Tuesday, February 28, 2012

$13 for 13

In honor of Jack's upcoming 13th birthday, we are asking Jack's friends to consider contributing $13 to Jack's favorite charity, Samaritan's Purse.

If you would like to make a contribution of any size, here is the link:

Donations may be made anonymously.

With thanks and love!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Love Handles Can=More to Love

At lunch today one of my best friends said I looked "frail." I assured her that I have been sleeping pretty well and eating a ton, but I did admit I've lost some weight since the accident. I thought again how much I obsessed over my weight last summer, and subjected you to it, wishing there was a way I could lose a few pounds without even trying. Ugh.

Now, not only do I see my fretting about my weight as stupid and pointless, I can't really enjoy the fact that my clothes fit better. I am too focused on making it through the days right now. And the fact that the weight loss is just a byproduct of losing something far, far greater-- my 70 lb boy, my Jack-- makes me more de-pressed than im-pressed with any number on the scale.

It reminded me of how I felt about my "chestal area" shortly after giving birth. Oh my! No one had warned me that overnight I would be blessed with porn star boobs. I mean not quite like Ice-T's wife CoCo, during our New York City Celebrity sighting, but ever so close. I couldn't even see my feet.

I remember showing my friend Kathy pictures taken in the hospital of baby Jack. "He's adorable!" she gushed. Then, pointing to the melon-sized something next to his tiny head, continued, "But what's that thing? ...Oh...Ewwww...Sorry."

Instead of reveling in my bodacious new body parts, I was too busy trying to keep the sweet and scrawny baby alive. The altered physique was wasted on me. And when Tim, eyes as big as saucers, did a double-take, I was like: "Dude, back off. These are WORKING boobs."

So today, with a little spare room in my jeans, while I am slightly more comfortable with my waistband not digging into my midsection, I am not yet comfortable with the situation that got me here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Cleave or Cleave?

I loved teaching vocabulary to high schoolers. A bunch of 30-somethings out there probably still remember their weird young teacher throwing her arms open wide and bellowing “CA-PAAAA-CIOUS means SPAAAAAA-CIOUS!” to help them remember.

And what about the word CLEAVE? I mean, how many words have 2 opposite meanings? I loved that!

1) to adhere closely; stick; cling, to remain faithful
2) to split or divide by or as if by a cutting blow, especially along a natural line of division, as the grain of wood.

When I think of the hell our family is enduring, I would have hoped and prayed and even imagined that we would be living out the first definition of cleave, but that’s not really the case. We are trying, believe me, we are.

But these past few weeks have felt more suited to Jerry Springer, a Dateline Special, or at least an emergency episode of Super Nanny than our previously “Cleave Definition Number 1” kind of family life. Sometimes it feels as if were are splitting apart. Yet our splitting, or cleaving, does not follow along a “natural line of division” and is therefore brutal and messy and jagged. For there is nothing natural about losing a child. We are sad and angry and confused. This is beyond shitty.

I’ve been reading a lot about grief and how one person’s life and death mean so much to a family, and to the world. Every life matters. As Jack’s accident and death gradually become more real to us as we approach the wretched 6 month mark, the enormity of what happened down by that creek feels like such a blow to our family and to the future.

John Donne’s words resonate with me:

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece
of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by
the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's
death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and
therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for

Being Jack-less make us all feel like so much…less. Our family and our world woefully diminished.

And when I think of Margaret without her Jack, the idea makes me sick. I am simply not okay with it. Never have I witnessed two siblings who complemented each other so well. In my “Mother’s Keepsake Journal” from when Jack was a baby, I wrote: “Jack, your world is going to change in a big way. Mommy is pregnant! I wish I could protect you from the inevitable strife that having a sibling will cause, but then I would also be depriving you of the joy that comes from sharing your life, your childhood, your world view with a sister or brother. You will be connected with him or her longer than any other person in your life…”


Perhaps Jack remembered a time without Margaret, but she never knew a day without him until now.

“Connected” is right.

Jack and Margaret shared secrets, games, and a quirky language. They loved going to camp and school together. The summer of 3rd and 5th grades, they would look at each other and say in weird voices, “OH! I thought it was the carburetor!” No one had a clue what that meant, but it sure cracked them up. We have tons of video clips they made in the back seat of the car that summer, killing time on long trips, making crap up. Weird voices. Weird faces. Precious memories.

