September 17th, 2013 by admin

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Global Mom

Global Mom

Melissa Dalton Bradford

At A Glance

 Melissa Dalton Bradford raised four children in the midst of an international life: Norway, France, Singapore, Germany. But what appears glamorous to many has its costs, and Melissa honestly talks about the lack of community and permanence that has defined her years abroad. She also reveals how important those intangibles can be when struck with a tragedy, like the loss of her 18-year-old son in a drowning accident, and how we all can learn to mourn and comfort more compassionately. Melissa’s memoir, Global Mom: A Memoir, was published this summer.

Would you please describe the trajectory of the story that you’ve written about in your recently published memoir?

The book begins when we had been married for seven years, Randall and I, and we were living in the New York City area. It was my husband’s first job and at that point we had two little children, Parker and Claire. I had been, as I describe in the book, busy following a few different career trajectories: I was a full time mother; I was teaching writing part time at a local college; and I was launching a career as a musical theater actress. And it was right in the middle of a musical that I was in that my husband received an offer pretty much out of the blue for us to move to Scandinavia for two or three years. As it turned out, that move ended up lasting a couple of decades. As I describe in the book, we had already lived in Vienna as a young couple before we had had children, and then when our first child, Parker, was a newborn we had lived in Hong Kong. We had both served German-speaking missions and I had studied in Vienna and lived in other places in Austria, so this idea of living “foreignly” was not that far-fetched for us.

You got the call out of the blue?

When Randall targeted companies to work with, he was deliberate in seeking for positions that would land us on an international trajectory. And so this company knew from the very first assignment that he was given, that we were aiming to move internationally. Usually that takes several years with a company, so we were thinking that would come maybe five, six, seven years down the road. But it came after three years, much sooner than we’d expected. He called me while I was backstage doing a show and he wanted to know how I felt about moving to Scandinavia because they wanted an answer really soon. I recognized I was given clear spiritual direction to do this thing, not knowing what it would mean but having a sense that this would bless my family. It would be tough for me probably, but it would bless my family and generations to come.

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So that was the move from bright lights and that whole world of lyrics and scripts and communication to Norway in the middle of a bitter, dark winter not knowing a word of Norwegian.  Well, I think we might have known how to say “hello.” And Randall’s job was in Norwegian from the first day. We went right into a Norwegian ward and I was called to be Primary music director the first month and then Primary president the next month. We put our two children into “barnepark”, which is the Norwegian equivalent to an outdoor nursery school. So within a very short time they were fluent in Norwegian and we picked it up rather rapidly.

Wow! I love the descriptions of barnepark in the book. I would love to be able to send my kids to something like that in the Utah winters.

Yeah, I would have wanted to be able to give that experience to all of my children, too. That experience was really healthy, I thought. Wonderful not only for language acquisition, but for learning self-sufficiency, the value of community over the individual, gender equality, and how to survive tough weather!

We were in Norway for just under five years, time to have our third child, Dalton, and then we moved to Versailles, a medium-sized city which lies just fifteen minutes outside of Paris. We were there for four years, just enough time to have our fourth child, Luc. We were then moved to company headquarters in New Jersey and thought our foreign years were over and that it was time to plant ourselves in the homeland. So we moved north of Philadelphia ; Randall was called into the bishopric and I was called into the stake Young Women’s presidency; and we remodeled this entire home thinking, okay, this is where we will live out the rest of our lives. But within seven months we were asked by Randall’s company if we would be willing to move back to France (there had been an unexpected resignation and Randall was asked to take on a new role) We moved to the heart of Paris that time, two blocks from the Eiffel Tower. We enrolled our two youngest, Dalton and Luc, in French schools.  Our two oldest attended an international school, and we were there for a little over four years.

At the end of our time in Paris, our oldest son, Parker, graduated from high school. The plan was that he go to university for one semester and then go on his mission. We sent him off to college, and that very week we proceeded with the big move to Munich. We lived in Munich for three years, and then went to Singapore, where we were supposed to stay for many years, if not until the end of Randall’s career.  But there was a sudden restructuring and the entire international component of the multinational company he was working for was dispersed and his position was moved to Geneva. That’s where we live now, while getting our third child through high school at least; he is in his last year.

It sounds exhausting and adventurous all at the same time.

Right now I’m feeling like it’s exhausting! But someone once noted that Randall and I picked this poison. That person was right. We asked for this life!  So I don’t want to be guilty of spitting out the poison that I picked. I shouldn’t be spitting it out or complaining that it’s bitter. I am thoroughly grateful for the experiences, the gifts of diversity and growth, but they have a whole list of costs that people wouldn’t understand, I don’t think, unless they really lived this globally nomadic lifestyle right along side me.

Tell me a little bit about these costs, because it certainly does seem that the idea of living abroad is glamorous. Your kids speak two, three, or four languages.  But talk a little bit about the honest costs to you personally and to your family.

I will tell you what a couple of them are. The core costs are related to community. I don’t have a continuous, long-standing community with me, and I have not had that kind of permanent, reliable, known support ever while raising my family.  When your life is going peachy and there are no speed bumps whatsoever–then you might not feel you need a strong community. You can breaststroke all by yourself. But when you are paddling upstream against currents like new cultures, new languages, new ways of doing everything, parenting while your partner is half a world away and for over half the month, and when there are whirlpools . . . Oh, I didn’t think I would come to that metaphor, but I tend to always come back to water and drowning metaphors.

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And let’s explain to our readers: you say that because Parker actually died in a whirlpool.

