Thanksgiving, 2018

It’s Thanksgiving, and I’m counting my blessings.

It’s hard to do. But also easy. Life is full of contradictions now, and always will be, I guess.

When one is missing, the absence is as sharp and noticeable as the presence of others is visible, and sweet.

But it’s not only Alex who’s gone. We’re missing so many from our family. A good number are on the other side now. It’s tempting to get lost in that reality, to focus on the years gone by.

But if memories of other Thanksgivings are part of this day, we’re also mindful of the good things of life. There are so many to count.

We talked about the list before eating. One of the mentions was “thankful not to be homeless.” This, from the five-year-old in our group. What does it say about our society, that this is so common? And that five-year-olds are aware this happens?

So we talk a bit about that, and other things. The usual, and the normal: family, friends, love, relationships. The physical. Food. Pets. The good stuff.

It’s a day to savor, and to mark. I try to practice gratitude every day, and most of the time I’m successful. There is always, always, something to be thankful for.

But it’s meaningful to do it as a group, oldest to youngest, to acknowledge all the things. Maybe one day, we won’t need to reference the issues of the homeless. Or watch news stories of soldiers celebrating far from home. 

Happy Thanksgiving, wherever you find yourself. May you have many good things to count, and more to come in the future.

And God bless us, every one!

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31

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Today Alex is 31. I talk to him, think about him. What do you say, when the years aren’t adding up on this planet any longer? Do you still say “happy birthday?”

I think about other birthday celebrations for those who are gone, the way we honor heroes who left a mark.

We hold parades, declare holidays, and remember their gifts. We look back with gratitude, and find inspiration in stories of lives well lived.

Alex left his mark too, on so many lives. He left stories of kindness, humor, a strong work ethic, his unique vision of life. He left grand memories.

There won’t be any parades today, and businesses will all be open as usual. Other than a few people who know this date as his, to the rest of the world, it’s just another Monday.

But for those who love him…it’s the first birthday without.

We had a running conversation about this time of year…me always trying to find a gift he would enjoy, and him standing firm, saying all he wanted for his birthday was a sandwich.

I don’t remember how that got started. When he was still a kid at home, the tradition was always that the person celebrating their birthday got their dinner of choice…favorite home cooked meal, or favorite restaurant. Somewhere along the way, Alex decided to keep it simple, and started requesting “just a sandwich.” In mom mode, I could never do that. A sandwich wasn’t festive enough. Sometime in the teen years, he began choosing pie as the birthday sweet, lemon icebox or key lime, to mark the day and round off the evening, candles burning and presents stacked, ready to be opened.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw the birthday reminder from Amazon, sent to alert me that June 18 was coming up. Then a reminder popped up on my calendar.

As if I needed that.

Though there’s no danger I’ll forget his birthday, and no need to remind me to buy a gift for him, I won’t take him off my birthday calendar, or Amazon reminder list. There are already so many ways he’s missing from life. His phone number is no longer his. He doesn’t have a mailing address any more. His bank account is closed.

I won’t erase him from my lists. It’s not that I need any reminders to think of him. But it’s important to me that his name is still there.

Like so many pieces of the tapestry of loss, there’s no logic to my thoughts. I couldn’t tell you why I can’t take him off my Amazon gift list, or delete his address from any of the other sites where it lives. I just can’t. Even though I know that deleting an address doesn’t mean anything…doesn’t change any facts, and doesn’t lessen his place in my heart…I won’t do it. Somehow it means something to me to see it.

In this new era of life, without Alex, everything counts, everything matters. It’s strange the way this works. When someone you love is living, of course they’re important to you, and you’re concerned with them, and for them, and things that impact them impact you. But when that person is gone, and what you have left are the memories, photos, physical reminders of their lives, and the digital footprints left behind….it’s all important, to a level you can’t begin to understand, until that’s all you have.

It all becomes sacred.

Where once I loved the boy / man, now I cherish the traces of him, wherever I find them. So nothing is meaningless, not even the email from Amazon to remind me of his birthday approaching.

And yet nothing fills the void.

I’ve been fearful of this day. Wondered how it would feel to wake up and know there’s no birthday call to make, no sandwich joke between us, no hearing if he liked his gifts. Nothing. Just nothing.

But today, as much as I miss Alex, I’m celebrating his life, all 31 years of it. Somewhere he’s 31, and he’s probably having a sandwich, hopefully with bacon.

There are 364 other days in the year to mourn him, to feel the sorrow of loss. Today, I’m just choosing to find the joy, and to be thankful for his life. He was amazing, and a gift.

Alex taught me many things, some of which have come in the past months. Even now, I’m learning through him, because of him. Today is another of those gifts, teaching me, reminding me, that lives intertwined don’t unravel because one has moved to another realm. They’re still connected, and always will be.

The people who touch our lives, and whose lives we touch…our stories are forever joined. Alex will be forever young, in photos and human years. But in my heart, and in another world, he’ll keep having birthdays.

“There are three things we cry for in life: things that are lost, things that are found, and things that are magnificent.”
Douglas Coupland

Alex has been each of these: found, magnificent, and lost. He is lost to us now, for a time. But not forever.

And that is something to celebrate.

Laura, Will, & Alex, June 18, 2017

Alex’s 30th birthday, with friends at the Colorado Renaissance Festival, June 18, 2017

“The beautiful thing you did, that no one knows about, or forgot, it’s there always; light, grainy light- even if cruelty gets its hands on it. It’s done. You were born. No taking that back.” 

~ Thank you, Laura, for the quote. It’s perfect. ~

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A day in the life, 2018

February 25, and this is where I am. In between the day’s demands and the shadows, this is what grief looks like…how it wears, almost five months into my new reality.