They shared a bedroom at the beach each year, even though Jack could have easily ditched his little sister for a berth in the guys’ bunk room. On our last trip, a week before the accident, they watched a Ghost Hunters Marathon on tv. When Margaret got freaked out, Jack comforted her by talking to her softly and sleeping right next to her. Jack never left Margaret out, and she acted as his wingman in the neighborhood.

This summer he came to me and said “Mom, I’m worried about Margaret. She’s not being as good of a sport as she used to and I think people are starting to notice.” This was not tattling but was genuine concern from a boy who had suffered the stigma of sore loser-ship in his earlier years and wanted to prevent the same thing from happening to his “cool” little sister. He wanted what was best for Margaret. Always.

And THIS situation? Does not feel best. Most days it doesn’t even seem bearable. It seems wasteful and heartbreaking and wrong.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m glad our family was close. I am grateful our children had each other for the time that they did. The four of us were bonded, intertwined, sticky, and faithful. But those qualities do not a clean separation make.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Jack's Jokes

When Jack was about 6 he wrote a little joke book with cute little clip art illustrations. He would probably be embarrassed that I'm sharing it here and would find fault in his corny, little-kid humor, but oh well; I'm the mom, it's my blog, and I could use a smile today:

Q: What did the tree eat for breakfast?


Q:What kind of plant isn't really a plant?


Q:Why were the scissors a bad student?


Q:What do you call a mean kid?


Q: When does ginger ale taste the best?


Love and hugs to you!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Rare Bird Part 4

So I teased you a while back by showing you a picture of a bird on my windowsill, promising to fill you in later. I have a story to tell you about him, but I have hesitated in case you are starting to think I’m a whack-job with all of the signs I’ve received since Jack died: the Bible verse that showed up on my phone hours after the accident, the songs that played on their own, the achingly beautiful sunsets for months of rainy Thursdays at the exact time of his death, a divinely-inspired poem that captured the essence of my son, your dreams and visions and experiences that have shouted “Jack is more than fine!”, a “jacked up” Valentine’s crossword puzzle, and a feeling of peace and hope that makes zero sense yet pervades my days.

I thought about keeping this sign, the bird, to myself. But, as I told a friend last week, I care less now than ever before if people think I’m a weirdo. It’s as if having lost a child, there just isn’t much else to lose, you know? I also have a strong sense that sharing what’s going on is important, even if I don’t understand it fully. Important for me in the telling, but perhaps important for you, too.

So here goes:

About 3 months ago I was having a particularly shitty Saturday. I’ve told you weekends are the worst, right? During the week I seem to muddle through with work/school /dinner/homework/bedtime pretty well, but the weekends just kind of ooze with their wretched Jack-less-ness.

So I cried out (inside my head, lest I would scare the neighbors) that I was desperate and hurting and miserable. I didn’t think I could go on. I needed help. Scary images of the accident and my beautiful brown-eyed boy in a terrible situation flashed through my mind again and again. I felt sick about the future of our family.

I cried out, then I did what any grieving blogger would do to while away some time—begin to cruise the internet in my office. I noticed a few tiny fuzzy gray feathers stuck to the window right next to my desk. In my anger and frustration, I may have said to myself, “Great! I need comfort and all I’m going to get is a dead bird. So NOT helpful.” I refused to look more closely because I didn’t think seeing a dead bird on the ground outside my window would provide any solace while I was missing my Rare Bird so terribly.

An hour or so later I stood up to look directly at the windowsill —which is not visible when I’m sitting down. The cutest chubby gray bird sat there looking at me, perhaps stunned from flying into the window earlier. But if it hadn’t been for the tiny bit of feather fuzz stuck to the window from his mishap I never would have known there was anything to see out there, so I was now thankful for that fuzz.

I wasn’t sure what to think. Was this my sign? Another visit from a bird? Was the bird here to keep me company as I blogged and moped and railed? Had it been hanging around all day, for I know it had been there several hours at least. I wasn’t sure what to do next. In such an instance, do I talk to God? Do I talk to Jack? Do I talk to the bird?

I decided to take pictures.

A lot of pictures, with the camera buzzing and flash flashing. The bird let me get super close and still it didn’t budge. He just sat there looking cute as I made my way back to my desk, sheepishly wondering if it was somehow disrespectful to cruise Facebook while experiencing what was most likely a gift of supernatural comfort.

After a while I thought, much as I appreciate my little visitor, what if the little bird COULDN’T fly away? A maimed bird is right up there with a dead bird in my book as far as depressing signs go. I mean, I wanted the bird to be hanging out because he wanted to, not because his wings were broken. So I went outside and walked right up to him. I put my face close to his and then he flew. He flew! He flew into a holly tree next to the window, where he proceeded to... look at me some more.

