There I was, on an early Sunday morning, locked in and focused and riding my heart out on my relatively new Peloton bike. We had made the purchase in late February as an alternative to the treadmill. I LOVE my treadmill, but I was looking to mix things up and maybe add a little more rigor to my workouts. Thank you, Toni and Lauren, for the incredible sales pitch that led me to take the Peloton plunge. Now don’t get the wrong picture in your head. I wasn’t standing up and pedaling like the finish of the Tour de France was just ahead of me and victory was in sight. No, I was on the much better suited to me beginner ride, because goodness knows I believe in baby steps when it comes to starting a new routine, and my instructor Hannah was assuring me that no matter what my speed, I should give myself a high five because I had climbed on the bike today. Go, Patty!
So as my thirty-minute ride came to an end, and I was riding the high that comes from doing something good for yourself, the cool down song came streaming into my air pods and into my ears. It was the song “Unimaginable” from the musical Hamilton. For the instructor Hannah, and the majority of the riders on at this time, it was simply a song with a somber beat. Something to slow down the heartbeat. The lyric, “Can you imagine?” a harmless reference to the thought of living a life after you lose a child. But for me? I had watched the Hamilton musical and my soul had been ripped out by this poignant moment in the play. The loss of a child, the tearing apart of a family, it all rang true and gripped me in familiar feelings of heartache and despair.
There I was on the bike… one moment feeling the exhilaration of working out and the next, bent over the handlebars sobbing and missing my son with every molecule of my being. Because for me, it isn’t unimaginable… it IS a suffering too terrible to believe… It is my life…. every damn day….
So, here’s what I need you to know: My beautiful mommas, on this day dedicated to those of us who have lost children, I can’t sugarcoat it. We are every parent’s worst nightmare; we are burdened with the task of living each day without one of our kids and for this there must surely be a mighty reward on the other side of the stars. For now, go gently, give yourself grace, and know you are a goddamn warrior. You are living with the Unimaginable and for that… you are everything. You have my love, momma. Rivers and Roads Xxx
Growing up I moved a lot. Like, about twelve times before the age of eighteen, a lot. Prior to moving to Rutland, I had never stayed in the same house for more than four years, and when John and I started our family, I knew the one thing I wanted to give my children was roots. I wanted them to have a house full of memories and a town where everyone knew their name. You might be surprised to know that our little ole house here on Haven Hill Road is the first and only home John and I have ever owned. Twenty years later I tell him now that wild horses couldn’t drag me out of here. This house, well, this is the house that built me. Cue the music.
I know most people create themselves when they are young and in their twenties, but I feel like I didn’t truly become me until I settled into this home. I raised my children, and made the best friends, and found my calling as a librarian, and then a teacher, all while I lived in this home. It was in this house that I learned all my important lessons – I am stronger than I thought; John Inwood is truly the other half of my heart; the love for my children is forever; I am nothing without the love and support of my friends and family. I don’t know if this is just a *Patty, you are just a little bit weird* thing, but I feel like the walls in our house rise and fall like the lungs in my chest. Taking in every moment and memory and inhaling it; holding them behind the drywall and storing them like honey in the comb. Can you see it? Every squeal of Christmas day captured in the four walls of the great room? Countless laughs around the island in the kitchen locked between the studs of those walls? And the basement? Oh, that basement…
In the six years since Luke passed away, we have made a few changes to the house, but not anything significant. Our basement has been unfinished all this time and we recently decided to not do anything too fancy but wanted to add the drywall and ceiling tiles and flooring to make it more comfortable. I know, I know, this doesn’t sound like a life-altering event, but let me tell you… I am not sure any home reno completed up to this point has caused me so much agony.
That damn basement. Luke lived in that space as soon as we would let him. He was down there hanging out with his friends; he had his gaming system set up and ran all his COD matches from the basement; eventually he slept down there and there were countless mornings I would tromp down the steps to rouse his tired ass for school. There isn’t an inch of that space that doesn’t have Luke’s fingerprint all over it.
