Off to the Races

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What a busy day! Yesterday was the second annual Silver Lake Boat Races. This event was held to benefit Camp Holiday Trails in Charlottesville, and was held in memory of Gabe. It was a wonderful event that brought out many in our community.

This year the event raised $744 to send to CHT! We are so thankful to the Town of Dayton for making it happen. We are also thankful for the Dayton Police Department for helping with traffic, the Sheriffs that were there, and of course Rockingham County Fire Rescue- they were ready for any emergency. The Dayton PD and RCFR were two of the groups that helped try to save Gabe’s life, so their presence really meant a lot to us. Thank you to all family and friends who showed up watch, to those who entered boats, and to those who cheered on friends and family. It was a wonderful event and we think it was a great way to remember Gabe!

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Here are a few pictures from the day:

Shameless plug

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Hi friends, I figure this is a good way to reach some of you! As you know from my most recent post:

 https://whaticantcontrol.com/2018/07/06/gabes-shirt-goes-to/

the Gabe’s shirt idea has been a really important part of our family continuing on and remembering Gabe. Our latest sale is going to close in 3 days. In the past we have ordered extra shirts for the stragglers to buy later, but this time we will not be doing that, so if you want one (or more) please do NOT procrastinate! I would hate for those of you who want them to not get one, but we have had a hard time guessing what sizes to order and end up with a pile of shirts in odd sizes. We may or may not sell the black and white version again later in the year, so now is the time to order if you think you may want one. If you are interested here is the link again. Thank you to everyone for your support, wearing the shirts, taking those wonderful pictures, and sharing in our grief as we remember our boy.

https://www.customink.com/fundraising/gabesshirts?ref=copy-link_social_desktop-campaign-page-share-top-v3&utm_campaign=desktop-campaign-page-share-top-v3&utm_content=gabesshirts&utm_medium=social&utm_source=copy-link&side=front&type=5&zoom=false

 

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Gabe’s Shirt Goes To

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Oh these shoes. These bright blue and orange shoes. I remember the day we bought them. I took Gabe out and we were in the shoe section. I picked up this box of very bright shoes and opened it. I wrinkled my nose and said “You won’t like these”. He of course had to see them, and he of course fell in LOVE with them. They became a prized possession. So prized, in fact, that he would wear them to school but change out of them when he got home. He didn’t want to mess them up when he was on his bike or skateboard. Because of that they still look new. And they are still upstairs in his room, in a box along with other items we had displayed at his funeral. There the shoes will stay. Those shoes though, they are so GABE. They are loud and bright, demanding attention. They can’t be missed and they are definitely not subtle. Not the slightest bit subtle. Just like Gabe. He was loud and bright and definitely demanded attention. He couldn’t be missed and he was not subtle. Not the slightest bit subtle.

Those loud, bright shoes were the inspiration for something very special. After Gabe died some of the kids in the marching band and Mr. Nash (the band director) designed these special shirts to represent Gabe. They chose the colors that very closely matched those shoes. The ones that were so GABE. On the front is his favorite bible verse, a pair of headphones like he almost always wore, a heart for obvious reasons, and 3 things he participated in- sticks for percussion, a spotlight for theater, and a skateboarder because he was. The band sold those shirts and gave us the money to help with our expenses. After the sale stopped, though, more people wanted shirts. So we began holding sales to benefit Camp Holiday Trails. CHT is a very special camp for children with special health needs. We had the wonderful privilege of going there to 3 separate family weekends- for families with heart kids. It is an amazing place and we wanted to give back.

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The other component of this shirt is a way to keep Gabe’s memory alive. About 2 months after Gabe’s death, Doug and took our other boys on a trip to Tennessee. As we got to the Aquarium (Gabe LOVED aquariums) Doug asked me to take his picture in the shirt. He came up with the idea of a Facebook group called “Gabe’s Shirt Goes To”. The idea is that we (and our friends and family) wear these shirts and take pictures in them. It can be local places or it can be far away. It is a way to remember Gabe and also see the many places we KNOW he would have gone if he had the chance. We love seeing people we know and some we don’t spreading his memory and sometimes his story all over the world. As of right now people have taken and shared picture in 42 states, 6 continents, and 32 countries. Recently one of Gabe’s teachers even wore it skydiving! It is so much fun to see it shared.

This year we are going to change the shirt a bit. Just for the year because it is a special year. Gabe would be graduating this year, so we are doing a Gabe’s shirt remix in the colors of Turner Ashby High School. As I’m sure you can imagine this is extremely bittersweet. He should be preparing for his senior year with his friends, thinking about college, senior pictures, and prom (anyone who knew him knows he would already be thinking about prom). He won’t get to do those things, but we can still make a special version of the shirt for this year.

We hope that everyone will continue to wear their shirts- whether they are blue and orange or black, white and gray. Keep sharing pictures and please, keep remembering our boy. He made a huge impact on the world and we want his story to continue on.

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If you are interested in purchasing the new version of the shirts please click on the link below:

https://www.customink.com/fundraising/gabesshirts?share=2911530539257422&utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=desktop-campaign-supporter-modal-v1&utm_content=gabesshirts&ref=facebook_social_desktop-campaign-supporter-modal-v1&side=front&type=5&zoom=false

To follow “Gabes Shirt Goes To” please visit our Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/gabesshirtgoesto/

THANK YOU!

