"Say what you have to say, and not what you ought."
~ Henry David Thoreau

Friday, July 25, 2014

Class of '94

The Pueblo East High School Class of 1994 is reuniting this weekend for their 20-year high school reunion. They’ll laugh, reminisce, cry, celebrate and marvel at the fact that 20 years has flown by so quickly. They’ll tell stories of youthful adventures and indiscretions, parties, class pranks, young love and heartbreak, and wonder how they ever survived some of the stupid things they did. They’ll try to reconcile their still young-at-heart mental state with their 38-year bodies and the big 4-0 looming in their futures. They’ll share pictures of their children, talk about their careers and families, and take stock of where their lives are now compared to where they thought they would be back in 1994 as they looked forward to the future. They’ll also remember the classmates who aren’t there with them that left this life far too young. My sister Julie is among those who will be remembered. On Saturday morning at 8:08 a.m. many of her classmates will gather for the Pueblo East Class of ’94 808 run, a 5k run organized by some of Julie’s friends in her honor.

I’ve thought so much about Julie this week. Partly because her friends, as loyal to her in death as they were in life, have so generously included our family in their plans and shared their memories and thoughts of her with us. I know this is a hard time for them too. Julie was part of a tight-knit group of friends who have remained closely connected over the last 20 years. Her loss is felt very deeply by all of them. This milestone in their lives is a vivid reminder to all of us of how much life Julie had left to live. I’ve long since resolved my anger toward Julie for taking her life. I no longer feel mad and resentful about what she took from all of us. I do, however, still feel incredibly cheated sometimes—cheated out of a future with my sister in my life and the opportunity to celebrate her life’s milestones and achievements with her. When she took her life she also took the promise of her future with her. As I watch her friends raise families, have careers and enjoy their lives I’m reminded of so much that will never be.

For Julie’s fellow Eagles: Tomorrow morning when you run along the familiar streets of your youth I want every one of you to know how special you were in her life. During one of our last times together the two of us went for a run through Pueblo. We talked about her move there, her time in high school and her friends. I was struck then by how meaningful those relationships were to her. I didn’t understand how truly lucky she was to have such special friends in her life until after her death when so many of your showed such love and concern for my entire family. Now I understand why she felt so lucky to have all of you in her life.

I imagine that at some point this weekend Footloose will be played for Julie. I hope everyone dances with abandon just as Julie would have done if she were there. My hope is that more than anything this weekend is a celebration of life and friendship. Tomorrow when you run for Julie, run with a smile and the knowledge that she cherished her friendship and connections to each of you. Tragically, when it mattered most her illness didn’t allow her mind to remember how dearly she was loved by so many. All that love wasn’t enough to save her. But as true friends do, you have all remained loyal. That you continue to show your love for her in so many ways means so much to me. Her death left me the gift of your friendship, and that’s a gift I will always treasure.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Leaving the Nest

Spending time with my girl - July 2014
Last week I had a preview of what it must feel like to be an empty nester and I'm not sure I like it. Gillian left earlier this month for a 10-day vacation. Her dad and stepmom, brave souls that they are, took her and three of her friends on a road trip to California. Gillian wanted to spend some time on the beach near the ocean this summer. Living in a land-locked state, that's kind of a tall order. Being the determined, focused planner that she is (hmmm...I wonder where she gets that from?) she decided many months ago that her and her friends were going to California and hitting the beach this summer. The fact that they're all 15, unemployed and don't have driver's licenses didn't even give her pause. 

It didn't take much twisting of the finger her dad is wrapped around before the trip was a go. Itineraries were planned, reservations made and money saved. Each girl had to contribute $200 towards the cost of renting a house for the week. Gillian, a girl after my own heart, carefully planned and saved and came up with the $200 plus spending money for the trip. I was impressed with her single-minded determination and discipline over the next several months as she saved the money needed for her trip. 

The long-awaited departure day finally arrived. I said goodbye with a sigh of relief. Ten days of freedom! My workdays would be free from numerous text messages with urgent requests demanding immediate attention.  No more interruptions asking about rides to the mall, permission to have a sleepover, or go to a party or a friend's house. I was looking forward to a break from the demands of parenting a teenager during the summer while working full-time. Anyone who has done it before knows what I'm talking about. 

I'm used to being away from my daughter for extended periods of time. I've had a 50/50 joint custody arrangement with her dad since she was 4 years old. She lives away from me every other week. I've long since gotten over any anxiety and sadness about not having her with me every day. I've learned to go with the rhythm of one week on, one week off of parenting. Still, I always sleep better and feel much more settled and content on the nights she's asleep in the room next to mine. 

It was a long ten days. I missed our frequent interactions. Even when she isn't with me, we have a lot of back and forth communication and frequent contact. During her vacation I tried not to bug her and barrage her with constant messages. We texted back and forth every day or two while she was gone. She was sweet and sent me pictures and videos. This one especially touched my heart.
Her message was simple, "Look who it is." I love Olivia Newton-John and the two of us have spent many happy times dancing and singing our hearts out in the kitchen to songs from Grease. 

When she finally made it home I couldn't believe how much she had changed! She was tan and happy and beautiful. She seemed more mature. I loved hearing her tell me about her trip. As we sat at the dinner table, just the two of us, I realized how precious that moment was and how fleeting our time together over the next few years is going to be. My mind flashed to the future and I realized this was probably how I'll feel when she comes home from college for visits in the not so distant future. I saw myself waiting, hungrily, for her next visit, basking in the unique glow of her youthful energy, beauty, excitement and stories of discovery. I saw her as the adult person she is rapidly becoming, a person with a life that is becoming more separate from mine. It struck me that my nest would be empty much sooner than I realized. 

Sometimes as our babies grow, demanding and squawking for their needs to be met NOW, the nest can feel so crowded and suffocating. The day they spread their wings and fly away seems as if it will never come. And then, it does, and the void they leave is huge, much bigger than the actual physical space they took up. I realized I'm not quite ready for that empty nest. I'm good with some brief, experimental flights away and then back, but I'm not ready for that final flight away, not for a while. 
The girls on the beach.