Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

From our house to yours...

Poor Margaret feels sick and will be staying in from Trick or Treating. I'll try to get her to put on her Pillow Pet costume for you! Adorable.

This past week was pretty brutal with all of the storm preparation and anticipation. I don't tell you this to complain, but to thank you for the prayers and good thoughts you sent our way. It was a very heavy time, and your concern helped us feel less alone.

The good news is that most of the Northern Virginia area was spared major damage unlike the Outer Banks, New York, and New Jersey.

The bad news is I experienced a lot of grief and anger and flashbacks for the better part of the week.

It was so hard to believe that with all of the advance warning and preparation this week we did not even lose power for a second, while on the day of Jack's accident the power went out, and roads and bridges were flooded, yet schools and businesses continued as usual, and we did not have any warning about how dangerous the situation had become until it was too late. And don't even get me started on the shitty little (empty) creek I saw this weekend.

We really are grateful to be safe and dry.

But we're still grappling with the big questions, and probably will be for a long time.

My love and prayers are with those families who lost dear ones during this storm, and for those of you who are dealing with the aftermath in both big and small ways.

Friday, October 26, 2012

To Thrive not Just Survive

Spent the morning at the mall, one of my least favorite places to be. I would so much rather have been here with you!

Even though I didn't take the kids to the mall very often, it's still a minefield for grief.

My looming 25th high school reunion necessitated a visit. The weird thing about this event is that it's for the whole school, all graduating classes since 1962. That means I'm going back as a student ("Beer is Great! Sex is Heaven! We're the Class of '87!") as well as a teacher (93-99). My outfit needs to say, "She's still got it!" (If I ever had it in the first place) but not, "Methinks Ms. Whiston doth try a little too hard." I'm not as worried about seeing my peers, because the 20th reunion wasn't that long ago, and we're all in the same boat age-wise. The students, however, haven't seen me since I was in my 20's! Twenties! Just don't want the whole thing to be jarring for them, you know?

Of course I've debated going at all, because I know it will be painful. My last day teaching was the day before Jack was born. I left school on a normal Wednesday evening, and by Thursday morning I was phoning in lesson plans from the hospital because Jack had decided to show up  two weeks early. Being with him was the place for me, and though I missed the students, I never looked back.

Now, I will likely receive hugs and love and condolences. I will probably still ask the standard questions that used to seem so mundane, but  now I realize are loaded for so many people with the realities of cancer, infertility, loneliness: "How are you? Are you married? How many children do you have?" 

The overpriced dress I found today is clingy and quite possibly falls into the "trying too hard" category. I'll leave the tags on and see what my wee clothing expert has to say about it. Give a tween a Pinterest account and see how quickly she becomes a fashion expert. If I return my cougar dress for a lacy light pink Taylor Swift number with nude pumps you'll know who's responsible.

As I left the mall I saw Mrs. Davidson, a mom from the neighborhood I grew up in. I never knew her well, but she's a lovely lady and was immediately recognizable to me. I've seen her over the years in the grocery store and such, but I don't know if I've said hi. You see, her son died in a car accident not long after he was out of his teens. I never knew what to say to her beyond "I'm sorry," so I didn't say anything at all. I didn't know then that sometimes "I'm sorry" is all there is to say. Today I hesitated, then said nothing once again.

Despite being right outside of a big city, we live in a small-ish town. Surely she's heard about Jack. I'm wearing his photo around  my neck on a beautiful necklace sent by a blog reader. While I desperately wanted to say my very belated "I'm sorry, and I'll never forget," I also wanted to ask her about this pain and longing for our only sons. Would it abate? Does one even want it to? I think I was afraid to engage. Afraid to ask.

And now, with this horrible news coming out of New York City of two children killed by their nanny? Sometimes the sadness seems too much.

So I smiled, swung my little shopping bag in the air, and kept walking.

But Mrs. Davidson's roots were dyed her trademark black, while my grays were springing out this way and that. Her toenails were painted a beautiful coral . And she was spending a Friday morning at the mall, of all places, perhaps buying clothes for her next trip to see her grandchildren (please let there be grandchildren!) or meeting a friend for an early lunch.

She looked put together. She walked with purpose, her head held high. She didn't look like she was slogging through her day.

Maybe that's what I needed to see.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Is That How it Works?

So I'm doing what I've been doing a lot of lately, drinking hot tea and staring at a blank computer screen. I type a few words, and my wonky computer sees fit to delete them at random, or insert what I'm typing right in the middle of my previous sentences. This is annoying and unsettling.

