blogging a – z challenge – “v”

V

Vacation.

I’ll tell you some ways I brought Kade on our family vacation.

We went to Mexico over spring break. It was an incredible family vacation. It was the first one that was just us, that didn’t involve visiting other family.

We’d been really sick with flu, bronchitis, and pneumonia in February. A couple of our friends had recent cancer diagnoses. I was about to embark on a three year grad school program with only one week-long break a year. We made a snap decision to go on a beach vacation in Mexico while we could.

I brought my journal and made sure I stole away to write on the beach, all by myself. It’s so important to make the time to “let it all out.” There is a lot of build-up with big events. Even though a vacation is a good thing, even good things are partly sad things without Kade. He should have been part of our family trip. He never went to another country. He would have dug exploring Mayan ruins. Coral on the beach. Fish in the ocean. He has a friend who lives in Mexico; maybe he would have found a way to visit Fernando.

We scheduled a beach family portrait session. I brought a canvas picture of Kade to include in some of the pictures.

SANTOS-51SANTOS-57

(Although I ran out and need to have more made, and didn’t bring any to Mexico, we leave “Kade stars” in places that we’re particularly thinking of him. They’re wooden stars with “Kade was remembered here” burned onto them.)

We talked about him. I asked Brian if he thought Kade would have liked this, or that. If he would have even come with us, or at 23 years old, might have passed. Brian thought he definitely would have come, which made me happy.

And of course we took the time to write his name in the sand and take pictures–somewhat of a tradition whenever we visit a beach. On mountain hikes, I make his name with sticks and rocks.

It stings when the waves erase his name in the sand.

blogging a – z challenge – “u”

U

This is the week before grad school begins. I wanted to have every aspect of my life in perfect array before it started. My home spring-cleaned, all the boxes on my long to-do list neatly checked, and new efficient home scheduling and organizing systems in place. But…that’s not the case.

I’m feeling unorganized.

Every day my immediate priorities take precedence, and I’m not getting to the long to-do list or spring cleaning. I try…but it’s all I can do to get through my pressing responsibilities like ordering and buying my textbooks, keeping up with my writer’s group (What? I might have to give that up with graduate school? Shhh…I’m sort of in denial about that right now), show up to my part-time nanny job, and, oh yeah, take care of my kid.

Is “it” ever all in place? Are we ever fully on top of it all, and caught up? Or is it continually a process?

I think I’ll just have to continue prioritizing. I’ll have to keep my extra-curricular activities light so that I can devote myself to my large commitment at hand. And keep chipping away at all there is to be chipped away at, when I can. And that’ll just have to be OK.

blogging a – z challenge – “t”

T

A t-word popped into my head immediately, in big outlined letters. Truth.

A phrase that is meaningful to me lately is Speaking my truth. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? But it’s sometimes challenging for me. In some instances I like to be the middle man. The peace keeper. To not rock the boat. To not upset anybody. To be liked. To not make things awkward. To not make trouble.

But I’ve found that it doesn’t feel good to do that in some instances. Sometimes peacekeeping is called for, but when it becomes habitual, and I don’t feel as if I’m being true to myself, it’s time to speak my truth. Or at least to practice doing so.

In a situation where I continued “going along” with how things were, time after time, agreeing after agreeing, appeasing after appeasing, nodding after nodding, supporting after supporting…when I felt as if every interaction was rotting my soul, I was given the challenge to speak just one truth in each conversation.

It was actually brilliant. A teeny manageable step toward forming different, healthier habits. That small challenge keeps me cognizant of speaking my truth.

I still find it very hard sometimes…but not impossible. Part of speaking your truth is realizing that others probably won’t like it. Changing the way things have been, and my role from an appeaser, isn’t always welcomed.

But I’m becoming more OK with that. Maybe it’s an over 40 thing. Maybe it’s a life after child loss thing. I’m trying to be more authentic. To be truer to myself even when someone else may not like it. To be more selective with the activities I say Yes to, even if I’m afraid that my saying No will disappoint.

It ain’t easy. I wish it was. I have friends it seems to be really easy for and I wish I were more like them sometimes. But I’m getting there, one little challenge to speak one little truth at a time.

blogging a – z challenge – “s”

S

Prince died yesterday. I feel sort of silly for feeling sad about that. I didn’t know the guy. Am I hyper-sensitive to loss in general because of my own loss? Maybe…but I think there’s more to the phenomenon of feeling sad when a public figure dies. John F. Kennedy. John Lennon. Michael Jackson. Robin Williams. Prince.

For me, I am transported right back to my elementary school bus ride when I think of Prince songs. We not only listened to his songs via boom box on the bus, but had in-depth conversations about him. Talked about our crushes on him. As a kid and teenager, emotions take on such significance. It’s true that those are “informative years.”

My friend, Karla Helbert, LPC, wrote some great thoughts on Facebook on the topic that I will share here.

