Sunday, December 24, 2017

For Thor - 93 - Bless Us All

It's Christmas Eve, Bubby. I'm sitting in the multicolored prismatic twinkle of the Christmas tree in the early morning hours. It's peaceful and still. Here in the quietude that is all too rare these days, we can have a chat.

We've been putting one foot in front of the other. Dad and I are getting by. Doing what we can. Finding scraps of joy, fragments of smiles, seconds of insight and perspective along the way. We can allow good friends and good music to lift us for a spell, like at the Dillwyn VFD Christmas Dance. That was such a heartwarming night. I was wholly not in the mood to do anything for Christmas, but being there with so many friends -- and your friends, who have become my friends over the past two years; my heart twists, expands, breaks and shines all at once when we look into the other's eyes and see the Thor-sized hole that shines back at us. We are drawn to each other like magnets, each one with a piece of a broken heart and a story to tell. We conjure you in those moments, speaking your name in stereo and paging you to drop by and embrace us. I can feel you there, in those moments when we bring you to life with our words and stories, memories and love.

Lately, I spend a lot of time at work. The job has escalated to a new frenetic pace which is a good thing - the company is doing well. What I didn't realize is how I depended on work to help keep the pain of this whole holiday season at bay. That is until we closed shop on Friday and I was faced with it all at once. Without the pressure of the work deadlines and accountability to the team, I was suddenly unmoored. My mind was unoccupied enough that the looming and ever-present agony of grief rushed into that void. Dread. Why do I have to do this? Every holiday season starting after Halloween ramps up in excitement and expectation, higher and higher until we get to Christmas Eve, Christmas, Day After and then….WHAM! We slam headlong into the brick wall of the dreaded day. The worst day of my life.

What. The. Fuck?

So this year we needed to shake it up a little. Neither Dad nor I could hang with our usual routine and all the energy it takes to make it happen. We put up a small tree, it's just four feet tall. But it's sweet and doesn't feel forced. There is an authenticity expressed in its diminutive branches. We are doing Christmas, but maybe just a little less. We've made it a little easier. We'll spend more time at Nana's enjoying the wonder and innocent, wide-eyed Christmas excitement of little Kai. It's good to have the little ones around to keep our hearts lighter. I want to read him stories and play with toys like I did with you and your brothers. Just the thought warms my heart…which usually means tears are merely a blink away.

I got to spend some time with Starr, yesterday. Which made my day. She and Diane gave me a glorious snow globe that lights up and twinkles around a beautiful cardinal. When I look at it, I imagine your presence is like that…sparkling and shining all around us. That the love we have for you sparkles in our eyes and shines forth. We had dinner and just spent the day together. You would have liked the stuffed shells. You probably would have been impatient with our sappy rom-com Christmas movies and would have wandered out to the barn with dad.

There are many memories to hold onto and cherish, the ones that keep your voice alive and let me see your face in the movie in my mind. Sometimes I rewrite the script, you know, to change the story. I take the raw material of memories and weave them into a new tale. What would you be doing right now? Would you and Starr be married? Would there be a baby? Would you be a supervisor at work? Would you build a house on our land? Would you have bagged that buck you were always chasing? Would you get a transfer to live near the beach? What would you be doing if a longer life had been granted to you? I like to dream up alternative storylines. They always include you outliving me in a long life full of joy and experiences and love and challenges and victories. I know the story I'm living too well…I don't need to think about it so much as your death is the daily backdrop to my every breath.

Christmas symbolizes many things for many people. For me, I've always felt it to be a recognition of the light returning to warm the earth, which is symbolic for us to recognize the Light of the God which illumines our hearts. This is further symbolized by remembering the birth of Jesus who is the light of the world for so many. I am trying to focus on the Light this season. Since I know that is where you are; you are a light being, free of these mortal coils, but still able to be here in the form of light energy. I see you in a sunrise and in a ray of light upon the water. I feel you in the warming sun that streams through my windshield when I drive. My heart recognizes your playful nature when rainbows and sundogs appear in the strangest places.

We watched my favorite Christmas movie of all time - twice now; The Muppets Christmas Carol. Every time I hear the song "Bless Us All," I cry. It's one of the best Christmas songs ever written. I hum it a lot lately.

Life is full of sweet surprises
Every day's a gift
The sun comes up and I can feel it lift my spirit
Fills me up with laughter
Fills me up with song
I look into the eyes of love and know that I belong

Bless us all, who gather here
The loving family I hold dear
No place on earth, compares with home
And every path will bring me back from where I roam
Bless us all, that as we live
We always comfort and forgive
We have so much, that we can share
With those in need we see around us everywhere

Let us always love each other
Lead us to the light
Let us hear the voice of reason, singing in the night
Let us run from anger and catch us when we fall
Teach us in our dreams and please, yes please
Bless us one and all

Bless us all with playful years,
With noisy games and joyful tears.
We reach for You and we stand tall,
And in our prayers and dreams
We ask You bless us all

We reach for You and we stand tall,
And in our prayers and dreams we ask You,
Bless us all

I miss you more than words can ever say, sweet boy. It's Christmas time, and the absence of your physical self is more keenly felt. My heart is shattered but gloriously alight with love. The rainbow that connects my heart to yours is vibrant and alive…so you'll hear me loud and clear when I say, Merry Christmas, Bubby! I am hugging you tight in my heart and imagine holding you in my arms.

I know you know, but I'll say it anyway;

I love you,

Monday, November 27, 2017

For Thor - 92 - Emotional Alchemy - Part 1

I don’t even know where there last 8 weeks have gone. In a blur and a rush, I woke last Saturday, disbelieving, to the first day of gun season for deer hunting. A flash of activity caught my eye outside as three deer hounds bounded across the field with joyful exuberance. The sky was tinged pink with the first blush of daylight that sparked in like tiny rose-colored diamonds on the frosted lawn. I heard the not-too-far-off boom of shotgun firing, and my heart twisted. This is one of your favorite days of the year; first day of gun season. You lived to be out with the fellas and the dogs, the trucks, and radios and walkies and trackers, bundled in cammo with just enough blaze orange to be legal…

You should be here.

That thought makes me cry, every time. I try to avoid the "shoulds" since I know that only regret and pain lives at the end of those imaginings. But dammit, you SHOULD be HERE! We are closing in on two years -  two fucking YEARS since you died and I am still brought to my knees by a simple thing like hearing the boom of a gun on the first day of hunting season. Proof, again, that there is no getting over this. Your death and my adjusting to it is a permanent part of my life story now.  I can't tell you how much I really hate that.

I've had no time to process lately, and we both know how that goes… I get upset at the littlest thing that is utterly unrelated to what's really bothering me. Recently it's more than merely 'missing' you. I feel the searing burn of your absence on the daily happenings in our lives, and it pulls at me. We gather for a meal and hold hands to say the blessing…your hands aren't there in the circle, you head isn't bowed with ours. We say at every meal that we are grateful for this family and for the wonderment of being together, but we are missing one of our whole…we are a family with a deep and weeping wound that will never heal. It can't ever heal because we will forever love and miss you, Thor.

As ever, when the emotions are too big to contain in the house or within the simply busy-ness of random chores, I take to the great outdoors to wail at the vast expanse of the sky, my heartbreak and tears lifted on a breeze and carried into the Biggest Big…to the bosom of Mother Nature herself. I ran into many of your hunting pals along the road. They were kind, offering my words of encouragement and telling me how well you were liked among them.

It was a comfort to be out there where I know you would be, with the men you counted as your brothers. The day was bright and breezy and beautiful. I sat for a spell on a stump overlooking a clear-cut with a grand view of the mountains. We had a lovely chat, you and I, while I let the tears fall unheeded and let the wind dry them. Then a buck bounded past me he didn't seem to be in a hurry. He quickly and gracefully loped his way across the stump-strewn landscape toward the nearby cover and safety of the pines. As he cut past me, I thought of you and how I've depicted you as a regal buck in the tattoo on my arm. I thought that maybe you had sent me that deer to cheer me; to let me know that you are still here with me even when I feel like I've been so busy and have lost our connection.  Sometimes I can be pretty hard-headed, thanks for being persistent.

