New Normal

“New Normal,”  I hate those two words.  They are the words that have haunted my life since the day our beautiful boy went home.  But in more recent years they have become commonplace for the entire world.  Maybe that’s why their sting doesn’t seem so prominent anymore or maybe it’s simply that for the first time in a long time I finally feel normal again.

The hard part about losing someone so young is that it carries with it a lifetime of joys and hurts.  In the early days of my loss, those hurts came in every single moment.  Then, as time moved forward, dragging me along with it, some of those hurts were periodically replaced with joyful memories.  The hardest part was knowing that someday those memories would begin to fade, no matter how hard I tried to hold onto them.  As time moved forward the memories were pushed aside by the “what ifs.”  What if he were alive today?  What would he look like?  Sound like? Smell like? Act like?  Then one day I woke up and realized that the hurts were fewer, the joys brought peace, and I was simply left with the normal of a new life and a new day.

Now those words don’t come without pain in themself, but in seven years I’ve learned that no matter how hard I tried to cling to the past, time kept moving forward.  The precious part was when I stopped fighting to hold on to both, the old and the new, the future became brighter and the past brought humbled serenity.  That’s not to say that I don’t still miss him, I do, and I think of him every single day.  Instead, I carry him with me, gently nestled into my every day, so much so, that I sometimes forget he is even there.  That’s what new normal looks like, to have your loved one so ingrained into your daily life that on a normal day, no one would know they are there.

As time has passed, it has gotten harder to share our testimony.  People are often shocked to find someone who has suffered such great loss, acting normal.  To them, seven years seems like eternity, and they can’t imagine even a moment, let alone seven years.  They reconcile the thought with believing you must have superhuman powers, that you have the strength of 70 men, but the reality is that when you hit rock bottom, there is no way out but up.  Anyone who chooses to keep moving forward is going to look strong, especially when they’re working their way out of the depths of grief.  

The key is to make the choice, to first take one moment at a time, then one day at a time, and eventually, those days will become easier, and your ability to move forward less forced.  Until one day you look back on it all and realize you’ve found the “new normal,” and you realize this is how it was always meant to be.  Sure, the “what ifs” still creep in occasionally, especially during special events, holidays, and certain times of the year, but they are surrounded by joyful sorrow and imagination that settles somewhere at the back of my mind where reality can never touch.

I found my new normal because I was willing to keep moving. Sometimes that meant I took a few steps back before I found my way forward again, but I set new goals, accomplished new things, and learned that I had to let go and let God do His work.  Normal didn’t come from one simple choice it came from several small moments of surrender.  Seven years is a long time to realize that simple truth, and it is one that I still struggle with today, but it helps when I miss my boy to know that God’s got this, and one day my “new normal” will entail walking into His loving arms and embracing my boy once more.

I miss you so much my Jay Boy, but I have felt your constant reassurance as I walked through these last 3 years.  You were always a fierce cheerleader of whatever path I chose and there is no doubt in my mind that you are proud of my choice to become a teacher.  I have truly come full circle and have found my happy place again.  A place I wasn’t certain I would ever find.  It took seven long years full of decisions, sacrifices, highs, and lows, but I have finally completed the journey.  Now, it’s time for the next one, but this time I’m ready, and I can’t wait to see what the next “new normal” has in store.

A Golden Birthday

Today is June 16th, a day that will live on in infamy for a young boy gone too soon from this precious earth. On this day 16 years ago, I held you in my arms for the very first time. I stroked you face and called you mine. Today I want so badly to see a smile on your 16 year old face, as we toss you the keys, and say, “Drive careful,” but that won’t be happening. It’s hard knowing you missed out on such a right of passage, one for which you always longed. From the day you were big enough to ride the go-carts, it was your favorite thing to do. As a young boy your dream was to be a race car driver, a dream I tried to detour into something less dangerous and more practical. Then it became about engineering race cars, but cars were always in your blood. Today would have been golden in more ways than one, and I can only imagine what this birthday entails on the streets of heaven. I can only hope that God gives you wheels and a long stretch of road. Love you Jaydon, Happy 16th Birthday!!

