Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Time Machine

Jack's best friend in the world was his cousin. I've shared before a little bit about their relationship.

As you can imagine, Jack's cousin was devastated to lose him, especially in such a sudden and horrifying way. He misses him so much, and we miss the relationship they would have had as teens and adults.

A mere two weeks after the accident, Jack's cousin had to write an essay in English class entitled, "If I could bring anyone back for a day..." Wow. That must have been really hard to do.

Here it is:

If I had a time machine I would bring back my cousin Jack. Jack was my best friend, and he drowned on September 8th, 2011. If I had one day to spend with him I would warn him, and if that didn't work I would spend the day with him. I would also get a last goodbye and tell him about the impact he has had on the lives of the people around him.

First, I would try to reverse the events that happened. I'd tell him about that day and to avoid the river. If he didn't, we would go see his family in the present. We would still go see them even if he did believe me, though.

If that wouldn't work, I would spend the day doing things we wanted to do. We would watch the Red Sox play the Yankees, and play catch out on the field. Then, we'd take my sister and his sister Margaret and play the "River Game" at Smokehole campgrounds.

At night, we would stay up late talking about random things like we used to do. We'd also play "The Game," that Jack made up, an RPG style game with a character given obstacles by the narrator. Finally, he'd tell me stories about Kevin Youkolis and mess with my dreams while I was dozing.

Lastly, I would get the goodbye I never had. My last goodbye I got from him was an awkward one armed hug and "see you in a couple months." I can't tell you how much it hurts me to think that was my final goodbye to Jack. I would give up everything to see him again, even if it was just for a day. I would tell him how much he meant and still means to me and all of his family. I would tell him the impact he has had and how he has changed our lives before and after he died.

I can't describe how much I love and miss Jack. It pains me to kmow that I won't see him for a long time. If I had another day with Jack Donaldson, that is how I would spend it.

I love you boys.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Stepping Out

We noticed when Jack was a baby that he seemed like an "old soul" because he seemed to grasp things well beyond what someone his age should.

Me? I'm just plain old, and I have been for quite some time.

In doubt? Any day after 4:30 pm you can catch me walking around the house in flannel pjs topped by a down vest. If you're lucky, I'll be working the Washington Post crossword puzzle.

Then there's the fact that I acted like a mom long before actually becoming one. I fretted over people. I hugged. I worried whether my friends would grow up and meet someone nice. I dished out healthy doses of guilt to my high school students. And, thanks to beloved college friends, got valuable practice cleaning up other people's vomit.

Today I went on a shoe shopping spree to replace the fall shoes and boots I've been wearing since Margaret was in preschool. No need to rush into anything.

Putting the boxes in the car, I looked over the labels:

and... dear God...
Life Stride.

Comfy, old people's shoes. I'd like to say that my comfy shoe wearing ways have come about since I turned 40, but I cannot lie to you. Considering how grumpy I get when I have to pee, need a snack, or am tired, I learned long ago that I don't need to add uncomfortable shoes to that equation. Yes, I am aware this sounds more like a toddler than a mature woman. Let's just say that when my kids complained of scratchy tags, I got it.

I'm just so happy to have found 4 new pairs of shoes that work and can carry me into the next years (decade?) in comfort.

I also gained a new slogan, inspired by today's shopping mates:

Anna Donaldson, Lowering the Median Age in the Aerosoles Store since 1993.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Just A Little Something

Jack never went to Disney World, Hawaii, or a professional football game. He didn't have a cell phone or fancy electronics. Many of his clothes were from the thrift store, a "perk" of having a mom who loved bargains.

Thriftiness was part of our family culture and it was easy to take pretty far because Jack really didn't ask for much. Maybe he would have preferred an expensive baseball bat and batting helmet instead of cast-offs. I don't know. But really, he seemed content.

Money did not burn a hole in his pocket. He was a saver and a savorer. He liked to save up for "something big" and make sure it was something he really wanted. In fact, after the accident, we found a lot of unused gift cards in his room, from birthdays and Christmases waiting to be used for the next. big. thing. Tim, Margaret and I ended up using them to buy Christmas gifts for needy kids.