I felt euphoric that he could fly! I felt surprised that in my time of great distress, once again I was comforted by a little bird. I felt this would make my clever Rare Bird smile.

In a short time, my mind had traveled from the darkest place of hopelessness to a place where I could ponder the humor and creativity of God and of my my sweet boy who, while physically separated from me, still lives on if I really do believe what I say I believe. Once again, I was reminded of how the veil between here and there, earth and heaven seems to be so much thinner than I ever could have imagined. I thought about how we are all in for some neat surprises when it's our turn to go.

But then I wondered, how long do I hang out with the bird? What if I have to go to the bathroom? What if I just have a ridiculously short attention span and am ready to move on with my day? Could I please just take my comfort “to go?” So I picked the tiny gray fuzz off the window to keep, smiled at the bird, and went back inside.

And yes, I washed my hands.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Quotations for a Monday

Here's what I'm pondering today:

"Had you restrained your love, you would be free of sorrow. The greater the love, while one possesses it, the greater the sorrow when one is deprived of it." Von Tepl

"Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn." Romans 12:15

"Many waters cannot quench love, Nor will rivers overflow it..." Song of Solomon 8:7

"This is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, 'No future bliss can make up for it,' not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even the agony into a glory." C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

"Hope claims the possibilities of the future, hopelessness recognizes its limits. In the mature person there are feelings of both, but they are kept distinct and separate. There's nothing wrong with hopeless feelings as long as they only limit, but do not contaminate the hope." William Lynch

"And I was having to bear the unbearable. If I must bear it, I would bear it-- find the whole meaning of it, taste the whole of it...I would not run away from grief; I would not try to hold on to it when-- if, unbelievably-- it passed." Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy

Much love to you today...

Friday, February 10, 2012

Valentine Gratitude Box

If you recall last year we had a Valentine Gratitude box in the kitchen in which to put sweet notes to each other. We read them aloud on Feb 14th.

Margaret doesn't want to do it this year, because even though Jack apparently chose NOT to participate, he was a big part of the activity last year. I blogged about my favorite funny responses last February, and I think they illustrate the sweet and playful way Margaret related to Jack and our whole family!

I really hope you'll check that post out, replacing Molly/Margaret and Jake/Jack.

Here are some others that didn't make that post, but that sure DO make me miss LAST Valentine's Day a lot:

Jack, I love your loyalty. Love, Dad

Anna, I love your mothering instincts. Love, Tim

Thanks for getting me up on time, Margaret! Love, Mom

Tim, You are a stud. Love, Anna

I like the way Margaret didn't get upset when I forgot to wash her pants. xo, Mom

Jack, you are a good friend. Love, Mom

Margaret, you are a ton of fun! Love, Mom

Margaret, I love how you are my early morning buddy. Love, Dad

Jack, I love how you have a compassionate heart, especially for people who are less fortunate. Dad

Shadow, Thanks for being such a good car rider. Love, Mom

Tim, Thank you for cooking yummy food for us! xo, Anna

Mom, I like your chicken soup. - M

Shadow, I like your cuteness!- M

Margaret, I love your sense of humor! Love, Dad

Jack, You have the cutest hair ever. Sorry Justin Bieber, you lose! Mom

Margaret, reading "Holes" with you is fun. I wonder how it will turn out?!" Love, Mom

I love the way Jack doesn't let his nosebleeds get him down. Love, Mom

I love how Tim has gotten the kids into skiing! Love, Anna

Who is the best builder? Jack is! Love, Mom

Jack, your artwork looks great! Love, Mom

Margaret, I love watching you dance Hip-Hop Love, Mom

Jack, I love how you keep your promises. Love, Dad

I love the way Margaret and Jack help calm me down when I get stressed-- xo, Mom

Margaret, Shopping with you is FUN! xo, Mom

Margaret, I love watching you play soccer! Love, Dad

I love the discussions Jack and I get into at bedtime. Love, Mom

Margaret, you are a good friend. Love, Mom

Like, OMG! Margaret is sooo funny! xo, Mom

I enjoyed my lunch date with Dad. xo, Mom

Shadow, I love your enthusiastic greetings. It makes me feel loved when you are always so happy to see us. Love, Dad (editor's note: the longest note is from Tim to a dog.)