May be an image of 1 person

Remembering A Legacy

So much can happen in six years of time.  A baby can become a child, or a child an adult, and both have happened in the time you’ve been gone.  In this fast paced world we don’t typically realize it until one day we look up and say to ourselves, “where has the time gone?” Time is a mystery, it keeps moving us forward, yet at the same time holds us back. We are in such a hurry to reach a future point better than this one, yet once we reach it we long to return, because in reflection we see just how much has changed.

For us, the day to day of life has become easy again.  I still think of you nearly everyday, but sometimes I get so caught up living in the moment that suddenly I realize those fleeting thoughts have been amiss, and it scares me. That’s when I start again, looking for your fingerprints on this world, how your legacy has impacted so many, and how your light still shines.

This year that has been a little more difficult. Our world is so different and the struggles of life amidst a pandemic have many times left me with similar feelings to those first grievous days without you.  Thoughts that life shouldn’t be this way or the frustration of not knowing when this ache for normal will end.  The biggest frustration in this year has been hearing those two haunting words, “new normal.”  These echoing words were the theme of those first years without you and a normal I still wish I didn’t know. So to hear these words used in reference to everyone and our entire world has been difficult. I don’t want a world that knows that much pain, but yet here we are living it.

That’s why I believe there is no such thing as normal.  Normal is an illusion, rather we walk precariously through life following the plan of someone much bigger than all of us.  We can never find normal again, because we never had it to begin with.  We simply had a redundant and often mundane routine that changed, and though at the time that change seemed like the end of the world, it was merely a turning page in our story.  A turning page that God used, just as He used His own son’s death, to bring betterment to this world. Six years later our story, your story, continues to play on, and though you are not physically in it, you are still very much a character that lives on in our daily lives.

Jaydon, we miss you so much.  It’s hard to think about the boy we left behind and the young man you should be, but in our minds you will always be that giggly, ornery, techie little boy with glasses.  Though I have tried to imagine a million times who you’d be today, it’s ever changing.  You were a one of a kind kid, and no comparison can every measure up to who you might have been.  Instead we are left with your continued legacy.  A beautiful reminder of the amazing young man you were and the bright shining light you’ll continue to be.

Frozen in Time

It was a Friday five years ago that our world was turned upside down. It’s crazy to consider what has changed but also how the situation our nation is in brings about a familiar feeling. In those first days after the accident I didn’t want to leave the house, I wanted to sleep and never wake up to my true reality. I wanted to go back to the moments before and hold onto to them forever. I wanted to freeze time and never let go.

But that’s not how life works. Even when it slows down it still moves forward, dragging us along relentlessly sometimes. Eventually one day you may find yourself in rhythm with it again, but there will always be those days that sneak back in unexpectedly. No one saw this shut down coming but yet here we are in a place where five years ago, I desperately wanted to be, at a stand still, sitting idle, with time to grieve.

Earlier this week I was caught off guard by a sudden wave of grief. It’s rare these days that something will set it off but in these times of idleness it’s easy for that familiar feeling to creep in. What surprised me about it was the realization that five years later trauma still has its hold on me. Don’t get me wrong, I know that trauma will always be there, but when the day to day has become easier it comes as a shock when that weight catches up to me and I find myself stopped dead in my tracks.

My heart heavy, I began the familiar walk down memory lane. I looked through pictures, watched video clips, smiled and cried. It’s difficult to look back on a face that is frozen in time. It’s even harder when the faces surrounding him have grown older and his face will forever remain the same. My heart longs to know what life would have been like with Jaydon still in it, but I also realize how different it would be if he were here. I have to appreciate the life that has come to be since that day.

FROZEN IN TIME

The strength in my faith and the bond of family, is what has truly helped us weather our current situation with a little more patience and a lot less fear. We’ve been to rock bottom and know the way out. It takes time, it takes courage and it takes patience, but eventually the climb gets easier and the load lighter. Life hasn’t been fair to any of us but I can tell you that my family is definitely better for what we have been through.

In the process of moving forward, I have let go of dreams and watched new one’s arise. I have walked away from the tundra and have started to see growth in a beautiful spring. Each day I grow closer to achieving my new dream, becoming a teacher. It is a dream influenced by loss and trauma, but one that will also assure that I can still hold onto a small piece of what I left behind. As I look forward I am reminded that this dream was inspired by Jaydon, I dare to consider where it might lead. In the beauty of forethought it starts to appear that it may come full circle and I will have that frozen face to thank for encouraging me to keep moving forward.

