We are memory.
This is the thought that recurs. The essence of us. What others might call our soul.
I don’t believe in the soul. But I believe in memory. And I trust in physics.
To make the point, I would ask, “Who are you without your memories?” Even our genetic blueprint is a type of memory that can be passed down from one generation to the next. But it is the memories that we can summon, consciously or unconsciously, that make us who we are, or at least who we believe ourselves to be.
And this is how we progress beyond our physical limits. In the memory of others, we become a part of them, and our death is not our end.
Our monuments, our written works, and now our everyday actions that are captured in the infosphere are the memory of humanity. Its soul. What defines us as a community, as a culture, as a species. Those memories that can be consciously or unconsciously summoned. These written words are like a fresh thought, one that may be fleeting. It takes effort to make a thought into a memory. Repetition.
I remember you, smiling, laughing, dancing! I remember the joy and the sorrow we shared. I remember your talent, your love, your excitement, your caution. I remember your touch. My love for you is my most important memory. It, above all else, defines me.
I cannot go back. Memory is formed by a physical process that comes part and parcel with our perception of time. I do not wish to go back in time, because to do so would be to unmake my memories. I only wish I could have made more memories with you, have learned more from you, become more with you.
Why do we remember? Because it makes us better able to grow. Better able to harness the potential around us. It makes us more successful in this universe. It is our survival strategy as a species. But it is not unique to us. It is how we define that which is alive.
If I wish not to remember, then I wish not to survive, not to be human. You live on in me, and in everyone who remembers you. I wish to give you what life I can, and so I remember and I share with others. This is how I ease the pain of your absence.
I know my purpose, our purpose. It is revealed in our capabilities. Our purpose does not, cannot exceed our capability. We are not here to be tested and fail. We cannot fail. Our purpose is revealed through our functioning. It is not a mystery to be kept from us.
My purpose is to remember, and in remembering, to grow. I remember you.
The days and weeks after March 4 at 1:07AM were a blur.
Without realizing it, I narrowed my focus and expanded it only when necessary. The only person I had in my line of sight was Brad. I’d never been thrust into such trauma. I remember my brain moving at lightening speed; assessing and reassessing need and planning accordingly.
It was intense.
There were so many questions and condolences and media and questions and condolences and media and…it could have made anyone’s head spin. I was flooded with information beyond my processing capabilities. On top of that, I still had to tend to my business; care for my clients, their families, my employees.
Then, one morning, I was in my office, and I saw an email under my “family” tab. I hadn’t seen that light up in a while so I clicked on it. It was from someone I love dearly. This person knew I was involved with Brad and that we were together even before most people knew. Technically, the person is no longer family but will always hold a special place within me. The message was short.
I’m so glad…that you have found your place; you have moved forward and have even a greater purpose than you did from days past…Walk forward…with life less complicated than it needs to be…This is your place and your gift…You prioritize the heart.
It was loving and while it welled my heart, it tightened the space between my chest and my neck almost instantly. At first I didn’t believe them. I didn’t think I was worthy of such kind words. This person went on to share, later, they were sure had I not experienced my past, my current set of circumstances could have been far more challenging.
I’ve had folks tell me they weren’t sure about me at first. Some people thought I’d kind of…disappear. I was told it was because, well, who in earth can handle something like this when the relationship is brand new? Others shared they thought I was going to try and steal the limelight. I was told it was because, well, it’s Brad and…well…media…
I so appreciate their honesty and candor. I do. I love these people. The only thing I wanted to disappear was this tragedy and I couldn’t do that. So, I created a safe place for Brad wherein he could disappear. The only thing I wanted to steal was more time. More time for all of us.
Looking back at my haggard and recent past, I have clarity and realize that yeah, it could have been a lot worse.
Had my friend not been there for me I wouldn’t be here for Brad.
She carried me when I fell last year; she (literally) held me up when I couldn’t hold myself. She helped me find my strength, stability and sense of self, again.
Though fragile on the exterior, she helped me light the fire deep in my belly and solidify convictions. She didn’t let me quit on life and reminded me. She reminded me who I was, who I am and what I’m capable of. Because of her, I made it through and was able to be present, wholly and fully, for someone who needed it.
