Tuesday, October 25, 2016

For Thor - 72 - Solace by the Sea

Hi, Bubby, my love.

So much has happened since I last wrote to you. The main thing is that Dad and I went on a retreat for bereaved parents down in Kill Devil Hills, NC. I knew we needed to go, Dad was not so sure about the trip, but he was willing to be there for me. He would walk through fire for me. As it turned out, that level of dedication wasn't needed. The retreat lived up to its name, "Solace by the Sea." We gained new insight into how to walk this terrible road of grief as both individuals and as a couple. Thinking about this time together later, I realized that this was the first time he and I had the space to grieve, together, without anything else going on. In all these months we haven't found space, time or safety to be together in grief. This past weekend we were free of the usual stressors that block us from feeling how we feel and being able to talk about it. This fact alone made the trip worth it. But there was so much more, and it took a lot of courage to be open to what might happen.

Before the retreat I could maintain a somewhat conceptual view of you being dead, it seemed dreamlike or surreal. I could imagine you had gone on a trip to Mars and were hurtling through space in cryo-sleep. I could suppose you had somehow tricked us all and cheated death and were alive and thriving among The Fae. I see you in my mind's eye whole and hale and so full of life that I can refute the evidence that you died. But something happened when I placed your photo, fireman's badge, guitar pick and a few other little items on the altar alongside the photos and treasured mementos shared by the other parents in remembrance of their beloved children. Your handsome face shone forth from a picture frame surrounded by the beautiful pictures of your new tribe; a tribe of child-angels who look over and guide their parents from the other side.

My mind didn't want to grapple with it at first. How is it possible that we were there and that your picture was on that table? How is it possible that Dad and I have to learn to talk to each other about you, our dead son? How is it possible that we became part of a story that is so intensely eviscerating without our consent? We had lived blithely in a bubble of secure protection for so long; sure tragedies happen, but not to us. Right? Well, that bubble blew the fuck up on Dec 31st and left us broken, bloody, naked and ill-equipped to face the storm, the aftermath of your death. And even after all these months of writing to you, crying, floor pacing and hand wringing, I can still imagine it didn't happen. Right up until I saw your photo on that table and began to listen to the stories shared about each of those precious lives cut short. I heard the stories of Theo, Joel, Austin, Michael, Logan, Nicholas, Brooke, Nikki, Jacob, Madalyn, Tyler, Matthew, Julia, Matt, and Charlie. And as Dad and I shared your story right along with them, a new level of knowing clicked into place. We are bereaved parents of our dead son. We share the sacred journey of loss and love with the parents who've had to say goodbye to their sons and daughters too soon.

And that was just the beginning, something profound happened when we did an exercise where we paired up, and each had 30 minutes to tell our partner about our children. The idea was that later we would each share what we heard about our partner's child with the rest of the group. I was eager to talk about you, Thor. I don't often get to do that. I wanted the group to get to know you, how brilliant and awesome you are. So I rambled about various things for 30 minutes while my partner took notes. When the time was up, I felt like I could have talked so much longer, like I had so much more to say. And when we came back together later I listened as my partner related what I had shared with her about you; the snapshot into your life here with us and what kind of amazing person you were in life. She had listened well.

Later when I went to bed, I broke down in tears and sobbed. I hadn't done you justice. I hadn't told the most amazing things about you or even the most iconic. I forgot to say how much you loved to play guitar and loved anything with a motor. I didn't tell her how you captured everyone's heart with a flash of a smile and those lovely blue eyes, including the lady at Giant Eagle when you were just 2 years old. I forgot to say how you used to hate cheese until you discovered pizza. I didn't tell her how you fit so perfectly in my arms when you were a baby and that we took naps together. I didn't share how much you loved machines and trucks and guns and the outdoors. I hadn't remembered the best parts of the story of your life; I had generalized and conceptualized your character illustrated by only a few tales told in a rush of words.

