Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Hope Anchors The Soul...

Dear Aunt Kate, the letter began...

The day we talked on the phone, I went to work and as I was unlocking my bike to leave, God really directed my eyes straight to this item in the store window.
I told my roommate to hold on - that I needed to go put this on hold for my Aunt.  I only had with me the three dollars I made in tips.  I believe God lined it all up again when my roommate offered to lend me the money and had with her exactly how much it cost.

I was holding it so proudly and almost crying as I was paying for it.  Then I really had tears in my eyes to hold back when the man at the store told me the plank was wood from Hurricane Sandy.
It helped me think about the beauty of how from devastation, Hope can come soaring in and "anchor the soul."  I saw the imagery of a soul floating out to sea after the destruction of a hurricane, or for the metaphor - loss of a child - but hope anchors the soul back ashore when there's not much else that could have done that.

It is such a miracle that you are pregnant - I am just so amazed, it's hard to find words.  Since you talk about Gavin loving the shore so much, I know he helped me find this plan of wood from Hurricane Sandy and the beauty of this message in Stone Harbor.  I'm always praying for you, Aunt Kate... and Brian, Uncle Ed and Gavin.

With so much love,

Julia.

I have the most incredible family - and each of my 17 nieces and nephews are thoughtful, compassionate and kind.  This gift - and this letter (shared with permission!) - means so much to me. Honestly, I am not sure which I love more... the plank or the letter.  I do know I will treasure them both forever.  Julia has so many qualities that my Dad had - a deepness that belies her years... an incredible, almost poetic, letter writer... and a strong faith.

Today we were excited to meet up with Julia at her summer job in Stone Harbor!
She made delicious smoothies for us - a first for Brian AND Granny!  
Then she walked with us around town as we meandered in and out of shops.  I bought some cute things for Hope.  Ed and I have a tradition of sorts - every time I've been pregnant we have bought the baby things from Stone Harbor.  Many of the boys "guys" as we call them are from here.  They are little blankies with animal heads made by Angel Dear.  We are obsessed with them and the boys have quite a collection.  Brian still sleeps with ALL of his.  Today we got Hope the first three of her collection!  The Pink Owl, The Striped Zebra and the Bunny.  Brian got a kick out of seeing "girl guys" for his little sister!

Before we met up with Julia, we spent most of the day at the Cape May County Zoo (my favorite zoo ever).  
It was a gorgeous day.  One of the things I love about this zoo is it's mostly shaded and has beautiful boardwalk like walking paths through the exhibits.  It's hard to believe that this zoo is FREE and only accepts donations!!

Brian had a great time.  He got to feed some goats...
 ...and see some Giraffes from the perfect Giraffe height!  On Daddy's shoulders!  
And he loved checking out Mommy's favorite, the Zebras, with cool binoculars.
Another great day "down the shore" as us Philly folk say.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Mama? Gavin Loved Being With Us...

While laying with Brian at bedtime tonight - a ritual since Gavin died - he said to me...

"Mama?  Gavin loved being with us.  He had so much fun with us at the beach.  It's not FAIR that he had to die and go to Heaven!" as he pounded his fist on his bed for dramatic effect.  And then, as usual, he wanted me to tell the story about what happened the day that Gavin died.  

He's right.  It's not fair.  And during this beach trip, I have gone back and forth with whether this trip feels "too soon."  But I tend to think everything is "too soon" these days.  I know that Gavin IS here with us - and so, so happy that we're here as a family in his favorite place.  I am sure that he's especially happy to watch his little brother having so much fun - especially in the ocean!  Brian stayed far away from the water until just this year!  Watching him bravely splash around with us really does make us feel better.  Even if it's just a little bit.
My brother, sister in law and my adorable niece, Isabella, are at the beach for a few days, too!
We met on the beach this morning and Brian had a great time playing with Isabella.  She and Brian are the youngest grandchildren - a year and a half apart.  Brian gets to be the "older" cousin with her and they are just adorable together.
Granny and I have quite fancy chairs on the beach!  (And thanks to Ed, our sherpa, they are schlepped across the sand and set up under shady umbrellas every day!)  You won't find me purposefully sitting out in the sun unless I venture out to play with Brian in the ocean or playing in the sand here and there.  Today I shared my "throne" with him while he ate a snack.  Playing is tough work, you know.
But breaks are short.  Because playing is also very serious business.
This afternoon, after power washing the sand out of every nook and cranny, we headed up to the boardwalk for some late afternoon fun.  Brian shocked us once again with his newfound sense of adventure by announcing he wanted to try the bumper cars!
Lucky for him, he was the only kid in the cars on his very first turn.  The ride operator - a young kid named Dante (I'll never forget this!) - was so patient and helped Brian get the hang of driving his car.  When the ride was over he, of course, wanted to go again.  This time, there were other kids who arrived to drive some of the other cars.  Brian was now an experienced driver and it was so fun to see him intentionally bump into the other cars!  But we noticed something very, very sweet.  He purposefully sought out and bumped into a car with two boys in it... and they bumped him back.  But he also purposefully avoided a car with a little girl in it... swerving out of the way, even.  

