Just Remember – Kelly

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The telemarketer calling you tonight was just diagnosed with breast cancer. 

The slow driver in front of you just got a call that her son died in Iraq.

The man at the checkout line in front of you making conversation with the checker just lost his spouse of 50 years and just needs a friend. 

The girl at the drive-thru window just found out she’s pregnant and has no idea what to do; she’s only 16. 

The dad making excessively cheerful conversation with you at the gas station just had his house foreclosed and he can’t find a job.  

The administrator on the phone attempting to be a sounding board and provide explanation, and failing miserably at it, is navigating a life she never imagined.  

There is no need to be purposefully rude or nasty to others.  

Be kind.

Be ESPECIALLY kind when you want to be rude, impatient or snide, or mean.

 

especially then…please, be kind.  

 

Attachment – Brad

Attachment is the Root of All Suffering

I attended my second support group meeting this week.  It was the third for Kelly – she found The Compassionate Friends after we read a book on grieving that was based on interviews with people who were a part of the organization.

It’s been over 9 months since the fire, and Christmas is just a few days away.  The silence in the house is horrible.  But silence has been painful ever since that day.  It used to be something to savor, an opportunity to reflect, analyze, plan, create.  Now it is a vacuum into which memories flood, and with them the inevitable feeling of helplessness and lack of purpose.  Who am I now?  Why am I here?  What comes next?

When I was in college, I took a class in Buddhism.  I was looking for a set of rules for personal action that equated to “God’s Will” but derived from logic.  After many years in Catholic school, I had found that a set of rules like the Ten Commandments seemed necessary and logical, but as rules applied to behavior they could be torn apart by an endless series of “What If” questions.  I wanted something that didn’t require exceptions.  What I learned from the class was valuable, but not in the way that I expected.

We have all heard variations of the teaching that attachment is the root of all suffering.  Money can’t buy happiness, for example.  It is the want of something that creates the potential for the pain of deprivation or separation.  If you want for nothing, then you cannot be deprived of anything.  If you do not need food, then you can never suffer hunger.  If you’ll pardon my extreme simplification, the ultimate goal of Buddhism is to eliminate all attachments, freeing one from this plane of consciousness so that you may achieve Nirvana (a one-ness with all things).

I had always viewed this teaching in terms of material things, and in a small way I adopted the philosophy successfully.  I recognized loss as a pain that I created for myself, based on my attachment to the item or goal.  I could dwell on the loss of an item that I coveted, or I could let go of my attachment, and with the attachment went the suffering.  I tried to teach a simple version of this to my children.  “Only you get to decide if you are happy or sad.  No one controls you except you.  You can’t control what happens to you, but you can always control your response.”  Those words are haunting me now.

The strongest attachments that we create are to other people, and the greatest of these is to our children.  My children were my limbs, they were a part of my body.  So strong was my attachment that I can describe them as not being separate and distinct, but as a part of me.

Whenever a parent tells a child, “One day, when you have children of your own, you’ll know,” we hint at a truth.  There is a difference between understanding and knowing.  I can understand something without experiencing it, but I cannot know it.   If you’re reading this as a parent, you know the attachment, the bond that I am describing.  If you do not have children, you may be able to understand through analogies, but you can’t know.  I mean no disrespect in saying this.  There are simply veils through which we can see only shadows, but until we have passed through, we cannot perceive the truth on the other side.  The bond a parent has that would truly allow them to sacrifice their life for the sake of their child is a truth that lies on the other side of the veil of parenthood.  And the horrific pain of the loss of a child is a truth that is beyond yet another veil.

So when I say that losing my three children was as though my limbs had been ripped from my body, I am trying to provide some understanding to people who have not even passed through the first veil, who have not experienced a bond with a child of their own.  For those who have children, I still cannot grant you knowledge of this place that I find myself, but I would use different words to help you understand.  The only people who know where I am are those who have also passed through the veil by losing a child of their own.  We are survivors of a calamity that has ripped us limb from limb.  There are those still bleeding, and those whose injury has turned into a painful scar.  We are all seeking a survivor who regained their ability to function fully, to give us hope that we can someday do the same, but we look in vain.  I see those who have learned accommodation, like brushing your teeth with your left hand after your right has been lost.  I see some with prosthetics.  But no one regenerates after a loss of this type.  You can only accommodate.

