Answering the world’s most difficult question.

confusion2Many years ago, I read a book by Dennis Prager entitled “Happiness Is A Serious Problem” It asserted that we had a “moral obligation” to be happy or at least not to impose our pain, foul moods, or complaints on others. It counseled to be happy until something made you sad instead of waiting for something to make you happy. Happiness, it warned, required hard work.

I used to think I was a pretty good practitioner of happiness. I “worked hard” to be grateful, hopeful, and positive in the face of all the adversity that came crashing into our lives in the hope of keeping “unhappiness” at bay. Even now, when nestled in the cocoon of family and friends, I thought I could successfully maintain my attitude through an unspoken code imbued with understanding and encouragement. When asked “How are you?” I assumed it meant “How are you (under the circumstances)” and when I responded “Great”, I trusted they knew it meant “Great (considering)”.  I had no fear of burdening my family and friends with my pain because they had witnessed it.

Meeting new people however, made me panic.  My heart would start beating rapidly, my hands got clammy, perspiration ran down my neck and back.  I begged the universe to withhold the question but there was no way of avoiding it.  At some point I was asked the most difficult question in the world. The only question with the power to force me to betray my obligation to be happy and make me impose my pain on others. That question – how many children do you have?

At first, I was careful to avoid the subject of children all together by focusing on career and travel, but it made me feel shallow to avoid talking about their children in an effort to mask what had happened to mine. Then, I pretended I was being called away – “oh look my husband needs me” – it was dismissive and rude – not me. I attempted limiting the conversation to the two older ones but that left me feeling like Peter denying Christ.  In my last foray into this awful question, I blamed the questioner “Well, since you’ve asked, I had three boys, two living”  I thought it was a fine answer until I noticed the hesitation on their face. My answer had generated another question, “How did he die?”  It was not something they asked, but I could sense their curiosity, children don’t just die, something happens. I reluctantly added he had cancer and steered the conversation away from the sadness as tears threatened to burst forward.  I was secretly congratulating myself for handling the matter well when I began to fret about something else – had I been smiling when I spoke of my loss?

I understand now that I was momentarily paralyzed by what I believed to be mutually exclusive positions. While I did not want to impose my pain, I also did not want to judged as being “too happy”.   The fact is that I am too happy and too sad at the same time. I am the happiest I’ve ever been because I am finally learning what it is like to live free of fear and I am the saddest I’ve ever been because my greatest fear came true. I had lost friends and acquaintances my age in childhood and prayed never to experience the pain of those parents. I worried about my kids, most often worrying that I wasn’t worried enough. When the unthinkable happened to me, I woke up the following day and took a breath, then a step followed by another. One day I found myself smiling, then laughing. I realized that although I had every reason to be unhappy, sad, angry and bitter, happiness was possible – I simply had to choose it.  What I never expected is that the choice would have its own reward, evidence of Gus’ presence and unstoppable love.

We do have a moral obligation to be happy but not for others – for ourselves.  Others benefit from our happiness sure, but in the end they must also make the choice.  The next time someone asks me the most difficult question in the world – I think I will answer – “I have three wonderful boys, one of them is an angel”.

Dia De Los Muertos

Dia de los muertos 2I have long thought that it is a miracle that the vast majority of us are born perfectly fine and live well into old age.  Somehow billions of cells (I have no clue how many cells are actually in the body but it seems like a lot) combine to form perfect human beings with the correct amount of toes, fingers, eyes, ears and limbs that usually function pretty well for an amount of time that defies explanation.  How does a nose not wind up in the middle of your body or an ear on your elbow?  Why can one person who smokes like a chimney live and die of old age while another person who never smoked die of lung cancer? I am grateful for the eight additional years we got with Gus by the efforts of those who fight to cure cancer but I often wonder if we don’t struggle too much to hold on to our youthful lives as though continued medical intervention and making our faces and bodies appear young will somehow fool death into passing us by. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t welcome death, it is tragic and painful but only for those of us left behind, the souls of our departed are in the spirit world without pain or worry.

The Dia de Los Muertos is not intended to be a somber reminder of loss but an affirmation of the cycle of life so we can live it with more meaning and awareness. Elaborate altars are built for our departed in their memory and to lure them back to us with offerings of their favorite food and drink in deference to a belief that the soul lives on after death. Since Gus’ passing I have adopted this tradition in earnest, building an elaborate altar which is up from the beginning of October to November 2nd and hosting an ever growing party at which our family and friends add pictures of their loved ones to our altar.  The result is that although Gus is still the main star, he is now surrounded by many angels. I am profoundly grateful for this tradition as it has become a wonderful way to give thanks to our friends and family for their support and share the joy of life as we remember all of our loved ones together.