We traveled to Mimi and Pap's in Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving this past weekend. It was the first time I'd been there since you died and I dreaded going. I knew being there would pry open a whole box of memories and all the deep emotion and intensity that go with those memories awaited me there. All of that topped off with the fact that it is a holiday rooted in family togetherness and being grateful…well, let's just say I put on my game face and rallied. The trip up was fun, we laughed and sang songs. Xanny played DJ, and I drove so I could stay mentally occupied as I prepared to face the inevitable. When we pulled in, I took Lady for a walk and strolled across the lawn taking in the landscape where you spent so many of your boyhood days, fishing in the pond, driving the quad, or the mower, going swimming in the pool, sledding, hunting with Pap. 

I felt like I'd been hit with a fire hose as the images of your sweet face came rushing to my mind's eye. Your Mimi's house is full of the echo of your voice and all the growing up you did under that roof. I sobbed violently wrapped in Daddy's arms that first night as this fresh wave of memories starkly outlined the fact of your death and the enormous cavity left in our lives. I didn't sleep…the tears just kept falling.

Thanksgiving day is a busy day, and that's a blessing in itself. You would have laughed, Mimi undercooked the turkey, again. It's sorta becoming a family tradition. I say it's not done, and she insists that it is, so I relent, only to discover that no, it isn't.  Every damn year. How funny is that? I stayed focused on preparing a meal because missing you threatened to send me round the bend. Dad sweetly gave me hugs and poured me a whiskey or two. As the time to sit to dinner approached, I just kept breathing, waiting for that dreaded moment when the family gathered together over the meal...and there it would be…the collective recognition of your absence. That heartbreaking moment when no one knows what to say--has no words to express the enormity of what we feel. Pap got too choked up to say the blessing, so Dad attempted a prayer that gutted Aunt Shari and me. He said something along the lines of being grateful that we are all together which drew stark attention to the fact that we were not ALL together. We will never ALL be together, again.  Shari burst into tears in a way that I certainly could relate to. And I fell silent, diving deep inside myself to find the reserves that I've been working to build these past two years.

The meal was good, the conversation bumped and jittered across the surface of the intense emotion in that room. So much was on the minds of each of us with nowhere for it to go. The thoughts and feelings too intense for dinner talk…so we chatted about this and that and tried to find a way back to levity, to a place we could smile and not choke on the damn turkey. We did okay, but it was hard on everyone.

We made it through dinner and got things cleaned up. We watched Christmas Vacation, another family tradition, that spun me down into a dark place inside. I could hardly stand sitting there, but I did it for dad and your brothers and Mimi and Pap. I felt like I was being stung by bees, so I retreated inside, hiding behind a veneer of automatic responses. I was grateful to have Lady to take for a walk. I went outside and talked to the stars.

On Friday evening the family came over. Mimi and I put out snacks, and the people arrived-- just like we've done dozens of times before. Mike and Dee, Cameron with his girlfriend, Gerry and Lorraine. And Dwight. "My good buddy, Dwight," as you used to call him, no matter to you that he is your Pap's best friend. Oh, Thor! They played guitar and sang the old songs. I drank wine and found people to talk with so I wouldn't be consumed with the agony of missing you from that scene. It was good to see everyone, but it is torturous to me to see everyone there without you. No one mentioned your name. No one said anything about you. No one knew how to talk about you, how to invoke your memory and insert the memory of your life into the moment. I felt like I was a dragonfly suspended in amber, time traveling back to a time before you were born.  Dwight, alone, seemed to notice my suffering. Perhaps it's because he's missing his Pauline so much, and his devastation recognized mine. He wrapped his arm around me and said, "It just f-f-f-ucking hurts all the time. Doesn't it? Have some of this wine, it numbs the pain. All kinds of pain." Then we sampled his homemade wine and raised a glass to our broken hearts.  Maybe I should take up winemaking.

As much work as I've done over these months, I am still crushed by the massive loss and the burden of living without you, my firstborn, a joy of my life (one), twinkling-eyed baby boy. 

What now? What now? What now? I ask. The emotional alchemy of turning grief and suffering into something different continues. There are days where my experiment blows up in my face. But I start anew as the sun rises in the East to greet the fresh day with fresh eyes and optimism that Grace has bestowed upon me.
What now? What now? What now? I ask.
Love. Tears. Love. Smiles. Love. Tears.
One step at a time.

There is more to say about all of this…I'll save it for another day when we get a chance to sit and talk awhile, Thor.

I love you.


Sunday, October 8, 2017

For Thor - 91 - Changing "Why me?" to "What now?"

Well, Bubby, we did it. And it was spectacular, my darling! Over a year of visioning, planning and building all came together last Saturday for Thor's Hammer Firefighter Games and Chili Cook-off. We rode high on a wave of love and shone the light of that love through our hearts for all to see. We brought Our Family Blessing to life and expanded the ranks of "family" to include everyone who came to share the day with us. It was perfect. It was humbling. It knocked my freaking socks off to see how much joy and love we generated in your memory, Thor. The resilience of the human heart to channel new pathways and transmute anguish and agony into something that bonds and shines is nothing short of astounding! We indeed are all blessed with grace to be able to offer our broken hearts up and ask…what can be done?...and then to do it.

So many people poured in to help; couldn't wait to help! People couldn’t wait to send donations of money and asked their local firehouses to send firehouse swag to give away. They jumped in and set up, cleaned, hauled, lifted, parked cars, tallied tickets, cooked chili, judged chili, ran the games, participated in the games, took photos, poured beers, served hotdogs, helped kids in the bounce houses, spun cotton candy and drizzled syrup over snow-cones, ran sound and played music; collectively each was host and guest simultaneously. In the words of St. Francis… It is in giving that we receive. We came together as a community inspired by love to celebrate our firefighters and were rewarded richly with hearts full of gladness and joy.

Most of that day I felt as if I was out of my body, much like during the night we had visitation at the funeral home when I hugged every single person that came through the line. I reserved nothing, held nothing back. The edges of "me" were expanded so far out that I could embrace everything and everyone. Your love, our love, shone through me like a million watt bulb. What was so beautiful to see, is that light shining back at me from the eyes of so many others, too. 

I jumped up and down like a kid when the firetrucks started rolling in! Oh, Thor! Firetruck Row a-freaking-mazing! All those machines that we depend upon to help people in need lined up and gleaming in the sun was a sight to behold. The tower dad built with the flags flying in that bright blue September sky was an inspired centerpiece where much of the action of the games took place. The teams of firefighters competed all afternoon in the games, and as they did so, they laughed together, talked together, worked together. Cody brought down a team from JMU, and I was so thrilled to see these young folks so excited to be there! The Buckingham Four - Arvonia, Dillwyn, Glenmore and Toga all showed up in style and ready to rumble. It was so much fun to have everyone there, chilling between events in Thor's Hammer tee shirts and turnout pants, leaning on the trucks. Dillwyn and Toga went head to head to win Thor's Hammer in the end. Dillwyn VFD finished that timed event first and emerged the winner of the trophy. But really, every team that took the field were winners that day.

We got there early to let the chili cook-off contestants get started and the morning air smelled delicious and mouth-watering! I sampled it all! And they didn't disappoint. I thought it was awesome that Starr and Kaylee won the grand prize. Your Starr, Bubby.  The winners got to go see Zac Brown Band in concert with us, so she'll be there along with her new man, Corey. He's a good man and is kind to Starr, but I worry about him feeling like he's always being compared to you. Watching the other people in your life move on with theirs comes with its own complement of heartache - and joy. I love them, too, and wish only the best. But damn, it's bittersweet to watch time roll on and not have you here.

As Thor's Hammer wound to a close, I got pretty darned tipsy (Xanny was tasked with taking care of drunk mom. Don't laugh! Okay, you can laugh a little.) It didn't take much as I was exhausted, expended, emotionally blown-out and elated all in the same breath. I hadn't accounted for the emotional intensity and the effect it would have on me. As the agony of your loss is in my heart always…I numbed the pain to keep moving. Eventually, the sun did set and it was time to go. I didn't want it to end. The energy and momentum of the day propelled me with a force that was so fast and intense, it would take days to ramp back down. You were so "present" all day that I didn't want to walk away. I wanted time to stop and leave me there in that expanded awareness and feeling your energy so close by. But my body certainly needed to rest and time is a relentless thing, so I left the field and waved goodbye to one of the most magnificent days I've ever seen. And while it may have been my idea and vision at the start, Thor's Hammer now belongs to all of us; everyone who loves you and to the community and firefighters you love.