This grief is like no other. First, it’s all-encompassing. Losing my son has changed my calendar, my reckoning of life’s history, into a great division of “before” and “after.”

Even when I look fine, and I seem to be involved in other things, awareness is just under the surface. Loss is on my mind and heart, even if I’m able to disguise it and appear “normal.”

I no longer have to remember when I wake up. I wake up already knowing. I know the fact that Alex is gone, and I take up that awareness as soon as I’m conscious.

I recognize that while people have been very kind, and I’ve felt free to speak about Alex, I also have to function, and that means I have to be able to have work conversations; logistics conversations; I want to be able to ask a question in the market without falling apart. I don’t need to answer simple and casual questions (from TSA agents, checkers, hallway passers-by) who initiate the pleasantry of “how are you?” with more response than they want or need to hear. They are not asking for my truth. They are asking for my veneer. And that’s ok. I accept that for the most part, our culture does not expect or invite real answers to these questions of courtesy.

Grief is surprising. It’s not all about sadness, though a lot of it is. I love to talk about Alex in happy moments, remembering funny things he said or did, sweet memories, good times. I talk to him a lot as I move through my days. It’s a one-sided conversation, but I like to think he hears me.

I play music he loves, and I believe he hears that too.

Sometimes grief is overwhelming, and for reasons I don’t always see coming. Walking through the grocery store, the sadness is sharp and deep. We used to talk a lot when he was shopping, he would call me and share all sorts of stuff…we used to laugh a lot. He was picky about food and diet. And bacon. He loved good bacon. How do you manage yourself when you’re suddenly drowning, looking at one of his favorite foods in the market, melting into a pool of memories?

The big times you can see coming, and you brace for them. Holidays…we’ve been through the first round already. I think his birthday will be harder. But I know where that date lives on the calendar, and I’ll be as prepared as I can be to make it a day of happiness that he lived in this world, rather than sorrow that he’s gone.

(I’m trying to train myself to still speak of him in present tense, though I know that may be confusing, and it isn’t always appropriate. I say I love him, not I “loved” him. He is still living, just not in this realm.)

……………..

It’s the small things that sneak up on you that are hardest, really: the moments you just double over because something catches you off guard; the times you have to stop and breathe deep because you can’t just keep going. You have to stop and physically give in to what you’re feeling in the moment. Sometimes I begin sentences in a normal voice, but can’t finish my thought because I’m suddenly overwhelmed.

I never get in his car without feeling like I should thank him for using it. Not that I ever wanted his car. No. I would so much rather have him, infinitely more than a vehicle. But we paid off the car, and brought it up, so now we drive it. I have survivor’s guilt, even though we had no say in what he chose. Even though we would give anything to have him back. The guilt that I am alive and living is so strong, and I don’t know why. I remind myself that he left. He chose to leave, though I know it wasn’t anything that he did to wound us. But even without intention, it did wound us, and we are forever walking around with that hole, that gap, in our beings. Sometimes I think that must be visible to everyone.

I miss talking to him in the places and times when we used to connect. He’d call while I was making dinner, or on my way home from work, and we’d chat. About the little stuff, and the big. Now those times of day are empty, and I wait for my phone to ring, knowing it’s not going to. Or if it rings, it won’t be him.

I hear his laugh, his hearty, doubled-up-with-joy laugh, when he found something so hilarious he had to share. He had a keen sense of humor, and loved a good joke and a funny story. He was quite the story teller too. He had the Irish gift of gab, and he could spin a tale like he was born to do it. He had favorites that grew with the telling. He could turn on accents, face animated and body following the story, going through all the motions, giving you the full force of his personality, filled to the brim with life, overflowing with charm, his personal brand of attraction. He was handsome and sweet. He was the kind of man who grabs your heart, for the best of reasons.

…………

Grief bounces off every-day items and situations that have no connection to Alex, at least as far as anyone else could see. But there are links to him everywhere, and I see all of them.

It works like this:

We last saw Alex in Hawaii on a family vacation, and I used a new brand of hair dryer on that trip. I liked it so much that I bought a hair dryer like the one in the hotel when we got home. I had used it for months before Alex died, with no thought connecting him to the dryer. But now, every morning, I see the hair dryer and I pick it up to dry my hair, and there is an immediate path that opens to Hawaii, and to Alex, just because that’s all connected now.

The whole state of Colorado is linked to him, and a million other things. Things like an ad for In ‘n Out Burgers, which he loved. I see that chain is expanding to Colorado, and I mourn that he won’t get to enjoy it in his home state. He’ll miss that. As though it matters, with everything else he’s missing, or everyone who’s missing him! But it does matter. It’s another dart to my heart, sharp. And yet so trivial. How do you explain you’re crying over a burger chain your son liked? It seems silly. But in grief, nothing is silly, nothing is meaningless. The smallest, most insignificant connection can feel momentous. And the links that really are meaningful can take your breath.

Anything that touches our life with him growing up falls into this crevasse. Anything that touches on something he loved, or even something he disliked…anything that reminds me of something that reminds me of him…like the hair dryer, the object or situation or memory is not necessarily something anyone else would connect to Alex. But I do, effortlessly and instantly. It is an involuntary response to awareness of him, and awarness that he’s not here.

Grief is both exhausting and effortless. I say effortless because it happens naturally, without putting intentional thought or emotion toward my grief, or toward the one I’m missing. It just happens. It is lightening fast, and penetrates to the marrow. Like a physical jolt or wound, I feel the hurts, deep and painful.