My braces keep getting snagged on the inside of my cheek, but I'm too lazy to go get my wax. Did I tell you I now have braces on my lower teeth? Oh yes I do, and coupled with the Target reading glasses I got on Saturday, I'm now able to rock both sides of the age spectrum on one face!

There's so much I want to write about, but I'm not sure if I have the wherewithal to battle the annoying typing gods to do so.

Today I'm thinking about how our family seems so out of balance these days, and how that makes coping with the big and small news of life difficult. Margaret is living the life of an only child, but it's so different than a typical only child's experience because of our circumstances. She's more lonely child than only child, because she knows what's missing. Not the idea of a sibling, but a real big brother. Hers.

Not only is the safe rhythm of give and take and compromise of her first 9+ years absent, there also seems to be a great sense of responsibility on her shoulders for wanting to hold this family together. I don't want that burden for her.

Before, when Tim and I would bicker, which was fairly often, Jack and Margaret could roll their eyes at one another, knowing that while neither of them liked it, everything would be okay. They knew they were on firm ground. Sure, Jack said it would be fun if we got a divorce because then we'd spoil them by buying them lots of presents-- smart boy-- but he truly felt our family and our future was solid . 

Now, I can tell that our bickering stresses Margaret out. I think it's just one more way she doesn't feel anything's certain anymore. A simple cough could be whooping cough. One beer could be the path to alcoholism. And if mom starts to cry, what if she can't stop? In the past few weeks she has seen families we admire breaking up, Tim's and my peers get diagnosed with cancer, and, hell, she had the reality of  her brother going out to play with her in the warm rain and never coming back.

Jack and Margaret used to worry that I'd die young, as my mother did, and I'd convince them that there was simply no way that would happen. Nope. Been there, done that. It would not happen again.

So, basically, it comes down to credibility, and mine's shot. I didn't manage to keep my kids safe, I am not able to keep cancer at bay. Tim and I have a strong marriage, and breaking up has never been on the table, but who am I to say Margaret is crazy to be stressed by such things?

Impossible things happen.

Prior pain is no protection against future pain.

Life is not fair, for good or for ill.

A few months ago Margaret asked  me,
 "Mom, did you have a good childhood?"
"Yes, it was wonderful," I replied. "Why?"
 "Because you're having a pretty bad adulthood."

She went on:
"I'm having a pretty bad childhood, but I hope that means I'll have a pretty good adulthood."


Oh, Sweetie, me too.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Of Box Tops and Shoeboxes

Hi Sweet Friends,

Sorry I've been AWOL. I signed up as the "Box Top Mom" at our school this year, so instead of writing I've been clipping tiny pieces of cardboard along the dotted lines. On an unrelated note, I think I need reading glasses.

Guess What?

It's Shoebox time again! I hope you'll join me in assembling shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child in memory of Jack. Last year we sent hundreds of boxes, and underprivileged children all over the world received bulging boxes of goodies for the first time in their lives. These boxes are truly life changing. We will be packing shoeboxes as a family, with our church, and at Tim's office this year.

The Operation Christmas Child website gives you info on what to pack, such as toothpaste, toothbrushes, hard candy and small toys. You can even track where your shoebox goes.

Here's a short video made by blog reader Katie. She used it to inspire her church to send more boxes than ever last year.

My friend Ellie, a teacher in Illinois, packed a special box in memory of Jack last year and included all of his favorite things-- Legos, logic puzzles, etc. She did not track the box. However, this summer she saw a picture on the Samaritan's Purse website of a teenager in Haiti with a box that looked just like Jack's. Whether it is the same box or not, we'll never know, but the impact the experience had on Ellie is unmistakable.  Read about it here.

Packing boxes changes kids' lives, and ours too!

I hope your family enjoys packing these boxes as much as we do.

If you are unable to pack a box, but would like to drop off any supplies at my church, Margaret, Tim and I will be happy to pack them for you!

Completed boxes are dropped off at collection points around the country Nov 12-19.

Many thanks, much love, and happy packing!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

YOU Oughta Be in Pictures!

I started getting Facebook and Blog messages last night that there was photo of Margaret, Jack and me on the NBC Nightly News! I had no idea that was going to happen! Last week, when I read a blog post called, "The Mom Stays in the Picture," I sent in a comment and a picture with the kids and said why I was so glad I had made sure over the years to "be in the picture." I didn't know that the post, about how moms are too seldom in photos with their kids, would go viral. The writer ended up on the Nightly News, the Today Show, and Katie Couric's new show. Talk about being in pictures! What a wild week she must have had.

As you know, I always tried to be in a lot of photos with my kids because when my mother died, we had so few pictures with her in them. I yearned for more glimpses of our life together than just what was in my memories. So, I made sure I was in photos so that my kids would have something to remember me by. Of course now, in the unexpected way my family's life has changed, those photos are really a gift to ME!

