A Christmas Miracle

DSC_0087I try to be used to it by now – Gus’ persistent absence, the silence, the ache but I am not and the pain still creeps up on me when I least expect it.  Most days, the daily routine blunts the sharp edges of his loss so I can’t dwell on it. I focus on being present and looking forward more times or at least as many times as I look back.   Lately, I had even been able to talk about him without welling up (so fast), but this holiday season was brutal and it took all of Gus’ angelic power to save Christmas.

This tale begins last January when in the midst of replacing our deteriorated driveway we decided to build the two story garage/office/recreation room we dreamed of when we bought our house nearly twenty years ago.  Despite my many years in construction, I allowed myself to plan for an unrealistic mid-fall completion. Cramming the contents of three storage sheds into two, as though it was a life-sized game of Tetris, I placed the holiday decor at the very back convinced the garage would be done well before I needed to get to them. Unfortunately, due to rules governing the “historic” zone in which we live, construction did not start until August and we would be lucky to be done by late January (so far so good).  Since it did not make much sense to empty the sheds in an effort to get a few trinkets out, I decided to forgo the “decorative” part of Christmas altogether.  What a mistake!

Thanksgiving weekend was spent pouring over construction budgets and completion schedules instead of swathing the house in holiday cheer while watching “Miracle on 34th Street” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” as was my custom. Without a single thing pointing to the impending holiday except for the dying wreath I had picked up on a whim at Costco, all I could do was dwell on what I wouldn’t have this Christmas.  No twinkling lights, no tree, no million presents, no older boy (working), no middle boy (in Hawaii with his girlfriend) and especially no baby boy (even though he would have been fourteen). My house felt particularly empty and cold (no heating either).

Just days before Christmas, although we’d managed to find inspirational gifts for the nieces and nephews (“smile” socks and sweaters), my holiday “spirit” was still nowhere in sight. I attempted to focus on how organized I would be when the garage was finished but that only made me think about whether I should store all of Gus’ things or start giving them away. I was in the midst of considering getting stickers made to place in his books before donating them (see below) –

Fina1- Gus Logo Label

when the idea that I needed to ask my extremely busy husband to draw a picture of a hummingbird came to me. I had no specific reason for wanting it, I just felt I had to ask.

Sadness took over when I arrived home however, and I could do nothing but miss Gus. Four years had passed since our last Christmas morning together and it broke my heart that he’d only gotten to ride the bike he’d received that year once before passing on. By the time my husband got home, I was lying in a heap of misery watching Purple Rain, a poor holiday movie choice made worse by how terrible the movie actually is (why I loved it as a teenager is lost on my adult self). With eyes swollen from crying and nothing to say, I forgot about the drawing and went to bed.

Christmas Eve morning, I summoned a modicum of seasonal cheer by tossing a poinsettia here and there to make the house seem more festive. When my husband returned from work about mid-day, even before he could set the bundle he was carrying down, I requested my drawing. When he said nothing, I quickly added that he did not have to feel pressure to do it any time soon because it wasn’t urgent and I was aware of his load at work. Nodding in relief (or so I thought) he shuffled away while I got ready for the rest of the day which included visiting Gus’ niche, having lunch, and watching football games before heading off to Christmas mass and dinner.

The next morning – he gave me my present.


As it happens, the same day I’d been inspired to ask for the drawing, he’d been inspired to draw it. He was actually carrying it in his arms having just framed it when I made my request. There is no explanation other than we’d each heard Gus’ whisper, his way of letting us know that he is always with us.  Thanks you Gus for this Christmas miracle, it made an otherwise miserable day very special.




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”.

50 Shades of Red


A few weeks ago middle son informed us that he was “going away” for Valentine’s weekend with his girlfriend of more than a year.  As a consummate planner, I appreciated the heads up so that I could get him his traditional valentine’s gift before he left.  Last week, I dropped in on SEES’ candy between errands and bought my boys the traditional small box of candies, a tiny gesture of my affection that I hope is obvious to them every day of the year.

