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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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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Thank you 

I know some individuals who mark this day with memories, not as a day off. For those who are gone, and to their families, thank you. There’s nothing political about remembering men and women who did their best, gave their all, and honored their commitments.

Thank you.

Second grade super tooth

So, following the tooth fairy story, I have to give equal time to Alex.

He was ever my unconventional child. If Stephanie is the type-A firstborn, Alex is an out-of-the-box free spirit. He marched to his own drummer as a child, and still does to this day.

His early tooth adventures were uneventful, as I recall. Or rather, don’t recall; the point being that they must have been pretty ordinary, or I would still be slightly twitching. (That’s what repeated childhood dental trauma does, causes the mom to twitch.)

It was second grade that marked me.

He was in a new school, we had just moved, and we were in that phase when we wanted to make a great impression. You know, when you hope your shining parenting skills are showing every day, hoping your little cherub is fitting in and doing well.

I knew he had a loose tooth, knew it was just a matter of time till it was out. We were going through the familiar routine…

“Just let me check it…how loose is it? Let me help you pull it.” “No!” “Let your dad look at it.” “No!” “Let Stephanie look at it.” “No!” “OK, just keep wiggling it,”

Every day, the same conversation after school. “Let me see, still got it?” “Yep!”

Finally, one morning, a few minutes before time for school, Alex came running into the kitchen. I was deep in lunch boxes, not looking at him, just listening. I heard the escalating tone of voice.

“Mommy, look!”

“Mommy, look!!”

I turned around and saw this horrifying sight…his loose front tooth was turned around backward. It was still attached, and it was backward in his head.

My little guy, cute as he could be, was suddenly slightly frightening. Have you ever seen a tooth facing backward? Made me feel queasy just looking at it.

I didn’t even know such a thing was possible, and now here it was in my second grader. And it was almost time for school.

The only thing I could think was, he was not going to school with a backward tooth in his head. That just wasn’t right. I remember feeling indignant. How could he do this?! What was he thinking?

Of course he wasn’t thinking, he was just being a second-grader. I’m sure he was just as shocked as I was. Neither of us expected this turn of events…literally, this turn of events.

I must have sounded like someone out of a comedy show. I think I said something like “You can pull that tooth or turn it around, but you’re not going to school like that!”

I have to admit, I don’t know why it seemed so unacceptable to me that he would show up with a backward facing tooth. I’m sure no one at school would have thought we planned this, or thought we thought this was the new style for loose tooth management. But in that moment it seemed unthinkable. Nor did I see myself keeping him home from school for a loose tooth, much less a backward facing loose tooth.

I briefly rehearsed explaining the reason for his absence to the intimidating woman who answered the school attendance line…no, unthinkable. I was not going to find myself explaining this to her. I could almost feel disapproval as I imagined the scene in my mind.

“You allowed your son to turn his tooth backward?!”

I hadn’t allowed him to do it, and I was pretty sure he was surprised as well.

I hadn’t read about this in my parenting books! Now what?

Such are the thoughts that race through a mom’s mind when confronted with a backward-facing-toothed second-grader.

It was traumatic, I tell you!

He seemed to accept that he had to make a choice with the tooth and he ran out of the kitchen. I thought the answer was obvious, and as I hurriedly wrapped up lunch prep, I confidently expected to see him come back, new gap in his smile, tooth in hand.

But Alex was rarely predictable. Imagine my surprise when he ran back in, all smiles, ready to go, tooth turned around and facing the right way again.

I couldn’t believe he could have turned it backward and it still hung on, and now he’d managed to turn it back around, and it was still there. Was this super tooth or something?!

Well, he got to go to school. And the tooth came out in due time. Not much more time, but not that morning either. It was a resilient loose tooth!

Wish I’d  made a photo!