Monday, March 28, 2011

Don't Take Life Too Seriously... Austin's Didn't

There was something about Austin that made those around him very comfortable - even if they had just met him. I believe part of that was his ability to not take life too seriously... When the opportunity arose to have a good time, he took it - just see for yourself....

Examples from Austin's Life...WAYS TO NOT TAKE LIFE TOO SERIOUSLY...with your family, friends, and strangers...

While standing in the NY Subway terminal, if the feeling moves you  to jump in the air and click your feet together, go ahead and do it.
Warning: Don't be surprised if many join you - just ask Austin.

Answer your uncle's phone, when his girlfriend calls.
Since you sound just like him, she'll think it's him.

Let yourself be duct-taped to a chair... Why? Just because you can...

Decide on the day of the Senior Ball that you're going to go, after all. Borrow your uncle's clothes, that make you look like someone from Miami's Vice. After all, life's a dance...

Draw a replica of your uncle's tattoo on your back, in the exact location as his, knowing that he doesn't want anyone to copy it. Then casually walk by him, with your shirt off, so he can see it... WARNING: Make sure you're wearing your running shoes...

Put twigs in your hair and approach your friend, who is flirting with girls at the neighboring campsite, and say to him, "Johnny, do you want to play wilderness boy with me again?"

(and entertaining... for the neighbors)
Do yoga with your uncles, at night, with the lights on and window blinds open, so the entire neighborhood can see right in and watch you... FACT: This is especially a great idea if your family has just moved into the neighborhood...

WILL YOU HIRE ME?...please!
Dress goofy and apply for a job (at a place you would not want to work at)... You never know, you may be offered a job - Austin was.

ELIPTICAL RACE - beat you to the finish!
Race your mom on the Elliptical Trainer at the health club... Warning: Lots of laughter may occur.

LEAVE 'EM WITH MEMORIES... Good Ones Of Course!
Looking for a prank to pull on your friends, the last night of a missions trip you're on? Remove the batteries from all their cell phones, and take one of each of their shoes. The next morning they'll hobble down to the lobby, late, with one shoe on and one shoe off, all frazzled because their cell phone alarm clocks didn't go off... GOOD THING - This is your last year on the trip, because you're a senior... but they'll remember you for years to come.

Thanks Austin for the GREAT Memories... and for helping us all lighten up...

Edited 12/17/2016

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Hello World...

It's funny how you can listen to the same song several times, and then one day it seems to have a different meaning. That's what happened with "Hello World" by Lady Antebellum, not once, but twice. I've always enjoyed the song, found it soothing, comforting. Then one day I saw the video and it gave me a little unrest. It took on a different meaning, or should I say a stronger meaning.

It reinforced how short life can be. It helped remind me how adults (especially me) can get so wrapped up in the everyday rat race that we forget to stop and see the real wonders of life. We make mountains out of mole hills. We forget what's important. We forget to look around, to appreciate what we have. Life is short and we need to value what we have right here, right now.

For the past week I've found myself very short of patience, especially when it comes to my two younger boys. Every little thing they did irritated me and I would snap at them. I knew what I was doing, I knew it wasn't helping. But I just wanted to yell, as if yelling would get them to listen a little more, get them to feel my frustration. Hmmm... I think it actually only made matters worse.

At night I would tuck them into bed and feel horrible... horrible that I had been miserable all day... horrible that I knew how I should act, but refused to do it...horrible that I let life suck the joy out of me and failed to appreciate what I have right here in front of me - two beautiful boys (and a caring husband).

No, they don't always do things the way I want them to... Yes, they need guidance from me on homework and day-to-day responsibilities... Yes, they need to see that even when we're feeling frustrated we need to treat others respect. But yelling and pouting won't help them.

After I beat myself up on my "wonderful" behavior, I would think back to the rest of the day, to when one of the boys had actually tried to help. I was too busy being miserable to appreciate what they were doing. I was so focused on the negatives that I missed the positives. In fact, I missed the sadness in their eyes when I failed to acknowledge something they were trying to do to help lift my spirits.