Of course I would have loved for Jack to have traveled more, done more, and to have had a lifetime of experiences instead of a measly 12 years worth! Today I would love to be able to read a trail of texts between the two of us that captures the warm give and take of our relationship, but I can't because he never had a phone! Ugh. But I suppose measly truly is not the word I'm going for today, when thinking of the years he had, because while measly in quantity, the quality was okay with Jack. How he spent his days. What he had or didn't have.

You may be a mom who is wondering whether your kid is missing out on the pricey riding lessons or gymnastics clinics or ski vacations of his or her peers. You may be looking at your neighbor's house and thinking that a great big kitchen island, preferably covered in Carrera marble, would somehow make you a kinder, gentler, more organized mom (or am I the only one who does that?) You may be counting the years until college and realizing there had better be one heck of a financial aid package on your family's horizon, because you will never be able to pay. You may even be wondering, in a very real and scary sense, if you can meet your family's most BASIC needs this month.

You may be wishing you could give your kids more.

Tim and I were fortunate to be able to give our kids more, in a financial sense, but we didn't. We gave them what we gave them. And we don't regret it. Not really.

Because many times, but not all of the time, when the stars were aligned in that sweet spot of parenting, in the midst of blowups and apologies and busy-ness and petty comparisons and our easily bruised parenting egos... we gave them ourselves.

Our eyes.
Our ears.
Our hearts.
Our acceptance.

And that really is something.

It's something we all can give

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Wonder-filled Wednesday

If you have a Michael's Craft store in your town, and you walk down the poster frame aisle, you'll likely see what we saw:

Row after row of pictures that look just like Jack and Margaret. I don't know what you call those things. Frame fillers?

Seriously, they looked exactly like my kids. Jack's arms, hands, cheek, hair, clothes. And Margaret. Little Margaret, arms out, next to her brother, hair flying out behind her? Wow.

My sister saw the frames first in her town and let us know about them. She wondered it we'd think she was stretching things a bit. Of course, I had to check them out for myself.

They did not disappoint, even up close. Without hesitation, Margaret said, "That's us, Mom!"

I was struck the most by the way these kids are standing, because it is precisely the way mine looked to me as they walked down our long driveway the day of the accident. Jubilant. That last time I saw them together.

And yeah, they are walking into a sunset (sunrise?) full of birds. So there's that.

If your kids are the real models from these pictures, please don't tell me. I'm just going to enjoy this little bit of wonder today.

I hope you will too.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Oh My Goodness

So grief puts a new spin on marital intimacy. Sure, the family bed thing comes into play. (Don’t worry, our therapist says that’s fine for now) Plus you have the exhaustion of mourning. Throw in the usual buzz killers: middle age, new braces on my bottom teeth, and a mouth guard. Super sexy.

But there’s one thing I hadn’t counted on. You know how the past year has taught me so much about heaven being so close? So RIGHT here? Well, most moms know how hard it is to turn off the multi-tasking mind during certain special moments… “Did I sign those permission slips? Can I pass off a store bought cake for the bake sale? Why is so and so acting weird? Did I really say that at the bus stop?”

Well, now I’m confronted with the fact that there are some things adolescents are never supposed to see. And if the other realms are so close… well, you know. Good luck getting that OUT of your head as you’re supposed to be getting INTO “it.”

I've decided I just have to trust God on this one. He knows how hard we’ve worked to protect our kids from inappropriate images and situations, and that continues on.

Turning off the lights must help too, right?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Long-ish Recap of the Crapiversary Weekend With Photos to Hold Your Attention?

Last Thursday night was the worst. Even though Thursday, the second day of school, wasn’t the actual DATE of the crapiversary this year, it felt like it was. It was like one big flashback from hell.

