Happy 28th, Kade!

This is the ninth birthday without him here. The first few were big, looming, and painful. Maybe it’s because there have been eight and a half years since his death…or because it’s COVID times where we’re in our tenth month of everything being a muted version of itself…or a combination…that this one does not seem so jagged. It seems more…hilly.

Being a grief therapist is great therapy for myself. I sometimes do the things that my clients and I discuss. Today I let my family know that I needed time to journal, and carved that time out tonight. I’m sitting on my bed with Kade’s softest flannel on and journals and pens strewn about. I might punctuate my evening with breaks to watch a show or have a snack with my family.

Today we played a little tennis. On our way home we went through the Starbucks drive-through to celebrate Asher making it through his second Suzuki violin book. He really is a hard worker at violin. This day before Kade’s birthday felt like a great time to buy the coffee of the car behind us in line. I’m glad we were all in the car because I’m usually by myself when I do that. Asher told us that he learned that doing something for someone else was brain healthy. Today we all got to share in the the serotonin boost of that little gesture.

Tomorrow we’ll go to Kade’s stone (I still don’t want to say, “the cemetery”) and then a hike. Unfortunately it won’t be one of the gorgeous 50- or 60-degree bluebird days we occasionally get in winter. It will be a high of 34 with chance of snow. Despite the forecast we’re still going because 1) winter was Kade’s season,

2) we had a great time being outdoors in the mountains last weekend, and 3) it’s been too long since I’ve gathered with his friends.

A fourth reason is that I had flannel masks made for his birthday that I’m excited to give!

Happy celestial 28th, wherever you are, Kade!

capture your grief, day 19: grief rituals

We have a few rituals to honor Kade. I didn’t necessarily set out to create rituals, but some activities we’ve done have stuck.

Kade died on June 29th, 2012. When the 29th of the next month approached, I didn’t know how I would get through that day. I decided to invite his friends over. I did the same the next month, and months after that. It was comforting to be surrounded by his young friends, and help each other get through.



When the first year anniversary of his death approached, I knew it was right for me at that time to be with family and friends. Our whitewater rafting day down Brown’s Canyon, with Kade’s rafting company, his fellow guides, and his friends from Denver, was exactly the right thing for me. And it has been, for three more years. I can’t imagine that it won’t ever be right, but am open to if and when I feel that I want to do something different.



I like to give gifts for those who come rafting. The first year I had purple silicone wristbands made that said, “Kade * loved * missed.” The next year I had bandannas made with his signature and image. Then we had t-shirts made, and this past year, more wristband that read, “Journey never ends, river bends.”

For Kade’s birthday each year we’ve had a pizza party. After pizza we’ve released sky lanterns. We couldn’t the last two times, because two years ago it was too windy and last year we had it during the daytime.


1/24/14, Kade’s 21st birthday


1/24/14, Kade’s 21st birthday


1/24/14, Kade’s 21st birthday

I’ve arranged volunteering around his birthdays. We’ve done the library and animal shelter. I feel a drive to put some of the good into the world that Kade would have.

When we go to MI to visit family, we write messages on and release sky lanterns for Kade and my Grandpa Albert.

When I go on a hike or to the beach I like to write Kade’s name in sticks and rocks, or in the sand.


Rituals can be so healing. I love that I don’t have to decide what to do on big days like the anniversary or his birthday. For now, what we’re doing is working.

I hope that we find more healing rituals that speak to us in the years to come.

kade’s 23rd birthday

Oh my, 23. Kade would be 23.

I had an unusually weepy build-up to his birthday the last two weeks.

I’m blaming Adele.

The soundtrack in my head this birthday season has been Adele’s “When we were Young.” It’s not only the words, which take me to the time of it being “Kade and me,” raising Kade when we were both young, but the haunting, wistful melody.

You look like a movie
You sound like a song
My God, this reminds me
Of when we were young

One morning after volunteering at Asher’s school, it was on the radio. I’m not a huge Adele fan but the lyrics sucked me in.

Let me photograph you in this light
In case it is the last time
That we might be exactly like we were
Before we realized…

Right after I got home, my mom called. I took deep breaths to answer and pretend I was OK. When my “Hello” was a little off, I knew she would know. She was calling because the lead-up to Kade’s birthday was hard for her, too.

