Sunday, November 26, 2017

Another year, without you.

Dear Dad,

It seems like I am forever writing the posts like this one on these days, the ones between Thanksgiving and your birthday.

These days always belonged to you. I don't know why I ever believed that would change once you were gone.

Your birthday is tomorrow. You would have been 65 years old. You would have insisted that you weren't 65 because 65 is old, and you weren't ever going to get old.

You were right, you know....you didn't get old. These days, though, I wish you'd had that chance.

65 never would have meant retirement for you, the consequence of having owned your own business your whole life. You always said you'd probably end up working until the day you died because you'd have to. There was no golden parachute waiting. No pension. Not enough Social Security to survive.

You were right about that too. You went in to the lab the day before you died. Wiped the counters down, tidied up the office, left notes with instructions for those left behind.

I wish you were here tomorrow. I wish you could share this 6 pack of Coors Light with me. I wish you could pretend to refuse the piece of cherry cheesecake that you'd inevitably eat. I wish you'd spend fifteen minutes insisting that you were still 21 years old. I wish you'd get annoyed when everyone started to sing, then let the tiniest hint of a smile out at the end.



I wish.

I wish you were still here. I wish you were here to see your oldest grandson finish his Eagle, I wish you were here to reassure me when he was having trouble healing after his wisdom tooth removal surgery this summer. I wish that you were here to see him eager and excited to begin his college journey soon. I wish it. I wish it for him and I wish it for you. I wish it for me. He needs you right now. He needs to be supported and loved and encouraged. He needs reassured that this thing he loves so much in the world is worthy and important. He needs to know that this path he is intending to walk down will be a rewarding one. He needs reminded that success in life isn't about how lucrative a career is, but about whether it brings him joy and helps others. He needs nudging. He needs to know that he can make a difference in the lives of other people. He needs you.

I wish you were still here. I wish you were here to see how much your oldest granddaughter has overcome this year. I wish that you knew how hard this year has been for her, and how proud I am of her for fighting to stay here. She needs you right now. She needs to know that there are people in her life who don't need questions answered before they love you. She needs to know that there aren't hesitations or reservations, that there are always people who will be there to hold you up. She needs to know that she is loved for who she is, not for who anyone else wants her to be. She needs to be accepted without labels or definitions. She needs you.

I wish you were still here. I wish you were here to watch my middle one transform this year. She was always the one you gravitated towards, the one that gravitated towards you. Your death was the hardest on her, I think, and I think it still is. She asks about you more than the rest. She's nearly as tall as I am these days, not that it's saying much. She joined the track team and ran hurdles this year. She kicked them a few times, crashing and burning on the ground, but she'd get up and hobble to the finish line. Then she'd get up and do it again. She runs them because you did. She shaved quite a bit of time off her triathlon pace this year, and somehow convinced the rest to join her next time. Oh, and she volunteered to play tuba in the band. It's nearly as big as she is. She needs you in the stands, in the audience, on the sidelines. She needs someone to wipe her tears and tell her she can do it. You were always my biggest cheerleader, and she could use you now. She needs you.

I wish you were still here. I wish you were here, sitting in the dinner theater this week when the curtain opens on the first night of the rest of your grandson's life. He was scared to show up to that first audition, afraid he wouldn't be able to read the lines, unsure of what to expect. And he nailed it. This kid, the one who was just a baby when you left, he's amazing. He struggles with so much stuff in this world, but you'd never know it. He's happy, he's mellow, he's giving, he's stubborn and determined to do the things he loves even when it is hard. He makes me so proud, and I can just imagine how proud of him you'd be. He needs to know that there is a place in the world for people who don't fit into the boxes others try and shove him into. He needs to know that it's okay to be different. He needs to know that his passion is important. He needs you.