In truth, I don’t like Valentine’s Day, it implies a certain kind of giddy, silly love I don’t particularly care for.  Love to me is serious, profound, and always life altering.  Notice that the color of love is red, its shape a heart, its flower a red rose.  Red is also the color of stop signs, blood and fire; the heart is the singular most important organ in our body and the rose is as prickly as it is beautiful. Love to me is present in the smallest actions; in the cheerful manner we greet each day, the gratitude with which we do our jobs, the enthusiasm with which we listen to each other’s stories, the attention we give to each other and the space that surrounds us.  Words and gifts to me are meaningless if not accompanied by the daily actions that make the sentiment irrefutable.  The “intention” to love is not enough, there is no lasting evidence of “intent” but the smallest daily action will stamp love all over your heart and soul forever.

Gus was in the habit of leaving notes for us everywhere. I love you dad is scribbled on an orange metal bucket he had in his room and on a piece of foil that was once used for now indeterminate purposes.  Sometimes, when we came to bed, we’d find a note on our pillow filled with his love and gratitude for all we did. Upon arriving from work daily, he’d ask me how my day had been and then sit with me while I made dinner. He attached himself to his brothers as though he was another appendage, draping a leg over each of them as he sat between them in the car or on the couch. Gus’ ten years were packed with so many little gestures that spoke of a love so strong we can all still feel it even in his absence.


I did not buy my boys (men) cards this year because when my office moved to another floor late last year I remembered seeing Valentine’s Cards that I had bought one year as I was likely planning for the next.  It broke my heart to pull them out yesterday as I prepared to write the notes that would accompany their candy, I discovered that I had bought them when I still had three boys living not just two.


My notes and candies were left on the hutch yesterday so that middle son could take it on his trip, just in case we did not see older son over the weekend and for my husband just to be fair.  I don’t wonder if I will receive anything in return because evidence of their love for me is everywhere.  Older son dusted the family room the other day, middle son did the dishes and husband works tirelessly never forgetting to squeeze my hand when he finally ambles into bed long after I’ve been nestled in.  I don’t need 50 Shades of Grey when I have 50 shades of Red.

Grateful for happiness?

Thanksgiving Table

Thanksgiving Table

Thanksgiving was at our house this year and in a sense it was the most relaxing one yet.  This is the first year I wasn’t stressed about making the turkey since taking over that duty from my mom, more than a decade ago.  My sister and I have tried to make it a bunch of different ways but slathering a mixture of butter and herbs de Provence between the skin and the meat makes the juiciest most delicious turkey so we stick with that recipe.  My broccoli gratin was made in advance and the rest was potluck so while twenty-eight of us would gather around the table this year, I spent the day taking a walk, watching football and generally just waiting for the turkey to be done.

Thanksgiving day was warm, sunny and stunningly beautiful.  My California sycamore seemed to glisten in the sun even as the leaves dropped gently to the ground.  It was the kind of day Gus would have been running around the yard, kicking at leaves, agonizing over how long much longer he’d have to wait to dive into the turkey.  I imagined his legs, which would have been by longer now, draped over the end of the couch as we watched the football games or episodes of Twilight Zone. I imagined I would have been trying to capture the family Christmas card picture while none of the boys cooperated. I willed myself not to cry.

Each year, before sitting for dinner, we go around the room taking turns expressing something for which we are most grateful for that year.  Over the years, this tradition has taken on a life of its own as I imagine all traditions do and going around the room has been taking longer and longer because everyone seems to want to make a speech.  I decided I would limit everyone to a single word this year.  To make sure we were all listening to each other, I would ask that each person first say the word just said by the person next to them before adding their own and that we try not to repeat any sentiment or object of our gratitude already expressed.  It would be a wonderful exercise in listening and being concise.

As the time neared for me to start off our expressions of gratitude I wondered what feeling or thing I would choose and if I could mean it. Grief can be unpredictable and devious and so while I thought I had somehow learned to co-exist with it, it has turned around and poked at me with much more ferocity than I expected this year.  I have been missing Gus terribly this holiday season. I feel constantly sad and on the verge of tears most days. Another holiday without him, another year gone by. I reminded myself that Gus would not want me to be sad or make others sad and so when it was time, I slapped a smile across my face and gathered everyone around the table.  After thanking everyone for joining us again, I said I was grateful for happiness and I began to mean it.

