Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey, I mean Jack and Margaret's Mom

I was spending time with a friend last week and we were talking about Jack's accident. I asked her why people think I have so much faith when I feel as if I have far less than I've ever had in my life. She responded, "It pours out of you, Anna. It's just there." Hmmm. Anger? I can see that pouring out of me right now. Disappointment? Got it. But faith? I'm not so sure.

I've been thinking about this a lot, because it is undeniable that Jack's death is having a profound spiritual effect on people by challenging them to look outside the comforts and conflicts of middle class suburban life and ask questions like, "Why did this happen?" "What does this mean to ME?" "When the body dies, is that IT?" "How does a family get through this?" "Why do bad things happen to good people?" and even, "Why do GOOD things happen to BAD people?" It is having this effect on me, too, just with a few more curse words thrown in.

Through this blog I've been honored to share many of the amazing signs of comfort from God that have followed Jack's death. Blog readers have graciously shared their own. These strange occurrences have again and again shown us that love does not die. That Jack's soul lives on. That what I said I believed...wow...is really true!

When I think of Jack's impact, and its spiritual emphasis, I think of prayer after prayer uttered in love and despair on our behalf since September, many from folks who wouldn't consider themselves to be "pray-ers" at all. Babies baptized. Young people looking for more than just transitory joy. Parents looking at their kids as gifts, not just as "gifted." People returning to church, or even going for the first time. Hurt, disillusioned souls being willing to open their hearts, just a little bit more, to a God they felt had let them down or deserted them. People receiving comfort at their own loved one's deaths with the promise of "something more." People wanting "what we have" even when we have lost so much.

When asked by someone why she had started attending church and reading the Bible, a dear friend of mine answered, "Why, Jack, of course!"

So... many, many people have felt drawn closer to God because of Jack, a boy who believed that, "Nothing is Impossible with God." For that I'm awestruck and grateful.

On the other hand, there are a lot of folks who have been thrust into a spiritual CRISIS over Jack's death. I get this too. It may sound so crazy, since terribly tragic and unfair things happen every second of every day and on a much larger scale, but "Why, God? Why Jack?" has been a common refrain.

My favorite Bible verse since I was a preteen has been, "I believe. Help my unbelief," and that is the tension or balance I have lived with every single day, although much more so since September 8th.

I think about how hard it is for me to take communion or to worship at church right now. For me, there's just one broken body I think about these days. Oh how broken. And not even broken to save the world.

So while there is hope and comfort and mystery and a peace that passes all understanding, there's also a profound sense of confusion, disappointment, and a need to realign what what we thought we believed, to what we believe. To hang in there in a life of faith, despite a lack of understanding and acceptance. Despite the trauma of going to a Memorial Day festival surrounded by every 7th and 8th grade boy in the tri-state area.

Closer to God/farther than ever. "I believe/ Help my unbelief." Comfort/despair.

Then thing is, I guess I CAN see what my friend sees, that even in this disappointment, there is some faith. My profound disappointment has an OBJECT-- an object big enough to handle my questions and my disappointment. A God who graciously gives me comfort even while withholding the answer to,"Why Jack?"

And here's the thing. I know I'm his mom saying this, but Jack matters. Not more than someone else. Not less. I am very fortunate for this blog, this forum, which not every bereaved parent has, in order to see the difference Jack makes, that each life makes.

And if in that mattering, or counting for something, we are driven to our knees in seeking God, or even driven to shaking our fists at him in anger, then that is an act of faith. And I think Jack would like that.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Finally Friday

I want to thank you for all of your supportive comments, your continued prayers, and all of the wonderful book suggestions!

The past week has been challenging. We went to a baseball game to see Jack's team play his best friend's team. Ouch. Then we had the spring arts festival at school. Not only did it bring back lots of memories, including the way Jack and his friends talked the music teacher into adding a part to last year's performance so Jack could be a tumbleweed, but it was also brutal seeing Jack's sweet classmates play a song on their guitars. You see, all the 7th graders learned guitar this year. I was pissed that Jack didn't get to play guitar because I wasn't born yesterday and I know full well that a cute boy, even one who might not be the biggest, hunkiest guy on the block, will get the girls if he has soulful eyes (check!) and plays guitar (check!).

