One Year

When I lay in bed this morning, in the dark quiet before the dawn, the first thing that came into my head was the song, “Seasons of Love.”

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?

It’s been one year today since the awful tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary.  I can still remember the day so vividly, and so many of the days afterwards.  The terror, the fear, the tragedy, right here in my own backyard.

In the past year I’ve become increasingly involved with one of the families affected by that terrible day.  I’ve gotten to to know them and am now working with them on the foundation they’ve set up to raise funds in their child’s memory.  Their spirit and ability to move forward has just astounded me.  Today, this family quietly marks the day in a tropical location far away, away from the sadness and the madness that they hoped wouldn’t happen here.  I’ve seen how this family has been able to find their son in a million tiny moments every single day.  I’ve seen how they’ve been able to truly take this tragedy and create from it a life filled with passion and love and hope for the future of others.  How they’ve surrounded themselves with energy and light instead of darkness.

The bracelets they had made for their foundation, coincidentally, have imprinted on them:  “Measure your life in love.”  As I look back on the last year, I am proud to say that I have taken that oath and brought more love, more laughter, more gratitude into my own life.  I’ve done that by working with this family, working with others, donating my time and energy.  And it has come back to me in so many ways.

Today, five thousand twenty five hundred six hundred minutes later, I am praying for all of those who measured this past year in those excruciating increments as they moved forward from unspeakable tragedy. I am hoping that everyone affected by the awful events that happened one year ago today are able to measure their lives in the love that surrounds them today, and every day. We are here for you, thinking of you, and hold you in our hearts.

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets
In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife
In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, a year in the life?

How about love?
How about love?
How about love?
Measure in love

Seasons of love
Seasons of love

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand journeys to plan
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure the life of a woman or a man?

In truths that she learned
Or in times that he cried
In bridges he burned
Or the way that she died

It’s time now, to sing out
Though the story never ends
Let’s celebrate
Remember a year in the life of friends

Remember the love
(Oh, you got to, you got to remember the love)
Remember the love
(You know that love is a gift from up above)
Remember the love
(Share love, give love, spread love)
Measure in love
(Measure, measure your life in love)

Seasons of love
Seasons of love
(Measure your life, measure your life in love)

The Thousandth Mile

I’ve mentioned before that I live in Monroe, CT.  We here have been deeply affected by the events that took place on 12/14.  I wrote extensively about the charity 5K I put together (with a lot of help!).  One of the groups that benefitted from that race was the Race4Chase organization.  They get involved with various athletic events and encourage runners especially to run to raise money for their foundation, the Chase Kowalski Foundation.  Chase was an avid runner, even at 7.  He had competed in races and triathalons.  His energy and spirit are the rationale behind the cause.

Monroe is one of those places that people don’t leave.  It’s a small town in close enough proximity to NYC that there are plenty of reasons to stay.  Not only is it beautiful here, but there is a true sense of community here.  The people here are so nice; nicer than pretty much anywhere I’ve lived, and that includes my own hometown in Michigan.  Chase’s parents grew up here in Monroe, and didn’t go far.  They live next door in the Sandy Hook area of Newtown.  A lot of their friends from high school also live nearby, including one named Kevin Bresnahan.

Kevin is a runner, and not long after last December’s tragedy, he had the brainstorm to run a 1,000 miles this year in honor of Chase.  He’d heard that Chase had loved running and races, so he thought it was the one thing he could do to help.  He asked people to sponsor his miles, at $10 per mile.  His efforts actually helped give focus to the idea that eventually became Race4Chase, running to raise money for the foundation.  He started a blog to journal about each and every mile, and it can be read here:  1000 Miles 4 Chase.

He started last January.  I started reading it back then, and it was amazing to watch the miles, and the money, add up.  Kevin ran our local 5K as part of those miles, and I joined him for another 5K later that month.  He ran, and ran, and ran.  And lo and behold, the miles have added up.  This weekend, he finished.

As he neared the end, Kevin and some of the friends of the Kowalski family hatched an idea to share that last mile of his journey.  He worked with them to plan a route, a meeting place, get a police escort, and a big party for afterwards.  The last mile started at Chalk Hill School, where the Sandy Hook students now go.  It ended at their good friend’s house, just a mile away.  So meaningful.

This weekend was that last mile, and I was one of nearly 100 people who came out to complete that last mile with Kevin.  It was an awe inspiring, amazing time.   It was hot, so much of the route was walked by most of us, and I walked up part of the route with Becky Kowalski.  What an amazing energy and spirit she has.  She was upbeat, and positive, and even joked about how much she hated running, and why couldn’t Chase had loved a different sport that was less taxing?   She was incredible.

