About two or three months after my son, Beau, died I was talking to a friend. He asked how I was doing.I said that with the passing of time that I was becoming more and more aware of the magnitude of my loss. The immediate response back to me was, “Still?”
During the first days and weeks I was just numb.Convoluted thoughts filled my head and I did not know what was actually happening to me.There was a funeral to plan.There were people to call.There were appointments to be made.We robotically went about the business of death with the help of people around us.In short, we were in business mode.
As time passed and the dazed and confused state began to wear away, I started seeing more clearly. I started feeling more deeply.I started thinking about the future in more detail … specifically, the future without Beau.I did not think about these things during those first days and weeks after his death.They say it is a survival mechanism.I believe it.
Yes, “still”.That particular conversation happened only a few months after Beau’s death and nowFIVE years later … STILL.I STILL miss my beautiful boy. I STILL long for my sweet son.I STILL wonder WHY?I STILL have many questions. I STILL wish I could get a big hug from him.I STILL want to meet his future wife.I STILL want to lend him money.I STILL want to do his dirty, smelly laundry.I STILL want to hear his hysterical laugh.I STILL want to be annoyed by his many idiosyncrasies.I STILL want to text him to tell him “Get that off Facebook … now!!!”AND … I still want him home for Thanksgiving Dinner.Still.
I do believe MOST understand that we, the bereaved, never stop missing them?I believe MOST understand that we will NEVER “get over it”? But in the event that one doesn’t understand, just ask yourself if you would “still” miss your child if they died?One month later?Two weeks later?One, two, three,…years later?Would you EVER stop missing them?Ever?
Of course not.
Moral of the story… if you ever find yourself talking to a bereaved friend or acquaintance, PLEASE do not ever respond with “still?”The hidden message that we hear is “Oh, is that still bothering you?”“That” would be my son… his name is Beau … and yes, losing him is “still” bothering me.
I write these things for my own therapy.But also to educate.I know people mean well.I know they want to say the right thing.So I DO extend grace, I promise. I was there.I have been the person NOT knowing what to say.So perhaps just saying that you have “no words” to express your sorrow is probably the best. Thank you for listening.
Wishing you all a beautiful, blessed Thanksgiving with your loved ones!!
Driving down the road with Don last week, I looked out from the passenger window and looked up to the sky and clouds (as I often do now.)To Beau I said, “Beau, I will always miss you and I will always ache for you.”Right at that moment, the lyrics of the song that was playing on the car stereo said:“Don’t you cry no more.”
Hearing that line stopped me in my thought tracks.“Don’t you cry no more.”Of course, I can’t help but think that was no coincidence.That somewhere out there … perhaps very nearby … I am being softly spoken to.I am being gently reminded and sweetly comforted by timely lyrics to a classic secular song.The timing, thereof…uncanny!
I can’t say that I will always heed this advice.My heart may always weep.When you feel that you have been abandoned and left by the roadside, moments like these are to be seized and treasured.They have a way of picking you up off of the roadside and placing your feet on a flower-lined path in a colorful, scented garden.They have a way of bear-hugging your heart.They are priceless treasures.
I don’t always get such immediate messages of comfort in my cries to God and to Beau, but when I do, I grab onto them and hold them inside the pocket of my heart for safekeeping.
And when I need a dose of rest for my soul, I reach into my pocket and pull out the message again:“Don’t you cry no more.”
I will still cry.It is not that easy to stop heartache.But when I do, I will remember this day and this message and maybe … just maybe my heart will smile.
I think we all have our favorite kindness quotes. Mine adorn a quote wall in my classroom as well as a board on my Pinterest site. Many people use them as mantras for every day life. They are wonderful, inspiring, and can truly make a difference in how we treat others around us.
In addition, we all have stories of acts of kindness displayed toward us. I want to share some of those acts that were displayed to us in our most difficult time…when our son Beau passed away in a car crash.
Go Fund Me. The first one that comes to mind is the “Go Fund Me” account set up for us. At that time it was called Give Forward, but whatever the case, someone out there was so kind that she set up an account on our behalf to pay for travel expenses for our loved ones who traveled from other states to be with us. The account raised over $15,000. I can’t recall the number of kind folks who gave to the fund but to each one we owe a great debt of gratitude. If you are one of them reading this now, Thank You! We were able to give it to our loved ones for hotel stays, rental cars, and airline tickets. We desperately needed the strength of every single person who came out to be with us. There is no dollar amount that could bring our Beau back to us in the flesh, but each dollar in that account was a sort of medicine to our shattered souls.