The highlight of the evening (seriously!) was Margaret's hilariously spot-on comic performance of a female cat whose love falls off a roof and dies and then is brought back to life during the funeral in the folk song "Don Gato." Strange topic, we know, but nothing surprises us anymore and she nailed it.

Now, as we enter the weekend, we face our town's Memorial Day carnival, which has always been a highlight for our family.

Craptastic. But we'll survive. I promise.

I want to leave you with a "God Wink" for the weekend. I have so many of these to share, and I hope you find them encouraging.

A few months ago, my fellow Monkees at Glennon's AMAZING blog Momastery, put together a goody bag for us that centered around a jaunt to Leesburg, a quaint nearby town. They were hoping that an afternoon away would be an opportunity for us to make some new memories, and it was. We took Margaret and a friend and went out to lunch and to a few adorable shops. The second one we entered was a French kitchen-type store, and I soon noticed there were large ceramic cicadas all over the walls. Not the most attractive things, but you know my affinity for cicadas, and how they remind me of Jack, so I was pleased. I was chuckling about that when Margaret's friend went straight to the greeting cards, pointed to a single one in front, and said, "This one's cool."

Indeed. Now it's on our fridge.
Old memories. New memories. Lasting Love.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Why Judy Made Me Moody

Finding books to read right now is difficult. To start with, there’s the whole “I don’t give a crap” factor about most topics. For months, the only books I’ve read have been about grief because I want to see how families survive this. At some point I will write a blog post summarizing the grief books that have been most helpful to me, in case that would be useful to others.

Magazines fit my shortened attention span, but do not satisfy me with their content. Yes, I still peruse the eye candy of a gorgeous mud-room or kitchen or the train wreck that is the Kardashians, but they leave me empty.

Novels? Are tough too.

Last Friday I scoured the shelves of the thrift store for something new to read. That store, like all the others, is a minefield for me of memories and pain, especially since Jack was a big reader. The last book he was reading was one I bought him there, “I am the Cheese,” by Robert Cormier. I remembered the title from the 70’s, but couldn’t recall what it was about. I bought it and read it myself before giving it to Jack. He was partway through and was enjoying the strange narrative style.

But what to read next? No Oprah books right now. I’ve read most of them already, and they can be a tad (!) depressing. Chick lit? Seems fluffy and irritating at this point. And don’t even get me started on "Fifty Shades of Grey!" I shouldn’t comment on something I have not read, but I have more than an inkling that all that graphic sexual content would make me cranky. I mean, from what I’ve heard, if those two devoted a smidgen of the time they spent, uh, you know, to feeding hungry children, adopting strays or even picking up cigarette butts and gum wads from the sidewalk, their (fictional) world would be a better place.

So on Friday, after careful consideration, I settled on an adult Judy Blume novel from the early 80’s called “Smart Women.” It had the nostalgia factor (“Forever”) from my not-very-rebellious early-teen years, plus the mommy connection to my kids, (“Ramona Quimby”, and“Superfudge”)

I thought I’d be fine.

When I couldn’t sleep last night and decided to read, I found the plot had more twists than the lighthearted book jacket had let on.

Yeah, so that part about the mom who lost her son in an accident, then got divorced, became a terribly unstable parent to her only remaining child, a daughter, and who ended up in a mental institution, while her ex-husband met the love of his life?

Kind of bummed me out.

Oh well. Maybe I should just read the dictionary.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Some Things DON'T Change, OR, Glutton for Punishment

So I pranced down the stairs into the kitchen last night to get feedback on my new fuschia SWIMDRESS from Land's End.

Let it be known that I had a nice conversation with the 2 octogenarians I enountered shopping with me in the Land's End section at Sears this year. One pointed out that chocolate brown swimsuits were all over the place a few years ago, but that they were hard to find this year. I noted inwardly that both of these spry ladies had better legs than I do.