Lean on Me

 

Sometimes in our lives
we all have pain
we all have sorrow.
But if we are wise
we know that there’s
always tomorrow

 

Friendship. The world of a grieving parent is defined by the before and the after. The line between the before and after is THAT DAY. That awful day when everything changes and the world as you know it gets shaken to the core. So many things are different from that point on. And when the people involved become different, as we do, relationships change. I am not the same person I was. I know that. Truthfully it is not possible for me to be that person. That person was extremely optimistic, kind of Pollyanna like (some of you probably don’t know what that means). I did worry a lot about things like Gabe’s health, but it in general I almost always had a smile on my face and was just really positive.

When the worst thing that can happen DOES happen though it makes that kind of happy attitude change a bit. Some days I really can’t force myself to smile. There’s a man in Bridgewater who sits in the Dairy Queen parking lot EVERY school morning, rain or shine, and waves at cars and buses that pass. Before Gabe died I always smiled and waved back. Now when I pass him some days I smile. Other days I just can’t.

So I think it’s understandable if people back off. Not everyone is going to like this new me. I’m OK with that. When this tragedy happened though something else happened. There were people, some I knew mostly as acquaintances that turned into more. They stepped up and spent countless hours with me and with my family. There are a couple of friends who were there before and reached out and were there as much as we needed them. These people have all made this tragedy survivable. My friends have been there with hugs, coffee, meals out together, too many miles of walks to begin to guess, lazy time at the pool, pedicures, and even a wonderful day at the spa. They have continued to invite us to get togethers, girls nights (ok just me for that one), parties, and weddings, and they understand if we need to leave because we are sad. They have become a beautiful family to Doug and I. They love us in our happiness, but also in our sadness. That is not always an easy thing to do.

Through Gabe’s death there is also another category of friends that I have met. These people know the same pain as me. They have had to say goodbye to a child. There is a connection between us because we share a pain that is so deep it can’t be understood. We can talk about the horrible circumstances around our worst days and not have to be afraid of sharing too much. We don’t necessarily make the best friends because we are all dealing with grief, and forgetfulness, and lack of energy- but we all GET it! So expectation is low and we are very forgiving of each other. We form this club that no one wants to join- but we are all glad to have each other. There is power in looking at another Mom who lost a child so many years ago and seeing that life can still be OK, that it’s not how you wanted it to turn out but it can still be ok.

On Thursday of this week I will get the wonderful experience of meeting a new group of bereaved moms. These moms have all had children die due to heart defects. Some as babies, some older. We all come from very different backgrounds but we all share that one really big thing.  We will be free to talk about our children, living and dead, and not have to worry about saying the wrong thing. This will be a different kind of retreat and I think I will like it.

Three Brothers

Three boys. “You sure have your hands full!” I can’t tell you how many times I heard that over the years, especially when they were small. People seem to see a family with 3 boys coming and assume chaos will follow. Honestly, most of the time it did. My boys were close in age and had a few struggles, some health related and some not. But especially when they were small they kept me on my toes. The younger years were exhausting, but still I loved it (most of it anyway!)

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As the years passed some things calmed down and some things got more difficult, but it was great to see their changing relationship. Some days they would fight constantly, other days they would play for hours making forts in the living room, coming up with plans for future businesses, and building towns out of Legos. It was fun and amazing to watch, and fun to wonder what the future would hold.

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April 8, 2016 threw a huge, horrible wrench into the future- not just for Doug and I but for our younger boys. They were 13 and 10 at the time and I know that day was at least as devastating for them as it was for us. In just one moment things changed. The middle, who had grown up the middle, was suddenly the oldest. The youngest, still the youngest, was suddenly without the brother that he had the most in common with. Things changed that day in the most twisted and unfair way.  Something none of us had any control over took our lives and shook them making us painfully aware that from that day everything- EVERYTHING- would be different. And none of it was anything we asked for.

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I think to a child the death of a sibling or parent is probably the worst possible thing to happen. Someone who was there, all the time, and every day, is suddenly gone. They just disappear. It makes no sense. For many of us family is a constant. Something you can count on. But this kind of loss for a child brings a new uncertainty.

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My boys are the reason I write this post today. These two boys surviving the loss of their big brother have overcome a huge loss and they still shine. They work hard and participate in Scouts and other activities despite the loss and trauma they have endured. Their brother was a fighter and they are too. They have a very different battle than he had, but this one seems impossible at times. Since Gabe’s death they have both received awards at school for their spirit and determination and I have to say I can’t think of more deserving kids. I am floored by their resilience through this incredibly difficult life event.

The future is a blank slate. For my surviving boys each of their blank slates has a missing piece. As they work out their futures they will have to work around that piece. It will always be there and will impact their lives. I wish their brother was still here with them as their futures unfold, but I rest assured knowing that his life will never be forgotten and his impact on them will remain forever.