At this point I would realize that there are times (and this was one of them) that I must stop in my tracks - my miserable, grumpy tracks - look around, and say...

Hello world, How you been?
Good to see you, my old friend.
Sometimes I feel, cold as steel
And broken like I'm never gonna heal
And I see a light, a little grace, a little faith unhurls
Well hello world...

Sometimes I forget what living's for
And I hear my life through my front door
And I breathe it in, Oh, I'm home again...
(Lyrics from "Hello World", by Lady Antebellum)

Hmmm... I definately need to remember what living's for...

I heard the song again today, on the radio, and a funny thought hit me. I thought of Austin (imagine that) entering this world as a little baby, announcing - "Hello world!... Here I Am! ... Let's get this thing started!" I know that's not what the song is really talking about, but it made me smile. Even though Austin was constantly doing life, whether tinkering on a motor, helping a friend, going to school, working, or hanging out, he still knew how to love life. You saw it in his smile and heard it in his laugh.

Now when I listen to "Hello World" I'll have two thoughts running through my mind...

"Slow down, take a breath and look around - hello world..."

"Hello World!... Here I Am! Let's get started!

When you say 'Hello World' what are you thinking? Come on, try it... "Hello World..." 

(Here's the link to the song and video, if you've never heard it before, or just want to listen to it again: "Hello World"

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Who Would Have Thought

Who would have thought, when I posted the blog "Life is Interesting" last Monday (3/14/11), that we would recieve a phone call Tuesday evening letting us know that Mike's cousin had passed away, tragically, earlier in the day. She left behind a husband, two sons, a sister, and a brother. Her family was just beginning the journey that I had started a little less than 9 months ago. My heart broke for them, as I wondered if there was anything I could do, being 300 miles away...

Fast forward to Thursday and Friday. The weather was beautiful, here in Massachusetts, with the sun shining and temperatures reaching into the 60s and 70s, calling poeple to get outside and enjoy the fresh air. Everywhere I turned motorcycles passed me, and my mind immediately wandered to Austin. I could just see him, all excited to jump on his bike and go for a ride. If he didn't have any place to go, he'd still jump on ride, most likely stopping in to see a friend or two along the way. As I watched the motorcycles the "Old Irish Blessing" came to mind...

May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face.
May the rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

"Sneaky tears" flowed down my face and I smiled, as I thought of Austin on his bike. (Remember those "sneaky tears" from the "Who Opened the Dam" blog, posted 9/16/10?) As I enjoyed the memories and missed Austin, I reflected on how I had felt the days following Austin's accident. It was a gut-wrenching pain. A pain I had never experienced before. I wondered if the husband and sons of Mike's cousin were feeling this same kind of pain.

Friday night Mike and I drove 4-1/2 hours to Upstate NY, to be with his family at the wake and funeral service. As we drove, I once again wondered what I could do. In these situations, we often feel helpless, wanting to help but knowing there are no words to say and little we can do to ease the pain. We can just be there, letting them know they are loved and cared for. Little did I know, that I was about to be blessed, myself.

As I walked into the funeral home I stopped to sign the "guest book" and pick up a "memory" card. As I read the quote on the back I smiled... it was the "Old Irish Blessing"...

The calling hours were scheduled for two hours, but lasted for almost three. As I watched the friends and family pay their respect, my heart warmed, expecially when both boys' baseball teams came through. The teams had waited for over an hour to support their friend and teammate. What a blessing for those boys! This reminded me of how much the words of love and encouragement, the hugs, the support, and the simple presence of friends and family had meant to me after Austin's passing.

The memorial service, which immediately followed the wake, was an uplifting and beautiful tribute to Mike's cousin - remembering her love for others and reminding us that God's greatest command is to love God and to love others as ourselves. This is exactly what she did - loved others "in her own quiet, unassuming way".

As I listened to the priest, I had to resist the urge to run up and hug him, saying, "Thank you! This is what has been on my heart for the past 9 months. This is a wonderful reminder that I need often, especially when I find myself feeling 'less than loving'. I need to remember to simply love..." Which, of course, reminded me of Austin. I was always amazed at the love he had towards others and how in turn he was loved by many. I was blessed by this message and reminder.... to just love.