That's the high of it. And it was oh, so high. And so vast and so breathtakingly beautiful and inspiring and full of awe was the whole experience. But still, at the heart of the matter, one terrible fact remains irrefutable and stubbornly, horribly true; you are dead. It blows my mind to think about how we wouldn't have done any of this if not for that. None of these connections, the togetherness, the fierce determination to change the question from "Why me?" to "What now?" would have come to pass. We would be elsewhere learning other lessons in how to love and live to our fullest potential. You would be here walking by our side in some different storyline. Would I be as fierce in my choice to live and to transform my heart's pain into a gift for the greater good? Would I have worked tirelessly for months on end if I didn't have the backdrop of tragedy to stage this against?

And so on Tuesday morning, three days after Thor's Hammer knocked my socks off, I found myself sobbing in the car on the way to work. I turned down the driveway to Nana's house and stumbled into the bedroom where I crawled into bed next to my mom and sobbed. All this beauty, love and amazingness was clashing starkly with the fact that you are still dead, my darling boy. I still cannot hold you. I cannot caress your hair, your cheek. I cannot console you over heartbreaks or advise you when your unsure of what to do next. I will never hear you say, "I love you, Mama." again. And so I cried and let myself be comforted by the sheltering arms of my mom.

The work of changing the question from "Why me?" to "What can be done?" is perpetual and unfolding in every moment in this life as a woman who has lost a beloved child. There is no break from it, there is nowhere to hide from it. I can only keep lifting my eyes to the horizon and asking for you to guide my steps into the next moment, hoping I can stay steady and keep growing in love. I pray for Grace to continue to rise like a wind under my wings to help me soar into the uncertainty of life with hope and joy in my heart. I pray that I am strong enough to keep saying, "yes" when the path is illumined before me, beckoning me to take another step. I pray that I continue to hear you in my heart encouraging me to stay melty and loving in a world that would force to me be sharp and pointed if I give in to fear.

Your dad and brothers and I will carry on, Thor. We remain here at the epicenter of the earthquake that rocked our family when you died. Together we are finding ways to both live on and to keep you alive along with us. Thor's Hammer is a gift to the world, born out of tragedy and love and imbued with hope for the greater good to be revealed.

Today, I'm resting in the chambers of the heart and listening for "what now?"

I love you to the moon and back, my boy. And I always will.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

For Thor - 90 - Crash

Yesterday may have been the single hardest day I've had in a long time, Thor. It was my birthday. Just a week after we marked your birthday. And two weeks after Xanny's, to boot.

I've held it together at home and at work. I've powered through the waves of grief that seek to swamp me and ride the storm to calmer waters. But the more tranquil waters didn't come yesterday. It was finally just too much for this mama's heart to take and I crashed hard.

You see celebrating another year in my life feels so absolutely horrible when your life is done. I don't feel guilty for being alive, I am devastated that you are not. My broken heart bleeds sorrow over this simple fact; somehow the sun still rises and sets over my head each day, but its golden rays will never shine upon your beautiful face, again. How can I possibly celebrate my life moving on, marking the passing years, when you will never see another daybreak, never draw another breath, never sing another song, tell another joke, nor live out your dreams?

Celebrating my birthday seems awkward if not impossible, now.  Last year I was held up and buoyed by the constant company of family and friends. This year I faced the starkness of grief and sorrow head on. It was time.

I cried my eyes out all the way home from work. I barely made it out of the office before I fell headlong into the well of grief and sank slowly to the very bottom, where I haven't visited in many months. I let it take me somewhere I could scream and beat my breast and exhaust myself of the pent-up, throttled-back feelings that had crystallized in my being. Then I sat in stillness and let sorrow sing her song through the tears that fell in streams down my face.

I sipped a beer and let myself feel everything that I've neatly avoided so that I could carry on living day to day. I watched the clouds scud in bright bunches across a gorgeous blue sky from my perch on the swing which I rocked with my bare toes in the grass. And the tears fell unfettered, unheeded and unashamed. I unpacked my broken heart and let the late summer breeze into its chambers to ease the burning agony that threatened to choke me.

We never get over it, I read that today. I already know this, but it was reassuring to read it from a professional in Psychology Today. She blasted the "stages of grief" theories that somehow imply that if we simply do the work in each stage, we will be transported to the other side of this sometimes raging and dangerous sea. She told me things I already know, but hadn't given myself permission to believe; that there is no "getting over it," that these anniversaries are real traumatic markers, that I'm not crazy or weak or depressed. My broken-heartedness over your death is part of my life story, now. And while there may be many more moments where I look "normal" than there are moments where I seem like an emotional refugee, it's still there; the all-encompassing, soul-etching, heart crushing, eviscerating grief. And it can show up anytime it likes. What a mother fucker!

Facebook lit up with bright, lovely, cheerful wishes for me to celebrate, enjoy, have a blast, be amazing…I just couldn't. I took 'em all in and smiled wistfully at each message, thinking not of myself but of the love and friendship I have with each person who took time to drop by and send me a joyful wish. A heart full of grief can still appreciate love, even if it doesn't feel like celebrating. So that's what I did. I allowed love to sit with me in the bottom of the well and let Grace find its way in, too. All those messages of love wrapped me in a warm blanket and held me safe while I let the tears fall. It may not be what everyone had in mind when wishing me a happy birthday, but the day was perfect in its agony and expression of the utter anguish I feel over your death, Thor. It was perfect because this grief is derived from and caused by the undying love I have for you.

Dad did the right thing, he brought some sunflowers, wine, and whiskey. He held me when I cried after reading his card. No one said anything about my eyes, swollen and red and still weeping right through dinner. The blessing dad said made me cry all over again. I took time to hug your brothers and enjoyed a slice of cake. I gazed at your photograph and allowed my heart to break anew with each beat.

Sometimes you just gotta go there, you know, and feel the enormity of the loss. I stand on the precipice of that abyss and leap, knowing that the universe has already put in place everything I need to not just survive, but to soar.

This morning I feel better. Still weepy, but not crushed. I'm ready to greet the day and the list of things I have to do with a quiet, wistful gentleness in my heart. Which is right where you are, my darling son.

I love you so,

Sunday, September 10, 2017

For Thor - 89 - Moonshine in the Moonshine

It's been eighty-eight weeks since you died and every single one of them has come with pain and sorrow. Each of them has led me further along the road of grief. The days peel away leaving me with lessons in love and compassion, vulnerability and strength. Some weeks are gentle allowing me to breathe into new ideas and expressions of sorrow with ease. Not this week. This one was rough, Bubby.

Friday we marked what would have been your 21st birthday. It's a day that you had been looking forward to for so long. And while turning 21 meant you could legally purchase a drink and go out with your friends without worrying about getting carded, it also meant you were truly an adult. There would be no more barriers or throttles holding you back. Turning 21 is a big deal. But you never made it. Instead, you left us at the age of 19, forever Peter-Panned (as Aunt Lakshmi coined) on the cusp of all that you had dreamed of being and doing.

We gathered together at Frida's, those of us who could, to raise a glass in your name. I saw some of your friends that I haven't seen since your funeral. We hugged. And laughed. And told Thor Stories. Good Lord, boy! You were a merry jokester full of mirth and good-natured confidence that belied your young age. Wickedly funny and beloved. We heard tell of the famous Thor Swagger and laughed at the retelling of how you would charm the ladies out of their phone numbers. It warmed my heart to hear how your buddies and you did so many adventuresome things. Luke Bryan, one of your favorites, put out a song that feels like an anthem for you guys. Whenever it comes on I sing out loud and think about you and the fun you got to have. 


You managed to cram in a lot of experiences in your short life; at least there's that.

Chaz was DD-ing me around after he dropped off dad and Xanny. I wanted to go see Janice down at Telly's house. We toasted you and the firelight shone on the tears in our eyes. They all love and miss you, too. Janice's words of comfort to me meant a lot. We had a good laugh about how you like to dance with her - Cotton-eyed Joe being one of your favorites. We left there and headed toward home, stopping at the wide spot on our road near the cut over where you guys always staged for the hunt. Bert, Travis, Kelly, and Andy were there in tribute of the love and sorrow we feel for our loss. We drank moonshine in the moonshine and listened to music. We laughed boldly and brashly in the face of the agony in our hearts. When we hugged goodbye in the wee hours of the morning, I could feel you there with us, conjured by our collective love and memory.

