Thursday, June 26, 2014

Permission, Thank You and Signing Off

We are almost to the six month mark without my beautiful boy. I don't even know how I've survived this far in a semi-functioning state. If nothing else, the last fifteen years certainly prepared me to get up each day, put one foot in front of the other and keep on keeping on whether I want to or not. I guess I can do hard things, right?

Since Jack died, many people have shared with me their thoughts on where I should go from here, what I can do next and how I can share Jack's journey going forward. I love and appreciate the people who love and care for me. However, I decided early on that for at least the next year I'm giving myself permission to not have a plan. Permission to not try and make sense of this journey, of Jack's life or of Jack's death. I'm giving myself permission to grieve and be sad and unfocused and angry. You have to know that there is no one who places more demands on or who has higher expectations for me than me. But I'm cutting myself some slack because I just can't make sense of it all right now and I can't pretend everything is okay.

I started this blog almost eight years ago with the intention of keeping family and friends updated on Jack's spinal fusion surgery. After surgery, I continued to write and share Jack's journey and inevitably, my journey as Jack's mom.  Based on the connections I made through Jack's blog and the feedback from those who followed Jack's journey, I felt that I had something to offer. My experience as a seasoned parent of a child with complex medical needs helped some people. I appreciate that Jack and the Internet gave me that opportunity. I appreciate that people came to know and love Jack through this blog. But, Jack's journey is over. This blog was never about - or was never intended to be about, me. What made Jack's journey unique was Jack. I can assure you that there is nothing unique about my "journey" without Jack. One thing that has been made abundantly clear to me is that grief is universal, it's predictable and it's by the book. If you want to know how I'm doing, you can pick up any book on grief after the death of a loved one and you will know how I'm doing. I'm not unique. I'm by the book.

What I have learned over the last almost six months is that there is a threshold for how much of my story and my grief most people can bear to hear. I get it, I honestly do. I'm living the life that is every parent's worst nightmare. My child died. It's something many of my friends have contemplated, faced, and feared. I make it too real. I get it.

Which brings me to this: I'm giving myself permission to close out my writing on this blog. I really feel like there is nothing more I have to share. I miss Jack, I ache for Jack and I cry for Jack every single day. There are only so many ways I can say this. It will never change. I suppose that over time, my aching and crying may ebb, but my missing and grieving the loss of Jack will never end. I will never be the same person I was before Jack died. The grief of losing a child is inexplicably different than the grief that comes with being the parent of a child with special/health care needs.

I belong to a different club now. I went by the cemetery this evening on the way home from work. As I was sitting at Jack's grave, a woman came up to me and asked about Jack because she had noticed that he was young. I knew of her because I heard that she sits at her daughter's grave for hours every single day. I learned that her daughter was killed over two years ago in a car accident at the age of 20. I learned that her daughter attended the same high school as Hilary and Mary and was there the same time my girls were. I learned that years two and three post-death are harder than year one. I immediately connected with this woman and we talked for close to an hour because we belong to the same club. We are the mothers of children who died too soon.

I'm not going to stop writing, but moving forward, I will write privately and make decisions as time goes on as to what I want to do with what I've written over the last eight years and what I have yet to write. For those who are on Facebook, I will continue to share pictures and updates of our life without Jack. I'm not checking out - I'm just opting to be more private. I know I have in real life friends who aren't on Facebook and who follow this blog. For you, please feel free to email or call me anytime. I'm happy to share updates.

As I sign off, I tender a heartfelt "Thank You" to everyone who has followed Jack's journey. Your care, concern, support and love have unquestionably carried me through the most difficult times of my life. I love you and I appreciate you.

For the remainder of my days on this earth, I will miss my Jack, I will ache for my Jack and I will cry for my Jack. But, sustained by his spirit, I will continue to inch ONWARD.

ONWARD, my beautiful and amazing friends, ONWARD.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Victoria, B.C.

We have returned from our wonderful time away in the magnificent city of Victoria, British Columbia.  The best way to share our adventures is with a little photojournalism. So, here you go. 

The first leg of our flight was from Phoenix to Seattle. After a short layover, they lead us out the gate to our plane. Wait. What? I'm not a fan of flying in big planes, so you can imagine my shock (fear) when they guided us to this for our final leg of the journey to Victoria:





But, alas, I survived. I put my headphones on and closed my eyes for the majority of the flight - which was only thirty minutes. We were greeted at the airport in Victoria by the charming, witty and wise Heather McHugh. Heather drove us to our hotel where we were escorted to our 9th floor suite with a balcony view of the harbor and the Olympic Mountains in the distance. Spectacular!