Jack-- Go black diamond slopes! Impressive! xo, Mom

Jack, I love playing games with you. Love, Dad

Anna, I love the way you write. Tim

You get the idea. If someone could send me a time machine for Valentine's Day, I'd be mighty grateful.

Love to you all!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Samaritan's Purse and Jack's Lanterns Update

I want to update you on Samaritan’s Purse, one of Jack's favorite charities. Thank you so much to those of you who have contributed in any way! Contributions totaling over $7,000 went to Samaritan’s Purse shortly after Jack’s death. The donations went to Operation Christmas Child, clean water projects, and disaster relief.

In November, many, many people packed Christmas boxes in Jack’s memory to be sent all over the world, giving needy children what may be the first Christmas gifts of their lives. Thank you to those who participated!
Our family had the privilege of making boxes with our church youth group and at Tim’s office. We dropped off 119 boxes the week before Thanksgiving. An Inch of Gray reader, Katie, got creative and made a beautiful video featuring Jack to help motivate youth in her church
to give more boxes than ever before!

Next, my sister, Auntie, set up a virtual running group called “Jack’s Lanterns" which will run races all over the world in Jack’s honor to raise money for Samaritan’s Purse. Almost $6,000 has been raised by Jack's Lanterns already! Auntie is hoping for $10,000 by Jack’s birthday in mid- March! Runners can sign up by emailing your name and what race you plan on running to me at aninchofgray@yahoo.com. That’s it. Just let me know, and you ARE one of Jack’s Lanterns.

As a runner, you can make a donation and/or direct your friends and family to the secure website so they can make a donation if they wish. Neighbors, former students, Jack’s Cub Scout leader, high school friends, blog readers, and one of the paramedics from that horrible night are all Jack’s Lanterns. Tim is running the first races of his life to honor his son's memory.

If, like me, you are not an athlete but rather an “athletic supporter” (one of my fave lines from “Grease”), you can go to the Jack's Lanterns page and donate just as so many generous people have already done. One of Jack and Margaret’s young friends even requested that her friends make donations to Jack's Lanterns instead of giving her presents this year. Wow!
Please spread the word by telling anyone you can think of.
Thank you so much for your love and support!

“Nothing is Impossible with God.” Luke 1:37

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Comfy Pants?

I’m wearing the pants I had on when Jack died. They’ve been at the bottom of the closet ever since they were washed sometime after the accident. I’ve already donated to charity the outfit I wore to work that day—a black pencil skirt and new fitted red blouse—because to see them hanging in my closet reminded me of how ignorantly/innocently I waltzed through that day, with no idea how life would change just a few hours later.

I had exchanged my casual summer clothes for professional ones that day and was ready to start the year. I think when you’ve been a teacher or a parent, September, rather than January, signals a year’s beginning. I felt great about where my kids were, literally and figuratively, and experienced the energy burst you get with the turning of a new calendar page. The wild weather of August was, I hoped, winding down, the kids were in school for a full day, and I was ready to roll.

After work I got comfy and pulled on my black stretchy pants, hand me downs from my sister. These were the pants that would run with me as I searched desperately for a glimpse of my son, mere moments after he disappeared.

Even though we never talked about it, Margaret and Tim never wore their clothes from that night again. Margaret’s favorite Snoopy shirt and soccer uniform shorts ended up in a trash can. A kind soccer mom bought her replacement shorts. Tim’s brown suede shoes, covered with mud and tears, sat stinking in a grocery bag in the kitchen for a week before I threw them out. For a few weeks, until I got the energy to pick up another pair of shoes for him, Tim wore bulky hiking boots with his regular clothes to work and to church—a small outward example of how off-kilter we had become on the inside.

Jack was wearing his school uniform at the time of the accident, and had been wearing it for two days straight. You see at bedtime the night before, after our family Clue Game, Jack said he was feeling too lazy to change into a t-shirt and comfy shorts for sleeping. I said, “Why don’t you keep that on, then you’ll already be dressed for school tomorrow?” I thought I was clever and he liked my idea.

It may seem strange that we have so many photos of Jack in the outfit he died in, but that uniform represents more than 6 years of Jack’s life, and we can’t spurn any photos just because of clothing, for every image we have of him is precious now, and so desperately needed.

Although we do not know what happened to the exact clothes he wore that night-- his shirt, his shorts, his shoes, his belt—we have stacks of matching navy blue uniform shirts and khaki shorts in his closet. I do not associate that outfit with his death, but rather his everyday life-- his school friendships, first day of school pictures in the front yard, numerous baskets of laundry, and the last glimpse I had of him, smiling in our driveway.