He died because of a whirlpool. He died trying to save the life of a fellow classmate he had known for a week. Our eighteen-year-old son, the one we sent to college after leaving Paris, was in a Freshman  academy before school started. One night, there was this casual water activity planned with some classmates. There, Parker and another young man got sucked into a whirlpool in a small, well-known and frequently -visited irrigation canal. The danger was hidden. The canal was unmarked neither as private property nor as a known danger. All the locals seemed to know it was a death trap, but that didn’t keep them from suggesting newcomers go there for “fun”. Parker got out of that vortex twice and he went back in twice to try and get this other boy out. Parker was the only one who knew that this boy couldn’t swim very well. This boy was a competitive bodybuilder but he’d told Parker privately that he lacked lower body strength and he couldn’t swim as well as other students. So when the other boy was trapped, Parker went back into the whirlpool twice and tried to get him out. There were other students who tried to help, notably a former lifeguard, who risked his safety to pull bodies out, and somehow in all of that the drowning classmate was pushed out or swept out and was given CPR immediately.  But Parker could not extract himself a third time and was underwater for too long. When his body was eventually flushed out, it went head first over some lava rock waterfalls.  His head was badly battered.  He was given CPR and priesthood blessings by students, locals and the EMT crew, but his heartbeat did not return until much later.

So everything went wrong.

Yes. And no. Those kids gave him all they could, CPR and blessings. When his heartbeat was miraculously restored, it justified life flighting him to the closest trauma center, which was in Pocatello, Idaho. And that’s when I got the call at 11:00 at night. I drove through the night from Utah Valley to be with him and then my husband, who was in Munich, got my phone call and through a series of more miracles was able to make it to the ICU so that we had a few hours together with our boy.

So I do seem to come back to that whirlpool metaphor a lot, don’t I? When life deals you whirlpools, it’s very difficult to navigate those without a stable, trusted community, and when you’re trying to regroup after major loss it’s extremely difficult if you don’t have a continuous community, meaning anyone near you who has known you from before the trauma. That sense of utter dislocation or social alienation significantly complicated our experience with early, acute grief.  Looking back, though, I realize it was a great gift from a benevolent and wise God.  It allowed us to retreat completely into what I call our “monastery”, and connect in profound ways with the Spirit. God knew we needed total isolation to be tutored in the depths of grief. Strange, maybe, but I miss those months.

When life deals you whirlpools, it’s very difficult to navigate those without a stable, trusted community.

Another cost of this perpetually interrupted life that I have noted hits me sometime between November and December. That’s about when I get Christmas cards from around the world, cards where people have these big family shots, where dozens of people were gathered to celebrate this child’s wedding, or that grandchild’s birth, or this missionary’s mission call, or that missionary’s homecoming, and I’m left standing in the entryway of my little village home in Switzerland holding that card and I’m overcome by a wave of regret in a way–or concern is maybe the better word–for my children because I don’t know how I could gather a group and I don’t even know where I would gather one. I don’t have twenty-five years or even ten years or even five years in one uninterrupted place so that people know my name or my family’s history. Who do my children have to champion them from year to year? I don’t have school faculty that has known them for three or four years and that knows their strengths and weaknesses and feels invested in them. We’re always the newcomers. I don’t have piano teachers and clarinet teachers and flute teachers that have been progressing with my child. We seem to always be reestablishing ourselves. And as anyone knows who has moved even from one home to another in one city, of from one city to another in the same state, in the same country, it takes a lot to reestablish oneself. If you then add to that the overlay of moving to a different country, culture, neighborhood, house, and a different school system, and a different church community, and above all to a different language, you can begin to imagine that it takes a long time and great deal of energy to get yourself up to speed.

People in the international community know that you kind of write off the first year in a new country as an unpredictable and exceptionally demanding adjustment period. You’re just trying to figure out where in the heck the baking soda is. Is it anywhere in this country? And what is it called? And how can I find a doctor for my child? And how many times am I going to re-transcribe into a new language all of my children’s medical records? I’ve done this five times, by the way, from English to Norwegian, from Norwegian to French, from French to German, from German to English and Chinese, back to French. Yep. That alone takes a great deal of time, focus and effort.

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Back to how this exacerbates the ongoing experience related to our family’s major loss, it’s been informative to watch how my children have taken this sacred treasure, carrying it under their ribcage, hiding it when they move from place to place. It’s a difficult ice-breaker with new people to whom to explain that your brother died. You’re the new kid in the class and others want to know about your siblings. It’s very difficult to say, “Well, four weeks ago I buried my brother.” It’s difficult, not only because people can’t engage in that conversation–although often that’s very problematic for people–but sometimes people respond in a way that trivializes something unspeakably precious and vast. Observers don’t want to hurt the bereaved person and so they sometimes do a jollity jig around the big crater. They will talk about anything but this thing that you just pronounced in their face: death. And what it’s done to my children is it’s told them they really aren’t safe sharing these things. One of the biggest concerns in carrying the burden of grief is, I’m going to expose this sacred, immense thing about myself and no one’s going to care. So all of my children have gone silent either categorically or for long stretches, and that is problematic because it hurts them to not be able to share this central part of who they are, of how they fit into and see the world. Hiding that story requires play acting, it’s disingenuous, and all of that eats up your energy, as well as your trust in others.  I’ve observed that for those who experience significant trauma yet are living in one place for an extended period of time, there is an on-site community that at least understands the unspoken context of one’s behavior, be that silence, shock, anger, or deep sorrow.

There are all sorts of other things that are part of an international life that also are a part of localized life. Like heavy business travel. There have been periods when my husband has been traveling two to three weeks at a time, then comes back for two days, and then travels for another two to three weeks circling the globe. There have been others stretches, and I write of them in my book, where Dad lived in one country and the rest of the family in another. This has been the case four different times. Again, that’s tough enough if you are in a familiar community and you are functioning in your mother tongue. But try it in a place where every day is loaded with the stresses of just figuring out how to manage the basics. It’s a different level of “tough.” That and other things put extra stress on your health, both mental and physical, and it imposes significant stress on a marriage and it obviously affects your children’s well being and your parenting.

I’m an armchair cultural anthropologist, always observing and figuring things out.

