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.




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.


The Scream - Edvard Munch

The Scream – Edvard Munch


No really (hahaha), No really (hahaha), No really (hahaha)

Tap-tap-tap,  Tap-tap-tap

Woohoo,  Woohoo, Woohoo,  Oe-Oe, Oe-Oe

I am being attacked by sound and no matter how much I tell myself that  “I am the one giving the sounds meaning” or to “breathe and just ignore them” I can’t help but feeling like the man in the painting.

I toil away at my computer in a cubicle within a pod of six cubicles on the sixth floor of a mid-rise in the middle of Los Angeles.  My station is at the corner of the southwest side of the building facing the window so that except for when the afternoon sun streaks directly towards me forcing me to close the shade, I enjoy an unobstructed view of the city.  I begin the day by practicing gratitude.  I am thankful to have a job, my view, my health, my family and for the the love I got from my little boy Gus.  For a few hours every morning I am in a place of peace and euphoria and then the rest of the office shows up.

Across the way, separated by a few black file cabinets sits a nice enough man who drinks coffee from a metal cup that he clinks on his desk all day.  In front of him sits a young girl who tap dances away the day; her feet tap, tap, tapping on the plastic mat under her chair.  AND, next to me is a woman who either has friends with extremely scandalous lives or is easily surprised as far as I can tell by how often she says “no really and then laughs”.  I accept that noise is part of the cubicle world and I am not troubled by most conversations or regular noises just these – they grate on me like nails on a chalkboard.

Having survived work, I drive furiously to the gym where I work out my grief trying to leave it and these petty annoyances behind in a pool of sweat.  That is unless “woohoo” girl shows up like she did last night. Then I am subjected to “woohoo” or “oe-oe” every few minutes for the hour spin class. I spent that hour yesterday fighting the urge to just get up and go, telling myself that “she” should not get to disrupt my workout. The question is, why am I so annoyed by these particular noises? Why did woohoo girl sit next to me in a room full of empty spin bikes? Why am I suddenly so bothered by noise?

The house was empty and dark when I got back from the gym last night and with my husband out of town and the older boys getting home much later I knew I had nothing but time to be alone in the silence.  I thought about what it would have been like if Gus was still around.  The two of us would have been together and while I made dinner, he might have been playing x-box in the living room.  From across the house I would have heard him “woohooing” at his kills on Call of Duty. Then, when I called him for dinner, his scooter would have “clinked” along as he rode it from the living room to the kitchen. While we ate, his feet would have been “tapping” under table as they so often had and we would have gotten into “no really” wars as we told each other about our day. I realized suddenly, why of all the noises in the world these in particular got to me – they all reminded me of Gus.  It is then that I understood what A Course in Miracles meant when it said that “you are never upset for the reason you think” , it was not the noise or the people I was upset at but the loss.

As a sit in my cubicle this morning, the noises have subsided or at least I am not as focused on them today now that I know what they mean. At the very least I don’t have the urge to put my hands on my face and yell “silence!”  At least not yet….

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!