Next came a beautiful reading, "Don't Grieve For Me For Now I'm Free"

Don't grieve for me, for now I'm free.
I'm following the path God laid for me.
I took His hand when I heard Him call;
I turned my back and left it all.

I could not stay another day,
To laugh, to love, to work or play.
Tasks left undone must stay that way;
I found that place at the close of day.

If my parting has left a void,
Then fill it with remembered joy.
A friendship shared, a laugh, a kiss;
Ah yes, these things, I too will miss.

Be not burdened with times of sorrow.
I wish you the sunshine of tomorrow.
My life's been full, I savored much;
Good friends, good times, a loved ones touch.

Perhaps my time seems all too brief;
Don't lengthen it now with undue grief.
Lift up your heart and share with me,
God wanted me now, He set me free. (Anon)

As I listened to the reading, I was reminded of Austin and how a little less than ten months ago, the pain I felt from losing him was unbearable. I had wondered, at that time, if I would ever feel happiness again. If I would ever think of Austin again, without tears pouring out. If my heart would ever stop aching. Today I can answer those questions with a definite "YES!" Yes, the pain is now bearable. Yes, I think of Austin and smile (and sometimes cry). Yes, my heart still misses Austin, but it can also sing, and doesn't ache as much. I made it through the darkest hours and can now see light!

While gathering with the family and friends, after the service, enjoying delicious food and spending a little more time supporting those who had just lost their mother, wife, sister, and good friend, I prayed that Mike and I had given them a little hope. Hope and belief that they will get through this painful time, even if right now it seems impossible.

And so, who would have thought last Monday, as I wrote and posted the blog, "Life is Interesting" that my experience (one I wish I had not had to go through) could, just maybe, be a small light for someone so soon?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

I Am Blessed

"Find a way to be thankful for your troubles, and they can become your blessings." - Author Unknown

Over the past few days, as I've been following the Japan tragedy, a couple thoughts have been running through my mind. The strongest is, "I was so blessed when Austin passed away."

I know that sounds like a strange statement, so let me explain. I do not mean I was blessed that Austin died, not at all. But I was blessed (and still am) to be surrounded by family and friends to help me through the days, weeks, and months following. I was/am blessed to have a home, comfortable bed, warm shower and refrigerator full of food. I was/am blessed to have my husband, other two sons, parents, siblings, and friends by my side, grieving alongside me. I had all the pictures I needed to remember Austin and use to celebrate his life at the calling hours and funeral. I was able to give Austin a "proper" burial. I was/am blessed that the only thing I had to worry about was grieving for Austin and loving my family. All my other needs were (are) tended to. I was/am blessed to have my health. I am blessed for everything I have...

As I watch the news and videos of what is going on in Japan, my heart aches. I am so sorry for everyone affected by this tragedy - for the loss of their loved ones (for many, it's not just one, but several) and how life as they knew it has literally been turned upside down and inside out. The survivors have so much more to deal with than simply grieving for the ones that did not survive....  Many don't even know if their family and loved one(s) are alive or dead - the unknowing must be so painful and frustrating (I don't think words can even describe it). Many lost their entire family. They lost their home. Everything is in complete rubble! They have nothing but the clothes on their back. They have to worry about where to sleep and how to get food and fresh water. The chance of being exposed to radiation is a real fear. Many are injured. They have to worry about additional aftershocks, earthquakes, and/or tsunamis. There are not enough body bags or coffins for those who died. The list goes on and on and on. I cannot imagine....

And so this is how I can say "I am blessed"...

"Take five minutes and sit quietly and reflect on all the blessings in your life." - Catherine Pulsifer

Monday, March 14, 2011

Life is Interesting

Life is an interesting thing. Sometimes we do something and don't realize the impact it may have years to come on either ourselves or others. We never know how something we've experienced can be used to help someone else.