Now I’ve arrived in a season of my life where I am wondering about where I am ever going to settle. People often ask us what our plans are for the future. Well, my response to that is that I wouldn’t know where to go. Because there is no single place that I would identify as my family’s home. I don’t know how that sounds when you hear that . . . does that sound like someone who is determined to be eccentric?  But the truth is that you do end up being “eccentric.” You’re outside of some imagined center place because you’re constantly on the periphery. You’re an American living in Oslo or Paris or Munich or Singapore or Geneva. And no matter how well you master the language, you aren’t really Norwegian or Parisian because you don’t have generational roots there, you don’t have Parisian grandparents and you didn’t go through Parisian schooling. You can come back and visit Utah, which we do just about every year, but it’s not the same as being “from Utah”, after having marinated in so many other places for so long. I have a harder time connecting with those “roots” sometimes because my life experiences and my children’s life experiences are quite different from someone who has lived in one place all their life. There’s a term for it in international circles, and that is the CCK or Cross Cultural Kid, which refers to someone whose life crosses so many borders, that there is no concrete location that she can identify as “home.”

Over these two decades raising family outside of my native country, I’ve learned that I’ve become used to playing the role of an “In looker.” Not an onlooker but an in looker because I’m sort of an armchair cultural anthropologist, always observing and figuring things out.  Even when I come back to my roots in the wild west, I’m trying to relearn and re-understand the culture I’m surrounded by.

Of course you’re talking about something beyond just traveling. It’s one thing to travel broadly and it’s another thing to not actually have a home for twenty years.

That’s right! You’ve absolutely hit it right on the head. We don’t have a permanent residence anywhere.  When I talk on cross-cultural integration, I talk about the difference between traveling to and residing in foreign places. Being a tourist is to long-term foreign residency what window shopping is to buying the whole store.  The latter demands an entirely different kind of investment. When you own a place, it comes with an entire boatload of responsibility and disappointments and negotiation and straddling.  It carries with it all sorts of different demands for every member of your family.

Let’s move to the idea of comfort for a moment. You have said to me that the way that we think people can be comforted after major loss is different than what they really need. You have said that it’s an American tendency to “comfort things away.”  What have you meant by that and how is that an American or Christian tendency? And what did you really want when you were in need of community and comfort?

The first thing I have to say is that grief is as individual as blood type. Every loss is peculiar and sacred and unique. Having said that, I have researched this at length. Researching was my way of ferreting through the wreckage after loss, particularly the grief that weighed on us throughout those first couple of years. What I discovered is that many of us are operating under a misconception, and that misconception seems to be an American one, and does the bereaved a tremendous disservice. In fact, we exacerbate their pain by holding tenaciously to this idea, and that idea is that pain is bad. We don’t like pain or we don’t like entering into it or watching others experience it.  We want at all costs to skirt it ourselves or to numb it in other people. And so our assumption when we face someone who is in deep pain is that we ourselves need to avoid it or them, or we face them, but without talking about “it.” We are going to talk about our latest fishing trip, our best support pantyhose, about the vegetable tray we want you to bring to the next church function. But we will not address the agony in front of us.  We will not look the hurting person in the eye and say, “Can you talk about what’s really going on?”

I think there are multiple reasons for why we avoid pain, but the obvious one is that it’s not photogenic. It gets messy and it might get angry. Maybe some bereaved avoid the hard work of grieving precisely because of the fear that the pain is so big, they will implode into a million splinters if they touch pain’s edge, or they’ll never survive the descent into such a dark and frightening place. It is dark and it is deep and scary. I had no idea myself such pain could exist and one could survive it.

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Another reason we might not acknowledge loss and hurt in others, is that we fear we are going to make things worse by mentioning it. Or we’re waiting for the perfect moment, the perfect phrase, the perfect lead-in.  But those don’t exist, do they? I’ve read volume upon volume about how people respond to grief and the recurring theme is that the bereaved is hurt by the avoidance silence. Such silence  is interpreted as a trivialization of their loss. It’s the silence that literally avoids you in the grocery store. The one that scoots down another aisle, that walks to  the other side of the street. A bereaved friend of mine called that kind of silence like being a sudden member of a leper colony. Nicholas Wolterstorff, a marvelous writer, lost his young adult son, Eric, in a mountain climbing accident. He has written a book, a thin sliver of potent reflection called Lament for a Son. In it he says, “Your tears are salve on our wound, your silence is salt.” So while we might think that in that sort of avoidance silence we are doing the bereaved a favor, in actuality, for the majority of bereaved people that type of non-acknowledging avoidance silence is salt to their wound.

There’s a different kind of silence, however, and that can be the silence of solidarity. It’s where you sit as the Jews do when they sit shiva. You sit in silent solidarity, actively mourning with another person. That’s a different kind of silence than the one you feel when someone avoids you in the grocery store.

So while we might think that in that sort of avoidance silence we are doing the bereaved a favor, in actuality, for the majority of bereaved people that type of non-acknowledging avoidance silence is salt to their wound.

Mormon culture, like other Christian faiths, is based on the belief in the reality of the Savior’s resurrection and eternal life. Faith in that beautiful truth isn’t incompatible with grief. It hurts when someone questions your faith in gospel basics when you grieve a beloved’s death. As if faith would eradicate our longing for those who die. What might be peculiar to our culture is that we do emphasize a great deal that ours is a gospel of joy. That God’s plan is a plan of happiness. All of this is thrilling, marvelous and I wholly agree with and am determined to live it.

But there’s a catch. We believe in and hold as our model a Jesus Christ who was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.  And the God who revealed himself to Enoch was a God who wept openly. At the same time in Primary, we learn that “no one likes a frowny face.” Perhaps we’ve absorbed conflicting messages, and subsequently feel shame (or worse, we shame others) for feeling genuine, even bone-crushing sorrow. Maybe we get Alma’s exhortation in Mosiah 18 wrong where he talks to the people who want to enter the fold of Christ. It’s striking to reread his words. He doesn’t say, “Here is a strict list of dos and don’ts.” He says you need to – number one, top of the list – be ready to bear one another’s burdens, to suffer with others. You need to be open to sorrow, to others’ sorrow. You need to learn to actively mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort. But here’s the core of it: Alma says we are to mourn first and comfort second. I think that we might too often jump over the mourning. We want to rush in and comfort things away, in the sense that we want to make everything better, back to normal, and quickly. Mourning, though, real mourning takes energy, sympathy, focus and time. Much more time than anyone imagines. A lot of time. For some injuries, a whole life full of time.