It's easier being on the other side of the milestone. This was a big one that choked me up all week. I'm proud of myself for making it through, for going to work every day. And while I may have been a little wobbly, the grief wasn’t debilitating as it's been in the past. Grief is pervasive and I believe it can kill a person, perhaps literally, but certainly emotionally. I've been doing the work, taking the highs and lows and keeping my heart open to what they would teach me. I have more resilience, more capacity, more connection with you and that allows me to bear this burden as I walk ahead. You are on my mind every single day nearly all day long. When I see the sunrise and say your name or a cloud limned in gold and think, "Hello, Bubby." A crow caws and I look to find him so my feathered friend can deliver a message from my heart to yours…

Happy Birthday in Heaven, sweet boy. I love and miss you more than words can say. We all do.

I love you so and always will,

Friday, August 25, 2017

For Thor - 88 - Chain Link

Yesterday morning the alarm went off at 4:30. Dad and I threw on our clothes and headed to the surgical center in Charlottesville. The docs finally felt like they could remove the shard of glass that's been in my toe for over a year! While it's only minor outpatient surgery, it's still surgery. And they have protocols that they want you to follow. Don't eat or drink after midnight. Don't take any medications. Don't use hair products that have alcohol. Remove all jewelry. When the nurse called to talk to me about these pre-op requirements, she was emphatic on this point. All jewelry must be removed. Yes, that included the wedding bands that are almost impossible to get over knuckles swollen with the toils of everyday use.

The night before, I carefully removed my rings which took a while and the seven earrings I wear every day which I never take out. I took a few moments to remove the chipped polish off my toenails just so everything was clean. I paused to look in the mirror to see if I looked any different without those diamond studs shining back at me, framing my face like stars. My gaze dropped to take in the moonlight silver gleam of the chain -- your chain -- draped around my neck. I ran my fingers over the warm links inching toward the clasp to spring it open when suddenly I couldn't move. Tears stung my eyes as I considered removing from my neck. I imagined lifting it off my chest, feeling it gone from that place it's been all these months. I haven't taken it off since your dad put it there on the day of your funeral. He had gently unclasped it from around your neck as you lay in the coffin and settled it around mine. Then we turned, holding each others shaking hands our heads tipped together, and we gazed for the last time at your face as they closed the lid, and we saw you no more.

My breathing became shallow, and my hands got sweaty. I traced the links one by one and raised the chain to my lips and kissed it, blinking away hot tears. There was no way this necklace was coming off. Not until the day I die, and it passes to one of your brothers, will it leave my body. The surgical team would just have to figure out how to do whatever they need to do with it in place.

So we hurtled through the pre-dawn darkness, arrived at our destination, checked in and waited. I knew they would challenge me saying the chain wasn't safe, that somehow it's a liability to have it on during a procedure. I knew they would want to make me conform to the rules, but I couldn't. Any more than a veteran with shrapnel could remove the metal from their body could I remove this chain from mine. A bomb had gone off in my life, blown apart our family, my faith in the world, my heart, our lives - the chain that was once yours had been transferred to me.

As expected, the very professional and astute nurse spotted the necklace and told me I would need to remove it. I told her I can't, that I had tried and found it impossible. I said it belonged to my beloved son who died and that I tried to take it off but ended up freaking out. She told me about the bad things that could happen in surgery if a person is wearing conductive metal - burns, mainly. I still shook my head. I asked what you would do if I had metal pins in my bones? There has to be a way for me to keep it. Can we wrap it in a towel, I asked? I cannot take it off, I gasped and shook my head with tears running down my face.

She asked me how long I had been wearing the necklace. I told her 19 months and 20 days.

They brought me a waiver to sign. With a shaking hand and teary eyes, I did. I would rather be burned than suffer the pain of removing that chain. But the nurse warned me that every other person who saw the chain would tell me I need to remove it. Already triggered, tired and upset and admittedly a bit nervous about the prospect of what we were actually doing there in the first place, I burst into tears again and felt a full-blown panic attack coming on. I asked her to please call your dad to come from the waiting area. His steady presence was a godsend. He looked right into my eyes and said it would be okay. His hand held mine, pulling me back from the edge one step at a time.

Meanwhile, the doctor arrived. Through the striped privacy curtain, I overheard the nurse tell him about my plight. To his credit he whooshed right in with a warm smile and calming manner to tell me not to worry, he wouldn't be using the tools that conduct electricity. I could wear the chain without any concern for burns. The prep nurse and then the OR nurse and the anesthesiologist all came in and each one, in turn, assured me that I would be okay. That the wearing the chain was okay. They all asked about you. Gradually, my breathing returned to normal. But the tears kept running, and there was nothing I could do about it. I've learned not to turn them off.

The procedure went well. I'm glass-free and so grateful. But I was still raw and upset over the whole experience.
I look in the mirror and the reflection staring back at me appears normal, but I'm not, really. Or maybe I am. Maybe this is normal for a mom that's enduring the loss of her beloved boy. Maybe this is as good as it gets as I learn to live my life with the horrible truth that you died. Each and every day I think about and miss you, Thor. The maelstrom of emotion swirls and heaves beneath the surface of this normal-looking fa├žade. I apply moisturizer and mascara and paste on a smile to greet the day.

And the days go by, peeling in a constant curl as the blade of time cuts through. Grocery shopping and back-to-school planning, cooking meals and giving the dog a bath, going to work and taking care of the chickens, dinner conversation with your brothers and downloading the day's stressors with your dad…I carry on. And I look pretty normal. People don't suspect the vastness of sorrow that sits just below the veneer. I have become a good actress, not only for the world to see what it wants. But for me, too.

A few days ago, on an otherwise "normal" weeknight, Steve Bodek came by on his day off. It's not often that I see him out of uniform and his appearance at the house one evening in his personal vehicle and in plain clothes surprised me. We visited a bit about this and that while we waited for your dad to get home. Eventually, dad rolled in, and we all came to the house, Bodek insisting that we call Christine, who was apparently a co-conspirator in this venture and get her set-up on speaker-phone. Then he told us to find a comfortable seat and that he would follow us in bearing the gift he'd brought for us.

I'm glad Dad and I were sitting down because nothing could have prepared me for what happened next. Steve started by telling us how much he loved you, Thor, like his own son. (I didn't know that) He said that he thought the world of you and considered you to be one of the best kind of people. He told us that it meant so much that he was able to be with us at the scene of the wreck that claimed you. I know what it meant to me to have him there, and his surety that you wouldn't be left alone kept me from losing my mind. And as if that wasn't enough to count him as family, Bodek and your dad share the Marine Corps bond.

Then he humbly revealed a beautifully handcrafted piece of art that is so heartfelt and personally meaningful that I could barely breathe. He had taken a gorgeous piece of cedar from the interior of a church (infused with all the prayers and hymns over decades) and added to it a scroll-sawn Maltese cross on one side and a scroll-sawn heart-stopping firefighter in profile with angel wings. Christine had given Steve a photo of you wearing your gear that he could use to draw the piece out. And it really does look like you, too. He added hand-cut lettering that stretches across the bottom and reads, "Forever on our minds, Always in our hearts." which is so true for all of us who love and miss you, Bubby. Then, literally to top it off, in sycamore wood (what could be more fitting for a boy from Sycamore Creek?) he added the letters, T-h-o-r.

To say I was moved to tears is a vast understatement. I, once again, got a glimpse of how much other people regarded and loved you, Thor. All these months later, when I felt like maybe it's time for me to bear this burden mostly on my own, Bodek shows up with an utterly stunning tribute of love and respect - and mourning - that bowled me over. Many walk this road of sorrow over your death, Thor. We all miss you so much.

With this experience so recent in the rearview and knowing that what would have been your 21st birthday is just around the corner, I suppose it's no real surprise that I lost it over the idea of removing your chain. You are present and close these days, picking up on my thoughtful dialogue and sending me songs. Thanks for doing that. Thank you for all the signs you send and for being patient with me when I'm too wrapped up in grief or anger or stress to see them.

I love you,

Sunday, August 6, 2017

For Thor - 87 - Soar

Good morning, Thor!

Gosh, I miss saying that to you and be rewarded with your sweet smile in return. It's Sunday, again, I was thinking of making chicken & dumplings for supper.

Last weekend, I took part in a beautiful and healing Yoga for Grief and Loss retreat with other women who have suffered traumatic losses in their lives. It was right here at Yogaville, so I didn't have to travel and got to sleep at home. I did, however, drive past the site of your wreck each day. On the first morning as I headed to the retreat house, I was compelled to stop there and sit, once again, on that ground; the last place on Earth where you were alive, and feel anything that came up. This pause in the forward momentum of the day was powerful, helping me surrender and open myself to feel the pain I carry around daily, wrapped and bound. I allowed myself to sink into my heart and to give voice to those waves of grief that crash and swell inside.

