Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Yesterday, Adam and I went to Leavenworth, Wa - a town just on the other side of the Cascade Mountains. We were hoping to catch dry weather and climb a few routes, but we got rained on a few times.

Yes, I still climb a little...but don't get too excited, because I climb very easy things that aren't vertical. It's amazing how hard it is to climb without ab muscles. Plus, the climbing harness is starting to hurt my stomach.

The day went like this:
I climbed one route called "Baby's Bottom" at an area called "The Playground."
Then we hid from the rain:

Then we drove to "Castle Rock" in another canyon that looked dry but the rain caught up with us.

We decided to stay out in the rain rather than go home early. Adam likes to practice "setting pro" and quiz me about building anchors and removing protection - so we did that for a while. We were right next to several well known and well loved climbs that Adam really wanted to try, but everything was too wet.

Then it looked like the rain was over so we drove back to Icicle Creek to find another certain well known and well loved crack climb called " Old Dog New Tricks." We didn't realize before we started, but it involved a mile of bushwhacking through wet plants and over huge fallen logs - partially through private property - to get to there.
On the way, we stopped at "The Pound" to climb a crack. It turned out to be the only climb Adam got to try the entire day and he said it wasn't very exciting.

***The good news is that while bushwhacking, we found: mushrooms!
Helvella corium!

and a morel!

Joy :)

Other things we accomplished over Memorial Day weekend:
Friday-climbed at Marymore Park
Saturday - went to the Seattle Folklife Festival, Adam decided to spend a few hours getting signatures to support the legalization of marijuana for adults.

and then watched a wonderful, beautiful animated film called "The Secret of Kells." (Both Adam and I totally recommend it - the art is beautiful and the story is universal).
Sunday - went to church and watched "Ponyo," a Japanese Anime that we thought we would love, but didn't. It was okay, but when it was over, the movie seemed a little pointless.
Monday - Leavenworth

It was a good weekend together, we can't wait for Adam's paternity leave!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Briana's Burial

Our whole family pulled together to make Briana's burial beautiful and personal. We are all fierce do-it-yourselfers, as you will see.
Here is an educational show and tell / how-to about Briana's burial. This was the first time we had to think about funeral and burial plans in our immediate family given how young Bri was and how suddenly she died. I think we are all happy with how it turned out, and even proud of ourselves for figuring out what to do and navigating our way through the system to a burial that was involved, meaningful, and even healing for us.
I want to share our process, hoping what we learned my be useful to you and your family someday.

Green Burial "How-to:"
1. Don't embalm. Embalming is the norm, so you have to specifically request not to have it done. Luckily, Candice remembered to request this when Briana was transported from the hospital to the funeral home. Arrange to see your deceased loved one as soon as possible (if you are going to) because an un-embalmed body decomposes rapidly. Briana was in a car accident, so I was nervous to see her body. I am very glad I did, though, because it brought closure to her life and gave me memories of her I can recall when I wonder where she is. She didn't disappear, she died.
2. Dress your deceased loved one in decomposable clothes. This means natural fibers like undyed cotton, wool, silk. In our faith, we dress our dead in symbolic clothing. *For other LDS folks: the commonly available clothing items are all polyester but you can order decomposable clothes from the Salt Lake Distribution Center.
3. Find locations for green burial sites. We were surprised at how few we could find. We ended up choosing Fernwood Cemetery in Mill Valley, CA - 5 min North of the Golden Gate Bridge. It isn't close to any of our family members, but the beauty of the location, the symbolism of the fern (her midwifery practice was called Fern Midwifery), and the meaning San Francisco had for Briana (she often talked about living there, and was even on her way to visit friends there when she died) made Fernwood an easy choice.

4. Find or begin making a wood casket. Other options are to use a burial shroud (thick, natural fiber fabric covering) and a woven basket as a support beneath the body. Our cousin, Ben Blackwelder, is a carpenter and volunteered to make Briana's casket. He only had two days to design and build the entire thing - and it turned out beautiful, perfect. It is made from maple and uses no nails to hold it together, just interlocking joints and wood pins.

A stencil for the fern design was made by my cousin Hiedi (who also designed the memorial service program).

The design was sandblasted and then painted with 'green drink' (my Uncle Donny's breakfast specialty of juiced kale, collard greens, parsley, etc. I heard they also added alfalfa powder to increase the green-ness).

Everyone helped!

Since we decided to transport Briana to California ourselves (instead of pay to transport her by plane), I made a burial shroud for her privacy and our protection.
Here is Candice trying it on - she had thought it looked too small.