My grandfather loved the following poem by Amado Nervo. He would recite it at the top of his lungs at family parties when I was young.

“At Peace” 

Very near my sunset, I bless you, Life because you never gave me neither unfilled hope nor unfair work, nor undeserved sorrow. Because I see at the end of my rough way that I was the architect of my own destiny and if I extracted the sweetness or the bitterness of things it was because I put the sweetness or the bitterness in them when I planted rose bushes I always harvested roses Certainly, winter is going to follow my youth But you didn’t tell me that May was eternal I found without a doubt long my nights of pain But you didn’t promise me only good nights And in exchange I had some peaceful ones I loved, I was loved, the sun caressed my face Life, you owe me nothing, Life, we are at peace!

May we all find peace in and with our lives…








Gus you are forever the source of my joy!

Magical Gus

Smile - I'm Fine

Smile – I’m Fine

It occurs to me that we spend a great deal of time in life thinking about what happens after death. If the movies are any indication, we seem to have come to the consensus that the only way our spirits can linger on earth, if they linger at all, is as attacking, angry, torturing, evil presences. Otherwise the “good” spirits are supposed to have gone to the light where they roam about in vast fields awash in vibrant colors as the most beautiful version of themselves just waiting for us to join them.

It doesn’t seem fair that only evil spirits would have the power to make their presence known.  Shouldn’t loved and cherished spirits have the power to conquer all including death? As a Mexican-American I believed the spirits of our loved ones are always there to guide us; we need only be open to the signs. In my own life, when I was most anxious, worried and afraid, I had the sense that my grandmother came to me. Just as I started thinking of her, her favorite song (a very old one) played on the radio or she’d come to me in a dream.  But most often I felt her near me in the dead of night. I’d be jolted from a deep sleep by the smell of cigarettes (none of us smoke). The specific scent of her Lucky Menthols lingering far into me becoming fully awake.

The night Gus died I thought I felt his weight against my arm as though he had slipped into bed between us as he had done nearly every night since birth. I hoped to feel it again the next night and the night after that but the feeling never returned. I was beginning to think that it was only wishful thinking that had kept my grandmother around when we went to see AJ Barrera.  The reading suggested a spiritual awareness though that was far beyond what I ever imagined.  When we left, we resolved to be more open to the spirit, more specifically Gus’ spirit.

We left AJ’s house and headed to a Hallmark store for a gift.  Since Gus’ passing we’ve walked into a million stores carrying those painted wood signs with inspirational sayings.  We even bought the one with the quote by Wilfred Peterson, that says “Walk with the dreamers, the believers, the courageous, the cheerful, the planners, the doers, the successful people with their heads in the clouds and their feet on the ground. Let their spirit ignite a fire within you to leave this world better than when you found it…” The sign we saw that day was different. It appeared like a personal message sent from above coming so soon after the reading.  It simply said:


This was our thing with him.  A nearly daily verbal war that was never resolved.  He’d usually start with “I love you Mom or Dad” and we’d say “I love you more” and then he’d say “I love YOU more”, and we’d go around and around until something else diverted our attention.  In typical Gus fashion he was getting the first word, foreshadowing Gus’ alternate presence in our lives.




For my birthday that year, his art teacher and a dear friend to me was wondering what to give me when she found this drawing he’d made on a rare day he was at school that last year.


My friend swears the box in which it was found had been emptied the previous fall in advance of the new fourth grade class and gone through a number times.  She was shocked to pull it out as an answer to what I should get for my birthday.





For father’s day a month later, my husband and older sons decided to go golfing at the last minute, getting one of the last few tee times at a course they’d never been to. They arrived to discover that a fourth man had been added to the group who walked up to them and said “Hi, I’m Gus!”.

Then later on the Fourth of July, a day Gus loved because we’d spend the entire day at the beach lighting sparklers well into the night, we found this:


A band he’d likely made at his last cub scout camp out. Could we have really overlooked it each time the car was cleaned out for over a year until it appeared in time for one of his favorite holidays?




His prayer card (shown above) says “Smile. I’m Fine”.  It is what he said to me each time he could see that I’d been crying.  I tried desperately not to cry in his presence, but sometimes I could not help it, the tears streaming down my face as much in grief as in anger that my precious boy was in crisis again.  AJ said Gus’ mission was to help us; to remind us to smile because we would be fine on earth as we are in heaven.