But I digress.

When I entered the kitchen last night, Tim, not understanding the SWIM part of swimdress , perhaps while picturing me lunching at Panera in this get-up, said: "That dress looks a little skimpy to me."

Margaret countered, "DAAAAAAAAD, it's a bathing suit"

Then I, the glutton for punishment, arched my eyebrows and used my most professional voice to say what I always do to the kids when presenting a proposal or a new situation: "Questions? Comments? Concerns?"

Margaret's reply, enumerated one-two-three on her wagging fingertips:

"Questions? WHY?"
"Comments? NO!"
"Concerns? Way too many to list!"

I guess I'm glad some things don't change.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Monday Catch-Up

My sister says she checks my blog compulsively, hoping for an update. I don't want to assume that others do that too, as if I'm some sort of famous person, but I do feel bad when I let days and days go by without filling you in. Does it make you worry and wonder?

If I leave you on a sad note, do you worry that I am down for the count, under the covers until the next blog post appears? If I leave on an "up" note-- do I ever do that?--- do you think, "Wow, Anna's doing great?"

The reality is that during the course of a day, or even an hour, I am up; I am down; I am all over the place. Each day holds its blessings, and its pain.

Last week we had the UP of Margaret doing an AMAZING job as Lucy in "The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe" at school. You've known for years that this girl had dramatic flair, and being in her first play channeled that spunkiness beautifully:

When the narrator talked about "Lucy the Valiant" at the end, I thought. "Margaret, valiant, yes." Not willingly, for sure, but valiant all the same.

She has really, really wanted to play Lucy, ever since Jack played Lucy's brother Edmund the last time the school put on the play. We would practice his lines around the kitchen table. I was the White Witch, and Margaret was Lucy.

The play program this year said, "In Loving Memory of Jack Donaldson. With Aslan."

Wow. Beautiful. I know.

So, it was sweet to see Margaret get to use her gift of acting to entertain. And it was bitter without Jack there to cheer her on, or to critique her every move. Sweet/Bitter. Bittersweet.

Same with her class's Medieval Feast on Friday. She was an archer and did a lovely job. In the back of our minds, however, was Jack, our little dictator, The Lord of the Manor .

And Mother's Day?

There was the bitter of not having this little group together:

Mother's Day 2011 photos. That is a DART in my dress. A DART. Thank you. Seriously, if anyone enjoys Photoshop and would be willing to de-nipplify/dartify these pics for me, I would be GRATEFUL!

And the sweet this year of this hug after Margaret's soccer game:

A tough day, indeed, made much more bearable by cards, love gifts, flowers, texts and emails from friends loving on us. Thank you. By the new blue ribbons festooning fences in town. Thank you. By the prayers sent up by moms gratefully holding their kids close and wishing I could hold both of mine. Thank you.

And today, the school is attending a Shakespeare Festival. One year ago Jack played MacBeth.
This year his name and his favorite Bible verse (Luke 1:37) adorn the progams and the back of the kids' t-shirts.

Ouch. Bitter/Sweet.

So today's post is really just to let you know I'm here.

I'm up.

I'm down.

And I'm glad you are with me.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Listen to Your Mother

Last Sunday was LTYM DC! Here's a show recap from the producer, my awesome friend Kate. I was honored to be part of this amazing spoken word show with a terrific group of women. I wasn't sure how my reading would go, because the day before I decided to practice with two of my mom-friends while Margaret and I were Girl Scout Camping.

I only made it through one line before starting to cry, so I figured Sunday's reading would be a crap shoot.

At the last minute I shuttled my comfy and uber-flattering dress jeans for a pair of black cotton capris. I was 8th to read, and by that time my pants were a soggy mess, having served as sweat-catchers for my dripping palms during the previous 7 readings. When my name was called, I stood up, tried to adjust my pants, and launched into reading this post.

The hardest part for me was not being able to see the people in the audience, because the stage was brightly lit and the house was dark. I stared into the blackness, knowing that college friends, prayer-group moms, blog readers, and many friends from town were there. Not being able to connect with faces was tough, and as I read I felt as if I were talking into a void, making Jim Carrey-like contortions with my face but unable to stop myself. The video should be a self-esteem crushing doozy.