I miss you like crazy Jaydon but I am deeply appreciative of the signs that tell me you are still here. Your empathy for others fuels me everyday and I am reminded that if you can leave a mark on so many lives, that still fuels them forward today, I can do the same. I feel deeply blessed to have been chosen to be your mama, even if for a short time and I can’t wait for the day when we will see each other again.

 

 

Making Hearts Grow

Grinch heartFive years later and this time of the year still bares it’s sting.  I don’t know that it will ever become easier but each year I feel a little more joy for the season.  A big part of that comes from the projects I put together that remind me what this time of year is really about.  Yesterday in my Facebook memories I came across a post from a few years ago.  It was a post regarding something special to my heart that assisted myself and my family in our early years of grief during the holiday season.  It was a post about a project that over the last several years has morphed in many ways to become something new and different yet still special.  The first holiday season without Jaydon was the most difficult by far and my heart ached at the thought of his stocking hanging empty next to ours on Christmas morning.  I knew it would be yet another reminder of the hole left where his presence once was and I wanted a way to ease that pain.  So in my Christmas letter that year I asked family and friends to send me their stories of kindness shared during the season.  People sent me emails and letters and each one I placed into his stocking. (Where they still are today.) On Christmas morning while opening gifts we passed Jaydon’s stocking around the room and each one of us read an act of kindness that was shared.  It warmed our hearts and reminded each of us that in a world full of hurt there is still love.

IMG_7026

In the years following I continued this project, changing it and adapting it to fit the community in which I work and sharing with my work family its meaning.  I continued to ask family to share there stories and the project became an opportunity to remind others of the power of kindness and to challenge students and staff in the elementary school where I work to help make hearts grow.  Instead of asking them to email me their stories I ask them to write them on hearts and place them on the windows in the front lobby of the school next to a paper cut-out of the Grinch with a sign stating, “Help my heart grow.”  The response was overwhelming and continues to be each year.  Over the course of the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas you can see hearts growing, not just the ones pasted to the glass, but the ones in the classroom, within our community, inside our home, and within my chest, where the visual of love being shared reminds me each year that in this dark world love still reigns.

This holiday season I want to take this project one step further.  I want it to reach more communities and see more hearts grow.  That’s why I am asking you to get out and be intentional.  Look for ways in your everyday to put a smile on the face of someone who needs it.  Look beyond those you see daily and think about those people who help you out but are rarely acknowledged.  Give some time to provide extra to those who know you love them, but might need to feel it more. Remember those for whom the holidays may not be the easy and let them know you care.  Today I challenge you to make hearts grow.

To Infinity & Beyond

As a young boy one of Jaydon’s favorite movies was Toy Story.  I remember the year we took the kids to Disneyland for the very first time and how enthralled he was to get to meet Woody on the boardwalk in California Adventure.  I can not recall if we ever met Buzz Lightyear but I know one of the kids’s favorite rides was the Buzz Lightyear Arcade and afterwards Jaydon wanted a Buzz Lightyear laser gun of his own so he could continually shoot his sister, cousin, and everything else around with it.

Oh how those memories creep in and desire for me to take hold.  My heart longs for those times and I often wish I could just go back an relive those wonderful joyous times in my life.  Especially when it seems it is so difficult to hold on to time in the present.  My plate is full these days with going back to school, working full time, being a mom, and being a wife, and unfortunately they usually fall in that order.  I keep myself so busy that I haven’t much time to focus on the memories, good or bad, but last night I needed a moment to just sit still and to remember.

Today marks a day of very bittersweet memories.  Memories I will hold onto and remember distinctly for a lifetime.  Sometimes I have to stop and think about just how much time has truly past because it seems like yesterday and a lifetime all in one.  This time of year its almost as if I enter the twilight zone.  Time seems so irrelevant as the days pass and I find myself grasping for the present and the past together in handfuls.  How I wish sometimes I could simply make the two collide together if even for a moment, and sometimes I do manage that for a brief time.