It is exhausting because it doesn’t end. You know the way you feel when everything is going right? When you’re well with the world? I don’t know if I can ever feel that again. I believe Alex is in a better place, as they saying goes. I believe he’s at peace, and I believe he can see us and know how much we love and miss him. But even believing all of that, it doesn’t change the reality that I miss him being here. I miss knowing he’s out and about, doing his thing, being Alex. And when I do my mental checks to see that all is right with the world, I feel for him. And he’s not there. And I can’t connect. I can’t fix it. I don’t know how to make it right.

So I live with this. It’s ok. I accept this as part of what it means to love, to be vulnerable, to invest in another person. I invested in my son, and he repaid that investment with so much that was good, and beautiful, and sweet. I just wish I could have changed the ending.

But that too, I’m coming to see differently. I’ll always regret that he couldn’t continue. But I’m coming to accept that he felt that way, and it was his right to make that decison. And I believe that even the dead have a right to privacy. I don’t know all the issues that led to his choice to die. But he was 30, an adult, and as much as he shared, he was not under obligation to share everything. We all have chapters we don’t read out loud, and I accept that ultimately, he chose not to share what he was thinking those last hours. We know a bit, from the words he left. But we don’t know all, and we won’t.

Just because we are mother and son, the relationship doesn’t erase the right to our own lives, our thoughts, and our choices. Just as I haven’t shared everything in my life with my children, so they have a right to filter their lives. It’s a matter of respect, and it’s also reality. Everyone should have the privilege of managing their choices and their privacy.

If that sounds like I’m approving of suicide, or even advocating for it, I’m not. I am trying to accept what I must, and recognize that life is not a given. We don’t have control over anyone beyond self.

I belong to a FB group of survivors of suicide who have a military affiliation. The stories I see posted are all so similar…stories of (mostly) young men who seem to have had so much to offer, who were loving and generous, and seemed fine, or mostly fine, until suddenly, shockingly, they were not. The spouses, mothers, fathers, siblings, and children of these individuals write from varying places of disbelief, sorrow, depression, and confusion. What happened? What did they miss? What went so tragically wrong?

I understand. We know some of Alex’s story, but not all. He didn’t choose to share everything with us, or seemingly, anyone. Or perhaps he shared bits and pieces with different friends and family, but not all with anyone. We are left trying to piece together the puzzle.

What I’m coming to feel, to believe, is that the why is not really important. It would have mattered if we could have understood enough to have stopped his death. But now, knowing more…well, it feels like dissecting his last days and hours is an invasion. If he wanted us to know, he would have let us know.

This isn’t coming from lack of love, but rather, from deep respect. My son was a strong person, a deep thinker. If this choice to end his life was what he came to after considering his options, even if I strongly disagree, I know, in that moment of decision, he believed he was doing the best thing. I may disagree with his choice, but I also respect that it was his choice to make.

This is a hard stance to take. Aren’t we all connected, and don’t we owe something to the others in our lives? By choosing to remove himself from his family and friends, he impacted all of us, and it’s so hard to bear. It’s so hard to accept his loss.

Yes, I believe we do owe something to the people in our lives. But when anyone reaches the point Alex reached, I don’t think they’re capable of seeing that. I believe with all my heart that his choice to die wasn’t made to hurt anyone…not family, not friends, not his girlfriend. He was choosing to end his pain. It seems so incomprehensible. Didn’t he grasp that ending his pain would be painful for everyone? How could he not see that?

That’s why suicide is often viewed as an act of selfishness. But I believe it isn’t about selfishness. I believe suicide reflects the victim becoming so blinded by their pain they don’t recognize the enormity of the loss they inflict on everyone who loves them.

I think about all this, turn it over and over in my mind, try to come to some place of peace. I talk it out loud, reason it out to Alex. I want him to know what I’m thinking, what I’m working through. I want him to know he is loved, in the here and now, even if he is beyond us, living in a different realm.

It turns out I need his approval for going on, and maybe it helps him to feel my acceptance, as much as I can accept without endorsing his choice. Maybe that doesn’t make sense to anyone else. I don’t know.

I only know what I have to live with, or without, more accurately. And I know that to live with this reality, and to live without Alex, I have to find a way to make some sense of it. Making sense of an act that seems senseless to me is a feat of mental gymnastics. But I’m doing it. I’m trying to see from his perspective, and remove myself. That’s the only way I can confront this.

I come back to the same place again and again. If I couldn’t save Alex, maybe I can save someone else? Maybe in reality; or maybe I can help someone else who struggles with loss. Come along side and say I understand. Push for awareness, interevention, blood drives, laughter, and all the things Alex stood for and loved. It’s the only path I see to walk. Honoring my son with strength, and with understanding, as much as I am able.

The grief is there, a part of me. I don’t know how it will be five years from now, or ten. I expect it to continue. Maybe finding ways to use our story will soften the pain a bit. Or maybe not. Whatever I can do for anyone else, it won’t bring him back. But maybe he will see, and smile, and know his spirit is still having an impact. He’s still doing his thing, in this life, and in the next.

Quotes…there are so many powerful words that speak to pain, to loss, to grief. This is one I like…only one of hundreds, maybe thousands.

‘You know’ – she shrugs – ‘most people’s lives are a struggle. This is just my recipe. You have a choice with your experiences, even if they have been negative and difficult, and one thing you can do is turn pain to power.’   – Thandie Newton

That’s a beautifully succinct way to put it…the recipe is to turn pain to power. I don’t interpret “power” as personal power or for personal benefit. I interpret this as the power to overcome, to make something positive from great pain and loss. And that’s what I’ll try to do, for Alex, for myself, for my family. For everyone who knew him.

Undaunted in 2018: my word for the New Year

Definition of undaunted: undismayed; not discouraged; not forced to abandon purpose or effort.

2017 was the worst year of my life.