It’s disturbing to see our family and friends who were maybe once high energy and buoyant become decrepit and sort of catatonic in their grief. One of the most comforting things that a friend ever said to us however, was, “I want you guys to know that I’ve read everything I possibly could and here is my conclusion: You’re gone. You will never be the same Randall and Melissa I knew from before.” That for me was so liberating because I knew I’d been fundamentally changed. On a cellular level, things were different and I knew that it was also going to be that way for my husband, for our relationship. Things were changed, and I didn’t have the desire or a scrap of energy to put on some happy face that might resemble the face I’d had before. I’m not suggesting that every change was for the worse. Not at all. I’ve seen that there have been many changes that have made us stronger, deeper, and I hope more compassionate people.

Has losing a child given you a different perspective of what it means to be a woman and to be a mother?

For many years as a young mother,  I felt pulled in so many directions in addition to being a mother to our children.  I had an education and a small bundle of talents and this burning, restless energy, and longed to use them. I wanted to be doing something concrete and measurable with them in the world. Then with our move to Norway I was plucked out of one kind of life and plopped into a situation where I was reduced and of necessity laser focused.  And helpless! I was helpless in that I was stripped of my former identity, support community, my language, and it was suddenly just me and my kids and the tundra. It redefined what I was doing as a woman and mother.

How did that restlessness as a mother evolve, or better, how do I see it today in the context of having buried my child? Oh, this is tender for me. Well, it’s changed my perspective entirely. Let me see if I can explain.  I tend to be hard on myself and I tend to be driven. I tend to have sometimes rather high, unrealistic and even perfectionistic expectations and I think that I might have had those also for my children. I was not the parent that was letting my kids eat Pop Tarts and Twizzlers for breakfast. I had certain standards and expectations and so while I love my children fiercely – desperately, even, to the point of making my bones ache, as we all love our children – I always kind of wanted them to be, oh, just a little bit better. You know, like I thought they were going to play the lute and speak Latin.

And quote Hamlet, right?

Well of course! Exactly! That’s what they would do between bites of organic quinoa and sips of sea weed llama milk shakes, right? Our lips never touching refined sugar, only the most refined arts!

But Parker was this big loud boy, an athlete, and a drummer, who played in orchestras and in jazz ensembles and in rock bands with his African djembe consortium in the open squares all around Paris. This is not the lute. He spoke languages fluently, not because he wanted to read Henrik Ibsen or Victor Hugo in their original, but because he was very social, an utterly life-embracing force of nature.

My itching, irritating expectations of myself and of my children changed in the sacred hours spent next to my son’s body in the ICU, when I stood over him there alone and was tutored in that silence. I was tutored by him, by his spirit, and I was tutored by the Spirit. What I experienced there was a kind of super radiance that was emanating from him that caught me completely off guard. This wasn’t something that I just concocted because I was terrified and in terrible grief and a bit disoriented in that moment. No, I was in fact very oriented in that moment. I was probably more oriented in that moment than any other moment in my life. I saw things as they are. This boy that I’d perhaps nagged or ridden somewhat, the one I’d wished would have played the lute and spoken Latin but played instead drums and played basketball and spoke great street French and Norwegian was far greater, far more refined in spirit than I had ever known as his mother. Was I blinded by my insecurities, my ambitions?

I felt also in clear statements from him his profound gratitude for me. That he kept saying, “Thank you, Mom. Thank you, Mom.” And I understood that it was the universal thanks for having given him life and for having  tried my very fumbling, lurching-forward best to be his mother. I think that his spirit must have understood, once released from his body, how much I’d struggled inwardly with the demands of being a mom and that I had put a lot of things aside for a long time because of our lifestyle so that I could be the on-site parent that was kind of holding everything together with all of these moves. So often I had considered myself a complete failure as a mother, but here was my sweet comatose child thanking me.  It breaks my heart as I think of it.

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That is part of what I learned in that ICU; I felt my son’s strength and acceptance of my efforts to be his mom, and I felt as if I wanted to kneel at the side of this altar. Not worshipping him per se, but feeling in awe of this human being that I had had the honor of giving a mortal body to and had spent eighteen and a half years with. And what I want to boldface here is that it’s not just him. It’s all of our children and it’s all of us. We are all endowed with a sort of super radiance.

I understand too well the anxiety that parents, particularly Mormon American parents—especially mothers–have about the need to raise super-achieving children. I am aware of that anxiety, but I’m constantly telling myself that my responsibility as a parent, my primary responsibility, is not to get them into a certain university or to help them get certain scholarships or mastery in an instrument, sport, or language. While those things are of value, that’s not my primary objective. My aim is to enjoy my children right now, to get to know them as great beings, to love and grow and learn with them ­– to mediate God’s love for them in their lives ­– so that they will recognize God’s presence here and now.  That prepares them to stand at any moment in God’s presence. Because that eternal moment can come at any mortal moment. And so I find myself embracing them more, embracing life more, and relishing mortality as a fragile chance to experience joy together. There is so little time, and far too little joy.

At A Glance

Melissa Dalton Bradford


Location:
Prangins, Switzerland

Age:
51

Marital status:
Married once and still

Children:
Luc (13) Dalton (17) Claire (22) Parker (deceased, would be 24)

Occupation:
writer and lecturer

Schools Attended:
Brigham Young University BA, MA

Languages Spoken at Home:
English, French, German, and Norwegian. (Also speak conversational Mandarin, but rarely at home.)