My chivalrous little boy.


Monday, July 29, 2013

Painfully Perfect...

The last few days we have been in Ocean City, New Jersey.  I feel so lucky that my sisters came down with their families this weekend to spend time with us.  We parked ourselves on the beach right near "Gavin's Pier."  Watching Brian play with the pier in the background - knowing that this is one of his brother's final resting places - was both painful... and perfect.
My nephew, David, spent HOURS building sand castles and playing games with Brian.  He set the bar high for when he leaves to go back to New Hampshire!!  (I am just too pale for hours of beach play!)  David told me later, "I was just construction - Brian was the engineer."  
As much as I was so, so happy to be with my family... I actually felt sick to my stomach thinking of Gavin by that pier and being on the beach without him.  Many times I had to choke back tears.  You just never know what to expect with grief.  Ironically... it comes in waves.  But watching my nieces and nephews play made it a little easier.  I really do have such a great family.
Saturday night we all headed to the boardwalk.
My beautiful Mother is here with us...
...and she is such a proud and doting Granny.
Brian was SO excited - he LOVES the boardwalk as much as his big brother did.
And he REALLY loved hanging out with his boy cousins who completely showered him with attention!!
Our first stop was to see Gavin's fire truck and, as expected, it was a very emotional experience.  I actually had to walk away afterward.  We should all be standing behind the fence cheering as we watch Gavin and Brian riding together.... not piling in for a memorial shot.  It was painful, yet perfect, to have everyone assemble for this photo.
Last year, Brian had me go with him into this obstacle course - and it was not easy!  Climbing ropes, sliding down small chute slides... there was no way my pregnant self was braving it this year.  So, YAY for cousins!!  They were thrilled to go with him...
...and Brian was thrilled to lead the way like a big shot!
I even went on a few rides.  The swings with my Goddaughter, Shannon, was the highlight of the night for me!!
It was a fun - and a very late! - night.  We didn't get Brian in bed until after 11pm which is unheard of!!  But he hung in there all night and had so much fun.
We went back last night for some more fun - and I noticed that Brian is getting braver and braver.  The two of us went on this crazy tugboat ride together and the entire time he giggled and exclaimed, "This is the best ride ever!"  We had to do it two times in a row!  I think Gavin must have left Brian some of his adventurous spirit.
Today, we say goodbye to my sisters and brothers in law and their families.  I am so grateful that they spent this weekend with us - it  meant so much to me.  We will be here with my Mom for a few more days... having fun, making memories and remembering Gavin.
Life is messy... and perfect... and beautiful... and painful.  One day the ocean can be calm and peaceful - the next it can be rough and choppy.  The tides can be high... or low... you just have to hold on and ride the waves.  And never forget that even when the storms hit - you're strong enough to come out on the other side.  Maybe a little tattered... maybe slightly broken... but still standing.

Life is painfully perfect.


Friday, July 26, 2013

Worst Week Ever...

You've been warned.  Mama's about to blow...

This truly has been one of my worst weeks.  I am so, so miserable.  I miss Gavin.  I am tired.  The "I am growing a baby inside of me" kind of tired.

Brian has had gymnastics camp all week - every afternoon from 1-4.  I had a long list of things I planned to accomplish with that free time.  Spending two of those days on the couch in tears was not on my list.

Today was Brian's last day.  Miss Sara came with me to drop him off - and then we were invited back an hour before it ended so we could see all the things the kids have been learning and doing all week.  I was really looking forward to this as Brian offered up little to no details about what went on each day. Only that he was having a lot of fun.  Each day he was excited to go back.

