Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Week Can Change Your Life...

What a week.

I don't even know where to start. There were good things and bad things...sometimes happening simultaneously. My head is so full, and my body so exhausted, that it feels as if the very planet is spinning in a different direction.

I guess I'll start with the event that started it all...

...but before I begin, you should go make a cup of tea and get comfy. You'll be sitting here a while.

On Saturday VERY EARLY, we received an emergency call from Jason's twin sister, Tara. Jason's mom, Sandra, was in the hospital. She had apparently ruptured an artery to her bowels, although we didn't know that at the time. We just knew she had keeled over at CostCo and was vomiting blood. After almost 24 hours of emergency care, she lost the fight, and passed away. She went through over 27 units of blood in the fight to save her life, not counting plasma and platelets. She was only 56 years of age.

We hurriedly got our affairs in order, and with the help of Jasons brothers and sisters, the entire family flew home to Southern California to help with the funeral and settling her affairs and support his brothers and sisters. Jasons' dad had passed away 5 years ago at the age of 51 from a 10-year battle with brain cancer, and so the kids were all alone in handling everything.

Being in California was bittersweet. It was refreshing to be in my hometown where things are familiar and comfortable. It was soothing to be surrounded by family and friends who love us and wanted to help us. But, of course, it was painful to know that we were there to say good-bye to someone we dearly loved.

One upside was seeing my beloved hometown, nestled in the shadows of Mt. Baldy.

My hometown...Alta Loma, California.

Beautiful Mt. Baldy...part of the San Angeles National Forest.

My children had a wonderful time getting to know their cousins, aunts, and uncles. We had a couple really great days playing and traveling to see extended family.

Jason and I took all the kids to visit Heritage old stomping-ground of mine. It looks a little different now - they have all new playground equipment...but it's still as green and beautiful as it always has been. And once the kids realized how great the hills were for rolling down...the playground was totally forgotten.

Nicolette monkey's around at Heritage Park.

Cousin Korey swings across the sand...

Savannah poses with a friendly whale.

Cutie cousin Jamison shows who rules the roost. Jamison and Nicolette are only 3 days apart in age.

Brigham finds a pine cone.

Cousin Jaydon won't let a broken leg stop him from having fun!!

These hills are AWESOME for rolling down!!

Whee!! There goes Brigham!!

We had a few great family dinners...some at Grandma Sandy's house, and some at Grandpa-Greats. Although their was a lot of sadness, there was also a lot of laughter and camaraderie.

Crazy cousins!! Kaitlyn, Savannah, Kaylynn, and Nicolette make up the "girls table".

Don, Tara, and Cousin Rebecca kick back and Grandpa-Great's!!

Joseph and Savannah play with two of the Bennett cousins...Jaydon and Jamison!!

Don squeezes in for a picture with cousin Rachel.

Aunt Cassandra and Uncle Dave Johnston enjoy pizza at Grandpa-Great's. Dave is Grandma Sandy's big brother. He is father to cousins Dave Jr., Rachel, and Rebecca. Cassie, Carter, and Chloe are his grandkids.

Jason messes around with cousin Dave Johnston Jr.

Cousin Rebecca gets in for a picture with Rachel's girls, who are her nieces. Cassie is the oldest, and Chloe is the littlest.

On Thursday, I had the opportunity to help the family by being part of the team, along with my brother-in-law Don Bennett, to dress Grandma Sandy for burial. I felt really blessed to be able to help the family in that small way. That evening, we had the family viewing. Joseph had a really hard time seeing Grandma Sandy. He tried very hard to be grown up and brave, but in the end he just held Jason and I and cried.

Jason also struggled during the viewing. Having been so far away, we felt isolated from the crisis. It seemed almost unreal. But there at the viewing, we had to face that Sandra was gone, and it was very difficult to do. I had had the chance earlier in the day to say my personal good-byes...but this was Jason's first chance.

There was a point in the evening when we were discussing the funeral the next day, and it turned to reminiscing about Sandra. Don brought up a boating accident Sandra had been in the year before that had aggravated some medical conditions and almost cost her her life. The experience spurned in her a desire to accomplish some goals she had but had been putting off. One of those goals was to visit us in Florida. She came in January last year. While here, she became convinced that she had to take the kids to Disney World. We all knew how frugal Sandra was, since she was a widow on a very fixed income, and tried to discourage her. Disney World was an expense that not even Jason and I had attempted. But Sandra was adamant, and she bought tickets to Disney World's Animal Kingdom. She paid for the tickets, all the snacks, the gas and tolls, and even dinner afterwards. All in all, I'm sure she spent over $1200.00 on just one day. But it was a perfect that my kids remember and cherish. And I am so very glad that they remember that day and have it to cherish whenever they think of their Grandma Sandy.

