The above picture is my point of view on most days...from the couch. It has been a tough 15 days, to be honest, the hardest of my life. Death and its aftermath sucks. Grief is unpredictable, inconsistent, and oftentimes, intolerable. Just when I think it is going to be a good day, I see a picture, hear a song, or have a crying child who misses their uncle that catapults me right back. I'm learning to be patient with this process and to go with it as it comes. This is a process, let me tell you, I'm a bit of an over-planner and this necessary patience is a daily battle for me. But, it is my only choice.
The only thing holding me together is this clan of mine. My kids are incredibly caring little human beings. I'm finding notes around the house, they are sharing funny memories of my little brother that bring sunshine into my day, and they are honestly and openly talking about this loss. Because, my grief is one thing, a daily fight, but I also must make room for their processes. Each of them deal with things differently, based on their age and personality and this is more than true right now. Oliver is needy, scared to be alone, and asks me everyday if I'm sure Andrew won't be back to have pizza on Friday night. Pippa is missing him fiercely but channeling her emotions into determination and drive on the soccer field. She started a new soccer league this week that is so challenging and rewarding--could not have happened at a better time. Bea, on the other hand, is my sensitive thinker. She knows exactly when to give me a hug and is viewing this process in a very unique way. She told me the other day that she knows Andrew is gone, but she feels him with her. So much so, my brave girl overcame some serious fear and anxiety and tried out for a solo in her fifth grade play, something she was adamant about not doing before all of this. I'm not going to lie, it is hard as hell to mother grieving children whilst grieving.
I had to make the very hard choice to take a leave of absence from work for a few months. This was not an easy decision for me. I love what I do so very much. Working with children everyday is truly a gift, but I'm not good at doing things half ass. I knew, based on the two huge losses in my life this year, I would not be able to give my little ones my all. They deserve all of me, my children deserve all of me, my husband deserves all of me, and I deserve all of me right now. I miss work terribly and would love to say that I'm tackling some major house projects but, mostly, I'm laying on the couch. Some days with a book, some days with a box of tissues, some days in utter silence. I'm learning the only way to push through is to stop when my feet become concrete blocks, cry when I miss my brother, laugh when I think of a funny memory, scream when I'm angry, and fight my way through all of this, rather than running away and ignoring the complex emotions that arise. It's beyond difficult, there are moments I'm unpleasant, impatient, and nasty; however, we are all allowing each other to be those things with love and understanding.
And this man of mine, I don't even know where to begin. We have been together for 18 years and I have never, ever seen him this upset. Devin loved my brother just as much as I did and they shared an incredibly special bond. This is not just a sibling loss for me, it is one for Devin as well. We are getting through the days, but our nights are full of tears, laughter, and talking, lots of talking. We avoid sleep, stay up too late, because we are both plagued with nightmares, and pay the costly price of sleep deprivation the days following. We are trying so very hard to be patient with each other, to support one another, and listen to one another as best as we can. Some days are wonderful, others horrid. It is hard to give when you feel empty, hard to hug when rage rests in your heart, and a struggle to stay strong when you want to crumble. But we all share this grief, none of us more or less, we all loved that boy with such intensity. He was a part of us and we are learning to live without him.
Bea woke up this morning and told us about her dream over breakfast, "I saw Andrew. He came to me and I gave him a hug. And then, he vanished. He just vanished and it just makes me so sad. But he still came and I still hugged him. I'm sad but it felt so good to hug and see him, even if it is the last time." As I fell into a pool of tears over toast, she hugged me so hard and for a brief moment, my little brother was there with us.
I'm not sure we will ever be the same, there is no way we can ever be, but we will get through this, we will find small slivers of light in this darkness...a day at a time.
These past 8 days have been some of the hardest of my life. The grief, the reality, the pain of my brother's death is wrecking me. I've been very good to myself and just allowing each moment to come as it may. Some are full of tears, others laughter, even more full of rage. I'm angry. This is not an emotion I do well with, so I'm forcing myself to sit in this anger and look for the bits of joy. And can I tell you, there are thousands of moments that have taken my breath away this week. My house is chock full of beautiful bouquets sent from friends near and far. My fridge is stocked by friends whose kindness, thoughtfulness, and unwillingness to believe that I'm okay. My days are spotted with messages from so many people telline me what a great kid my brother was or how strong I am. It is very hard to find beauty in all of this tragedy but I'm telling you, the overabundance of love I'm feeling from so many people is the greatest gift of this hard time. So, from the bottom of my heart, thank you so very much for your generosity, your thoughts, your prayers, your messages, your flowers, your groceries, and your care and concern for me and my family. I am utterly flabbergasted and swimming in so much love right now, it is impossible to drown in this sadness. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
I am not one that is okay with accepting help, and I'm working on this. All of you are making it so much easier to do so. There will never be adequate words to express my sincere gratitude.