But today, 5 months in, is the first day I’ve felt like putting on my black pants from that day. I woke up feeling strong, I want to be comfortable, and I don’t think my penguin pj bottoms are all that appropriate for public consumption.


The thing is, shortly after I started typing this, I noticed a stale smell. At first I blamed Margaret, who had been sitting near me. Sniff Sniff Sniff. The smell patrol is on the job. Turns out, that was a false accusation.

I now know the stale smell is my pants. THE pants! This is certainly not what I intended to write today. This post was going to be about wearing the damn pants because not only do they fit, good comfy pants are hard to find, and I have zero energy for shopping. I was going to say that Jack is gone, but I still need to cover “my butt." I mean, if I can drive by the neighbor’s house where the accident happened every time I leave my house, see the bridge multiple times a day, look into the faces of the children who are alive when Jack is dead, well then of course I can wear the stupid pants. Neat, concise ending.

But now that I know these pants carry a dank smell from the rain, mud, panic and fear of that night, and from being left in a pile, probably for days, while Tim and I wandered like zombies, making hasty yet unfathomable decisions, I've decided there will be no neat ending for today. Just a woman who is still feeling sort of brave and who will be throwing these pants away.

P.S. If you are the woman who spotted Jack in the background of photos you took of your son at the Lego store in Feb 2010, please email me at aninchofgray or leave me a comment letting me know how to contact you! I lost your message and would love to have those pictures. Thank you so much!

Sunday, February 5, 2012


My sister signed me up for Words with Friends a few days ago. You would think I’d be decent at it—after all, I love words and I love friends. Nope. I kind of stink.

Last night I was thinking about what my problem is, and it’s the same one I had when trying to play Scrabble as a kid. I get caught up in the words I “almost” have. “Hatchet” – if I just had the final “t.” “Media” but nowhere to place it on the board, “Surfeit,” just without the pesky “u”. I get so enamored with these “almost” words, it makes it hard for me to see what I really can use to make a smart play.

So I end up playing a measly word like “EAT.” Sometimes the game shuffles the letters around for me to jolt my brain with a different perspective and hopefully help me recognize a great word. But that doesn’t seem to help. I hang onto the letters I have, hoping the final letter will appear, because it’s such a great “almost” word, but when it’s my turn to play again, the board has changed, due to my opponent’s move, and I’ve still got nothing.

I think I relate to grief in a similar way. Right now I am caught up in what “almost” was the future for our family. So very, very close, but now with one key element missing. I cling to the way I wanted things to be—stable and good and meaningful, with maybe a bit of pizazz or a triple word score thrown in every now and then, but nothing too dramatic, and certainly not tragic.

The problem is, just as I can’t play a word that is not completely there, will never be completely there, I know I need to function within the family as it IS, not as it could have been. So by functioning, although hurting and half-hearted, I manage to go to work, get dinner on the table and give the impression of giving ½ a shit about what’s going on around me. To me, that’s the equivalent of playing “RAT” or “SET.”And that’s all I’ve got in me right now.

But the hours of daylight are getting longer, and many days I am filled with peace, the peace that passes all understanding, that I know comes from your prayers on our behalf. And when I remember Jack, which is all day, every day, it is with a smile, because that kid brought great joy to us. He was creative, smart, loving, and deep. He made us proud. He made us laugh with his silly quirkiness. With his strong moral code, he made us strive to be better, more faithful people. And now, somehow, he is still doing those things, but on a grander scale, far beyond just our family and our little cul de sac.

And while deep in my heart I wanted to play the words “COMFORTABLE,” “LINEAR”, and “STABLE”, I love this family and I’m guessing someday in the future I’ll be able to play “RESIGNED” , “THRIVING”, and maybe even "BEAUTY" "FROM" "ASHES".

Friday, February 3, 2012

Flashback Friday

In honor of Margaret and Tim's day on the slopes, I thought we'd enjoy a little flashback to another family ski trip!

This is my gift to you. Read it and feel better about your parenting. Much better.

A Few Quotations for Today

"I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness and willingness to remain vulnerable."
-- Anne Morrow Lindbergh

"We must kick the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight."
-- Bruce Cochburn, from the song, "Lovers in a Dangerous Time"

"Grief fills the room up of my absent chld,
Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,
Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,
Remembers me of all his gracious parts,
Stuffs on his vacant garments with his form:
Then have a reason to be fond of grief."

-- William Shakespeare, King John

"The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit"

--Psalm 34:18