I've been reading Choosing to See, by Mary Beth Chapman. Mary Beth is the wife of Steven Curtis Chapman, a popular Christian music artist. In May 2008 their 17-year son accidentally hit and killed their 5-year daughter. In her book, Mary Beth discusses not only the accident and the time after it, but also her years prior to it (including high school and college years). Eleven or twelve years before their daughter's death Steven Curtis Chapman wrote and recorded "With Hope". It was written about the journey toward heaven. When I read the lyrics I immediately thought of Austin:

"With Hope" - by Steven Curtis Chapman

This is not at all how
We thought it was supposed to be
We had so many plans for you
We had so many dreams
And now you've gone away
And left us with the memories of your smile
And nothing we can say
And nothing we can do
Can take away the pain
The pain of losing you, but...

We can cry with hope
We can say goodbye with hope
'Cause we know our goodbye is not the end, oh no
And we can grieve with hope
'Cause we believe with hope
There's a place where we'll see your face again
We'll see your face again

And never have I known
Anything so hard to understand
And never have I questioned more
The wisdom of God's plan
But through the cloud of tears
I see the Father smile and say well done
And I imagine you
Where you wanted most to be
Seeing all your dreams come true
'Cause now you're home
And now you're free, and...

We wait with hope
And we ache with hope
We hold on with hope
We let go with hope

Here is the link to a video of this song:

As I continued to read on, I was amazed to discover that one or two years after the song had been written, friends of the Chapman's lost their 8-year old daughter in a car accident (in which the mother was driving). Their friends asked Steven Curtis Chapman to sing this song at their daughter's funeral. During the following years Mary Beth and this mother's friendship grew and strengthened. Ten years later this friend was the first person Mary Beth called after her own tragedy (the death of her own daughter)?

Who would have imagined, when Steven Curtis Chapman wrote and recorded "With Hope", that it would have such a powerful impact on one of their own friends a couple years later, and even more so, how it would relate to their very own tragedy - 12 years later?

As I've been working on my book, in memory of Austin and Living Life to the Fullest, my youngest son came up with his own quote, "Every day is not good, but there is something good in every day." And isn't this how it is with life...

Life is definitely very interesting and not always how we hope it to be!!! But we can find good in it...

(Steven Curtis Chapman also has a new CD - "Beauty Will Rise" that is memory of his daughter. It is beautiful! One of the songs is "Heaven is the Face" - It is beautiful! Here is the link to the video )

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Parenting Must Go On

Ahhh...the joys and trials of parenting! Your first child comes along with his own unique personality, right from the minute he's born. There is no handbook, no instructions, just this cute little bundle of joy, who soon becomes your guinea pig for Parenting 101 - as he travels through the different stages from infant to adult...

... Age 2 - aka the terrible 2's or 3's. Good thing he's oh so cute at the same time.
... Age 5 - he's heading off to Kindergarten, he's learning lots in the classroom (and on the bus). Mom realizes she has to let go, just a little.
... Age 11 or 12 - Off to middle school, and a little more independence. Mom tries to keep him as innocent as possible, for as long as possible, but still has to let go - a little bit more.
... Age 13 - Teen years begin - need I say more.
... Age 16 - Driver's permit, then license, oh boy, even more independence. Mom has to let go, just a little bit more (OK, a lot more!).
... Age 18 - He's packing his bags, it's college time! Mom really has to let go now - no helicopter parenting, please.
... Age 21/22 - He's graduating college, able to enter bars - legally, and enters the full-time employment arena (hopefully). This is it, he's spreading his wings and taking with him everything you taught him, figuring himself out, becoming a man.

The only problem is, just when you think you're getting it figured out with the first, along comes the second. And again, there's no handbook and no instructions, but that's OK, you've already hit those years with child #1, you're a pro, you have experience - no problem! Until, you realize... "Oh, baby #2 is much different than baby #1. What worked with baby #1, doesn't always work with baby #2." Another adventure begins!