So, I’m writing to thank my friend and encourage you all to take a page out of her playbook, and…one out of Maddy’s. There is so much more to be gained by being kind instead of being right.
Being kind is a gift we give to others when we receive it from others too.
Thank you, my friend. I love you.
I look at this photo a lot. You were 11 when it was taken.
I love this photo because you are talking to your dad. I hate this photo because it depicts the reality that we never got to meet.
When I met your dad and heard he had kids, admittedly, I was nervous. A long time ago I went through a relationship that ended with someone who has kids. That person had a daughter; her name was Maddy (weird, right?). When it ended it was terrible on my heart and soul. I didn’t want to experience that kind of loss again and didn’t want to have anyone try to explain the end of relationship to you guys like we had to do for Maddy.
Between you and me, I told myself, “hey, don’t eff this up, these kids are important people.”
Sweet Ben, I never met you and oh my god how I miss you.
Do you know how important you are?
You made such an impact on the lives of so many people and you were only TWELVE when you left us. The amount of love, kindness and compassion I’ve felt JUST BECAUSE OF YOU, takes a lifetime for most people to understand and express.
Do you know that?
Sweet Ben, your dad hurts and aches for you in a way I cannot describe. He talked about you so much when we first met. He longed for your relationship and was heartbroken you stopped talking to him. We talked about when and how you’d come around and what that would be like.
Between you and me, I thought I could help build a bridge. I never wanted to get in the way of your parents, your siblings, or anything…I just had this feeling you and I would have been able to “get” each other.
Do you know what this feels like? I have no analogy because it’s not analogous to anything.
You and your dad weren’t talking, and then you died.
There is no hope anymore. You aren’t coming back and you can’t talk to him. Ever.
He tells me stories about you, you know. He tells me over and over again. It literally takes my breath away and squeezes my throat knowing you two don’t get to make anymore memories together.
Your dad is on a merry-go-round of memories and he can’t get off of it.
I can find nothing worthy of honoring you and your greatness because your greatness exceeds this earthly place. Anything I’ve tried to plan to celebrate you this September 10th will do nothing but dump salt in a gaping hemorrhaging wound I’m trying to keep clean and void of infection; let your dad do the healing on his own.
He’s the only one who can…
We should be planning a birthday party for you. We should be buying gifts and talking trash to each other about the hawks & broncos.
My god you would have been thirteen.
So PROUD your dad is of you. So. Proud.
Your dad showed me where you were born. He told me about when you were born and what it felt like for him, to have a child; to have a son.
Ben my god I wish you were here. I wish we got to know each other. We would have had so much fun; I promise. I have fun with your cousins now, in case you didn’t know. They’re so awesome and they miss you so much too.
My birthday wish for you on this thirteenth year, is that others will practice the kind of love and kindness toward the world that you practiced everyday of your life.
This year, I hope your Big Ben Bear spirit shines through on the field at the game on Saturday.
Your dad is coaching now, you know.
Happy Birthday, Ben. We love you. We miss you. We’re so proud of you.
Hi. It’s been a while. I have far more interesting things to write about than this, but it is important and needs to be done.
That was my segue. You’re welcome.
I know many (MANY) of you may have asked yourselves, your loved ones and maybe even Brad or I, one of the following questions and I’d like to answer them here and now. If Mr. Tower feels so inclined, he may edit this with his comments as well.
Though, the wedding ceremony was not why we wanted people to make the journey out to Spokane…which is also why we had it on a Thursday morning…
We wanted our wedding and reception to be the kickstart to YOUR family/friend weekend adventure. We wanted you to get out, celebrate your families, be with your friends, enjoy each other and make memories.
You all did it.
You made memories, you booked trips, wore sunscreen, played and laughed
#3 is why I am writing this post today.
Everything building up to the wedding made me feel like a massive human volcano: anticipation ants in my pants, stomach willies, frayed nerves and launched lunches stacked on racing thoughts, maddening lists, a non-stop roller coaster of emotions, and (of course) no sleep.
