That's why I am thankful that I have you. I now realize that all the work and dedication you provided helped me out. I can't wait to earn my points so that I can come over and hang out with you guys. I've learned a lot, about how a family's supposed to work. I really miss you. Thank you for listening to me on the phone. I know that I don't always know what to say and sometimes I can be rude, too. I can't wait to leave Pomegranate because it's one step closer to home.  I love you and can't wait to see you again. Thanks for believing in me, too. I won't disappoint you. Love ya! Love, Isaiah.  

Then, today happened.

We're scared. Isaiah has told us (and anyone who will listen) that he plans to run away from anywhere that isn't close to his family and friends.

He didn't call me today (it's a call day). I can't imagine what he's feeling knowing that I won't be minutes away. That he won't be minutes away from us.

But as Tim and I sit here and try to process the events of today, we're reminded that the God we serve is really a God of second chances. And today, I'm thankful for unfinished stories and second chances.

© 2015 Karin Shirey Henn, all rights reserved. 
Copyright notice: All content, including writings, artwork, photographs, or videos, posted on this blog is original to Karin Shirey Henn and the HennHouse unless otherwise stated and may not be reproduced without permission.

Monday, March 30, 2015

From the archives--March, 2010.... Dancing

As the kids prepare for their second dance recital in about two-and-a-half months, I thought I would share a post from five years ago before there were formal lessons and the dancing was just in our living room.

We still dance in the living room, but the contrast from then to now is striking.



----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----

Dads and daughters...

That is such a loaded phrase. For some, with nostalgia, emotion, happiness. For others, regret, anger, loss. But there is no mistaking it, dads and daughters have special relationships. Different than moms and daughters. Or dads and sons. Those are great relationships, too. But dads and daughters? Special. Very special.

We had been home from the hospital for two weeks. She was recovering nicely, but I felt like she needed to be pushed. Prodded. Encouraged. To get back into some of the things that she seemed reluctant to do. She lost a lot of weight and strength while she was hospitalized. I wanted her to get some back. So, I pushed her to keep trying. And honestly, she was doing great. But the one obstacle was the braces. The waistband for the twister cables sits right on two of her incision sites. She had them on at the hospital before the final surgery and it hurt. A lot. She was more than reluctant to try again.

Two weeks after her third surgery, I implored her to put them on. Just to try. She was adamant that it wasn't going to happen. She can be a very persuasive child. So, she does what she does when she doesn't want to do what I'm suggesting. She negotiates. Girl can hold her own. Let me give you an example:

Me: "Esther-Faith, would you like to have broccoli or green beans for dinner?"

Esther-Faith: "I think I'm going to have itty-bitty marshmallows."

Me: "Esther-Faith, would you like to have broccoli or green beans for dinner?"

Esther-Faith: "I think I'm going to have applesauce."

Me: "Esther-Faith, would you like to have broccoli or green beans for dinner?"

Esther-Faith: "I think I'm going to have tomato soup."

Ad infinitum.

As it turns out, she lost NONE of her negotiation skills while hospitalized.

But neither did her Mama.

So, on February 19, we compromised. After the back and forth of the "would you like to's" and the "I think I'm going to's," we came to the compromise that she would put her braces on when daddy got home from work. Only if she could get into the learning tower.

I texted him that I thought I was losing the battle. That I wasn't sure she would ever want to put them on again. I told him of our compromise. He loved it. Daddy as the reward.

Daddy got home from work, changed his clothes, and HE started to try to negotiate. Knowing that it was already determined that she WOULD put them on, he switched tactics and asked if she wanted to sit or stand while wearing the braces. She ignored the question instead saying, "I think I'll use my wheelchair." And round and round it went until we convinced her to try.

Once in her braces, it was if she had lost no time. She wandered the house, chasing the cat, emptying shelves, reaching for things on the counter. Climbing, falling, standing, walking.

It was a beautiful sight. There were many tears at the HennHouse. I took her picture and texted it to Kate and my mom and a couple of friends and anyone who I thought would appreciate the accomplishment as much as I did.

Then she did that thing she does with Tim. I would call it batting her eyelashes, but she doesn't really do that. It is more of a WAY she asks him something. And he really can't say no. EVER. If she wanted to paint the ceiling pink and she asked him the right way, he would find a way to convince me to paint the ceiling pink.

But that day, she walked over to him in her braces and simply asked him to dance. I'm not sure a whole second of time passed before they were out on the "dance floor" grooving to Mahalia Jackson. She would instruct him to tip from side to side, and he would do it. She would instruct him to jump, and he would do it. She would instruct him to swing her around, and he would do it. Song after song played, and they danced the night away.

At one point, she set one of her little feet onto Tim's toes, and she stepped her other foot onto his other toes. My memory flashed decades back to when I used to dance with my dad the same way. I looked at Tim's face. And he was happy. Truly happy. He laughed. She giggled. They danced.

It was one of those moments that I'm sure will be seared into my memory for a very long time.

Tim is a smart person. It wasn't lost on him what was happening. She was holding onto him, not the wall or her walker or a chair. Him. So, he started to let her hands go. One at a time. They would scream "TA-DA!" and then he would grab her hand again. She was so into the music and the dancing that eventually, when he let go of both of her hands, she didn't realize it right away. She just danced. It was truly amazing. He stepped back and let her dance. She lost her balance a little bit and reached for him--almost taking a step toward him in the process.

Watching your kids take their first steps is one of those iconic moments in parenting. The toddling and falling. But we haven't had that moment with any of our kids. It was emotional the first time she walked with her walker. And the first time she walked holding onto us. But holding onto nothing? It hasn't happened yet. That night, though, I could finally see what Kate saw in her dream. That she WILL do it someday. She will take those unassisted steps. And I will look on through the tears that represent all that she has been through. And all the anticipation of the years of waiting.

© 2015 Karin Shirey Henn, all rights reserved. 
Copyright notice: All content, including writings, artwork, photographs, or videos, posted on this blog is original to Karin Shirey Henn and the HennHouse unless otherwise stated and may not be reproduced without permission.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Do what you love

© 2014 Karin Shirey Henn, all rights reserved. 
Copyright notice: All content, including writings, artwork, photographs, or videos, posted on this blog is original to Karin Shirey Henn and the HennHouse unless otherwise stated and may not be reproduced without permission.