Today I reminisce about the last moments of life before everything changed.  I remember a day filled with laughter, proud mommy moments and joy.  I remember a day that I met new people who would become lifelong friends and how one special boy brought it all together as normal.  I remember Jaydon’s charismatic demeanor and his boisterous laugh but the most vivid memory of that day is Jaydon asking for a selfie and then asking for just one more.  One more that I would deny him, because one was good enough, but it was that ONE picture, that would be our last together.

20150423_090541

Jaydon I miss you like crazy, but I will never forget the wisdom you have left me with in being kind towards others, loving beyond boundaries, and seeing others for who they are not what the world wants us to see.  It is you who has taught me in the last four years how to live beyond those infinite bounds and I will always find pleasure in that.  I love you my son, to infinity & beyond.

Until We See You Again

Last night I put on my ugly shoes, the ones that have started to get more comfortable. It’s been awhile since I’ve had to embrace the full effect of their wear, but in this last week the reminder of their hurt has been there. It’s difficult to be the one who welcomes another mother into this awful club, the one that no one ever wants to belong to, but it is especially difficult when that mom is saying goodbye to a boy who was friends with yours.

I met “B”and his mom while working as a playground aid at his school and it wasn’t long before I was introduced to the full impact and vibrancy of their personalities. “B” was a social butterfly, always checking in on everyone and making them feel welcome and his mom was always doing the same. It didn’t take long for us to find a common bond, basketball, and that’s where our relation bloomed. At the time my daughter was playing basketball and Jaydon was just starting to take interest but struggled to live up to the athletic ability of his sister. It was frustrating to him that it came so easily to her but that he had to work at it. “B”s mom took both my kids under her wing and through basketball they bonded, especially Jaydon and “B”.

The boys were two peas in a pod, always talking and giggling and getting into mischief, but I will never forget the first time I saw them together and knew that connection. I was running late to pick up Jaydon from practice one night, so “B”s mom took the boys to get ice cream. When I got there to pick up Jaydon, both boys were beaming, he and “B” had the biggest smile. If you knew “B” you know the one I’m talking about, bright and toothy with big round cheeks and his face a glow. The boys only knew each other for a short time, but in that time they were inseparable, even connecting through Facetime to play video games. I remember countless times hearing chatter in Jaydon’s room, I would enter and ask, “Who you talking to?”, the answer was, “B!”

These boys loved each other, and the best part was in that relationship they knew no prejudices, something they were both amazing at in a world that could have easily told them otherwise. They saw each other, as well as others, for the beautiful people that they were, beyond the labels society might have put on them, and it breaks my heart to know their physical presence will be missing from this world. But their light has not gone out and their legacy lives on in the lives that they touched and continue to touch.

Jaydon taught me many things in his short time here and one of those was to embrace this world and its diversity. I have never been a person who sees people at the surface, I have always looked beyond, but because of him I reach deeper and take the time to know people on a real level, with patience, compassion and kindness. I quickly learned that we all have hurts no one else can see, but I have also learned that we are stronger than we know. Last night I looked into the eyes of another mother who lost her son and I saw strength, resilience, and empowerment. I saw a woman brought into my life by two amazing boys who had the ability to connect people on a real level. I saw two women who embraced each other on a level of hurt many can’t understand and in that moment nothing else mattered. It brings me great comfort to know our boys are together again. “B” and “J” we will be right here living for you, Until we see you again.

Jaydon’s First Day

As thousands of kids across the nation start back to school, parents are celebrating another year. As you can imagine this can be extremely difficult for a parent who has lost a child. Those same feelings of joy, revive a pit of grief for what should have been.

Last week, Jaydon should have started the 8th grade. Yesterday, his cousin and childhood counterpart did just that and it was a joyous occasion that I looked on with great pride. I did the same as I recognized each of his friends as they too started a new school year. This is the year when they start to become more grown up. Their images change from kids to adults. Girls become young women and boys, men. There is a piece of me that wants that so badly for my son, but today I am reminded once again that Jaydon still gets his first day.

Today is the first Jay Day of a new school year. It is a day that I reflect on what he would of done to make his first day of school a great day. He would have reconnected with old friends but he would have taken the time to get to know all the new faces as well. Jaydon always wanted to make sure that everyone was included and that they felt special. So today, I will do the same.