Every moment of that day took us right back to that Thursday a year ago, but we were helpless to change the outcome. A rainy morning. A day of work. Conversations with colleagues. The drive to the school carpool line. The humid air was heavy, as were our spirits. As five pm turned to six, I thought, “Why couldn’t we have been eating dinner like we usually were? Like we are now? Why did the electricity have to be out? Jack wanted to upload his Lego projects from the camera! Didn’t the other kids have homework that day?”

We went to bed remembering how it felt to climb into bed a year before, little Margaret in between us, hoping that sleep would erase the horror of the previous hours and bring our kid back to us.

Friday was hard, but not as brutal.

When Saturday and the actual date of September 8 arrived, we felt much better. Peace surrounded us. I’ve learned not to question this, but just to appreciate and accept pockets of peace when we get them.

Cards, flowers, new blue ribbons all over town and even on our local boys’ football helmets, emails, and many acts of love like Jack’s dear friend Courtland coming to mow the grass let us know that no one was forgetting what day it was.

When I stepped outside to get the paper, I saw hundreds of origami birds in the tree in front of our house. Our bird feeder tree. Our Easter egg tree. Cranes, geese, and many other birds swung in the breeze, celebrating our own Rare Bird and taking us back to his first word—uttered at a freakishly young age--when he saw the origami birds above his changing table.

The day felt covered in prayer, and indeed, so many of you were praying for us. My lovely Monkee sisters at Momastery wrote Jack’s name on their hands as a reminder to pray all day long. Photo after photo of “Jack” on hands of all ages and colors lifted us up all day long. I wanted to grab the tiny chubby ones and give them kisses and squeezes. It felt like the burden was spread out and shared all day long.

I’ve thought so much about this communal aspect of suffering.

If we—Tim, Anna and Margaret-- have to suffer no matter what, being separated from Jack, does it make sense to have others suffer with us? Would it be better to spare them? Saturday we experienced what it feels like to have a part of this burden carried by someone else and someone else and someone else all over the world. And although it may have felt a little like we were asking too much of others, it also felt right and holy.

We went to the cemetery to see the newly installed bench. Which turned out as well as something so crappy could. We laughed, we talked, we said a prayer. After that we made a run for the border to sit in “our booth” at Taco Bell. And yes, I tasted my first Doritos Locos Taco in Jack’s honor.

If you saw us, joined by my sister and her kids, you would have noticed a lot of laughter and silliness and fun. His name came easily. We remembered him with love, not pain, which has been an inexplicable blessing since day one of this nightmare.

We headed home right before a Tornado warning kicked in. Yep. Seriously. Out of nowhere, the sunny day turned dark and windy and violent rain poured down. And even with that, our shitty neighborhood creek remained empty, just as it has been all summer. Well.

Hunkered in the basement playing Apples to Apples, of course we kept thinking of that storm exactly one year before, but still we laughed and played. We did a puzzle in Jack’s honor.

Afterward, we started an early movie. While we were inside watching “The Hunger Games,” our neighbors were preparing a stunning surprise for us. Luminaria lined the long driveway. Each paper bag had a note about Jack on it. His teachers, friends, and neighbors shared memories, and it was beautiful to read that others could see what we saw in him.
We walked up and down the driveway reading, enjoy the now crisp, cool weather and feeling the LOVE. The love of so many people. The love of God. Jack’s love. And then, our neighbors showed us photos they had taken while setting up our surprise. Photos of a beautiful sunset -—pinks, purples and blues--right over the creek.

In the other direction, directly over our house, was an enormous double rainbow.

Yes, while we were inside watching a movie about kids competing in a match to the death, our dear friends were being lifted up and encouraged by God. We don’t get a lot of rainbows in our town. I’ve rarely if ever seen one here in my 40 plus years. Photos flooded in from friends across the country, of amazing sunsets and rainbows. Reminders of God’s faithfulness. Reminders that life does not end. And we felt grateful.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Beautiful September Day

On this gorgeous Tuesday, it is impossible to forget about that beautiful Tuesday morning 11 years ago, and I don't want to. I don't want to forget the lives lost, and how each life represents a family, a story. I want to remember what it felt like to hug my babies close that day, brought to my knees by the weight of pain for the families left behind. I want to remember how off-kilter the world seemed with the bright sun shining in my windows as I watched the black smoke billow into the air on tv. I want to remember the full parking lots at church that Sunday when folks showed up to love on each other and ask God what the hell was going on.