This is the MOST NORMAL my face looked the whole time:

Even though it was scary...
Even though I didn't get to connect face to face with the audience as I would have liked...
And even though I read a shitty, horrible post that in no way reflects the future I thought my beautiful son would have...

The LTYM experience was wonderful and unforgettable. The remaining LTYM shows will take place tomorrow, and shortly thereafter all of the stories will be available to watch on YouTube.

The experience reminds me, once again, that we all have a story, or rather STORIES to tell. And in the sharing, through the belly laughter and the pain, we are able to connect with each other.

Speaking of stories, you MUST read this hilarious post written by a local blogger and reader of An Inch of Gray. She and her mom made the trek to see LTYM DC and you will not believe the tale she has to tell--- there may even be an Elvis sighting!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Mariano Rivera

I thought you might like to hear from Tim again, and judging by how much Mariano Rivera of the Yankees has been in the news the past week or so, I'd like to share a letter Tim wrote to him last fall.

But first, a little background. A woman named Heather, the mom of one of Margaret's friends, attended Jack's funeral along with more than 1600 other people. In the front of the church, on the communion table, sat a photo of Jack. Next to the photo was Jack's Yankees hat. Heather didn't know Jack, but she did know a Yankee, and she wondered if he could bring a little comfort to our hurting family. On her next business trip to see one of her business associates, the Yankee, she asked if he could sign a ball for us.

What Heather didn't know was that her client, Mariano Rivera, was Jack's favorite baseball player! She didn't know the Yankees jersey Jack wore had Rivera's name and number on it, or that Tim and Jack had been following Rivera's amazing progress in setting a new record in baseball at the time of Jack's accident. She didn't know that Tim had been contemplating writing Mariano-- a talented, humble, man of faith-- a letter of appreciation for being such a good role model for our son.

Here's Tim's letter as well as pictures taken from a Yankees/Orioles game one week before our lives changed forever:

Dear Mariano,

Thank you for sending an autographed baseball to my daughter, Margaret, following the death of her brother, Jack. I was so surprised when Heather brought the ball to Margaret because Jack loved the Yankees and was a big fan of yours, as am I.

As a life-long Yankees fan, I was excited, but not surprised, that my son shared my passion for baseball and the Yankees. My favorite part of the day was having a catch with him in the yard, such a peaceful time to share together, just the two of us. Sometimes we talked and other times we just enjoyed the sound of the ball popping in our gloves and the rhythm of the catch, back and forth, back and forth.

I remember at the beginning of the 2011 season, Jack asked me if I thought you would break the save record in 2011. I told him that I thought it would probably take two years, perhaps early in the 2012 season. But you had another remarkable year and by the end of August it was becoming clear that you would break the record this year. On August 29, Jack and I went to Baltimore to watch the Yankees play the Orioles. The Yankees won 3-2, and you got the save. Jack wore his Mariano Rivera shirt that night, and we basked in the Yankees victory and the opportunity to witness history as you closed in on the record. After the game, Jack and I talked about what a remarkable player you are—not just in terms of talent and what you have accomplished on the field—but also in terms of how you play the game. We talked about your interviews, and how you always acknowledge God and your teammates. You are a picture of humility in a profession that often promotes just the opposite. I thank you for that.

As you neared the record, Jack and I would check the sports page every morning to see if you recorded another save. We were both looking forward with great anticipation to the day you would break the record.

On September 8, Jack went out in the neighborhood to play in the rain with some friends and his sister. He got too close to a swollen creek, fell in, and drowned. The loss has been devastating. We miss our Jack so much—every day. But we are comforted by our faith. Jack trusted Jesus Christ as his Lord and savior and so do we. He had even told us before the accident that he was not afraid to die because heaven is such an awesome place.

