“You know, I got the news at 5:25 a.m. that you were shot in the leg. And the next sentence included the word ‘dead.’ How can those two words go together? Who gets shot in the leg and dies???”

He hangs his head, not wanting to look into the confusion and sadness that fill my eyes. “I know, I just didn’t think. I always thought of my grandfathers if I thought about my dying age at all. Remember how I used to say:

I got a long life ahead of me, don’t I?

“I do remember that. And do you remember what I would say?”

If you make the right choices, yes, you’ve got old age in your blood.

“Yea. I’m sorry, Mama. I didn’t want you to ever know about the risks I was taking. I thought I had all kinds of time to get it right.”

A tear rolls down my cheek.

He reaches out to comfort me. Instead of his arms, I feel the chill of the crisp morning. I feel a breeze and know it is his breath.

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Why Transformed

Posted: November 25, 2014 in music, nature
Tags: , , , ,

I frequently go for walks to one of Tony’s favorite spots when he wanted to chill or contemplate life. The path leads to a quarry, where I have felt many spiritual connections with him since his death, as I peacefully sit contemplating life myself.

feet resting on rocks overlooking a quarry

Each time I walk this same path, I pass a huge oak (?) tree. I always pause at that tree. Until today, every time I stopped I  asked, “Why?” the one question that racks my soul. It’s a perfect question to ask, at this particular spot, by this particular tree. Its massive limbs spread in a “Y” always prompt the question, “Why?”

Y-2013-04-20 Why

The “why” questions I ask vary. Time passes. Seasons continue to change.  And still I ask, “Why?” Today, I once again paused at the big “Y” tree. But this time, I felt joy in my heart. Through the limbs, I saw my son–The Funky Drummer. This time, I didn’t have my standard question in my heart. Instead, the huge trunk represented his body, and the sprawling limbs were his arms raised high above his head before he crashed down on his cymbals in a crescendo of sound.  My Tony, whaling on the drums.

20140413_130907

And I remembered the notes that so many of his friends left for him as their sweet farewells.

“You were going to be famous.”

“Keep the beat going for us ’til we see you again.”

“May your snare drums crack forever.”

“No one played the drums funkier than you.”

“Thanks for teaching me to recognize good music.”

“The most passionate drummer I know.”

“Band, Tony. The only reason it was fun was you.”

“Thanks for introducing me to a whole new way to breathe music.”

“We have lost a great friend and fellow band mate.”

“Hope you teach Keith Moon and Buddy Rich a few things about drumming up there.”

“Wish I coulda heard you thrash the crap out of a drum set one last time.”

As much as friends and family want me to get on with life and get back to the business of living, maybe even have the old me back, I want that even more for me. But it is not as simple as that. Forever changed, I have been robbed of normalcy.

I went to see “The Best of Me,” one of those tear jerkers based on a Nicholas Sparks novel. It is funny how something as simple as going to a matinee can never be normal again in my world. Sure, it was a sparsely attended theater of women, ready for a good cry. And, yes, the promised tears are forthcoming if you are one to cry at touching movie plots. Yes, I even sat with my usual bucket of popcorn, peanut M&M’s, and a Coke. But, for me, my tears evoked painful knowledge that no one should have to possess.

No spoilers here. All I can say is that a crime scene holds evidence. A human body is considered evidence. Time consuming paperwork and evidence gathering means the difference between organs that are viable to be harvested and those that are not. Even when it is the deceased’s wish to be an organ donor, a murder victim is robbed not only of his life but his gift in death as well, as precious time ticks away and earthly remains become fodder for the autopsy table.

I shouldn’t have to know that. My son should have been able to donate his heart when it served its purpose for him here on this earth as was his wish. I should be able to enjoy a good movie with a good Hollywood ending, just like all the other women in that theater.

But I cannot. Because, for me, my normal is understanding death for real. My getting on with life is being blindsided by painful reminders of my reality when I least expect it.

What can I say about relationships after the loss of a child? They change. Many of them change for the worse. It could be because grief is such an emotionally exhausting journey, that you just don’t have what it takes to hold up your end of a relationship for a while. A long while. It could be because grief takes you on a long, lonely, isolating road, and many can’t be on that road with you as long as you need to be, if at all.

During the early days, months, even years of deep, raw grief mole hills of hurt feelings become insurmountable mountains. Sometimes, those mountains become active volcanoes, with molten lava coursing through potential conversations. Lava that slowly hardens over time, killing what once stood firm and strong.

And then the shock of the trauma begins to wear off and you become more aware of your surroundings. Sometimes, you look around to see that you are left with a relationship that has irrevocably and forever changed. Sometimes, what remains is a wedge that is now too deep. What remains is sorrow, blame, and guilt that the devastation of loss overpowered what once was.