I picked chicory from the roadside and wove those tiny blue star-bursts into the wreath that adorns the tree that abruptly halted your flying truck and sent you into a new realm. It is a tragic and magic place, both. It is the sacred site where you slipped through and became a bigger version of yourself, leaving me here to figure it out. To walk on. Every single day of my life from now on is reframed with this knowledge: That which we love can be taken. Nothing is guaranteed. Change is the only thing that is certain. Love is the only constant that exists beyond this ever-changing-certainty.

A few days before the retreat started I received an email from a blog that I subscribe to, in it I was gifted a message that was timely, something to use as a new focus. Suzanne Giesemann offered this from the Sanaya Says collection of posts:
“I will grieve for the rest of my life.”

"If this is truly your belief, then for you it will be your truth. Do you wish to feel the deep sadness for the rest of your life, or do you wish to continue living and growing without that feeling as a constant companion? You will always be able to recreate that pain. You know the trigger points and you know how it feels to grieve, but hear us well: you can train yourself to become aware of when you feel that pain and transmute it with higher emotions. “Ah yes, I miss my loved one. I know this feeling, but now I choose in this moment to focus on the joy my loved one brought me and to be grateful for that experience.” From there you can allow your thoughts to drag you back to that place of pain or ask those you miss to remain in your heart as a pleasant, ever-present companion. What do they want for you now from their vantage point across the veil? Peace. This is the training ground. You control your thoughts."
Several ideas stuck out for me in that writing:

  1. I can always recreate the pain of losing you. It's so true. I can ruminate upon that night and caress each terrible memory taking the stabbing pain like a masochistic and embracing it. My heart breaks and my emotional body responds with wracking sobs that stop my breath and buckle my knees. I can cut myself on the sharp edges where your death blasted through the fabric of my life and altered me forever. 
  2. I can choose to do this. Or I can work toward a new awareness.
  3. This is a training ground and that I am training to experience Peace. I can train myself to feel that pain and learn to transform it with love and joy. We had a lot of love and joy in our life together, Thor. It is not hard to remember the sweetness of being your mom.
  4. We stand on this precipice together and with training, practice and no small dose of bravery, I can step out and trust that my heart will rise on the wings of love and lift joyfully to the open expanse of possibility. 
This is my work.
The first night of the retreat we go around the circle and talk of our departed loves and on the second time around the circle we are asked to set an intention for the retreat. At the retreat I did last October, my intention was much more focused on survival. This time I felt compelled to take a new direction, to move beyond survival, because that intention has been met. I'm here and my heart is still open. I smile and laugh and make plans for tomorrow. I didn’t give up, shut down, crawl in a hole and wither. I didn't will my heart to stop so I wouldn't feel that agony. I steeped myself in the pain when it needed to be felt and allowed it to breath through me and be released through tears, and hugs, and prayer -- and writing. Every time I write to you another piece of this experience is allowed to float away. My choice was to survive the devastation of losing you, my beloved son, so that I could learn to live again. This time when we went around the circle the second time I threw a handful of sage leaves on the flames and as they ignited and lifted white smoke to the sky I said, 
"My intention is to SOAR."
Easier said than done, for sure. And that's okay. I know where I’m going now, I charted a new course in this journey we're taking, Thor. We're going up! But like any journey, it's a process. I have to start from where I am and allow for the gentle unfolding and inevitable challenges and unforeseen beauty to be revealed. 
This is my work.
So I stopped at the tree each day of the retreat as I made my way from home to join my fellow travelers in grief. I went there to remember that fateful night and to begin to insert new emotional programming into that memory. I sat on the ground where you breathed your last and I thought to myself that the veil might be super thin right there in that spot. I closed my eyes and sent a huge wave of bright, yellow sun energy toward you. My heart song said, "Thank you! Thank you for letting me be your mom. Thank you for the love we share. Thank you for forgiving me. Thank you for staying by my side, even now." Tears fell from my eyes, but they were not bitter, salty tears of anguish and suffering. They were bright and beautiful and as the light shone through them, they turned to rainbows.
Later that day, surrounded by the love and support of my new sisters in the sacred space we created together, I wrote a poem and created a mandala art piece that reflected this pivotal experience, Thor.

Rainbow filled teardrops fall
    to the earth
From the blood-red chambers of my heart
            to the earth
From my pinon-colored eyes
                   to the earth
Where flowers burst forth
                                 and bloom
Yellow tickseed bobs in a breeze
    Periwinkle chicory twinkles
        in the high-summer sun
            The color of your eyes
                 when they regarded me
                    Adoring and bright 
                        with the love we share
      My sunshine!
             My son shine!

So, here we go, Bubby. Soaring on the wings of love across a chicory-colored sky.

I love you, beyond words, beyond realms, baby boy!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

For Thor - 86 - Take the Helm

Grieving your death is a terrible and beautiful journey through the blasted and burnt landscape of my heart. Healing is happening, but the road is fraught with perils and pitfalls; images and sounds that spin me back to that moment, that contracted pinpoint moment, when your dad shook his head slowly and said, "He's gone." That's the second from which all the rest since then rise and fall in a cascade of horror, sorrow, shock, love, gratitude, agony, expansion, grace, inspiration, growth, longing, disbelief…utter fucking heartbreak.

I've walked this road for eighteen months. Eighteen inexplicable months of life moving forward without you. Days melted into weeks that hold new memories and laughter, new life milestones dot the landscape now as the play continues to unfold for those of us left here to live on after you. For me, each and every one of them is imbued with an air of sorrow. It's proof to me that a single moment can, indeed, hold profound sadness and exquisite joy. These two co-mingle like positive and negative charges electrifying my emotional expression, blowing down the constructs of what I think is possible and destroying expectations of How It Should Be. If I am to survive these forces I must be edgeless and open. If you look inside me now, there are no new walls.

When I was a kid I remember a survival class at school telling us that finding shelter is the best way to survive the wilderness. So I tried to put up a lean-to or a freaking tent to escape the constant howling winds that purge and blast my heart. But this was a short-lived experiment. Grief and sorrow tore them down, longing and love tumbled the pieces back into the Sea of Grief leaving me feeling bewildered and lost, again. Camping out inside a hidey-hole on this journey is not an option. Separateness and withdrawing into myself is not an option, either. The agonizing sorrow of your death, I have come to find, is my constant companion and teacher, always pushing me, driving me, forcing me to MOVE along the path. Solace and peace exist in the moments when I am able to abandon the idea of me, apart. I must continue to expand. Sometimes, it's flat out excruciating because my broken, sad mama's heart still holds onto you in your life here with me, with us.

I miss your smile and laugh. I miss the feeling of your hair when I tousle it. I long to hear your voice and talk over your life plans. My heart leaps when I catch a glimpse of a truck like yours and just for a moment I think…Thor! I cook dinner sometimes and think to myself, "I bet Thor would really love this!" and I wish I could call you up and invite you round for supper. It's both wonderful and agonizing when your dad and brothers play guitar without you. One of them usually plucks your black Fender from its stand and strums it in tribute, including you the only way left to us now. Your friends are getting married and going to college, worrying about girlfriends and making plans for jobs and life. Your Starr has found a new beau and I'm so happy for her but also sad thinking about what you've missed out on. I think you'd like him, Thor. He's a VDOT guy and looks like a cross between you and TJ! I wonder if you had a hand in sending him her way? Madhuri got married to Nick and is happier than I've seen her in a long time. You were supposed to be in her wedding. I know you were there in spirit because I could feel you but still Not. The. Same.

I'm taking this sorrow and love and channeling it toward something good. Thor's Hammer is coming along very well as an event. The plans are taking shape and the outpouring of support is magnificent to behold. It's hard for me to operate out of both my head and my heart so intensely at the same moment. But just like I learned that sorrow and joy can exist in the same moment, the broken heart is leading the charge, the logical mind just has to follow. My undying love for you drives my actions. Your love for the community inspires and is guiding us to find the path forward. It's a lesson in vulnerability for me, though. To create such a love offering for the whole community and then wonder, will they come? Will it be okay? Is it needed or wanted? Am I blinded by my love for my boy? Can I do this? Is it enough? Am I enough?