Today I praise a God who reminds me that everything in life has purpose. I could chose to look on this day with a giant hole in my heart or I can give that hurt a purpose, one that brings joy to others.

The Awe of Tragedy

What is it about life that leaves us with such vibrant memories of the things we might rather forget, but so little recollection for the memories that have brought us happiness. Maybe it is because when we stop to recall those tragic moments we open the floodgates for a thousand other memories that bring with them great joy.

On this day, 10 years ago, my little family set off on a last minute adventure to visit Phoenix, AZ. My husband’s friend, who owns a car dealership, had purchased a couple cars in that area and needed them picked up, so we offered to go get them. It was an opportunity for us to go visit my husband’s grandparents who weren’t doing well health-wise. We grabbed some dinner after work, loaded the kids in the truck and set out on the long, 9-hour trek. The trip was longer than we anticipated as we took turns driving across long stretches of open desert under a star-filled sky. When we finally reached civilization again we were in Flagstaff, AZ and it was 3am. We searched for a hotel room with hopes of getting a few hours of sleep, but to no avail. Instead we ended up driving another hour down the road before we found a place to rest a couple hours outside of Phoenix.

Now you’re probably wondering what made this trip so significant, that 10 years later, I would remember the exact date, and details. It could’ve been the fact that it was an out-of-the-box decision to take an unexpected trip with two young kids. I can tell you though, that it wasn’t the scenery, since at least the first leg of our trip, was in the dark. It wasn’t the joy of the kids visiting their great grandparents’ home and getting to swim in their pool, though those memories are wonderful, since it would be the only time we ever visited their home. No, these memories are set in my mind because upon our arrival in Phoenix, I would learn that my stepfather had collapsed at work from a heart attack, and passed away shortly after.

I can so distinctly remember all of those details because I felt so helpless in the moment. I wanted to be there, close to my mom, to comfort her, and here I was 10 plus hours away. We had made the trip to Phoenix without much planning, in fact we had told few people that we were going because the decision was made so last minute. Here we thought we were taking an opportunity to visit family that might not be around much longer, only to have another family member suddenly ripped from our lives. I could do nothing but sit in the corner of their dining room and cry, the grandfather clock chiming away, though time seemed to have stood still.

The next day we would make the journey back home again, this time in daylight and through an area where my mom and stepdad had visited and loved, Monument Valley. I took several pictures as we passed through, awe inspired by it’s beauty and God’s ability to make such gorgeous monuments that rise up in the middle of nowhere from the desert floor. Much in the same way that my stepdad did in my mom’s life.

Today I reflect on a wonderful man who not only brought great joy to my mom but was willing to share his warm heart and generosity with me and our family as well. He was nothing more than a big kid, with a warm hug and a wise soul that always encouraged me to pursue my dreams. I can still to this day hear those words as they resonate in my own heart.

Dad, I miss you deeply and can’t believe it has been 10 years already. It seems just yesterday we were standing on the beach in Oregon together, but since that time not only you but Jaydon too, have been called home. It does however bring me comfort knowing that you are there with Jaydon, loving him and teaching him in so many ways. Until we are all together again, I send my love!

To An Amazing Young Man

Today we celebrated an amazing young man who would’ve been 13 years old. A young man who continues to remind me of the countless lives he has touched. As we released balloons this morning with a handful of Jaydon’s classmates, friends and family, I was reminded that his life, though short, taught each of us lessons we will cling to for a lifetime. His death taught each of us to live life fuller, to love deeper, to treat friends like family, to pursue our dreams, and to be kind always. We have all been changed, but in some way become better through his loss. We have risen from the ashes to pursue life with new vengeance.

As a family we have strived to be exemplary of what can come from sharing our grief and sharing our story, to bring light into the darkness of tragedy. If I have learned anything through this journey it is that we all have scars and we all carry with us the baggage of our hurts. It’s what we choose to do with that baggage that can make or break us. We can unpack it neatly and carefully or we can stuff it haphazard into the depths of our being.

Today I am grateful for the time I had with an amazing young man who even in death as made me a better version of myself. Today I celebrate him and remember that even though he is no longer with us physically, he will always be with us at heart. We love you Jay Boy from the depths of our hearts. Happy Birthday Buddy! I love you!