Nate Loucks

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A place for my thoughts.

Posts tagged family
On the 18th Anniversary of My Mother's Death
My mother with my sister, Heather. 

My mother with my sister, Heather. 

On January 15th everything was seemingly normal. By evening on January 16th, everything changed. It’s been 18 years since the tragic evening when my mother died. She was 36 years old. It’s been so long since I have shed a tear about my mother passing. The shock of the situation is over. After all, I have lived more of my life without her than I did with her. Yet, there’s still a profound heaviness each year on this day. It’s a day when I’m willing to let my memories collide with the potential of a life with her in it. I don’t often entertain the question of “what if…” as I find little value in looking at the world in impossible outcomes. She’s dead and she’s gone, of that there’s no doubt. For years I thought it was a bad dream of grief and anger and guilt. I prayed for resurrection. I prayed for another conversation. I prayed for relief and release.

The finality of her death set in a number of years ago and I opened my eyes to reality. It’s been my experience that tragedy has a way of leaving an indelible mark on those who suffer with the tragedy. Not all deaths are tragic, but my mother’s was. The worst part is that when death happens, the impact of the relationship doesn’t die with it. That’s the most difficult aspect of death. You just find a way to be comfortable living with suspension of the relationship in light of the brutal finality that is separation in death. Christ has brought me rest from the burden. 

But, today I allow myself the freedom to wonder, “what if…” 

What if my mother didn’t know how much I loved her because of my frustrations with her addiction? 
What if my mother would have been successful in getting treatment for her depression and addictions? 
What if my uncle Danny wouldn’t have died months earlier and her sadness wouldn’t have accelerated her addiction? 
What if my mother could see my siblings and me now? 
What if my mother was around and she could help my aunt and my cousins take care of my grandfather? 
What if my mother could see my children? Would she see herself in my daughter as much as I do?

Some questions lead me to laughter thinking about what life would be like. Other questions lead to a bit of sadness. But, I wonder. 

What I don’t wonder anymore is whether or not my mother loved me. Though I can’t speak for all people who love those facing addictions, my temptation was to believe that my mother loved her addiction to alcohol more than she loved me. My rather elementary [and ignorant] understanding of addiction was that if I would simply explain to my mother that I didn’t want her to drink anymore, she would abstain out of her love for me. Since she didn’t do it, she didn’t love me, or my rather distorted thinking told me. But addiction doesn’t operate in the expanse of logic and rationality and deductive reasoning. This is why addiction can be so troubling: it leads you to do things that you don’t want to do, but have little control over. It’s compulsive and abrasive. It’s not rational. It’s love misplaced. 

My mother loved me, in spite of her hurts and hangups. She loved me. She didn’t always know how to deal with everything raging within her. She was pregnant at 15 years old. She was divorced and had four children. She didn’t marry men who valued her uniqueness or her partnership. She wasn’t unlike many people I know who are a bit lost in the high tide of the seas of life, but unlike many I know: she had four children. My mourning for my mother always accompanies compassion. Her life wasn’t easy. I don’t know what I would have done if I was her. But, I know my mother loved me. And, as I reflect on her death, I tried to remember what she gave me in life. 

I miss you, mom. You are loved more passionately than you ever knew or understood. 

RandomNate Loucksgrief, family
Day 3: The Unabomber, Crabs, and the Best Kind of Letter

Words are a passion of mine. Some people love to build great temples and buildings with their bare hands and mighty tools. My grandfather used to tell me that the most satisfying part of being a concrete man was that he could see what he built at the end of the day. His labor was rewarded with something tangible. Something real. Words are the same for me. When I write or read a perfectly organized and poignant sentence, there are few things I enjoy more. A perfect sentence shouldn't just say the premise, but saying it in a way that also scratches at that creative element of the self that rarely gets moved throughout the day. Sure, the most important part of a word is the essence of what it communicates; the actual thing of it all. But, what fun is it just living within the singular purpose of something? It's maddening and constricting.

