Well, it has been one year today since our Joe was killed in a car accident in Colorado. My life has so drastically changed since that moment. I had no idea how much pain there was in losing a child. No idea. I didn’t realize that grief stays with you. It isn’t something to be gotten through, like a dense fog. It is now holding your hand for the rest of your life. You just have to decide from day to day…. sometimes hour to hour if it will drag you around to places you don’t want to be, or if you will walk companionably together along your life’s path. I can say there has been a fair amount of dragging with me and grief this year, but I am hoping it will be more of the latter…. walking together and experiencing life. I never know hour to hour which it will be. I also didn’t realize that “early grief” is typically defined as the first 2 years after a death of a loved one. I now realize that someone who is only three months out from a death is still in that protective fog of grief. It is when the acceptance and realization that this death is truly real, is when the true pain really starts. That fog lifts and stops protecting your mind and heart and you have to really start to feel what it is like to lose your loved one. Everyone’s grief is different. I never know what is going to activate my grief…. send my brain into a “grief burst”. It can be a song, a thought, a photo that pops up on Facebook or my echo device on my desk. Early on it was a simple as someone wearing a shirt with “94” on it to one of my cardio classes I attend. That was the year Joe was born. I would have noticed it before, but after his death, that was all I could see. I also have learned that the death of a child is particularly hard. I have learned that if you haven’t also lost a child, I can stop listening right away to your “friendly” advice. (And I have gotten plenty of friendly advice about how I should grieve).
Yesterday we had an open house at our home for those who knew Joe to come and gather and honor his memory and the fun life he lived. We had about 40 people come, and it was a beautiful day. The weather was in the low 60’s and sunny. Not bad for early March in Nebraska. We actually had to turn on the AC because it got so hot in the house. I think we had about a 50
Yesterday we had an open house at our home to bring together those who knew Joe to celebrate his life. I know his friends in Missouri get together often but we wanted to include the folks here in Nebraska as well. I think it was a 50/50 split of locals and out-of-towners. He had military friends here from his guard unit, Delta Chi brothers, and high school classmates. He even had a former employer stop by. We were blessed to have his wife, Michelle, here as well, to be surrounded by love for her as well as for Joe. I have been contacted by his OFD brotherhood, and a couple of them were headed to the crash site today along with some firefighters from Virginia (they are all in a firefighter class in Colorado together). It shows how deep the red line courses and what a brotherhood it is. The OFD firefighters are being supported by their classmates who didn’t even know Joe. It bowls me over every time…. this love these firefighters have for each other. I am so glad that Joe was blessed with that brotherhood, even if it was for such a short time. I also got a message from one of the FF/EMTs who responded to Michelle and Joe’s accident in the snow storm a year ago. He has been following my blog and felt that he and Joe were a lot alike. It was such a wonderful thing for him to reach out to me. God bless him as he continues his work as a FF/EMT.
Today Mass was celebrated in honor of Joe at our parish at St. Gerald in Ralston. We were greeted after the Mass in the narthex by several of our good church friends. They stood in a big line, and we went down the line hugging them as they gave us words of encouragement and a sunflower. We ended up with 30 sunflowers: 27 for Joe (one for each of the year he lived) and one each for Rich, Lily, and me. Sunflowers are my jam….I will travel a long ways to just take in a good sunflower field. I made it through the Mass without a lot of tears (Sunday morning Mass was different – I was a hot mess then). I looked up and saw all these beautiful people with these sunflowers and totally lost it. It was one of the most kind things. Thank you to everyone who played a part in that. It is making me tear up now just thinking about it. Thanks to everyone who came to the open house as well. I don’t know how we’ll celebrate Joe up in Montana, but it was so nice to get everyone together this year. Thanks especially to my brother-in-law, Joe, and his wife, Heather, and her son, Kevin, for coming from Virginia to be with us this weekend.
So here is to another year of beautiful memories of Joe. I have told a few people this, but wanted to mention it here. When Joe was alive, I had to wait to talk to him about things that happened to me or that I thought about. I don’t have to do that anymore. I have access to him all the time now, in my heart and mind. I have a book I write letters to him in quite often. I can talk to him out loud, which I do often because I am usually alone, but can also just think to him and know that he is hearing me. Sometimes I can hear his reply right away…or that wonderful laugh that he had. I no longer have to wait until he is off shift or not at BJJ or worry about interrupting time with Michelle. I have his attention whenever I need it. His death dropped me to my knees, literally and figuratively. I will miss him until my last breath. I want to live a life to honor his. I want him to know I eventually found my smile again and even though I was so very sad to be without him, I honored him by continuing to live mine until I see him again.