Friday, August 2, 2013

Along Came Sally...

When I found out I was having a boy, it took me a while to get used to the idea. I've already written about being a high school teacher, and keeping my male students a bit at arm's length, at least when I was a young and single. But because of those very same high school boys, I didn't just picture mothering a BABY boy; I pictured mothering a TEENAGE boy, with all of his tender, tough, confident, needy awkwardness.

My mother seemed to get a huge kick out of parenting teens and I expected the same to be true in my own mothering. "Of course I loved you all when you were babies, Anna, but I liked it so much more when you became real people!" she said. Sounds weird, but I got what she meant. Each year that passes a mother gets to see her child grow into the person he is meant to be, and she learns to relate to him in a new way.

A note I found tucked in her jewelry box after she died says a lot about the kind of relationships she fostered with her 3 teenagers, even though it deals specifically with my older brother.

It was scrawled on an index card and had been left beside the yellow wall phone in the kitchen by my brother one Friday night:

Mom, If  a girl calls, and it's Sally, tell her I'll be at Steve's party. Do not, I repeat DO NOT ask, "Is this Sally?" Let her tell you who it is. I don't want to scare any new ones away. Love, John

Mom got a kick out of my brother, my sister, and me even when, or maybe especially when, we were teenagers. I felt it and I knew it.

Jack should be entering high school in a few weeks.

High school.

Yep. High school.

Our relationship, built on love, respect and trust, would be entering a new phase if he were still with us, a phase of increased freedom and responsibility, a phase that we'd have to figure out as we went along. I had a great model in my mother about how to parent a teenage boy, and I was really looking forward to it, despite the challenges I know it represents.

Tonight we got back from a week at a vacation house and two of our family members were 14 and 15 year old boys.  I loved talking to them, joking with them, being with them. But it was hard. Seeing how they went from surly and disconnected to loving and cuddly in a millisecond and then cycling back again. Eating everything that wasn't nailed down. Flexing muscles that weren't there two years ago. Having real conversations about things that matter. Hugging their moms whom they'd already passed in height.

I'm having a really hard time not knowing what Jack would look like, what new things we would be talking about, and what issues we would be dealing with, if he were still with us physically today.

And it is crushing me that I'll never receive a note (text, whatever) like the one my brother left my mom that ordinary night almost 30 years ago.

Because you only leave a note like that if you're close to your mom and she really "gets" you.

So tonight is a double whammy as I miss having a mother who "got us" and miss the chance to mother my teenage son.


Anonymous said...

I am so sorry for what you are missing. Maybe you could hold on to little notes & keepsakes you have from Jack, and just consider them replacements. I know it's not the same, but may help a little. Our son has low-functioning autism, and although I would never compare that to your heart-breaking loss...I can relate a little to mourning milestones that will never be. Please know we all are thinking of you and pray for comfort & strength for you as you continue your journey with Jack now in your heart & soul. Hugs,
Lee Anne

Christin Phelps Webb said...

Double heart felt hugs for you tonight. Sharing your pain in my small way.

Alison said...

Anna dear, I am hugging you and yours in my heart right now. xoxo

anymommy said...

Your words leave me moved to tears and thinking about my own parenting. Will I be a mom who "gets" her sons? I wish I could give them both back to you, Anna.

Penny said...

I'm so sorry Anna, for your pain. Your love (and your grief) shines through in everything you write. I think of you and your family all the time and I'm glad that you have this place to talk about how you are feeling. I know from the comments that others leave, that you touch and help a lot of people who have also suffered a loss. I'm so sorry that you belong to this terrible club, of parents that have lost a child.

LauraBeth said...

Welcome home, Anna... Sending continued love to you.

With prayers, love, and hugs from the other side of town...

Cassie Bustamante said...

thinking of you,, anna... and judging by what jack looks like in photos, i would say find a photo of tim heading to high school and that will help answer that question.

Gena said...

Hugs for you...

Sheila said...

Sending prayers to you and all you love

NanaDiana said...

I can't imagine the pain. I had 4 kids-three of them teenagers in the house at the same time. It was wonderful, frustrating, wacky, tense at times and one of the best times of my life. I am sorry that you will miss that and not be able to watch Jack mature. In a way, he was much more mature than his years...and old soul really. Bless you- xo Diana

Cat @ BudgetBlonde said...

Anna my heart really breaks for you. You are constantly in my thoughts. I can't relate at all and I don't want to try but just know I think about you often.

a morning grouch said...

I can't pinpoint exactly what it is but I think about your blog, or rather you and jack, often. Something about your voice resonates with me. As a high school teacher I get that aspect of your post. And I know that while right now baby grouch is safe, life can change in a split second. Thinking of you.

Anonymous said...

