The Choice ….

The glands along my jawline are clenched, and I’m salivating in anticipation of the first delectable taste.

There are so many flavors that intoxicate the tongue, and a crunchy homemade dill pickle with a hint of garlic, and sea salt, freshly opened and waiting… become a celebration in my mouth that I can not deny. I can’t wait to taste Holly’s homemade pickles with garlic and sea salt.

It is this time of year when there are Fall markets springing up all over , and shopping for Thanksgiving is upon us. The gathering of family together to share in festivities, overeating, and to enjoy overfilled stomachs, and those most enjoyable post turkey dinner naps. There is a sense of togetherness and community in the air, and it feels natural to gather our people close under us, like a Mamma Chicken and her chicks.

I attempted to can tomatoes about 30 years ago, and have not revisited the practice, since my first attempt was a horrible mess. Many jars did not seal properly, so were ruined by mold and decay. It was a lotta work, and when visiting the cellar room later, and finding most of the jars inedible, I was too intimidated to try again.

I want to though , just as I want to learn to quilt. Dabbling on the outskirts of these two practices leaves the end product not to be desired, so I must read the instructions, and slow down… yup.. it’s on the “New Years resolution to do bucket list.”

This holiday market that myself and my son Zach attended, was crowded, and busy. Lots of displays filled with delicious looking products. Homemade jams, Jellies, pickles, and baked goods, not to mention homemade soaps, wooden signs, and knit products. Craft items, jewelry, and whimsical goods lined the indoor marketplace.

The hustle and bustle of the atmosphere felt like a great beginning to the festive season of Christmas.

And yet… this year… underlying .. but ever present, is the very real sense of tragic loss. I feel it hovering in the boys’ home… quiet, and reverent. It’s of a life gone to soon, and of the shock that we find ourselves in. Which way is up, and life seems twisted, and very much off kilter.

Going through the motions I suppose, and trying to make sense of the nonsensical.

Paralyzed by the horror of a young man’s life that is gone, we lean on one another for strength, and reach forward into the abyss of grief.

It is deep, and wide, and enveloping… and it feels endless, like you are falling, and there is no bottom, and your arms and legs are flailing and grappling for the surface, for air in your lungs, and yet you continue to drop… not knowing if you will ever reach the ending or beginning of the sorrow that promises to obliterate you…

Hope seems elusive, almost a sacrilege… and moving on, and surviving feels disrespectful, and trite.

There is anger… boiling hot madness, like the flow of molten lava flowing down your face, scaring, and hardening your heart as it goes, before it leaves hard rock solid and disfigured where your heart is still attempting to beat.

It all just feels too heavy… and too much to bear…

The body reacts to this pain in a physical way, headaches, insomnia, throwing up, stomach upset, body aches… this is gut wrenching agony to have to bid farewell to somebody that you love..

“Parting is such sweet sorrow…”

It doesn’t seem sweet at all, it just seems tragic, and unnecessary…

When a person decides there is no point going on any further, this hurts us in a spot that we didn’t even know we had..that choice.. that final act that leaves far more questions than answers.

This leaving behind of family and friends , and we must forever live with this catastrophic choice …

How?

Picking up your pieces and attempting with desperate archaic movements to sculpt back together the reminiscence of your lives… even though the clay is brittle, and chunks continue to break off.

A person wonders how there is anything left to revive…

Human beings do reinvent themselves after loss upon loss, we see it, and we marvel, and we pray this kind of madness and grief never had touched our front door.

We bargain, and plead, well at least, I do this, and my prayers become that of a person hanging on by a strand…, a thread of hair.. so thin… one breeze would catapult her into the pit of despair.

And yet… the spider.. in all of her wonder, weaves the thinnest line, in bold and gentle thread that creates a design that she just knows how to weave. Nature has taught her, and often her webs seem to be hanging out in the most precarious locations, but still it hangs strong, and impossibly thin.

This yarn that her body creates is like a magical string, and if it is destroyed, she will weave once more, or perhaps change locations.. but she doesn’t give up… she may not even know that’s an option.

This is her purpose… to weave… mate… reproduce… catch bugs within her web…. and so continue she does.. until her time on earth has passed.

The ability to reason and to think as human beings, does come with its drawbacks… we overthink.. a lot of situations. We worry, and are anxious so often with the “what if’s?” of our lives…

“We do borrow from tomorrow.”