Favorite Hymn:
“If You Could Hie To Kolob”

On The Web: Melissa Writes of Passage (WordPress) and Global Mom @ Facebook

Interview by Neylan McBaine. Photos used with permission.

 

41 Comments

  1. Rosalyn
    1:49 pm on September 17th, 2013

    Melissa and Neylan, this is so beautiful. And wise. I’m so sorry for your loss, Melissa, but I’m grateful that you have the words to share your experience with us. I, at least, needed to read this today.

  2. Senora H-B
    5:20 pm on September 17th, 2013

    I can never forget the first time I read Melissa’s story on Segullah. Her beautiful communication style touched me to my very core. I am so happy to read more of her life experiences – the tragic, the fascinating, the mundane, and the ethereal. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Michelle B.
    9:08 pm on September 17th, 2013

    This post has touched me more deeply than anything I have read for a very long time. Thank you, Melissa, for this precious gift. I have known loss, too, although different than yours, and your words brought me new peace.

  4. Neylan McBaine
    8:10 am on September 18th, 2013

    From the Interview Producer: I read Melissa’s memoir before meeting her, which created a strange sense of knowing her deepest struggles and joys before she knew anything at all about me. But upon meeting, she made me feel as comfortable and loved as if she knew me as intimately as I knew her. Perhaps this is a skill honed from twenty years of making new friends around the world, or maybe it is just her innate elegance and warm heart, but I am grateful to now count Melissa among my friends.

  5. Stephanie Waite
    2:48 pm on September 18th, 2013

    I loved reading this. I could relate so well to what you wrote about grief and the tutoring at your son’s bedside. My 14 month old daughter drowned 5 years ago. I was taught very similar lessons. Thank you for sharing.

    Stephanie Waite

  6. lalaus Philippe et Georgette
    8:19 am on September 19th, 2013

    so happy to see your article from my friend Sister Winegar! i can’t wait to see you! this article will be something very precious to share for home teaching!
    sometimes i put your music at home! great music do you remember your precious voice in Versailles chapelle when i invited some street’s musiciens from the Métro, it was a great évent! Mélissa see you soon!

  7. Jeanette
    10:09 am on September 19th, 2013

    Melissa was my Humanities 101 teacher my freshman year at BYU. She was an amazing teacher and it was because of her class that I decided to major in Humanities. Thank you for such an insightful interview, and thank to you to Melissa to opening up and sharing the tender, sacred truths that she has learned. This is precisely what I needed to read today.

  8. Joan Smith
    10:18 am on September 19th, 2013

    Beautifully written and expressed. Thank you for sharing your experiences. I was enlightened, moved and my vision broadened from this reading. I needed this. Thank you.

  9. Sharlee
    12:18 pm on September 19th, 2013

    “My aim is to enjoy my children right now, to get to know them as great beings, to love and grow and learn with them ­– to mediate God’s love for them in their lives ­– so that they will recognize God’s presence here and now. That prepares them to stand at any moment in God’s presence. Because that eternal moment can come at any mortal moment. And so I find myself embracing them more, embracing life more, and relishing mortality as a fragile chance to experience joy together. There is so little time, and far too little joy.”

    Thank you, Melissa, for these words. I am printing them, and they will be placed here on my desk where I will see them and be reminded of their truth every single day.

  10. Nicole B.
    2:47 pm on September 19th, 2013

    Beautiful interview. A heartbreakingly painful reminder that life is fragile, and yet still goes on, in a new and changed way. Thank you for the insight to mourn first with those that mourn. I certainly have fallen into that trap of wanting to avoid the pain in my associations with those who have experienced loss, and I appreciate how eloquently and profoundly Melissa described her experience. This was just what my heart and soul needed to read today. I must go buy the book now. Thank you Neylan for your thoughtful questions and direction in this interview.

  11. Jody Phillips
    3:08 pm on September 19th, 2013

    Thanks for your tender words. I too have come to appreciate my children as the glorious beings they are. It has been a deeply spiritual experience.

  12. Kellianne Clarke
    6:11 pm on September 19th, 2013

    As a mother of four children living in Shanghai China for the past six weeks (and Germany before this) and anxiously waiting my husband’s return after a two week cross-continent business trip and attempting to find my daughter urgent medical care in this very foreign country, I can identify with Sister Bradford when she talks about the very personal challenges of living abroad. I find it comforting to know someone can understand what I feel even if I can’t put it into words myself. God speed, Sister Bradford. I know the heavens are watching out for us. Thank you for sharing your story.

  13. “Global Mom” by Melissa Dalton-Bradford: much more than a Memoir! « expatsincebirth
    5:18 am on September 20th, 2013
  14. Melissa Dalton-Bradford
    8:29 am on September 21st, 2013

    Dear everyone-

    Each of your comments has moved me. I simply want to sit and savor the moment. The interaction between author and reader is freighted with rich possibilities, and one of them can be that graceful swerve upward to more careful thinking and action. Your words do that for me.

    Rosalyn: I’ve read your words and observed your living, and have always been inspired.

    Senora H-B: We all have stories to share, and I’m grateful for people like you who are patient while listening to mine.

    Michelle B: That is a weighty compliment. And I do write and share (although I’m still self-conscious about doing so) so others will feel solidarity and peace.

    Neylan: I wholeheartedly champion what you are doing here and elsewhere to prod toward understanding, inclusion, sorority and freely shared gifts. Gracefulness and practical savvy are two of your trademarks. Thanks for modeling them for me.

    Georgette and Philippe: Yes, yes! I remember our music in Versailles. Je suis tellement flatté que vous auriez encore écouter cet enregistrement! Quels doux souvenirs que nous partageons ensemble.

    Jeanette: So that class evangelized you over into the Humanities? Great. We’ll call that a triumph, then. I’m very glad this interview was meaningful for you. It was for me, too.

    Joan: That’s the kind of response that gives me courage to continue writing and sharing. I’m touched you’d care to stop by and comment.