There are days that I dream of moving to Montana and purchasing a cabin with countless acres and spotty electrical service just to write words and sentences that matter to me. It is a dream that those words may matter to others as well. But then I think, "I bet that's exactly how the Unabomber's dream started as well. You're playing fast and loose with your already frail sanity, Loucks." It always starts off innocently enough, I'm sure. But then when you realize that your dreams are far too closely paralleled to serial murderers, it's time to enter back into the real world. And quick. The world of mortgages and people and problems and kids is where I belong. 

We are now finished with the third day of my wife and son's trip to Romania. I'm happy to report that my two oldest children who stayed behind with me are both alive and well. Some would even argue that they're happy, though that argument would likely have some objectionable holes in it. Without my wife, happiness is a virtue that we have all sought to attain only in small blessed increments, not in sustained moments. She is the glue, we are her popsicle sticks. 

Yesterday was grocery shopping day. I picked Dino-boy up from the babysitter's house and Nora up from her after-school program. Immediately the complaints started pouring in: 

"Dad, I'm hungry." 
[we'll go to a restaurant and eat...]

"Dad, my legs are hurting. I think I'm growing too much. Can you do something about that?"
[yes, I can fix anything, I'm your dad. We fix this specific problem by not complaining about it anymore. It's holistic therapy. I read it on the internet...]

"Dad, Dino-boy won't sing the right words to the songs. Make him stop."
[I like it when Dino-boy sings. Let him sing the words he feels are the right ones. Stop stifling his fun, Captain Misery McComplain Pants...]

"Dad, my stomach hurts because I haven't eaten in a long time."
[she had, in fact, eaten that day... I think...]

We made a quick stop at a restaurant and headed to the grocery store. Dino-boy has been infected by a love for Taylor Swift songs as of late. He can't get enough of them. Because I'm dedicated and working extra hours for my "Father of the Year" coffee mug, our car rides have been filled with frivolity and T-Swift listening parties. After we parked and the radio was shut off, apparently the song "22" was still playing in Dino-boy's heart because he kept going with it. Loudly. We walked into the store and he's still singing, wearing his Dino-cap, because he's now the Singing Dino-boy. Then an older lady with bangs from the 80's looks down on me in pity. I smile politely back at her and she says, "Do we have an upset one here?" She mistakenly thought that the Singing Dino-boy was actually the upset and crying Dino-boy. Perhaps because his singing sounds remarkably similar to an out-of-tune and out-of-work lark with a slight lisp. No, ma'am, he's not crying or whining. That's just how he sings! Unfortunately for Dino-boy, he's inherited an awful curse. He is a part of a long line of music lovers who can't carry a tune in a bucket. But, darn it if it stops us from trying. 

A little later we were doing the ceremonial "walk-down-each-aisle-in-the-grocery-store-even-when-you-only-need-a-few-things-because-there-MIGHT-be-something-you-forget-because-you-didn't-make-a-list," and we were getting close to the live [and tremendous sad looking] lobsters. My kids love those lobsters and have yet to figure out that they are (1) sad and (2) someone else's food. For Nora and Dino-boy, it's like a small trip to a zoo. A few aisles away from the lobsters and Dino-boy proclaims loudly, "Daddy, something really smells like crabs!" I knew what he meant. You now know what he meant [for those not following, he meant 'lobsters' but said crabs, stay with us.] But, apparently, the three guilty-looking college coeds near us did not know what he meant. They heard 'crabs' and started laughing and looking around. I looked at them and shook my head. I played it off with a, "Haha, kids say the darndest things," and mumbled under my breath, "stay in school and make good and healthy sexual decisions." For a brief moment, I thought about singing for them a song from "True Love Waits: the Musical" that my youth group put on in the late-90's. There's hand motions, box steps, and the whole shebang. But, I didn't feel like the Dino-boy was an adequate backup singer [and we only had one shot and doing it right] nor did I really have time for such life lessons. I can't be sure because I haven't checked the security camera footage, but I'm guessing when I walked away, it looked something like this:

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I am finding that the secret to getting things done at night is to forego sitting down. It's not rocket science. If you just keep moving and doing, it'll be far easier than giving yourself a few minutes of rest and then starting to do something again. For me, it never turns into just a few minutes of relaxation. If I sit down, I turn the motor off. I tap out of productive living and work into more of an amoeba-state that doesn't communicate much and eats whatever it can find nearby. Before I sat down to relax for the night, I put the groceries away, swept and mopped the kitchen floor, did two loads of laundry, cleaned the bathroom, and vacuumed the carpet. The kids even helped... by going to bed. But, before Nora went to bed, she begged me to write a note. She told me that she had something she needed to write down and keep with her. After she was asleep and I was able to relax, I read her note. Here it is:

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For those that can't read the handwriting of a kindergartener, let me translate for you [I asked for her help]:

Things you are good at:
Dad you are good at taking care of children.
Finn you are good at cheering.
Mom you are good at love.
I am good at writing.

I miss my wife so much. She's my best friend and my partner in life. She has learned to manage all the ugly parts of me and I have learned to be less ugly because of her. Yesterday, however, without the safety net of my wife and familial glue, my daughter told me that I'm good at taking care of her and her brother. All my insecurities were met with a crushing blow of defeat by the misspellings and grammatical errors of a wonderful 5-year old. Honestly, I work hard at being a good dad. Good parents don't happen accidentally. Like any other life discipline, it takes time and energy that you don't always want to exhibit and give. There are days when I'm not a terrific example of love and grace and mercy but, above being a great writer or effective pastor, being a caring and engaged dad is something I really want to be. I went to bed with a smile on my face and thanking Christ for such a crazy, beautiful, and lovely life. 

RandomNate Loucksfamily
Day 2: Dino-Boy, Taming the Shrew(d) Hair, and Life Without the Wizard

Finley wore his dinosaur hat to the babysitter's house today. He's been wearing it everywhere. My parenting philosophy for my Dino-boy goes thusly: he'll one day figure out that he's not, in fact, a dinosaur. Some kid or adult will undoubtedly be having a bad day [probably caused by their father who didn't allow them to be a dinosaur] and feel the need to rip that cold hard truth from his poor heart and it's not going to be me. So, I let him wear his dino-hat whenever he wants. It's actually the top to a costume my wife made for him a few years ago. It looks like this: 

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We have only been without my wife and youngest son, Harry, since Saturday. They are on a trek to Romania to test Harry's wizardry skills and to visit family. They'll return to us in 10 more [long] days. Until then, our stated family goal is "Survival is love. Love is survival." I've talked to them about putting each other's needs before our own and how we help each other when things are different [like when we're surviving without something really, really important to us.] If this mantra doesn't work out, our goal will simply evolve to: SURVIVE: EVERYONE FOR YOURSELVES! RUN!!! SAVE YOURSELVES!!!! WE'VE BEEN ABANDONED!!!!!! 

I'm really hoping it doesn't come to that, though. 

My alarm went off earlier today than normal. There are few things that I dislike more than being late, so I compensated by getting up well before the sun rose. My daughter tried to convince me that it was still night. I told her, "With that attitude, it is still night." No one really knew what I meant by that comment [including myself], but they didn't really question it either so I turned around confidently and went to make breakfast. It was clearly a moment that I needed to retort with something parental, but I'm not always adept at coming up with those bits of sage wisdom. I am learning that a key to successful parenting is sounding confident in bad advice and axioms. It doesn't necessarily have to make any sense, as long as it sounds true-ish and is said with the confidence of a brilliant scientist. "Make your bed or the trolls under your bed will eat your blankets." "Eat all of your food or I'll give it to the brother we've got locked in the basement that you've never met because he didn't eat his food." I'll probably never be asked to write a parenting book, though. 

Dino-boy started the day crying. He has yet to figure out that his brother will not be back anytime soon. He went to The Wizard's bedroom and found no occupants. Explaining the concept of time to a 3-year old is quite the exercise.