A week ago today, my life forever changed when my 16 year old brother passed away suddenly. We held services yesterday and I wrote a eulogy for him, which many people have asked that I repost. So, here goes:
First, I would like to thank everyone for being here to today to celebrate Andrew’s life. The endless amount of love and support during this difficult time has been enormous in helping us put one foot in front of the other. We are eternally grateful.
My name is Meg and I am Andrew’s oldest sister. As you can see, decades are between us but that never affected our relationship. I was 19 when Andrew was born and I fell in love with that little red head the moment I held him. My life was forever changed when he entered the world. I now had a forever sidekick. I had no idea how incredibly lucky I would be to get the creative, passionate, intelligent, and funny younger brother that I did but every day I thank my lucky stars.
As the years went by, our bond only increased with each day. To say I love Andrew is a gross understatement. I adore him beyond words for the amazing young man he became. These past few days have been the hardest of my life. I cannot imagine my life without my little brother. I keep waiting to wake up from this nightmare, to know that none of this really happened, that it was just a part of one of his movies. But, its not. This is not a written tragedy, but a real one.
Andrew was not only my brother, but he was an amazing uncle to my children, Ava, Lillian and Oliver. He loved them fiercely and they looked up to him so very much. At the ripe age of 2, Oliver used to ask for the Kendrick Lamar CD every time we got into the car. Ava, like Andrew, is a creative spirit and I know his unabashed individuality will influence her forever. And, my Lillian, who is the carbon copy of Andrew, same freckles and all, is taking this the hardest. I’m not sure I will ever get over her screaming, I just want him back, Mummy over and over again. The last memory my children have of Andrew is him leaning against my front door, on his way out, and turning around, winking at them and in his angry German accent yelling, “Dammit, where are my driving gloves!” I could not ask for a better memory, they will forever remember his humor. My children will forever be changed by Andrew’s passing, but even more so, they will be even better because they called him uncle.
Andrew was also an amazing brother not only to me, but to our sister, Andrea. He hated hearing the sound of cry and would give me precise instructions to make her happy. Andrea, we were so very lucky to have the time we did with him. He will forever be with us.
In the silence of sleepless nights, I’ve searched for some meaning, some sense in all of this, but have found none. There is no justifying this loss, there is no reason in this, it was just a horrible, life altering accident. However, as much as we must embrace this loss, we must also celebrate Andrew’s life. He was taken away much, much too soon--there is no doubt about that. However, we must look at the life he lived.
Andrew, from a very young age, was an individual. He was never, ever afraid to be himself. I will never forget him arriving to my daughter’s second birthday party dressed in full costume as Jack Sparrow. It was not a costume party, my friends. He stayed in character the entire time. Or, the time he arrived at family Christmas wearing enormous red eyeglasses. He did not need glasses, but just liked the way they looked with his outfit. Because of Andrew, my son, will only wear skinny jeans, the brighter the color the better and has a love of rap music, at the age of four.
Andrew was also passionate about his interests and his opinions. He loved a good argument and would go on and on until he proved it. He hated anything that seemed to him unjust, unfair, or just plain wrong. Andrew’s moral compass was impressive and always filled my heart with pride. My husband and I used to tell him that someday, his voice would go due to his insistence and persistence. Funny thing is now we would do absolutely anything to hear his voice one more time.
Andrew was an old soul. He was wise beyond his years. The conversations I had with him were not normal for a sixteen year old. He was thoughtful in a way most teenagers are not; he tried to understand the scope of so many things in life with such depth and meaning. We had him at our house two days before his passing, a day I’m holding onto for dear life, and he told me he decided to start reading Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle—what sixteen year old picks up that book for fun? Even in college, I read that book because I had to, not because I wanted to. On that night, my husband, who had a very special bond with Andrew took him driving and he told Devin that he really loved Bob Seeger’s song, Still the Same. My husband laughed, saying how in the world does one kid love Death Grips and Bob Seeger? But that was Andrew. He embraced things in life not because they were cool or popular, but because they meant something to him.