Anna, I'm a long time follower, admirer. You're writing is so beautiful and thought provoking. This piece has me in tears (again). The double whammy is heart wrenching and so not fair. While my mother is still alive, I lost her, if I ever really had her, to alcoholism. Often times I feel cheated of having that relationship to guide me through my parenting journey. My boys are still young but I'm feeling the pull of time. My oldest who is 9 reminds me of Jack in many ways. I often think, when we have struggles with him, that I need to have more patience and always appreciate his beautiful unique self for who he is. You have taught me to not take a second for granted but, honestly, I'm not certain if tragedy struck my family the way it did yours, that I would feel ok about the way we left things. The thought of high school, middle school for that matter, terrifies me. Your post has given me a new perspective. Thank you so much for sharing Jack and your heart. I always look forward to hearing from you and learning from your wise parenting ways. God bless you Anna!

Pam Priester said...

Oh Anna, I'm so sorry. Crying big messy tears because I just wish both of these things weren't true in your life. You are an extraordinary mom, wife, woman! God BLESS you today. The way you are carrying on truly is a LIGHT.

Sybil@PeaceitallTogether said...

When I first became a parent, I always said (jokingly, of course) that I would raise them until about 8 and then take them back at 18. I was always scared of those tween/teen years. Now that my oldest is ten, I am just beginning those years and am still scared. Thanks for giving me a new perspective on the teenage years. Sorry you miss Jack so much today. XO

Kristal said...

Prayers and hugs.

Unknown said...

*tears* my friend.

I wish we lived closer and I could walk with you through the various griefs and joys.

Elizabeth said...


Stimey said...

I want this relationship with my soon-to-be teenage sons too. I am so brokenhearted for you, Anna, that you and Jack won't have this. You always have all of my love, friend. And know that Jack continues to grow in our minds as well as yours.

Your writing is beautiful and visceral. I love you.

Anonymous said...

Jack would have been so lucky to have a mom like you who "gets" him. You are an amazing mother. So much love in your heart.

GrahamForeverInMyHeart said...

It's so difficult and heart breaking to watch my son's peers having the experiences that he had been looking forward to ... traveling to foreign countries, going to graduate school, getting married...
Not sharing all of these transitions and milestones with our boys will always leave us wondering.

Anonymous said...

Thank for your very authentic posts. You describe perfectly what is often in my head after the loss of one of my twin baby girls on her first day of life. I am so grateful to have one beautiful daughter here on earth, with her older brother, but her sister is constantly there in my heart and mind. I know where her sister is with her beautiful dark hair and eyes and fully breathing in every moment of heaven with my dad. He also died to young and early before my senior year of high school. It is often so hard to keep moving through this existence when there are others I would like to see. I appreciate you sharing your grief with me and expressing often how I feel. I know it is a different situation entirely but I know there is someone out there forging a path too through their grief. Thank you.

Meg said...

Thank you for sharing so beautifully the reality you are living with. Hugs to you

claire plante said...

Hugs and love to you and I am so sorry as always. Of the many things I imagine you are going through, this seems to me like one of the toughest. I ache for you so very much. As always I wish I could offer something to help or change things or make it less painful. Please know that you have my prayers and thoughts.


Anonymous said...

I'm not so sure if it's really that you "don't know."

You might not know exactly what his high school friendships would have been like, but you know that Jack was generous, fun-loving, and kind. You might not know who he would have taken to all the dances, but you know how sweet he would have been with each girl. You might not know exactly how that gorgeous, warm smile would have changed over the years, but you know his face would have had the strength and confidence that only comes from inside.

Whatever he might have needed from you, whether encouragement, or space to work things out for himself, you and Tim were more than prepared to give. More than prepared.

And then, on top of knowing all that, also knowing what an incredible job your mom did with her own teenage son. That must hurt in a way I can't even begin to imagine. I'm so sorry. I believe firmly that both your mother and Jack are very proud of you.

Anonymous said...

PS I'm so sorry for the losses and challenges mentioned. It's always moving when someone who's known a loss or difficulty that would bring me to my knees comments, very quietly, "Well, my experience is different, but..." It's not the same, but it must be so hard.

Bev Sykes said...

It is 17 years since we lost our 24 year old son and 14 since we lost our 30 year old son. I still miss them every day and it pains me to see their siblings married, with children, getting grey, slowing down (at nearly 50). The pain never goes away, but it does get better and eventually becomes just a part of the person you have become since the death.

Your son looks to have been a beautiful person. How lucky you were to have him as long as you did. I think that about my kids every day and it helps. A little.


Anonymous said...

