Monday, October 21, 2013

The Third Anniversary

Memories of loved ones are like songs in our soul.
Margaret Wakeley

Waimea Canyon, Kauai

Tomorrow (October 22nd) marks three years since Matthew died. I think if there is one word to describe how I am feeling as we approach this dreaded date, it's disbelief. Disbelief that it's been three years since we talked to him, heard his contagious belly laugh and listened to his opinions on politics, movies and life in general. Three years since we gave him a hug and watched him drive back up to school. We miss him so very much.  Despite wanting to make time stop and go back to when he was healthy and living his life as a college student, time has continued to march on and we've had no choice but to continue on also. But there are days when it's hard to believe that he is no longer here.

Last year I wrote about how I wasn't really sure how we would mark the second anniversary. And here we are again, one year later, still unsure how this is done. I fully imagine that twenty years from now we will be asking the same question, and we will muddle through it the best we can. One thing that I am confident of is that being outside is the most therapeutic cure for me. So while last year we headed off to Colorado for a combination work and pleasure trip, this year we headed to Kauai. For nine days, my husband and I hiked, swam, kayaked and sat on the beach. We were lulled to sleep by crashing waves while the wind gently blew through open windows. Everyday we were outside more than we were inside, and felt the vastness of the world surround us. Somehow things are put into perspective when you are hiking down a place like Waimea Canyon and feel the geologic passages of time; it makes you realize what a blip in time this all is. I wish I had been able to capture on camera the white-tailed tropicbirds as they wove their way from side to side through the canyon. It made me feel a part of something much bigger than we can fathom, and I was comforted by it. And, of course, I felt Matthew's presence.

So now as we slog our way towards the anniversary, I hold on to those memories like a child grasping a favorite teddy bear. I also take comfort in knowing that people are holding us close in their thoughts as we pass this unwelcome milestone. For bereaved parents, life is never the same after the death of a child. We continue on and in many cases re-define our priorities with a newfound perspective on what is truly important. We continue to have meaningful friendships, work, and family time. We laugh, we cry, we exercise, we volunteer for causes we believe in, we socialize. Basically, we try and live our lives the best we can. But our hearts, which were broken open, are still broken open. They never heal. So when a friend remembers to mention our child, we are so grateful. We are grateful because we don't want them to be forgotten just because they are no longer here. You see, we carry them with us always and we hope that you, too, will remember them. I guess if there's any advice I would offer someone who knows a bereaved parent it would be this. Don't be afraid to mention their child. If you know the birth date or the anniversary of the death, tell them you are thinking of them. It helps. That small gesture can have a huge impact.

I want to end with a poem. Last year on the second anniversary I closed with a poem written by Parker Palmer for Matthew. He wrote it when he heard of Matthew's death. This year I want to close with a poem by my friend Michele who is a gifted poet. She wrote this poem (actually it's a ghazal) for Matthew and I love it. Thank you Michele.

Morning Time
by Michele Bombardier

Still a shock to say it: he died. Shocks every time.
Died at the beginning of daylight savings time.

Is that where he is? In that extra hour? Lost time?
Seemingly close, out of reach, grasping dream time.

We buried him in the rain, tears, monsoon time.
Twenty-one years old, not nearly enough time.

One month earlier, playing baseball, sweet summertime.
Then the avalanche of illness came, folding time.

Long hospital weeks, blue-lit waiting room time.
Hope pushed against the windows, prayer time.

Now in the very early hours, thinnest dawn time
a hovering, a presence, then gone. Every time.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


Life is a very narrow bridge between two eternities. Be not afraid.
Rabbi Nachman of Braslav

Autumn is returning.  Here in the Northwest, we seem to have been plunged into it more abruptly than usual. Seemingly overnight, we have gone from warm, clear 80-degree days to gray skies, high winds and sheets of rain. Below I am going to share a story that recently happened to me. If you are a skeptic on what happens after we die, you may want to skip this. For those of you who know me personally, you know that I am not a terribly woo-woo person. I believe most people think I’ve got my feet more or less on the ground. But I also believe that there is way more to life than what is currently before us, and this little story offers a tad more evidence of that.

On one of the first days that this change of weather occurred, I was driving down our highway heading back to work after an assessment. I was also feeling a bit melancholy. Fall has always been my favorite season, but as I wrote about last year, it will be forever bittersweet as it is the time that Matthew died. So as I was driving, I was feeling the heaviness of the season settling in on me, and I began to talk to Matthew. I tend to talk to him in the car when I’m alone, mostly as a way to process my thoughts out loud. Anyway, I noted to him that we were just about at the time three years ago when he first got sick, and that it was hard to believe that so much time had passed since we had last seen him. I told him how much we missed him and how we just wished we knew he was okay.  I said I wish he could show us a sign. (Just a note: I typically have this “one-sided conversation” with Matthew about eight or nine times a year, and it's always in the car.) Anyway, I got back to my office and went about my day as usual. After work, I went on some errands and noticed as I was wrapping up that I had missed a call from my daughter. So when I got into the car, I spoke into the Bluetooth speaker “Call Aviva.” I always place a special nasal emphasis on her name and draw it out, mimicking how the Bluetooth Lady sounds (A VEE VAA). Right then, my dashboard lit up with the word “Matthew” and the Bluetooth voice came back at me and said: “Would you like to call Matthew?” I was so shocked that I immediately said “no,” and then I quickly said, "I mean yes” But it had already heard the “no” and disconnected.

Well you can imagine how I felt. Or perhaps you can’t. I felt like here was the sign I had asked for.  The only other time that the Bluetooth device gets it wrong is when the name sounds similar. For instance, it has asked me before if I “would like to call Anita” when I’ve said Aviva, which is why I tend to draw out her name when I make the request. But Matthew and Aviva do not sound alike. So, while there may be skeptics out there reading this, I will tell you that hearing that voice ask me “Would you like to call Matthew?” made my day. I don’t even think if someone comes forth with some sort of logical, electrical wonky wiring hypothesis, that I will be swayed. I will hold on to it as a sign, and I’m grateful for it.

When our world was turned upside down three years ago, the mystery of the universe was suddenly foremost on our minds. What happens when we die? Where do we go? More specifically, where is Matthew now?  Obviously, we don’t know the answers to these questions. We don’t even know what tomorrow will bring. But perhaps by embracing the mystery of life (and the possibility of an afterlife) we can live our lives more fully right now. I know that I am trying to do this. And when I get a sign that literally causes goose bumps on my arms, I am filled with wonder and gratitude for it all. I was given a glimpse of something that appears inexplicable, and I am okay with that. It makes the future seem full of endless possibilities.

If you have ever had some kind of sign happen to you, I’d love to hear about it (and I'm sure others would too). Feel free to post it as a comment, or e-mail me.