We had a really great writer’s group meeting last week. We’re in an exciting phase of reviewing members’ completed manuscripts. It was an invigorating meeting.
Didn’t matter. On my way home, on came the song and the pain washed over me with the chorus:

When we were young
when we were young
when we were young

That was the second time I called Adele a bitch. But I can’t hate anything for long that brings me closer to Kade, even the hard stuff. And since I’m not generally a crier, I took a strange bit of comfort that my tears could be evoked like that. Does that even make any sense?

Volunteering at Dumb Friends League Buddy Center yesterday was nice. Beau and Dylan came. It was wonderful to get to catch up with those two great kids. Beau is Kade’s best friend. Their bond is as solid and bold as the “Brothers Forever” on Beau’s forearm. I loved his memories of camping. He had some great stories about Kade. And with some stories, I wanted to plug my ears and go Lalalalala!

Image result for plug ears don't want to hear this clip art

And Dylan, he’s an all-around likable kid. I got some insight into his thoughtful world views when we talked a little politics and current events.  And there were laughs to be had when some of our end results were shaped more like bonnets and diapers than blankets.




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Aaaand then the song came on in the car on my way home. I keep a regular box of tissue in my car—I scoff at travel size. I thought, Great. I get to take Asher to one of his classmate’s birthday party with puffy eyes now. Brian would have taken him and allowed me time to decompress or finish up errands for Kade’s party, but he was sick with a bad cold.

I really didn’t want to go to a little kid’s birthday party, nestled in between my two events honoring Kade. But I had to suck it up. I knew I could do it for Asher; he was so looking forward to his buddy’s Star Wars party.

The drive and walking in went fine. I can do this. Until one of the kind moms looked me in the (puffy) eyes and asked, “How are you doing?” Tears. Damn it, Adele!

I explained that it was Kade’s birthday weekend, and that it was a hard time of year. I told the small cluster of moms about Kade’s party the next day. They were so sweet. They asked to see a picture of him. They were amazed that his friends still come to his birthday parties. I didn’t feel quite as bruised. Support can come from the darndest places.

First thing I saw on my Facebook newsfeed this morning was, “Today is Kade Tyson Riefenberg’s birthday! Wish him a happy birthday!” with his profile picture surrounded with confetti. I wished that everything about his birthday was surrounded by confetti. And I wondered if moms whose kids’ birthdays are all confetti, know how lucky they are.

We had Kade’s party today. I like that our venue and menu have worked so well in previous years that we don’t have to make many decisions to put it together.

For gift bags I ended up going with:

  • photo keychains
  • Faygo pop (his favorite soda, found at a record store in Denver he frequented)
  • Red Vines
  • beef jerkey
  • Sweedish Fish
  • purple-wrapped Hershey’s Kisses (Muah!)
  • prints of a few favorite pictures
  • a blank card asking for a memory to share with me

Things I loved about this weekend:

  • Seeing two strong young men up to their elbows in fleece kitty blankets
  • Hearing new Kade stories (well, most of them)
  • The sweet moms boosting me by letting me talk about Kade
  • Kade’s friends showing up again
  • Seeing an old friend from back in the Boy Scouts day—his first time at one of our gatherings
  • His friends wanted to do sky lanterns (sadly, we didn’t because our party was mid-day. I should have had it last night–it was a full moon!)
  • They asked if we were still whitewater rafting for the anniversary this summer
  • Craig said he already got June 29th off work
  • My best friend, Leah, being there for me today with her daughter, Katie
  • Kade’s “little sister,” Autumn, made the two-and-a-half-hour drive from Buena Vista

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“When We Were Young” by Adele


It’s about time I post to He Wore Flannel. But I feel pretty behind. So much time has gone by, I don’t know where to start.

A lot’s happened since my last posting just after the New Year. Namely January, February, and most of March. There was Kade’s 22nd birthday, a visit from my parents, Asher’s first Disneyland experience, attending GriefShare, receiving a scholarship to a grief retreat coming up in April, starting to train for a 5K, and the advent of spring.