A sickening realization dawned on me; I had no idea how to talk about you. As a matter of fact, I don't think anyone has ever asked me, "Tell me about your son, Thor." I didn't know how to relate the funny, real, interesting, quirky, loveable details of you, Thor. I have to practice sharing the details that made up your life and shaped the man you had grown into being. In the morning I told one of the other mothers how I felt and she said she felt the same way, so I didn't feel quite so alone in my self-beratement. We had come face to face with a new aspect of the journey, learning how to talk about our dead children. Totally intense.

Thankfully, the ocean was our constant touchstone and she offered her vast expanse to absorb the heartache, pain, sorrow, regret, guilt, sadness, loneliness, endless tears and so many emotions or states of being. We threw rocks into the ocean after writing a word on them that encapsulated something we want to leave behind. I wrote Loneliness and Uncertainty both of which stem from this feeling of being utterly broken and somehow irretrievably damaged. I wrote those words on the rock and flung it into the sea. Then we picked up a shell or another stone to write word symbolizing something we wish to take with us. I wrote Love. Self-love, Universal Love, All-encompassing Love. Love of Family. The Love that binds you to me and all of us, Thor. It's the only thing I could think of that is changeless and could remedy the loneliness and uncertainty I feel in my heart.

Dad and I took some walks on the beach, and one time we headed out across the highway and over to the top of the Wright Brothers Memorial. The last time we were there was with all of you boys in 2009. Ghostly echoes of that beautiful May day played in my mind as we ascended the top of the memorial hill. I remembered taking one of my favorite photos up there, the one where you three brothers stood beneath the words "THE BROTHERS" etched in the stone. I opted for a selfie in front of the word FAITH; it just felt right. It's gonna take a lot of faith to keep moving through this process to where we can live a life with joy, again.

On the last night of the retreat, we did a simple remembrance ritual, lighting a candle for our children and saying their name. We stood in a circle under the night sky full of shooting stars and the sound of the surf pounding the shore. Our faces lined by tears and the warm candle glow that represented the lives and love of our children. I realized that we hadn't done any formal ritual for you, Thor, since the funeral. And once again, I was struck by the fact that I have now joined the ranks of "candle lighters," of the vigil holders that I could only peripherally imagine before. And I was so moved, opened and shifted in that simple gathering. The flame that represented you, Thor, shone brightly alongside the others as we arranged the candles in the shape of a heart. Each child's life, legacy, love, and memory were added to the whole like a bead on a wire. Each candle shone brightly as a treasured piece of our collective heart, the new tribe defined by shared loss, utter heartbreak and our ultimate transformation.

I learned a lot, Thor, some of which I won't understand until it unfolds and unpacks itself in its own time. The way continues to reveal itself day by day, moment by moment. As solitary as this journey is, now I don't have to walk it alone all the time. Your dad and I are finding new ways to reconnect through and across the ocean of grief that swells and rages between us. And now we have connected with other beautiful souls who understand the daily struggle to find the courage to take a step, and then another and then one more. We step bravely into the new way of being that incorporates and encompasses all the grief as a beautiful expression of the deepest love. It is a terrible and magnificent road we walk now hand in hand and heart to heart. I am so grateful to have found Colleen, Doug, Cheryl, Tamera, Cindy, Susan, David, Joanna, Karolane, Michelle, Tamara, Karrie, Karla and Jamie.

What a journey, my boy. What a trip. I'm leaning in, staying open and being simultaneously brave and vulnerable. I say Our Family Blessing every day, several times a day and it really helps me connect with you and, well, everything. I feel you most clearly when I am still and open-hearted, and that's the best feeling of all. 

I love you, 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

For Thor - 71 - The Line Between Bravery & Foolishness

I cried myself to sleep last night. And the night before that. I woke this morning to see the sunrise through teary eyes. Tears fell in the car, at the soccer field, in the shower and while cooking supper, yesterday.

Friday night was family night at the funeral home for Uncle Dick's mama. I wanted to go, for the family. This is the first time one of our generation (my sibs and spouses) has lost a parent, and it was important to me to be there; like they were there for me. It was the first time I'd been in that room since your service, Thor and I tell you what, it might have been brave to try, but there is a fine line between bravery and foolishness. I landed just a bit on the foolish side of that proposition, I'd say. As much as I love my sister and Dick, I think it would have been better if I hadn't tried quite so hard. But we never know our limits unless we test them, right? And now I know a little more about myself than I did on Friday morning. Even foolishness has its benefits, I suppose.