The need to be in control over our present surroundings and possible volatile situations makes us feel madly uncomfortable if it is elusive.

Does it bring more day to day satisfaction… ?….doubtful.

I’m spending time with my sons… and I’m saying thank you multiple times a day for the privilege of being with them, cooking and caring for them, and loving on them.

Being in their household with them, and observing how they live with their cousins and how cohesive and caring for each other, especially through this latest horrific loss, is humbling to witness.

They are a community..”a band of brothers.”

One of their brothers has gone now. We will remember him. We will not be the same without him.. it hurts.. so bad… his choice..

He served our country in the Navy for 4 years. He was well respected, and loved.

There is just no understanding of this…..none.

That day… I was sitting in my living room, feet towards the cracking fire, the bright flames were dancing, and raindrops fell slowly down the windows. I still had my pj’s on, no concept of the phone call that was about to happen.

It was around 8:30 am, EST, I was just chatting with a friend, and my son kept trying to call through. I noticed when I said goodbye to my friend, that there was a single text message from my other son.

” Call me as soon as you can.”

My heart jumped in my chest, as apprehension created a distinct lump in my throat.. Two sons trying to contact me at the same time.. something was up.

Logan was breathless and eerily quiet and distant as he answered the phone.

” uh Mum.. uh.. I don’t really know how to say this…uh?”

” what is it honey, just tell me,” I stammered.

“It’s KJ.. he’s dead”

” what?… oh no .. no … no..what happened?”

Kj is my nephew, and my son’s beloved cousin. He was back from being in the navy. He had been away for 6 years serving his country, and now was living with his cousins, in their home in Oregon. They adore him. He is funny, adventurous, kind, and loving, and a member of the Brandon posse of boys. These guys are close, they stick together, watching each others’ backs, and would defend each other against any foe that dared to stand against them.

As a family, all of us had been praying for KJ while he was away, and having him back safely living with Zach, Logan, Dallas and his brother Phillip under one roof was wonderful for these guys.

They are a community of guys and brothers living under the same roof, taking care of their house and property. They were connected in a way that we, as parents hope and dream for our kids.

Earlier this fall when I would speak to my sons, I would inquire as to how Kj was fitting in with everybody. He had been living back with them for less than 2 months.

” Great…” the boys would say…” it’s so good to have him back.”

That morning.. I shall not forget.. Logan’s voice.. in it was contained shock, disbelief, and utter desolate sorrow.. He spoke so quietly that I had to press my ear tight to the phone to make out his words. I feel certain he could scarcely believe he had to say these words out loud.

My mind raced, as I tried to wrap around this devastating news.. I asked many questions, and each answer was more horrific than the one before…

Logan was retuning home from his night shift, and stepped up onto the front porch, where Zach was taking in the morning air. Zach was pacing, and in a disquieted mood.

Zach asked,” Have you seen KJ at all yesterday?”

” uh … no… why.. you?”

” I was home all day yesterday, and haven’t seen him, I’m kinda worried,” Zach responded.

Zach told me that KJ’s door had been closed, with the light had been on since last night, and when he still saw the light streaming under the door in the morning, something felt just… off.

” Should we go in and check on him?”

” ya, I mean the worst that can happen is that he gets mad at us for waking him up right?” Logan said with a shrug.

They walked up the stairs together.. knocked… waited… no answer…

Zach opened the door.. screamed.. and knew…

He ran over and checked his pulse, but.. it .. was .. too… late.

He told me he kept screaming, and cursing, and then he dialed 911.

Logan said he can hardly even recall anything. He says he just slumped against the wall, and sat on the floor. He thinks he pretty much blacked out.

Zach called his other two cousins, Dallas, and Philip, who raced back home from work.

KJ’s Mum, Holly was called, followed by multiple horrible painful calls to other family members.

The police arrived… this was true, and happening.. this nightmare was happening in real life, in the daytime, in real time. kJ had taken his life.

Zach said they found themselves all standing on the lawn together . Logan says that he can’t even recall coming outside to the grass.. it was a blur..shock.

Time seemed to stand still…chaos, and questions, disbelief, and horror.

Their 28 year old cousin was no longer there. What would make him take his life when it seemed he was making new plans for his future?

What lies beneath? The thoughts and depth that is carried within the interior of a person.. only they know.