    Sharlee: And they are printed for me, too, in my heart, where I need to return again and again for daily reminders of what I have been taught. Thank you for your enduring and ennobling friendship.

    Nicole: You know, I have to reveal something: Neylan is gifted in making the interviewee as comfortable as if one were sitting cross-legged on the floor, talking by candlelight through the night. I was rendered pretty much boneless with her gentle, sensitive questions. It’s a blessing all around if people are nourished by the result.

    Jody: Thank you for adding that voice. Our children, our siblings, our parents, our neighbors, ourselves – all potentially glorious beings. Sometimes for me it is as hard as anything to retain the vision of the last in that list as being true.

    Kellianne: Why oh why is it that the crisis hits when you’re alone, partnerless?! I’ve concluded that it’s simply as it is, and can be taken as a compressed spiritual tutorial. I was forced to reach down into deep spiritual reserves and upward into light to call down power on my family through the prayer of faith when I was alone and in foreign settings in many moments of urgency (car crashes, ambulances rides to hospitals, house floods, forced break ins). And of course, as you read, I was alone when I got the call to race five hours through the night to the side of my comatose child. Peeled back, I found God’s presence, calming and pouring forth wisdom far beyond my own. God speed to you, from Switzerland to Shanghai.

    And Stephanie: I had to place my response to your comment last. Of course. My breathing changed when I read your words. Please know that I hung my head and clenched my jaw, sighing when I finished the sentence. Black grief, so horrible. I can hardly write the words. I sit next to you, heavy with sorrow, in sisterly silence.

  15. Sarah
    9:06 am on September 22nd, 2013

    Amazing, wonderful article. Thank you so much for sharing such powerful insights and experiences. It brought tears to my eyes.

  16. Jessica
    2:31 pm on September 22nd, 2013

    This is perfection. Thank you. Just thank you.

  17. Marian
    6:28 pm on September 22nd, 2013

    I grew up in a military family and lived in 10 different homes before I was 12. As an adult that pattern has continued. I have lived and worked all over the US and spent about 5 years in Japan. I think the longest I have ever lived anywhere was Delaware for 7 years. And even there my job required extensive travel. Unlike Melissa, I am single, which adds a layer of complexity to the struggle to create and find a community to call home. For most years it was wherever my mother was. Then she passed away a little over four years ago from an extended bout of breast cancer.

    The years since she passed away have been my most challenging: filled with grief for losing my greatest friend and anchor. I am grateful for all I have been blessed with. And yet, I am unsure of where I belong and where I am connected.

    Thank you for this interview. For all the great opportunities living, learning, and loving new and different adventures we all experience reminded me of how important it is look past the obvious and listen to what the spirit would share with us. How we can best love those around us.

  18. Lily
    6:46 pm on September 22nd, 2013

    Somehow I stumbled across this. What a wonderful interview to read. You seem like a very warm women. People like you are how I am striving to be. Thanks for the honest and detailed answers. It warmed my heart.

  19. Amber
    9:47 pm on September 22nd, 2013

    I read about your blog today in the deseret news/church news. I skipped to this link first from your blog. Thank you for being willing to pick up a subject so tender and shake it and examine the pieces. When a new friend, whose daughter was murdered before I knew her, described her experience with others avoiding her, it was time for serious reflection as I am unsure what I would have done had I been her life. I believed one reason could be that we are all secretly or, not so secretly, terrified of experiencing the loss of a child, let alone in a violent way. To mourn would be admitting to that vulnerability. Much easier to comfort with tasks. I resolved to learn and to change. This interview provides me with the vocabulary. With loss, I will no longer try to jump to comfort, as you so beautifully put it. Thank you for the lesson in mourning.

  20. Melissa Dalton-Bradford
    11:09 pm on September 22nd, 2013

    Sarah: And thank you for reading and bringing your sensitivities to the exchange.

    Jessica: Thanks to you, too.

    Marian: “To look past the obvious and listen to what the spirit would share with us.” Yes, yes, if I could live with that sort of deliberate submission to those spiritual influences, my life would be a greater blessing to me and to others. You hit on it. Your mother must have been – must still be – a powerful presence.

    Lily: Your response warms my heart. Thank you for daring to come in and comment. It’s courageous.

    Amber: I’m glad you wrote this word, “vulnerability” It it terrifying, yes, yet can be a portal to tremendous growth. With all our modern fascination with power and control, it seems we resist being rendered vulnerable, fearing we’ll lose stature and composure. The image-fixated and sound-byte nature of social media feeds on all of this, I think: the perfect moment, perfect picture, perfect tag line. . .I’m finding that it could be that some of our most transformative opportunities emerge from being broken wide open, reduced, from having our weakness and imperfections exposed. Something good comes from not staging some perfect moment, not looking like the perfect picture, not having the perfect scripted tag line. It comes from openness to influences that need us to be cracked wide open.

    You’re right: that’s terrifying, even if we’re just entering that vulnerability vicariously, as observers of another’s loss. Example: A mother of several children approached me in tears after being in the same congregation for the first 3 years after losing our son. She had never dared speak to me directly, addressing our loss. Her sorrow? Her words: “You have to forgive me. It’s a mother’s greatest nightmare. I just couldn’t get close to it.”

    I’ve learned much from such normal, human responses.

  21. Carinne
    11:06 pm on September 23rd, 2013

    I found your interview interesting…for several reasons. I too lost a son….to drowning. He passed away over 6 years ago. He was 7 1/2, and severely Autistic. There is a whole conversation just surrounding my feelings about him, the experience (or I should say ‘our new normal’), my struggles, the intense spirituality that was his life and death. I found so many shared feelings as I read your experience. I also found it interesting as you talked about the down side to having moved around so much. I’ve been feeling desperate to move. I’ve felt desperate to experience something new and be ‘on my own’. I am surrounded by too much family, in a place I’ve lived my entire life.. At the same time, we have also been surrounded by so much love and support – not just from family – but wonderful friends. People who knew our son and cared for him. People who grieved along side us and continue to miss him. Now those same people care for our other children, including another special needs child. Its was just want I needed to be reminded of how much that stability and support has meant to me.