While I wish everyday he was here in the flesh, I am amazed at the many ways he continues to be present in our lives and how the spirit moves to answer and address the questions and concerns that affect our hearts.

Love you more……

Knocking on Heaven’s Door – Part Four

Always smiling

Always smiling

I have no doubt that many readers will find a million ways our meeting with AJ Barrera was a complete farce.  We are after all grieving parents eager for evidence that our son is not really lost to us. Even I can point to the many times we offered up unsolicited information.  However, there is no way AJ could have known about the collie, the location of Gus’ memorial shelves in our house, the memorial plaque at his school (see below), that Gus would poke fun at his relationship with his oldest brother (see below) or that he would take credit for the music that fills his other brother’s life now (see below), not to mention accurately describing the personalities of all the other relatives that made an “appearance”.  But the reading was even more than that, hitting nearly every aspect of the difficulties and questions we had not even had the heart to talk to each other about. For example, until the reading, my husband had been incapable of venturing into the backyard, especially where the wagon was hiding directly across from the swing set.  It was there, at the bottom of the slide, that he and Gus had last spoken, having a heart to heart about life as Gus enjoyed the sun warming his bald head.  For my part, I was wondering if he’d woken up on the other side disappointed that he was no longer with us.  I could almost hear him say, “Aw Man, I’m dead…”.  I worried that it was my fault for not giving him the stem cells sooner, that I had missed something that would have kept him alive. It gave me great peace to know there was nothing I could do to prevent it and that he had been in control of his leaving and was ready for his transition. We left the reading with the knowledge that Gus is not just in our hearts and memories but that his spirit is actually still with us – we only have to be open to the signs.  Like our walk in Spain, our reading with AJ was trans-formative.  Since then, Gus is as present in our lives as ever and we are practicing living each moment with more presence and openness.  Life can be truly magic.

Final reading segment:

AJ:          I might misinterpret this….is there….I actually want to drop it down younger.  So I want to drop it down to your younger energy and I rather be wrong on it, but is there actually like a mural or either some sort of engraving or some sort of writing that you had done in honor of your son that I have to bring up here?

Us:         Yeah..

AJ:          Where is this if you don’t mind me asking?

Us:         It’s a memorial plaque at his school.

Memorial Plaque at Gus' school.

Memorial Plaque at Gus’ school.

AJ:          He wants to let you know…” thank you for honoring him and thank you for doing this” because there is a part of it that is written and it’s engraved and there is a part of it that he wants to let you know, it’s his way of waking up and being a legend because he is a legend on the other side because he is known on this side, there is like a superhero type of energy, that he is still strong and not fighting this but still the main guy on this side.  Is there a reference to him like just being like honestly a character?

Us:         Yeah..

AJ:          Because part of it like he is making me feel like “I am not sick, look, I’m not sick”, part of it like I’m alive, I’m happy, I’m having a good time and his energy for me is about kind of making you guys happy and making you guys laugh because I feel like his energy, when it was here physically was kind of to make you guys happy and make sure mom and dad were ok, it wasn’t for you guys to make him up, you know what I mean? I feel like his duty was to assist you and help you guys out as well, he’s also bringing up for me, do you actually…and this will sound very unique,  you don’t have his jacket with you do you?

Us:         Not with us for today, no.

AJ:          Do you carry his jacket around?  Why would he bring up his jacket?

Us:         His sweatshirt is hanging inside his room and I grab onto it every day.

AJ:          He wants to let you know that “I’m there with you when you do that”, “I’m there with you”, because he is making me feel like I need to acknowledge the jacket or the sweatshirt he is identifying with you and he wants to let you know I am still there for that event, I am still part of your life, because his energy, again, he is alive, like spiritually, he’s like right here, my hair is just rising, he’s a vibrant energy for you guys again, it’s not about the medium it is truly about you guys of understanding of why he wants to come across to you guys, it’s about making sure that mom and dad are ok.  They are also bringing up for me like when this energy….. did you say your mom passed on the fourteenth?

Us:         Uh –hugh.

AJ:          Then there must be another reference to this, because flag day is like June 15th, so is there another significance to a governmental holiday, that I need to bring up for you guys?

DSC_0038-1Us:         This morning, the cub scouts go put flags on all the graves for Memorial day.

AJ:          Are you guys doing an event?

Us:         I haven’t done it the last two years, today and last year but we did every year since he was born with him as a guy in a stroller, or as a cub scout.