It's just too easy to forget. And a lot more Tuesdays and Wednesdays and Thursdays came and passed and life moved on and on and on.

I think about this with Jack's death too.

I know it's not possible or even advisable to live in a constant state of remembrance. Life and soccer and jobs and hunger and homework and money and the internet and poo get in the way.

But perhaps it's not impossible to live in a state of heightened awareness or compassion that comes from a tragedy. Somehow to stay just off-kilter enough that we don't forget that something significant has happened...and what, if anything we've learned from it.

Sending love and prayers to all hurting people today.

p.s. Cemetery is officially off our backs. Jack's bench was installed 1 day shy of the one year mark. Yes, it's ok to sit on his face.

Monday, September 10, 2012

A Life's Design

We did it! We made it through the first year. You were praying like crazy for us over the weekend, weren't you? We could tell. THANK YOU! Still processing the hardness and the goodness of the weekend, but I have something special to share with you today.

Here's what Tim had to say on September 8th, the one year Crap-iversary of losing our Jack:

When Jack was in first grade, his teacher asked the kids draw a picture of one of their favorite things. I did not see Jack's drawing until his sweet teacher gave it to Anna and me last year. She said that all of the drawings were what you would expect from first graders: puppies, flowers, candy. And then she showed us Jack's drawing, neatly labeled "Designs." Looking at the picture filled my heart and broke it in the same instant. That's my Jack. A six-year old who dreams of designs and is thrilled by their arrangement and patterns. That's the boy who captured my heart with a fierce love that will never die.

As I have been cherishing this memory during the past week, the idea of "designs" reminded me of the imagery of the Tapestry of Life, reproduced here from a daily devotional:

The sages teach that our world is like a tapestry. Every tapestry has two
sides; the front where everything is neat and orderly, and the backside
where threads are cut and tied. Even though both sides are made with exactly
the same threads, the pictures they produce are completely different.
On the front side, there is a beautiful design. The other side, however, is a mess.

All of history is producing one enormous and gorgeous tapestry. However, at
this time, we are only able to see the backside. Nothing makes sense, and
everything seems chaotic. The picture is ugly, and we wonder, "What in the
world is the artist thinking?"

But there is another side to the tapestry, yet to be revealed. On that side,
nothing is out of place and every thread is where it ought to be. The
picture is clear and perfect. If we were to see it, we would stand in awe at
its beauty and brilliance. We would understand the artist's intention all

Jack, I don't understand why you were taken from us at such a young age, leaving a permanent, gaping hole in our lives and in the plans we had for our family. But now I wait, impatiently at times, to see the other side of the tapestry. To see God's beautiful design and your smiling face.

We love you, we miss you, and we'll never forget you.


Friday, September 7, 2012

LTYM Videos are Up

The videos from the Listen to Your Mother shows back in May are now up on Youtube! It was a hard experience for me, but I'm so glad I did it. It was an honor. And now? I am LOVING going through and hearing women's stories from all over the country, and I know you will too. Oh my. They are so funny. So heartbreaking. So real.

I hesitated putting the link to mine on here. You see, when I post pictures on this blog I can mitigate (somewhat) the pointy nose thing, the jowls, the "I sucked a lemon" school marm mouth thing. But the video camera doesn't lie. And the voice. The voice you hear though the written words on this screen most likely has a different sound than the one God gave me. And that can be unsettling.

But we are friends here. And friends love each other, pointy noses and all. And friends forgive friends for complete and utter lack of eye contact because a certain friend couldn't see the audience in the darkened theater, her bangs were giving her trouble, and she apparently had no idea where the video camera was located. Ok? Whew.

Here's the link to my piece:

Why B Normal?

Monday, September 3, 2012