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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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Happy birthday to my one and only

That would be Rob, he is my one and only, and today is his day.

I saw this recently, and it’s perfect:

How easy sleep comes
when some piece of me touches
any piece of you.        Tyler Knott Greyson

He’s been off on a road trip to visit family, and I’ve been on a little trip of my own. Today we’ll reconnect, and celebrate the beginning of his new year, and know it’s all good.

And tonight we’ll sleep, hearts touching, just as it should be.

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Happy #6!

This little is six years old today! Six! I couldn’t believe it when it was my girl growing up so fast, and now I watch Riley.

To say I love her is an understatement. She seems to embody all the best of little girls…the princess, the silly, the funny, the sweet, the cute.

 

She makes us laugh. Sometimes with her, sometimes at her. She’s a joy, and full of surprises. She’s oddly wise for her years. She’s tall for her age. She’s a blend of her dad and mom, daddy’s girl and mommy’s helper.

She loves doughnuts, dolls, and crafts. She alternately nurtures and tolerates her little brother. She’s picky about her clothes, loves to wear skirts and frilly things.

She’s a kindergartner, reading, learning, swimming, getting big. She has a loose tooth…how did that happen so fast? I have to remember: it’s time. Soon her baby teeth will make way for the new.

She’s made a home in my heart.

Riley girl, the one and only. Happy birthday, little!

 

Happy birthday!

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Last week we got to fulfill a long-held dream of sailing a small boat in the Caribbean. It was a perfect way to celebrate Rob’s birthday, with sun, blue sky, bath-water ocean temps and amazing water colors. This morning we came back to Alaska to begin another stretch of work. But we have the photos to remind us we did it!

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OK, there was a real captain nearby, just outside of the photo. We got to take a few turns at the wheel, help with sail management, and learned a plethora of nautical terms. For instance, now I know what “tacking” and “three sheets to the wind” means, as well as a lot of other sailing terms. Very important to have these at the tip of my tongue when the situation warrants!

When we weren’t busy sailing, we did the tourist thing, island hopping and snorkeling, kayaking, soaking up sun. At night the lights from all the small island communities twinkle and give a festive feeling to the scene. Without a lot of light pollution, what lights are there really shine.

Oh, and we did a little eating. Just a wee bit!

The water is blue, turquoise, green, and every shade between. It’s magical and mesmerizing. I could sit and stare at the colors and the ocean life for hours at a time. Birds swoop down looking for food, fish jump, sea turtles swim by, and boats are everywhere.

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At night the stars are bold, and since they don’t have to compete with a lot of man-made lighting, they become more than they have been….they seem to put an extra level of effort into shining out in the darkness.

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We got a special treat while we were star-gazing. We saw the “Southern Cross,” a constellation that’s only visible from a few places in the northern hemisphere. You have to be in the tropics to see it from this hemisphere at all, and then it’s only visible at certain times of the year. Turns out May is the month for prime viewing, so we accidentally timed it perfectly.

The best part was the quiet time to explore, to sit on secluded beaches that dot the islands and enjoy the scenery, the beauty, the charm of a world so different, so far from our well-known paths.

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Happy birthday, Rob. I’m glad we shared the magic and the lights. We accidentally timed it perfectly!

Happy 5th Birthday Riley-girl!

Riley March 2015

It’s a big day for this little. She’s a whole handful today. Just like when it was her mom turning five, I can’t believe it’s come so quickly.

I’ve watched her for five years, and she’s been a joy. What a bundle of energy, and what a funny little girl she is. She’s always got something to say, and most of the time it’s dramatic and unexpected.

She’s an old soul in a five-year old form.

She’s a fancy Nancy, loves frills and twirly skirts.

She’s a beauty, full of childish charm and perfection.

She’s Riley-girl, and she’s a gift.

Happy Birthday to my favorite girl!

Happy birthday Jack!

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Blue eyes!

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The serious side of Jack!

Our Jack turns two tomorrow. What a boy he is! He’s the sunniest little fellow, almost always happy and smiling…at least when I see him! He sings to himself…a little personality trait I think he got from his dad…I often hear his dad humming…now that’s a sign of a contented heart! Little Jack is learning the alphabet, and his words are growing every day. He’s blossomed so quickly from baby/toddler to little boy. Love that little guy!

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Stephanie’s day

Happy birthday to Stephanie!

I’m a fortunate woman to know the joy of motherhood and the joy of adult children. And when I say “joy,” I mean just that.

It takes a while for the transition to occur…and I’ll speak for myself, and not the whole world of mothers here…for a long time I thought of myself in relation to my kids as “mom.” And of course that’s natural. That’s the beginning of the relationship, and for 18-plus years that was the defining role I experienced with them. And it continues, in the biological sense. Sometimes I slip into that mindset for a particular conversation or situation.