So, the renovation began. John enlisted Billy Oser to be the other half of BillyBarry Construction, and starting in January, the two of them spent countless nights and weekends transforming the basement. Every time they would finish something, like the when they finally got the framing completed, they would call me down to admire their work. The two of them would gush about their accomplishment and how fantastic it looked, and I would nod my head and try to say something kind. After a few moments I would take myself upstairs, pour a glass of wine, and cry.
“They are erasing my boy’s existence!” my heart lamented.
“They are burying him behind the walls!” my heart cried.
And therein was my problem. It felt like the basement and Luke were so closely tied together that to change it was to lose him all over again. With this renovation, we were moving forward, and Luke would be forever trapped behind the studs, his cussing and crying and cheering, muffled by new walls and a coat of paint. It has been heartbreaking.
So here’s what I need you to know: The finished project is incredible. John and Billy poured a lot of love into the space and I know Luke is looking down wondering why the hell we didn’t do it earlier. As for me, one night when John was out running errands, I slipped a picture of Luke through a space I could find in the wall. Some day when I am dead and gone, I imagine a new owner will want to make the basement their own…. and in tearing down the walls will find a picture of my boy and his friends. King Luke was here. Xxx
There are some people you meet in life who are all show and sparkle and for a good time call, and then there are some people you meet in life who are solid and responsible and always doing the right thing. But imagine these two together? This is my Dom. My Dom is what people would call a *stand-up* kind of guy. The kind of guy you want to take care of your pets when you’re on holiday. The kind of guy you want your daughter to marry, you know, if you had a daughter. The kind of guy you want your kid to be friends with. And that’s what Dom was for me. A forever friend to Luke and now a forever friend to me. This is our story.
I first met Dom on the Pop Warner football field. I don’t exactly remember what grade the boys were in, but they played on the same team. We didn’t interact much, I was only a sideline cheerleader after all, but Dom’s parents sat faithfully together for every practice and game, and as team mom (shocking, I know!) we would chat every once in a while. The Spinellis were from Paxton, so once the season ended, our paths didn’t cross.
Imagine my surprise, a few years later, when we found out the Spinellis had moved to Rutland! It was seventh grade and Dom loves to tell the story about how on his first day of school at Central Tree, he ended up alone at a lunch table. He remembers Luke, surrounded by all the cool kids and beautiful people, standing up, and yelling, “Hey Spinelli! Get over here!” In that instance, of giving Dom a place at the table, and an immediate friend group, Luke earned his loyalty. Dom and Luke would travel in the same pack after that. Dom had his first experience getting trashed at our house (boy, did I rip them all a new one! UGH) and at Dom’s, Luke encountered one of the only men he was ever truly terrified of pissing off in Dom’s dad, Eric. He’s a pussycat, truly, but at least there was one house where I assume Luke behaved!
After Luke passed away, Dom was one of the first kids to come over and spend time with me. He just wanted to make sure I knew how he felt about Luke and told me lots of wonderful stories of times they had shared together with their friend group, laughing and being jackasses. I will always remember sitting in the sun with him that day. He just made Luke seem larger than life to me and I will always be grateful for that moment.
Dom would continue to show up in my life as we remembered Luke. For graduation this talented young sir made a sticker for the kiddos to put on their caps to honor Luke. Administration almost got in the way, but the kids persevered and made it happen, regardless. I love the pics they sent me that day and it felt like Luke was with them one last time.
After that, just like in the Carly SImon song, I simply had to call out his name and he was there. Need someone to design a tee shirt for the King of the Courts tournament? Dom’s on it. Paint the basketball court? Also Dom. Need a bartender for a special night to honor your friend’s book release? Called Dom. AND he earned himself a mention in the sequel, lol. Volunteers for the Knex tournament at BES? Dom was there. Short on substitutes at school? Dom would love to help out. Any event for Hope Lives Here? Of course, he is coming. Most recently, we needed fresh eyes on our marketing committee and when I approached Dominic about it, he didn’t even hesitate. I have learned, since Luke passed away, that life is about showing up, and despite his incredibly young age, this kid gets it. He shows up for the people he loves… and we love him for that.