Would it be bad never to go to another funeral as long as I live? I don't know that this is the answer, but right now I'll do just about anything to avoid a full-sensory flashback like the one triggered on Friday. The whole experience was surreal, from walking up to the door of Dunkum Funeral Home and catching the first whiff of the smell in the room to the lighting and the energy vibration, I was transported in time, space and emotion to January 4th. I could not clearly see what was in front of me, the sweet family of a lovely woman who had left this earth too soon. Her photo and the flowers surrounding it floated like a ghostly image superimposed over other images; terrible images, seared forever in my mind. All I could see was you laying in that damned box with a gazillion flowers in a stunning array around you. All I could smell was the mums, roses, and sunflowers that draped the coffin and lent their natural beauty to make this worst moment just a little bit brighter. I shakily hugged a few people, the ones I had braved this environment to see, but the tears wouldn't stop. Hugging someone in that space, the space of grief, was like hugging people from that night in January when I embraced over 800 folks who came to say farewell to you.

It was clear I had to leave. The evening wasn’t about you and me, Thor. It was for someone else's pain and loss as we come together and take a moment to cherish a particular life. But for me, there was nothing else happening other than the vivid Technicolor replay of your funeral. It felt like I was going crazy with an alternate reality running alongside the one my body was currently occupying. All my senses turned traitor, adding to the full immersion experience. I could feel your cold hands, and I marveled at your beautiful hair as I caressed it one last time. I traced the funny little curve in your ear that I've loved since I first nuzzled it, you just a newborn babe. I stroked your cheek and tried to make believe it was not ice cold and hard…I tried to remember the last time you hugged me and how you smelled then, warm, clean sweat, laundry soap and you. I tried to block out the formaldehyde smell that clung to you as you lay lifeless in that damned box. Oh, yes. I had to get out of there.

My goodness. People are kind. Aunt La, Aunt Poorna and Aunt Radha along with your sweet dad and many friends, they helped me get done what I came to do; pay my respects and offer my love for the family. So many kind smiles and feelings of tenderness came our way, as everyone knew that it was hard for your brothers and dad to be there, too. So even though my mind was stuck in a dreadful place, there were lifelines of love that helped me get back to the current moment. We stepped outside into the twilit evening to head home. I breathed out forcefully, clenched and unclenched my fists, and shook my head. Dad offered to drive, but I welcomed the distraction of engaging my mind in an ordinary task. Riding as a passenger would allow me to linger with the pain.

I had escaped but not before uncorking a fresh bottle of memories and emotions. Holy shit! It hurts so badly, still. As we were driving home, Dad put his foot down and forbade me to attend the service the next day. He knows the signs of a crash coming. He's only ever firmly stopped me from doing anything two times in twenty-two years. This is one of them. I knew he was right, so I acquiesced without my usual defiance and let out another cleansing breath.

That night the moon rose fat and bright over the horizon. As I lay down, the silvery light drenched my bedroom. It looked like Angel Light to me, radiating with a soft glow that felt like angel wings wrapped around my heart. I sensed you right there, lending comfort as my tears slid silent and unending to soak my pillow.

I'll never stop missing you.

I love you,

Friday, October 14, 2016

For Thor - 70 - Melty Edgelessness, For the Win

Do you know why the ocean is the master of all the waters? It's not because it's the largest and it's not because there are whales. Although whales are freaking cool. And dolphins. I adore dolphins. The ocean is the master of all the waters because it rests beneath them. All rivers and streams run their sparkling courses through hill and wood to eventually end their journey in the vastness of the ocean, where it waits with infinite patience in the total knowledge that it already encompasses them all.