ME: Mommy and the Wizard won't be back for 10 more days. 
DINO-BOY: Oh. So, we'll all go grocery shopping tonight?
ME: Wait. Are you serious? 10 days. 
DINO-BOY: Is that soon? Or later? 
ME: It's 10 days. Not soon. A week from Wednesday.
DINO-BOY: So, they're coming back on Wednesday? 
ME: No. A week FROM Wednesday.

Tonight before bed, we're going to sit down and go over the intricacies of the Gregorian calendar. He'll have some fun facts to impress his friends at preschool on Tuesday. Either that, or he'll be crying on Wednesday when he finds out that his mom and brother haven't returned from the land-o-Romans. BUT, DAD, YOU SAID THEY'D BE BACK ON WEDNESDAY!! Nora and I will then take a vote to see if he'll continue in our newly formed familial alliance or not. Understanding the nuances of the Gregorian calendar is a must. 

Speaking of my lovely Nora, we strategically got her hair cut in a more management hair style before my wife left. We know my limits. Braiding hair is just not happening for me. Prior to her new do, she was sporting her best impression of Rapunzel. Trying to do something with her Rapunzel hair would be like starting out with a marathon after my lung surgery. It just wouldn't be prudent. You have to know your limitations as a parent, folks. Now she just looks like a miniature version of my wife. 

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Something happened to my daughter over night when I wasn't looking. I haven't decided what to make of it. Either she: 

1. survived a tornado
2. had a run-in with a vicious hair-messing badger, or...
3. was the victim of a weird robbery where the perp didn't take anything but gave noogies to the only 5-year old in the house. 

Her hair was a mess. I asked her if she knew how to fix it. She said that she did. But, here's the thing; she lied. Her attempts to fix her own hair was met with futility and disgust (on Dino-boy's face and my own.) I grabbed the comb that looks like it came from a horror movie and started going to town. There was tears and gnashing of teeth, possibly even some blood on the scalp. Dino-boy went to his room and changed into some sackcloth to denote the mourning that should happen for the fallen hair. But, after a few minutes, the chaos was starting to get tamed. The knots were out, the tears were dried, and we still weren't late for school. 

One problem. Though the hair was straight-ish and the wildebeest previously living on her head was freshly slaughtered, there was still a decent amount of renegade strands of hair that went rogue. They floated towards the ceiling and mocked the comb that I just used to destroy their will. I did the only thing I knew how to do to manage unruly hair. I went to get some of my "products." Now, we should probably get this out of the way; I am a man that uses a decent amount of hair products. Most of them are "old" hair products that your grandfather probably swears by. I love them as well. They work. Save your modern-man Crew gel for the next guy, I'm using Pinaud's Clubman and you can tell by the smell. If you look through my medicine cabinet, you'll also find some hair tonics that work masterfully at adding a bit of character to an uninspiring head of hair. 

I reached for the hair tonic. Nora looked at me with a sense of panic. 

NORA: Daddy, is this what mommy uses in her hair?
ME: No. Mommy's not cool enough to use this product. Only really cool people use it. Plus, she's not a huge fan of the awesome smell. 
NORA: Will it make me smell like a man?
ME: No. It will make you smell awesome. Like some men do. But, it will also make those lame stragglers in your hair be tamed. I'm out of other solutions, sweetheart. It HAS to be this way. 
NORA [resigned to the failure of this moment]: Ok. 

It ended up looking well and not smelling like a man. We got to school on time even. 

Tonight I will pick up my two Muggles and we'll attempt to grocery shop. So far, we're all missing my wife something fierce, but we're surviving. After all, survival is love. Love is survival. For now. 

RandomNate Loucksfamily
Distracted After Four Weeks

On the way to drop my daughter off at school this morning, we were going through our traditional morning chat; telling stories, counting numbers, rhyming words, etc. A few minutes from the school and Nora interrupts the conversation, "Dad, I want to tell you something. [she gives the most serious pause] I'm really proud of you and I'm glad you're going to be healthy again. I really love you.” It was just four weeks ago today they took out the lower lobe of my right lung and a 5x9 centimeter mass of sequestered lung tissue. We have really tried to protect the kids throughout this season of ill health. They’ve stayed with only a few select people to maintain a sense of continuity and security. We’ve been open and honest with them about what is causing my health issues. Yet, you can never know how much of an emotional experience a one year old, three year old, and five year old can absorb. How are they processing it?