Andrew loved music. He loved listening to it, making it, and exploring so many different genres. Music was one of the many expressions of Andrew’s identity. He was never afraid to try something new with music and was an astute critic. Personally, I am forever grateful to my husband, Devin, for the countless times Andrew said, “Devin, listen to this…” He would share one of his new beats, or a discovered musician, or a favorite song. They would spend hours sitting in the kitchen listening to music and words cannot express the gratitude I have for my husband who never discouraged Andrew, but always, always embraced and encouraged him to be exactly who he wanted to be. Devin, thank you for loving him just as much as I do, he loved you back a million times more.
Andrew was also a passionate writer. When he was in third grade, he wrote a poem about meeting my daughter Ava for the first time that I treasure. This love of writing only grew as he did and began to combine with his other love, film. I can’t tell you how many scene ideas, character descriptions, and plot twists I’ve heard over the last six years. As a writer myself, I could not be more proud of him for pursuing his passion.
I can honestly say, I was given the perfect brother. I started 2014 by writing him a poem about turning 16. I used the matchbox cars we used to play with as a metaphor for his journey in life. I ended it with the line: “I can also guarantee that when you look in life’s rear view mirror, you will see my reflection. I will always be there”
Writing that, I never imagined I would be closing 2014 by writing about his death. Words cannot describe the excruciating pain, the choking anger, the utter heartbreak, and the empty hole I will forever have in my heart. However, it is up to me to move forward, knowing every step of the way, he is with me.
So, today, let us celebrate Andrew, his fierce convictions to be no one but himself . Let his individuality inspire us to be our own people, follow our own dreams, and pursue our own passions. Let his life, not his death, be our beacon during these dark times. And please, be kind to each other, love each other, because life can indeed change forever in an instant.
I want to end this with a short poem by e.e. cummings that expresses how I will move forward in all of this, it is simply really, I will forever carry him with me.
I carry your heart
(I carry it in my heart)
I am never without it
(Anywhere I go, you go, my dear)
I've avoided this space of mine for a couple of weeks because sometimes words get stuck in my throat when life is too raw. I found out that I will not be receiving Simon's ashes because I am not technically his "next of kin", although I am the beneficiary on everything and am the only person he has left. I've really struggled through this grieving process simply because the bureacratic mess it has become has left little time to do much else than plow through. However, finding out that I could not complete his final wishes, was the last straw for me.
To say these past couple of months have been hard is an utterly gross understatement. I've been dealing with deputies and lawyers and there has been little time to tend to the infectious wound of grief festering inside my heart. I finally had to accept the fact that there are some things in life, that no matter how hard you try, are just going to be unfair. This experience being just that. I am forever an optimist and after two good days of some serious gray days filled with sobs, I just let it all go. Releasing all that anger, frustration, regret and disappointment was very tough but also very cathartic.
I am, finally, at peace with all of this. It is not what I imagined, but it is the reality. I am never one to shirk away from strife, so I've accepted this and rather than focus on the negativity, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I called my mum and told her my idea of having an intimate, personal service on the beach for Simon. She agreed and the night before, insomnia and anxiety kept sleep at bay and I came up with something both meaningful to Simon, myself, and my mum. I gathered rocks on the beach and for every rock, I wrote something about him, and my mum and I silently stood on the beach.
A rock for the first time I met you, when I was 8 and you broke a tooth at dinner
A rock for the first time I left at Christmas time, in a limousine, your idea
A rock for the time I gave you a please stop smoking sign and you and Mum tried your best
A rock for the hours we spent driving on Sundays
A rock for the love, the support, and the spoiling of my mother and I
A rock for showing us both the meaning of true, unconditional love
A rock for the hundreds of lazy Sundays reading the paper
A rock for the time I procrastinated on my Science Fair project, you drove me all over town in one day, helped me with the presentation and was there shaking your head when I won first prize. You did love a good ironic story
A rock for the million of times I doubted myself in fear and insecurity and you pushed me, even when I cried, and was there to say I told you so when I beamed in completion and triumph
A rock for the million more times you told me I could do anything I put my mind to and the love to make me believe it
A rock for the times we went to get manicures together
A rock for your man purse, deemed “murse” by my husband
A rock for the Christmas dinners at the Ritz
A rock for teaching me to ride a bike, drive a car, and parallel park in San Francisco