I don’t think it’s weird when we have these major emotional reactions when celebrities die. Raise your hand if David Bowie’s death really hit you in the heart. If Robin Williams’ death brought you to tears. And today, I was stopped in my tracks when I got the message from my friend Michael really early in the day–before a whole bunch of stuff hit the media–that Prince was dead. I immediately thought it was a hoax. And then it took me about two seconds of searching to find an actual news story where somebody was dead at Paisley Park and then Billboard confirmed it. I felt my heart drop down.

These kinds of deaths of people we don’t actually know, but somehow we *do* know, can hit us hard. Often because they and their art and their influence in our culture, our time, what is meaningful, what we have shared in important moments of our lives, alone and with others, has been such a presence in our lives–they become and are part of who we are. When part of who we are dies, that is shocking, painful. At the very least, an adjustment of what the world is like now that it’s absent that person. And when an icon dies–one who showed up in our formative years; one who truly shaped and maybe still is part of, our values and our beliefs, who informed or who shook some stuff up–maybe our questions about our culture, our world, even our sense of self–well that person and their art becomes a part of who we are. When they die, that is a big deal.

Prince and his art, his music, his presence and his place in my life and times I feel strongly made me very much who I am. I cannot possibly imagine my early teenage years without Prince. The newness of something I had never heard before, the titillation, the fantasy of being somehow part of his movement–of both spirituality and total expression of self–which included celebrations of pleasure and sensuality, of sexuality, of exploration, acceptance, curiosity and fun, from the art of this man who was also at the same time very feminine, and who lauded and celebrated women and beauty and the abilities of women. He seemed somehow both vulnerable and strong at the same time–what an appealing combination! He was outside of time and place–was he a pirate or a vaudevillian, a drag king or a superhero? And he was absolutely ahead of his time. Or maybe more truthfully he was right on time.

I imagined he must know the longing, the wondering, the searching and seeking that I felt at that time in my life and I felt undeniably connected to him and somehow, by listening, singing, watching and practicing the moves I watched on MTV and then, Purple Rain, just a small part of the risque, the daring, the creative something that was all things Prince and the Revolution–some kind of whole world I could only imagine.

I think he represented to a whole bunch of 80’s teens and pre-teens something very similar to what the counterculture and free love of the 60’s must have done for young people at that time. In my time and place and space, there was nothing like Prince. He is a singular talent in so many, many ways. Unique is a rather ubiquitous word these days, but truly he was unique. There is nobody else like him. Not anywhere, anytime and he made everyone who loved him, and loves him still, believe that we could be all that too.

He never wanted to be your weekend lover. He only wanted to be some kind of friend. Strangely, I do feel like I lost some kind of friend. But I also know that he can never leave me because he truly is part of me.

blogging a – z – “r”

R

remembering

rambunctious

room

rascal

These are the first R words that came to mind. Now to pick one…

Remembering might be too broad. Rambunctious or rascal, heh heh, those could be fun. I could write about his room that I fixed up after he died…and its new purpose I am contemplating. Since that’s timely, I’ll go with room.

After Kade died, his bedroom had started to become a catch-all for things we wanted out of sight. Empty boxes, seasonal clothes, things we didn’t quite have a place for. I HATED that.

I had always wanted to fix up Kade’s room in our new house with him. Have him pick out his furniture, wall color, and décor, go shopping together, and make his room really cool. Well, we never did that. Kade wasn’t residing at home at the precise time that we moved into this house, so I picked out his furniture set, myself. We didn’t paint his walls. We never had the shopping trip for cool accessories.

I had an urge to make it a nice room for him after he died. I painted a couple walls purple, color-matched to his favorite shirt, and a couple walls grey. The purple is actually called “Kade Purple” at our Ace Hardware. I spent many a day and night in there by myself, painting, with music…with him.

Now I have a warm place to display his things, and the items I’ve collected in his memory. It’s no longer a catch-all, and a real-estate-white-walled stark reminder that we never fixed up his room together. Honestly, it’s the best decorated room in the house.

I start graduate school on Monday, May 1st. I need a quiet place to study and write papers. I am thinking of pulling a desk into his room for that purpose. Being surrounded by his things, while I work toward my goal of becoming a grief counselor, a goal inspired by his life and death, might be the perfect study nook. And if it isn’t, I can always try another spot. But I think I’ll try it out.

Just what every young man wants to hear, I’m sure: Kade, make room, your mom’s movin’ in for a while!

Blogging a – z challenge – “p”

P

Kade’s passions:

He loved to read. With his love of dinosaurs, he got his hands on the book, Jurassic Park in grade school and read it several times over the years. As a teenager he read the bible more than once, and any book he could get his hands on, the bigger the better. My mom bought him War and Peace to stave off his reading appetite.

I love to ski and his dad grew up on skis. Naturally we took Kade when he was little, two or three. I remember the handle on the back of his harness to lift him onto the chairlift. We taught him to make “pizza” and “French fry” shapes with his tiny skis…but he wanted to point them straight down.

Kade was a skateboarder. Just this week Asher has been playing around the house with one of Kade’s skateboards. Today I said, “I wish Kade was around to teach you how to ride that.” Asher said, “I do, too.”

He had a propensity for music. He picked up instruments relatively easily. And listening to his favorite artists, as with many teenagers, was a big part of his life.