At the end, Kevin held Becky’s hand and ran through a finish line in their friend’s yard.  Then they both jumped in the pool to cool off.  And stayed to party with everyone who had come out in support of them.  It was friendship and love and support and faith and strength all together in one thirty minute span of time.

They inspire me.

Six Months Later

It’s six months since Sandy Hook.

Here in Monroe, CT, where the survivors now go to school (and will be going until a new school is built for them), today is a somber day where we all are reliving that awful Friday in our heads, thinking of all of our many personal connections to those who lost so much that day, and reflecting on how much (and how little) the world has changed.

In other parts of the country, Sandy Hook and its awful terror seems to have long since been forgotten.   Or worse, thought of negatively, as perhaps the “Connecticut Effect”, where a real world tragedy brought to light some of the terrible and real cracks in our society’s foundation.  For those who do not want our society to change, Sandy Hook is perhaps a term used negatively.

But not here.  Here it’s a phrase woven with love and sadness and protective fierceness.  I sat in on a discussion last week of how our own schools will be doing construction over the summer to make them safer.  All of the exterior doors will be replaced.  All of the classroom doors will now have two way locks, so they can be locked in the inside as well as the outside.  When I was a teacher, twenty years ago, this never occurred to us (and I taught in the inner city!).  They are reconstructing the entry ways of each school to have “sallyports” or vestibules rather than open access to the building.  In one school, this means moving the school office to a different location, so the staff can have “visual command” of the entry way.  Glass will enclose these sallyports way from the main hallways.  The glass will not shatter with bullets, we were told.  The glass will stay in place, even when it breaks.

All of this will “slow down” an intruder, our superintendent said, not stop them.  Which is why we have had, and will continue to have, police officers stationed at each school as well.

What a horrible new reality we are living in here.  The Connecticut Effect is definitely present here next door to Newtown.   It is inescapable.  It is our every day these days.

Despite all of the awful, there is also wonder and awe at how kindness and love have become more recognized and more present in our world.  Our race two weekends ago brought out the best of our giving and helping community.  Our town is offering the school where Sandy Hook kids attend rent free to Newtown.   Everywhere you turn there are little green signs in storefront windows proclaiming “Love Wins” or “Choose Love” or “Sandy Hook Loves Monroe”.  Many businesses here sell little bracelets, ribbons or shirts to help raise money for the victims and their families.

So here we are, six months out.  Tonight we will leave our porch light on, a beacon of light in the darkness that has been left here for so many.  And perhaps, maybe a promise that the world will not forget what happened just nine miles up the road.  Maybe, just maybe we can still come together and make the world a better place.

Because in the end, I really am hoping that love does win.  It just has to.

Now I Know

Yesterday was an emotional day for me.

What I didn’t mention in my previous post about the race I’m putting together is that it has two components:  a main 5K and a kids’ fun run.  The fun run has always been kind of an afterthought to the race, and almost didn’t even happen last year.

When I heard that one of the Sandy Hook kids was an alumni of our kids’ race, it wasn’t too much of a stretch to think of putting that part of our race on in his honor this year.  Because his parents grew up in our town, they’ve all been part of the race.  In fact, this little boy’s grandfather has worked on the 5K for years as part of our volunteer EMS crew.

Several of my friends know the family, because their kids went to preschool with this little boy here in our town.  I asked one of them to reach out to the family to see if they would be interested in having our kids’ run be in honor of their little boy.

They were.

So for the last few months, I’ve been quietly putting together this part of our run with a group of women who know the family.  One of them is a good friend of mine, the rest I’d never met before.  In a matter of three weeks they’d raised thousands of dollars for the event.  They reached out to local and national business to gain sponsorships, donations, you name it.

I’ve tried to focus on the nuts and bolts of it, because this?  I don’t get to feel sad about this little boy.  He’s not mine, he’s not part of my world.   I didn’t know him, didn’t know the family.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday, I went to a meeting with a member of their foundation that our race will benefit, and this little boy’s mom.  I was nervous.  How would I introduce myself?  Was it appropriate to say how sorry I was?  How much I’ve thought about them, prayed for them, ran for them?