As soon as we walked in at 3:00, Brian looked over and spotted us.  He started to cry.  And cry.  His face covered by his hands so he didn't see the 20 girls (he was one of only two boys) staring at him. Finally he walked over to me - a sobbing mess.

"I don't want to do it.  I want to go home.  I don't want to show you anything.  It's too scary."

Instructors tried to encourage him to return to the group - and he wasn't having any of it.  So we left. And he cried all the way home.  This was not a great end to my already miserable week.

I pulled my unused camera out of my purse and when Brian calmed down we sat down for a talk.

He kept repeating that he was scared.  I kept asking him why he didn't tell me each day that he was scared of something.  I couldn't tell in the moment if I was being manipulated... or if this was real.  This class was the first time, besides sending him to school, that I've ever dropped him off somewhere and had to leave.  I wasn't keen on it - but I left anyway.  

Now I'm beating myself up.  I really have no idea what went on each day - except for little tiny bits that he'd give up to me, usually at bedtime.  The instructors said he had fun.  I asked if he cried every day and one instructor told me, "He seemed to get frustrated when he'd lose, but would bounce right back."

And that's another thing.  I noticed that Brian seemed intimidated by the other kids' skills.  They ran faster than him - they knew how to do jumping jacks - and he noticed.

I tried to listen this afternoon and remove my feelings (which admittedly came with the baggage of this miserable week) as Brian explained why he didn't want to stay.  But now I worry that I pushed him into this too soon.  I have him signed up for T-Ball in the Fall and this has me second guessing that decision.

But I'm also miserable - in case I didn't mention that - so I won't make any decisions in this frame of mind.

It probably doesn't help that the BlogHer conference is happening right now in Chicago.  And tonight I would have been honored as one of their "Voices of the Year."  I chose not to go for a couple reasons - but in this moment, being anywhere but here sounds good to me.  And to feel appreciated would be an added bonus.  (Not a fish for compliments, so please don't go there.) I would have loved to have met fellow bloggers that I admire - and I even would have had the chance to meet Queen Latifah who is the keynote speaker for Voice of the Year tonight.  

I am hoping that being by the ocean tomorrow will bring me some comfort - and not drown me in painful memories.

This truly has been the worst week.  I need a vacation - from me.


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Celebrating Beginnings and Endings and Everything in Between...

Lately I have been focusing on beginnings and endings... the sad version.

But I'm lucky enough that I can also see and celebrate all the other beginnings and endings... and everything in between going on in our home.

For Brian, today was the celebration of both.  He had his last "real" school day in Miss Laura's class.  It is a sad day, for sure, as we'll never get a teacher quite like Miss Laura.  (Remember the book she adapted for Brian to help him through the grieving process??)  But it was a happy day for all of us because we were able to remember where he started - and how far he's come.

When Brian started in this classroom, which was recommended for speech services, he barely had words.  I wrote about his first day HERE.
He was so shy...
We made a card together to help his teacher get to know him...
Brian has grown up in so many ways over the last year and a half in Miss Laura's classroom.  He's obviously talking up a storm... but he also made new friends, learned new skills, and showed that he indeed was heavily influenced by his brother.  I loved hearing from Miss Laura that Brian took special interest in reaching out to his classmates that were alone or needed help with activities.  I'm sure he learned a special kind of compassion from having a brother with special needs.

We will be headed to the beach for our summer vacation in a couple days... and when we get back, Brian will only have two more days of school for the summer.  The first day is the end of year party (which I get to attend!  yay!)  and the last day is just a fun day.  Then he will have August free until he starts his new school in September!  His new school is a religious based pre-school in the mornings Monday through Friday.  And, lucky for me, Hope's birth will fit conveniently during his Christmas break!

Saying goodbye to Miss Laura will not be easy.  We are grateful for everything she has done for Brian and for our family.  She set the bar high for ALL of Brian's future teachers, that's for sure!!

Just take a look at these Before and After shots!!

Before...
After...
Before...
After...
There is so much to celebrate in the midst of our grief.  Brian is one GIANT example.  I'm so proud of what a sweet, funny and thoughtful little boy he is.  Celebrating his beginnings... his endings... and everything in between brings me much joy.



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