A rock for teaching me, through your story and your parents story ,what sacrifice, determination, and faith really means
A rock for the time you handed me the keys to my first car, a 1986 VW Cabriolet and a new pair of sunglasses
A rock for the appreciation of music, of food, and of the arts
A rock for the pride that shone on your face when I graduated high school and the pain expressed when you dropped me off at college
A rock for the Sundays you came to visit me in college, the shared brunches, and the silent walks alongside the water
A rock for the relaxed way you twirled your curls, gently wrapped around your index finger and thumb
A rock for the love of fast cars you instilled in me
A rock for the time you bought me a hot wheels race track instead of a Barbie dollhouse like my friends, because you knew I wanted the race track more than the Barbie
A rock for the Friday night dinners at Peppino’s
A rock for your loud laugh, your sarcastic wit, and your aloof kindness to strangers
A rock for the countless times you handed a homeless person a dollar
A rock for the ritual bedtime send off “Bedtime for Bonzo” and the whisper of “Love you, Monkey”
A rock for the sorrow I felt watching you care for your ailing mother and the sad relief when she passed
A rock for the love that oozed through the phone when I called you when Ava was born, on your birthday, and the promise you made me make that I would never again buy you a birthday present
A rock for the moment you met Ava, the calm that swam over her when you held her, and the tears that streamed down your face
A rock for the bathrobe you owned as long as I knew you…and that you died in
A rock for the dance we shared at my wedding and your acceptance of such a hard decision
A rock for the love and appreciation of my husband
A rock for your adoration of the ocean
A rock for your Chicago memories, a city we visit yearly, this year, you will be right by my side
A rock for your intense political beliefs
A rock for the dresser drawer full of cards and letters I sent you, you never threw away a single one
A rock for the poems I found after you died
A rock for your love of dogs and our dog, whom you let me name Heineken
A rock that you two are enjoying a walk together, wherever you may be
A rock for the hope that you died in peace and knowing how much I loved you
A rock for the peace I’m slowly finding in this complicated situation
A rock for the intense love I feel every time I think of you
Lastly, a rock for the serenity to let you go because I know my desperate attempt to make sense of all of this is pointless. Life doesn’t make sense. It is like this beach, constantly changing with the high and low tides of life, made up of pebbles of pain, rocks of joy, shards of worn down memories like sea glass, and the bittersweet salty taste of sorrow. With my toes curled in the sand, reaching my heavy hands high in the air, I toss the rocks into the sea, where you would want to be, and with each rock, I say good-bye. Simon, today my heart empties of sadness and I relinquish the pain, anger, regret, and frustration that surrounds your death. Today, I celebrate your life and the life we shared together. Today, I hand you over to the sea.
Because, my friends, this was not just a loss for me, it was a loss for my mum. Despite years of separation, Simon and my mum still remained friends. He was a constant in our life, he shared in the happiest moments but also sheltered us in the darkest ones. I share this grief with my mum today. We stood on the beach, not sure how to even properly say good-bye. I had a song cued up, we plugged in our ear buds, listened to Sia's Burn the Pages, and cried. When I opened my eyes, out on the horizon, there was a lone sailboat, slowly heading out to sea. This was my peace, my friends. Sail on, Simon.
Library trips are a weekly occurrence in this house. These kiddos love going to the library and truth be told, it is one of my favorite places as well. So, we decided to each pick some books that we really loved from the book stacks at the library each week and showcase them here.
Up first, Jeanette Winter's Henri's Scissors. She is one of my favorite authors because she has an amazing way to tell difficult stories. In this one, she tells the tale of an illness that rendered Henri Matisse bed ridden and unable to paint. Rather than focus on the lack of painting in his life, Henri reaches for his scissors and creates masterpieces with scissors and paper. The illustrations are simple and beautiful and compliments the story so well.
The second book, Paul Meets Bernadette, is the tale of a two fish who see life very differently. Paul is a straight forward thinker, where Bernadette is imaginative. Bernadette brings a new way of looking at ordinary things for Paul and believe me, you'll fall in love with not only the text, but the illustrations as well. The author also illustrated this book while her infant baby slept and it is hard not to appreciate the story as a mother seeing the world in a new, magical way like a child. Adored this book.
And for a chapter book, we recently finished Peter Nimble, a tale of adventure and love. This is a rich plot, driven by even richer characters, with love, suspense, and ethics all thrown in. One of our favorites so far. Each night, the girls were sad when the chapter ended and could not wait to see what happened next. Great for vocabulary building as well. I read this one with a dictionary by my side!
Anything you're reading or have read? Please comment below, we love to check out new books. Happy reading!