But mostly, now, I feel like we’re friends. And that’s a rich reservoir of emotion and experience.

And though I know that friendship between mother and children, mother and daughter, is not uncommon, it’s not a given. So I’m grateful it’s been given to me.

It’s an amazing thing to watch the flowering of adults, the only ones in the world that I’ve known so intimately since birth, and to be privileged to see their lives unfold, develop, mature…there’s an enduring bond that ties my heart to theirs.

Stephanie has been a gift to my life, the beginning of seeing the world through the eyes of a child, teaching me responsibility and forcing me to grow up in ways I couldn’t anticipate, until I found myself doing and stretching, learning because I was on the job and had to rise to the occasion, whatever the occasion might be.

She still teaches me, shares with me, makes me beam with pride.

She’s a daughter who is a mother, and a great one. She’s a daughter who is a friend, and a special one. She’s a daughter who is a woman, and an amazing one.

She’s my Stephanie, and a part of my heart that is walking around outside my body.

“Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ”
― Elizabeth Stone

Stephanie's Birthday card

Birthday joys

Today is my birthday, and I’ve already heard from so many of my family and friends. So fun to see the notes on Facebook or the texts on my phone, to have morning calls and birthday cards. All sweet!

I had an amazing pre-birthday last weekend, and that was sweet too. Spent a long weekend in Sonoma County and soaked up warmth, sun, delicious food, biking, and beautiful scenery. What a treat that was! Driving the winding country roads, seeing the grapes hanging ready for harvest, stopping to make a photo of a picturesque view or beautiful winery was the perfect way to end the summer. More about that later…that trip deserves much more than a passing mention in today’s post!

Looking across the valley

Looking across the valley outside Healdsburg, CA

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Chateau Montelena, Calistoga, CA

Harvest time!

Harvest time!

And on Thursday this week, I accepted an offer on the house. This is from the same couple that looked at it before, so we’ve already gone through the nitty-gritty of inspection, appraisal, offer and counter. They came back with a better deal, so now closing looks set for October 10th.

Aaahhh.

I remind myself again..life works out. Not always as I thought, and certainly not always neat and tidy, or even as I’d like. The house is still selling at a loss. But it is selling, and I won’t have to live through a 2+ year street replacement project. (Apparently that doesn’t trouble these buyers.) If I thought this was a forever home, it would be worth it. But that’s not the case.

As to what’s next, that’s still up in the air. For now, completing some fall work commitments, a break for the holidays, spending time catching up with family, and taking time out to make a good decision is the plan. The things that will ship out will go to storage in Seattle, so that’s an easy solution for a while.

Aaahhh.

I’ll admit my anxiety level has been high. Nice to see some light peeking through the clouds, and to acknowledge: it’s important to step back, take a breath, await events. I learn again that solutions sometimes come, not at once, but at last. And there’s probably a reason for that.

I can’t see the reason at the moment. I certainly can’t make sense of the house selling at a loss, and I’m not suggesting that there’s divine meaning behind everything. Just that I find it helpful to evaluate…is there a lesson here? Some takeaway I should file for future reference? Sometimes I get it, and sometimes not. Or maybe I’m overthinking.

But regardless…today is a good day, and I’m thankful to be spending at least a part of it sorting and boxing, taking up that task again.

And I think about “next” and the options on the horizon. There’s a piece of my brain that wonders about all this. I’m 54 today. Shouldn’t I be snug and dug in?

Yes, that would make sense, so of course that’s out.

The funny thing is I don’t see myself as the adventure loving type, not really. I’ve stumbled into some interesting choices, but I’ll be honest to say that’s been more a result of following the leader, rather than my own instincts.

But I’m curiously excited by the chance to mix it all up again, to live in anticipation, to wonder where the next birthday will be. And today, it’s enough that I can dream as I sort, letting my imagination roam at will, thinking about the constants in my life that keep me sane, regardless of the mailing address.

Faith. Family. Friends. That’s security, and that’s continuity.

The rest is just temporary anyway, and I know that more surely today than on any of my previous birthdays. It’s a good thing to understand, a good place to land.

Happy Birthday Mom!

Well, I’m breaking one of my blogging rules. I like to spend some time catching up, reading favorite blogs, answering comments, posting a few of my own, before I launch a new post. But with a week of little ones and work to fill my time, blogging has been on the back burner. I’m still recovering from having an 18 month old running around my house, and a four-year old that has a million questions and opinions. It was a joy, every minute of it, but not conducive to writing.

Yesterday was my mom’s birthday, and I’ve done the standard things. I wished her happy birthday by phone, and with a Facebook post, and sent a gift, and we’re planning a girls’ night out in August when we’ll have a little visit in Seattle. But I wanted to do it one more way, marking the moment here, putting it in writing because I’m not there to say it in person.