(We bought 9 yards of undyed cotton canvas. 7 yards were used to make a simple, rectangular, double-layer 'bag' and the remaining yardage was cut into 4 strips, one to tie the shroud closed and three to tie around her body - head, hips, feet - to lift her while transporting).
The end result:

Here are some casket and burial shroud links: Kinkaraco, Oregon Wood Caskets,
5. Choose site at cemetery. Fernwood required 2 days digging time (the graves are all hand dug) from the time the burial site was chosen. In our case, we were driving from Utah and would not have time to wait around for 2 days of digging (and, No, we couldn't dig it ourselves - we asked! - legislation and liability indicated it had to be dug by their own employees). Fortunately, Briana's close friends lived in San Francisco and picked out a beautiful hillside location for her.
Briana's new neighborhood:

Briana's grave (you can see the dirt at the base of the center tree):

6. Transport body to cemetery. Blackwelders love road trips and we turned the task of transporting Briana to California into a memorable family road trip. A 3-car caravan drove from Salt LAke to San Francisco. The funeral home provided us with a Zeigler case - a special sealing case for transporting bodies - packed with dry ice
The minivan with Briana's Zeigler case (grey) below her wood casket:

Gas station rest stops:

picnic lunch:

Delicious vegan food:

7. Plan graveside service. After carrying Briana in her casket to her grave, we had a simple graveside service of a few memories, some hymns, and a prayer to dedicate the grave. Then we lowered her into the earth and closed her grave.
Waiting for everyone to arrive:

Carrying her body:

Lowering Briana into the earth:

Closing her grave:

My parents:

8. Post Burial plans. After devouring Tartine pastries on the cemetery grounds, we arranged to be serenaded by Sonya Cotton and Gabe Dominguez of Tiny Home (thank you!) and then ate a delicious meal at Farina, in San Francisco (thanks Bridgette and Brit).

9. Make future trips to visit your deceased loved one.

We love and miss you, Bri.

Friday, May 27, 2011

More thoughts about Bri

A few things never fail to make me cry:
-The "Hold On" song sung by Tiny Home, especially the line:
"with charcoal eyes and Monroe hips, she went and took that California trip"
Briana grew up in California, it's where she was going when she died in the car accident, and that's where we drove her body to be buried.
-The "Hilltop Hymn" song by Sonya Cotton, especially the line at the end:
"under hovering hawk, under shooting star"
I picture Briana's new home (for her body, at least) on the hill at Fernwood. She is there all day and night, basically alone - under hovering hawk and under shooting star.
-The video by David Perry of his son's birth. As soon as it starts, the song and photos make me cry. Then at the end, I love how the older brother reaches over to touch his new baby brother on the head and hand...and the baby looks at him and opens his fingers so he can touch him back. It is so sweet; it is a testament to how wonderful home birth can be for the whole family. It makes me think of the birth of my upcoming baby. I am excited and nervous. I feel as prepared as I can be, but I know nothing can fully prepare me for what labor and being a mom will actually feel like. I am also curious and interested to see what I feel from Briana while I'm in labor - but I'm trying not to expect too much.
I miss Briana more and more everyday, it seems.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

thoughts about my sister

I have so many photos and thoughts and events I could share from the two weeks my family spent celebrating Briana - yes, celebrating - but I guess I have come to the conclusion that they are all pretty sacred to me so I might not post as much as I thought I would. I love talking about Briana - her life, her midwifery practice, her death, her memorial and burial...all of it - and I even love sharing the pictures, but I think it may be best on a one - to - one basis.

It definitely sounds weird to celebrate your sister's or daughter's tragic death, but in a way, it's about the only thing you can do. I can't change the fact that she died, reverse time, or remove the pain so I might as well get together with my family and friends, share memories of her, commemorate her life, and celebrate her passing. In the end, it's those of us left behind that are most sad and have to muddle through the hard change.

As I mentioned before, the two week celebrating and commemorating also ended up being the best way to process the sad news and begin to heal and move on. I'm glad my family made new memories of Briana through planning and speaking at her memorial services and being very involved in her burial. These physical acts make her death more real and memorable for me. I'm glad I saw her broken body and the smashed car as opposed to feeling like she disappeared or shouldn't have died from such a "small" accident. It wasn't a small accident; I saw her and I saw the car and I know that what happened would kill anyone. I'm glad she died instantly and isn't half-dead or severely injured in a way that would alter her lovely life. Briana really had a wonderful life and I'm glad she could cut ties with the physical world in an instant and be free to rise "trailing clouds of glory." I'm also glad she could be the first from our family to experience life after death. I have many ideas about what she might be doing, but I'll have to wait to see if I'm right...