I felt like St. Helens: I was going to spew, I knew it.
But instead, I just took a breath, and let the lava flow of love ooze out into the universe. I finally looked up at smiled to the world…and there you all were.
Near and far, beside us in spirit, standing close to us while we spoke sweet words, or dancing outside under the beautiful setting sun. You were all there with us. You came with your loved ones, your friends, and your travel plans.
And they were, too.
Ben, Sam & Maddy were with all of us on July 21st.
They ran around the mansion and surveyed their land on the balcony with Jaime’s son, they were gladly concocting their delicious italian sodas at the soda bar with Charles’ & Lesley’s crew, they were dancing (oh the dancing!) and singing and putting the adults to shame with Niquette & Johns kids and they were indulging in the family friendly food and desserts with each and every one of us.
So, it is because of you, we decided to things the way we did.
And this is why we thank you for being a part of it with us. Thank you for breathing laughter and love and light into our lives. Thank you for hanging out with us in the pouring rain, and eating backyard bbq grub and watching us dance like the weirdos we are and realizing that love is love…no matter which way you slice it.
I had a meltdown at Rite-Aid this week. I walked over to the pharmacy to pay for my purchase and Ben’s song came on. I was in line and really needed the items in hand. I couldn’t move. I started to choke and sputter like a car running out of gas, as I tried to keep myself from making a scene. I gasped for air redirecting my thoughts: read the back of a label, focus on work. Nothing helped. By the time it was my turn, I had obliterated any chance of looking like a normal tax paying citizen.
I ran out of the store after I made payment and hid in my car. I don’t think I’ve felt so small in quite some time. I stared at my hands and looked at the ring on my left finger and thought of Brad. He knows. He knows this feeling. I see it wash over him when we walk into Fred Meyer, when we drive past old memories, visit them at the cemetery, when we walk past their bedrooms every day.
Brad and I are getting married two weeks from today. In two weeks, so much will change and so much will stay the same. In these two weeks I know I’ll be busy stressing and focusing on all the silly details that nobody cares about and smiling and telling everyone, “yes, I am. I’m really looking forward to it…yes, it’s going to be great,” whenever they ask if I’m getting excited.
I will smile. I will answer. I will change the subject.
I am over the moon to be starting a wonderful life in marriage, to be with an incredible, honest and caring man who loves me (like…REALLY LOVES ME!!) for me (this a very uncommon phenomena for me). We are two peas in a pod and I am smitten. If you know Brad, you know how amazing he is and rest assured, I loved him wholly and fully the moment we met.
If you know me you’re probably thinking, “Well it’s about damn time, Kelly.”
But, the truth is…I’m not excited about the wedding.
I have A LOT of emotions flowing through my being at varying points throughout the day. I finally came clean with a very cool friend of mine, about how I’ve been feeling. She said it so well:
It’s arguably the happiest time in your life, but it’s marred by grief so you [might] need help to see the excitement and happy in it…It’s an [internal] crisis, almost.
Yes, my friend. Yes. Exactly that.
I flip and flop and flip and flop with the internal crisis of emotions.
When I find myself starting to jump up and down, and getting giddy and making happy noises, I’m by myself. Usually in the bathroom, staring in the mirror. Or in my car. And then I think of them and I flip.
I think of the kids and how before the fire I couldn’t count the times we said, “we don’t need to rush, we have all the time in the world.” I think of how Brad and I would most definitely be moving forward in our relationship and making plans for the future, but we wouldn’t have had any sense of urgency.
We had a false sense of security instead.
Then I flop back to being happy because I deserve to be happy. And I flip and think of them and I want them here to be happy with us. And I flop and want them to be a part of the ceremony with me, with him.
And then the quiet comes and I’m not jumping up and down or getting giddy and making happy noises anymore. Usually I’m just staring at myself in the mirror and thinking,
“I wish you were here,”
I wish all of you were here with us. I wish it so bad my chest aches and I forget to breathe. I squeeze my body so hard and wish as hard as I can. I hold your dad every night and I hold him especially close when he weeps quietly into the pillow next to me.
