Monday, February 28, 2011

Bitter Sweet

Ever since Austin passed away, it has been bitter-sweet when I visit my hometown. This past week, during the boys' February break, was no different. It's hard to explain how I feel when I'm there. I'm in constant motion, trying to take it all in, connect with as many friends and family as possible, and do the things I never slowed down long enough to do when I lived there. I always look forward to my visits, as there are so many wonderful things I now notice and appreciate, things that I didn't take time to appreciate while living there - the view of the lake... wine tours and Riesling Festival this summer... snow boarding this winter... Wegman's (even though I always enjoyed it, I enjoy it even more)... the open fields... spending time with my family and friends. And all the while I'm enjoying these new experiences, I have "Austin thoughts" popping up...

"Austin would have loved this... I wish Austin could see this... I remember when Austin did... " And so, my time in beautiful Upstate NY is now bitter-sweet...

BITTER, because I never feel there is enough time to see everyone and do everything I would like to. As I'm preparing for my trip, I always think I'm going to have so much time during the week, but the days end up flying by, and before I know it it's time to return back home, back to reality.

SWEET, because the hours are packed full of enjoyable times with so many friends and family. Time that is short, but cherished.

BITTER, because Austin fills my thoughts even more, as everything around reminds me of him and I feel he should be by our side, enjoying the moments with us. As we learned how to snowboard, during this last visit, Austin should have been there laughing at me and excited at how quickly his brothers picked up the sport. When I went out to Eddie O'Brien's the week-end prior to hear a friend (and his brother) play, Austin should have been there, chatting and laughing with all of us.

SWEET, because we are so busy visiting that I don't have a moment to remind my heart how much I miss him. I enjoy the memories and thoughts and time of reminiscing; I enjoy the opportunity to make new memories. I am kept so busy, entertaining the boys, that my thoughts of Austin are intermingled with conversations remembering him and all the things he used to do.

As I return to Massachusetts, the bitter-sweet feelings continue...

BITTER, because as I drive home, I know it will be a while before I have the opportunity to visit everyone again and I will miss everyone I just caught up with (and those I missed). As I leave my hometown, I feel like I'm leaving Austin all over again - even though he wasn't physically there, the memories are still so strong. And reality hits again, reality that he is gone.

SWEET, because it's always good to be back, in my own house and with the friends I do day-to-day life with. It feels good to get back to a schedule and routine (if that's what you call it).

BITTER, because, during the first few days back, the quiet moments are more intense and the thoughts of Austin become even stronger and I ache to see him again.

SWEET, because after the strong aching and cleansing tears, I can feel myself moving forward (although I don't know where forward is taking me), and the healing continue.

Each visit I am reminded, all over again, that life is bitter-sweet...

BITTER - because the bumps, hills and mountains, that come with life, are not always what I had planned, sometimes out of my control, and definately unwelcomed!

SWEET - because, even through tragedy, I continue to experience goodness and happiness. And I know, that even with heartache, life will continue, and life will be good - very good. Most importantly, through tragedy, my eyes are opened to, and I'm reminded of, what's truly important - my family and friends.

"We must live through the dreary winter if we would value spring; and the woods must be cold and silent, before the robins sing. The flowers must be buried in darkness, before they can bud and bloom. And the sweetest, warmest sunshine comes after the storm and gloom." - Anonymous

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Coming to Life

"Just remember in the winter, far beneath the bitter snows, lies the seed that with the sun's love, in the Spring becomes a rose." - "The Rose", by Bette Midler

Soon the temperature will warm, the snow will melt, the nights will get shorter, and the days will get longer. Winter will be replaced by Spring, and plants, that have been dormant, will push their way up, through the snow, and blossom. And so it is with my own "winter", where the sun seems to be shining more often, and I am beginning to experience a time of renewal.

"Into each life some rain must fall." - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

On the 7-month anniversary of Austin's death, I found myself missing Austin more than I had in a long time. The tears poured down, like a rainstorm not wanting to stop. Of course, they did eventually dry up. And, like the way rain washes away snow on warm Spring days, so my tears washed away some of my sadness. And, just like crocuses push through the heavy snow to bring beauty on cold days, a rejuvenated spirit has been pushing through my grief, allowing me to feel joy in a way I haven't experienced, since Austin's death. This is a beautiful reminder that, although at times, there are harsh seasons which we must endure, there is light shining at the other side. And just like the short, cold winter days eventually turn into long, warm Spring ones, our dark moments are eventually replaced with longer and longer rays of sunshine, allowing us to begin to live again.

"However long the night, the dawn will break." - African Proverb

For 7 long months I've tried to enjoy life, the best I could,even while enduring a dark cloud overshadowing my emotions. Then, one day last week, I experienced a feeling that was very foreign to me - it felt like the "old" me, the one before Austin died. There was an excitement for life, one that I had forgotten about, one I thought I'd lost. I was truly enjoying the moment and loving it, while it lasted. But sometimes, that can be a scary feeling, because as I start living life again I wonder, "Does this mean I won't miss Austin? Will I be 'betraying' him by getting back, completely, in the game of life?" Absolutely not! I will always miss Austin, always love him, and always wish he had stayed around a little (no, a lot) longer. In fact, the best way to remember Austin is to live life the way he always did - to enjoy every moment, as much as possible, even when it's not going the way I want it to!