So my sweet Dominic, on this, your twenty-fifth birthday, I want you to know how incredible John and I think you are. You are my hockey loving, golf fanatic who swears like a sailor and loves to do shots. You are smart, my Wentworth grad, and one heck of an artist. You have the biggest smile, only overshadowed by the size of your heart. One of your best friend’s says he wishes he could be as positive as you are and we all wish we could be the kind of friend you are. And did I mention you were handsome? lol You are one heck of a catch. I love you, Dominic Spinelli. May the Universe grant all your wishes. You, my forever friend, have earned it. Xxx
Bet I got your attention with those words, didn’t I? Sigh. I woke up this morning full of guilt and regret over losing my boy. I wanted to reach out to Logan or some of Luke’s friends to ask if Luke thought I was a shitty mom, but no one is able to tell me what I really want to know because they aren’t LUKE. When you have lost someone to suicide, every once in a while you just have to beat yourself up over what could have been and what role you had in that person’s sadness. You look back on every situation and wonder if you had just handled it differently, if suicide could have been prevented. Because suicide IS preventable. It’s not 100%, and it may not have been for Luke, but it is preventable. September is Suicide Prevention Month, so let’s talk.
You Need toKnow the Warning Signs
If you follow my blog, you know I spend a lot of time talking about what looks normal and what doesn’t with kids. Luke was about 12 or 13 when he started to go sideways. Health problems, defiance, slide in schoolwork, running away, anxiety. These were some of the changes that we noticed with Luke. The problem was we chalked a lot of it up to good ole adolescence. Maybe some of it was, but unfortunately we couldn’t discern that. I grew up with a brother who was a handful, to say the least, so a lot of this felt like we were just raising a tough kid. Unfortunately, what was happening with Luke was way outside the range of expected behavior for his age, but we just didn’t know. #IHaveRegrets. I want you to really listen here – If you think your child is acting differently compared to his or her peers and you are concerned, you need to get professional input. Your primary care physician, the teachers, a trained psychologist can all help you determine if there is something going on outside of what is developmentally appropriate and help you go from there. Trust your instincts.
You Need to Speak Up
How many times have we heard it takes a village to raise a child? Never has this been more important than during the mental health crisis we are experiencing. Suicide is the number two reason for death for adolescents. We can’t ignore this and we can’t not talk about it. I have suggested that parents should speak up if they feel their child is exhibiting any troubling symptoms, but so should the rest of us! Teachers, coaches, doctors, friends, anyone who is in contact with a young person and has a concern needs to say something. Please! We have to put embarrassment or discomfort aside in the hopes that it might save a life. Do you know no one ever suggested that Luke might have some sort of mental illness? Or that he might be struggling emotionally? Not one person. It was all about behavior. Trouble is… it’s never just a behavior. Sigh.
One of my dreams is for middle school and high schools to have teachers or teams meet once a month and figure out who these students are – the anxious ones, the reclusive ones, the behavior ones, the at-risk kiddos – and not put a band-aid on it or consequence it, but once identified, work with the families and counselors and outside therapists to get to the issue and give these students strategies to move them forward. But aren’t we already doing that, Patty? Sigh. Some schools try, but friends, school has become one complicated beast. Time and resources are needed. We TALK about placing importance on the Social and emotional needs of our students, but actions, and government dollars, speak louder than words. Somebody get me Joe on the phone! But I digress. The long and the short of it is, it takes all of us putting our eyes on the kiddos to make sure no one slips through the cracks and gets lost. #NotOneMore
When we look beyond the behavior, we finally see the battle being waged in someone’s head or someone’s heart.
You Need to Ask for Help
Parents need to ask for help, teaches need to ask for help, but most importantly we need to find a way to get the person on the path to suicide to ask for help before it gets to that point. I don’t have the answer to this one, friends. All I can suggest is that, one, we model for our children what this looks like. “Dad and I are not agreeing on this subject right now, but talking it out helps so we are going to do that.” “Jane, I need you to know that I go to a therapist once a month to help me work through thoughts and feelings that are too big for me to handle alone. Therapy really helps.” One of my dreams ( I have LOTS) is that therapy hours be a requirement for graduation. You know how the kiddos need so many community service hours? I would love it if they had to have therapy hours. To get rid of the stigma because then EVERYONE is doing it.