A few days ago my little skiff was bobbing wildly down a raging river. Anxiousness and worry spun the river (my mind) into frothy whitewater. A raging river is loud and distracting, and like a drunk monkey, it demands attention. It threatens to dash me on the rocks and tumble my raft in the rapids. I naturally rise to engage and fight the current, battle the waves and stare down the boulders in my path. I take on the identity of a person who needs to gain control of the situation. The terrible thing about this is that it's a no-sum game. I would be doing battle with my mind, the illusions of demons that don't exist outside the thoughts that bounce around in my skull; the lies I tell myself about how I'm not good enough. If I continue engaged like that, I will end up where my attention was set, dashed on the rocks. Instead, I remembered a lesson learned on the night you were born, Thor. And it calmed that river right down.

Hurricane Fran had pummeled us with over ten inches of rain in one day. The trees swayed in the wind and bent starkly under rain-soaked leaves. As the storm approached it did more than just knock out the power and flood the rivers; it triggered labor. Planning to have a home birth, I called the power company to see how long it would be before I could flick on the lights. The man advised me to evacuate to a hospital since the substation that supplied our area was under ten feet of water and that it would be at least three days before we could expect to have power restored. Oh, holy Lord! I was unwilling to consider a going to the emergency room to give birth to you. It didn't feel right; it was not our story. So, your dad and I decided to stay and make do with what we had along with heavy reliance on the advice of our midwife, Nana and Aunt La.

At one point Nana and our beloved midwife suggested I stop walking around and try to rest awhile. I laid down on the sofa, sweaty in the sweltering humidity of late summer in Virginia, and had a conversation with the Great Unknown. I thought about the countless numbers of women, my ancestral sisters and mothers, who had given birth under the stars, on the plains, in cabins, caves, yurts, teepees, and igloos. I thought about the countless mothers who breathed in and out to tap the power of the Earth so they could bring their babes safely to life. Mentally, I linked arms with this vast sisterhood and turned my attention inside. I would do this freestyle, without the carefully wrought plan we had created over the past months. And without running water, or power or anything else save the love, support and experience of those who attended this blessed event. (Your dad was a rock star, btw!) I breathed in and out, in and out, innnnn and ouuuut. Surrender it to God. Surrender it all. Accept no blame, nor praise. Just be here now and allow life to be lived through me. Breathe innnnn and ouuuuut….all the tension left my body rendering me edgeless and free. You and I were so connected at that moment, Thor. I felt you saying "we got this mama." And so I was resolved to a primitive homebirth with whatever resources we could garner at the moment. With a final exhale, I let it go.

In that very instant, the power came on! The ceiling fan started spinning, and the air conditioner sputtered to life. I laughed aloud and whooped! I don't know if surrendering allowed the power to come on or if it was coincidence, but I can tell you that taking a position of surrender was the best thing I could have done for me, and us. It's impossible to fall off the floor, right?

The lesson is one of surrender and faith. All rivers lead to the ocean. If I wish to be the master of my life not a refugee in it, I need to cultivate a state of being that allows for the continuous experience of love. Allow my stance to remain humble, vulnerable, kind and patient. This means being kind to myself, too. We are often our own worst enemies. My thoughts can cut like knives into the tender places in my heart, bleeding me dry of precious energy, disconnecting me from Peace and Love. The anxious thoughts and passing fancies are not real; they are fabrications made up of old tapes, old stories, old hurts. They are the ghosts of the past coming to haunt the present and seeking to derail the future with fear and doubt.

This week I grappled hard with the concept of resilience as I tried to pick myself up from that sad, angry, low place. In the months since your death, I've gained a measure of resilience as it related to me, individually. I can focus inside to tap in and find that calm, deep peace from which all creation springs. It's like cold, clear water in a desert. Nothing is better. The rub for me is when I get involved with the world and have to find this resilience when faced with all the various agendas, ideas, needs, struggles, pain, suffering and terrible beauty that surrounds me. In these interactions the connection to peace is tested. I'm out of control in these situations, and that makes me edgy, not edgeless. Other people's decisions, actions, and timeline can affect the daily life of my family, and this vulnerability spins up anxious thoughts and cues the frantic doingness that I just don't want anymore.