"With time, grief's force will diminish. freedom will return: freedom to be happy; freedom to remember; freedom to live; and freedom to love... and your pain will recede. Your heart will be scarred, but your heart will sing again: not the same song, not a weaker song, just a different song." - Gillian & Darryl Torckler

The feeling of "lightness" didn't last forever, but it has visited me, more and more frequently, throughout the days since. It is a welcoming sign that I am healing and will be enjoying more of these bright moments, in days and weeks to come. Just like Spring, when there are gorgeous, sunny days, followed by snowy, windy or cloudy rainy ones, followed by sunny days, again, I know that my feelings will vary hour-by-hour and day-by-day. And through it all, I will continue to do what I've been doing - take one moment at a time, making the most out of what I'm given, good, bad, or indifferent. And as I weather my personal storm, I know that days with beautiful rainbows are ahead of me, I've already seen a glimpse.

"The soul would have no rainbow had the eyes no tears." - John Vance Cheney

Friday, February 4, 2011

One of Those Memory Triggers

Oops - there it goes again...
But this time it's both an "Everyday" and a "Sneaky" one...

Construction Work...  Considering how construction was Austin's last job, he had excelled in the Electrical Trade program in high school, and he was always doing at least one small electrical job for us, whenever he came to visit - I am never surprised that, when I see a construction crew, a thought of Austin is triggered.

Today's Surprise... Today, I am surprised by the sadness I feel, as I watch workers coming in and out of my house, working on the very small addition we are doing to our downstairs bathroom - basically bumping into the garage to add a large handicap shower. I feel as though Austin should be here walking through the house - laughing and working along side the crew. Afterall, a couple of the outlets they're moving are ones he installed. It's as if any second, I will see his handsome face and charming smile pop out the bathroom door to ask a question. While my mind imagines Austin as "one of the guys" and replays images of him working on those outlets only a year ago, my throat gets tight, tears flow, and I'm reminded how much I miss him... how much I'll always miss him.

"Suddenly here he is again. The chain of suggestion can begin almost anywhere: a phrase heard in a lecture, an unpainted board on a house, a lamp-pole, a stone. From such innocuous things my imagination winds its sure way to my wound. Everything is charged with the potential of a reminder. There's no forgetting." - Lament for a Son, by Nicholas Wolterstorff

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Memory Triggers

"Memory is a child walking along a seashore. You never can tell what small pebble it will pick up and store away among its treasures things." - Pierce Harris, Atlanta Journal

The mind is a funny thing. You can be thinking about one topic and the next minute your mind has brought you somewhere else. It reminds me of the children's book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, which starts off:

If you give a Mouse a cookie, he's going to ask for a glass of milk. When you give him the milk, he'll probably ask you for a straw. When he's finished, he'll ask for a napkin. Then he'll want to look in a mirror, to make sure he doesn't have a milk mustache...

The story continues, with one thing leading the mouse to think of another, and then another. Until, it brings him full circle to wanting a glass of milk and then a cookie. Sometimes, that's how I feel my mind works, especially when it comes to thinking about Austin...

For instance, today I was sorting my bills and tax information, getting ready to pay bills and pull my tax data together. Mixed in with my W-2s were Austin's. As I looked at how much he had earned between January and June, I noticed that he had made the same amount at his part-time job (January-April), as he had at his full-time job (mid-May-June). This got me thinking, "Austin had worked so hard for the past three years, going to school and working, always being tight on money. He was just starting the next phase of his life - having a full-time job, which allowed him to have his own apartment and begin to get ahead with his finances. He was so excited to be on his own. And now, he'll never enjoy what he had worked so hard for..."

Before I knew what was happening, I had "Austin on the Brain" and those darn "sneaky tears" were sneaking down my face. (See previous blog "Who Opened the Dam?") Within a matter of ten minutes, I had moved from thinking about how quickly my bank balance drops when I pay bills to how Austin was missing the next part of his life, never to experience the rewards of his hard labor. Who would have thought such an event (paying bills) would be a trigger for thinking about Austin. Which now leads me to think about "Everyday" triggers and "Sneaky" triggers:

EVERYDAY TRIGGERS: I am rarely (if ever) surprised when these types of events, sights, sounds, and smells trigger a thought of Austin - because they were simply a part of Austin: Snowy days... camp fires... homemade macaroni and cheese... fruits and vegetables... grilled chicken, burgers, hot dogs... dirt bikes and motorcyles... Subarus... Shock Top beer... hikes in the woods... Golden Retrievers or any other big dog... obnoxious customer service that would make Austin shake his head... construction workers... certain songs... These things and Austin go hand-in-hand.

SNEAKY TRIGGERS: I am taken by surprise, may even be stopped in my tracks, when these random types of events, sights, sounds, and smells trigger thoughts of Austin.  I begin at one point, completely unrelated to Austin, and before I know it I'm being led me down a path and then another, ending up with "Austin on the brain": Paying bills... a comment someone makes... a voice that sounds like Austin.... building blocks in the boys' closet... an event that causes a "flash back" to Austin... It's more difficult to think of specifics, because these triggers are so random and unpredictable. They do not directly correlate to Austin's everyday life, but they'll pop up, stir up thoughts, and then disappear just as quickly.

Sometimes these triggers, Everyday or Sneaky, are welcomed and warm the heart immediately. Other times, they are an inconvenience, an uninvited visitor causing unexpected sadness, at an unplanned time. But even then, once the surprise ends, they are welcomed and make me smile - remembering Austin.

"Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose." - from the televesion show "The Wonder Years"

What are your "Austin Triggers"? What memories help you hold onto Austin, even when he's not here with us?

Because of Austin's ability to live life to the fullest... he left me full of memories... I am so thankful for all of them... because of them, I will never lose Austin... he'll always be in my heart and memory!