Here's the clip:

And remember, no matter how your hair looks, whether you have a few extra pounds on you, or even if  your green dress has an awkward "dart" showing, you "oughta be in pictures!"

Friday, October 12, 2012

Friday Shorts

I was sitting in my office at work early this morning when a sweet man came in carrying a plate of deviled eggs. He was looking for a place to drop the eggs for a funeral reception at our church later in the day. I am not a picky eater, but deviled eggs are one of my least favorite foods. I don't like how they look, taste, and certainly not how they smell. I ushered him out as politely and quickly as possible.

My former students will tell you I can be sensitive about smell. Unfortunately, my B.O. meter is as accurate as my B.S. meter, which is to say... finely tuned. And don't even get me stared on tuna fish. I had a "no tuna" rule with the teenagers who would hang out in my classroom at lunchtime because much as I like to eat tuna, I don't want my classroom trash to smell like it all day long.

So, this dear man came in carrying a plate of deviled eggs quite early this morning. Oh, have I told you I was back at work after being home sick in bed all day yesterday? Ugh. Fortunately, the smell dissipated before I needed to take another sick day.

But this little post isn't about eggs; I think it's about funerals.

The funeral was for one of my mother's best friends. She was a lovely woman who died at age 82 after a long struggle with cancer. She was a huge Bible scholar and teacher, as well as a champion of  women's rights and social justice. She made us think, and in many ways served as a moral compass at our church, always listening, nodding, and pointing us back to grace.

I have been to a handful of funerals in our church in the year since Jack's service. All have been for older people, with grown kids and grand kids. As I sat there, I did not have flashbacks to Jack's service because, well, most of it is a blur to me, and the feel of a funeral for an elderly person is so entirely different from that of a child. Jack's and my mother's dying so young makes me think of what they missed out on, and that's hard.

But with this beloved woman, there was a real quality of completion and a life well lived. She will be missed greatly, as evidenced by the tears shed and the stories shared, but there's also an excitement that all those years of digging and studying were leading up to this moment. She is free from her cancer and can go right to the source of her devotion to gain rest, to gain answers, and perhaps to keep teaching!

I'm no expert on how all of this works, but that's how it seems to me today. Someday I will see it all clearly.

Oh, I skipped the deviled egg table and went straight to the desserts.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Chilly Monday Warm-up

Cold and dreary Columbus Day. I'm in my comfy pants cozied up to my computer with my 6th (!) cup of tea for the day. At this rate, I'll need some serious Crest Whitestrips by the end of the winter.

Experiencing procrastination and writer's block, so I thought I'd finally share this amazing picture sent to me by a wonderful blog reader. Perusing photos on the blog, she saw something interesting and sent it to me as an encouragement. Cloud photo on left courtesy of local friend who saw this in the sky while thinking about our family shortly after the accident while being urged, "Look for Jack." Photo on the right is from the Jack's birthday balloon launch in March.

Hmmmm, do you see what the reader saw?

Pretty cool, huh?

Hope you are staying cozy today.

Monday, October 1, 2012


I think of community and wonder if it’s really necessary for so many to suffer together. I mean, Tim, Margaret and I have to suffer because Jack was ours. Grieving is the price we pay for loving him so very much. But the sadness that slammed a tiny school, descended on a town, and spread throughout this country and beyond through friends and social media? Is that sadness too much to put on others?

Is it right to want others to share our grief with us? To walk this path by our sides? Or is that asking too much?
I really hate to use a drowning analogy because my oh my how I’ve been struck over the past year with how many hymns, praise songs, and even references to grief refer to drowning. Ick. That’s a lot for me to take. Last week Margaret and I counted 5 songs in a row on our Christian radio station dealing with storms, waves, being pulled under, drowning and floods.

However, there is an image that keeps coming to me when I think of community. It is of our little family huddled together out in the middle of a pond on very thin ice. It’s lonely out there. And the weight of our grief and longing for Jack are so heavy, bearing down on us, the pond starts to crack.

Then I see us getting down on our bellies, and spreading our arms and legs out, almost as if we are embracing the ice. Friends, those we have met and those we may not meet for a long time spread out too, grabbing onto our hands or our feet, until we’ve redistributed the weight, making a web or a snowflake pattern that reaches to the far edges of the pond and keeps us safe. Tim’s and Margaret’s and my weight remains the same, but we don’t go crashing through.

I’m not sure if that’s really how ice works. Or grief works. But there is a real feeling of blessing and relief that comes from being connected to others in grief and pain.

Thank you for that today and always.