I am writing this because I wish to help those who, like me, have been torn apart by the loss of a child.  I also want to help those of you who wish to understand, possibly because someone you love has passed through that veil and you are frustrated in your attempts to know what they are experiencing and therefore, to provide them comfort.  I have been fortunate to have so many reach out to me, clearly wishing to ease my pain.  But without understanding the nature of my injury, some have worsened the pain unintentionally.  I love them despite this, but the pain is still real.

It is true that without attachment, there could be no suffering.  But would you wish to be born without legs if you knew that sometime in the future you would be deprived of them?  The strategy of letting go, as I did with material things, is beyond me in this case.  And knowing the love I had with my three beautiful children, I would not want to stay ignorant, never passing through the veil of parenthood for fear that I would eventually be deprived of that love.  How then, can I cope?

To continue under these circumstances, one needs to understand and feel their purpose.  My purpose was my children, and without them I am forced to recognize a new purpose, or to cease living.  Those who believe in God and can find a sense of purpose in their faith do not need my guidance.  Their mantra of, “God never gives us more than we can handle,” is evidence of their sense of purpose.  But I would submit that if this were true, suicide would not be the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.  Perhaps the state of mind necessary to attempt suicide is similar to the state of mind after the loss of a child in that it is beyond a veil, and the best we can do is understand without knowing.  I believe the thought of suicide occurs to everyone who has lost a child, as it did to me.  But I never passed through the veil to the point of believing that I should end my life, and so therefore I cannot know what lies beyond that veil.  Still, I can see the shadows through the veil, and perhaps I can understand.  And I can describe the signposts and the handholds that allowed me to stay safely on this side.

So I say to you, “You have a purpose.”  That purpose is not dependent on the will of an unknown deity.  I believe that it is possible to have an entire system of thought that is functional, even elegant, but pointed at the wrong target.  Buddhism, Christianity, and other systems of thought have great merit, but my purpose is not to deprive myself of attachment so that I will cease to exist in this plane, nor is it to suffer through this existence in order to receive relief upon my death.  I am here to affect this world, doing what I can, where I am, with what I have.  I am destined to write this message, and you are destined to read it.  My purpose is to share what I know, and to facilitate growth in myself and in you.

Loving Someone Through Loss – Kelly

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Jaime, a good friend of mine, came over a while ago before it started to rain everyday and the gray set in.  You know, the kind of rain that permeates everything you’re wearing and drips down deep, to your bones.

It was nice to get out with a friend and just be.  Inevitably, the topic came up.  It always does…it forces us to recognize its presence.  It refuses to be ignored, like a gargoyle just perched on my shoulder, cold, hard and frozen; beckoning to be acknowledged. It’s not enough just to be seen.

“So…how is he?  How are you?”  That’s all that needs to be said, of course.  It requires no explanation.

We talked.  I shared, she listened.  She talked, I listened.  She gave me love.  She asked questions.

She asked me a great question:  What sort of things are you two doing that would help you two find some happiness?

The answer came quickly, but I took time to think about it, to make sure I wasn’t being hasty.

My answer was, nothing.

I wanted to have a better answer…to at least say we’ve tried and failed or that maybe we actually had found something for him, for me, but it’s all been temporary.  Nothing truly satiates it…it’s similar to the ulcer I had once.  I kept thinking I was hungry but everything I tried to quell the pain just didn’t work…or made it worse.

Her question has been tumbling around my mind since she asked.

Neither one of us is able to find something that would find that missing ray of sunshine. It’s because nothing can fill or replace this void and type of loss.  It’s not that we aren’t finding ways to see the good things in life, it’s that this gaping hole just wont ever be filled.  

How do you replace the love and light of your children when they die?  Think of your kids and ask yourself how and what you’d replace them with…and have it equal the same amount of joy they bring you now.   

It’s not that we haven’t tried.  It’s not that we haven’t laughed or celebrated either.  It’s that the world is frozen in time, muted by loss blanketing around our feet like snow…and we’re left holding bits and pieces of a life once lived, ashes in hand, staring at each other.

Everything takes an insurmountable amount of energy and leaves us restless, tired, heavy and our fuse for activities are limited.  But the pisser of it all is our fuse for doing nothing is just as limited.  It’s like purgatory.

At least right now.

You know that feeling you get when you look at your husband/wife/spouse/person and you see they’re hurting?  You can feel their sorrow and, and you wanna “fix” it?  And, the best part is that sometimes…YOU CAN!!??  What a great feeling, right?  You can cheer them up with love, light, laughter…and before you know it…it’s a new day.

I envy that ability.  I miss that feeling.  I want to be able to do that for my husband.  