It’s not a momentous birthday, 74, although really they all are, whether it’s a decade milestone or just a somewhere-in-the-middle number. We are 20 years apart, she and I, my big day lagging a few months behind hers.

Marking the moment

Marking the moment

This photo was made a few birthdays ago when she was up for a visit. She’s a traveler, that being part of her life’s work as a Christian missionary, along with my dad, to many locations, most in Asia. So a little trip to Ketchikan is just opportunity to see another part of the world. And when she’s visited, we’ve seen bears, and eagles, and done a little cooking and a little sampling of the local fare. She’s sat in my living room and seen the float planes and the cruise ships that dock just beneath my windows.

But mostly, visits are about connecting, whether in Alaska or her home in Mississippi.

My mom is one of a kind, an amazing woman in so many ways. This was my tribute to her a couple of years ago, and it sums up perfectly the mom I know, who has been dear to so many, and made a difference with her life.

Happy Birthday to my mom, the one and only Betty.

~ Sheila

Visits and birthdays, the good stuff

It’s a busy month for us. Stephanie, Riley, and Jack are up for a summer visit, so we’ve temporarily gone into kid-land. All the breakables and anything that looks likely to become a missile in the hands of 18 month old Jack have been moved to higher ground. He’s a climber, but there are still a few spaces out of his reach. Yesterday he disappeared into the kitchen for a minute. When I walked in, he was sitting in the middle of the breakfast table, and as soon as he saw me walking toward him, he stood up, quite proud of himself and reaching out his little arms for a lift down. Gave me a mini heart attack, but didn’t phase him at all. He’s fearless and fast, and a boy…always a dangerous combination! But he’s so stinking cute, we forgive him all the rest and just follow him around to protect him from himself.

 

Fearless Jack!

Fearless Jack!

Riley is in one of the golden ages of childhood. Four year olds are old enough to do a lot, still young enough to be funny without knowing why (endlessly amusing to the adults :). Her speech is clear as a bell, but she has a few Riley-isms that we can’t bear to correct…she’ll grow out of them soon enough. Princess doll gloves are “glubs,” and she asks if I “memember” something that happened yesterday.  Sometimes she notices that we’re laughing at her, which we always deny immediately, but can’t help. She’s just too funny, in the sweet little-kid way of being funny-when-serious.

Riley the First-born

Riley the First-born

She’s a talker. With her gene pool, she could hardly escape that. We have long and interesting conversations that are wide-ranging. We discuss everything from princess fashions to the dangers of zombie attack (thanks, older kid at day care, for introducing her to the concept) to playdough creations. She’s learning to write the alphabet, gearing up for pre-school in the fall. She’s also standard issue first-born, bossing Jack around and clearly expecting to be in charge of life. But the other side to her personality is sensitive and affectionate, so just when you think she’s verging on teenager, she’s a sweet little girl again, charming and disarming.

I never really stood a chance. The grands have planted their flag.

It’s also a month of birthdays. I counted up, and between immediate and extended family, we have seven people celebrating in June. Today is Alex’s birthday, number 27. We sent several gifts his way already. I wish we had the gift of his presence so we could enjoy a birthday dinner together. But not to be this year. Still, it’s a moment to mark and remember. In his honor we’ll eat some bacon (his favorite) and have a family pass-the-phone-around conversation tonight. I’m always fantasizing that we’ll spend more of our big days together, and maybe someday we’ll be able to do that again. But for today, we’ll have to content ourselves with a digital connection.

Alex, happy 27!

Alex, happy 27!

Alaska is cooperating with some beautiful weather. The water is so blue when the sun is shining on it, and such a gun-metal gray when skies are overcast. We watched cruise ships yesterday, and float planes, kayakers, small boats, and fishing vessels, all from the front windows of the house. The Tongass Narrows is bustling this time of year, and my only complaint is the float planes start buzzing waaay too early in the morning. They’re out by 5:00 am, taking advantage of the extra hours of daylight this time of year. (Sunrise today was at 4:04, sunset tonight will be 9:31, with twilight lingering a little beyond.) And while float planes are noisy any time of day, they are particularly noticeable and obnoxious before coffee. That’s really my only complaint of summer here. Well, that, and the days that are summer on the calendar and fall by thermometer. But hey, as long as my heat isn’t kicking on, that’s a good day 🙂 (Not many places that statement defines a good summer day!)

Blue water!

Blue water and Ketchikan

Pacific Airways

Pacific Airways, local transport

 

So, off to play, and rescue small people from high places, and feed, and strap into car seats, and make photos….lots of photos! We’re looking for bears, and fish, and a souvenir or two…because what kid ever visited grandparents and didn’t go home with a little something to show for it? Here’s hoping for blue water and clear skies!