Allowing happiness to enter into our midst has been as difficult as the loss itself.  Being happy seems wrong somehow as though it is an act of betrayal or a sign that we are “over it”.  There is no getting over your losses, I still miss my grandmother now deceased thirty years, I miss my grandfather, my mother-in-law and I can’t imagine ever not missing Gus but I have to make a choice. I can either to wallow in the sadness or bask in the sunlight of happiness.  I choose happiness because that is the best way to honor my baby boy who was always happy even when he was sick.  The truth is there is much to be happy about, lots of “upsides”.  I have great friends, an awesome family, a wonderful husband and two amazing, talented, funny older boys.  I have lost weight and feel great about myself.  I have extraordinary parking karma, finding a spot near where I need to go even when the lot is full. I have a job a like and I am taking a shot at doing what I always wanted to do – write. I am finally in a book club through which I was introduced to incredible books and authors. We have been fortunate to have had many opportunities to travel this year.  We skied in Utah, visited my sister in New York, cruised through the Panama Canal, partied in Vegas a couple of times and next week we will head to Seattle to watch the Seahawks take on the 49niners.  We must be happy because everywhere we go, Gus is with us. Our most recent and obvious encounter with him was when we stopped in Cabo San Lucas at end of our family cruise.  Of all the places we could have chosen to stop for breakfast we just happen to pick the one restaurant that is permeated by the image of a figure with outstretched hands in a sign of victory much like Gus’ memorial picture.  Thank you Gus for giving us happiness by your life on earth and from above in heaven.

Gus' memorial picture

Gus’ memorial picture

Gus image on chairs

Gus image on chairs

Gus image on base of sinks

Gus image on base of sinks

Gus image on the window outside.  Gus with his brothers again.

Gus image on the window outside. Gus with his brothers again.

Spirit knows best

As seen from the couch.

As seen from the couch.

Last week I got uncharacteristically sick.  Oh, I get a cough and sniffle occasionally, but I don’t get dropped to the ground by viruses and bacteria, I am too strong for those pesky micro-organisms, or so I thought. Despite attempts at visualizing myself well, something or likely everything turned me into a body aching, feverish mess that did nothing but lay on the couch.  I am a terrible patient because illness makes me angry. I growled around because I had things to do, books to read, ideas to write down, and I had a great party to go to on Saturday that I had to miss!  I had no choice but to do what any normal terribly sick person would do – watch T.V.

On my worst “sick” day, one of the cable channels was playing Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and I watched it sideways from beginning to end.  At first it reminded me that I planned to start reading the series to Gus when he turned eleven.  Up until then, he’d only dabbled in reading, a Percy Jackson novel here, a partial try at the Hunger Games there, and he picked up the middle book in the Lemony Snicket’s series (who does that?) and quickly put it down (phew!).  Reading bored Gus or as he said “it made his eyes tired”, the only thing he every really got through was the Diary of a Wimpy Kid, the Bone graphic novels and anything that I read to him.  That fall was going to be different though, I had great aspirations, no more graphic novels, no more tired eyes, I would lead him to the Harry Potter holy grail and he would love to read on his own, I’d done this before.  As I drifted towards sadness a new thought gripped me, the good world had spared me from marring an otherwise wonderful memory.

The Harry Potter series is a cherished memory from a time before Gus.  Back then, I had two little boys, oldest aged 10 and little one 8, who didn’t bother to dabble they just hated reading.  I picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone out of desperation. I declared it a new nightly ritual to replace the half hour of cartoons they were allowed only if and when they finished their homework. The first time I picked up the book, they nearly fainted from the idea that they would have to sit there while I got through the very thick book. To distract them from its length, I offered to limit the reading to a single chapter a night. They leafed through the book and seeing that the chapters were not too long reluctantly agreed. Within a week the boys were asking for “just one more chapter” and then moaning and groaning because I had to close the book for bed time.  We flew through the first three books this way and then had to wait a year sometimes two for the next one.  It was a magical time although it wasn’t until the movies came out that we realized I read some of the names wrong like Hermion – instead of Her-mi-o-ne (sorry I’d never of heard of that name) and Hay-grid instead of Haa-grid.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was the first book they wanted to read on their own. I bought several copies of the book and we each read our copy sprinkled around the family room. We read the next two books the same, discussing it at the dinner table and teasing each other with the next surprise. The boys were in the middle of high school when the last book was published and they read it at Boy Scout summer camp while I read it at home. I was sobbing when I closed the book but not because of the book but because I knew my time with the boys was coming to a close.  They would soon be off to college and the rest of their lives.

It is tough to bridge back to happy memories when everyday is a reminder that we are making new memories that Gus is not there to share in.  Particularly difficult however, is to go back even further to the time before Gus as though failing to limit my memories to only the time with him is some kind of betrayal, but as I lay there watching the movie I was grateful to the Spirit for keeping the Harry Potter time safe from the sadness of loss. The Spirit always knows best…..


