Skip to content
April 23, 2014 / Jon Ericson

Reunion

It turns out that coming home has been at least as much joyous reunion as somber remembrance. As you might expect, guilt worms it’s way into even this. How can we be happy when there’s a hole in the family? We rationalize Bob’s empty seat by supposing that he’s somewhere else and will turn up after dinner or whatever. I’m sleeping in his bedroom and I found myself looking at his books and CDs. Bizarrely, I worried that if I moved anything he might notice my snooping. All of us who flew in this week expected Bob would meet us at the airport.

Bob and brothers in Hawaii

Even before last week, we had commented on the unusual number of people we knew who had died in the last year. In every case, I have no problem supposing that we might meet them in heaven. But not Bob. Maybe this will change when we see the body and bury it. But I suspect that when someone was as close as a brother (even 18-years younger) will be harder to internalize as dead that people who were less a constant in our own lives.

April 21, 2014 / Jon Ericson

Unbelief

People sometimes assume Christians believe in the face of rational thinking. For some, that may be true. But I find that my gut instinct is to disbelieve and only by reviewing rationally what I have discovered to be true do I believe. A simple experiment proves it for me. When I look at this picture, my instinct says that when I fly home tonight, Bob will meet me at the airport as he often did.

Bob and Joshua, Feb. 2012

But the rational, logical, controlled portion of my mind tells me that he won’t be there. I live maybe 90% of my life the same as any agnostic. It’s only when I make a special effort that I am confronted with the truth. It isn’t that I haven’t thought about the evidence that I believe. Rather, it’s because I haven’t internalized the evidence enough that I often doubt.

I have no answers for my son today. I’ll be leaving for Virginia for at least a week and my biggest worry is that he needs a father’s embrace right now. He loves his uncle and I don’t think he really believes Bob is gone. Most of the time, I don’t either.

April 21, 2014 / Jon Ericson

Eyes on Zion

Today was a better day. For one thing, I started rereading A Grief Observed, which reminded me that every mourning is as individual as every relationship. Somehow, that helps for the present, though I see danger in the future. For another, it helps to sing familiar words with caring friends who know that comfort often consists in a hug. And I had something productive to do: write Bob’s obituary.

I found it to be a lot like writing a Christmas letter: hit the high points and keep it short. My wife and parents edited mostly by expanding on points I tersely outlined. One aspect my wife added was that he enjoyed many family road trips, a caravan to Zion National Park. It seems a shame to not tell about that summer while I recall it.

The Narrows, Zion NP August 2011 with Robert Ericson.

The Narrows, Zion NP August 2011 with Robert Ericson.

My parents and Bob drove their Tahoe from Virginia to Idaho via Minnesota. I don’t know if they stopped at Mt. Rushmore, but the odds are good they did—it was a tradition. Meanwhile, Joy, Joshua, and I took our Tahoe from Burbank to San Francisco to Crater Lake to meet at the family cabin in McCall. We did the usual things: boating, fishing, reading, cooking on the beach, playing games until late, and so on.

The highlight was an overnight backpacking trip to a Upper Hazard Lake high in the Rockies. It’s a short hike, but it wasn’t easy for my son or mom. Even so, we had great fishing and enjoyed a comfortable camp at the lake’s drainage. In the morning, we had fish, hash browns, oatmeal, and coffee cooked on the campfire. Bob carried some extra weight for those who couldn’t and proved an expert outdoorsman.

One of my Tahoe’s tires got punctured on the way down the mountain. Thankfully, we had a full-sized spare to get us to Boise, but my dad wanted to drive with us to make sure we didn’t get stuck somewhere. We stopped and had a picnic somewhere along the Payette River. Joshua by this time had come to adore Bob, who was extremely patient with him. (This never changed by the way; Bob loved my son.) I recall doing a lot of car swapping so that they could spend time together.

As we left Idaho, we could not bear to part ways, so we caravaned to Salt Lake City. Along the way, I looked into my rearview mirror and wondered if Bob was having car trouble; he was slowing down. Meanwhile, in his Tahoe, they wondered if there was some emergency, since we seemed in a real hurry. When we compared notes at the Lake Bonneville rest area, the answer became clear: my speedometer was broken.

In the morning, we had Liege-style Belgian waffles at Bruges. Again, we didn’t want to split up quite yet, so we decided to travel together to Zion National Park. Zion Canyon was formed by the Virgin river cutting away sandstone in dramatic narrow cliffs. During the day, all six of us hiked toward the top of the canyon on a path that followed the river. When the path ends, most people enjoy the cool water on hot summer days. But the adventurous may continue though a section called The Narrows. It is so narrow, in fact, that travelers must hike in the river itself.