Grandma Sandy at Animal kingdom in her motorized scooter chair...January 2008.

Grandma Sandy with Jason, Savannah, Nicolette, Joseph, Brigham, and Kaitlyn.

Grandma Sandy gets "tooney" with Joseph, Brigham, and Savannah at Disney's Animal Kingdom...January 2008.

Grandma Sandy and Jason at Disney's Animal Kingdom...January 2008.

The next day was the funeral, and it was the hardest day. Not for my own personal sorrow...but to watch Jason struggle so openly with his grief was one of the most difficult things, as a wife, that I have ever done. There was one point, during the viewing, where a childhood friend walked in who was openly sobbing, and Jason just lost it. I held his hand and felt totally helpless.

Beautiful flowers at the church...

Grandma Sandys beautiful casket

It was rough for Jason for the rest of the day. He held me tightly through all the talks, and then during his own eulogy, he had to stop and sit down. I knew that he had to grieve, but it just hurt so much for me to watch. I wished I could take the sadness away.

The services were beautiful. At the cemetery, after Jason dedicated the grave and we took some pictures...the kids ran off to play. Of course, they thought that the cement lid that would cover the casket was the most fun thing to play on. I thought about reprimanding them and reminding them to respect the dead...but then I thought about how grandma Sandy would probably laugh at the kids tap dancing on her "grave" to speak. So I let them be and took pictures instead.

Jaydon was a junior pallbearer along with Korey, Joseph, Brigham, and Jamison.

James and Sandra Johnsons legacy...Catherine Piech, Christine Johnson, Tara Bennett, Jason Johnson, Jeremiah Johnson, and Joshua Johnson (kneeling).

The survivors of the M. Corene and Arnold Johnston family...Uncle Dave Johnston and Grandpa-Great Arnold Johnston.

Nicolette really wanted a flower of her very own.

For some reason, this photo makes me think of the Beatles Abbey Road album a very twisted way.

Little cousin Chloe...

Brigham holds his Junior Pallbearer flower while Jamison runs off to play while holding the teddy bear that Grandma Sandy gave him.

Boys will be boys...Brigham, Jaydon, and Joseph

Oh, Jamison!! You crack me up!!

The next few days were filled with cleaning the house and getting things ready for an estate sale this weekend. On Sunday we took a break and went to see Tara and Don at their home in San Marcos. We went to La Jolla shores and took family photos. I don't have all of the ones that our photographers took, but there are a few to show you. Jason was excited to be in HIS hometown and show the kids some of the places that HE remembered growing up in San Diego.

Beautiful San Diego...Jasons "Home Sweet Home".

Low-tide in the tidepools along La Jolla Shores...truly breathtaking.

The local residents of La Jolla take in the sand and surf...

All my children...enjoying the So Cal lifestyle...Kaitlyn, Joseph, Brigham, Savannah, and Nicolette...who tosses up a peace sign for good measure...

The Johnson siblings...Tara, Christy, Cathy, Johua, Jason, and Jeremiah

All of Grandpa-Greats GREAT GRANDCHILDREN...(top to bottom, left to right) Jamison, Chloe, Joseph, Nicolette, Savannah, Jaydon, Kaitlyn, Korey, Kaylynn, Cassie, Carter, and Brigham

The view of the San Diego coastline from Mt. Soledad

I was able to do a little visiting with my own side of the family. I got to visit Grandma Fraley in the nursing home. At 92, she knew exactly who I was and who my kids were, and we had a lovely chat.

The very last day we managed to squeeze in a dinner with MY side of the family at Don Joses'. It was nice to see all my cousins and my Uncle Dan. We tried to take a big family photo, but a couple people didn't get cousins Janet, Michelle, and Janet's oldest daughter Jackie and HER daughter Brooklyn. But everyone else is there.

My Uncle Daniel Fraley and Savannah have a special relationship...she ADORES him and he calls her "Tickles". Little cousin Hayden looks on without getting QUITE close enough to be the next tickle-monster victim.

Kaitlyn and her cousins Brian Fraley (left) and Amanda Fraley (right). They are MY cousin Dan Jr.'s kids, and they haven't seen each other since they were about 5 years old.