I remember the day you broke Trevor Hoffman's record, I came home early from work to watch the end of the game on TV. It was an afternoon game, and if Jack were alive he would have been home from school watching with me. Watching you record the final three outs was bittersweet. I watched with tears in my eyes as you struck out the last batter—happy for your accomplishment but filled with sadness that Jack was not there to share the moment with me.

After Jack passed away, many friends and acquaintances from school, scouts, little league, and church came to visit and share with me special memories and stories about Jack. I enjoyed hearing every one. But it struck me that it should not have taken a tragedy for people to share these stories and remembrances of Jack. I would have preferred to hear them while he was still alive. I could have shared them with Jack to encourage him and let him know the impact he was making on others.

And so I thought of people that I would like to share memories and stories with, to encourage them, to thank them, and to let them know that they are making a difference in my life or my family's life. This list of people was exclusively family and friends, except for you. I thought about writing a letter to let you know that you are impacting the lives of Yankee fans, old and young alike. You are an exemplary role model—choosing to carrying yourself with class and dignity both on the field and off and, above all, choosing to put God first in all circumstances. That is how I want to live my life and raise my children.

I thought about writing you a letter for several weeks but never did anything about it, resigning myself to the fact that even if I wrote you a letter and tried to submit it as fan mail, you would never get to read it. And then Heather visited us with the baseball you signed for Margaret. Unbelievable! It was totally unexpected and delivered with perfect timing. Given the emotions your milestone save had evoked in me, receiving your autographed ball was like receiving a sign from God and a wink from Jack in heaven. I asked Heather if she could deliver a letter to you. She graciously said she would. I could not believe I had the opportunity to have my letter hand delivered to you. But then I remembered Jack's favorite bible verse: For nothing is impossible with God. Luke 1:37. Thanks Jack. And thank you Mariano for all you do, both on the field and off.

God Bless,

Tim Donaldson

Friday, May 4, 2012

Friendship Friday

Jack was so stinkin' smart, but he was also wise. He was humble, and he was funny. He did not rail about how unfair life was, even when he experienced that first-hand.

It's hard for me to believe the world didn't need to keep around the rare 12 year old boy who knew how to use a semi-colon and thought that it mattered. The boy who made people laugh by creating strange nicknames for them, drawing them into his made-up games and alternate worlds.

I made photocopies of Jack's pages and pages of doodles to give to his sweet classmates. They told me they were afraid they had all been thrown away. I will not forget their excited voices as they instantly recognized drawing after drawing, none of which made any sense to me but put huge smiles on their faces:

"Bread Ninja!"
"The Beer Mobile!"
"The Snatching Claw!"
"Wiki Tikis!"
"Damian's Histogram!"
"The Secret Chair!"


They talked about the words Jack made up. The imaginary characters. The expressions they still use today. There are so many, they wrote them down for us.

I am grateful that when they remember Jack it is with a smile. I am grateful that in that small private school environment, which sometimes could seem a bit TOO small, he was loved and supported, right up to the end.

But the end? The END? The inconceivable, asinine, violent END?

I am grappling today with how a few stupid seconds were the difference between life and death. Between the future we envisioned for Jack, versus the future we got.

His friends are having a car wash today. They "hang out" at each other's houses. They had a dance. Next week they go to Philly for a field trip. The boys' voices are getting deeper.

What will I do when I see stubble on their chins?

These are the friends I wanted him to grow up with. And though they carry a piece of him in their hearts, they can't control the march of time that separates them from the boy who will always be twelve.

Quotations for Today

What I'm thinking about:

"We survivors, we who are left behind, know the frustration of helplessness. We carry on because it does not help if we don't. We function, not out of strength, but in the absence of any alternative." Samantha Mooney, "A Snowflake In My Hand"

"No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing." C.S. Lewis, "A Grief Observed"

"Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." I Corinthians 13:12, NIV

"I shall hear in Heaven." Ludwig von Beethoven, last words

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Photographic Evidence

For those of you who might have thought I overstated my awkwardness and my sister's beauty in yesterday's post, let's take a trip back to the 80's for a little photo fun:

Note: My cousin and grandma were not harmed in the making of this photo. My self-esteem was.