AJ:          Have a party for him, he is going to be at those events so if you are placing the flags, he wants to acknowledge that I will be there with you guys, so enjoy the moment, enjoy the time with him and even though spiritually he is around you guys even though physically he is not, there is part that he wants to let you know I am still a part of your life today as well,  because when I look into you guy’s energy, he is making me feel like, you guys are a team, you are a whole, you guys are a backbone, so I don’t feel like one is weaker than the other I definitely feel like you guys balance each other where you guys are at, but his energy is like I just want to step forward and be this true energy for you guys as well.  Why? Is there a weird reference… you guys have ties to Orlando? Like Florida?

Us:         We took him to Disneyworld.  I have some relatives there.  We went there twice with him.

AJ:          It’s something one step further.  I don’t think it’s just Disney.  Or two I need to call him by a different name. So would he go by like Dopey, Sleepy, Goofy or something like that?  Is there a name that I am actually supposed to bring up here? To acknowledge him, or to acknowledge one of you guys? I feel like it’s a funny, haha, reference that he wants to acknowledge because I don’t think it’s just making the trip to Disneyland because I’d actually see like Anaheim but I feel like if you have ties to Orlando, then I feel like in some sense I need to acknowledge Disneyworld or maybe the name of something.  There is something they want to bring up here, like it’s a name.

Us:         We used to call his brother Grumpy.

AJ:          That makes sense, his brother?

Us:         Yeah.

AJ:          Your brother?

Us:         No, his older brother.

AJ:          Still call him Grumpy. Let him know he is still Grumpy from the other side, because I feel like I need to acknowledge him, and need to acknowledge like the name the character, and was he close to his brother if you don’t mind my asking?

Us:         Yes.

AJ:          Because I need to acknowledge him in a joking way, like bust his chops and let him know that I still want to feel like the brother energy.  But he is making me feel like he’s the better half though. So kind of like tease him with that, so he makes like he was known for that and even though parents don’t have like a favorite child, there is a part of him like he is the better one. So I feel like it’s his way of teasing him in a unique way because he’s making me feel like “I still have all the attention” regardless.   So I feel like it’s that type of energy of how he wants to step forward for both of you guys, you know what I mean? And I feel like the energy of him is just to be funny.  It is truly just to be funny and remember him how he was like today as well.  Now is there a separate energy, like on you guy’s level that is like a male that is passed over?  When I say your level I mean, brother, cousin, friend.

Us:         No – we don’t think so.

AJ:          If not then I might be switching over…….  AJ does switch over after all this time to another person in the group but Gus was not done.   After speaking to another woman for about twenty minutes, AJ turns back over and says…. Why is your son bringing up music? Was he a musician or why is he bringing up music?

Us:         No.  Our middle son is really into music all of a sudden.

AJ:          Your son is bringing up music.  Like he wants to let you know… like I am seeing musical notes.  Like when I am talking to her, he just threw music at me.  So I feel like it’s almost like he is not done, you know what I mean?  So I feel like he wants to jump in so I feel like of how they want to jump in just to acknowledge the energy.  They often do that just to get like the little messages across but I feel when your dad steps forward I need to acknowledge the signs and signals, so I feel like he is going to be inspired, like your son is inspiring your son now as sending the music across to him.



Knocking on Heaven’s Door – Part Two

Is this really Gus?

Is this really Gus?

I left off just as Gus was “coming through”.  I admit the first part with Paul’s grandfather and my grandmother was somewhat generic.  The spirits were just sending love and promising to be with us but what he was about to tell us about Gus and then Paul’s mother would be far more specific and really the capture the “spirits” of Gus and his Nana.

AJ: Is there a younger energy passed over for you guys as well? I have to acknowledge, is this yours? (pointing at me) or both of you guys?

Us:         Both of us

AJ:          Both of you guys; Ok – I have to acknowledge that grandma is bringing through a younger energy and she wants to acknowledge that it is over there with me as well. When they bring this energy it makes me feel like it’s a ball of energy, so it makes me feel like its vibrant, its vibrant, its vibrant. And they are also bringing up for me, now I can totally misinterpret this but I actually feel like there is no responsibility connected to this energy, so like there is a point if they push responsibility and no blame is connected here so I feel like there was no way of preventing it, no way of stopping it.  Do you understand that? And there is a part that I am actually supposed to bring up here, now this…would this actually be a young energy? Not someone that is older? This wouldn’t be like someone who is eighteen, twenty right?

Us:         No

AJ:          Here is the thing and I am going to be completely honest with you guys, I actually feel like a young energy … like a kid.  I don’t know if there was life expectancy with this energy but there is part that I feel like I need to talk about like “I am living my life” and “I’m growing up with you guys as well.” They are also bringing up for me to talk about August. So where is August connected at?