I went for several long walks along sun-dappled lanes and tree-lined rivers to spend some time in silence and prayer. I intentionally worked to reconcile the truth of the situation with the inner dialogue that was running amok. It took some doing, and I didn't get it right the first time out. I still struggle with this at times, because being vulnerable, open and bright is hard to do when one is looking for a job. Job-seeking seems to bring out the bullshit adjectives splashed across a resume and forces us to cover the soft places in our beings, to leverage interactions. It spawns a tendency toward fakeness that makes me physically ill. I want to do it differently. There is something attractive, like a magnet, in people who are authentically strong and vulnerable, humble and wise, silent and yet so clearly heard. I want to be like this in the world, melty and edgeless and also clear and focused. "From an authentic state of being with love and open hearts…" Right out of the Family Blessing, right? This is it. This is the next level of reconciliation work I'm doing, Thor. And it all stems out of the work I'm doing as I mourn and grieve you, my sweet boy. There is a heart opening that has let me glimpse the connectedness of all that is. To let that go unexplored and uncultivated would be to walk away from you and the spiritual call to expand, grow, learn and radiate light.
I played with some images to envision and empower this idea of having melty edgelessness in juxtaposition to being clear, focused and incisive. The best thing I could think of was spicy, hot nacho cheese! Delicious, memorable, goes with just about anything, totally useful. The idea had me tipping my head back to whoop with wild laughter, only the trees and the outline of the mountains bore witness to what might have looked like a mad woman in the wood. But I know you were laughing too, shaking your head and wiping tears from your eyes. I imagined you saying, "That's nacho mama, that's my mama!" Cue more giggles.

I'm no longer seeking a job. I put myself out there in a way that was as honest and clear as I could be. I stumbled and fell as I grappled with the insecurity and vulnerability of that position. But the risk paid off, a job offer rests in my email inbox along with several other rich possibilities for additional collaboration. There is always energy behind the right thing, and this is the right thing, with the right people and at the right moment. I am not sure if crying "Uncle" is required for the gift of grace to be bestowed, but as soon as I surrendered and smiled from the melty nacho-cheesy Love in my heart, the call came.

Why take a chance? Surrender it all now. Give it up, now. Accept no praise, nor blame. It all belongs to God. My only job is to keep showing up, with that empty cup, like the ocean that rests beneath all the waters. Let Life be lived through me.

Be the ocean. Be humble. Rest beneath everything in a position of infinite love and patience. Everything comes to you there.

I love you,

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

For Thor - 69 - Stumble & Fall

Trying to keep my head above water feels like a full-time gig. As if dealing with the constant disbelief and grief of losing you isn't enough, I am now unemployed. Shit happens, they say. The money runs out, and things move on; the company pivots and leaves some of us behind to figure it out on our own. I am grateful for the time, space, afforded me to catch my breath. But it's too short; the world spins with a sickening lurch. It's too quick, and there is no warning, no sign; End of the Road Ahead. There is no solid ground under my feet as I frantically seek traction, like Wile E Coyote when he realizes he's off the edge of the cliff. I have to keep up, catch up, man up, pony up, get up…get up off the fucking ground where I fell when they told me you died and where I've been mentally for all these months…and walk ahead.

How am I supposed to do this? I still feel broken. Damaged. Not whole. I've made progress; it's true. I'd say was at 50% of the functionality, rationality, execution, decisiveness and the flat-out badassery that I had before Dec 31. But now I face a steep re-entry curve that looms over me. I read adverts for positions, jobs that I once would have eaten for lunch, and I feel threatened by the language in those descriptions. The list of must haves is intimidating and shines a harsh light on the jagged edges of the hole in my heart, my absence from the workforce this past year, the rusty skills and troubled mind…I feel unfit…and scared. The world is hard, and I am too soft.

Grief has tumbled me in the waves until I am smooth and edgeless. I lack the sharp elbows and pointy thinking that the world values so much. Wanted: Go-getters with can-do attitudes. Wanted: Sharp, professional, high-energy, high-performance Olympians with no emotional strife. Wanted: Someone who's mind is analytical, clinical, architectural, logical - not reeling and blown-away by the loss of her son. Good lord. What am I good for now? Being a grandma? Canning pickles? Raising sheep?