  22. Laurel
    7:51 am on September 24th, 2013

    I have raised my children and am enjoying the years of grandmotherhood. The challenge now is to help my adult children see that “super radiance” in each other, in spite of problems and disappointments. Thank you for your insightful, soul-searching article. It still resonates at my age, too.

  23. Melissa Dalton-Bradford
    12:07 am on September 25th, 2013

    Carinne: Isn’t it odd? It seems the feral hunger in the gut of grief makes us yearn and claw for something and no single mortal thing is going to quell the ache. One factor does seem consistent in all I’ve lived and studied, though; survivors want their loved one to be included in a living, breathing, ongoing community. Your sweet autistic son’s life mattered, and matters still within a community that actively acknowledges him. He was a once-mortal reality and is continually present in his mortal absence.

    I’m so sorry that he drown. I have a hard time with water still.

    And “intense spirituality” of both his life and his death. What a ravishing description. Bless you.

  24. Melissa Dalton-Bradford
    12:12 am on September 25th, 2013

    Laurel:

    I think in ten years or so I might be where you are. I’ll keep your words in mind for that day. At present, I’m the adult child, and my aging parents are faced with the same challenge you have, hoping we adults will see others’ super radiance in spite of all the “problems and disappointments” of normal mortal chaos. We must remain hopeful!

  25. Eline
    7:59 am on September 28th, 2013

    Kjære Melissa
    I remember you from Norway/Sandvika!:) you were singing ” summertime” at the ” vår konsert” , it took my breath away and you looked like a hollywood star.! Still does:) Wounderful reading from a wonderfull person. Thank you for sharing.
    klem fra Eline Amundsen ( datteren til Sidsel og Espen Amundsen og Gautes søster. han bor fortsatt i sandvika:) )

  26. Melissa Dalton-Bradford
    10:58 pm on September 29th, 2013

    Kjaere Elin,
    Men men. . .Jeg husker deg, det gjør jeg, od husker hele Amundsen familien. Så smigret at du har funnet veien til denne kommentarboksen, og at du tør å etterlate noen få ord til meg. Takk så mye for det, Elin. Få hils hele familien din!

    Yes, I sang a lot in Norway, and some of my very best memories of singing are connected with singing at church. As you know, Norwegians don’t just love music, but have a high level of musicianship. Like your family. They start singing as children and never stop! I miss that and miss our years in your very special country. Stor klem fra meg!

  27. Kristee
    11:05 am on October 6th, 2013

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I related to it, to the very depth of emotions expressed into words. It has left me wondering just how do we mourn with those that mourn?

  28. Erin
    8:28 pm on October 7th, 2013

    Lovely, beautiful post. I loved reading it and the comments all so beautifully written.

    Thank you for the reminder of our purpose as parents and thank you to the blog creators. This is one of my favorite blogs and it’s so helpful to read about real Mormon women.

    I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing it with us and giving the analogy of the salve/salt. I will remember that next time I mourn with those who mourn.

  29. Melissa Dalton-Bradford
    6:45 am on October 9th, 2013

    Kristee and Erin:

    The more I live, the more I adjust to carrying a certain loss through my daily life, the more I talk with so many who have lost, the more I am convinced that mourning is one of the most sacred acts. By searching for and with the Spirit, we can experience the fiber that stitches our hearts to each other and our souls to God.

    This is why, as much as people want the foolproof recipe for How To Mourn With Others, one does not exist. It can’t. Grief is so fluid – sometimes violently churning in its fluidity – and so we won’t step into the same place twice when we come to a friend in grief. And from person to person, grief and mourning will look different. Mourning (like co-mourning) is hard work. It is very, very hard work.

    So the best we can hope for is to focus on the Spirit, I think, and get our egos, personal concerns or hangups out of the way, and follow those promptings. I’ve seen how people in my own little life have come at the right time with the right words (or the right silence), and that the result has been a bonding with that person that will, I believe, last eternally.

    There is a responsibility, too, on the shoulders of the one grieving. That will be to forgive. People will do and say things that kick you, the bereaved, square in the gut, take your breath away, and even send you running for cover. Or send you running from church. We must learn to forgive quickly and cleanly, so we, too, can keep the Spirit. The Spirit IS the Comforter. We won’t feel true comfort without that sublime and transformative power.

  30. Breezy
    2:09 pm on October 9th, 2013

    Melissa,

    Thank you for sharing so beautifully you’re testimony and experiences. Clearly you were meant to make a difference in so many lives. My brother’s death is eerily very similar to you own son’s – 18 yrs/o, died trying to help his cousin who was sucked into a culvert (and yes there was a little whirlpool). Yet, one difference being that he died in a very close knit, anti-mormon community. His death shocked the community and missionary opportunities swelled. I completely agree with everything you had to say about grieving and misconceptions in the Church. While my family has healed, and we love to talk about my brother, it was and continues to be a painful event. It’s taken my parents 8 years to finally write of that night. I’d love to share it with you, yet I hesitate to publish my mother’s blog site here. If you’re interested, feel free to contact me and I’ll be happy share the link – with my mom’s permission of course.

    Best, Breezy

  31. Melissa Dalton-Bradford
    8:12 am on October 12th, 2013

    Breezy:

    That’s really something. What an unbelievable cluster of commonalities. So sad. Cursed culverts and hidden whirlpools! I am so struck by the story, and do understand a measure of your anguish, and am so heavy-hearted at what you’ve been through and certainly continue to process, even so many years out. . .

    That’s simply the nature of major loss like yours, isn’t it? And it doesn’t surprise me in the least that your parents have been unable, until now, to finally pin down in words the chaos of feelings that I know churn violently around that terrible night. The instant that splits Before and After. It took me nearly six years to utter the words, “dead” and “died” with any reference to my son. So I do understand to some extent, I do. Bless you all!