I wish I could trade places with you three. I love your dad so much and I can do nothing to fix this. If it meant never seeing him again but knowing he would be eternally happy, I would trade with you in a heartbeat.
For each of you, for him.
I wish you were here with us and celebrating our marriage.
I still don’t know what’s worse: the shock of what happened or the burning ache of what never will.
In two weeks from today, I know I will be smiling and laughing and celebrating, but I wonder if the marring will subside…or will it always be there; reminding us what could have been?
To the students of Washington Elementary, Edison Elementary, Centennial Elementary, and Evergreen Christian School:
You are forever a part of me. You are important. You have the power to change the world.
I am a very proud father. Ben, Maddy and Sam filled me with joy. You may think that it is because they got good grades or were really good at sports, and you would be partially correct. I am proud of them for that. But I am most proud of them for the way they loved and took care of each other, and the way they made friends and treated everyone with kindness and respect. I miss them, and I know that you, their friends, miss them too.
You are growing, changing every day. We grow our entire lives, but we grow fastest when we are young. When we lose someone close to us, it is like getting hurt. When you get hurt, you can sometimes heal and become stronger than you were before. You are better at this than adults. You heal faster, become stronger. But you are changed. You are a different person after losing someone close to you. Life can’t go back to the way it was, so you have to look forward and work on becoming stronger than you were before.
Ben, Maddy and Sam live on in me. They are a part of me. Without them, I would be a very different person. I am a better person because they are a part of me. I hope that you, their friends and classmates, feel the same.
You each have incredible power, a kind of super-power, although you may not realize it. Every day, you change the world, sometimes in small ways, sometimes in big ways. When you learn what is important in life, then you can use that superpower to make the world a better place. No one can simply tell you what is important in life – you have to invite that knowledge in. To help you understand what I believe is important, I will share two of Mr. Browne’s precepts from the book “Wonder” that Maddy shared with me.
First, if you have the choice between being right and being kind, choose to be kind.
Second, your deeds are your monuments.
Thank you all for being a part of Ben, Maddy, and Sam’s lives and for making them part of yours. Choose to be kind, and create monuments to them, to yourself and your family by doing good deeds.
This Sunday, June 19, 2016, is Fathers Day.
I am. I’m paralyzed by this day. I’m not looking forward to it.
We’ve been told the first year is the worst. It’s no joke. I keep holding my breath praying to my dog that Sunday won’t come.
How the hell do we do this? How do I celebrate Fathers Day with Brad, celebrate what an amazing father he is, and not completely annihilate him? I certainly can’t NOT do anything.
If you know Brad, you know his kids are his world. They are his everything.
This is a trunk he got from an ex-girlfriend. It’s a lovely trunk. Shortly after the fire, Brad said he wanted to clean it up and make it his memory trunk for the kids. This weekend, while we were tidying the office, trying to get things organized, we decided to do the trunk clean up.
So…Brads been collecting things, here and there, and placing them next to the trunk.
All the shit most parents throw away. Brad has every goddamn thing.
He’s also has been collecting the other things. All the things you gave him.
I’m thankful he kept so many little pieces of handmade love from the kids. This trunk is going to be full. Full of so much love and memories.
And loss. And could haves. And hope.
So this year it seems, we will be celebrating Fathers Day by learning how to let go and hold on. I can’t breathe half the time because I’m holding on so tight I can’t let go of anything in order to make room for all the good coming our way.
So this year…it seems…I ask you for help on this Fathers Day.
This year, remember how lucky you are to have kids that jump on you to wake you up early on Sunday and make you scorched toast and horrid coffee…know there are some people very close to you who would give anything to have the Sunday you get this weekend.
This year, I ask you to help give Brad his Fathers Day gift by being present with your family this Sunday. Maybe send a pic our way or post one and let us know you’re celebrating your family and taking in every moment you have with them.
This Fathers Day I ask you to #MarchForth as connected families in love, despite your separations, difficulties and differences.
This is the only gift I want to give him this year…
Please repost and share if you’re comfortable.
Thank you for your support everyone.