Instead, I do what I can.  I can walk along side him.  I can be here for the journey so he knows he’s not alone.  I can stare at Sams empty room with him and let the pain wash over.  I can organize all Maddy’s things in the pantry and decorate the house with memories of her.  I can be with him in the excruciating silence and stillness of the evening and hold his hand when Ben’s friends come over to say hello.

I can’t make the rain go away.  I wish I could stop the downpour.

Instead, I’ll just bring my umbrella.

Memory – Brad

We are memory.

This is the thought that recurs. The essence of us. What others might call our soul.

I don’t believe in the soul. But I believe in memory. And I trust in physics.

To make the point, I would ask, “Who are you without your memories?” Even our genetic blueprint is a type of memory that can be passed down from one generation to the next. But it is the memories that we can summon, consciously or unconsciously, that make us who we are, or at least who we believe ourselves to be.

And this is how we progress beyond our physical limits. In the memory of others, we become a part of them, and our death is not our end.

Our monuments, our written works, and now our everyday actions that are captured in the infosphere are the memory of humanity. Its soul. What defines us as a community, as a culture, as a species. Those memories that can be consciously or unconsciously summoned. These written words are like a fresh thought, one that may be fleeting. It takes effort to make a thought into a memory. Repetition.

I remember.

I remember you, smiling, laughing, dancing! I remember the joy and the sorrow we shared. I remember your talent, your love, your excitement, your caution. I remember your touch. My love for you is my most important memory. It, above all else, defines me.

I cannot go back. Memory is formed by a physical process that comes part and parcel with our perception of time. I do not wish to go back in time, because to do so would be to unmake my memories. I only wish I could have made more memories with you, have learned more from you, become more with you.

Why do we remember? Because it makes us better able to grow. Better able to harness the potential around us. It makes us more successful in this universe. It is our survival strategy as a species. But it is not unique to us. It is how we define that which is alive.

If I wish not to remember, then I wish not to survive, not to be human. You live on in me, and in everyone who remembers you. I wish to give you what life I can, and so I remember and I share with others. This is how I ease the pain of your absence.

I know my purpose, our purpose. It is revealed in our capabilities. Our purpose does not, cannot exceed our capability. We are not here to be tested and fail. We cannot fail. Our purpose is revealed through our functioning. It is not a mystery to be kept from us.

My purpose is to remember, and in remembering, to grow. I remember you.2012-june-kids-072

Dear Ben, On Your 13th Year – Kelly

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I look at this photo a lot.  You were 11 when it was taken.  

I love this photo because you are talking to your dad.  I hate this photo because it depicts the reality that we never got to meet. 

When I met your dad and heard he had kids, admittedly, I was nervous.  A long time ago I went through a relationship that ended with someone who has kids.  That person had a daughter; her name was Maddy (weird, right?).  When it ended it was terrible on my heart and soul.  I didn’t want to experience that kind of loss again and didn’t want to have anyone try to explain the end of relationship to you guys like we had to do for Maddy.  

Between you and me, I told myself, “hey, don’t eff this up, these kids are important people.” 

Sweet Ben, I never met you and oh my god how I miss you.  

Do you know how important you are?  

You made such an impact on the lives of so many people and you were only TWELVE when you left us.  The amount of love, kindness and compassion I’ve felt JUST BECAUSE OF YOU, takes a lifetime for most people to understand and express.  

Do you know that?  

Ben.  

Sweet Ben, your dad hurts and aches for you in a way I cannot describe.  He talked about you so much when we first met.  He longed for your relationship and was heartbroken you stopped talking to him.  We talked about when and how you’d come around and what that would be like.  

Between you and me, I thought I could help build a bridge. I never wanted to get in the way of your parents, your siblings, or anything…I just had this feeling you and I would have been able to “get” each other.  

Do you know what this feels like?  I have no analogy because it’s not analogous to anything.  

You and your dad weren’t talking, and then you died.  

There is no hope anymore.  You aren’t coming back and you can’t talk to him.  Ever.  

He tells me stories about you, you know.  He tells me over and over again.  It literally takes my breath away and squeezes my throat knowing you two don’t get to make anymore memories together.  

Your dad is on a merry-go-round of memories and he can’t get off of it.  

I can find nothing worthy of honoring you and your greatness because your greatness exceeds this earthly place.  Anything I’ve tried to plan to celebrate you this September 10th will do nothing but dump salt in a gaping hemorrhaging wound I’m trying to keep clean and void of infection; let your dad do the healing on his own.  