Not all of it…some of it was normal, even joyful, fun, adventurous. There was travel, and there were milestones. There was love. There was a lot of work, with effort spent toward family needs, clinic responsibilities, and the daily stuff of life.

And there was shock, tragedy, and devastation.

2017 brought the loss of my son, and with him, something I can’t really define. I’ve written about his death on Facebook, and here on my blog…it’s pretty much all I’ve written about in recent months…talked about it with family and friends. But regardless of the words I use, or how much I say, I’m not satisfied. I can’t really explain the impact, or the sadness.

At 57, I don’t think it was loss of illusion, or naive expectation of life. I’ve been around the block, and I know about hard times, the reality that life hands out surprises, some of them fierce and awful. Some that take your breath.

But losing Alex…I just can’t describe it. It’s a reality I can’t deny. But I haven’t grasped it either.

I can’t fathom that 2018 will dawn, and the only imprint of him on the new year, and the years to come, will be from memories. How is that even possible?

We were supposed to be with him for New Years. Instead, we’re mourning him.

I replay, in my mind, talks we had when he was strong, and determined, and driving toward his goals with purpose. He was undaunted.

And I want to claim that for myself. Not in denial that Alex is gone, nor in expectation of getting over his loss. Some things you don’t get over.

But I ask myself, what would his words be? He’d be philosophical, and tell me that he made the choice he felt was right for him.

Though I can’t see that point of view, there’s no doubt he believed that.

And believing that, he would expect the people who love him to be accepting. We didn’t always agree, but now, there’s no opportunity for argument, or changing his mind. Now, the only option is to accept.

I think about the year ahead, and I know I want to approach it with grace and love, appreciation for what we had, and looking toward the future.

The future with Alex will be in another time and place. But the future with others is here and now, in 2018.

I have a responsibility to the ones I love, and the ones who loved Alex, to be here for them. And that means more than being just physically present. It means being engaged, and connected, not lost in a fog of grief.

It’s only been three months, and to be honest, some days I’m shocked I’m upright, and forming coherent sentences. And to be honest, not all my sentences are coherent.

Other days, I glimpse the future. The ache is in my heart, but I gather myself to do more than mourn. I gather myself to do, and to mourn.

Neither death, nor life, can be ignored.

When I was thinking about my word for 2018, I knew it had to be a word of strength, and determination. Like Alex, I want to be undaunted.

Some would view his final choice as anything but undaunted. Some would see defeat. Or loss of determination, even weakness. But I see someone who believed he had reached the end, and was undaunted by the decision he faced.

I wish I could talk him out of it…help him see a different path, and a different way to live undaunted. But I can’t. I believe he died that way. Undaunted, and making the choice he believed was best. Even if it was a choice that broke hearts.

My choice is to live undaunted. It’s easy to say, and so challenging to confront. What does that even mean? And how will that look, in the coming year, when I’m still raw and walking wounded?

I think it means learning to live with loss, and grief, in ways that both honor Alex, and honor the lives around me. It means being the best I can be, in the midst of mourning. That’s what I’m learning. I’m not just mourning. And I’m not resuming life as though this never happened. I’m combining these realities, and my responses to both.

Spending the last week with Riley and Jack shows me how important this is. We talked about Alex, cried over him, missed his laugh and presence, shared some stories. But we also opened gifts, and played games, and celebrated the here and now.

If I sound like I know what I’m doing, like I’ve figured this out…well, that’s just me telling myself this is what I have to do, rehearsing it out loud, and in print. This is my choice, based on Alex’s choice.

I wish I could continue living the life I had before October, but that’s not an option. So, my word for 2018 is undaunted, the only way forward.

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Alex Gibson, April 2017

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Last family vacation in Hawaii, April 2017

 

 

 

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Alex, my son

It’s been a terrible fall. We lost our son, Alex.

I’ve written about this on my Facebook page, shared a lot of the detail there. But I can’t go back to blogging without sharing the story here, as well.

Our world changed on Oct 4. Really it changed on Oct 3, but we didn’t know that until the night of the 4th.

That was when we learned we’d lost Alex to suicide. It happened the day before, but it took several hours after he was found in his apartment in Denver to get word to us through official channels, in Alaska.

That knock on our door changed so much.

It plunged us into a surreal world of sadness, loss, questions, statistics, and community.

The initial shock, disbelief, and the follow-up trip to Denver passed in a blur of unreality, mixed with the stark practicality of death. No matter how devastating, death demands decisions, and actions.

We left Alaska on Thursday, stopped in Seattle to connect with our daughter and son-in-law, and landed in Denver on Friday afternoon. Although we knew from the note Alex left that he requested cremation, we had to sign the paperwork to allow for that, and begin the process of procuring a death certificate.

The death certificate was the key to having authority to address Alex’s estate issues…deal directly with his bank, his apartment lease, his vehicle. Though he was single, and a minimalist, there were still multiple tasks required to close out his physical life, and see to the responsibilities of legal and financial requirements.

Working through everything in a short time-span, we hardly had time for his loss to sink in. Looking back, that was a blessing. I don’t know if I could have made it through that week if I hadn’t been largely numb, still in shock. Faced with the necessity to empty his apartment, decide what to do with his car, and make arrangements for cremation, we literally worked for the next week, almost without stopping, except to visit with friends…some mutual, and some new acquaintances, who were friends of Alex.

That was priceless time, allowing us to connect to people he knew and loved, people he worked with, friends from his past, people we’d known as a family during the years we lived there. It was a precious gift of shared sorrow, but also of shared joy, celebrating the man he was, and the man we lost.