Cards. I have read blogs and books from other bereaved souls who resented cards, but I am not one of them. Letters and cards came from all over the country. Each card we received became a balm of sorts which lovingly spoke healing and comfort to our hearts. Many of those cards came from people we did not even know including fellow bereaved parents I had not ever met. Many came from people we did know to include high school classmates, former roommates, former employers, and distant relatives. Some came from people that we haven’t seen in years but the fact that they sent a condolence helped immeasurably! Many cards expressed prayers of comfort and as I look back on that difficult time, I know it was indeed those very prayers that carried us through. Don’s high school classmates, somehow coordinated with each other to sign cards to mail to us periodically. They all signed it and we were amazed each time at the coordinated effort involved as some live as far away as Australia!
Food. Food is not a priority for the bereaved. But thanks to the lucent in our inner circle, meals kept coming. Not just for a week or even a month … but up until November! For almost three months, the soups and casseroles and sandwiches and salads kept us sustained…in body for sure, but moreover…in spirit! We know there were unsung heroes who took care of much of this…you know who you are. Those heroes coordinated meals amongst the wrestling community, two different school districts and departments within them. Dear friend, it was not unnoticed…and four and a half years later, as we look back on it all, and it is still a balm to our souls! Thank you!
Right Hand Men/Women. A dear friend coordinated travel with a local travel agency on behalf of our friends and family. He was able to fix a discounted rate at a local hotel for them all. If a friend expressed that they wanted to come out, we told Bruce and he took care of it. The weight was lifted from our shoulders and we could rest in knowing that our loved ones were going to make it here to be with us. The local news agencies were relentless, often driving up to the house, walking up the drive-way, and expecting an interview without being announced. Friend, Pattie, and brother-in-law, Michael were there to make sure, they turned right around from whence they came. And when we had to visit the funeral home to make arrangements for the cremation, etc…we had good friends, Pattie and Kristi, with us as well as and sisters, Mardy, Mary Rose, and Susan to hold our hand …. literally.
Video and Photography. My school, Rampart High School, came up very BIG for us. The school broadcast teacher, Patrick, and my math teacher friends helped to submit pictures, quotes, videos to include in the video for the funeral (God, I STILL hate that word). One in particular that was found was submitted by good friend, Tammy. It was a video sent on Facebook by my niece, Desi… of Beau and me dancing at her wedding. PRICELESS!!! It is only a few seconds long but will eternally be etched in my memory. The Photography teacher, Don, enlarged the beautiful photos of Beau … his senior pictures taken by Cali Riesling. He also had them beautifully framed to display at the service. To all of you unsung heroes involved in this, THANK YOU!
The Wrestling Family! Our wrestling family was a Godsend! They unselfishly volunteered in the family room and elsewhere on the day of the service with the food, snacks, and drinks. They helped with the ushering of guests in the church. They brought hundreds of cookies. A couple of them came to the church with us a few days prior to help in the planning of the service. Friend, Julie B, was the key to having our service where we did as we had no church home. Her home church, New Life Church, was more than gracious, welcoming, and kind to us as we went to plan what would be … a funeral for our son! New Life Church expected NOTHING from us in return. They asked for no money to rent the church. They kindly and freely gave. Julie called me the day before the service and asked, “Gina, I am going to the store. What do you need?” She brought me the requested items that I needed for the funeral … a gesture that I will never forget. Lani and Bruce were the cookie house. Hundreds (if not thousands) of cookies were delivered to them by kind people in our community and they made sure that each one made it to the service. To all of you cookie bakers out there … THANK YOU! The wrestlers had a singlet framed and signed by the team which we have hanging in our home today. I know I am not mentioning everyone by name. So many, many unsung heroes…thank you all!!