And my only other thought is that we make *asking for help* seem like it’s everywhere. I love that St. John’s has the Suicide Hotline number on their student id badges. I love that Shrewsbury High has a program around suicide awareness and prevention for every grade. Asking for help is still seen as such a freaking weakness and it is really biting us in the a** here. It is only by leaning on one another that we get through. #HereIfYouNeedMe
Did I kill Luke? Not directly, obviously. But let me tell you, when you lose a child to suicide, you carry mountains of guilt over the actions or inactions that led to that final day. Some days you console yourself and say you did the best you could. Some days you console yourself and say you didn’t know what you didn’t know. And some days you just say… please forgive me.
Suicide is preventable. Let’s work together to make it so. #NotOneMore
“Don’t get attached!” These words of wisdom came barreling out of Leslie’s mouth when she heard me talking about Logan’s new girlfriend. It was the summer of 2019 and I was home for a wedding shower for my nephew, Jacob, and his (now wife), Jaime. Leslie is the mother to two boys and went on to elaborate about how her heart had been broken time and again over the years when relationships ended. I didn’t have a retort. I hadn’t lived through a serious relationship for either of my boys, so this was new territory.
My boy, Logan, is incredibly private but we knew about half-way into freshman year that he had his eye on someone. We weren’t getting any details and it wasn’t until one of his friends slipped her name out that I was able to do some sleuthing in classic mom style. God bless social media! Honestly, I didn’t search too hard – I just wanted to see what she looked like. My mistake! I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t the incredibly stunning young redhead I found. As one young sir commented this past weekend, “She’s a smoke show.” He’s not wrong.
We met Cailyn for the first time at a King of the Courts basketball tournament. She was polite and reserved and even more beautiful in real life, but what struck John and I immediately was how she and Logan were together. Never really leaving one another’s side, it was obvious from the glances and the quiet talk between them and the closeness of their bodies that they were both smitten. And isn’t that all a parent really wants for their child? To find someone to love who loves them back? Sigh. Young love. It was the sweetest darn thing to see.
Two and a half years later, not much has changed. To see them together is to know that their relationship has survived Covid and college and is developing into something that might last a lifetime. Or is that just my wishful thinking?! 🙂 I have enjoyed getting to know Cailyn and am not surprised she has won Logan’s heart. Did I mention she’s smart? Majoring in Biology with a GPA to rival or top Logan’s, she thinks she might be a teacher some day. Cue my approval! I love that she is observant. You can always find her watching the dynamics of any social gathering and taking it all in. Her ability to *read a room*, figure out who has had one too many, or who is about to get into it, for example, is one of the things that helps her be such a good friend. And she is. She has come to UMass Lowell with a group of kiddos from Braintree that she has been friends with for a long time. I think that says a lot about who she is and what she values. She is the glue for her group and it makes my heart happy to hear that it is Cailyn the kids go to when they need someone to talk to about the big stuff. Just this past weekend one of the group had an allergy scare and she told us Cailyn sat with her until it was clear she was okay. She is a really, really decent and caring human being. She is also no pushover. She doesn’t do drama and has no problem standing up for the things she believes in. We had quite a conversation about Planned Parenthood and women’s rights around their bodies this past Christmas and I remember thinking to myself, Dang, girl! There is hope for the future!
This past summer Cailyn and I have been working together to brand and build my social media platform. Cailyn is an artist and has used her incredible skills to bring my dreams and vision to life. I tell her what I want and she sifts through all my pain in the ass demands and makes it work. It might be a job for her, but for me It has been a gift to forge a deeper connection and I have loved every minute.
So here I am. It’s Monday morning and I am in the bathroom bent over with my head hanging down to the ground so I can crunch my curls with the blow dryer. My thoughts turn to Logan’s graduation gathering and as I think about Cailyn and how much she added to the day and how much she has added to Logan’s world, I am suddenly in tears. I love this girl, I realize. I have always said I loved Cailyn, but in this moment I know she has made her way into my heart forever and I don’t want to think about that ever changing. Gosh darn it, Leslie! I AM ATTACHED!!!