******************

You hear yourself talking about things you never imagined you’d discuss.  What to do with his ashes. Deciding what to keep of his personal belongings, what to donate. Each possession becomes a question to debate…first, because it was his, and the smallest of his things are suddenly sacred. And second, because…how do you decide, in the emotional whirlwind of unbelievable loss, what will be significant in the future? The obvious things are easy…but so much is not obvious, standing in the apartment of the son you loved, trying to realize what this really means…that he has no more use for these things…that he’s done with them, and yet they’re suddenly your tangible link to his life.

Although humans live with the idea of death,  and the possibility of it taking anyone, at any time, for any reason…you never think it will be your child. Your son. And we never feared suicide for Alex. I worried for him when he was deployed in Iraq with the army. I used to mark each call and email on my calendar, so I could see, at a glance, when we last heard from him during that 13 months. I worried for his safety when he was working security, and when he was driving for Waste Management. I worried about him being in an accident on the road. As a driver, he was out in all weathers. I worried about him working with heavy equipment.

But I never worried that he would take his life.

Even though he fit the profile of someone at higher risk for suicide…young, male, a veteran without a stable relationship in his life…we didn’t see him as someone at risk. We knew he was seeing a counselor through the VA, but he dismissed those sessions when I asked him about them. He made the counseling sound like more of a formality…just something he had to do, as his honorable discharge from the army came with a PTSD rating.

He always seemed so strong, so sure, so determined. He was well-connected to friends, to a job he enjoyed, to his routine of working out, going out, taking care of himself. He was in a good place, for the most part. Most of all, he was intensely, vibrantly alive. He had energy, humor, drive, and plans for himself, with friends, and with us.

He was also lonely at times. We knew that. He and his long-term girlfriend had been through some on/off cycles, and he was struggling with that. Ultimately, from his note, that was the trigger, though we believe the PTSD was a contributing factor as well. Ironically, he had gotten rid of his gun collection, because she didn’t like them. He obviously kept the one he used. Now, I wonder if he kept it with this in mind, or if he kept it for target shooting, or as a weapon for self-defense? We don’t know, will never know. How I wish he had disposed of it, along with the rest!

Rob and I talk a lot about Alex…what happened, what we might have missed that would have allowed us to intervene…we talk about him, the boy and the man, the son we love and miss so much. He’s never far from our thoughts.

This is what I’ve learned, these past few months, living with a grief unlike any other I’ve experienced:

This grief is like clothing. Sometimes it’s the outer clothing I wear. That’s when the tears come so easily, triggered by the smallest of memories or links. Sometimes grief is the layer underneath the face I show to the world. But whether it’s visible to anyone else or not, I’m conscious that grief is there. Ever present. Palpable.

Grief can be triggered by anything, however insignificant, or even seemingly disconnected…because suddenly, there is significance between the one grieving, and the one lost. A scent, a word, a photo, a food, or something random that triggers a memory…a favorite color, music, a place, a line from a movie, a joke…anything that takes you to that person, in a flash of remembrance. There may be a flood of tears, a laugh, a sweet longing. There’s not one possibility for response, but many.

I realize that Alex was a grown man, and he had friends and connections who are strangers to us. I’m grateful he had many people in his life, that he was well-loved, by others as well as us. We didn’t own the man, we just had a piece of him. I’m thankful for our relationship with him, thankful that we’ve had so many of his friends share stories of his kindness, his humor, his integrity, his place in their lives. I’m thankful for the man he was. I’m thankful for the memories we have, of calls and texts, trips to see him, and for him to come to us. I’m so thankful for our last family vacation in April.

Grief has a positive side. Feeling the intensity of Alex’s loss, I’m even more conscious of other family and friends…how important they are to me, how much I want to spend my time with them in ways that are memorable.

Grief makes me appreciate so much. I appreciate that my son and I had a loving relationship, that the last words we ever said to each other were “I love you.” And the best part is, that was our usual way to say goodbye. We didn’t speak those words out of some sense of healing a wound or mending fences. No bridge building or fence mending was needed.

I appreciate the connection he had with each of his family…for the ties that bind, and continue, even now. I’m thankful for the messages we read, the photos we have, that remind of us the good times, the funny exchanges, the humor and joy he brought to our lives.

I’m so thankful for the years we had with Alex. I’m so thankful that he was with us 30 years, that we saw him grow up, and we knew him as a man.

Mourning my son has freed me from fearing death. I used to be fearful of what was beyond. But since my son is on the other side, I’m not afraid to go there now.

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We’ll do a celebration of life event for him, when the time is right. For now, I’m not ready or able to spread his ashes. But the time will come, and when it does, he’ll be in Colorado, the home where he grew up, and the place he chose to be his home as an adult.

For now, each day is a new experience of learning the depths of this loss, and how to keep living, when a part of us is gone…how to make sense of this, as best we can. We talk, cry, go through our days, look at photos, connect to him in a hundred small ways, and get up the next day to do it again.

We look for ways to honor him. He was a dedicated blood donor, so that’s a new focus for me. I hope to arrange digital blood drives, and plan to donate myself, as often as possible. Others who knew him have joined me in this.

We’ve used Alex’s choice to connect to others who might benefit from some part of his story. We’ve been given an opportunity to reach out, through Alex’s death, and we take that responsibility seriously. It’s not a community I expected to join, but once you’re a survivor of a suicide victim, you become more aware of others’ circumstances, and ways you can help in the fight for life. We speak respectfully, but seriously, to say…don’t do this…please don’t consider this option. Please choose life.

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We have a few pieces of Alex’s affairs still to work through. Next month we’ll turn in his phone. We kept it to help with managing his accounts, and to be honest, because we couldn’t face disconnecting his phone number just yet. His Facebook page is still up, though we should probably transition it to a memorial page. We plan to request his records, to find out if he had a diagnosis of depression…if there was a clinical condition that contributed to his choice. And we have a series of significant dates to get through…holidays, his birthday, the first anniversary of his death.

