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Always 26

Last weekend, two of my son’s best friends were celebrating their 30th birthday. The guys wanted to celebrate at our home on the coast. We were happy to have them stay at our house. These boys ( no, men now ) loved Jeff.  Michael spent the last full day of Jeff’s life with him. To be honest I’m a little jealous that he had that time with him that I didn’t. I am so happy they have stayed in our lives. Hopefully they always will.

I struggle when I’m out at the coast. Jeff loved it there so much. He lived there several summers while he worked at the State Park. He spent his last few hours there. He died not far from our house.  I think I always expect to feel his presence there. Somehow sense him. All I feel there is emptiness and a deep sadness that fills my soul. I wonder what he was thinking on that drive out there. I’ll never know. Have grown in the fact that I now accept that I will never know.

My husband loves it out there still. He tells me that Jeff went out there to figure things out, to think. The coast was where he went to find peace. I never imagined he would so soon find his final peace there.  My husband reminds me  that Jeff loved the coast.  I wish  that I could think that. I’d like to  but I don’t know how to change the playlist that is in my mind.  I feel his loss more acutely out there.

The boys turned 30 last weekend. My son would have turned 29 on August 23. As his friends find their way in life, have careers, contemplate their futures, have girlfriends and long term relationships, my son is and forever will be 26.

I’m not sure what we will do for his birthday. Our daughter will be with us. I will try to honor Jeff’s exuberant love of life, family, and friends in some way. We will eat sushi, his favorite meal. Even though this will be the 3rd time I’ve spent Jeff’s birthday without him, I’m not sure it will be any easier. It actually feels harder. We are all getting older and yet he remains frozen in time, forever in my memory.  Forever loved. Forever missed.

Flat

There is a children’s book called “Flat Stanley.”  The character is so flat that he can slilde under doors and into envelopes.  I imagine he takes up no space in this world.  A light breeze can blow him over, making him roll down the street like a tumble weed.

Most days I feel flat in a different sense than that. Flat in the way that I am no longer full.  No longer a participant in this life. Someone just going along for the ride.  Flat like a tire that won’t stay inflated or like the birthday balloon that has lost it’s air.  The balloon that carries memories of the festivities but no longer participates.

This summer I feel like that deflated party balloon.  It’s already mid July. Summer, my favorite season  is disappearing and I have not taken advantage of it. It’s easier to be depressed in the rainy, gray of winter. Harder when the flowers are blooming and the sun is shining.

I feel like I am exhausted all the time. I could wake up from a nights sleep fall asleep again that morning if I’d let myself. Sometimes I let myself do that. It doesn’t help.

I pretend that activities fill me up as they fill up my day. It’s easy to stay busy. I feel like it’s impossible to be fulfilled. Lately there is a leak in me that I cannot patch no matter how hard I try.  Memories leak out the hole and down my cheeks. Memories that are all I have left of my son.

Peach Pie

Jeff loved my pie: berry pie, cherry pie but especially my peach pie.  I remember the front door opening, teenaged boys trooping in swooping down on the still warm pie on the counter. I loved those times.  I’d freeze pie filling so I could make pies for the boys year round. ( well also for potlucks but in reality they were all for Jeff and his friends.)

When Jeff died, we had some friends over to the house after his service. It sounds odd to me now, some strange idea to have our friends and loved ones over. It isn’t. It is in those times that I had the chance to be supported by friends and loved ones who mourned Jeff also. With whom I shared my grief.

The night before. The evening before I was having to go to church and sit through a “Celebration of Jeff’s Life,” I decided that one last time I would make pies for Jeff. I thought four would be enough. I got the ingredients out, made the pie crusts and broke down.  The sadness was overwhelming, debilitating.  God has blessed me with two wonderful sisters in law who took over the task I simply could not finish. I put the final touches on finding strength I didn’t know I possessed and put the pies in the freezer for the next day.

Yesterday I was going over to Jeff’s best friends house to celebrate a new life. Michael’s nephew. I told them I would bring pie. I got lazy the night before and decided a couple of local frozen pies would do as I was working the day of the party.

When I got home early from my shift that afternoon, I listened to Jeff. “Go on Mom, you need to make a pie for Michael.” So I did.  I got the pie in the oven and cried. I cried with a broken heart that will never heal. For my son for whom I will never bake a pie for again, but for whom every pie I bake is in his memory.

July 4th

Jeff always loved the 4th of July. . He was all boy.  He was the kid who loved to light the fireworks and stand back and watch them blow up  and light up the night.

Most July 4th’s,  we lit fireworks in our cul-de-sac. There were gangs of kids in the neighborhood in those days. We figured it was safer to stay home and make sure none landed on our roof. As the neighborhood changed we started having our celebration out at the coast.  Jeff continued to be the “Master of Ceremonies.”  The girls were happy to sit back and enjoy the show.

When Jeff lived and worked summers out at the coast, he was a volunteer fireman for the local fire dept. A job he proudly did for several years.  The little community hosted an amazing fireworks show. Our family grew up watching those shows. Jeff became certified and was able to help light those same fireworks  years later when he volunteered out there.

This is my 3rd July 4th without my son. I’d have thought it may have been easier this year.  It wasn’t. I can’t remember the last 2 years, but I do know that the weekend leading up to the 4th and the 4th itself were difficult for me.  Made me feel his loss more acutely. Perhaps there will always be trigger dates that do that.