I wish you were still here. I wish you'd had a chance to meet our last, the one we named after you. I wish that you could see how much better we are at this whole parenting thing this time around. I wish you knew how much he helped me heal, how complete we are with him here. I wish that you could see how much his siblings adore him, and how much he loves them all. I wish that he could grow up in a world where you existed, in a life that included you. I wish that you weren't just stories and pictures in books and on walls. I wish he could crawl up into your lap and insist he isn't tired as he nods off to sleep. He doesn't even know that he needs you, but he does.

It is hard for me to fight off the envy this time of year. I see so many people my age talking about losing their grandparents. Most of them still have at least one parent. The envy is ugly, and I try to push it away. Really, I do. It hurts.

And it's not fair. None of it is fair. I shouldn't have to be here without you. My kids shouldn't have to grow up without you. They shouldn't have to face their upcoming milestones without you here.

It's not fair.

Then again, you were the one who drilled this truth into my brain: life's not fair, and then you die.

And it's true. I just wish it wasn't.

My kids, they need you. I need you.

This year has been a hard one for me. Harder than anyone really understands. There are so many times I have wished you were here to talk to. You could be harsh and abrasive at times, but you always seemed to know when I needed reassured that everything would be okay. No matter what happened, I could always come home. I could always call. You would always help. I've needed that a lot lately, and living in a world without you here sucks.

My kids, they need you. I need you.

The closest they come these days to you is us. I hear your voice in my husband sometimes...especially when he walks through the house turning off all the lights, again. Or when he's teasing the older ones. Or when he talks a big game like a tough guy, then sends me text messages telling me that he's fallen in love with the school the oldest wants to attend.

I hear you in my words, when I'm telling the kids to "do it right or you'll do it twice". When I tell them to make good choices as I send them off into the world for the day. When I quietly tell the oldest one to ignore what everyone else says, that I believe in him. That I always have.

You always come up whenever there are strawberries in the house. You were with me last night when I brought home a fresh tree even though I swore we weren't getting one this year. You told me to get the good one even though it was a little bit more, because even if I hate Christmas sometimes, smelling a fresh tree instantly transports me to a world where I am a little girl again working the tree lot with you, watching you help dreams come true for other families.

I got the tree, Dad.

It's a hell of a tree.

I love you, Dad. I miss you a whole bunch, especially right now.

Happy birthday.

Love,
Kelly

Friday, November 3, 2017

A story about a boy who became a young man, then learned to fly.

Dear Oldest,

I asked you yesterday if you wanted me to write something in honor of the fact that we are hosting your Eagle Scout Court of Honor tomorrow. You said you thought maybe I'd written something, or at least included it in some of the other things I've written, but as it turns out, I haven't said that much about it.

It was long enough ago that you've
changed significantly since this picture
was taken at your Board of Review.

You've been technically done with it now for several months, having your Board of Review so long ago I couldn't even tell you which month it was when it actually happened. We just hadn't gotten around to this formal part because, well, we live in a house with seven busy people. Drumline ate up most of your time in the spring, then it was summer and you wanted to wait until school started because you wanted to be able to invite more of your friends.

As is often the case in our house, we had to just pick a date and start planning. You know as well as I do, we'd be busy doing 17 other things tomorrow if we hadn't just decided to go ahead and send out invitations.

Your dad started working on a slideshow of pictures a few weeks ago. I haven't watched it because I can't. I mean, I will when there are people here obviously, and I'll do the best I can not to cry in front of everyone, but I will probably fail miserably.

You know this about me, though.

Your dad was a Boy Scout. He made it to the rank of Life, the one just below Eagle, before general adolescence and after school jobs and I came along as distractions. I've always said that I tried to get him to finish it, and I think he'd even agree, but it just didn't work out that way.

Before we even had children, we had the conversation about scouting. I'd never been involved, except for one Girl Scouts meeting my parents forced me to attend. They were sewing tiny little pillows. I turned around, walked out the door, never wanting to go back. My brother wasn't a scout. I didn't really know what all was involved, aside from what I saw while dating your dad. We debated whether we'd want our kids to join, especially after the controversies that the organization faced back then.

He was torn. I was sure I didn't want anything to do with the organization.

Then you came along.