I don’t expect to get over this. We’ll be the rest of our lives absorbing his loss. How could it be any different? There are many definitions of grief: “grief is love with no place to go;”  “grief is the last act of love;” “grief is the price we pay for love.” It’s all true. And the realest definition of all: grief is our new normal.

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Alex Gibson, Apri 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where did summer go?

The last time I posted was July 7. The months since have been a whirlwind of travel, work, family, guests, and healing.

Yes, my foot is healing. It seems slow to me, but since this is my first experience with a broken bone, maybe I’m just impatient. I’m still wearing flats…no heels since June 30, which is a long time for a short woman to go without a boost in height. But thankfully, the pain in the fractured area is almost completely gone.

We trekked back to the South in July to see parents and extended family, and took a few extras with us. Riley and Jack and Stephanie made the trip and soaked up cousin and grandparent time.

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Jack found a sign with a familiar name:

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There was crafting (thank you Pinterest!)

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And we ate just a wee bit…both my mom and my mother-in-law are cooks of the first order. And we had to have Cock of the Walk fried catfish. No trip to Mississippi is complete without that familiar stop. This time we worked it in on our way back to the airport. We were down to the wire, but we got our fill of the classics: hush puppies, fried dill pickles, and the star of the show, southern fried catfish. (If you’ve never had this southern staple, do yourself a favor and put it on your list to track down. Make sure the fish is farm raised, and that you find a good restaurant with a cook who knows how to fry. Your best bet is to go south.)

Stephanie and the kids went home, and Rob and I spent a few days in New Orleans between visits to parents. Although August in Louisiana is not for the faint of heart, the old downtown areas of the city are charming, and the food was amazing. I’ll be having some more of that next time I head south. 🙂 We celebrated our 36th anniversary, and walked off some of the calories, exploring the French Quarter, visiting the National WWII Museum (which is excellent),

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and wandering through the Arts – Warehouse District, and up, down, and around Bourbon Street.

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We ate at three wonderful restaurants, trying something different each night we were in town. And each was an experience worth repeating: Revolution, Domenica, and Restaurant August. You know you’re in a food paradise when everyone gives you their top restaurant picks and everyone has a different list…there are so many great choices! And we didn’t even go to any of the iconic restaurants. I wanted to eat where locals eat, and we hit the jackpot. I seriously think you can’t go wrong in that city, as far as dining.

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Also fun, at breakfast we had watermelon juice. Now how cute is that?

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And shrimp and grits. Ah, food of the south!

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Now, ask me about the humidity and that’s a different conversation! It takes a lot for me to feel hot enough to appreciate air conditioning, having lived without it for most of my life…you just don’t need it that often in the foothills of Colorado, or in Alaska. But I was grateful for it in New Orleans! I honestly don’t know how people survived in the south before AC.

I never go south without bringing back a little something. This time I hit tomato season, and although I never really get my fill, I had several tomato sandwiches during our visit (only white bread, mayo, sliced tomatoes and salt, thank you!). And I brought back enough to have a round of BLTs in Alaska. Just another tasty thing I hand carried all the way. Lucky for me, tomatoes are allowed through airport security!

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We had some cousins come up for a week after our trip south, and got in a little bear viewing:

And finally, Riley and Jack just spent a week with us, their first time to visit without parents. It was fun, and reassuring that I could find my way back to child-caring mode. We’d kept them before in their home, but this was their first time to stay with us in our home without mom and dad on hand.

Oh, we had a good time!

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Neighbors shared kids to play with and a trampoline to jump on.

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There was a fierce Uno battle, and we broke out the Chinese checkers.

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The weather cooperated while they were here. We had beautiful days and perfect evenings.

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There were shenanigans:

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And just when I thought Jack’s energy knew no bounds, he crashed.

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Last Saturday they had their first float plane trip, traveling from the Metlakatla airport (also known as the float plane dock) over to Ketchikan, to catch the Alaska Airlines flight to Seattle.

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It was a fast trip to take them down on Saturday and head back up Monday. Sunday afternoon, we made it to a local fair:

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And now, catching my breath, I know why the past two months have been a blur, and why I’m pooped!

Why, hello, September, and all things pumpkin! It was a glorious summer, but I’m ready to get cozy!

 

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Walking may be hazardous to your health

Walking…we take it so for granted. Just last Friday I was walking effortlessly, no thought required. No planning for how to get myself around.

In fact, in our current state of car-less-ness (that means we don’t own a vehicle) I walk more than I drive, or ride. It helps that we live about a five-minute walk from the clinic where we work, so walking to the office is simple, something I do in all weathers.

Last Friday I was walking to work, as usual. Laptop bag, phone, and coffee in hand, I was within sight of the door when I mis-stepped…tripped…slipped…something happened. Suddenly, I was flat on the ground, everything I was carrying scattered around me, and I got up with that stunned and shaky feeling of “what just happened?!” You know the moment when you’re not sure if you’re about to laugh or cry, or laugh and cry.

Well, you know how awkward you feel in these little situations. As I began to very carefully pick myself up, not sure yet if I’d done any real damage, embarrassment kicked in, and my initial shock turned to hope that no one saw my spill. I felt like a cartoon character with the wind knocked out of me and my dignity spilled on the ground with my coffee. You know the very flat version of a cartoon that’s suddenly one dimension? Yep!

Not that I have that much dignity to be concerned with…I’m not one to walk around thinking too highly of myself. But it’s never fun to be upright one moment, and splatted on the ground the next. It’s the shock factor, you know?