The urgency of finding a job has me scurrying in a rapid succession of "doings." And as that pace picks up, I am more and more despondent. I could hardly get out of bed this morning to face another day of "doing" something, but I'm not sure what and I'm not sure why and I'm not sure if it’s the right move for my family and me. I am not supposed to be "doing" like that. I've learned that in the past ten months. But if not that, then what? What? What the hell am I supposed to be doing? The bedcovers can't protect me from the harshness of the dialogue in my mind.

The energy is ALWAYS behind the thing that's right. Waiting for it to reveal itself is the hard part. Not filling the moments with frantic activity is impossible as the old paradigm of my chronic "do-ership" takes over. My heart is screaming at me to STOP!!!! I can hear you, Thor, telling me to STOP!!! And I do, for a nanosecond. Just long enough to realize that I'm freaking the fuck out and that won't help anyone. But then it starts all over, again, spinning up to drown out the sense of peace and connection I've worked so hard to reclaim over the past ten months.

I don't know the answer. I just know that the universe has decided to push me off the edge one more time. The journey toward the new me is not complete, so there is no point in resting here. I would start homesteading if I had found a single place where I could settle in and look around. Cue Universe: "Not so fast there, Cassandra!" a voice says as a bony finger reaches out to fling her into the unknown. I feel like a refugee in my own life some days; that's just sad, and I hate it. Or maybe it's inevitable for a seeker to be ever on the move, never settling down, always evolving, growing, learning. But what does that look like in practical, bill paying, grocery buying terms? I have no flipping clue.

All of this upheaval, as stressful as it is, is merely an echo of the explosion I realized when you died. I thought I might be stronger than this…and that may be true, but I don't feel strong. I don't feel good at all. Paper mache is more durable than how I feel today. I bullshit my way through, donning a mask over the swirling, sucking whirlpool of grief, and now uncertainty, that spins in my heart. Gut wrenching agony still grips me in the middle of the night when the memory of your death comes calling. All of this and I'm supposed to go forth and reinvent myself? Holy shit. "How?", I ask. What more can I give?

The worst part of all of this is that when the cacophony blares in my mind, I feel disconnected from you. And that breaks my heart all over again. I've tried so hard to face this head on, to feel everything, to learn how to live and breathe again. I feel more adrift than ever now. I've stumbled and fallen, hard, Thor. I need a hand up. But more than that, to have the way forward revealed would be great. I feel like I'm wandering around in a desert with no map and no destination.

A deep despondence blows in with the cold wind of early Fall; it is insidious and toxic. I know this, and I'll need to untangle myself from its tentacles if I am to survive. Grief and despondence team up in horrible ways; they make me feel that nothing is important, that nothing matters, that the struggles of life are inane and pointless. Yeah, I'm pretty fucking low right now, Bubby.

Glimmers of Faith and Grace do shine through, at times, like stars peeking out on a cloudy night. I know they are there and I can feel them working for and through me. But it's like I'm a patient in surgery, anesthetized and unresponsive, while they perform their transformation and healing. All I can do right now is keep showing up, with that empty cup. I check my mind for the wrong and hurtful thoughts, try to replace them with something positive. I sit in meditation, as futile as that is lately with the runaway team of horses in charge of my mind, for a few moments and say Our Family Blessing. I write to you, here. All the while I feel like I'm riding a tiny skiff down a raging river. I can hear you saying, "Hang on!" and "Have Faith!" The river must go somewhere, right? I just hope I don't drown before I find out where.

If you stumble make it part of the dance, right? Sigh... Here, I'll try...

I pray for bold, courageous daring to flood into my sails and for inspiration to set the rudder toward a shining star. That's all I got for now. It'll have to do.

I love you,

Monday, October 3, 2016

For Thor - 68 - Autumn in the Air

The weather turned chilly over the past few days. We shut off the air conditioner and opened the windows to let in the smell of wet leaves and rain. Yesterday was the first day of archery season, and our hearts broke, again. It's your favorite time of year, and you aren't here to sift through the storage bins of hunting apparel and gear. You aren't here to don yourself in camo from head to foot and perch in a tree stand for hours waiting for a buck to pass by your line of sight. Hunting season lit a fire of childlike enthusiasm and genuine excitement inside of you; a time to be outside, in nature, with your friends and doing what countless generations of humans have done through the ages, hunting game to feed the tribe. It called to you from the very first time you heard the stories and saw your Pap and Dad head out into the woods.