So many memories of Jeff convincing me to drive across the state line into Washington where they sold the “Good Stuff”. The fireworks that lit up the sky. Not the little ones they sell in Oregon.  Memories of friends and kids gathered in the cul-de-sac, waiting for darkness to finally fall.  Memories of cranking the homemade vanilla ice cream to go with fresh baked peach or berry pie. Memories of shared laughter and fun.  Good memories. Memories leaving my wishing for more. Always wishing for more.

 

No more memories

It occurred to me yesterday that I will never make new memories with my son.  Two years after losing Jeff, this thought took me by surprise.  It shouldn’t have but for me that’s the way this journey works.  Twists and turns through a dark forest, no real paths.  The dark trees of grief are always there but sometimes there are markers along the way. This seems to be one of those times

When Jeff first died, I could look at childhood pictures of him and not grieve. For that child was no longer here. He has grown into a strong man. I could not look at recent pictures of him without breaking down and feeling indescribable, excruciating pain. But I kept looking, trying to cement how he looked in  my mind. His picture is on my cell phone background, not all of us, just one of my favourite pictures of him, taken at a happy moment when I visited him in college.

Now, as I have passed the 2nd anniversary, I can look at those pics and miss him. I can’t look at the childhood pictures. I can’t drive past where we went to watch his soccer games,, his elementary, middle school. the grocery,or drive down any road in our town without eliciting a memory. I’d like those memories to make me happy. I’d like those memories bring me consolation that I had him all those years. But they make me sad

Sad that my memories of him stop 3 months before his 27th birthday. That as his friends get married, graduate from grad school, have careers, children…..I will never have those memories with him. Stan, Carolyn and I will continue to make new memories. My memories of Jeff are frozen in time.

Grief travels with me

I was traveling recently with my husband.  I would like to leave my grief at home when I pack my bags, but it doesn’t work that way. This was May after all.  This was the month that my son died, the month of Mother’s Day. This is the 2nd May I’ve survived since Jeff died. I found it no easier than last years.

Being somewhere different was a nice distraction. Being somewhere that I had no memories of Jeff crowding in on me at every turn, every road, every corner. Just everywhere.

We spent 3 nights on a small island. Took a ferry over and met a nice couple. Dinner was family style. Huge table. All the guests dining together and getting to know one another. I sat next to the couple we had met on the boat.  At some point in the conversation, the question came up about how many children we had. I told him 2, a son and a daughter but then told him we had lost our son about 2 years ago.  As always I got the response, ”  I’m so sorry,”  Getting better at my response to that, I used to say, “It’s OK”  Clearly it’s not okay.  Don’t know why I responded in that way.  I tried out my new response which is, ” Stan and I are doing fairly well, but it’s a struggle.”  Then I simply changed the subject to something else. It’s easier to get people to talk about themselves. I didn’t want or need to suck my fellow vacationer into my vortex of grief.

A couple of days later, I ran into the gentleman in the small kitchen nook. Both of us looking for some reprieve from the heat.  It was then that he asked me to tell him about Jeff.  I remember struggling for words to describe my son.  In the 2 years I have been on this journey, it was the only time that I was asked about my son.  About who he was, not how he died.  It was how I wanted to remember Jeff. Not by how he died but who he was. Why was this question so difficult to answer?

I told him my son loved the outdoors and adventure. I told him he had a big kind heart. I told him he had a funny sense of humor, though he sometimes needed a filter. I didn’t tell him enough.

I spent the rest of the afternoon in a kind of funk.  In retrospect it was nice of a stranger to ask about Jeff.  My kind, funny, warm hearted, adventurous son.

Anniversary?

May 29, 2017.   Do I call this an ” Anniversary?”  Aren’t anniversaries supposed to be happy?   It has been two years since I last heard my son’s voice. Not his voice on his phone, which I have not turned off, but his alive voice, answering a question I asked him that morning of the day he died.  Two years since I last lived my life blithely assuming that I would pass before either of my children.

I thought that this year would be easier than last year. Afterall, it’s on my checkoff list of things I have already survived. The first Thanksgiving, the first Christmas, the first a Birthday, the first Easter, the first family vacation. I’ve survived them all, been through them all without him. Without Jeff. With Jeff’s presence being replaced by only memories of him. Being replaced by a hole in my heart where he used to reside. My firstborn child. My son.

The day started out ok, some expected sadness, but nothing more than the normal weight of grief I carry with me.  I should’ve stayed away from Facebook. I should have turned my phone off, ignored the text messages.  I didn’t.

Well meaning friends posted how much they missed Jeff on my Facebook. Friends texted to let me know they were thinking of me. Those messages are a mixed bag. I am glad that people still think of Jeff and remember him. I’m blessed to have friends who care enough about me to let me know I’m in their thoughts and prayers.   But with those messages comes sadness, overwhelming waves of sadness. On the other hand, I don’t want to let the day of Jeff’s passing go by as just another day in our lives with no one remembering him.

So I struggled with waves of grief, overwhelming waves that felt as if I was knocked off my feet.

I thought it was supposed to get easier. It doesn’t.  I miss him so much.