I gathered myself and my belongings, beginning to think about my technology and hope it was all safe (only a few months ago I dropped my phone and experienced the trauma of a shattered screen, and let me tell you, that left a mark!). I got inside the door and then hobbled to my office to inspect me and my things for damage.

Skinned knee, check. Cracked glass on my phone, check (though this time it was only a lower corner, so not quite as devastating as before). Laptop was ok, thankfully it was in a padded case. Coffee was mostly saved, thanks to my indestructible container! 🙂

The real damage was to my foot. There were no protruding bones, but it hurt. It hurt quite a lot, actually! I was wavering between “I think I’ll sit down and cry about this” and “no, no, I’m fine, really!” You know, that song and dance you do when you hope if you downplay a situation, it’s going to be ok without intervention. If you need intervention, that’s never good.

So x-ray? No, I’m really ok, thanks! Something for the pain? I’ll just grin and bear it, I’ll be fine! (Big smile here!)

I remembered I had a conference call scheduled that morning, so I decided to go back to the house and join the call while I sat with my foot propped up. I dug a bag of frozen green peas out of the freezer drawer and put it over the now-rapidly swelling part of my foot. Ahh…better!

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Ouch, that hurts!

I babied it all weekend. And it did feel a bit better by Monday. But wisdom said it would be best to have it x-rayed and know for sure if I’d fractured anything.

Peter, the x-ray tech at the clinic, was hopeful right along with me. He told me he’d x-rayed breaks that weren’t swollen at all, and injuries that looked terrible but were fine. So I confidently thought my foot would fit in the latter category…not pretty, but hey, I was walking on it, right? Well, limping, anyway.

Um, no, not right.

The radiologist’s read found a fracture in the 5th metatarsal. It’s the type that sometimes doesn’t heal well…you have a “non-union” of the fracture, and 20-30% of these breaks end with surgery to repair the damage. That’s a wee bit alarming to hear.

So this is my new look, for the coming weeks:

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My summer fashion statement

No cast, but a rigid-sole shoe that keeps me from bending my foot as I walk-limp around. I’m pretty motivated to be compliant. I have no desire to be in the 20-30% group and be meeting a surgeon later this summer! My hope is to be done with my new shoe by late July. I’m traveling then, and I really don’t want to be sporting this lovely look. I miss my heels already! And Riley and Jack are spending a week with us at the end of August, and I definitely need to be my fully-mobile self by then. Have you ever tried limping to catch a four-year-old?

Anyway, the whole experience reminds me just how much I take for granted. Like simple walking. The ability to go and do and manage life without crutches, boots, or hobbling around is so important.

After a vision of spending the summer in a cast, or on crutches, or needing a wheel chair to get through airports has sunk in, I’m mindful. I was told to have my foot x-rayed weekly for the next three or four weeks to keep a check on the healing progress, so I’ll do that. I was told to take calcium, so doing that. I was told not to flex my foot, so I’m trying to be very aware of that movement, and avoid anything that will stress the injury.

Who knew a simple mis-step could cause all this bother?! Still looking for the upside here. The best takeaway so far is to be more empathetic toward anyone limping around and dealing with injuries. (Not that I wasn’t sympathetic before…but now!) It’s definitely not fun, and puts a damper on life when you have to think about every step…is it worth getting up to do (fill in the blank)? And already feeling a bit off-balance makes me uncomfortably aware how easy it would be to trip and re-injure myself. I don’t like feeling limited, or lacking confidence to do the most basic thing we humans do…just walk.

If you’re walking around without having to think about it, be thankful! And be careful! Trust me, the slightest mis-step, and you too could be modeling the latest fashion in the healthcare shoe industry!

Well, here’s hoping to be done with this in a few weeks. Looking forward to wearing heels again, and having matching shoes!

 

Freedom is not Free

Tomorrow Americans celebrate the birth of independence, the birth of country, the longevity of the United States of America. We’re old, by some reckonings, barely started by others.

We’ve had glory days, amazing stories that fill our history books, our movie scenes, fill our hearts with pride and nostalgia. We rightly remember the heroes, the brave ones, the  hardworking backbone of this country.

And we’ve had the other…the moments, many captured to live indefinitely online, that haunt and hurt and damage our national story. We’ve had days of sorrow, internal family feuding and fighting that’s hateful, and embarrassing.

We’re all siblings, of a sort.

National siblings. 

Lately, I’ve wondered…are we, the citizens of the United States, really worthy of the freedom we enjoy? Do we deserve the rights and privileges we’re so accustomed to having?

Do we take voting seriously? Do we know about the issues, take time to understand more than the sound bites and talking points that we’re already drawn to, by our pre-determined stances and opinions?

Do we look for candidates who will be leaders, or do we just check boxes when we vaguely recognize a familiar name?

Do we bother to learn about local issues, the unexciting realm of politics that influences school boards and community elections? Do we know what’s happening at the level of governing we can all be a part of? Do we participate in our own back yard?

Do we look for ways to help? Or are we just enjoying the show, enjoying the role of critic without the burden of involvement?

Do we look for the good of the whole? Are we focused on self-interest, or are we interested in our siblings…our national siblings?

Are we nurturing a nation, caring for our collective integrity and honor?

Sometimes it seems like we’re talking all the time, but not really saying anything worthwhile.

Is anyone even listening anymore? Or are we all talking over each other? We can all feel good that we’ve had our say. But did anyone hear anyone else?

I don’t have all the answers, nor does anyone else. Our issues are big, and getting bigger. Our debt is enormous, and our resources are limited.

But our hearts are not limited. Our imagination is not limited. Our capacity for compassion and hard work is unmatched.