Many nights the family casually gathered in the basement at Mimi and Pap's house or around the fire pit outside, and you'd say in your little four-year-old voice, "Let's tell hunting stories, Pap." And Pap would bring the hunt to life for you, how he and his buddies were here or there and the nature of the day, the hunt, the sighting, the kill, and tracking. Then your dad would tell a story about when he and his buddies went out. Uncle Daren would have us doubled over laughing with the tales he shared. And then you'd take a turn spinning up a story of your own, entirely imaginary of course since you hadn't ever actually been hunting at the tender age of four, but it was entertaining has hell to hear it! We didn't dare laugh; you were so sincere. The lore of the men in the clan is passed down to the next generation through storytelling. As Chaz and Xan came along and grew old enough, they got in on the stories, too. It was hilarious because you would make Mimi and me share one, as well. We appreciated the inclusion and could usually manage a decent tale, even if it was made up. And you'd laugh at us because we usually got something terribly wrong; my deer usually got away!  You paid rapt attention to Pap, Daddy, Daren, Dwight, Jerry and so many others who you considered your man clan. God, what precious times those were.

Your dad, brothers and I went outside and shot our bows for a while after I got dinner in the oven. You were in all our thoughts, I know. You should be here helping find stray arrows and cheering the great shots - especially mine, Ha! I nailed the target at 10, 20, 30 and 40 yards with the crossbow. Every time the bolt found the mark, I imagined hearing you say "Damn, Mama!" your brothers really did say, "Damn, Mama!" and someone piped up with "Don't piss her off!" And dad called me Belle Starr, his moniker for me when I prove I can shoot. I especially missed hearing you laugh and the mandatory bragging banter between brothers that always ensues when target shooting is involved. Chaz is fantastic shooting his recurve bow, he looks like an Elven warrior from a Tolkien book and is just as deadly accurate with that thing. Xan has the same casual approach you do and some of your swagger, too. He and Dad are spot on with their compound bows. All in all, we put a lot of holes in that target.

I plan on hunting this year alongside the fellas with the aim of putting food in the freezer, just like you always did every year since you were old enough to hunt. Golly, you were so proud to do that! We have just a few small packages of deer chops remaining from your last successful hunt. You and Travis were a force to be reckoned with whenever you two went out. Those last few packages of chops, well, I've been saving them. They have your handwriting on the outside paper, and I think of how happily you wrapped and labeled this meat for the benefit of the family. It's surreal to eat a meal provided by you, when you are ten months gone. Ten months! How the hell is that possible?

The temperature is dropping and the nights are growing long. The calendar rolls with an unstoppable current into this final season of The First Year Without You. This season will be the hardest one as we deal with the Big Holidays, and the worst day of all, the anniversary of your death. New Year's Eve is a holiday I doubt I will ever celebrate again in this life. I'll just quietly hang a new calendar the next day, and that will be that. So many thoughts about you and your life and death run in the background of my mind, a constant sidebar conversation and sometimes blatant interrupter of the moment. I still crumble in tears without warning, like on the first day of archery and you weren't here. Or the smell of a cold rain blowing in that makes the deer run in anticipation of the upcoming rut.

We find ways to connect with you, each in our way. Xanny played his guitar the other night, going through all the songs you were teaching him like "Life By The Drop" and "Die A Happy Man." He brought you to life in a bittersweet moment through the strum and pluck of guitar strings. I burst into wracking sobs in the living room, Xanny never knew. Chaz was putting away dishes and stopped to give me a hug. Dad did the same thing, one evening he just picked up your guitar and started playing it, running through the songs you two sang together. It broke me up as he sang "The Conversation" and had to sing your part, too. I can still hear your voice in my head. My Lord, we miss you, Thor. 

Autumn is in the air, my boy, and you feel more absent than ever. This feeling pushes me to seek you out in the places you loved best. I'll look for you in the woods and listen for you in the wind. Come hang out with me there, okay?

I love you,