The dark secrets, the shame, the thing, or things that they cannot make peace with.. Does this drive this person into the dark abyss where they see no other way out? I don’t know… nobody does…. except for them… and he is silent.

I only know what my sons tell me, what they choose to share. I am grateful that they will let me in at all, but I know we all carry sorrow and heartache, that can’t be put into proper words.

“We are all puzzles with missing pieces.”

When your kids are hurting.. you hurt… it’s the most impossible thing, no matter their age, seeing your grown up men/children suffer puts you on a jagged cliffs’ edge.

There are so many unanswered questions after an event like this, and we all feel them.

Were their signs?

Why wouldn’t he talk to me?

How could he do this?

Didn’t he know how much he was loved?

How could it have gotten this bad?

It is terrible.

These are just some of the myriad of things being expressed. There are many more haunting thoughts that creep up in the middle of the night when sleep is elusive.

We all come together to remember, and celebrate KJ, and his life.

It was Thanksgiving Time, and we are thankful for his life, and all that he meant to his family, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends, and fellow naval service men and women.

He leaves a gaping hole in our lives that cannot be filled. There is the wonder of why he couldn’t stay, and what was so awful that he could not live with it a second longer than he did?

My sons are questioning, I have no answers, but I’m seeing the after effects of this traumatic event upon their lives.

There was a military send off which I had never witnessed before. It was profoundly moving. A three rifle salute, the sound of a lone trumpet playing ” Taps” in the cool morning air. It was a forlorn, and yet a majestic sound. The two sailors folded, and unfolded the flag, and presented it to Holly where she sat in the front row surrounded by her grieving family.

There were quite a few young children in attendance that morning, and for those 20 minutes, as the navy performed their duties… we were all completely quiet.. peaceful..even.. as we watched, and listened in reverence to KJ’s grave side service.

I stood beside my son Zach, and leaned into his plush buffalo checked plaid shoulder, and held tightly to his hand, as tears fell from my eyes.. This was all just too much.

I looked at Holly seated there in her bright red coat, clutching the American flag tightly to her chest, and wondered how she could even bare this fresh new grief.

On the table in front of her was a photo of KJ in full naval uniform, his bright and flashing smile, and dancing and mischievous eyes, but the metal urn that sat beside his photo was in sharp contrast to his face.

There were flags standing behind the table guarding all of these precious contents protectively, and a floral arrangement containing red and white roses sat alongside.

We all stood behind the family, as they sat in their chairs. This family has seen so much loss, and incredible pain, but you can see their unity, and they hold each other close, and gain strength especially from their Mother Holly who has had to endure so much. She is a pillar of strength, but her heart has been fractured once again.

This kind of loss has devastated every one of us involved.

kJ was a believer in Jesus Christ, so we are confident that we will see him again, and be reunited, but our hearts are crushed to realize that he won’t be on this earth with us any longer. Until that day Kj… we will live for you… love for you, and wait with longing to see your sweet face once more..

Rest easy nephew.

Being left to pick up the pieces of life is challenging. There may be flash backs for those intimately involved, and residual effects, and trauma that may carry on through people’s’ lives.. nothing is the same.. how can it be? Therapy is happening with some of the guys.. it is needed.. we need to talk through these horrible tragedies… and find comfort… some way.. somehow.

Prayer is required.

Please…. if you know anyone who speaks of suicide, or talks of being alone, hopeless… we care.. let yourself be seen.. you matter.. you are loved.. Even if you are dealing with overwhelming issues.. you are not alone.. if it’s about, depression, money issues, shame, betrayal, sickness, any mental health issues, you are important.. you are somebody’s’ daughter or son.. please don’t give up… whatever it is…

National suicide prevention hotline

1-800-273-8255

Open 24 hours every day

Kj has a favorite bible verse, and he had a shield tattooed on his arm .

Thanksgiving came and went, and we gathered and sang, and prayed together. We are thankful. This family has been rocked to its core. We have been through deaths, divorces, marriages, and remarriages, grandchildren born, and plenty of sorrow, but also joy and happiness and celebration.

We are in now in a house of mourning, but we are in God’s house, and we are surrounded by his love and comfort, and rest there, even when we don’t understand this loss.

The sky is blue and promising, the golden sunlight glows hope, there is the sound of childrens’ laughter.. even in the midst of terrible tragedy… Jesus is still our hope.

Happy Thanksgiving, and a joyous Christmas season to those on earth, and those who are in heaven…