What a great parent your mother was! my own were WONDERFUL with babies/toddlers/young children, but really ran for the hills when we became teenagers (and I was a pretty damn easy teenager). I don't hold it against them, but they wanted people they had control over and panicked when that control disappeared (not sure what they thought was going to happen when we got older!??!!!). But I think it's the sign of true health when a kid's teenager-hood is not dreaded or pathologized but embraced and loved. I'm so sorry Jack isn't here for you to have that. I'm so very sorry. But he still loves his family to this very moment. Breathe it in. It's all around you. He left you this blog community for one! Did you ever see the documentary Fierce Grace featuring Ram Dass? (He's a Hindu but, under the skin, all religions are about love and God's grace.) It's about all varieties of loss including the loss of a child. You might like it. Love, E.

Anonymous said...

Hi again, It's E. again. I just wanted to give you Ram Dass's UNPARALLELLED letter to the parents of Rachel (who died when she was around 12). You will not find a better example of how to speak to an agreived parent:

"Dear Steve and Anita,

Rachel finished her work on earth, and left the stage in a manner that
leaves those of us left behind with a cry of agony in our hearts, as the
fragile thread of our faith is dealt with so violently. Is anyone strong
enough to stay conscious through such teaching as you are receiving?
Probably very few. And even they would only have a whisper of equanimity and
peace amidst the screaming trumpets of their rage, grief, horror and

I can't assuage your pain with any words, nor should I. For your pain is
Rachel's legacy to you. Not that she or I would inflict such pain by choice,
but there it is. And it must burn its purifying way to completion. For
something in you dies when you bear the unbearable, and it is only in that
dark night of the soul that you are prepared to see as God sees, and to love
as God loves.

Now is the time to let your grief find expression. No false strength.
Now is the time to sit quietly and speak to Rachel, and thank her for being
with you these few years, and encourage her to go on with whatever her work
is, knowing that you will grow in compassion and wisdom from this experience.
In my heart, I know that you and she will meet again and again, and
recognize the many ways in which you have known each other. And when you
meet you will know, in a flash, what now it is not given to you to know: Why
this had to be the way it was.

Our rational minds can never understand what has happened, but our hearts
– if we can keep them open to God – will find their own intuitive way.
Rachel came through you to do her work on earth, which includes her manner of
death. Now her soul is free, and the love that you can share with her is
invulnerable to the winds of changing time and space. In that deep love,
include me.

In love,

Ram Dass"

And also include me dear Anna. Erica in Vermont.

Joan said...

This post breaks my heart. But while Jack was with you, you were the best mother he could have for all the time he needed you. He does not need you now.

Wish your time together could have been much, much longer, but know that the time you were together was excellent.

You are making many, many moms appreciate their older as well as younger sons, Anna. You are spreading blessings you will never be aware of.

- Joan in PA

Sarah F said...

When will your book be finished/on the shelf. I admire your writing and the love and tone that comes with every blog. I will be the first in line for it whenever it may publish :) You are inspiring and have everlasting strength!!! First time commenting but I have followed you for years and I just thought you should know you never disappoint.

Kristin said...

For every post you write about Jack, it reminds me to think about things like this for my son. Thank you for keeping Jack's memories alive with your words so we can reflect along with you. xo

Anonymous said...

I'm in tears reading your post. It really is the everyday life that catches us by surprise. Hugs and prayers to you at this latest awareness.

Unknown said...

❤❤ the " won't get a chance to....." Is really hard

Anonymous said...

How many superlatives can I use to describe your transcendent prose and your rendering of that beautiful boy, Jack Donaldson? I am so sorry about the double whammy. I know I didn't know your boy, but I bet he would be so proud of your important words about him and his so very significant life. A boy from Virginia and his sweet mother have made such a valuable impact on my life. Love and appreciation from San Luis Obispo, CA.

Anonymous said...

We lost my brother 16 years ago when he was only 18. I am frequently sad to not know him as an adult. As a husband and father. As an uncle to my two young sons. When I see his friends in this new phase it always hurts my heart. Not just for me, but for our mother too. Your writing continues to help me find empathy for my mom. Even more so, your words remind me to stop to hug my boys, take pictures of and with them, and to love them with every ounce of my being.

A Speckled Trout said...

The missing of those conversations as both of you both grew older......I can't imagine. The books, the movies, the relationships? I have no doubt that you would have been the anchor for Jack's old soul during those sometimes turbulent times.

I have become friends with another Jack. He lives down the street. He calls me Mrs. Kathy. He calls my husband Mr. Kathy. He's three years old with the biggest brown eyes. Yesterday he told me he couldn't talk to me for very long because his mom doesn't think he should be going outside in his underpants.

There's something very charming about those boys named Jack.......

Yes, indeedy.

Unknown said...

I too can't wait for teenagers & will always wonder. xoxo

Sherri said...