More Kindness. In the ensuing weeks and months, the kindness did not cease. I received a check in the mail from a group called “Coffee for a Cause.” This group met monthly, chose a charity, and gave. That particular week, they chose us. I was touched and it was another moment that gave me a boost of strength to make it through another day. Likewise, our vision clinic, Monument Vision Center, sent a card indicating that they donated to a third world charity helping poverty stricken children get vision care…they donated in Beau’s name. Beau’s Elementary school principal nominated me for a day at the spa at Veda Salon at which time I received a hair cut, massage, pedicure, and manicure. I may have shed some tears during those sessions, but they were grateful, healing tears. I also want to mention my friend, Carrie, who continually reached out to me during my most difficult time…we shared breakfast, lunch, coffee, beers and comedy show laughs, THANK you!!!
Gift Cards. Our Dentist office which Beau had been visiting since he was five years old, gave us gift cards and a heartfelt greeting card…ensuring us we were loved…even by our dentist family! The gift cards were plentiful. Beau’s 4th/5th grade teacher, Mrs. Cole gave us a gift card to Coldstone with a note telling us to “raise a spoon” to our “brown eyed boy” who sat in her classroom. Every single school within the District 20 school system sent us gift cards to local eateries. We did not have to not worry about meals for months. We spent treasured times clinging together as a family…thanks to the kindness of people we did not even know.
My Girls. At the time, both of my girls worked at BJ’s Brewhouse in Colorado Springs. They were gifted with “Give a Slice.” It was an amount of money donated by their co-workers to help offset the days of work missed as a result of losing their brother.
Unexpected Helpers. There were people we least likely expected who stepped up so big. There are too many to name, but these folks, came over and helped clean, sweep, do laundry, vacuum, or make phone calls. Our neighbors came over on the day of the service while we were not home, to prepare our home for our family and friends. They had a fire in the chiminea, chairs set out, food warming in the oven, and desserts ready to serve. Other former neighbors, the Fogels, reached out to us to let us know that we were loved and not forgotten. In the ensuing days, they shared meals with us and memories of Beau. They texted and still continue to send sweet messages to let us know that our Beau will NOT be forgotten! A former middle school teacher of Beau’s, Mrs. Luther, sent us cards for months to give us reassurance that we were thought of and Beau not forgotten!!
More Generosity. Beau’s gym, where he went to “get swole”, sent us a refund check, as he had only been a member for maybe less than two months. We did not expect this but it was medicine for our souls. The Coffee Cup, a former employer where Beau bussed tables and washed dishes, gave us coupons to eat there to last a year. In July of 2016, Rosie’s Diner’s annual car show donated their car show proceeds to our Foundation which gives out college scholarships to graduates of Beau’s high school.
The kindnesses … overwhelming. The prayers … powerful. The love … immeasurable.
Many told us at that time that they had “No words” to express their sorrow at our loss. Likewise, we have no words to express our gratitude at the amazing acts of kindness displayed to us at a time in our lives where we thought there was no tomorrow. It was the kindness of friends, family, and strangers alike that helped light our way.
This has been our FIFTH Christmas without our Beau. Only those who have lost a child will understand that after this amount of time, it is still not OK. We will NEVER be “OK” with this. Just never. Beau should have turned 21 in April. Instead, he rests in the form of ashes in an urn in a special place designated for him in our home.
His friends have moved on. They all turned 21 in the past year and are in the process of finishing college and beginning life. We do hear from a few of them now and then. But most of them … never. I’m not faulting them. Life just goes on. It stopped for us … but OF COURSE it should continue for them.
Though my anger has subsided quite a bit in four years, it still rears its ugly head at opportune times. It doesn’t consume, but it is there nonetheless. Like today. The trigger? Just the reminder that time is marching on. That this big blue marble called earth still spins on its axis in its orbit at 66,000+ mph. That in just a few days the calendar will turn over to a new year. That Beau didn’t turn 21 last April. That Beau will never even begin college much less finish it. The list goes on.
Don went ice fishing yesterday…without Beau.
We went to Estes Park for Christmas…without Beau.
We will celebrate Don’s 51st birthday today…without Beau.
We will soon enter 2019…without Beau.
So I write a short poem for my heart. To bring it comfort and some semblance of meaning. Here it is:
“I need the strength of God today.
To climb the mountains… this I pray.
To forge the depths of valley floor.
Till I arrive at heaven’s door.”