*This post was read and approved by the two wonderful boys I wrote about*

Opening Weekend

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Memories are happy and sad. And they are triggered by just about everything. Swimming pools are one of those triggers. Gabe LOVED swimming. From when he was very small, going to a pool-any pool- was one of the things that made him happiest. Leaving the pool was always met with protests, sadness, and often tantrums.

When we moved into our Dayton house we hit the jackpot. Our next door neighbors had 2 wonderful dogs AND a pool! A pool that they let us use pretty much whenever we wanted. All three boys loved it, but Gabe was particularly focused on that pool. As Memorial Day weekend would get near he would watch from upstairs in Liam’s room- the room with the best view of the neighbors yard. At any sign of a change near the pool he would watch even more closely. On the days when they would adjust chemicals, fill the pool, and get the deck ready they would see him upstairs waiting anxiously. We would get reports from Gabe on the progress “They must be getting the pool ready!”

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In 2014 we got Gabe’s surgery date early in the spring. The date of surgery would be June 9. He would not be able to swim for at least 4-6 weeks after surgery. That news was pretty devastating for a kid who loved the water so much. Also that spring the neighbors decided to get a new, bigger pool. They knew that had to hurry to put it in so that Gabe could swim before surgery, so it became an effort between them, us, and the neighbor on the other side. We all teamed up one weekend and had a pool raising. It was a lot of effort, and every one of us was needed (except for one of my boys who I think snuck back home!). We put up the walls, got the liner in, and then used hoses from all of our houses to fill it quickly. It was done in time, and we even had a bonus day before surgery- his grade went to the Waterpark but he couldn’t go. His doctor didn’t want to risk any infections that he could pick up before surgery, so he and I stayed home that day and had the pool to ourselves. We swam and visited with the dogs. It was a good day, and I was so glad to have that pool since he had to miss out on another fun activity.

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Now when they set up the pool it’s a bit sadder. I know we all miss him when that event happens. We always miss him, but at certain times it’s so obvious that his excitement isn’t there anymore and that really hurts.

We also belong to a community pool, and his absence is loud there too. Once we joined, every chance he got he wanted to go there. He loved seeing friends, and I know he also loved showing off his scar. Gabe was not a quiet kid. At all. He was one of the loudest kids I have ever known. When I would take the boys to the pool, no matter where he was, I could always hear him. Happy, sad, angry- I could hear him. I miss that. I miss the happy. I miss the sad and angry too. I still love going to the pool and talking with friends. I love seeing my other boys with their friends. But Gabe is missing and the hole he leaves can’t be described.

 

 

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Passed away? Lost? No, died.

*Before I start this one I want to just put a reminder that these are my own feelings about death. I don’t care how others refer to those who have died, but since this is my blog I’m sharing my thoughts.*

Passed away. Lost. Died. Went to Heaven. There are so many different ways to refer to  death. I have some pretty strong feelings on some of them.

Anyone who is friends with me on facebook knows that I usually use the word “died”. I actually did that from the beginning. I think it’s more shocking for people to hear, but in my opinion it’s just more real. I’ve realized that terms like “passed away” and “lost” tend to be more comforting for other people.

When someone says their child passed away it seems more gentle. But why? WHY should a parent be more gentle when talking about something as serious and earth shaking as the death of their child. Who does that help? It helps the person hearing the words but not the person saying the words. I have said it a few times and it just feels wrong. It almost feels like a lie. He didn’t just slip away. His heart stopped and he died. I don’t want to sugar coat that fact so that someone else might be more comfortable.

The other phrase that I haven’t used much is “lost”, as in “I lost my child”. I feel like that one just makes no sense. I didn’t, after all, lose him. I didn’t misplace him. I didn’t get separated from him at an amusement park or mall. Saying that phrase implies that I will find him. I am certain I will see him in Heaven again, but saying I lost him feels just as weird as saying he passed away.

Both of those phrases really seem to focus on making the person that is NOT impacted so much by the loss more comfortable which really is quite screwed up. I’m going off on a bit of a tangent here but I remember the night Gabe died a close friend came to the hospital. That friend had experienced the sudden death of her not yet 2 month old baby. And she told me that over the next days and weeks, and especially at the visitation and funeral, I would be comforting everyone else. And you know what? She was so right. That is exactly how it felt. I think anyone who has had this experience probably knows exactly what I’m talking about. Often when you are standing there, next to the casket, those coming up to express condolences are very upset, and the grieving parents are not crying at all or crying very little. Hug after hug, friend after friend, people express their sorrow and it feels like you are holding things together for them. I think most of it is shock- reality hasn’t set in that early- but it is an interesting phenomenon.

I really think that example combined with our choice of words around death just shows how neat, clean, and sugar coated we think life should be. We don’t like sadness. We don’t like grief. We don’t like situations that we can’t fix. So when something goes wrong we try very hard to make things easier for everyone else- even if we are the one who need everyone else to just be there.

I’m so thankful for all the people who came and expressed their condolences. I’m also extremely thankful for some friends who were truly there- early on and now- who didn’t place any expectations on my grief or seem to need me to sugar coat things for them. Who listened and who didn’t look uncomfortable when I used those words “When Gabe died”. Because he did. He died. And for the rest of my life those words will be true.