I am so sorry for you Anna, that you will miss all of those special moments. It reminds us all not to take for granted anyone that we love. I have a feeling that your mama is the one who gets the pleasure of " watching over " your Jack in their eternal home. Rest in that, and that Jesus has him in the palm of His hand. May the Lord bless you and keep you.

Marinka said...

Did Sally call?!

I love that note.

And I love you, Anna. Thinking and praying for you.

Unknown said...

As a mother struggling with her 20 yr old and going through conflicted feelings of grief for this hardship we're encountering, it makes me ease up just enough to appreciate the fact that she's here for me to mother.

My heart aches for you this morning but thank you for reminding me of what's important.

Laura Everyday Edits said...

I believe Jack's notes are written in your heart. They are there for you- always.

ella said...

I am a better parent because of you, Anna.


Arnebya said...

Oh, how I wish things weren't this way, Anna. And I know, I know it's futile to feel that way and I know my wishing can't compare to your absolute craving for Jack, especially the way your relationship would have evolved as he entered the teen years.

I think of you so often. All of you.

One crazed mommy said...

So sorry Anna - hugs to you! I don't know what else to say!

Kate Coveny Hood said...

Oh my heart... So much love to you!

Theresa O said...

I had typed something previously and I think somehow it was deleted. My blondeness shining through again. Goosebumps came over me as I read that Jack would be entering HS this fall. Unbelievable. And tears flow as I cont'd to read the rest of your blog. I wish-wish-wish somehow I could bring him back for you so you could experience all those wonderful years with him!! All of your readers and friends wish the same! I am amazed with your strength and pray-pray-pray for you always. As far as what he would look like - wow - he would be the bomb!!! No doubt the most handsome boy in his class...

Unknown said...

You make me want to be a really good Mom for my teenagers someday. Even though that time of life comes with many challenges it is so important to keep them close to you then.

I'm so sorry you do not have this chance with Jack.


Anonymous said...

This poem touched my heart and I
hope it will yours too Anna.

Letting Go

Letting go is never easy,
Nor is it often kind;
Thoughts of what used to be,
Go running through your mind.
You'll bore all your friends,
Talking about the one you love so;
You'll regret the things said and unsaid,
And you'll ask, "Why'd you have to go?"

But the time will come,
When you'll let all the feelings show;
You'll cry rivers of tears,
But don't be afraid ... you're just letting go.

You'll feel like you've gone crazy,
And should be locked up in a padded cell;
Tho' way deep down inside you know,
That given time, you'll once again be well.

Just remember,
That as long as the memories are there,
A loved one never truly dies;
And we'll all meet once again,
In the sweet bye and bye.

~ Roy A. Kelly II ~

Mandy_Fish said...

Thank you for posting this. It is so beautifully and thoughtfully written. I hope you will weather this storm as you have so many thus far. I hope I am a mom who gets her son more than a mom who gets mad at her son for the little things he does that are annoying. As he approaches adolescence I start to see more and more attitude and rolling of eyes...hopefully I'll be able to roll with it. Thank you for reminding me how precious it all is. Peace to you and yours.

Deenie said...

Hi Anna ... I have been reading along with you for a while now and I have been so totally inspired by your grace and the way you have dealt with your grief. I can't claim to understand the pain but I would like you to know that your words touch me. As the mom of 2 boys (5 & 6), this one in particular, touched me way deep down in my heart.

Anonymous said...


This post describes grief clearly and I feel it relates to many people. I appreciate your ability to share. I continue to pray for your family.


Debby@Just Breathe said...

My heart aches for you. I hate the what ifs and the experiences you do not get to experience with your precious Jack. Thank you for sharing your heart. ((HUGS))

Kathy at kissing the frog said...

Anna, I know what you mean by this. We were at a relative's cabin last weekend and I was looking at one of Joey's cousins whom I always thought resembled him. He is 15. I squinted my eyes just enough to imagine what Joey would look like at that age. I think this is something I'll always be doing. Hugs.

Susan said...

Thinking of you and understanding completely...

Anonymous said...

I am so sorry for your loss. It is not fair. It just simply is not fair. Often I look at my life and wonder what did I do to deserve to be so free of heartbreak when so many others are broken with the loss of children and loved ones. Know that you are in my thoughts, even though we don't really know each other.

LisaAR said...

As a former HS English teacher, I look forward to the time when my 10yo hits that phase--at least that's my thought now. I realize already that I really adored the baby/toddler stage and am having a trying time with this stage. Maybe I'm kidding myself that it will be easier when he's a teen.

No matter, though--what I really want to say here is how my heart hurts for you and how I am praying that you and your family's healing continues.

Linda said...

Anna, My heart breaks for you over and over again. When Emily broke her arm when she was seven, the doctor said the arm would heal even stronfer than before the break. I pray the same is true of hearts.

Unknown said...

I'm so sorry for your loss he sounds like a nice e kid