The mysteries of this universe are too hard for me to grasp. I will never understand them but I always find comfort in looking up to something higher than I. Someone who dictates the motion of the planets, their orbits, the intricate patterns of the galaxies and stars that populate them. Someone higher, much higher, than I.
I heard the term “Happy Labor Day “ today. And I was struck by the word “Happy”. Happy … but is it? Aside from our own story of Labor Day heartache and loss, it is not “happy” for everyone. I am just one of MANY who find heartache on this day and entire weekend for that matter. Don’t get me wrong, we elect also to have joy. It’s true, heartache and joy can and DO co-exist. They don’t cancel each other out, as is stated in the book “It’s OK That You’re Not OK.” (Megan Devine…HIGHLY Recommend!)
I have a friend whose son died on Labor Day weekend five years prior to my son, Beau’s death. We worked together at the time. I remember wondering “How? How does she do it?” “How does she get out of bed?” Well, sadly, I found out. Like me, she did not have a choice. She immersed herself in her work to try to get back to a normal life. She planned a wedding for her daughter as did we. She carried on with grace and strength through it all. She loves her surviving children with all of her being, but NEVER forgets about her boy. In fact, she just sent me an article about child loss a couple of days ago. A beautiful article about lessons learned since the death of a child. It’s been NINE years for her! And nine years later she still finds comfort and strength in articles. Nine years later she has NOT gotten over it as one would a head cold. She never will. Like us, she’s made it through to today. To another Labor Day where joy and heartache coexist. Where “happy” is an all elusive term. Where common losses bind us together.
Where nine years later, she looks up and wonders “How”? “How has it been NINE years??” Likewise, I wonder “HOW has time simply and cruelly marched on since I’ve seen your beautiful face? Heard your young man voice? Hugged your physical form?” “How?”
So another Labor Day has come… and almost gone. Joy and Pain co-existed. But Happy … not sure about that one. If it WAS nothing but “happy” for you, rejoice. Give thanks.
Some of us just survive it the best we can. Because that’s all we can do.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. My mind goes in every direction trying to figure out how to find joy in it. And in this life. We have another year with an empty chair and no Beau to fill it. He would love to be here with his sisters razzing on one another and playing games and getting on each other’s nerves. We would laugh and argue and eat and laugh some more and eat some more. But the empty chair creates longing…longing for what isn’t and what will never be.
I read the Facebook posts of friends and their thanksgiving this Thanksgiving. And they are sweet and sincere and lovely. I have my own set of things to be thankful for, not just this Thanksgiving, but in this life…every day. My gifts…there are many. I know. My heart is full of love for my gifts. My Brenna and my Kendall. My son in law, Aaron. My husband, Don. And there are countless others, of course. But there is this emptiness and keen awareness of the chair that will sit empty…and it is hard to find joy. It is hard to know what to say to God. At times I find myself speechless…arrested in time…bound by the stark reality that is mine. So I don’t say much. My life as I knew it ended three years and almost three months ago. I find myself STILL wondering what could have been had I done this or that. OR … had I NOT done this or that. And I find myself apologizing relentlessly to my son, Beau. “I am sorry, Beau. Please forgive me.” At times like this I think to myself that perhaps it is time for me to call my counselor. She and I call it a “re-charge” for lack of a better word. Holidays have a way of stirring up these thoughts and emotions.
So with all of these feelings comes the question of what to do during the holidays. I used to be social. I am now a hermit. I used to love life…now I survive it. I used to LOVE my job…now I am counting down the days to retirement. I don’t expect people to understand…unless you know the pain of child loss for which there are no words. I saw a DSW ad today that said, “No wrong way to holiday.” An ad…for shoes. Yet it spoke to me. It gave me the reminder that we do what we can. We do what we feel that we have in us to do. We celebrate. Or not. We gather together. Or not. We go to social events. Or not. We do us. Whatever that might be.
For me, I gather. But it is small. It is with my gifts…my children…my family. It is here that I find light and love and joy. In this life, we must find light and love and joy. In this life, we must find beauty. Light is stronger than darkness and I choose to live in light this Thanksgiving.
I miss my son. His empty chair tears me apart. So this Thanksgiving, may that empty chair only remind me of a life that brought me light and love and joy. And may my gifts, past, present, and future, fill my heart with light and love and joy.
And may I remind myself that this is MY way to holiday.