As you got nearer and nearer to the age Cub Scouts starts, he grew restless. He was still conflicted, but found himself weighing all the things he had learned and experienced, all the friends he had made. You've heard his stories about the epic 50 mile backpacking trips, especially the one about the bear, more times than you can count. He loved being a Boy Scout.

The compromise was a simple one. I'd agree that you could join, but he had to be involved in leadership. He hesitated, but only for a moment. He wanted it for you that badly.

Little did I know that a decision made purely out of the fondness for his memories would lead us here, over ten years later.

They say that only 4% of kids who join scouting complete the Eagle rank. Out of your original Cub Scout Den, you're the only one who stuck it out until the end. Over those years, you were met with many decisions about what you wanted to do, which way you wanted to go. I think you were about 12 or 13 when you first mentioned that you wanted to finish it. I don't know that you realized just how much work was involved, but you set the goal.

To get there, you had to forgo other things, and some of those things are the things you love the very most in this world. Top of that list? You took a year off of winter drumline to finish up your last few badges and complete your project.

I know that it was probably the hardest decision you've made in your life so far. I know adults who would never be able to give up something they love that much, even if it was only for a year, so that they could complete a goal.

You begrudgingly chose to focus on Scouts, because you knew that the older you became, the harder it would be to finish. Can you imagine trying to get any of it done this year, with the class schedule you have right now? Your dad nudged you in this direction, urged you to learn from his time in Scouting, hoping that you'd make the choice, but left it to you.

We laid that decision at your feet and walked away.

And you did it.

I know how hard it was, seeing your friends go on to Worlds without you. You know what, though? They understood, which is why so many of them will be here to celebrate with you. The drums waited. And you're back now, leading the bass line, going to Worlds this year.

I've always been the peripheral parent to Scouting. Dad has always been the one more involved. I've been just far enough away to watch you grow and mature through the years, in part because of your journey in scouts. You've gone camping in the mountains in the winter. You've gone canoeing and fishing and shooting. You've designed a project to benefit the hospital you've been volunteering at for years. You've developed the discipline it takes to make hard choices, to see the benefit of long term goals. You've learned to write letters to elected officials and draft personal statements. You've put together presentations. You've become a leader for your troop, for your little brother's den.

You've grown up, matured, changed for the better.

You aren't the little boy who started on this path. You're a young man now, and I'm so proud of who you have already become and who you will someday be.

Spending time this week in preparation for this event, I got to really thinking about the Scout Law, and about how much you exemplify the ideals.

Trustworthy. You are honest, even when telling the truth is difficult.

Loyal. You might tease your friends and your siblings constantly, but you'll protect them to the ends of the Earth.

Friendly. You are a social butterfly, finding connections with people in so many different facets of life.

Courteous. You are well mannered and respectful, you understand the importance of gratitude.

Kind. You love big. You always have. It's just who you are. You are a natural caregiver.

Obedient. I've told you on numerous occasions that you broke me in gently as a parent, and I mean it. You have never had a behavior issue that couldn't be fixed by a snack and a nap.

Cheerful. You're an optimist, always seeing the best in people. Even living with me. (ha)

Thrifty. You are diligent about saving towards things you want, and those things are always, always, always instruments.

Brave. You take on new challenges, jumping in with both feet. You aren't afraid to fail, and even if you do, you dust yourself off and learn so that you can do it better next time.

Clean. Literally and figuratively, you're a good kid.

Reverent. Though we aren't a religious family, I've told you from the time you were young that spirituality isn't something tied to a book or a building. It's more than that. It's faith in something bigger than yourself. For you, it's the outdoors, but even more than that, it's music. That's where your center is, where you always go when you need to sort things out. I can always tell when you're working out something in your head, because you end up at the piano playing Mad, Mad World. 

I'm proud of you, sweetie.

I hope that you enjoy your day tomorrow, and I hope that everything you sacrificed to get here was worth it in the end. I love you.

Spread your wings and fly, Eagle.

Love,
Mom

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