People say they can’t imagine what I’m going through, and I say, “Don’t try, it’s not worth it.” But if you really want to know, I feel like it’s the emotional equivalent of my kidney stone. That was the worst lasting physical pain I had ever felt. I had injured myself before, causing pain that was as intense, but those injuries seemed to fade quickly and the pain diminished steadily with time. The kidney stone was the first experience where I had no expectation of relief with the passage of time. In fact, the pain seemed to grow with every moment, until I was watching the second hand on the clock and challenging myself to make it another 60 seconds. In the end, I threw up and passed out from the pain. I am afraid to find out what the emotional equivalent of that ending may be.
The pain is both local and diffuse. It is in a place that I can identify, but cannot reach. It cannot be massaged to give any sort of relief. It drains the entire body of energy, and it is felt radiating in the extremities. And while it saps my strength, it simultaneously compels me to move. Not that the motion provides any relief, except perhaps as a distraction, a way to mark time, hoping that the peak is near and that the pain will begin to subside. But to sit still is impossible – the body HAS to move, just as you can’t rest your hand on a hot stove. But the source of the pain follows wherever you go. The best you can do is distract yourself for a period of time, and that takes energy.
Waking, getting to sleep, long drives, running – these experiences, which require mental quiescence, are the most challenging times. They used to be my most productive, creative times. Now the pain prevents any real focus.
Last week, Brad and I left for six days and went to Palm Springs. We had fun-ish. We laughed. Halfheartedly. We attended a spectacular wedding, ate good food and kept ourselves busy the majority of time.
The kids were supposed to be on this trip. We were to play my attendance by ear since there was no need to make haste. We knew the long game and end goal was worth the wait.
So, we went on this, vacation of sorts. We truly did have a good time watching friends get married and I enjoyed having a chance to meet people outside of memorials, remembrances and the like.
But I got to tell you…just between us…I felt like a crappy replacement. I pretended though. We both did. For a bit anyway. We pretended through six days of warm weather, laughs, smiles, jokes, good food and camaraderie. We pretended the kids just couldn’t make it this time around. We pretended they were back home finishing up school.
For six days, I denied the beautiful departed while the bright desert sun cast their shadows everywhere we went.
The outdoor game room stood untouched. The water hoop was set up then taken down. Cannonballs were replaced by adults politely stepping into the pool. Shopping and browsing with Brad instead of Maddy was lackluster at best. The urge to go into the local toy store was superseded by the desire to deny grief to show itself because by golly we were going to have some mandatory fun, goddammit.
I denied myself the opportunity to grieve and in doing so, denied that their presence was even missing.
For six days, we avoided smelling the fart in the car.
Last night, we arrived home. Last night, we exhaled.
We lay there in the quiet, held hands and cried.
Denial is an interesting shape shifter. Denial allows us to put down the cauldron of grief we carry over our head (or fold up and put in our pocket) and replaces it with this temporary sense of relief. Denying the kids died only gave a chance for my soul to breathe, but for a moment. It needed to get up and stretch and move under the weight of it all.
Before March 4th, I taught denial in my stages of grief community program. Secretly though, I couldn’t understand how one could deny loss. I was so high and mighty about it, too. I mean, how DARE someone deny their loved ones life?
I would pontificate the importance of honoring and sharing and talking about their loved one; the need to pay homage to their contribution to community and the lives of those still here. So dogmatic. smh. It’s a bitter pill I’ve been humbly swallowing this week.
Now, I see denial for what it is and what it can be for us.
Denial allowed me to pace myself in moving forward with Brad. Denial is allowing me to compartmentalize, to support him where and when he needs it most. Denial has actually allowed me to feel like I am moving forward for myself. When we got home from our sort of vacation, denial allowed me to pick up my grief with a bit more stability.
Am I denying the kids existed by denying they died?
Society tells us denial is simple ignorance or maybe, denial simply means we are lying to ourselves.
So in that sense, I suppose I am.
Grief tells us there is a quiet grace in denial which allows us to gather strength to move on in life as we honor those we have lost.
So in this sense, I know I am not…