Convicts: What’d he look like, Drag?…Yeah, what’d he look like?..He had his eyes opened or closed, Drag? Dragline: He was smiling…That’s right. You know, that, that Luke smile of his. He had it on his face right to the very end. Hell, if they didn’t know it ‘fore, they could tell right then that they weren’t a-gonna beat him. That old Luke smile. Old Luke, he was some boy. Cool Hand Luke. Hell, he’s a natural-born world-shaker.
My blog about words a few months ago got me thinking about how hard we try not to show how someone else’s words affect us. You know what I mean. You are in an argument with someone and they start to name call or bring up past digressions… and You want to flinch.. or cry.. but you don’t. You knuckle down on the inside and your face becomes flat – no expression whatsoever. Or maybe you smile.. to really show that person that what they think doesn’t mean a gosh darn thing. I think Luke had this down to a fine art.
I don’t know when kids learn how this works. That to be openly vulnerable is highly frowned upon in society. That a tough exterior is the norm. That there is no crying in baseball. I can tell you that as early as fourth grade, kiddos learn to put on the act, the smile, to cover up their true emotions. I have had students going through challenges in their home lives, or in the throws of their own battles with anxiety or depression, or locked in a cycle of being alone every recess, and when I try to talk to them or ask them if they want to talk, they are always *fine*. Or they stare at me with that flat look in their eyes that says – No way in hell I am admitting to be anything less than *fine* to you. At ten.
Luke would either feign indifference in these situations or give us that teen smirk of disgust reserved for parents and teachers when he found his emotions getting the best of him. And the bravata this boy had! I can only imagine what he looked like at school based on what I saw myself and what the kiddos told me. And the pictures. The ones with Luke wearing that classic Luke smile. The one that said, Yes, I am this freaking fantastic. and it is good to be King. Oi. I think the picture I shared of him and Taylor in their housecoats captures it perfectly. He was quite truly larger than life. So how can the kid that strolls down the hallway, chill as hell, be the same kid who lays on the couch every night feeling hopeless? I feel like as Luke’s persona got bigger and bigger on the outside, his inner self felt smaller and smaller.
So cue the school day and once again Luke is getting reprimanded for not doing his homework, arriving late, some offence and does he ever share with an adult what is truly going on for him on the inside? The demons he is facing? The truth behind the behavior? Nah…. he lets them talk and wag their finger, and then he gives them that slow smile of his that says – you are never going to beat me down – and he walks away. He swallows his emotions and tells his friends at lunch what a b**** so and so is and laughs when he says he has Saturday school. I’m Luke Inwood, boys! None of that shit can touch me!
So here’s what I need you to know: I think we all have met or know someone who puts on the best show; that has this huge personality. Sometimes it is apparent to everyone in the room that they are covering something up. But most times, it is not. I think about myself somedays when I am pushing my Miss Patty Positivity act to the max even when I am really struggling around losing Luke. Or I think of Robin Williams. Working so hard to be funny and entertain the world when his emotions on the inside were no freaking joke. Or I think of Luke Inwood. Sigh. Beware the Bravado, friends! Maybe we try to create a space for the people we love to feel safe enough to share how they really feel. Maybe we model what it is to be vulnerable and less than perfect and struggling with our children, so they understand that it’s okay to not be okay. And maybe, when we see that student or that friend, and they are showing the world a spine of steel or an *I don’t give a sh*t attitude, we take pause and remind ourselves that behind those brown eyes or that smirk is a whole history of emotions and life experiences we aren’t privy to. My boy was one complicated kid that would do anything not to look weak. He is not the only one. #NotOneMore Xxx
I forgive you. I don’t know if you need to hear this or I just need to say it, but there it is. I forgive you. It has been six years since Luke passed away and if I am honest, there weren’t many of those that I didn’t think of you with anger in my heart. It is hard losing a child. Losing a child to suicide adds another difficult layer to try and process. And in those early days, you are consumed with understanding the *why*. For me, a lot of that became you.