OK, I decided. I’ll write about Kade’s 22nd birthday on January 24th—the third since he’s been gone.


They just keep rolling around without him. The years he was growing up went fast… and I guess still do. With his birthday and angel-versary evenly spaced out in the year I always have something super fun on the horizon to look forward to. Luckily what I planned for the first birthday without him worked so well that we put it on repeat. It’s nice not having to decide what to do.

The main event is a pizza party for family and friends. The first two years we had it at a neighborhood pizza joint. Last year we felt cramped in the private room, there was a lot of waiting around for pies and refills, and it was hard to mingle among packed booths.

This year we reserved a wide open room at the rec center and ordered pizza in. It suited us much better. We could spread out our tables of pizza, pop, cake, canvas pictures of Kade I made to take home, and sky lanterns to write messages on.





Marni, Jenny, Laura, Leah


making my decoupaged Kade canvases for party mementos


Finished party favor: 6×6″ canvas with Kade’s photo decoupaged on it. I copied from his Calvin and Hobbes books and cut strips for the sides, also decoupaged on.

After ordering 22 purple sky lanterns, opening, assembling, and writing messages on them (Asher too!)… it was too windy to launch. We were so bummed! I gathered them up for another time. Which reminds me, we still need to do that. Maybe on his angel-versary in June. Or I might pick a time before then to get the kids together.

All three years I’ve also arranged volunteering around Kade’s birthday. Let’s just say it’s not as popular as pizza and sky lanterns. The first year we helped at Denver Dumb Friends League and the library, honoring Kade’s love of animals and books. Dumb Friends was more popular but unfortunately hasn’t had anything for our group the last two years. So the library it’s been. I’m very appreciative of friends who signed up, Angela, Leah, Draven and Nick!


Jen & Angela


Nick and Draven. Love the purple!

I got to chat a little about volunteering with Kade’s friends. Planting a tree or picking up trash at a skate park seemed tolerable because they could bring their boards and have something fun to do after.

Although I look forward to celebrating my son on his birthday and can’t imagine not (in life or in death), I have to say I breathed a sigh of relief when it was over. I never had a CLUE of the impact of dates after losing someone close. Holidays, birthdays, angel-versaries, and a whole host of other times. Not a clue. Just the day before Kade died I reconnected with an old friend I used to work with. She said she couldn’t wait till June was over because that’s when her mom died. Never having an immediate member of my family like a son or mom suddenly gone, I didn’t have an inkling about what she was saying. I probably thought something like, “Why say a perfectly good month like June is ruined? Mind over matter,” or something along those lines.

Then, Bam!, boy did my life, and tune, change. I understand now. I don’t like it, but I get it. Like so much in the realm of grief, I hope the passage of time makes the dagger dates softer. The date itself is not only hard but sometimes even more so are the weeks and days leading up. I call them “crazy making.” I get a little nuts before

New Year’s
his birthday
St. Patrick’s Day (he loved Shamrock Shakes)
the coming of Spring (like now!)
Mother’s Day
my birthday
Father’s Day
his angel-versary
the Fourth of July
back-to-school time
Asher’s birthday
the coming of winter
the Dreaded Extended Christmas Madness Season
(why does it have to be so flashy and last so long?)

I can best describe the time leading up to dagger dates as PMS on steroids with gripping pain in my heart. Can I get a  Grief Midol?

Back to Kade’s birthday. I took care of myself by taking time to journal the night before, which I think helped release the pressure valve to my crazy. My parents in MI were going to be here for the birthday festivities but had to postpone because my mom was sick. It was nice that they wanted to be here for the day. It felt good to volunteer in Kade’s name, doing something good in our own neighborhood where Kade grew up, sporting our Kade buttons.

And Kade’s friends showed for his party, again. I wish I would have gotten more pictures. Their love for their buddy warms my heart. I got to look into the faces Kade knew so well… and loved so much.


Kade’s best friend, Beau, and his girlfriend


Torri and Drew


Tyler, Asher, and Shay


Draven, Nick, and Kenzie


Shay, Chrissie, and Chrissie’s friend

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Happy 22nd, Kade