Rather than hoping we can reach agreement on all our many areas of conflict, I hope we’ll look for opportunities to make actual contributions to real needs. I don’t have to agree with someone to work beside them for common good. And there so much that we can do if we choose to cooperate, instead of using our energy and time to tear one another apart.

Tomorrow we celebrate the heroes of thought and words who conceived a land built on freedom and liberty. We celebrate the heroes of action who brought the idea to reality. I hope we’ll also be celebrating the heroes of quiet deeds, the people who continue to make the United States great…the people who give, generously; who care, ferociously; who live, courageously; and who love, whole-heartedly.

We are siblings, all of us citizens. We’re national siblings, and we need to remember that. We pay a price to live in this land. Freedom isn’t free, even for civilians. There is a cost to everything, for everyone. And I’m not talking about taxes.

I’m talking about the price we owe from the heart.

Are you paying your share?

Happy 4th of July, Americans! Happy 4th, my siblings!

 

 

 

 

Memorial Day: welcoming summer, honoring memories

It’s not often my summer begins with the Memorial Day weekend, even if the end of May marks the unofficial start to the season for the rest of the US.

Most years in the past decade I’ve been in SE Alaska, and while spring is in the air by the end of May, summer is definitely not.

The past week found us in Virginia Beach, checking out a different side of the country, a different beach experience, and yet, oddly enough, with the same weather we thought we left behind us in Alaska: chilly, rainy, overcast. I understand this is unusual, just the luck of the draw. But still…I packed for different temps!

Finally, to launch the beginning of the weekend, we had a glorious day of sun, views, travel and music. A nice cap to our trip, and we also enjoyed a moving history lesson walking the length of the Virginia Beach boardwalk, reading the posters honoring events in US military history, and the beginning of the holiday now known as “Memorial Day.”

To celebrate the sun coming out, we left Virginia Beach and drove south. Sitting on top of North Carolina’s famous Outer Banks (OBX) was too tempting, so we made the easy drive south to explore another region of the Atlantic coast.

A couple of hours down the road you find yourself in the chain of communities that form the upper group of holiday / tourist coastal towns: Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head.

Where did they get those names?!

Headed down we drove through rural NC communities dotted with restaurants offering Southern food at its finest, barbecue, fresh crab and other local seafood, and fresh produce markets. Couldn’t resist stopping at a couple of these, picking up tomatoes, peaches, cantaloupe, jam, corn, and muscadine bread. (For anyone unfamiliar with muscadines, these are a type of grape which grows in the South.) You can make anything from jam and jellies to wine, eat them fresh off the vine, or, apparently, use them in baked goods. I’ve never eaten anything baked with muscadines, so this will be a first!

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I didn’t buy asparagus, but these were so tiny and beautiful I couldn’t resist making a photo.

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In the midst of our rambling, we visited the Wright Brothers National Memorial, honoring their historic and life-changing first flight, back in 1903. Though Kitty Hawk often gets credit for the location of the first flight, it actually happened in Kill Devil Hills. There’s an impressive monument to their feat, which continues to impact life…and I doubt it’s an exaggeration to say every life…on the planet.

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The Atlantic was a heavenly blue with brilliant sunshine out to herald the arrival of summer. Honestly, I could have been happy just driving the coast, taking in the views, soaking up the warmth, and appreciating the mix of kitsch and beauty.

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But we were only out for the day, and by late afternoon made our way back to Virginia Beach.

At the end of the day, we wandered down to find multiple outdoor concerts, restaurants, visitors biking, walking, eating, playing on the beach…a mix of ages, styles, cultures, languages…a melting pot, all around us.

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It was a nice reminder of the meaning behind the holiday, and how everyone living in this country in peace and freedom owes a debt of gratitude to those who’ve made it possible.

We’ve explored the Boardwalk a few times during our stay, but the other times we’ve been out have been more a fight against the wind and rain. This walk was leisurely, strolling and reading posters highlighting critical points in US history. I learned a few things about the various wars and conflicts that dot our history…these are just a couple of examples:

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Thank you, people of the past who made a difference, and gave your all doing it! Looking back at the past, the eras of bygone sacrifice, fears, victories and losses is sobering, but also reassuring.

It’s our responsibility to honor the past, but also to safeguard the future. And we do that by living with courage, respect, and thoughtfulness. How are we caring for the legacy of freedom today? That’s a question everyone has to answer for themselves, and the answers will vary, depending on the lens you use to filter. I think the best we can do is to live with personal integrity, value life, and understand that differences don’t have to divide. They can actually make us stronger, if we allow for that.

And guess what? Summer has begun!

Happy Mother’s Day!

This year, for the first time in a long time, I didn’t need to send flowers or do anything long distance for Mother’s Day. Over the past week, I’ve spent time with my mother, my mother-in-law, and my daughter. And of course, I’ve been with the littles. Wonderful to give gifts and love in person!

Beautiful mothers all, the inter-generation connection is sweet and powerful to experience, as I’ve been blessed, again, to touch people who are part of the fabric of my ties that bind.

My goal as a mother was to be the best example, parent, friend, and teacher I could be. Of course I didn’t always live up to my aspirations, but I tried. That much I know. And that’s all any of us can do…we try, and keep on trying.

I learned so much from my mom and my mother-in-law about the work of parenting, of friending, and of the on-going nature of mothering. Watching my daughter parent reminds me of the stages and the changes of this life of motherhood…how it shifts and grows, widens and deepens with the years.

Thank you to all the mothers in my life…for the joys, the patience, the humor, the tears, and the memories. It’s been an amazing experience, and a gift that keeps on giving.

Roses

The natural state of motherhood is unselfishness. When you become a mother you are no longer the center of your own universe. You relinquish that position to your children. ~ Jessica Lange