DSCN0700[1]Southern California is not known for its changing seasons but they do. Like anyplace else, even here the Fall makes things fall.  The sun is lower on the horizon, the trees begin shedding their leaves, and even the temperature begins to lower so that we have to pull out a sweater in the evenings, possibly even a jacket (it’s true).  It was always my favorite time of year.

Last Halloween Haunted House 2010

Last Halloween Haunted House 2010

It meant going back to school, soccer, football, haunting the house for Halloween, the smell of spiced pumpkin for Thanksgiving and the coming of Christmas. Our house was transformed each fall into a seasonal wonderland beginning in September. I knew it wouldn’t last.  I knew that eventually all of my boys would grow up and fail to see the charm of my decor. It had already started to happen, the older boys grumbled more when they had to help with the boxes, they walked by without noticing the new skeleton in the corner or the new cornucopia on the table. It didn’t matter to me. I still had Gus, he was only ten and still loved every part of it.  Then Gus died and fall fell from my view.  I’ve purged the house of every seasonal trinket now, the last of the table top displays going out just two weeks ago, but fall keeps coming.  It came the year Gus passed, it came again last year and it is here now. It just keeps Fall-ing.

I hate this Fall more than the last two because I noticed something about myself that I didn’t expect so soon.  I’ve become used to Gus being gone and I hate it.  I still think about him the entire day.  I am reminded he is around me whenever I hear the songs we played for each other, like this One Direction song he used to play over and over. I got dressed up this past weekend for a friend’s 25th wedding anniversary and it was playing in the car as soon as I entered. I knew then he liked the way I looked.

And whenever I hear The Wanted’s – “I am Glad you came” I know he is around me.  I used to sing this song to him on our way to the hospital every day.  Last year we were in Vegas for my brother-in-laws birthday and of all the clubs we could have gone to that weekend we just happen to pick the one club at which The Wanted was appearing. We were arms distance from them when they performed this very song.  AND, for my birthday this year, the song played everywhere I went. Even when I stopped at the supermarket, I found the produce guy singing along to it as it piped in from overhead. He turned to sing it to me as I walked by him.

While Gus still fills my thoughts, I am used to not picking him up after school, not taking him to soccer practice, not helping him with his homework, and not coordinating all of his extra curricular activities.  I am used to his physical absence and the silence that follows.  At times, I look at his pictures on the wall and wonder if his presence was ever real.  It is as if he was only ever a beautiful dream from which I’ve finally woken up from, instead of the nightmare my life is without him.

I get up everyday and go to work, I go to the gym in the afternoons and then I come home to watch to our favorite shows with the older boys who haven’t quite left home. This year I picked up cross-stitching again as I watch the NFL on Sundays. From my chair next to the window I can see that the giant california sycamore in our yard is already dropping its leaves.  Soon they will cover the yard all the way up to Gus’ swings which remain motionless. I appear to have fallen back into a routine, one I would have never thought possible.

I miss you....

I miss you….

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…..do 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.



Our Camino – Final Thoughts – April 12, 2013

Buen Camino

Buen Camino

We took a bus from Finisterre back to Santiago de Compostela.  What had taken us four days to walk was covered in less than three hours. The landscape looked different from the confines of a bus and as we rode along we thought about how the Camino had affected us.

When we planned the trip, we doubted that we could make it from Sarria to Finisterre, we wondered if the pain in our hearts would amplify the inevitable pain in our legs, leaving us stranded in the middle of Spain. We were angry, secretly demanding that God explain himself via burning bush or a hand written apology, however we’d settle for a glimpse of Gus, walking along with us, maybe just slightly ahead.  It was crazy of course but this particular “Camino” was a religious pilgrimage so why not?  There were no notes of course and the ground was too wet for bushes to burn, even miraculous ones, and all we were ever saw were cows but as we walked, we marveled at how much the journey mirrored life.

There were ups and downs and whole areas of mud and sludge that threatened to bog us down.  Forward progress went smoothly when “all water was under the bridge”, keeping us stagnant when it was not.  We’d proceeded carefully trying to avoid all the “crap”, while others simply stepped in it, but more often than not the “crap” found us anyway.