There were many factors that played into this belief for me. You and Luke had been going at it for two years… practically on the daily, before he passed away. Which meant that you had been affecting our whole family for that same amount of time. Luke’s reactions to his interactions with you just broke my heart. Every time. I always wished you could have seen that side of him. His sensitive side. His damaged side. His battered side. And my goodness was he battered. Now, please know I get it. The freaking rules reigned supreme. And it was your job to enforce them. With the way Luke was at that time, and the way the school system and consequences are set up, the two of you never stood a chance of getting along. A match made in hell.
But you see, we have a better perspective now of what life must have been like for you every day. Luke Inwood was no angel, lol. Being on the wrong side of his biting remarks wasn’t fun for anyone and I know you must have received more than your fair share. Did you feel sick to your stomach every time you found out he had another dhall or had upset a teacher and you were the one that had to deal with him? Did you sit at your dinner table sharing stories about this kid you just couldn’t reach? I’ll never know. I do know that you most likely simply wanted to do your job. You couldn’t possibly have anticipated that Luke’s feelings of being attacked at school would be a cog in the wheel that would lead to his death.
And that is the truth of it. School was only one of many factors that led to Luke dying by suicide. I believe that and I want you to believe that. We were all so emotional after Luke passed away and the kids helped us feed into the black mark that became Wachusett. And you. I am sorry for this, but it is true. So I write this now, hoping that guilt doesn’t eat away at you. Not that you were guilty, but I haven’t met anyone who knew Luke closely that doesn’t feel they were somehow partly responsible for what happened. We all carried it. I still carry it on my hard days. But you are not the reason Luke passed away. I don’t know if you have ever read my blogs before but I have documented for all to see the complex human being that was Luke Inwood. There were a million little things that added up to the moment Luke left the building that day. You just had the misfortune of being the last.
Raising Luke and losing Luke has made me a better teacher. I lead with my heart first. Always. I understand that behind every behavior is a broken soul crying for help and that it is my job not to consequence, not to put a band-aid on it, but to dig in and figure out the why and to help. I hope that you are doing the same. I hope that after losing not one student but two to suicide in the last few years, that compassion has taken a front seat in the high school classroom. And if not, I am first in line to help out on that initiative. #NotOneMore
I forgive you. I don’t know if you needed to hear that, but I definitely needed to say it. It has been six years since the King walked the halls of your school and the shadow of his death was long. But I don’t have room in my heart for anger or ill feelings any more. We all just did our best, didn’t we? Luke was…well, he was something, lol. I want you to know that if we meet someday… I will hug you if you will let me. We will look one another in the eye and see the pain we each carry for letting this child down. And we will cry. I will ask you to forgive me for being angry with you for so long. Hopefully you say yes, but I will understand if you don’t know what to say. Maybe we share a funny story or two of Luke in the day. Maybe I fill you in on how well Logan is doing. And then we will go our own way. Two people whose paths and stories are forever entwined. Until then….
I thought I was extraordinary. No, not in that full of myself, damn I am amazing kind of way. More of a “my son has died and yet I am surviving it” kind of way. When you lose a child, simply getting up and making your way through the day is a feat of strength. Grief is the universal humbler. Even the strongest of humans finds themselves on their knees time and again when their child has been returned to the stars. And I have been there, friends. This rainy month of July has put me there almost every day. Enough Mother Nature! But there have been times over the past six years when I have looked in the mirror and realized I am surviving… and more. I am moving forward, healing, and what I am most proud of…. helping others on their journey. I didn’t think I would be the kind of person that would *do something* in memory of their child, but there it is. Hope Lives Here, even the King of the Courts tournament, have brought people together in Luke’s name.
And so, I thought this was pretty fantastic. Cue the pat on the back, lol. But I am reading this book called The Second Mountain by David Brooks and in it he talks about something called *the Weavers*. These are the people in our communities just silently weaving themselves and their good intentions and actions into the fiber of our lives. And so I put my book down and reflected on who the weavers might be in my world and it was in that moment I realized I was not extraordinary. I realized we are SURROUNDED by these amazing humans who have picked themselves up after tragedy and made our little corner of the world a better place. I immediately thought of the Gengels and the incredible foundation and orphanage they created after the loss of their daughter. I thought of the Thibodeaus who, after the death of their boy, made it so that defibrillators are EVERYWHERE to save lives. But my mind couldn’t stop there. I thought of the Wolfus Family raising tens of thousands of dollars for the Shrewsbury Youth Organization in honor of their daughter. My sweet Katie raising dollars to provide *cuddle cots* to grieving families in local hospitals. To Judy and Ozzy hosting massive festivals to raise money and awareness in honor of their daughter, also gone too soon. So many folks taking incredible steps to make a difference in their child’s memory.