Some ways we celebrated Bri:
-Sat on her bed to smell her pillows (she was in the middle of moving houses, so pardon her packing)
-Met all her friends and clients in Salt Lake City. Their love and admiration for Bri seemed to almost rival ours :)
-Sorted through her belongings picking things each of us wanted to remember her. I've worn something of hers almost every day since I came home...
-Wrote our talks for her memorial. The whole family spoke and it felt good to have an active role in the service.

(the front and inside of the Salt Lake memorial service program)
-Planned her memorial service - the paper program, the photos, the songs, and even the food (tea and shortbread).

(the inside and back of the Salt Lake memorial service program)
-Dressed her body for burial. We used all decomposable materials so she could have a "green" burial.

-Built her casket. My cousin, Ben Blackwelder, is a professional woodworker and was the mastermind behind the beautiful design.

-Drove her body to its new home at Fernwood Cemetery near the Golden Gate Bridge.

After Briana's burial, we were serenaded by Sonya Cotton and Gabe Dominguez with their beautiful duet band called 'Tiny Home.' Hold on and Hilltop Hymn were my favorite songs.

We miss you, Bri :)

Monday, May 23, 2011

One month ago....

One month ago, on April 23rd, my sister died in a car accident. Her name is Briana and she is three years older than me. She died two weeks before her 29th Birthday, which would have been on May 6th.

Ian, our brother, and Bri were driving to California when the steering wheel was bumped and they swerved off the road into the median between the North- and South-bound lanes of I-15 just 20 minutes south of Provo, Utah. It was 2 pm on a Saturday. Ian's Ford Explorer flipped 15-20 times while bouncing 3-4 times. Ian was thrown far, far from the car but Briana fell out under the car and was crushed as it bounced. She was killed instantly. Drivers behind them called 911 and stopped to help. They were taken to Mountain View Hospital in Payson, Utah. Around 4 pm Ian called our sister, Candice, who was the first of our family to hear the news. She wrote here about that call and the next few hours.

I didn't hear the news until about 8:30 pm because Adam and I were out rock climbing with some friends and didn't have cell reception. After coming down from the last route as it became dark, I was cleaning up our rope and gear when I heard my phone ring - which surprised me because I hadn't had reception all day. I missed the call because I had too many things in my hands, but when I looked at my phone a couple minutes later I saw I had several voice messages and a text from my mom that said "Call me ASAP." I said read the text out loud to Adam and immediately my mind was racing trying to think what kind of event deserved an "ASAP." There's always the chance it could mean an urgent funny joke or other harmless piece of info, but I couldn't help saying out loud that I hoped it didn't have to do with Ian and Briana since I knew they were driving to California that day. We called my mom right away and she asked where I was because she had been trying to get a hold of me for hours. I said we were out climbing with little cell reception. She told me to put it on speaker phone so Adam could hear and then said, "There has been an accident. Ian broke a few bones and is in the hospital. But, Baby Girl...Briana...she didn't make it."

We all cried as our minds raced through memories of her and tried to piece the story together, as we tried to find peace in the horrible news. Our friends gave us some space and then came over to cry with us. I was glad to be with friends and that we had had a nice day outside in the sun. We finished packing up our gear and started to walk out toward the car and dinner and the 3 hour drive home.

Though nothing really makes Briana's death okay, or better, or easier to acknowledge, I have been surprised at how quickly my family and I have found peace on many levels. I know that this is because we are a close family, we kept in touch with each other, talked on the phone, wrote letters, visited, video chatted. This is also because we have a strong belief that our spirits existed before this life on Earth and that we - and our familial relations, too - continue to exist after we die. We also have found peace through the love, support, cards, and thoughts of friends and family. And, we have found peace in the many memories we made as a family the two weeks after Briana's death as we mourned, prepared our talks, held memorial services, visited with friends, packed up Briana's belongings, cleaned her house, and prepared her body and casket for burial.
What a life this is!
There are so many things I have learned over the last few weeks. I'll slowly pull them out to process in the coming months.

I love my dear sister and miss her every day. I'm glad we were such great friends and that I have many memories and photos (don't miss these!) to get me through the rest of my life. I wish I had more time with her.

I can't believe it has been a month since I heard the news - it seems much shorter than that. The last few weeks have passed quickly; for two weeks I was back and forth between Utah and California, and I guess I have been back at my own house for two over weeks now, though that surprises me.