Us:         That was his name.

AJ:          So it would be just their way of acknowledging and their way of stepping forward as well and there is a part of it that they want to step forward for you that “we’re here for you as well”  I don’t know how long ago the individual passed away, you don’t need to tell me, but there is a part of it they are making me feel like “I am well adapted on this side” and “I want to come through for you guys”, the part with the energy is that and this will sound very unique, um… are you familiar with the radio flyer, like the little red wagon? Is there a reason why I am actually supposed to bring that up? [AJ told us he communicates with the “other side” through his “spirit guides” so the “they” must refer to them]

Us:         He had one.

AJ:          Do you guys still have it?

Us:         Yeah.

We found the radio flyer here. The thing about this spot is that Gus used to spend a great deal of time perched on these two roofs.

We found the radio flyer here. The thing about this spot is that Gus used to spend a great deal of time perched on these two roofs.

AJ:          Make note to it. I don’t know why they are bringing up here, I don’t know if this is something I need to make note of like it moves by itself, I have no idea but there is a part of that the energy is saying that “I’m still around this wagon” so if it’s a toy wagon or actually a big wagon I need to acknowledge like the radio flyer type of thing, that “I am still around you guys” as well.


You can just make out the radio flyer in this picture.

You can just make out the radio flyer in this picture.

AJ: The part with your energy is that it’s making me feel like, and I’m being completely honest, it’s almost like I’m here and then I’m gone. Like I don’t, and I’m being completely honest, like I feel like a part with it’s that it’s not that they did not know what happened it just happened that’s the type of energy they are bringing up here; but they are also bringing up for me like, do you know if there was anything going on with its like blood stream that I have to bring up here? Like, either something was enlarged?… When the individual, your son did not, your son? He didn’t internally bled-out or bleed-in did he?

Us:         No. He had a…He had an infection.

AJ:          Ok.  He is bringing up his blood disease like whatever happened in his blood, but he is making me feel like something internally happened with him so and I’m sorry to be personal here but do you if this actually physically shut down his whole system?

Us:         Yes [Gus died of Septicemia, his internal organs shut down one by one over less than twenty-four hours]

AJ:          Ok.  I need to acknowledge, I don’t feel like this was one thing that happened as if it was a heart attack, an aneurism, you know what I mean this isn’t something that slowly deteriorated but I feel like it just snowballed with him, do you understand that?  And there is a part of it that he makes me feel like I need to acknowledge you (pointing at Paul).  So I don’t know if you still communicate with your son but he wants to acknowledge Dad, Dad, Dad and Happy Father’s Day because it’s coming up so I have to acknowledge, he wants to be like the father, he still wants to be like the dad type of energy around you, and still wants to kind of like, what I am seeing and don’t take the wrong way but like my dog going around my leg so I feel like it’s that the energy that it still wants to be connected with you still wants to hug you as well and they are also bringing up for me now, was August not supposed to be his name though?

Us:         [We giggle but don’t offer any more info. No one called him August but Gus and since we didn’t give him a middle name, he always wanted one and gave himself the name Zach.]

AJ:          Or two am I actually supposed to call him by a different name? Ok He is making me feel like I am not supposed to call him by like his name or I am actually supposed to call him by a different name and he wants to acknowledge like “I want to joke around about this”, “I want to joke around about this” as well and there is a type of energy, and don’t take this the wrong way, but I have to direct it to either to you mom because he is making me feel like “mom it’s not my fault”, “mom it’s not my fault” – so if there is either responsibility that you feel like you personally could have prevented it or stopped it, I need to let you know – I need to dust my hands clean from the situation and I need to let you know that “I made it over there safely”.  (Medium pauses looks off to the floor)  Would he be over five? [I did feel and sometimes still do feel responsible that I did not prevent his death.  I missed the clues and didn’t push harder to get another treatment.]

Us:         Yes

AJ:          Would he be eight?

Us:         He was ten.

AJ:          Where is like the eight significant at?

Us:         He’d been ok (in remission) for eight years.

AJ:          For eight years he was sick?

Us:         No he was fine for eight years and then he got sick again.

AJ:          (Pauses. Looks off to the side). Were you guys… Were you guys refusing medical advice… with your son? Like meaning like you guys were supposed to put on a respirator but took him off or like you were supposed to give him meds but you didn’t do it? Like they are showing me A. M. A. which represents “against medical advice” so is there something that you guys should have had done or something the doctors should have done but you guys didn’t do it?