But not all acts of our local weavers are around grief. My dear friend Darlene, for example, is taking Lyme disease education and prevention to the next level in Central Massachusetts. And I think, most important of all, is not all acts of weavers are grand gestures and in the public eye. They are every day wonderful actions taken by every day wonderful humans just wanting to make life a little better for the rest of us: Michele with her church youth group, Angie and Taryn and Robyn watching over the elders, teens Ethan and Emma and Zoe and Robin and Darcy spending their time helping out for Hope Lives Here. Which brings me to this… I posted on Facebook about this incredible story I had read called When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller and this passage spoke to me. It takes place between two of the main characters, Lily and RIcky as Lily is trying to figure out whether she can handle the monumental and important task she has taken on for herself- Whether she can save the day.
“But I don’t know, that kind of sounds like what happens in comic books. The hero is just a regular person, until suddenly the world needs them. And they have powers and a cool suit, but underneath it all, they’re still trying to figure it out. They’re still scared.”
A strand of hair escapes my braid, and I tuck it behind my ear. “And then what? What do they do?”
He shrugs, “They save the word anyway, even though they’re not ready. And they get stronger, and they learn who they are as they go along.”
I nod. It’s comforting that not even superheroes have it figured it out. But at the same time, of course, they save the world. They’re SUPER.
“I think that’s how you figure out who you are,” Ricky says. “You do new, brave things, and you find out who YOU is in not-you situations.”
So there it is. Life throws all of us “not-you” situations – whether it is starting at a new school, taking on a new job, receiving a challenging health prognosis, or losing someone you love. And it is in those moments, even though we aren’t ready, even if we don’t want it, that we go through a metamorphosis. We take the darkness or the fear and we turn it into love and action. And like the thousands of raindrops streaming down each July day, there are countless folks in Rutland and Boylston and beyond doing selfless, generous acts without once thinking about the why.. YOU are doing this. YOU are extraordinary. So the next time we meet and I hug a little longer than usual, I am not being weird, I am just looking for your red cape. Xxx
It was January of 2008 when my Uncle Pete passed away. Uncle Pete was smart and funny and larger than life and we were all devastated by his death. We were already living down in Massachusetts and I wanted to get home to Canada to support my family and be there for my Auntie Anne and my cousins. Trouble was, we were in the process of finalizing our green cards. At this last stage, our passports had been confiscated and we couldn’t travel until the final papers were approved. It was due to happen any day and with the news of Uncle Pete’s passing, we needed those papers like yesterday. I was in contact with my family daily as we waited to hear when services would be taking place. Every morning as I checked the mailbox for that big white government envelope, my stomach would feel sick, worried that our paperwork wouldn’t come through in time and that we would miss the funeral. I desperately wanted to be there. Life, I have learned, is about showing up for the people you love.
At this same time Michael Buble, a much loved Canadian singer you know from the Bubbly seltzer commercials, had a song out called “Home” and every time I would hear it, I would cry.
Let me go home
I’m just too far from where you are
I wanna come home
Home – Michael Buble
I wanted to get home, too, Michael! Thankfully, the Universe came together, as it always does, and Uncle Pete’s services were delayed just long enough for us to receive our green cards and permission to travel.
I didn’t think there would ever be another time in my life when I would want to be home as urgently as I did those few weeks, but then Covid happened. If you don’t know, the border to Canada has been closed to non-essential travel since the start of the pandemic. August will mark two years since we have seen any of our family. Two incredibly long years. I miss my dad talking through my morning coffee, my mom hooting when she gets a great hand in cards, my sister leaning her head close to my mine and whispering something naughty to make me giggle. I miss Buzz showing me around his garden, the taste of Donna’s amazing pies, hugging Richard and have him call me Patricia. I miss witnessing my nephews razz one another and the chatter and laughter of every Halligan gathering. I miss the way my heart feels when we go through customs and we make our way up and over the Thousand Island bridge. That steady knowing feeling you get when you are somewhere that has been a part of you, well, forever. You can take the girl out of Canada, but you can’t take the Canada out of the girl.
