Tis The Season?

It’s official.  The holiday season is upon us.  A time of year that offers several opportunities to gather together with family and friends for food, fun, conversation, connection and the exchanging of gifts.  For many, this is what puts the HAPPY in HOLIDAYS.  However, for some, there is little cause for celebration.  Life might be challenging them with illness, unemployment, financial burdens, or estrangement from family.  I consider myself among those who find little reason to embrace the season.

As far back as September, I developed an awareness that the holidays were creeping forward on the calendar.  I began thinking about the traditions that began many years ago.  I married into a Jewish family in the 1990’s.  My husband celebrated Hanukkah by hauling out his brass Menorah, lighting the candles and reciting the applicable prayers from memory.  He did this in honor of this festival of lights. He never bought into the consumerism that has (also) infiltrated his religion, choosing to concentrate only on the spiritual meaning of this holiday.  After he passed, I continued to commemorate Hanukkah in his way with our young son, which for me included gifting him for eight nights.  I also began acquiring the trimmings associated with Christmas, and thus began new traditions for the boy and his mom.  This included a photo shoot for the holiday card, decorating a tree, the decking of the halls, the sweet smells of baking, Johnny Mathis and Frank Sinatra belting out classics such as Jingle Bells and Silent Night on the CD player, adopting a family in need, and the purchasing and wrapping of gifts.  My brother-in-law referred to this meshing of religious traditions as “double dipping.”  I guess the boy did get the best of two (religious) worlds?  As he entered his teenage years, I began to do less and less in regards to Hanukkah and focused more on just the one holiday.

After much consideration and deliberation, I have decided that I will do very little in the way of participating in this holiday season.  The Hanukkah mementos have been passed on to family members.  The Christmas ornaments, decorations, and tree shall remain tucked away within their containers, safely stowed in the basement to gather another layer of dust.  The stockings will not be hung by the chimney with care.  There will be no mailing of the annual photo card and letter updating family and friends on the events of the past twelve months.  There is little to share that is positive in regards to the year two thousand and eighteen.  We have lost not one, but two treasured members of our unit-my 20-year old son and my husband’s mother, the strong and feisty matriarch of a large, loud, and loving family.

Annually on Christmas Eve, my husband’s family gathers together to enjoy food, drink, laughter and games.  During the evening, Santa arrives, bearing gifts for each youngish child.  (Mr. Claus is usually lovingly portrayed by a male family member volunteer who steps up to don the suit and beard and chant the obligatory Ho, Ho, Ho.)  Last year, we stuck a hat on Grandma and morphed her into “Santa.”  As the kids came forward one by one to receive their present, they posed for a photograph.  And later, more photos were taken of Santa and all of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  My immediate family (husband, son, bonus child and I) made a memory with Santa that was forever captured by the click of a camera.  The five of us are seated cozily on the couch smiling for the photographer.  A happy and festive image frozen in time.

Today, as I reflect on that photo, the oldest and youngest souls posing for that moment are gone.  We had allowed ourselves to consider that perhaps it just might be the last Christmas for the 88-year old matriarch, which is why we selected her as Santa and made her the center of attention for the evening’s festivities.  No one could have imagined that Mark, the college sophomore, would be experiencing his 20th and final Christmas.  For me, the sad reality of the season is front and center.  Mark and Renie’s seats will remain empty at holiday gatherings.  There will be no gifts bearing their names.  Their sweet faces will be absent from cell phone snapshots.

When dealing with grief, there is often much said about “the year of firsts.”  This term generally refers to all of the occasions that arrive within a calendar year that can no longer be shared or celebrated with a loved one who has passed on.  Birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas.  I understand the thought behind “the year of firsts” and how those certain days or dates might accentuate or magnify one’s loss.  And. They. Do.  However, when you truly think about it, our loved ones who have passed are gone everyday, not just the ones we note as special or celebratory.  With that said, I did survive Mother’s Day, family birthdays, two graduations and a cousin’s wedding.  Thanksgiving will arrive in a matter of days, followed by Hanukkah and Christmas. Soon, I will find myself smothered by the sights, smells and sounds of the season, the most wonderful time of the year.  And I will choose to mostly abstain from the decorating, parties, shopping and the general “hustle and bustle” that consumes the month of December.  Instead, I will hold close my memories, traditions and photos of holidays gone by.