In the end, it was like meeting someone you have always known.  She is friends with my good friend, so the odds were good that we’d end up getting along just fine, and we did.  It was a little awkward at first as she and my girlfriend caught up (they hadn’t seen each other in a few months), but as we all got more friendly, the conversation flowed more easily.  There was a lot of laughter, a few tears, and a naked honesty that I was impressed with and humbled by.  There were stories.  There was determination.
There was even a little gossip.

We spent two hours sharing thoughts and food.  I thanked her for meeting with me and she drove off, in her minivan, moving on and forward.  But I stood there in the parking lot, wanting to burst into tears.  I could feel the weight of what had happened to her, to her child, to this community, just hanging there all around me.  And I felt so wrong for feeling that way:  if she could be so positive and energetic, I certainly had no business wallowing in my emotions.

So I will take that sadness, that frustration that we all felt in those dark days after December 14, and I will use them.  I will use them to make this race, the kids’ run and the main race, as wonderful and as successful as I possibly can.  I will honor this little boy with this race, with this day, with this event, in every way that I can.  It’s the thing I can do.  And I will do it.

Love In Many Forms

My son and his wife of seven days (typing that just seems amazing) are somewhere in Jerusalem right now.  In Israel.  Yes, the one that is seven hours time difference from where they live in Alexandria, VA and where I live in Connecticut. I was pondering that the other day.  For my honeymoon, my husband and I went on a Carnival cruise.  We went to Grand Cayman, Cozumel and New Orleans.  It was the first time I’d been outside of the US save for Canada (because every good Detroiter has gone drinking in Canada).   My son has been now to Spain, to Croatia, and to Israel.  He’s passed through France for connecting flights, twice.  What a different life has than I did.

What a different life he has than I ever imagined for him.

At my son’s wedding last week, after he and I shared our emotional mother/son dance, I walked him back to his new wife and hugged her hard.  Then I went back to sit at my table, with my husband and our two much younger children.  Within a minute, there was my father, red in the face and clearly just as emotional as me.

Maybe more so.

“I remember the day he was born,” he struggled to tell me, tears flowing from the corners of his eyes.   And he was right.  Of the hundred or so people standing in this room with us, there were only three of us who were there the day Zach was born.  My sister, myself and my father.  My brother was in the Navy in basic training at the time, and met him about a month or so after he was born.  Everyone else in the room met him sometime later in his life.

It was hard, at that moment in time, staring at my son and his lovely wife in this gorgeous hotel ballroom, with everyone dressed in their finery, to imagine what those days were like.  My father had literally been there since the moment this boy was born; he’d been my Lamaze coach.  He’d watched this young man come into the world, take his first breaths.  He’d been ultimately supportive after his initial skepticism  regarding my “situation”.  I was 18 and alone when this little baby came into all of our lives, and life could have turned out very, very different than the moment we were all experiencing together.

But what was overwhelming all of us, as my sister had now come to join my father and I, both redfaced in the front of the room together, was my mother’s absence.  “She should have been here,” my father said next, putting his head in his hand.  “She would have been so proud of him.”

Seeing my father cry about my mother is truly a humbling experience for me. While my father has been with his partner since before my parents’ marriage ended, it’s clear to me that he truly did love my mother.  While the demise of their marriage was fraught with difficulty, fighting and anger, eventually everything settled in to the way things were supposed to be.  In fact, I always kind of thought that my pregnancy at 18 and my parents banding together to support me and my child truly was the last step of pulling them back together as a family unit, if not a married one.  And when my mother passed, my father was there to hold her hand along with us kids.  It was my father who helped us eulogize her at her memorial.  They had a clear and deep connection, and it is easy for me to forget that on a day to day basis.  I suppose I deal with my grief often about my mother, but my father likely doesn’t.  So it is in these family moments where it comes roaring to the surface for him, still raw and harsh, even twenty years later.

In some sort of awful way, it made me feel good to see him that affected by her absence.  That while his life is very different now, the affection he had for her was real and true and honest. I held him and told him about the wedding song, and how sure I was that she had a role to play there.  That I was sure she was watching all of us here, this night and smiling from wherever she was, happy to see her beloved first grandchild so successful, so sure of himself, so clearly in love.  “She loved him so much,” I said to my father and my sister, which gave them both a fresh set of tears, but gave me a strength and surety that stopped my own.

Celebrate Life

Well, it’s here.  The big one.

Today my mother has been dead for twenty years.  A perfect, round number.  A really big number.