So here’s what I need you to know: I know I am not the only one who has had to spend extended time away from their loved ones because of the pandemic, but being one of many doesn’t make it any easier. Covid has given me a new appreciation for the relationships in my life, and none more so than my family. I told my Dad a few months ago to meet me at the St. Lawrence River and I would swim across, lol. His response was that the authorities were onto that scheme and were out on the water looking for troublemakers. Foiled again! 😉 So every month around the 20th, Prime Minister Trudeau makes an announcement and gives an update on the border situation. I just know that day is coming soon when he says American citizens will once again be welcome to Canada. And when it does, I will set a personal record for driving speeds. 🙂 I can hear my sister now… What are you going to drive? 66 mph? lol Oh, Peanut! In the meantime, I am sending love to each and everyone of our family members. We love you. We miss you. Hold on. We can’t wait to come home. Xxx
I stumbled onto a show a few years after Luke passed away titled Call the Midwife. I always wished it had a catchier name, but let me tell you, it is one heck of a show on the BBC channel. The series is based off a memoir chronicling the life of Jennifer Worth, a midwife in London during the 1950s. As a bereaved mom, every episode was an emotional rollercoaster. Full of heartfelt stories of women at that time in history, it dealt with family issues still relevant today: body image, women’s rights, abortion, the role of religion in society, losing a parent to dementia. But the biggest thing of all, was every episode, EVERY episode, a child was born. This miracle of life, and with it, the promise of a future. And I would cry and cry and cry… thinking about the fragility of this offering.
In one episode that really stuck with me, the couple that was expecting, also had a baby girl that had passed away two years earlier. If I remember correctly, it was from what we now call SIDS or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Unbeknownst to the couple, this new pregnancy was a trigger for their first child’s death and they were struggling with the gamut of emotions that entails: Anger at each other over the loss, guilt that they hadn’t protected that child, fear that this new baby was going to suffer the same fate. Sigh. Grief is so complicated! The midwife that had been assigned to them skillfully helped them identify what was happening and helped them realize they needed to acknowledge that child and the love they still had for their little girl. What happened next broke my heart. In the following scene, the mother walked over to a side table, opened a drawer, and pulled out a box. It was not even the size of a shoe box, and in it they had put their precious memories of their girl: a locket of hair, a picture or two, a blanket. That was what they had left to represent their child. A box.
My tears are flowing now because the truth of it is, if you have lost a child, you know this is our sad reality. I, too, have a box. It’s an old pine chest that we used as a coffee table when we first started out as a family. Now it is in the basement and it is full of Luke. The cards and banners from his wake, the mementos people have left at the cemetery, pictures of his seventeen years on Earth, some personal belongings like his mandles. When I ache to connect with my boy, when it’s an occasion like his birthday and I desperately want him back, I make my way downstairs and I go through the box. Just like you might go through a yearbook or a wedding album to revisit an important moment in your life, parents who have lost a child go through their box. Each item holds a memory, an emotion, SO much love. It is all we have left.
So here’s what I need you to know: When someone comes to me and says, “My best friend just lost a child. What do I do?” I always tell them, “They are going to need a box. Buy them a box.” I am not sure how many folks have taken me up on this advice, but if you have lost a child you know how important this is. You can’t keep everything, you see. You want to. You want to keep their room and their clothes and their belongings exactly as they were that last day they breathed. But you can’t. Sometimes there is too much pain in seeing what has been left behind of your baby and you get rid of it as soon as you can. Sometimes your heart starts to heal and you realize you don’t need a drawer full of their socks anymore. Whatever the reason, you pare down the existence of your child into a few items and you put them in the box. For safe keeping. For proof that your child was here.
What I have learned, with time, is that my connection to my child doesn’t rest solely in the box. Our love, our bond is so strong that it is an invisible thread between this world and the next. We are forever joined at the heart. And there is simply no box big enough for that.