When I awoke this morning I started thinking about the things that I though about right before I fell asleep; the problems that arise at a job when someone is absent for a few months, the sermons that need to be developed and thought about, the lack of knowledge of certain areas that should be remedied, how I haven't led well in the last season, etc.  On top of this, I think about the friendships that I’ve not properly nurtured and the people in my life that haven’t gotten the best of me in the last few weeks, months, and even years. My grandfather told me not long before he passed, "Nate, we [the Loucks family] are our own worst enemies. There's no one that disappoints us more than ourselves. But we're especially bad to ourselves right before bed." We are existential cannibals that eat ourselves alive. Perhaps it's that we are reminded that there is only so much time to live life and too much life to be lived. 

Who knows what was going through my daughter’s mind this morning that she would find it necessary to remind me of my value to her. Nothing in our conversation was leading to that point being made. It was more about what rhymes with "clouds" and "snow" and "car." But, ever since she opened her heart this morning to her dad, I haven’t stopped being grateful.

For her. 
For my sons. 
For my wife and her compassion and care.
For my friends who I see often and those I haven’t seen in too long.
For the doctors that have given of their time to see that I get many more years with my family. 
For the cold air I felt in my lungs when I stepped outside.
For the warm coffee that contrasted the cold air. 
For our old house that gives us shelter from the cold. 
For yesterday. 
For today.
For Christ.  
For life. 
For love. 

Today is four weeks since my surgery and without my daughter, I would have been too busy to notice. What a fool I can be. I hope one day Christ will resurrect my subconscious enough to allow me to not always have laser-like focus on tomorrow and to allow today to be good enough. These moments will never be able to be lived again. If that day never happens, I’m grateful for a little girl that brings me back into today’s reality and lessens the anxiety of tomorrow. There will always be things to fix, brokenness perpetuates itself. Today I'm not going to allow the brokenness of this world rob me of the ability to see the signs of grace I have been given. 

RandomNate Loucksnora, family
A Quick Update...

We have met some tremendous people that have helped us navigate the waters of the healthcare system. Some have battled cancer themselves. Some have lost spouses and have learned the hard way of how to go about getting the right care. The health care professionals have been great... when we can get in contact with them. But, so much time has been spent calling, waiting, and trying to find out about our next step. From what we've been told, this is common. Every day seems like ten days to us. Without knowing for sure what it is within me that's giving me these symptoms, and only having a doctor's inclination that it is Hodgkin's lymphoma (which my symptoms and tumor align with perfectly... it's a good inclination), we are anxious to start the recovery process. Today. As soon as possible.

One of our friends reminded us to be persistent and call every day. So, Ema did. 

On Monday we have a consultation with a cardio-thoracic surgeon in South Bend. We will talk about the surgical biopsy and schedule a time later in the week for me to get it done. My oldest child, Nora, starts school on Wednesday. I'd really prefer to drop her off at school and pick her up on her first day, so I'm going to suggest we do the surgery after Wednesday. It seems antithetical to wait longer to have the surgery done when I've already confessed by growing impatience, but Nora only starts kindergarten once in her life. I'm her dad. Her biggest fan. I shouldn't miss it. The stinkin' tumor will need to wait. 

When we found out that I likely have cancer, Ema made me promise that we could do just one simple thing. She wanted to get professional pictures taken prior to me looking like a young Patrick Stewart (a man can dream...). Our friend and photographer Lisa Haislet (who has an immense amount of talent and kindness) was accommodating enough to fit us in on very short notice. The kids and I were tired. I couldn't breathe very well. And, getting three kids to look at a camera is as common as a lunar eclipse on a Tuesday. Yet, Lisa managed to get some really great pictures of our family. We will treasure these forever. If you're in the LaPorte area and need a great photographer, I highly recommend Lisa Haislet Photography. 

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SicknessNate Loucksfamily