(Most of) My California family...(left to right) Savannah in Lesta Fraley's (Yaya) lap, Brigham, me, Joseph, Kaitlyn, Jason (holding a completely worn-out Nicolette), Tim Fraley, Brian Fraley, Amanda Fraley (holding Hayden), Dan Jr. Fraley, Dan Sr. Fraley, and my dad, Dennis Fraley (Papa). Not pictured: Tim's sweetheart Michelle (Super-Dumplin'), Dan Jr.'s sweetheart Janet, Janet's daughter Jackie and Jackie's daughter, Brooklyn.

I can't wait to see them again in July when we come back for Jason's sister Christines' wedding. It will be another bittersweet happy for Christy and her groom, Moronai, to start their own lives...but sad that Sandra will be there only in spirit.

Another bit of bittersweet news is that Jasons' youngest brother, Joshua, had asked his long-time girlfriend, Michelle, to marry him. He was going to tell Sandra about it the weekend she died. They are planning a 2010 wedding. He will also get to start off being a dad right away, as Michelle has a little guy, Dominick, who is 6 years old. We are so excited to welcome two new people to our family. I'm especially excited for Michelle...there hasn't been a sister added to the Johnson clan since I joined them almost a dozen years ago!!

Now the only bachelor is Jeremiah!! Anyone out there with a really cute friend/daughter/sister? Jeremiah works for the San Bernardino Fire Department. He's an army trained medic who served with special forces in Afghanistan. He's about 6'2 or '3...has a great sense of humor, and is really cute. I'll take offers from the highest bidder...

(just kidding, 'Miah...)

Some great things came about that were unexpected as well...Sandras brother, Dave, our family historian, works for He is able to take all of J and Sandra's old yearbooks and scan then into the databases for people to access as they do their own genealogical research. What a wonderful contribution to make!! Dave was also helpful in aiding Grandpa-Great label some of the many archival family photos that he has collected over the years. They will be a great benefit to Johnson's in the generations to come.

Some old photo albums at Grandpa-Great's...

I'm really torn between what's cooler...the old photographs or the antique Cuban cigar box that they're stored in...

I also was able to meet some members of the family that I was less familiar with and hopefully build some enduring relationships with them.

I guess through all this...I feel like I've taken away a lot of lessons. First...cherish your family. You never know how long you have until your Heavenly Father call you home.

Second, I am so grateful to have a deep and abiding knowledge about the plan of salvation...and to know, without a doubt, that Sandra is whole and with the love of her life, her eternal companion, Grandpa J. I can only imagine how joyful that reunion was, as she came into view of paradise, and there...standing to greet her...whole and strong as he was before his illness...was J. I can vividly picture him wrapping his arms around her to hold her close, burying his head in her hair and whispering that he loves her and has waited for her. And for Sandra, who has struggled so much with loneliness and despair since J's passing, to wrap her own arms around him and feel the strength of his embrace, and feel the safety and security of his love. I know her tears will no longer be ones of longing, but of sweet reunion and joy. I know that she is Home.

I also am grateful that Sandra was the kind of person that I will be able to tell my children about...someone to use as a role model in their own lives. Someone to inspire them to never give up, to serve the Lord with all their might, mind, and strength, and to never lose faith in the face of seemingly insurmountable adversity.

I am grateful for all these things and more.


Mel said...

That was a lot of emotions, contained in one blog post. I smiled and cried, I oohed and aahed at the pictures, the memories, and the scenery. I was so glad you were all able to be there, but sad for the reason. Thanks for sharing!

Courtney said...

So sorry for you and Jason and your family for your very unexpected loss of Jason's mother! Wow! I am so glad that you were all able to get out west and be with those you love! Sorry I have been so out of the blogging loop for awhile...ce la vie! Hang in there my friend, sending you my love!

Johnston Family said...

It was so great seeing you all again and getting to know your family better. It was an amazing week, that is for sure. Hope you are all doing well! I can't wait for July - and this time I'm bringing Chip. :) Love you all lots and lots! XOXO

Becky said...

Hey there Shannan! What a wonderful tribute to your mother-in-law! I wish I had blogged back when my mother passed away almost 5 years ago. She was only 60...I can totally feel Jason's pain! It's a bummer. I love the memories you all made at Disney World! Priceless! Check out our blog at I am just starting and need lots of tutoring to get it up to speed. Yours is beautiful! Hope all is well.