Us:         I… I don’t know, I mean we were trying to get him to…there is the stem cells thing but that wasn’t really against medical advice.

AJ:          Like how, like what were you going to say?

Us:         Well we opted not to follow through on one protocol of one treatment. [We refused to return his stem cells immediately after one of his treatments because they warned us that while they are “cleaned” some cancer cells can still get by. It would take a long time but his bone marrow could recover on its own, he relapsed anyway.]

AJ:          Was that both of you guys’ decision?

Us:         Yes

AJ:          Here is the part of that, he is making me feel like I need to acknowledge this thing so if you guys feel like you should have done it, you should have went into it, again whatever the situation is like don’t feel responsible that you guys should have done it because I feel like it would have happened anyway and I’m sorry to be blunt about it but I feel like this energy already made its transition you know what I mean, it’s already on its verge and the part of it about this energy, it wants to validate for you is that (gardener makes lots of noise) sorry…sorry about the noise let me close this door real quick guys I don’t want to be distracted (closes door) but I feel like to make sense of what’s happening there is a part of it that I need to acknowledge the medical thing that happened like prior to the situation, prior before the passing and I feel like I need to let you know do not worry about that as well.  They are also bringing up for me…like do you… you guys don’t have a collie?

Us:         No we had one. I had a collie a long time ago. [This one really got us, not even Gus knew the collie, it passed before he was born and note he did not just say “dog” but collie – the collie’s name was Laddie]

AJ:          Is the collie passed over?

Us:         Yeah.

AJ:          I have to let you know he has the collie with him. (We start to laugh) I have to let you know he is with him on the other side because to me he is petting the dog (makes petting motion with his hand) to me he looks like Lassie but he is showing me the collie he has it on the other side.  He also wants to validate that we are part of the energy, we are part of the family so again whatever time frame has passed he wants to let you know we are still together, we are still one big family. But I don’t know if he knew your grandmother in life but he wants to let you know “I need to thank grandma for doing this and I need to thank grandpa for doing this” basically, these other loved ones for bringing through this energy.  The part with your son’s energy though is that, it’s like…I don’t want to be rude about it but it’s like he already knew but I don’t know if you guys told him what was going to happen because there is a part that I feel like there was a knowing that was there, like it’s almost like he knew he was going to make his transition, like he knew what was going on, like I don’t feel like this kid wasn’t aware of the situation but he is just making me feel like it just happened. — [We never told Gus he had “cancer”, we never told him he might die, actually he was doing really well despite the second relapse with his chemo. His death was not expected when it happened]– Do you know, and I don’t want to be personal here, (pause) do you know if he actually, and I don’t want to be blunt with this but did he like just pass away in his bed?

Us:         Yeah, well not in his bed he was in a hospital bed.

AJ:          He was in a medical bed because I feel like “I didn’t wake up”, like I feel like “I fell asleep and didn’t wake up” there is that type of thing that he is bringing up here so I don’t feel again like this was a cardio thing but I almost feel like I took my last breath and he wants to validate like “I’m still breathing”, “I’m still breathing” so if there is an issue that happened here within respiratory he wants to validate that I am still committed to being with you guys as well.  He is also bringing up for me like if I first walk into your front door, I actually feel like I am directly into your living room but I feel like off to the left is an offset dining room, is that correct?

Us:         Off to the left? No that is the living room.

AJ:          Ok, then I need walk to be in there. Do actually have a memorial in there of him?

Us:         Yeah

Gus' Memorial exactly where he described on the left side of the family room.

Gus’ Memorial exactly where he described on the left side of the family room.

AJ:          I need to acknowledge whatever is up or whatever is put out, he wants to let you know “thank you for doing this” so if this is even some sort of, I don’t even want to call it a shrine but I feel like it’s more like memorabilia in some sense he wants to let you know “I’m known for this” and “people see me”.  Do you understand that?

Us:         Yeah

AJ:          And there’s a part, he didn’t have like a, and this is going to sound funny to you, you know the Little Rascals?

Us:         Yeah

AJ:          You know Spanky?

Us:         Yeah

AJ:          Did he? Is there a hat that I am actually supposed to bring up that he has? You know how like the little spins?

Us:         Yeah

AJ:          Is there a hat that I am actually supposed to bring up or is there a reference that I am actually supposed to bring up to like the bowl hair cut? Did he have a bowl hair cut? I don’t know where he is going with this. But I feel like it’s about his appearance about either what he is wearing or what his hair looked like. So they are showing me Spanky. So I need to acknowledge this.