My parents opted to stay with Joshua playing on the sandbar. But Joy, Bob, and I pressed on. Fighting upstream as the Virgin River flows stronger between steep cliffs is strenuous. It’s important to have a pole or staff to steady yourself and maintain balance. Many people turn back after a bend or two. But we persisted. Bob was strong and determined. In the end, he outlasted us and went a little bit further as we rested. Finally we turned back and learned that keeping balance was just as strenuous going downstream as up. Bob was not phased.

And yet, his body failed him in the end. Life is fragile and all bodies break down one way or another. Today, I looked toward the one hope we can lean on: that Jesus really did lead the way toward Zion where we will have new, resurrection bodies.

April 19, 2014 / Jon Ericson

Good Friday

Yesterday, my brother Bob died.

We found out right after our Good Friday service, which is the sort of thing that tests your faith. It was a shock in the sense that Bob was a 22-year-old man who did not engage in the sorts of activities that endanger the lives of so many men that age. He died shortly after a seizure of the type he’d experienced (and took medication for) since high school. As my wife relayed my mom’s message, the shock faded into dull regret and sharpened into grief. It’s one thing to nod with the pastor explaining why the death of one man is good despite appearances and quite another to accept the death of a brother whose life seemed to lay primarily in the future.

I repeat, for my own benefit, that Bob was a man. To me, he will always be a boy.

Bob Ericson

This photo was taken of him at my wedding when he was ten—the same age as my oldest son. We don’t have many photos of him from that day since the photographer didn’t know until later that he was my brother and not a cousin. Even to me, 18 years older than him, Bob seemed like a stranger that my parents brought into their house. When he answered the phone after his voice dropped, I always mistook him for my brother Dave. His steady approach to the world reminded me of no other than my brother Doug. As I write this, the guilt gnaws at me; I wish I’d gotten to know him better.

Was it good that Bob died when he did? By no means! Death is an evil we all face; death is never right or fair. Most of us are familiar with the verse that Bob is standing in front of in that photo. It ends with the sweet promise of everlasting life. Even so, I am angry with God that he took Bob from us. I am already dreading the days and weeks and months to come when dark thoughts and feelings will sneak our lives and steal bits of our memories of Bob. I worry that pain will overwhelm some of us who knew him.

And yet, deep down, at the core of my being, I know that light will not entirely vanish from the world. After we follow Bob through the shadowy valley, we will find him not resting, but rejoicing over a full life well lived. If you knew Bob, do not seek out the darkness—it will come. Rather find the shafts of light. For myself, I will remember the backpacking trips we took together, the game nights and jokes, his accomplishments as a he grew, and the day I learned that I had another brother whose name is Robert.

Even on the darkest of days, dawn comes in the morning.

April 15, 2014 / Jon Ericson

My princess

The other morning after Joy fed her, I snuggled with Kathryn and allowed myself to be charmed once again by her smiles. As she looked up to me with total trust I thought, “I will not let you marry anyone who does not love you more than I do.” My little girl will grow up and become a woman of her own, God willing, but that doesn’t mean I won’t do everything in my power to guard her heart. Obviously I want my sons to marry women as wonderful as my own wife. But I want to protect my daughter. She is my princess.

My daughter is thrilled to be in the driver's seat.

My daughter is thrilled to be in the driver’s seat.

I grew up in a house full of boys, so I know how we operate. The male of the species needs to be put in a position to succeed. Being overprotective, especially before they learn to make their own mistakes, will produce devastating consequences. After a fall, you gotta learn to stand up, dust yourself off, and try again. This goes for boys and girls, of course. But there are some mistakes you don’t want children to make at all, ever. And this is how boys differ from girls.

Most likely, you’ll think I’m old-fashioned (or worse), but some things are more devastating to girl than boys. Failed romantic relationships are just one of those things.


I actually wrote this months ago and didn’t want to finish it. I figured the work I need to do to justify this view of humanity would require research and careful logical argument. But each time I look at my daughter, I know that no argument can ever convey my feelings for her and my desires for her future. There’s just nothing more to write.

June 21, 2013 / Jon Ericson

Invasion of the vampire babies!

When new parents are ready to leave the hospital, they sometimes look like this:

Going home

In addition to a newborn’s aptitude for sleep for the first week or two (they don’t have much else they can do), parents are lulled into complacency by the wonderful nurses who swoop in to take care of their infant’s every need. When you get home, that job belongs to someone else.