There is no answer to these questions. They are silly queries that arise from being unsure and sad and in pain, from fear. What will be, will be; and that has to be okay. Love is the reason for what we do, so how can it be anything other than perfect? I continually learn to stay open and vulnerable in so many difficult passages. I've already gone through the worst, you'd think I could easily handle these lesser trials. The thing is, every experience is related to THAT experience now. All loss feels like THAT loss. All fear feels like THAT fear. All uncertainty feels like THAT uncertainty… those terrorizing feelings that raged and tossed the Sea of Grief so violently are still active forces. I have a stronger vessel now, with mended sails and a deep rudder. I can navigate and ride the crests into the troughs and not drown in the waves that crash over my bow. Still, it's a rough ride that starts each morning when I open my eyes and look to the sun on the horizon. Another day of life is graced upon us full of blessings and possibility. Another day dawns and arcs across the sky, the sun shines on the Earth where you once walked, talked, lived, laughed and loved. The wind blows sand across your footprints. I reach out from my heart to touch the sky, the place where you melted into the Great Light of All and take the helm…

What will today hold?

I love you,

Friday, June 23, 2017

For Thor - 85 - Summer Fair

Spring bloomed and hopped its way right into summer. The air is sticky sweet with the aroma of honeysuckle and gardenia, just a hint of pine in the background to remind me of the woods. I sit in my garden and look out over the meadow and delight in the new birds coming to enjoy this open space. I spotted a scarlet tanager and a Bluebird the other day; they flitted about nervously as they discovered new feeders and weren't certain of the cat. We have lighting bugs that flicker like tiny floating flashlights in the twilight. And aerobatic bats defy gravity in swoops and dives as they dine on whining mosquitoes. The earth smells fresh and warm and green, effulgent with life and promise. At some point the stars peek out, dotting the sky like moonlit dewdrops on black velvet. If I sit still enough, I think I can hear them breathing. It is peaceful and teeming with life all at once. This is where I find you most these days, Thor. When I just need to feel your presence in the corporeal realm, I seek solace in the arms of our first Mother.

Nature and her infinite expression of life, beauty, birth, and death have been one of the best healers for me since you died. I awake in the morning and step outside arms outstretched to the pre-dawn sky to welcome LIFE and to say THANK YOU for ALL that IS. It's not always easy. There are days when the anger and deep sadness re-emerge to twist in my heart like a knife. And though I don't bleed, the wound weeps, Thor. Still, my mother's heart cries for you, longs for you, is sad for your life being cut short. I know that will never go away. Mourning your death is a permanent piece of my life's story now. But I am stronger than I was, you know, and I can bear it. With the help of my lifelines. Yes, I still use them.

The other day, your dad had to call in a 911 to Aunt Radha. So many things are happening at once that I got overwhelmed emotionally, and without the time to write like I usually do, I crumbled under the weight. Life is moving on. Your friends' lives continue to unfold with the joys and milestones of the young and hopeful -- marriages, graduations, new jobs, new homes, new trucks, new loves. And there is a huge hole in this stitched-together narrative of your generation; your piece of the story suddenly stopped, and I am now sideline observer. So I am happy for everyone's lives and joyous occasions, but my heart will always go there, to that what if place… What if this were your wedding, Thor? Or your promotion at work? Or your new truck, house or hobby? What would your babies have looked like? Would they have your blue eyes and sparkling wit? Would they have your strength and loving heart?

Your brothers are growing up and are so sweet as they come to their own life milestones - getting a driver's license, thinking about moving out and going to college, girlfriends, and jobs. I can't help but wonder what kind of advice or teasing remarks you would lend to some of our conversations. We gather together as a family around the supper table, and there is ALWAYS this space that we collectively hold for you.

The other night the four of us sat around the fire pit 'neath the dogwood tree. The full moon sailed across the sky like she had swallowed millions of luminescent marshmallows; bright white and full to overflowing. We enjoyed cigars - some of yours and listened to Florida Georgia Line through your old portable amplifier. We felt you there, with us. With each puff of smoke that went up to the sky, we underscored our love for you, our son and brother. It was funny how you found a way to interject into the conversation by making the amp buzz and then stop for no apparent reason - at just the right time in the conversation. I am sure you were there manipulating the energy in that amplifier just to say hi and let us know that you're still here, just much less dense than you were. Some folks may think I'm just making up these interactions because I want you here so badly. That may be. But I know what I know in my heart, and that is that you are closer than ever and are right here all the time. All we have to do is think of you.

We've got a new focus these days, too. Your passion in life for the fire service is now channeled into a new non-profit that I've named, Thor's Hammer. We're holding an event in September just after what would have been your 21st birthday that is full of things you would love; firefighter games, chili, music, and little something to sip. I found a blacksmith to make the Thor's Hammer trophy; a steel hand emerging from flames holding a hammer that looks like a cross between Mjolner and a Halligan tool. The idea is that the winning firehouse will keep the trophy for the year that they win it, like the Stanley Cup! What's really cool is the total support from so many people across the nation and beyond. Volunteer Fire Departments from all over are sending tee shirts to be included in the prize packages for the games! We wanted to do something that would establish a lasting legacy in your name, sweet boy. Thor's Hammer is where I spend a fair amount of my non-working time, these days. It brings me great joy to have something positive to do for the community that also "keeps you alive" in people's hearts and minds. It's tough work, but it's so meaningful.

I am trying to remember to remain in a state of BEING through all of this and to allow Spirit to move through me into action. When I'm successful at this, I don't get all balled up energetically. Sometimes the hardest thing we have to do is to get out of our own way. I have a special angel in you, though, that reminds me to let it flow and listen. Act in the right moment and don't be afraid. Sometimes I get a little freaked out that something isn't going to happen when it's supposed to, and I intervene. That's usually about the same time things get screwed up, and I have to step back to let it sort out again. All the while, grief lingers in, around and through me. I still don't know what I will become as a result of sorrow and loss. Every day is a new emerging of insight and opportunity to learn and grow. Each moment unfolds into the next and carries me to a new place with it; I'm transformed bit by bit to know more about the Love that binds us all.

When Aunt Radha and I were talking I shared an observation with her. That life here on earth in these amazing human bodies in this super-high-definition world full of colors and smells, sights and sounds - and intense emotions - is a lot like a fair. As a spirit, we take a body and come to this Earth Fair that is this human experience, and we love it here. And we adore the people who are at the fair with us. We can't get enough of the rides and the games and the food. We get all worked up for the competitions and we sing aloud at the shows. But we cannot stay, it's impossible to stay. We suffer because we believe this is what's real. It is not. It's a brief experience for a timeless being (our spirit selves). When we're here though, it's easy to get caught in believing that nothing else matters, could be more fun, more satisfying. But it is a fleeting thing. Continuously pulled toward HOME, we must leave, and we don't want to. And furthermore, we don't want anyone we love to go either. Just like a three-year-old throwing a temper tantrum when they are being forced to abandon deeply engrossing play, we cry and kick our heels. What's funny is that once we are home, we immediately stop crying as we are so cared for and so loved; there is a nice bubble bath, and a warm meal and are tucked safely in our beds surrounded by love and peace. We are happy to be home. The words of the 23rd Psalm come to mind -

"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."

You left really early, Thor and shocked the crap out of me. And I am mindful of the fact that I am still here, doing this life thing with your Dad and brothers and so many other beautiful beings who share this life journey with me. One day we'll all be back home together. Until then, know that I am having fun (mostly) and staying open to what this experience can teach me. There are moments when it's tough to keep this perspective, so I try to remember that you're just on the other side of this veil having left the fairgrounds early and turned for home.

I love you,

Saturday, May 13, 2017

For Thor - 84 - Grace on the Wing

Good morning, Thor. My heart is so full that my chest is tight and my throat feels closed today. The well of my heart has not been still, it bubbles up from the deepest places where love and grief and joy and sorrow abide and demands my attention. I have been able, lately, to allow grief to coexist with my living, loving, laughing, working self. Grief and I had found an amicable balance where I would talk to you and keep my heart open for signs and to feel love always. I would cry sometimes, but not all the time. I discovered that I can still laugh and really mean it. The sun kept coming up, the stars turned in the night sky and gradually life began to be lived through me, again. The chapter of me living as a refugee ended, I turned the page and was transformed into a survivor. But my journey doesn't end there.