 

 

7 Weeks

It has been seven weeks since my son passed away suddenly and unexpectedly.  I have learned so much.

I have learned things about my son that I did not know, but that is a good thing.

I have learned things about my son that I did not know, and that is a bad thing.

I have learned that people do not know what to say, and that is okay.

I have learned that people say and do the wrong things, and I forgive them.

I have learned that when you ask people to open their wallets and donate to a foundation working tirelessly on finding a cure for your son’s disease, they do.  More than $4,000 has been raised to-date in my son’s memory.

I have learned that people will send you cards and emails with caring words of sympathy and hope.  Some are even from people that are unknown to me.  I have received over 100 notes.

I have (finally) learned the exact cause of my son’s death after waiting for what seemed like an eternity.   For over 12 years I lived with the knowledge that Type 1 Diabetes could take my son’s life.  And.  It.  Did.

I have learned that parents can bury a child, even though it defies what we consider to be “normal” in the chain of life events: Children bury their parents.  Parents don’t bury their children.

I have learned that returning to work less than two weeks after my son’s passing did NOT provide a sanctuary away from my grief, so I quit my job.

I have learned that grief is both mental and physical.  My body has been out of sorts since hearing the words, “Your son is deceased.”

I have learned that it is okay to pass along his clothes, shoes, diabetes supplies and more. It is comforting to have others make use of his things before they go out of style, or in the case of insulin, expire.

I have learned that sometimes when I am donating something of his, I stop and wonder,  what if he comes back and I have given away his things?  The author, Joan Didion, referred to this as “magical thinking.”

I have learned (actually remembered) that when you see a Cardinal, it is a representative of a loved one that has passed.  They are paying you a visit.  I have seen LOTS of Cardinals, or perhaps it is the same one?

I have learned that he can still “mess” with me from the other side.  The alarm in his car goes off suddenly and repeatedly for no humanly logical reason.

I have learned that I begin every day thinking about him, and I end every day thinking about him, and I think about him nonstop in-between.  And when I wake in the middle of the night, my groggy thoughts immediately turn to him.

I have learned that his passing has created a ripple effect like the one that occurs in a body of water when you toss in a large rock.  The rock’s impact on the water creates small waves that drift on and on.  So many people have been affected.

I have learned that I miss him EVERY DAY, but I already knew that I would.  He was my son and only biological child.

I have learned that I still have many questions, and I know that some of them will never be answered.

I have learned that he is okay.  Early one morning during a hazy state of sleep, I heard his distant, almost whispering voice say,  “I am home.”

I have so much yet to learn.  It has only been 7 weeks.

 

 

 

 

 

The End of an Era

All good things come to an end, right?  I would guess so.  My position in HR at the company I have been employed with for over 10 years has for the most part moved on to corporate headquarters.  This finale was not in my control.  Another era has reached its natural end and this one is my choice.  When my son, now eighteen, was just weeks old, my neighbor told me about an article she had read about writing a journal for your kids, a sort of ongoing biography of their life.  I thought this was a brilliant idea!  Since I was a bit behind already, I decided to start from the beginning with the decision to have a child. ( I was 37 years old when we chose the parenthood path, and my spouse an elderly 47.)  I backtracked and wrote about my pregnancy and the early arrival of the boy. Once we settled into a routine (easier said than done with a baby who barely slept for the first five months of his life), I began more regular entries. My goal was to write at least every two weeks.  I wrote about milestones like first steps, first word and potty training.  As he got older, I wrote about school, vacations, friendships, bullies, discipline issues and the untimely passing of my spouse, his dad.  I wrote about my own illness and his diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes at age seven.  I wrote about sports, cub scouts, family and our butting of heads. (Strong extrovert versus stubborn introvert resulted in some interesting spats.)  I did not always live up to my goal of writing every two weeks, especially as he got older and life got busier, but once I did sit down to write, I tried my best to get caught up on events.  The journal entries document what I call the “good, the bad and the ugly.” There was no editing to make things look pretty or less messy or even less tragic.  I wrote about life as it occurred.  In addition to the journals, I have also documented his life in film-both print and video. We possess nearly 15 photo albums containing hundreds of photos. Each photo has the date, place/event and names of subject(s) on the back. Several years ago, I had the videos converted to DVD’s as technology evolved.