    Please leave a message on my Global Mom: A Memoir FB page, Breezy, and I’ll communicate with you about your mother’s blog site.

  32. Jenny
    3:00 pm on October 16th, 2013

    I love when your thoughts and words move and inspire me. They leave such an impression on my soul that I am left in deep reflection. We (women of faith) as sisters have many similarities. Some are mothers, others have similar griefs, but not one of us is exempt from feeling pain, loss or sometimes, it seems, insurmountable suffering. The only thing that helps me stare it head on is knowing that God weeps and Christ has experienced it all so profoundly. Thank you for your open and honest life. My friend.

  33. Laura
    9:02 pm on October 22nd, 2013

    I learned so much about grief and mourning with others, and mothering, and finding yourself by reading this. Thank you.

  34. Patti Cook
    2:05 pm on October 24th, 2013

    Grief. Isolation. Pain. Doubt. And faith. Thank you for the intimate look into your life and how you have handled being an international family and also how you handled the loss of your child. Your words painted pictures I will not soon forget.

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  36. Melissa Dalton-Bradford
    3:21 am on November 3rd, 2013

    Jenny, Laura, Patti:

    Thanks to each of you for taking time to come by here. Neylan had created something rich in this site, and I’m humbled to have been asked to add my voice.

    God weeps. What comfort lies in the truth. I am still learning about grief and mourning with others, and about the possibilities of learning from both. And oh my, I will never learn enough in this life about mothering. Seems I’m always ill-equipped for what its education requires of me, an awkward student. Hence, my self doubts. . . and my deep faith in and reliance upon God.

  37. julianne
    2:16 pm on November 26th, 2013

    Oh! How clearly I remember you, Soeur Bradford, and Parker, and your whole family when you lived in that fabulous appartement by Invalides. I was a lowly 20 year old BYU exchange student in Paris that fall semester, when you opened your home to all of us as a ‘group visiting teacher’ :) We all left talking of nothing but how much you inspired us with your grace, testimony, and gorgeous French! :) Until reading this interview, I had no idea you lost Parker. That is a tragedy that is too hard to bear, my heart feels so heavy. Pregnant with my first child, reading your words about the arch of motherhood, from life to death, is really too moving.

    Just know that moving from place to place, you have touched many lives, even if from so far off, people you no longer remember! I can attest to that personally.

    Much love to your whole family.

  38. Melissa Dalton-Bradford
    5:17 pm on December 18th, 2013

    Julianne, That group visiting teaching moment in our Paris apartment has come back to me many times over since 2007. Do you know why? I recall one of you bright, glistening young students asking if, when I was a 20 year old college student, I’d ever thought my life would be as it had. And I know just what I said, because my own words floated to the surface of my memories in the fall of 2007, months after burying our boy. It was than my mind settled enough to register anything other than shock. I said, “Yes, I feel so blessed, undeserving, really. I mean, look! I’ve been spared tragedy. I’ve lost no one. We’re all still here!”

    And we all laughed.

    How quickly that changed. While it’s taken time and work and the “awful grace of God” (Aeschylus) to say what I’m now going to say, I want you to know that I share it with conviction: Serious, soul-puncturing loss notwithstanding, I see more today than I did in my unscathed life, that I am still hugely blessed, still undeserving of the life God has given and re-given.

    So happy to hear you are expecting your first! Now THAT is a moving story.
    Avec tant d’amour.

  39. Dori Shaner
    12:58 am on January 7th, 2014

    Dearest Melissa,

    A friend of Dallin’s sent me the link to this interview, not knowing of our connection and I am so thankful she did. I have shed a lot of tears for you and Randall over the years since Parker’s death. Even now reading this interview I have tears running down my cheeks.

    Who would have thought 22+ ago when Emmelie, Dallin and Parker were playing together in our tiny townhouse in Harleysville, PA that our lives were going to take us down such amazing, unsuspected paths! You so eloquently express so much of what I feel and have felt over the years living abroad.

    I am now halfway through your book and I absolutely love it. What fun it has been to read about Norway and the culture and people I loved so much while we were there. You are such a gifted writer. I have laughed until tears were running down my cheeks (the boat ride) and have cried several times as well. As Parker’s accident is coming soon in the book, I am trying to be brave as I know it will be extremely emotional for me.

    Reading your book has made me long to spend a few days with you to just sit and talk and laugh and cry together! What a blessing it was to to see you at the women’s conference in HK, even if we didn’t have much time together. I am also thankful Colton was able to stay with you in Singapore and had so much fun with Luc.

    Thank you for sharing your amazing talents!

    Love,

    Dori

  40. Tracy McIntyre-Leach
    8:50 pm on January 22nd, 2014

    I am looking for Dori Shaner I believe that I found you! I have been thinking about Emmelie and I cannot seem to find her under her maiden or married name! Is this you? You guys also lived on Jocelyn Ct and are filled with my fondest childhood memories! I do apologize as this message is not for the author but for a long-lost friend from grade-school!

  41. yikangwang
    9:40 pm on May 18th, 2014

    Dearest Melissa,
    First I’d like to introduce myself to you,I’m a postgraduate in Anhui University from China.Maybe you haven’t heard of it,anyway, it doesn’t matter. I’m majoring in Foreign linguistics and applied linguistics and translation. In March, I got an opportunity of translating your book, I started in May the 17th., now I’m proceeding to Chapter 18. What I wanna tell you is that I love your book, love the beautiful sceneries you described in this book about Norway and France. To be honest, I’m fascinated about it and completely submerged myself into it. As a student, I feel it is both a challenge and a pleasure to translate your book cause I can’t convey exactly what you feel to our Chinese readers, but I’m determined to try my best to complete this book. I bet Chinese readers will love your book. Many thanks. Hope one day I can meet you in person and talk about my translation process. I’d like to hear from you.
    yikangwang

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