Over the past couple of weeks that balance has shifted by degrees, this shift was so subtle I didn't notice a deep unrest building inside of me. I thought I was just tired or worried about work or the details of establishing our farm or the new house addition or the event we are planning in your memory. But it's none of those external things. I find myself in a new place on this journey. I am at yet another level of grief, and this one is tough. You see, the shock has worn off. The newness of a world without you in it has aged and become bizarrely familiar. We are not strangers to facing the days and nights with the specter of your sudden and far too soon death hanging over us. It is here, with eyes wide open, that I see the intractable, bare metal truth of your gone-ness from this life. Some people say it's reality setting in, that it takes this long to realize that you're indeed not coming back in my front door. I thought I had been embracing the truth of it all along, but there is more your death will teach me. There is more I have left to see, to learn, to embrace, to grow through and release.

I have to have faith that I have the strength to stay open through this new agony. I'm walking around with a huge hole in my heart, just the same as if someone blasted me with a shotgun right in the chest. That's how it feels, all the time.

And still, I walk on. Grace swoops in and guides me along, step by bloody step forward, toward love. Sometimes I am a willing participant, letting Grace show me new love and new dimensions of the human heart. Sometimes I dig in my heels and let my broken mama heart wail…Why the hell did my son die? Can't we have a do over? My arms feel empty and long to hold him. Surely in the vast possibilities of the entire Universe, there's a chance for me to embrace him again? Sometimes I get so pissed off I want to smash something. I imagine hitting a huge glass window and having it shatter under the force of my rage. I want to break this fucking world…fuck any reality in which it's allowable for you to be dead! And then I burst into tears, and the uprising of pain and anger reminds me of just how much I miss you, Thor. I miss you so terribly. I am stricken with choking sorrow in these moments, and I fight to find my footing.

Recovery comes more quickly than it used to. I can pull back from the edge to answer a question from a coworker or to listen to your dad and brothers tell me something about their day. I can leave the altar in my heart where still hold vigil for you and know that it's okay for me to step away for a while and immerse myself in other things. I've come to understand that leaving the constant mourning state is okay. I haven't abandoned you or forgotten you or let your memory fade when I choose to focus on something or someone else.

If I pause a moment to look back, I have come a long way. Last year at this time I had no capacity to allow the pain and sorrow to exist side by side with the joy and beauty in a moment. I couldn't pull myself away from the thought of your death and engage with the day to day patterns that call one to get up and go to work each day. Last year at this time I was a shattered vessel, an empty shell with the wind of grief howling through the chambers of my heart and drowning out everything else. When the first Mothers Day after your death dawned, I mourned you amid the flowers and cards that were sent to comfort and uplift me. Your dad and brothers took me camping, we went out in nature and let the bigness of the sky and the lake and the woods embrace me.

We've come a long way, Bubby and you've been by my side every step on this terrible path. I'm still breathing so that means we aren't done. Grieving a dead child is a life sentence, you know. Only when my earth walk is over will this journey through pain, sorrow and suffering into expanded awareness, unconditional love and total joy be truly over. But I'm not in any particular hurry because this is our new relationship, Thor. You are my guiding star helping me unfurl and blossom into a state of being that is the goal of all humankind. The suffering and the sorrow shake us up to remind us of what is real and what is an illusion. The Love we share is the love that carries us to a better shore and binds us to each other. Each moment has its truth, its lesson is an opportunity for us to feel what is happening now. Feel it and release it. I have learned that I can't think my way past the expression of sorrow, that kind of denial only intensifies sorrow's power like holding a lit firecracker tight in your palm will blow off your fingers. Better to stay open and let the explosion go off in the expanse of open air. Observe it. Acknowledge it. Let it go.

No word that can express the love I have for you, boyo. But you know that already, don't you?

Thanks for sending the hawk to play with me the other day. What a Mothers Day gift that was! I smiled through tears and laughed out loud at this proud bird playing peek-a-boo with me. Truly, it was Grace on the Wing delivered straight to my heart.

I love you,

Saturday, April 22, 2017

For Thor - 83 - Lilacs and Love

Do you remember about twelve years ago I visited Mimi and Papa at The Ranch in Colorado? It was a big deal for me to go because we didn't have much money and Dad had to stay home taking care of you and your brothers. But, weren't sure how much longer they would be living there, and I wanted to make sure I came back to see them to share a few more long visits on the porch swing all the while laughing at the antics of squirrels and the many birds that came to visit. One of my missions was to get cuttings from the lilac bushes and bring them back with me to Virginia for posterity. I managed to get two out of ten little starts to take root and grow. Every year they would come back with new leaves, stronger and taller; but no blossoms. Every year I kept them protected from deer, mulched and watered them. Every year they grew, but still no blossoms.

Last spring I sat on the porch talking to you, Thor as I often do in the morning, over a cup of coffee as I watch the day awaken. One day I asked if you could do something about those lilacs, you know, as a sign, for me. I've asked for several signs, and you've delivered on all of them, sweetheart, and I all but forgot about this one until one day recently. I was walking to my car one morning when I caught a flash of purple from the corner of my eye. My heart leaped, and I jumped up and down with total glee and ebullient joy when I saw what it was! For the very first time, Mimi's New Lilacs bloomed, and I knew without a doubt that you - and maybe Papa along with you - had a hand in this. Both of the bushes have dark, purple cones of flowers. Seeing them warmed my heart and brought tears to my eyes. I buried my nose in one of those sun-warmed lilac blossoms and inhaled deeply.

That smell popped the cork on a whole bottleful of memories of my childhood at The Ranch. The details came back to me rich and whole, captured in some cache in my mind, just waiting for me to open them.

The blooming of Mimi's lilacs was an annual event that we kids looked forward to with great anticipation. It might seem odd that a passel of kids would have this eager enthusiasm for a blooming shrub, but Mimi's lilacs were so much more than mere flowers to us. They signaled hope and a promise, not unlike a rainbow. In Colorado, the winters are long and sometimes hard, and the lilacs were one of the truest harbingers of spring. They brought with their signature scent a sure sign that summer break was around the corner and that our cousins would soon be there to visit. The lilac's unassuming blossoms bobbed in the breeze as we planned supper-time weeny-roasts and watched the gangly-legged foals frolic in the glade.

The Ranch was waking up from the long winter as the snow melt sank into underground aquifers and the mud season of late winter and early spring gave way to solid ground. Sure-footed colts snorted and kicked up their heels in the fresh spring turf under the patient eye of the mares who bit off huge mouthfuls of fresh grass. The distinctive sound of Mimi's screen door as it opened and sprung shut carried across the lilac-scented air more often as everyone began picking up the tasks that needed doing. New corral arrangements, and fence repair, and moving water troughs and putting halters on foals for the first time. It was time to curry-comb huge piles of winter hair off the mares so they gleamed in the sun. And the heady scent of lilacs drifted through it all, a colorful backdrop to the daily business of running a ranch.

There wasn’t much time for frivolous landscaping at the ranch. Mimi had her priorities for the land and her time. Besides we didn't want to plant anything that the horses might eat and get sick, so we stuck with grass and let the horses mow it. Mimi brought the mares and babies in the front yard where we could see them all the time. I'd sit on the porch swing with her drinking coffee or iced tea and just watch them graze and see how the babies grew light purple and curious. They would nuzzle the lilac blossoms with their soft noses and swish their little tails.

We were allowed to pick a few lilac blooms and bring them into the house in Mason jars. The shrubs were old and enormous, having spread their base over decades, they easily topped seven feet tall and were fifteen feet or more across. There was light purple, dark purple and white varieties. Each one smelled a little differently, but they were all full of bees! We never did figure out if there were hives full of honey somewhere nearby, but the bees figured out where they could load up on pollen and nectar.

The little outdoor fire place that sat in front of the summer house, which we called the weeny roast place, was lined on one whole side by the light purple lilac. On a warm spring day, I could sit there for hours in the dappled sunlight that filtered through the new cottonwood leaves above and breathe in that sweet air. I'd have to swat away the hungry mosquitos, but that was just part of life in Colorado in the spring. There was a family of magpies that had a nest in the elm tree on the other side of the and they didn't like too many visitors near their babies, so they'd squawk swoop down and dive bomb us as we walked by. I could close my eyes and drift away listening to the sounds of life at The Ranch as it hummed along right in time with a celestial clock, perfect and unstoppable.

It's funny how something so simple as a smell can link us to a time and place so totally.