Gus and his hat.  He always asked me when he was going to be "normal" again.

Gus and his hat. He always asked me when he was going to be “normal” again – so it was curious that AJ used that language.

Us:         Oh, he had no hair so and he used to cover it up with a hat.

AJ:          I need to acknowledge that he has his hair back, that he has his hair back because I feel like he wants to joke around about his looks and appearance and he wants to acknowledge that “I’m normal again” and I feel like with his type of energy he wants to me to feel like you guys weren’t hurting him. So I don’t know if there was fear that you guys were putting him through trauma, or you guys were putting him through the situation, but he’s making me feel like (chuckles) “it’s all good” like, “it’s all good” like there is a part of his energy that “I’m still alive”.  I’m also supposed to bring up here, do you also have another younger energy, female energy connected here like still living?

Us:         Um. I mean nieces.

AJ:          You don’t have another daughter? I mean you don’t have a daughter? You are not pregnant are you?

Us:         Not that I know of.

AJ:          (Very awkward pause) I don’t want to get too personal but are you guys trying to have another kid?

Us:         No but we are not preventing it.

AJ:          Here is the thing that I feel like I need to bring in a female energy not a male energy so if someone just had a child that would make sense, if someone is going to have a child that would make sense but if none of that I need to bring up a new energy coming in. So it means like you’re pregnant, you are going to get pregnant, um…I’m fluttering that is why so when someone is fluttering I know there is a baby situation going on.

Us:         Ok. That would be his gift to us, I guess. [No – I am not pregnant, at my age that would be a miracle BUT my cousin did give birth to a beautiful baby girl April 2014.]

AJ:          No I feel like it’s his way of acknowledging that circle of energy so if there is something you guys are… try not to stop it because I feel like there is a new energy so if this is something you guys choose to do, I feel like there is a new energy coming in. So it’s his way of kind of acknowledging himself and acknowledging that circle of energy as well.  Why would he bring up for me like…was this individual really hooked up to like IVs and everything?

Us:         Yes, a lot.

AJ:          Like I mean… like poked and prodded, like the whole nine ok… there is a part of it that I feel like this child is actually to me an old soul type of energy, it’s almost like it’s lived it’s life and it’s making me feel like “I’ve done this before and I was actually here to assist you and help you”.  I feel like with your son’s energy with both of you guys, is that even though your son passed away there is a part that he is making me feel like, you guys still haven’t gone through the grieving process and truly let go of that situation.  It doesn’t mean that you guys have to forget about him but it is to help you guys move forward because he is making me feel like “mom and dad” he is showing me green lights over on both of you guys which represents to let go and to move on. It doesn’t mean to detach from the situation but just know he is part of your life and I feel like in some sense I want to lead with dad more so than mom, it is almost as if you feel guilty for being happy. You know what I mean, so it’s like if you are not happy it’s just like I should be thinking about my son, I should not be happy and having a good time and he is like “dad you need to have a good time, dad you got to enjoy your life”. And they are also bringing up for me, they are bringing up a boat around you so I don’t know if you guys are going on a cruise or if you are going on a trip, but he is bringing up a big boat that’s around you. So why is the boat significant here?

Us:         We went on a trip recently [We thought he was talking about Spain.]

AJ:          Was it a cruise?

Us:         No.

AJ:          What is the boat referencing?

Us:         Oh We were supposed to go on a cruise but then he got sick again. [We had booked a cruise to Baja the year he relapsed that we never took.]

AJ:          Was that because of him?

Us:         Yeah.

AJ:          Make the cruise happen.  Take the cruise.  He will be there for that event, because I feel like I need to acknowledge like bringing the enjoyment of having a good time so if it’s something you felt you know we couldn’t do it because you had to spend more time with your son, our son if you will, he wants to let you know mom and dad enjoy that time and make it happen as well.

It will take another two posts to finish our “reading” with AJ. He actually spent more than forty minutes just with us.  ALSO – we are taking the cruise.  The entire family is making that trip happen in less that two weeks and just to prove that Gus is always helping us – Carnival honored our previously paid and “lost” deposits for everyone.  


Twenty-four months

Gus - Where are you?

Gus – Where are you?

I’ve been contemplating the difference between months and years this past week, deciding that there is a certain infancy implied in “months” that is lost in “years”.  Consider a two-year old toddler, saying they are 24 months old still says “baby” even if that “baby” walks and talks.  So as the second anniversary of Gus’ passing neared, I decided it would not be two years since I last held him but a mere twenty-four months, since I last rubbed his feet and kissed his face. I would be slowing time this way, artificially shortening the distance between when he was last here and today.