He’s the only one who can…

We should be planning a birthday party for you.  We should be buying gifts and talking trash to each other about the hawks & broncos.  

Thirteen.  

My god you would have been thirteen. 

So PROUD your dad is of you.  So. Proud.  

Your dad showed me where you were born.  He told me about when you were born and what it felt like for him, to have a child; to have a son.  

Ben my god I wish you were here.  I wish we got to know each other.  We would have had so much fun; I promise.  I have fun with your cousins now, in case you didn’t know.  They’re so awesome and they miss you so much too.  

My birthday wish for you on this thirteenth year, is that others will practice the kind of love and kindness toward the world that you practiced everyday of your life.  

This year, I hope your Big Ben Bear spirit shines through on the field at the game on Saturday.  

Your dad is coaching now, you know.  

Happy Birthday, Ben.  We love you.  We miss you.  We’re so proud of you.  

Love, 

Kelly

 

 

 

 

Graduation message – Brad

To the students of Washington Elementary, Edison Elementary, Centennial Elementary, and Evergreen Christian School:

You are forever a part of me. You are important.  You have the power to change the world.

I am a very proud father. Ben, Maddy and Sam filled me with joy.  You may think that it is because they got good grades or were really good at sports, and you would be partially correct.  I am proud of them for that.  But I am most proud of them for the way they loved and took care of each other, and the way they made friends and treated everyone with kindness and respect.  I miss them, and I know that you, their friends, miss them too.

You are growing, changing every day. We grow our entire lives, but we grow fastest when we are young.  When we lose someone close to us, it is like getting hurt.  When you get hurt, you can sometimes heal and become stronger than you were before.  You are better at this than adults.  You heal faster, become stronger. But you are changed.  You are a different person after losing someone close to you.  Life can’t go back to the way it was, so you have to look forward and work on becoming stronger than you were before.

Ben, Maddy and Sam live on in me. They are a part of me.  Without them, I would be a very different person.  I am a better person because they are a part of me.  I hope that you, their friends and classmates, feel the same.

You each have incredible power, a kind of super-power, although you may not realize it. Every day, you change the world, sometimes in small ways, sometimes in big ways.  When you learn what is important in life, then you can use that superpower to make the world a better place.  No one can simply tell you what is important in life – you have to invite that knowledge in.  To help you understand what I believe is important, I will share two of Mr. Browne’s precepts from the book “Wonder” that Maddy shared with me.

First, if you have the choice between being right and being kind, choose to be kind.

Second, your deeds are your monuments.

Thank you all for being a part of Ben, Maddy, and Sam’s lives and for making them part of yours. Choose to be kind, and create monuments to them, to yourself and your family by doing good deeds.

With love,

Brad Tower

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This Fathers Day – Kelly

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This Sunday, June 19, 2016, is Fathers Day.

I am.  I’m paralyzed by this day.  I’m not looking forward to it.

We’ve been told the first year is the worst.  It’s no joke.  I keep holding my breath praying to my dog that Sunday won’t come.

How the hell do we do this?  How do I celebrate Fathers Day with Brad, celebrate what an amazing father he is, and not completely annihilate him?  I certainly can’t NOT do anything.

If you know Brad, you know his kids are his world.  They are his everything.

I have no poetic movement in my writing tonight because you know what I’m doing folks? I’m freaking out and I’m staring at this.
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This is a trunk he got from an ex-girlfriend.  It’s a lovely trunk.  Shortly after the fire, Brad said he wanted to clean it up and make it his memory trunk for the kids.  This weekend, while we were tidying the office, trying to get things organized, we decided to do the trunk clean up.

So…Brads been collecting things, here and there, and placing them next to the trunk.

  • A fishing pole the kids made out of a stick and rope
  • An Oly Bears sign Maddy made for Ben
  • A note from Sam on Fathers Day (yes, really)
  • Arts & crafts projects
  • Handmade books
  • Random notes from Maddy about friends
  • A few of Bens things (before he stopped talking to Brad)

All the shit most parents throw away.  Brad has every goddamn thing.

He’s also has been collecting the other things.  All the things you gave him.

  • Letters expressing your love and pain
  • Cards written to the kids
  • Pictures & mementos
  • Engraved stones
  • Frames
  • Photo books
  • Drawings from your children to the kids
  • Stuffed animals

I’m thankful he kept so many little pieces of handmade love from the kids.  This trunk is going to be full.  Full of so much love and memories.

And loss.  And could haves.  And hope.