With end of eras a sort of theme in my life these days (think death of a parent, empty nest, job change, etc.), it occurred to me that it is probably time to write the final entry in this rather lengthy biography.  The boy, now a young man, is technically an adult and a freshman in college. He drives, has a part-time job and is a registered voter.  His almost fully developed brain does have the capacity for memory, so the need to jot down events for posterity is really no longer valid.  I wrote the final entry yesterday, eighteen years after I penned the first.  I am not completely certain that my son will take the time to read all ten volumes of journals, or flip through a photo essay of his younger life, or spend an evening or two or three watching home movies, but that really doesn’t matter to me.  All of this was a project of love.  Love for my son, love of the written word, and love of photography.  Every life has meaning and every person has a story which deserves to be documented for the ages.  If my son does not take the time to revisit events in his life, perhaps a future spouse and children might.  I hope they find it a good read.

And Then There Were Two…

It is official.  We are semi-empty nesters.  I inject the term “semi” since both of our students will be in and out of the house over the next few years, though more out than in.  I have been asked a few times already how I am handling this change to the family dynamic.  My answer is simple.  As long as they are doing well, I am doing well.  After all, this is what we have worked towards for eighteen years.  We get them successfully and safely through their elementary, junior high and high school years, and then hope they figure out what they want to do career wise.  For some that means pursuing a college education, for others learning a trade.  This is the next step. They get to learn more about life, people, finances, independence, time management and much more.  We hope they remember all they have been taught, and that they make good choices.  They begin a new chapter in their life and so must we.

I do not intend to waste a minute of my newfound free time.  Before they were even out the door, I registered for a seven-week photography class that begins in just a few days. I hope to refresh my skills with the fancy schmancy camera I purchased a few years ago.  Also, as I mentioned in a previous post, I plan to spend more time with this blog as well as a few other writing projects.  My spouse has agreed to take swing dance lessons-date and time to be determined.  We also hope to have more time to connect with friends and family.  In a few weeks, we are beginning yet another home improvement project, but one that should be the last in a 15 year upgrade of this cozy, cute ranch.  I have turned in my 30-day notice at the gym where I have faithfully perspired for several years.  I need both a change in venue and a change in my routine.  I am working on a fitness regimen to better compliment my overused bones and joints, and one that might prolong a need for a knee or hip replacement.  I can foresee one or both in my future.  I would also like to return to a meditation practice that I never did master.  My Type A personality finds it difficult to quiet the constant chatter in my brain.  This will be a challenge, but one that I am up for as I believe the results physically, mentally and spiritually are well worth the time and effort.

I am grateful that I did not come home alone after depositing my freshman off at college.  I think this transition would be much more difficult if I were still single. Instead, I came home with my best friend who also happens to be my spouse. Together we can pat ourselves on the back for surviving widowhood, and for raising two good kids.  We made it through some dark and tough times and came out better for it on the other end.  Now, we can hopefully enjoy some “us time.”  And then there were two……

 

 

 

10 Years

As the nation prepares to honor the 10th anniversary of the events of September 11th, 2001, we, too, are acknowledging the passing of a decade in our own home.Today, Saturday, September 10th, 2011, marks one decade since the end of my husband’s (and son’s father) battle with a rare cancer. In some ways, so much time has passed, but yet I can still recall the events of that life-altering day as if it were yesterday. A. had been under the care of hospice the last twelve days of his life. On what was to be his final full day on earth, he was trapped in a state of what is referred to as “terminal restlessness.” He just couldn’t quite overcome that final “hump” and cross over. After adjusting his medications earlier in the evening of September 9th, he was eventually able to let go. His time of death was approximately 3:30 AM that fateful morning.