Over the months, our daughter has regained her ability to sleep for long stretches. Sure, she’s regressed once in a while, but I’d put her up against anyone in her age class in a sleep off. Our son, who wishes to remain anonymous for this post, has not.

A typical night includes the traditional delivery-of-the-babies ceremony:

  1. I finally reach slow wave sleep.
  2. My lizard brain registers the sound of an impending threat. Is that a carnivorous dinosaur I hear?
  3. No, I’m pretty sure that’s a tea kettle. Who left that on at this time?
  4. Maybe our neighbor bought a puppy who is whimpering next door.
  5. Ouch! An elbow in my side notifies me that one of our children (who are we kidding: it’s our male twin) demands attention.
  6. Somehow the covers on my side are untucked and shackling me firmly to the bed.
  7. I’m free, but I’ve stubbed my toe.
  8. The dino-baby is now seriously angry. He always wakes up with a grudge against the world.
  9. Dirty diaper? Check!
  10. Somehow, I’m back in bed, Joy is feeding the baby, and I’m asleep.
  11. Oh please don’t tell me my other child is awake too.

The next morning, Joy and I are drained from caring for our children. But they are smiling and content. For better or worse, this too shall pass.

May 7, 2013 / Jon Ericson

Twins are only 1 1/2 as tough as singletons

So it’s been a busy few months and this blog hasn’t exactly been on the top of my list of things to do. Here are three things I’ve been taking care of:

snorers

Actually, it’s been so long I hardly recognize the twins and I can’t tell right of the bat which is Kathryn and which is Isaac. Most of that time, we’ve had only a few hours of uninterrupted sleep at night and Joy skipped her last semester of nursing school. So it’s been tough to raise twins.

But I want to reassure this guy that it hasn’t been a nightmare. It’s true I find myself coming up with excuses to stay at work so I don’t have to change diapers (my duty when I’m home) and I know that the fall is going to be a challenge when Joy goes back to school. But the good outweighs the bad.

And I don’t think twins are so much worse than a single baby that a person should be thinking this way:

As horrible as this might sound, we found ourselves wishing these twins away.

We considered a reduction for about 30 seconds. (That’s essentially an abortion of one twin, not both.) If you thought that IVF involved playing God, a reduction felt beyond brazen—Machiavellian, even. Give us a reason, we thought, as we had the twins tested for genetic anomalies. None came.

I recognize that if you had one colicy baby (as the author had) you imagine how much worse it would be with two. Twice the misery, right? I’m not so sure. For one thing, odds are you won’t have two colicy babies; it’s more likely you won’t have even one. Our oldest son had a serious problem with spitting up his food, so it was a bit frightening when Isaac started vomiting. As it turns out, Kathryn eats and digests like a champ, so it doesn’t really add up to twice as much puke. On the other hand, we can’t enjoy her sleeping through the night since her brother wakes us up for comfort feedings a few times during the night.

Each baby is different. One will be giving you a hard time just when the other starts giving you a break. Even if both are making things hard, they are likely to do it in different ways. That can be a relief actually. When one child is screaming and refusing to be comforted, it’s not so bad when the other one starts fussing—especially if it’s easy to solve her problems. To be honest, there’ve only been a few times when I wished we only had one child because two is overwhelming. And those times would probably have been just as overwhelming with only one.

But the parents of twins have a not-so-secret weapon: everybody is fascinated by multiples. It’s hard to overstate how excited people are to see our babies and how easy it is to get help. Early on, I was waiting in line at the pharmacy for some medication for them. One of the guys behind the counter saw me with two car seats and called me to the front of the line. We have constant offers for baby sitting from our friends. My mother-in-law has come up almost every Thursday and Friday since they were born. We’ve been busy, but Joy and I are also getting regular lunch dates for the first time in years. I won’t say these things wouldn’t have happened with a singleton, but I’m pretty sure having twins has helped.

For everything that really is twice as tough with twins, there’s something that is no worse because of economy of scale.

November 24, 2012 / Jon Ericson

Are you prepared?

Let me be honest for a moment: I’m not really sure there are twins coming. Sure, Joy is in the visually uncomfortable stage of pregnancy and I’ve seen ultrasound images, but that’s just some strange observations to my lizard brain. My rational brain has put together the pieces, but so far the main emotions I feel are concern for Joy and hope that Joshua will benefit from having some siblings to be partially responsible for. So, to answer the question I put in your mouth, “No, I’m not at all prepared”.

Baby "B" (a boy)

Our church had a shower for Joy. I hung out with an old friend who was visiting from the bay area with his two daughters and my son at a park. It seemed odd that Mike kept looking out for his girls to make sure they were safe, until I realized that that’s what you do with toddlers and preschoolers. In the next few years, I’m going to be worried about inquisitive youngsters wandering into traffic or falling off of park equipment. At least with Joshua, I lacked the knowledge that I could successfully raise a child.