So this year it seems, we will be celebrating Fathers Day by learning how to let go and hold on.  I can’t breathe half the time because I’m holding on so tight I can’t let go of anything in order to make room for all the good coming our way.

So this year…it seems…I ask you for help on this Fathers Day. 

This year, remember how lucky you are to have kids that jump on you to wake you up early on Sunday and make you scorched toast and horrid coffee…know there are some people very close to you who would give anything to have the Sunday you get this weekend.

This Sunday

  • put your phone down
  • turn off the tv
  • get on the floor
  • play on the swings
  • swim with your kids
  • read aloud to each other in goofy voices
  • build a fort in the family room and camp out together
  • get up early and make breakfast with your kids
  • go on a bike ride

This year, I ask you to help give Brad his Fathers Day gift by being present with your family this Sunday.  Maybe send a pic our way or post one and let us know you’re celebrating your family and taking in every moment you have with them.

This Fathers Day I ask you to #MarchForth as connected families in love, despite  your separations, difficulties and differences.

This is the only gift I want to give him this year…

Please repost and share if you’re comfortable.  

Thank you for your support everyone.

Emotional kidney stone – Brad

People say they can’t imagine what I’m going through, and I say, “Don’t try, it’s not worth it.”  But if you really want to know, I feel like it’s the emotional equivalent of my kidney stone.  That was the worst lasting physical pain I had ever felt.  I had injured myself before, causing pain that was as intense, but those injuries seemed to fade quickly and the pain diminished steadily with time.  The kidney stone was the first experience where I had no expectation of relief with the passage of time.  In fact, the pain seemed to grow with every moment, until I was watching the second hand on the clock and challenging myself to make it another 60 seconds.  In the end, I threw up and passed out from the pain.  I am afraid to find out what the emotional equivalent of that ending may be.

The pain is both local and diffuse.  It is in a place that I can identify, but cannot reach.  It cannot be massaged to give any sort of relief.  It drains the entire body of energy, and it is felt radiating in the extremities.  And while it saps my strength, it simultaneously compels me to move.  Not that the motion provides any relief, except perhaps as a distraction, a way to mark time, hoping that the peak is near and that the pain will begin to subside.  But to sit still is impossible – the body HAS to move, just as you can’t rest your hand on a hot stove.  But the source of the pain follows wherever you go.  The best you can do is distract yourself for a period of time, and that takes energy.

Waking, getting to sleep, long drives, running – these experiences, which require mental quiescence, are the most challenging times.  They used to be my most productive, creative times.  Now the pain prevents any real focus.

From the Other Side of the Sun – Brad

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I ran up to the tramway entrance; a 2,000 elevation gain.

I ran this course nearly six months ago, on the winter solstice.  Looking back on the intervening days is like looking down the mountain trail, marveling at the difference in viewpoint.  But the experience of this day’s hike is such a stark contrast to my last journey to this overlook.

In December, the sun was my friend.  I welcomed its ascent, as it brought warmth and hope to my day.  Now I race against it, knowing that it poses a threat.  The luxurious feel of unrestricted time is gone, both in the immediate and in the ultimate sense.  To walk as I did then, thinking of my children and of the future, having hope that my actions may save my family, isn’t possible now.  I knew then that my life was not the most important thing, that my children would go forth and make the world an amazing place and that I could rest in the knowledge that my love for them would be carried on.  Only from this vantage point can I see how privileged I was that day, despite the fact that on that day, I felt I was at a low point.  Not without hope – possibly a turnaround point – but a low point nonetheless.

Now they live within me, and I see threats to me as threats to them.  Their image on my skin, their memory in my heart that guides my actions – the heat of the day and the treacherous terrain are hazards not just to me, but to those whose legacy I carry.

Gravity seems to have a new dimension to it, as though what I experienced in December was merely a flat picture of that force, and now I am walking through the landscape itself.  I am weighed down both physically and psychologically.  My determination to continue up the trail has no joy in it.  It is therapy, and the only thing I dread more than the therapy is the disappointment in myself that would come with failure to soldier on.

I remember the joy of anticipation, the thought that I would get to share this place with them today.  I was once convinced I was a selfish person, but how can that be when every experience is evaluated for its potential to bring joy to others on a return trip?  Even the joy of solo exploration is primarily in discovering treasures that can be shared with my children.  I have to re-learn how to enjoy exploration for its own sake.

It is a beautiful day, but without the spark I felt before.  Like a masterpiece, coated in soot.