We thought about how easily we had faith in odd things, like Ewan of MacAdventures (not MacTours) to whom we entrusted our money and personal belongings, not once worrying that our hotels would not be booked or our things would not be safely kept ahead of us; and that the Camino markers were official, always taking us where we needed to go even when they were spray painted on the road; along the side of a house, or a tree.  Our struggle with faith therefore was not that we did not have it to throw around but that we had to keep it, even now, when things had gone horribly wrong.

The road to the end of the world was by far the most difficult part of our journey, but just when we wrestled with the idea that leaving Gus rocks, crosses and pictures was pointless and only adding to our misery, we’d met Andrew and Chris who lifted our spirits and were surprised to discover it was us who’d left the amazing rock they’d seen on their way out of Santiago after their own happenstance meeting.

We do not return ready to empty Gus’ room (if ever) or with any more clarity than when we left, but we proved to ourselves that we are stronger than we imagined having walked an average of 20km per day for ten days much like we’ve gotten up everyday since 6-24-12.  The Camino has given us some peace knowing that while we will always love Gus and will miss him more with every passing day, we can walk in this new world.  Buen Camino.

For Gus

Until we meet again Gus. 

Rock On Baby!

Rock On Baby!

We are on our way.

We are on our way.

Our Camino – Santiago to Negreira – April 8, 2013

To Finisterre - To Santiago

To Finisterre – To Santiago

Less than ten percent of pilgrims who arrive in Santiago continue on to what was previously thought of as “the end of the world”, Finisterre.  This is true from what we’ve observed, as we’ve only run into a few pilgrims since leaving Santiago, mostly solitary men.  The journey is more difficult, on this side of the “Camino”. The distance between towns is greater, the road more treacherous and less kept. So far, we’ve ducked under fallen trees and the rocks that have always littered the path are boulders not pebbles. We’ve spent a great deal of time therefore looking at our feet, reminding us of that Indiana Jones movie line that says that “only the penitent man may pass”.

When we left Santiago we felt like Camino pros, looking forward to the next 25 km, our legs anxious to get going again, but as the day wore on, we became physically and emotionally wrecked.  Before arriving in Spain, we had practiced going up and down a steep hills, judging the steepness of the maximum hill by our John Brierly guidebook.  What we had not anticipated or encountered before was a hill that was not so much steep, as it never seemed to end.  Every time we rounded a corner thinking we’d finally reached the zenith we’d only found more hill. Our legs wore out taking our hearts with them.

I personally grew angrier and angrier as I continued to climb the hill.  My thoughts going from “will this hill ever end?” to “why did I ever agree to go to Finisterre?, then to “why did I even want to do this walk?” and finally to “why God had taken our beautiful boy!”  I was sobbing by the time I reached the top and with no one else to be angry at, I blamed my husband for failing to warn me about the length of the hill. So I left him, nearly sprinting down hill as quickly as I could..  As I reached the bottom, furiously wiping the tears from my eyes, I came upon an “ass” in an open field, eating grass, minding his own business. I could have sworn that in that moment, the rain clouds parted and the sun illuminated the donkey as though God was saying “stop being such an ass”.  Even angrier, I gained speed. I was galloping now, trying to leave my grief behind.  I stopped only when I arrived at a medieval bridge over an expansive river, the water rushing underneath, mirroring my own fury. I softened just a little, thinking how literal God could be when he is trying to communicate.  I sat and waited for my husband, my sobs being carried away by the current.

My husband came along a few minutes later, he’d been wrestling with his own pains, one in his heart and one in his leg having pulled a muscle trying to catch up to me. I did not need to apologize, he said, he understood and felt the same.  He was only worried that I’d get lost or be kidnapped by the truck that kept driving back and forth.  I apologized anyway and the thought of a scrawny little man trying to push me, amazon woman, into a truck with all my gear, as furious as I was made us laugh.  We were still laughing when he asked if I’d noticed the “ass” along the road, informing me that he’d taken a picture of it just in case (God still trying to make a point). The bridge loomed before us, like the rest of our lives without Gus.  If we were going to make it, we’d need to cross the bridge of grief together. We collected the pieces of our heart, stuffing them into our pockets with the hope of piecing it back together later and crossed the bridge.

Leaving Santiago

Leaving Santiago

Starting up the hill

Starting up the hill

Still going up.

Still going up.

I know - I was being an ass.

The ass.

Crossing over.

Crossing over.