As the day got closer, my husband worked later and later as much to keep up with work as to avoid coming home. He felt bad about this, apologizing constantly for leaving me “alone” but I was not hurt, I had my own distractions; like purging the house, reading, writing and exercising, anything to keep from having too much time to cry. Early yesterday morning, shortly after when Gus would have taken his last breath those many months before, a curious thing happened.  My husband came to bed late, about 1:30 am. He was tired but could not sleep, the weight of the next day starting to settle on him. I was asleep but restless, my dreams retracing the last twenty-four hours of his life trying to find the point where I might have saved him from his fate.  We sat up from our various places to the sound of footsteps, two feet were clearly making their way from the boy’s rooms towards ours, stopping just at the entrance to our room.  My sub-conscious mind called out “Gus!”, recalling the many years Gus had done that, walk from his room to our room stopping at the door to call to us before jumping into our bed. My mouth however, operated by my conscious mind that knew it could not be Gus, called out “Frankie?”, as unlikely as it was that we could not see a 6’1, 22 year-old man standing at our open door.  My husband scrambled for the light, hoping we wouldn’t find a stranger crawling into our room, instead finding our dog “Girl” staring at us with a look of sympathy and understanding.  Never mind that Girl knows better than to come upstairs and on the rare occasion that she does, her steps do not sound like feet.  They sound like paws with little nails click clacking on the wood floor, slip-sliding on the rug in the hallway.  We let her lay down next to our bed, knowing that Gus had brought her to comfort us.

We still cried at the mass we dedicated to him the following morning and as we placed flowers, a bag of his favorite hot cheetos and a snicker’s bar at his niche but the phantom steps of the night before stayed with us, assuring us that as the months turn to years he will always be with us.

Girl - Gus never got a chance to name her so she is just "Girl"

Girl – Gus never got a chance to name her so she is just “Girl” – by the way Girl stayed downstairs the following night.  

Gus did have a chance to meet her via phone.

But he did have a chance to meet her via phone.










Grief – an upside?

It has been a one year, eight months, twelve days and nine and a half hours since we lost of youngest son, Gus, to his second battle with a neuroblastoma in his short but well lived ten years – but who is counting.  I should state at the outset that we were lucky? blessed? fortunate? (no word seems right) that neither of his two battles with cancer were terrible as weird as that sounds. Both times, the first when he was two years of age and the second eight years later, he did “well” with all of his treatments – chemo, radiation, and stem cell transplants.  Yes, he lost his hair and he lost tons of weight but he was always in good spirits, happy, calm, above it all in a manner that was truly beyond his age.  He seemed to have an understanding that there was a distance between body and his soul so much so that one day as he was being pumped with whatever was required that day he’d said to me “I’m sorry Mom, but this body is no good.” As we watched our brave little boy with great awe, admiration and helplessness endure his treatments I asked God for two favors – the first of course that he be cured and the second that if it was not to be to never make me tell him he was going to die and then to make it quick and painless.  God granted me the second.

Just before he died, early Sunday June 24, 2012, after a second five-day round of intense chemo for the second relapse in less than nine months, August Deppe raced his dad from the cancer center to the car -beating him as usual -for the last time.  He woke up the next day with a stomach ache, the beginning of septicemia, which would take him from us in less than twenty-four hours.   More than fifty people visited him that day and about thirty stayed with him, taking turns massaging his feet and holding his hand until he took his last breath. The ICU doctor said he’d never seen so many people for such a small child and speculated that he must have been very special.  He was. Kind, happy, hopeful, spirited, generous, thoughtful, courageous, brave, amazing – even death could not rob him of his inner light – on his face a final peace and on his lips a little smirk that suggested he’d taken a great secret with him.

I have always been a happy, optimistic – find the silver-lining kind of person but that day I wondered if I would ever stop crying.  Gus was the heart of our little community, his class and our family.  While a mother is never supposed to have a favorite, there was no way for me to help it.  Everyday he’d ask “How was your day Mom?” and I’d answer “better now that I am with you” and we’d hug each other and tell each other how much we loved each other – he was just that kid.  With his passing, the silence in the house was deafening and the busyness that had kept us swirling around him abruptly stopped.  We had difficulty looking forward to the next hour let alone the next day, month, holiday or year.  We’d had so many plans but all of them had included Gus.

This blog is about the diversions, distractions and motivations (the upsides) that are helping us live each day for and in honor of our son Gus.


August Deppe – August 10, 2001 – June 24, 2012

Smile – I’m Fine