So much has transpired in the days, weeks and years since his rather untimely death, but none more so than the fact that his toddler son has morphed into a teenager, just beginning his final year of junior high school.  Back in early 1998, before cancer showed up as an uninvited guest in our home, I had A. complete a section in M.’s baby book. The page is titled “Dad’s Thoughts,” and he wrote the following:

“I want to watch you grow up, experience the ups and downs of life. To see you become a Mensch……My greatest joys have been watching you laugh and smile……And my wish for you is that you have health, happiness and live a long meaningful life! Learn to be compassionate and giving.”

Even though A. has not been with us in a physical sense, I do believe that he has watched his son grow and continue to laugh and smile. I would also like to think that our son has the beginnings of becoming a Mensch, a Yiddish word which figuratively means “a person of integrity and honor.”

And so, as this significant anniversary descends upon us, I would like to say to those we lost all those years ago, which includes loved ones, fellow Americans and members of our global community, “While you are no longer present in our daily lives, no disease or terrorist act can take away the memories and love we hold in our hearts each and everyday. You are missed!”

Father’s Day

Today marks the Sunday that we honor dads. The greeting card aisles have been stocked for weeks, and radio and TV ads are full of great gift ideas, which always seem to include power tools and grills. It dawned on me recently that for the first time in my entire life, I have no one (living) to recognize this year. My own dad will be gone 15 years on July 1st, and my husband and son’s father passed nearly 10 years ago. The only remaining patriarch of recent history, my father-in-law and son’s grandfather, died on August 20th of last year.

There are no cards to buy, and no gifts to wrap. Today will be just another Sunday at our house. We miss the men in our lives, but I am personally grateful that my son does have positive male role models around him. M. is blessed to have a tennis coach who is patient and kind, and truly wants to see him improve his game to the best of his ability. M.’s private lesson teacher (for saxophone) is also a great influence, who once a week shares his gift of music. There have also been several male teachers who have had a lasting impact on M. as he makes his way through school. To these men and others everywhere, we wish you a great Father’s Day. Be sure to cherish the precious time you have with your children today and always.

Inside the Boy Brain

I am a female raising a male human. Alone. With no help. I have only a sister, no brothers.  I did have a father who was very present in my life, but I did not meet him until 1960. He was 38 years old.  I have been married to a man, and dated a few others before him, but once again, they were adults. The point I am attempting to make is that I have no real life experience with a young boy. What makes them tick? What goes on inside their mind? Is there actually a “mind” located within their skull? Case in point. Last Spring, after the snow had melted, I was piddling out in the front yard, collecting various forms of debris that had landed on the lawn-leaves, sticks, pickles. Pickles you say? I did not initially realize that I was picking up pickles. The first one or two I came upon, near the front door, were green, shriveled, rubbery mystery items that I believed might have been deposited in the yard by birds. Then I came upon another, and another, and another, until I realized that they were pickles-little miniature gherkins-often used for snacking. Was someone in the neighborhood feeding the birds pickles? Had they run out of seed and peanut butter, or were they just trying to finish off the jar and thought, hey, I think I’ll put these in the feeder to get rid of them? (Birds will eat anything, like Mikey.) It did not dawn on me until later in the day, that most likely, my son (then 12 years old), had apparently gotten bored one winter’s day and decided that it would be fun to toss pickles out the front door like lawn darts. Really????

Fast forward to this winter, which has also included many housebound, relatively uneventful days for my son. He spends a lot of his free time on his XBox, but once in a while he tires of that, and will watch old reruns of I Dream of Jeanie and the Beverly Hillbillies. Apparently, one dull and dreary day he ran out of things to do, and decided to suck the coating off of several orange-flavored Tic Tacs and spit them around the house. (Yesterday, I found one behind a chair in the great room.  Weeks before, I had found a couple of others in more conspicuous places, but shrugged them off to something the dog had dragged in.) Once again, I was left scratching my head in wonder at the inner workings of the underdeveloped male brain. What could possibly make an individual decide to make a sport out of kosher dills and breath mints? What’s next? Waffles as frisbees, or Cheerios as ammunition? I may have to start locking up the frig and pantry when I leave. Apparently, a grocery toss has replaced a deck of cards and board games as indoor fun-at least at my house!