Memories come in all kinds of packages trip-wired with sensory triggers to burst open on contact. The winsome notes of a favorite song can peel away decades to immerse me in a single slice of a single day from my youth. The smell and swirl of color of that moment surround me once again, rising up to replay every little detail all the way down to feeling the warmth of the breath of the nervous boy who thought he might try to kiss me, while that song blared awkwardly in the high school gymnasium. How was I to know it would become part of the soundtrack of my life? I am often surprised when I stumble upon a memory trigger, but I've learned to enjoy them, to let them have their say.

Feeling a memory, holding it my heart and breathing it in deeply to let it blossom and unfold on the canvas of my mind is one way I keep you alive. But it's more than that. The experiences we have here lend meaning to our lives, they are the captain's log of our journey. Recalling any one of them can take us back to that moment where we can interact with and BE. It's another NOW that we can experience whenever we want to. Time and experience are not linear concepts, they are more meaningfully tied to our emotional selves...what we invest in, in our hearts.

And there are so many memories to treasure of our time here together. The curve of your little head resting on my chest and the new baby smell that I could never get enough of; every time I see a baby boy who is smiling and healthy and bright and beautiful as you, that memory of you plays across my heart. When I see a white Chevy truck and VDOT road crews and when I hear certain songs and when your brothers make certain facial expressions and when I look up at the sky at night and stare into the spaces between the stars, I remember you. When I see a deer or a turkey in a field and a sky full of clouds and light and sun-streaking to kiss a tree-top with gold, I see you. I can dance with you in the kitchen and hear you play songs with your dad on the porch because you do these things in my heart, where love lives. I recall with pride the way you walked and laugh when I think about that swaggering gait and the way you sometimes wore your jeans too tight.

Thank you for the lilacs, Thor. I know you brought them to me on purpose as a gift for your mama. You are still here, creating memories for me and kindling those places in my heart that stir and surface the love I felt in each one of them. The love never dies, we can follow the love to revisit any moment, anytime, any place through love and it's the same as being there.

The smell of lilacs…is a portal, a door key, a pathway to the greater possibilities that we are all as eternal as the love we share.

Hafiz says it perfectly.

Again last

Popped the cork on itself—
Splattered my brains
Across the

I imagine now for ages
Something of Hafiz
Will appear
To fall like

- Hafiz

I love you!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

For Thor - 82 - Dirt

What do I want to say to you today? On this bright, beautiful first day of April with the birds singing and the tulips bobbing their heads in a gentle breeze I feel you here, but I have no particular words. And yet, I'm drawn to write, to spend a little quality time with you.  So I guess we'll just see where this takes us today.

The past few weeks have been hectic for me. I don't like it because I can't hear you as well when the pace of life is fast and loud. But I'm putting that rainbow connection we made to good use so that even in the whirlwind of a crazy day I am able to sense you better and see the signs you leave for me. Like the enormous rainbow that was practically in my lap the other day! Wow! These signs that tell me you're with me, even if your body is dead, that you are near even if I can no longer hold you in my arms and inhale your smell; a blend of fresh air, body wash, diesel fuel and awesomeness. A mom's longing to hold her son never diminishes, you know. So that is just part of my daily life now; learning to live with the longing, the heartache, the heartbreak and the sorrow. I have become an expert repurposer, turning these pains one by one into new pathways toward joyful living, love, and gratitude.  There are times though when I just have to sob, and that's okay. I miss you, and I'm really sad that you're not here to do all the things you wanted to do, to share in the beauty of life together.

Last week Xanny and I went to see Florida Georgia Line in concert. I know you already know this because you were there with us the whole time. And what a show it was, eh? When I learned FGL was coming to town, I knew we had to go for you and for us. Your Spotify playlists are chock full of FGL songs and so many of them seem like melodic biographies; telling the story of your life. You loved living in the country, the lovely gals, the jacked up trucks, hanging with your friends, and fun on a Friday night. Living, loving, laughing every minute of every day like there was no tomorrow was your credo. And I'm glad it was because you truly experienced so many things in your short years here on earth. It's a lesson to any of us who choose to live timidly or disconnected from our own power and voice. Tomorrow isn't promised, but right now, this very moment IS…what are you going to do with it? How ARE you in it?  Life is all about the experiences, right? FGL makes me think of this as I sing along with "This is How We Roll."  How did life express itself through me today? What experiences did I bring forth? How did I connect with and build closer relationships with others through these experiences? Yeah, I think about stuff like this while sipping that whiskey on a Friday night, Bubby.

I want to tell you THANK YOU for sending that tractor for your dad! If ever there was ever a doubt that you are helping us as much as possible, this tractor showing up as it did would put that doubt to bed! Everything about this tractor says it's from you. First of all, we looked around, and everything we found that met our needs was way outside our budget. So we kept looking. Dad thought he'd get some really old tractor and work on it. To which I said, hell no! I want a machine that's going to work a while before we have to put any money in it. And so we looked some more. Then dad found a 1996 John Deer 955 with very few hours on it that he could get with a rake and bush hog - for well within our budget. 1996 - the year you were born. John Deere - your and dad's favorite tractors. I knew in my heart that you had helped get that machine here for daddy.

I think we're going to name the tractor, "Li'l Lewie. I help dig!" in honor of you (your middle name) and the story from when you were two years old and scared the crap out of Pad and Dad.  They were digging a trench to put in a water line and were standing in the ditch with mud up to their knees using shovels and digging bars to break the earth when they heard an engine fire up from around the garage. They looked at each other and realized it was the backhoe that they heard. In the next instant, they realized that there were the only two people who would operate the backhoe, right? Unless, possibly... gasp! Well, those two grown men leaped about four feet in the air and ran to where the backhoe was parked to find your two-year-old self up in the seat jiggling the controls with a determined look in your eye and a smile a mile wide… "I help dig!" you said as Pap turned the key off and dad stilled your little hands on the controls that had the bucket bouncing up and down. "I help dig!" you insisted when they pulled you down and wiped the cold sweat from their foreheads. Needless to say, they never left the keys in the machines ever again! But that didn't stop you from wanting to ride on or drive any kind of tractor or truck, ever. And it certainly didn't keep you from digging. Dad and Pap gave you a little shovel to help them the old fashioned way…and you used that shovel anytime you could. One time you and Chaz even dug up the gas line two feet underground with plastic beach shovels!

We're putting in a meadow this year so that we can have forage for bees next year. It's going to be so beautiful to see a field of clover and orchard grass swaying in the breeze. I think I'll finally have some bluebirds come to live here with open space like that. You seem to like sending me birds. I'll keep my eyes open for whichever of avian beings you choose to send a message. I see them and send a kiss and a hug back to you, carried on their wings into the ether where you can catch them. 

I'm trying to get used to this new relationship and most days I do okay. I accept the gifts you send as evidence that I'm not dreaming this up. But sometimes it's just not okay. I know you see me struggling at times and that you try to help. Thank you, sweet boy, for sticking by my side and helping me up. The signs and the messages and the overwhelming feeling of your presence keep my head above water. And one by one, pain by pain, I turn them into new pathways…one step at a time, one tear at a time, one smile at a time into joyful living.

For today, I'm gonna get my hands in the dirt. Spring is in the air, and you are outside calling me to come out and play. I have some digging to do and a little raking, too.  A Florida Georgia Line song comes to mind… see you out there, Bubby.

I love you, Mom

DIRT - Florida Georgia Line

You get your hands in it
Plant your roots in it
Dusty head lights dance with your boots in it (dirt)
You write her name on it
Spin your tires on it
Build your corn field, whiskey
Bonfires on it (dirt)
You bet your life on it

It's that elm shade
Red roads clay you grew up on
That plowed up ground That your dad
Damned his luck on
That post game party field
You circled up on
And when it rains
You get stuck on
Drift a cloud back
Behind county roads
That you run up
The mud on her jeans that she peeled off
And hung up
Her blue eyed Summer time smile
Looks so good that it hurts
Makes you wanna build
A 10 percent down
White picket fence house on this dirt

You've mixed some sweat with it
Taken a shovel to it
You've stuck some crosses and some painted
Goal posts through it (dirt)

You know you came from it (dirt)
And some day you'll return to

It's that elm shade
Red roads clay you grew up on
That plowed up ground that your dad
Damned his luck on that post game party field
You circled up on
And when it rains you get stuck on
Drift a cloud back Behind county roads
That you run up
The mud on her jeans that she peeled off
And hung up
Her blue eyed summer time smile
Looks so good that it hurts
Makes you wanna build
A 10 percent down
White picket fence house on this dirt

You came from it,

And some day you'll return to it