And so you stand alone with thoughts you can no longer share. Thoughts about how all hope is lost for the future you once envisioned. Thoughts about how life has turned upside down beyond anything you could have ever imagined you would experience. Thoughts about feeling lost. Thoughts about how to come to terms with how you are going to live the rest of your life.

And sometimes you emotionally withdraw. You withdraw from life and “normal” interactions as daily tasks become too strenuous, and even the simplest things become extremely difficult as you journey alone. You become a complete stranger, even to yourself. You don’t recognize yourself as you navigate without a clue through an upside down world where young people die before the old, where parents survive their children.

So, you continue putting one foot in front of the other, taking things one day at a time.  And slowly, you find ways to cope with the loss of your child and every pain you have endured since. That is all you can expect from yourself. And that is ok.

How Grief Has Changed Me

Posted: November 6, 2014 in grief, guilt, hope
Tags: , , ,

Grief is a lonely, unpredictable, tiring journey. It’s like being asked to climb Mt. Everest when you can barely walk a block.

The hopeful qualities I have found within me:

  1. I feel more compassion and empathy.
  2. I have a deeper understanding of personal values, of what is important to me.
  3. I hold a greater value to my personal relationships.

What I now know without a shadow of a doubt:

  1. Love survives beyond our lives.
  2. Subtle signs are whispers of love. They are our connection to the soul, and they survive death.
  3. Energy does not cease to exist; it only changes form.

What I have to believe for my sanity:

  1. There is a peaceful transition at the moment of death.
  2. He did not experience pain or fear.
  3. Life will carry me to the point that leads to more than just breathing; it will have meaning once again because I have made the decision to stay invested in life.

What I have to live with:

  1. Regret and guilt is my unfinished emotional business.
  2. Living without you is not an easy thing to do. There will always be a missing part of me for the rest of my days.

 

I promise my love for you will never end.

A favorite children’s book of Tony’s was “Just for You” by Mercer Meyer, the story of a little critter who tries very hard to do good deeds to please his mama.

On my walk this morning, I listened to Tony’s little 4-year-old recorded voice on my iPod, reading this story. As he reached the end of the story, he read of the little critter who finally does do the perfect good deed: a hug and a kiss for his mama. I remember little Tony making the gestures as he read.

The next voice I hear in the recording is mine, asking “What is that?” [What did you do just for me?]. I hear the smooching sound of a little-boy kiss, followed by the rustling sounds of a hug. Warm memories that left my arms feeling  empty and my heart so nostalgic.

I sighed, and then I took a step forward to continue my walk and immediately received the shout-out that I needed to see! He is still with me, now and always. His spirit lives on in me!! Crossed drumsticks in the form of clouds, jet contrails, twigs, branches, and other natural sources have come to symbolize the shout-outs from my musician, drummer, beloved son.

sidewalk with two crossed bark from a tree in the shape of crossed drumsticks

Crossed “drumsticks” from tree bark

Angels Among Us

Posted: October 16, 2014 in bereavement, grief
Tags: ,

The best hugs are the spontaneous, my tears flow with yours, I truly empathize with you kind of hugs. Such spontaneous hugs from strangers are few and far between. Having conversation at lunch today, I answered the standard question, “Do you have children?”

“Yes, my son is Forever 22.”

“Forever? What does that mean?”

“He was murdered on August 8, 2011.”

Gasp! Discomfort. “I’m so sorry.” Awkward silence.

“Did they catch who did it?”

“Yes, and I am still dealing with the criminal justice system…It’s a difficult life…He was my only child…”

“Oh my. I’m sorry.”

And then the conversation picked up where we had left off before the standard question arose. Suddenly, a woman appeared by my side. She had the glassy eyes of tears not spilled.

“Can I hug you? I heard you talking about your son, and I’m so very sorry. I’m so, so sorry for your pain.”

“Of course!! Thank you!! Did you know my Tony?”

“No, no…I didn’t.”

She enveloped me in her arms and embraced me with the compassion that is so infrequently felt. I held on to her and felt our energies flowing.

“Are you a bereaved mom?”

“No, no…I’m not. I just can’t imagine how difficult it must be, and I was sitting behind you, and I could feel your pain.”

There are no words. Just the steady embrace of compassion from a complete stranger who truly understands the difficulty of this journey, even three years later.

And then, she let me go, smiling warmly as she said, “I just felt so moved to reach out,” before the angel among us walked away.

My companion bowed her head, shedding a few tears with me, for the scene of compassion that she had just witnessed.