Over the summer, Bea attended a free park camp program that our seaside city offers within a short walk from our house. The first week, I was home doing chores while the other two were playing and my newly turned 10 year old came walking down the driveway by herself. I will be honest in saying that it was not a stellar moment as a mother, because my friends, I freaked out. I freaked out because she walked by herself. In the end of my irrational worrying, which to be frank, pissed Bea off, I realized I was doing more damage than good. I could not understand why she was so mad until she said, "Mum, I'm 10. I'm fine. Trust me." Ahh...yes. She was right. She is 10 and I didn't trust her. But how on earth do I explain to her that it is not her I mistrust, but the entire world around her that makes me sick with worry...without terrifying her. As I let her walk back by herself, on my feed, an article in The Atlantic popped up about the damage we are doing to our kids by instilling so much fear into them about the world. Thank you, universe for that one. By me freaking out that she walked home by herself told her she was not capable, I did not trust her, and the world is a scary place. Yes, the latter may be true, but statistically, kidnappings have not increased since the 1980s, the media coverage, however has. We are living in this bubble of fear, unable to trust anyone, and rather than come together as a community to support and watch out for one another, we close our front doors, pull the shades and become isolated. There is no community watch, we don't know our neighbors names, and it does feel scary at times. However, in my life, I've met the most interesting people by opening my door, waving out the window, and overcoming fear to seek out community. I want my kids to do the same and they can't do that if I don't give them the freedom to do so.
But, it is hard. It is hard to let them ride around the neighborhood on their bikes without having terrible visions of them being taken or hit by a car. It is hard to let them walk to the mailbox without thinking about some creepy stranger enticing them with candy. Oh, and the guilt; the feeling of utter shame if something did indeed happen, its maddening, my friends. But, anything can happen anywhere. It takes work and quite a bit of rescue remedy. And lots of reminding them of what is safe and not safe--to the point of eye rolls and sighs, "yes, mum, we know." There are times my worry is choking but more than anything, what stops my endless mind chatter, is the desire for them to not fear life, but fully embrace it. I can't do that behind a locked door or closed curtains. It is not my job to shelter them, it is my job to support them, even when it rips my heart out. I don't want my kids to ever feel like I doubt their judgement, their character, or their instincts. Intuition cannot develop if it is not tested. It is one of the most powerful tools we have as humans and I refer to it as the superpower of our heart to the kids. Trust your superpower. Trust my superpower that under all that worry is great pride for these 3 amazing beings I share my life with. I love them too much to let my own misgivings affect their life. They are itching for freedom, to feel the giddiness of flight on solo bike rides without their mum behind them and the wide world ahead of them. Okay, not the whole world, but the neighborhood block, but it starts, somewhere, my friends.
To Push or Not to Push, this is a question I struggle with as a parent. It's never easy to know when too much pushing is too much and will not result in success, but rather utter defeat for all involved. I have 2 children that are very reticent to try new things. New things are scary, unpredictable, and challenging for them. And, that is okay. However, it is not okay to hide behind fears and miss out on new experiences. But, when they are crying, shaking, and pleading, it is damn hard to push them. It takes every ounce of my being to do it, but I do it with love and compassion.
Case in point: Oliver started his first swimming lesson without me in the water the other day. He was so excited on the way there telling me how brave he was going to be. And then, we arrived and all that changed. As soon as those Spiderman flip flops came off, he began to fidget and finally ended up a pool of tears by the ladder. The amazingly understanding teacher was wonderful in giving him the space he needed while encouraging him as well, but to no avail. He was wrapped around me like a boa around a juicy rat, no joke. Pippa bent down and told him she would sit next to him on the edge of the pool and hold his hand. (Yes, I know, she really is that awesome all of the time.) He agreed but still refused to get into that aquatic abyss. The teacher finally winked at me and I knew I had to do it. I had to pick him up, screaming and crying, and hand him over to her in the water. Friends, this was not easy. As I peeled him off of me, tiny tears began to well in my eyes because I knew how hard this was for him. It forced him to face his fears head on, and that is never easy. And, of course, I felt like the worst mother of all time, but for just a second because as soon as he hit that water, he stopped. He paddled his arms, kicked his feet, went under water and came up smiling.
I'm writing this because this is a piece of parenting that rips my heart out. It is so very hard for me to watch my kids struggle with things that most kids do without thinking twice. It is not about comparison, but rather I love them enough to not let their fears and insecurities rule their lives. But, it is hard to know when to draw the line. When is too much pushing going to backfire? Am I awful? Should I let them just be?
The answer to these questions I'm still working on, but I've learned I know these offspring of mine rather well and know when too much is indeed too much. I also know that me pushing them tells them that I trust them. I trust that they will meet and rise to challenges, even when they are difficult...for them and me. I love them too much to be eaten up by their fears. They deserve more than that. I don't want them to be life's observers, I want them to live each day, participate in whatever they imagine. Because, in the end, the tears lead to smiles...on all of us.