Many an hour was spent on his bass guitar, printing bass tabs from online and learning riffs and songs. He idolized Les Claypool, the bass guitar player from Primus. He loved Primus so much, that it could have been my P-word.

Kade loved animals. From his cats and dogs to…the more exotic the better. He was an animal fact and animal classification freak. I called him from a work picnic scavenger hunt at the zoo when my team needed help answering the different questions about the animals. I don’t remember if my team won but I do remember he knew everything we threw at him.

Kade’s friends meant the absolute world to him.

He was a whitewater rafting guide the summer that he died. He had graduated from his training and was a licensed guide. His rafting friends tell me he was a natural. I never got to ride the rapids with him as my guide. That would have been an amazingly proud experience.

blogging a – z challenge – “o”

O

Kade ate baby octopuses.

Did that get your attention? At one of our neighborhood grocery stores (the King Soopers on County Line and Holly–I didn’t see them at their other locations), were whole baby octopuses in the seafood case. For Kade, an irresistible sight to behold. I believe they were pickled and they were bright red. He always wanted one. I always got him one.

“I’ll have one baby octopus, please.”

“Mom, can I eat it right now, pleeeease?

I never had a desire to try one, myself; no thank you. I love sushi but pushed any octopus pieces that came across our table Kade’s direction. It’s a chewy, rubbery, texture thing. That Kade really enjoyed, evidently.

blogging a – z challenge – “n”

N

Never say never.

It’s been three and a half years since Kade died. In that time I could have easily said, “I’ll never smile again. I’ll never laugh again. I’ll never feel good again. I’ll never do this. I’ll never do that.” And I probably have said those things, or thought them.

But…you never know…

When I go to play trivia at a local brewery tasting room with friends and family….it’s fun. When I see Asher playing at the park with his dear friends, the girls I’ve nannied for almost two years…I smile. When I have a great date night with my husband, and we reminisce and renew our bond…I’m invigorated.

I’m not saying that life is what it was Before—it’s not. But I do cringe when I see or hear my fellow bereaved making blanket statements about the rest of their lives.

I liked something my husband said on a recent exceptional date night. He said he was proud of me for doing the things I’ve done in the wake of Kade’s death. I told him, honestly, I don’t know why I do anything. I don’t know why I have any will to live…I just do.

He wondered if it might be because Kade wouldn’t want me to give up, or wither into nothingness. It sounds so cliché, over-said, and trite: but when I thought about it, it’s true that Kade wouldn’t want me (or anyone) to waste a lifetime. Or a day.

I remember a time when I didn’t go out and do a lot of fun stuff. Kade noticed and said, “I remember when you used to go out and dress up for parties. Why don’t you do that kind of thing anymore?” He was remembering an annual party I used to go to where friends and I picked a theme and dressed accordingly. And he was right, I didn’t do that sort of thing anymore.

I remember the essence of what that kid was telling me:

“Get out there and live, for Pete’s sake.”

blogging a – z challenge – “m”

M
Mountain is the first word that came to mind with M. Kade was a Colorado Mountain Boy. He was “cold blooded”—He hated the heat. He skied, hiked fourteeners, camped, fished, kayaked, and whitewater rafted.

One of his friends from Boy Scouts, Mitch, told me about a camping trip where they summited a fourteener. They laid out under the stars and talked into the night.

Kade had a big place in his heart for Buena Vista, where his dad lived. And Monarch Ski Area, where his dad worked. And Georgetown, where his dad lived before. And Loveland Ski Area, where his Riefenberg family worked. And Evergreen, where his grandparents lived.

When the funeral director told me about memorial gardens on top of a mountain in the foothills of Denver, I knew that was the place for Kade’s ashes and stone. Not that any memorial gardens should be the place for him.

I miss my Colorado Mountain Boy.

blogging a – z challenge – “l”

L

How about a little levity with this post?

I was going to choose laughter, but levity is such a pretty word. One of my favorites. And…it’s the name of one of my favorite beers (Levity Amber Ale) from one of my favorite brewing companies (Odell Brewing Company) from one of my favorite towns (Fort Collins, CO, where I went to college).

lev·i·ty   ˈlevədē/   noun
humor or frivolity, especially the treatment of a serious matter with humor or in a manner lacking due respect
Early on in grief I don’t believe I laughed much. Reason number hundred and eleven that it’s good to have a great grief therapist: She gave me the assignment of watching funny movies. She suggested I balance tears with laughter. I loved that. My husband and I got on a kick of watching all the funny movies we could. We would catch some at the theater when they came out. We’d watch them at home. We watched lots of stand-up on Netflix. These laughter dates were so refreshing.

I do them to this day. Before Kade died, I didn’t think about scheduling time to laugh. It sounds absurd. Now it’s part of my self-care. Going to see a funny show with girlfriends—sometimes the more irreverent the better—is an investment in my healing. Its importance has been elevated.

Intense grief work follows great loss: the grief and loss books and even movies, the groups and gatherings, and the journaling. Peppering in some hilarity is pretty much essential; to me, anyway.