View from our window. If you look closely, you can see the snow-covered tips of the Olympic Mountains through the clouds


We quickly changed and were whisked off to dinner at "the hottest restaurant in Victoria" for fine dining at Cafe Brio.

pictured with one of the owners of Cafe Brio

The next morning, Mark and I got up and walked around the neighborhood and down to the harbor, which was about a mile and a half from the hotel. One of the first things I noticed along our walk was this:



(I've decided that Willow Trees are my "sign" from Jack)

We walked to the end of the pier



and were awed by the view


Around noon, Heather picked us up and drove us around the city, pointing out places of interest and taking us to another fine dining establishment for lunch. 


the lovely Heather McHugh


After lunch Heather dropped us back at the hotel and Mark and I ventured out on our own walking to the inner harbor and downtown Victoria.


We saw a lot of this along our many walks -- hanging flowers. 
Not something you see often in Arizona. So pretty!



the famous Empress Hotel


The Parliament Building. The entire building is lit at night, but it didn't get dark until almost 10 o'clock every night and by then, I was too tired to walk back to the downtown area. 



We didn't fall for this (been there, done that in New York City's Central Park)


the inner harbor



Saturday evening, we met Heather for a night of entertainment at Hermann's Jazz Club. The evening's entertainment was awesome Celtic music by the young and talented "Kierah" and her accompanists. 




Sunday we were on our own. We toured the Royal BC Museum, saw an IMAX movie on Vikings, window shopped and stopped for lunch at a pub along the way.  


Sunday evening, we walked several miles along the shore and found our spot to watch the sunset from. It was colder than cold (for an Arizonan), but we brought coats and blankets along with to keep us warm.

our path along the shore



not sure what it's called that these guys are doing -
para sailing without the boat - completely wind-driven



Call me a dork, but at least I was warm!



sunset looking West



sunset looking East



Monday, Heather took us to the world famous Butchart Gardens. We enjoyed noon tea before our tour.




there's that tree again!









Took a 45-minute cruise through the bay at the Gardens




We finished the day by enjoying another wonderful dinner in the company of the charming and generous Heather. After dinner, Heather dropped us off and we were on our own the rest of the week, as Heather had to be in Portland for a speaking event later in the week. I was doing great and enjoying the time away, knowing that Eric and Hilary were being well looked out for at home. Then, I got this text from Eric on Monday evening



Made me want to cut the trip short and hurry home. A week is a long time for a kid to be without both his parents. But, we talked on the phone and he was okay. 

Tuesday, we rented a car and drove to Goldstream Provincial Park because I wanted to try and get some hiking in. We stopped at the information center and asked about the different hiking trails. One of the hikes was to the top of Mt. Finlayson. I asked how difficult it was and was told that it was rugged and steep. I asked if it was as steep as the Grand Canyon and was told "no". So, I told Mark, "let's go for it". The first three quarters of the hike were a steady climb through beautiful vegetation - "The park is home to 600 year old Douglas Fir trees and western red cedar, mixed with western yew and hemlock, red alder, big leaf maple and black cottonwood." 

We encountered wildlife along the path







The last quarter of the trail went from tall trees to shrubs and rocks. When the park employee said the hike was steep, she didn't mention that it would require scaling rocks. I had to climb the last part of the trail by literally using both hands to pull myself up the side of the mountain. It was scary as hell, but I had made it that far and there was no way I was going to stop so close to the top. Mark didn't attempt the rock scaling part of the climb because he was wearing jeans and there was no way he could climb in them. I was questioning my sanity as I ventured on, but I made it to the top!  

proof I made it to the top


views from the top




I pretty much slid down the mountain on my butt until I got back to where Mark was waiting for me - it was much safer that way. I was a little scraped and bruised, but I can now say that I hiked to the top of a mountain in Canada. Cool!

 back at the start of the trail




After our hike, we drove west up the coast for about 30 miles. I was looking for sandy beaches, but those aren't to be found along the northwest coastline. I'm not a fan of rocky beaches, but the views were spectacular, nonetheless. 

Later that evening, while we still had the car, we drove east from our hotel along the coast.


 random chairs out on the rocks along the shore





Tuesday was a long day and I was exhausted when my head hit the pillow that night.

Our last full day was spent walking around downtown Victoria, taking in the views, doing a little shopping for the kids, checking out a few pubs along the way and, thanks to Caregifted, I enjoyed a one hour massage in the afternoon. 


Thursday we made one last stop at our favorite eating and drinking establishment that was about a mile from our hotel. 


brunch of champions! 



and soaked in one last view of amazing Victoria!



The tears didn't fall as much as I thought they would during our time in Victoria. I suppose it's because it was a new place that didn't hold any memories of Jack. One of the times that I did cry was when we were shopping for souvenirs for the kids and I realized that I didn't need to get a gift for Jack because Jack wouldn't be waiting for me when I got back home. Oh, how I miss my sweet boy. 

Notwithstanding the few moments of sadness, I am forever grateful to Caregifted and Heather McHugh for the week of respite and renewal. It was such a privilege to spend time with Heather and learn more about who she is and what motivated her to start Caregifted. There's still much to be done in the area of respite for caregivers, but Heather has started something that gives attention and momentum to the cause. 

Thank you Heather for your generosity and kind heart.