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.




2016-01-23 22.33.38

2016-01-23 22.31.54




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

2016-01-24 15.15.27


20160124_1235382016-01-24 15.55.54



2016-01-24 15.17.42


2016-01-24 15.51.33

2016-01-24 15.49.41

“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

2015-03-22 22.34.28

Happy 22nd, Kade

’tis the night after christmas

‘Tis the night after Christmas,
and Asher’s in bed
Events of the holiday
are filling my head

The stockings and tree
were all put up with flair
Because of our preschooler
wanting them there


Our family was nestled
in holiday “bliss”
For me, visions dancing of
Kade who I miss


Christmas 2011


“Remembering Kade”

And Brian in his lounge pants
and I in my fleece
Are settling our brains
for some post-Christmas peace

Christmas Eve night-time
my bro and I clattered
To launch a sky lantern
ambitions were shattered


Away from our gloved hands
no flying, no flash
‘Cause it was too windy
our hopes, they were dashed

But stars and the planets
our vast midnight show
Gave the luster of hope to
us hurting below

More rapid than eagles
Christmas morning tears came
As I whispered… remembered…
and called him by name

Then, what to my wondering
ears should I hear
Woke the miniature boy
with a cough, yes, severe


Our hopes of volunteering
were changed and right quick
We’d drop off our goodies
and leave, like St. Nick


Driving to drop off items collected for the homeless


“Christmas in the Park”


“Christmas in the Park”


“Christmas in the Park” volunteers

Coughed all Christmas Day
and that night no relief
Shower steam it encircled
his head like a wreath

The day after snacks
and sweets that I chose
And giving a nod,
off to yoga I rose

I sprang to my mat
to my core gave a whistle
To enlightenment flew
like down-dog of a thistle

I suppose my exclaim
as I go out of sight
“Peaceful Christmases, all
and to all, cough-free nights”