So it's been with my three sons, each being unique, with his own strengths and weaknesses. When I reflect on each boy's distinct personality, I smile and my heart is warmed. Each child is a treasured gift, bringing both joy and "challenges". I must be continually adjusting and readjusting, figuring out (and sometimes, simply, guessing) what works with each one:

  • Hugs...
  • Words of affirmation...
  • A little extra time spent working with them side-by-side...
  • Giving a little extra space to let them figure things out...
  • Letting them know you enjoy their company...
  • Laughing with them (not at them)...
  • Or something I haven't thought of, yet...
Encouragement will sometimes be the same and sometimes be different, depending on the son and his personality.

  • Do better in school?
  • Keep their rooms clean, or at least presentable?
  • Use their money wisely?
  • Be a good friend?
  • Be a loving brother?
  • Limit their socializing in class?
  • Again, it may be different for each individual...

  • Speaking in a stern voice?
  • Giving a spanking or soap in the mouth?
  • Giving a time-out?
  • Physical labor?
  • Removing a privilege or grounding?
  • Charging a specific dollar amount?
  • Having a conversation with them?
  • And the list goes on... and is changed, as needed.

For each situation, each child, and each stage of development the methods for "discipline" will be different:
  • Where one child needs to be "encouraged" in one area, the other child(ren) may need it somewhere else. (Example: one may be great at getting his homework completed on time, while the other one is great at speaking kindly to his brother.)
  • When young, where one needed a spanking, the other may have needed a stern voice to get him to "change his ways"; spanking or time-outs may work at one age, but grounding will work better at another age.
  • Taking away one privilege may work for one of the boys, but the other one doesn't care about that privilege and needs something else removed to help them "see the light". (Example: One may love watching tv, while the other could care less, but would be impacted if their phone privileges were removed.)

And when you just figure it out, you have to readjust for the next stage or next child, then figure it out again, readjust again, and on and on it goes.  This takes energy and creativity - sometimes you have lots of it and sometimes your energy/creativity bank is in the red! At times, life throws you a curve ball, that makes the parenting game a little more challenging.

In the months since Austin died, my "parenting skills" have had to be readjusted. I now have to determine if the boys' behaviors and actions are more of a "reaction" to losing Austin, or simply because of their age and personality. (And age and personality does impact how each reacts to losing Austin.) They may be acting a specific way because of feelings they don't know how to deal with or they're trying to emulate the behaviors and personalities they have heard us sharing about Austin?

What the boys don't realize is, sometimes we laugh at things Austin did growing up, but he still got in trouble for them. Just like, we'll laugh at things each of them did as preschoolers, but still got in trouble for. It's funny now, but wasn't then. When it seems as though one of the boys is trying to act like Austin I gently explain that no one can be like Austin, just like no one can be like them. We are all made unique, with unique personalities and gifts. We need to be who we are made to be, not like anyone else. We were each created a certain way, for a certain reason - so embrace that and just be you!

As parents, we wonder, at times, "Is it really worth the effort? Will they ever appreciate everything I do? Wouldn't it be so much easier to let them do what they want?" But, I know, it is worth the effort, they will appreciate the things I do (at some point in their lives). It would be easier, in the short-run, if I gave in to everything they wanted, but in the long run, I know it is better to hold firm, and set loving boundaries. I know this, because of Austin...

Prior to Austin's death, whenever I became tired of setting limits, and holding to them, I would think of Austin. I would watch him at 21 years old - still figuring it out, but now coming to me for advice. Still making mistakes, but usually learning from them. (It's no different than with me - I'm still making mistakes and learning from them.) And often making wise choices. I would know, "Yes, it is worth it... hold strong, even when you want to throw your hands up and yell, 'Do whatever you want!" It does make a difference, in the long-run (and often in the short-run, too).

Today, when I think of Austin, I sometimes think, "I did all the hard work and now he's gone. What's the sense?" And when the boys are having "challenging" moments, I sometimes think, "I really don't know if I have the energy... do I really need to do this?" And my answer is always, "Yes, I do have to do this - energy or not. My job is to love my children, to teach and guide them, and to discipline them, when necessary, even if I don't feel like it." All I have to do is think of Austin - the beautiful person he was and the wonderful memories he left me with...

Ahhh, parenting... one wild and crazy ride... one that I wouldn't trade the for world!