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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!

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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 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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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

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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!

 

My father’s 80th birthday

Today my dad would have turned 80. He died four years ago on February 1, just a few days shy of his birthday.

It is hard to believe it has been four years since that day. My mom has adjusted, as much as possible. She is busy, active, energetic, continuing to pursue their life dream of mission efforts. But she doesn’t forget, of course.

How does it work that life goes on, the current carries us on? There is no choice, that’s how it works.

I think of him often, at odd moments here and there. Little things bring him to mind, and four years down the road, the sadness is mostly gone, and sweetness is in its place. The memories are good, and I smile when I’m reminded of some funny thing he said or did. Sometimes the tears still come, often when I least expect it, surprising me that emotion can bubble up, nearer the surface than I knew.

I’ve been thinking a lot about creating passion in my life. I should say, expanding passion. There are some things I am passionate about, primarily my family. I think about my dad, and how he displayed that quality in his life.

He wasn’t a flashy person, not the cool one in the crowd. But he was a man of faith, an old fashioned faith that wasn’t about fame or fortune. He was a minister, a preacher, a missionary. He had goals for sharing his faith, and he pursued them. He spent most of his life focused on sharing his faith with others, and lived many years in foreign countries to accomplish that goal. He and my mom were partners in life and in faith, and their mission was their passion.

The last couple of years of his life he was not able to travel, except to doctors’ appointments and to hospitals. His world grew smaller, at a time when mine was expanding. It was about that time that Rob and I moved to Alaska, and we traveled a lot. I always called when we traveled, checking in. I would hear his voice, “Where are you now?” A little wistful, it seemed to me. I’m sure he was thinking of past years when he was well and able to be about his life’s work. It pricked my heart to know that he would likely not make those journeys again.

This week I’m traveling again, in Anchorage for a training, and I heard a little voice in my head as I was packing. “Where are you now?” I’m right here, Daddy, thinking of you, and wishing I could sing happy birthday to you in person. But you’re where you belong, too. I know that because I also have a faith. It is a bit different from my dad’s. My faith has not prompted me to live abroad, or to choose a missionary life. But it is there, nonetheless.

Milestone birthdays are always special, celebrated with a little extra excitement. If my dad was here, we would do a big family gathering, make a special event of the day. But without him, of course that isn’t happening. Still, I like to think that he’s having his party. I like to think that he’s off on a journey, traveling like he loved to do. And because I haven’t been on that journey myself, I ask him, “Where are you now?”

Happy Birthday to my dad. Happy birthday, Daddy.

Taking the plunge

Skydive in Central New York (CNY) at Blue Sky ...

What a view!

What do you give for a memorable birthday present, to truly mark the moment? Well, there’s no one right answer. But for Rob, who’s birthday is today, it had to be an experience. He always says he values experience more than things, and anyway, as most people have sorted out by 50, there are only so many things a person needs. He’s not one to collect status symbols, or to collect anything, for that matter.

Since we’re in California, it’s easy to focus on the outdoors, another love of his. So I planned a day of:

~early morning walk on the beach

~favorite breakfast

~11:00 AM reservation for tandem skydives…yes, we’re taking the plunge!

~afternoon birthday cake

~Sushi for dinner

~Day’s end in a jacuzzi under the stars

Happy Birthday to Rob, my one and only. And may this be the beginning of the best years of your life!

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Happy Birthday Stephanie!

Today is my daughter’s 27th birthday. This has been an exciting year for her. She finished her master’s degree, became a full-fledged teacher, she and her husband bought their first house, and, most importantly, she became a mom to Riley. Some years just seem to hold more than others, to be more meaningful than others. And now she is marking her first birthday since these events occurred…all grown up and part of the adult world now! No doubt about it!

This year I’m not doing my ususal lament…where does the time go? How could she be 27? I’m just happy that she is well, productive, and experiencing the joys of her own little family. What more could I ask for her? And the fact that we are able to talk frequently, to share our lives, is icing on the cake.

We’ll be together at Thanksgiving and at Christmas…good opportunities to catch up on baby time! But also, I’m excited to continue to have a part in Stephanie’s life. The little person that came into my life has blossomed into a beautiful, capable and humorous woman. I don’t want to miss the unfolding story before me as I watch in awe the child/woman I gave birth to, now continuing the cycle with her own daughter, and still teaching me about life through this new chapter.