Baby "A" (a girl)

Now that we’ve gotten a bunch of gifts for the nursery and Joy’s sister has painted the walls (pastel green and purple), it’s been my turn to assemble Ikea furniture. I recalled the preparations for Joshua and how everything seemed so safe compared to what my parents used. The new changing table has even more heavy-duty braces and even heavier-duty warnings. Industrial design can reduce, but not eliminate accidents.

This time, we are going to put earthquake straps on everything. We hadn’t done that enough with Joshua, for some reason I don’t recall, and he nearly crushed himself trying to climb our dresser. The only reason we avoided a trip to the emergency room, or worse, was that our bedroom in Pasadena was so tiny the dresser hit the foot of our bed. We heard the crash and found him safe, if terrified, in a dresser lean-to. You’d think he’s learned his lesson, but when he was showing off the twins’ dresser in the nursery this weekend, he pulled out all the drawers and the whole thing tipped over. This time we can thank Jeni for more than just painting.

If, the good Lord forbid, Joy went into labor today, we’d be totally unprepared for that. And paradoxically, we’d be as prepared as we could ever manage at the same time. When our new additions come (and it hardly seems right to imagine what their coming will be like), we’ll adjust.

August 22, 2012 / Jon Ericson

1 + 1 = 1

The traditional blog contains two posts: the hopeful introduction that sparks some interest in the author and the followup a few weeks later apologizing for not updating more often. I’m pretty sure when people wrote their intimate thoughts on paper, the pattern held. But since diaries and journals never get published until they have accumulated plenty of interesting content, we don’t know about the majority of them. Thanks to Google, WordPress, et al we can find every attempt at introspective writing in the blog format, which skews the results a bit. Let this serve as the introduction and let us agree never to write the second type of post: either by filling these virtual pages or by never apologizing for not doing so.

Where the story begins.

This picture is where I want to start our story. What a happy bunch of people we are! I’m the fellow in the center with a white bow tie and Joy is standing next to me looking especially radiant. It’s been 10 years and she looks even better today. I want you to hang onto this picture in your mind, since it’s real and true and a foretaste of glory. We are in a church, surrounded by friends, before God, Joy just became my wife, and I just became her husband. From here on out, we are, to use the Biblical metaphor, one flesh.

It’s a mystery really. God grants married people a special connection whether you know Him or not. I admit that I’ve lost sight of the picture at time, but somehow God did not let me drop out of our marriage. If it were by force of my will or of Joy’s, I don’t think our bond would have endured. I attribute the miracle of our marriage to God.

When a man is newly married, he shall not go out with the army or be liable for any other public duty. He shall be free at home one year to be happy with his wife whom he has taken.
—Deuteronomy 24:5 (ESV)

That was our vision. For one year, Joy and I would enjoy each other. After that, life would begin for us. We honeymooned on Catalina (with plans for Spain when we had saved up), we rented a dumpy little two-bedroom guest house, we bought a wonderful bed, we went out to eat as a couple on Saturday mornings. Joy got a temp job that had real potential to become full time. I starting riding my bike to work, which was busy and challenging and fun. The past was fading and the future was hazy but hopeful.

Then we discovered that despite waiting until marriage to have sex (exceedingly difficult) and using effective birth control, Joy was pregnant. It was at this moment that I discovered that my picture of marriage was all wrong. Joy had deep struggles that I had never explored. I had deep struggles that I had never explored. What sounds lovely in theory (two hearts beat as one), turns out to be terrifying when you realize that:

The heart is deceitful above all things,
	and desperately sick;
	who can understand it?

—Jeremiah 17:9 (ESV)

But for me and I hope for Joy, the best thing we could have done with our lives is to commit our deceitful hearts to each other. My sick heart wasn’t getting healthier on it’s own. There’s little doubt in my mind that without Joy, I would have sunk into a comfortable, but deadly bubble of my own making. She’s the one who talked me into trusting God more than myself. She’s the one who convinced me that I can’t serve God expect in the context of the church. She’s the one who asked me to confront my calcifying heart. And if you ask her, I had similar effects on her. The best part about marriage isn’t that we are right for each other, but that we are wrong for each other in just the right ways.

My story will (probably) wander into happier times and if you don’t happen to be happy yourself at the moment, that might be painful for you. But know that human happiness has never depended on humanity. Rather we are happy at times despite our desperately sick hearts.

Further up and further in!