It’s a long time.  A long time to be without her.  I’ve done this now, twenty times.  Lived this day, twenty times.  Each time Feburary 13 rolls around, I I have mourned for my mother.  Relived that day so long ago.  Remembered each last moment.  The gift and the wonder and the terror or watching someone pass from this life to the next.  I have thought of her and remembered with sadness all I lost when she died.  All she lost when she died.  All that she missed out of her life, how much she never got to do.

Nineteen other times I have woken up, my first thought being of her, and spent the day mired in sadness and memories and what ifs.

This year, it feels different.  Or maybe I want it to feel different.  Perhaps I will it to be different.

I am not sure why.  What has turned inside my heart.  But it feels lighter this year.  I want to spend the day celebrating her, not mourning her.  Thinking of what a wonderful, strong woman she was, how much she persevered through the difficult times of her life.  What a wonderful model she was of a strong willed, determined woman.  How smart, determined and thoughtful she was.

She was a lawyer during a time when women who worked mostly were teachers or nurses.  She was subject to discrimination in her work.  She used to joke about wearing low cut blouses on hearing days with certain judges; she wasn’t above using what she had to get what she needed for her clients.

She was fiercely loyal to those she loved, offering a place to live to anyone who needed it.  We had extra people sleeping on the sofa or in the spare room from time to time, sometimes for months.   My mother didn’t have a lot, but whatever she had, she always shared with whomever she loved.  She was a kind and generous friend.

She was funny, smart, but also knew how to have a good time.  We used to joke that she had a more active social life than I did.  She had great girlfriends, and they loved her just as much as she loved them.

She loved our dog, initially having reservations about getting a rescue animal from the shelter.  In the end, he was her companion and confidante, and wouldn’t leave her body after she passed away at home on the sofa.

While my mother wasn’t a perfect parent, she always was honest and fair, and did her level best in sometimes very difficult times.  She was wonderful at withholding judgement and treating us children with respect and trust.  Even though she was a working mother, and therefore not always available, I never once felt as if she wasn’t 100 % there for me and my champion, always.

I miss her.  I love her.  But I think it is time to put away my heavy heart when I think of her.  She missed much, I missed much, but I also was so lucky.  Lucky to share those last moments with her.  Lucky to say all that I wanted to before she passed.  Lucky to take care of her when she needed me to.  Lucky that she passed onto me her determination and strength.

I know that she would not want me to think of her with sadness in my heart for the rest of my life.  So today, I choose to be happy.  I choose to celebrate her 53 years on this earth rather than gnash my teeth over the twenty she’s been gone.  I will raise my glass to her, smile, and appreciate all that she was and all that she gave to me in her too short life.

Love you, Mom.

A Long Slow Sigh

It’s been twenty years since I celebrated this day with my mother.  Her last birthday.  She turned fifty three that day, and would die five days later.  It’s hard to imagine that, that it has been twenty years.  Twenty years, a lifetime between then and now.  She knew me as a child, even though when she died I was doing very adult things:  I was a single parent taking care of my terminally ill mother.

But now, when I look back on those days, I realize how very young I was.  Twenty years will do that to you, of course.  But still, I just wish somehow that I’d been able to know her as an adult.  The way I know my father now.  The way he comes to me sometimes, seeking advice, counsel, as equals.  My mother and I certainly had much more of that type of relationship than any other 22 year old I knew with their mother, but still.

I was selfish.  I was twenty two.

When I watch my father these days, taking care of his aging mother, worrying about her health and her mind and how to manage the eroding of both, I marvel that I won’t ever have to do that with mine.  She used to joke, of course, that the cigarettes she was insanely addicted to were her way of getting out of the maladies of old age, but it was one of those things that was never really funny.  Because sadly, in the end, it was all too true.

I wonder what my mother would be like, these days, if she had lived.  Would she still be working, at age 73, or not?  Would she approve of the life I’ve built for myself, of the ones my siblings have built for themselves?  What would she look like these days?   Would she be one of those mothers that visited often or not so much?  What would she think of these grandchildren of hers?

Questions I’ll never know the answers to.

I miss her.  When friends of mine lose their parents, as they are starting to, I try to help them with some kind, encouraging words from someone who has been there.  But when they ask if you ever get over it, the answer I always give them is a tough pill to swallow.  You never do.  You never stop being sad about it, feeling that a piece of yourself is missing, wishing that life had not been so cruel.  You learn to live with it, you find eventually that the white hot pain becomes a slow, deep ache that you can almost forget about if you try hard enough.  But it never goes away.  Not ever.

Not even twenty years later.

Happy Birthday, Mom.

%d bloggers like this: