The 30th

Tomorrow, August 19, would have been Jake’s 30th birthday. Seems hard to believe. But so many things have happened in the past 6 years that are hard to believe. Nothing is unbelievable anymore.

It is a futile and frustrating exercise but I can’t help wonder the big what if … What if he had been able to conquer his demons and survived the struggle? Where and what would he be at age 30? Would he be married with children by now? Would I be a grandpa. Would he have stayed in Palm Springs or moved elsewhere, far or near? Running his own restaurant? Would he have returned to photography and have a career as a photographer? Would he have discovered a different passion? Would he be happy? The questions are endless. I turn them over and over and the answer is always the same.

I can only look at the many photos of him at every age we have around the house, shake my head and whisper, “Jake, what happened?” “Where did you go?”

And where are we? I fill my days with activity, a shield against grief. I have learned how to manage it. I have developed a callus against the stone in my shoe. Nearly 6 years in and it still seems as if this is happening to someone else, and maybe that’s how I have learned to bear it. No longer denial, no longer the blind fury, not the incandescent agony of loss, just a weary resignation that this is how it is and nothing will change it. He ain’t never coming back.

I am playing a little more music. I revived an old guitar that my Mom had. My introduction to music came from that guitar in her hands and now it invites me to play. So I do. My dearest old friend was down from Seattle a few weeks ago, and in years past we would have played music every night. Sadly not this time, but perhaps on his next visit. The hands are rusty and stiff, the chords unfamiliar, the fingers burn with the hard wires of the steel strings, but I play. So in that measure, I have made a little more progress.

We get messages from him occasionally. Reminders that he is still around. Perhaps they are just constructs of my mind that lets me believe but sometimes they seem so clear that it is difficult to deny something is at work here that we cannot fathom. For example, I am doing some customer service work for a company answering questions online. I get rated on my helpfulness by the users with a Green Smiley Face, a Yellow Meh Face and a Red Frowny Face. One came by last night from ‘Jake’. It was an easy answer, and shortly afterward I got my GSF. So last night, Jake smiled at me.

We don’t have anything planned for tomorrow, really. A visit to Hillside to scatter some of his favorite candies over his headstone. Watch the nearby fountain in the Garden of Rachel whoosh and splash. In a way, it has become somewhat of a formality as we know no part of him is there, really, other than his ‘mortal remains’. But what really remains is the spark of Jake that we all carry with us everywhere. We’ll carry that spark to Langer’s downtown and eat pastrami sandwiches and remember all the meals we had together as a family. We’ll light candles, have a piece of cake and dream of those days not so long ago when we were all together and everything was possible.

Happy Birthday, Sporty.

Shine On, Jakey Jake.

 

 

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About Those 7 Things

Here is a blog post I just read. It is from 2015 and if you are grieving the loss of a child, I am sure you have read or written something like this. I probably read it three years ago and just came across it again.

https://abedformyheart.com/7-things-since-loss-of-child/?fbclid=IwAR2lqATu1RkGaNWFwEW4C737R254CtkZ5ZncpOBkOcIlzNmihVA2hw54a3o

The thing is, if you have lost a child, you already know all of this.

If you haven’t, you might want to read this, but even though you can understand ‘intellectually’ what she writes, you can never really ‘know’ what she is saying. You have to be a member of the club. The distilled essence of this article is that grief, like love, never dies, never goes away, never takes a holiday. You don’t ‘get over it’. You don’t ‘move on’. Yes, you can go forward with your life but it is never the same. You are irrevocably changed and you can’t go back. We just came through the toughest part of the year for us and those what-if’s, those never-will-be’s are stronger. Still, going to visit his grave wasn’t as brutal as it has been in years past. That’s because Jake isn’t really there. He is wherever we are, wherever his friends are. Friends who remember and cherish his memory with a fierce devotion and purpose. He is “just” a memory now, but that will have to do.

We have been letting go of some of Jake’s childhood stuff. The kitchen we built together when he was about 2 or 3. His set of maple building blocks, Brio trains, some wooden puzzles, the piano we got for him. Things we were saving for his kids. They are going to dear friends of ours and his who knew Jake. Friends who have their own kids who will never know Jake but will play with his toys and in this way, he will be a part of their lives. It is small consolation but consolation nonetheless however small, to think that one day, W_ may look at the back of his play kitchen when he is older and see the wood-burned signature of the builders and ask, “Who are Ed and Jacob?” And his mom will tell him.

I’m getting closer to the music. I sold a ukulele last year to a Hawaiian musician and he and his beautiful wife inspired me to start playing again. I don’t play every day, and have forgotten so much it’s like starting over in a way. It’s still difficult to find the motivation to open the case and learn something new, or in my case, re-learn something, but at least I can play the darn thing without bursting into tears. So I guess that’s progress. But that progress doesn’t mean I am any farther away from my grief or that I have ‘gotten over’ Jake’s death. That just won’t happen. Ever. There isn’t a moment in my waking day that I don’t think about Jake, all the what-if’s, the never-will-be’s. There are still songs I can’t sing, but the good news is that I can strum the chords now.

We will be going through more of his stuff in weeks to come, duffle bags full of clothes, boxes full of kitchenware, shelves full of books, more of his toys, and will give it away to enrich other people’s lives on behalf of Jake. Tiny pieces of him scattered throughout the world making people smile, keeping them warm, helping them cook a glorious meal, making a difference. They may not know it, but we will.

So I wonder if there is anything new for us to learn. Is it only 7 things, or 10 things, or 12 things? All titles of similar articles I have read. There is only one thing, really. Grief is the price of Love and they are both forever.

 

 

Posted in Daily Ramblings, Friends and Family, Healing, Jake Colman, Jake's Spirit, Memory, Progress | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Where Does the Time Go?

I haven’t written anything on these pages since February of this year. 10 months. Where does the time go? Much has happened this year, and yet …

There have been many times where I lay awake in the deep of the night, turning over words in my head. But when morning comes, the imperative to fix those words on paper, or on screen as the case may be, diminishes. The cares and events of the day push those thoughts to the back of my mind and I don’t have the burning motivation to write as I have in the past. Even now, I struggle to find meaningful words for this. It’s not as if my journey is complete, far from it. In fact, I might have made some progress this year. And yet …

Tomorrow marks the 5th December 28 since that terrible phone call. 5 years. Hard to believe. As the saddest day of my life recedes into the past, the days and months pile up, the sun rises and sets, seasons change …

  *   *   *

It’s now December 31, the 5th anniversary of the second saddest day. I didn’t get very far with my last post. 5 years in and I suppose I should write about what I have learned in 5 years of grieving, new insights from the past year, but really there are only a few things to learn:

Life goes on whether we like it or not.

People are there for you or they aren’t.

Some days you are okay, some days you are not.

Those waves of sadness can still strike without warning and take my breath away. They happen less frequently than they did 5 years ago but they are no less powerful.

A broken heart can’t actually kill you, but it comes damn close, and you are never the same.

In spite of my continuing disbelief in what has happened, Jake is never coming back. We will have to continue managing without him.

Those are the lessons.

That disbelief persists. I can look at photos of him as a boy, teenager, young man, and it is hard to realize I will never see him marry, have a family, find his passion and pursue it. Some days I still feel as if this is all happening to someone else, it can’t be real. And yet …

This time of year comes with a triple whammy. December 28, the day of his passing, December 31, the day of his funeral, and his yartzeit, the Jewish day of his passing. As I have written, that day varies year to year due to the vagaries of the Jewish lunar-solar calendar. This year it is on January 2. So tomorrow night I will go to shul to say kaddish, have something sweet and a l’chaim, share a laugh and a cry. Then on Wednesday, we’ll go the cemetery to see that his headstone is clean, bring a few stones and wonder that somehow, we have survived life’s greatest tragedy, albeit not unscathed.

On a night when the rest of the world celebrates a new beginning, what can we celebrate? Our New Year’s Eve is forever tainted by that grim night 5 years ago. Surrounded by family and friends we struggled to grasp what happened, how would we ever survive, gripped by the iron bands of grief. Back then it seemed as if they would never relent. They have somewhat, but the scars and scabs and broken heart remain. Branded by sadness we wander down the road. What, exactly, will this year bring? Only the passing days can tell.

For every parent in the throes of grief, those newly bereaved, those who have a few years behind them, the old hands, anyone who mourns the loss of a child for however long, I wish you whatever islands of peace you can find in the ocean of heartbreak we sail upon together.

 

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How Can I Sing With a Broken Heart.

We went to a concert last night. Hawaiian music. Keola Beamer, a master of Hawaiian slack key guitar, and Henry Kapono. They were two of the progenitors and drivers of the Hawaiian Rennaissance during the 60’s and 70’s. It was a lovely evening, albeit emotional for Terry and me. There were a couple of songs that touched me deeply, songs written for a father, songs written for children. Songs of longing for home. Irreverant songs that were hysterically funny. It was like being in these people’s living room as they talked story and shared their music. The final encore was Hawai’i Aloha. Part of the requirements of this particular song is everyone must stand, join hands and sing. Even if you don’t know the song, you sing. It has a simple melody and Keola’s wife, Moana, spoke the words before each stanza, albeit in Hawaiian. In days past I would have joined in with gusto. I can follow a tune, could fake the words. Last night I stood mute, tears streaming down my face, unable to utter a word. I tried to sing, but nothing would come out.

Throughout my life, I have had my heart broken, or so I thought at the time. Failed relationships, failed friendships, and each time the music brought me through. Music has the power to rearrange those hidden invisible pieces of your soul. In the past, I was able to play and sing to re-order those pieces. I would bang on my guitar and belt out Dylan (who always managed to catch the essence of heartbreak), old gospel songs, mountain dirges, fiddle tunes, till the ache eased. This time around, things are different. Somehow the music isn’t working.

Maybe tonight it was because of our connection to Hawai’i. We went there on our honeymoon and very nearly didn’t come back. I wish we had stayed. For years, we would take our family vacations there and felt at home. We were always treated like locals. People would invite us to private luaus, to after-hours hula sessions. It was surprising and at the same time, completely natural. We felt like locals. We would return year after year and it seemed as no time had elapsed between visits. We are headed there in July for a family vacation and look forward to the trip with a mixture of joyous anticipation and dread. There are so many memories lurking there.

The last time we were there was in the summer of 2005. One of our very last family vacations, all of us together. In retrospect, the storm was brewing but hadn’t broken yet. Will I be able to sit at the counter of Hamura Saimin and not see Jake sitting next to me ordering chicken sticks and lilikoi pie? Will I be able to golf the Makai course and not see us huddling in our golf cart during a torrential downpour only to see the magnificent rainbow just a few minutes later? Can I drive past the Tahiti Nui and not see Jake and Shane digging up the Kalua pig for the luau? Or see the 2-year-old Jake dancing on stage with the “Hula Girls”? Can I ever be on a beach without thinking of the tiki hut we would build every summer? Of course not. He will be there the entire time. After all, we carry him with us wherever we go.

I will take my uke, but I am not sure I will be able to play it. Perhaps I can play, but sing? Somehow I don’t have high hopes. This is what Mark Twain must have been referring to. He compared the death of his 24-year-old daughter Susy (Jake was 24), to the burning down of a house.

“It is one of the mysteries of our nature that a man [or a woman], all unprepared, can receive a thunder-stroke like that and live. There is but one reasonable explanation for it. The intellect is stunned by the shock of it and but gropingly gathers the meaning of the words. The power to realize their full import is mercifully wanting. The mind has a dumb sense of vast loss – that is all. It will take mind and memory months, and possibly years, to gather together the details and thus learn and know the whole extent of the loss….It will be years before the tale of lost essentials is complete, and not till then can he [she] truly know the magnitude of his [her] disaster.”

Years later, I am still learning the extent of this disaster. I am still compiling the tale of lost essentials. Jake was essential and now he is lost and all the pieces of our lives he carried with him are gone as well. And here is where it gets even worse. As you begin to comprehend the extent of the tragedy, the raw emotion subsides and you are able to evaluate what you have truly lost. I am still discovering what I have lost. The discovery will continue forever, I fear.

Neil Young said it. Only love can break your heart/what if your world should fall apart. If the magnitude of our heartbreak is measured by the depth of our love, my heartache is immeasurable. My world fell apart on December 28, 2013. Like the broken teacup, I am struggling to rebuild it, but there will always be missing pieces. I pray one of those pieces won’t be music. Perhaps it is just under the sofa in this darkened room and I will stumble across it one of these days.

Until then, we take what pleasure we can from our lives, but we are fundamentally changed. Last night was a lovely chance to soak up some true aloha from our beloved islands. We live, we laugh, we love, but alas, for now, I do not sing.


							
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December 28, 2017

fbstone copy

Thursday was December 28, the 4th December 28th since Jake’s passing. 4 years. It doesn’t seem possible, but in this new world I now inhabit, anything is possible. It is one of the curiosities of time that it can be so long ago and yet it was only yesterday that I got the terrible telephone call on that bright December afternoon that changed our lives forever.

We spent the day quietly and went to visit the cemetery, something we don’t really look forward to doing. After all, Jake isn’t there, so in a way, it is almost unnecessary. I visit him every moment of every day. He is wherever I am. But we wanted to make sure his headstone is clean and orderly, wanted to leave some stones and bring him some M & M’s and a box of Sno Caps, two of his favorite candies.

It was a clear, chilly afternoon, the low winter sunlight streamed across the manicured lawn in the Garden of Rachel. The nearby fountain whooshed and splashed, its 20-foot high column of water jetting into the air and tumbling back into the large round pool. We cleaned his stone and scattered the candy around, arranging it just so while we waited for the sun to clear a nearby tree. A bright splash of light streaked across the name, Jacob Samuel Smilen Colman, and we snapped a few photos. It is curious. I can look at this carved slab of black rock, read the inscriptions, note the dates, pretty much with dry eyes. But whenever I get to the last line, the one that reads “Our Beautiful Boy”, that’s when the waterworks open up. Every single time.

It’s as if this terrible grief has relaxed its hold on me somewhat, the 28th doesn’t have quite the power to incapacitate me it once did. Not even this 28th. But it is still there. Buried just below the surface. The scab is harder, more durable. After all, you can only deny something for so long. But the bewilderment persists. The grief can still grab my heart with an iron grip. Take my breath away. No, I don’t walk around in the same daze, but every day I wake up and wonder, how did this come to pass. How is this possible that I will live out my days without my beautiful boy.

The death of a child is not something you ever, ever get over. Just as you don’t “get over” his birth. Both events are life-altering moments. You are never the same afterward. Never. We carry the love of our children with us forever, wherever they are. Wherever we are. The sadness never goes away. Tempered by time perhaps, but no less painful, no less immediate. Slowly we learn to live our lives in a different way. Not “the new normal”. More like the new abnormal, but we learn in our own time and in our way. Don’t ever let anyone tell you how or how long you must grieve. We will grieve forever.

Jake’s friends left moving tributes on his Facebook page, on our Facebook pages. Photos, memories, bits of him that no one will ever forget. One of his friends said, “I’ve come to realize that the older I get the more I miss him and Austin and all the time we were robbed of to spend with them. I always have memories and that’s never going to be good enough.”

Exactly. As time goes on, I miss him more and more, not less and less. All the time we were robbed of. The memories are sweet, but they will never be good enough. There will never be any new memories to make. His friend’s loyalty and friendship are beautiful. They give us small comfort that as long as they remember, Jake will live on. And they do remember. They remind us that in his short incandescent life, he touched so many people. People who will carry him in their hearts for a lifetime.

Tomorrow is the 4th anniversary of the second saddest day in my life.The day I laid my beautiful boy to rest. For many, New Year’s Eve is a time for celebrating the anticipation of a fresh new year. A look forward to all the things to come. For me, it is the day I began this dreadful journey into my uncertain future, a life irrevocably changed.

Shine on, Jakey Jake. We all miss you terribly.

Posted in Ceremony, Coping, Grief, Healing, Honoring Jake, Jake Colman, Jake's Spirit, Memory, Progress, Sadness | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

In the Beginning …

“You say you lost your faith, but that’s not where it’s at.
You had no faith to lose and you know it.”

Bob Dylan – Positively 4th Street

We have just come through the three weeks of what is called the High Holy Days. It begins with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New year. A time for reflection on the past year and the promise of a new year. We dip apples into honey and wish each other a good year, a sweet year, a year filled with happiness, health, prosperity, and progress. 11 days later comes Yom Kippur, a day where we fast all day, consider our shortcomings, beg forgiveness from those we may have wronged, and vow to do better in the coming year. After all the fasting and atoning comes the harvest festival, Sukkot. We build tempory sukkahs or ‘booths’ in our backyards and ‘dwell’ in them for a week. We take our meals in the simple structures leafed over with palm fronds or other natural materials. The marathon of holidays concludes with Simchat Torah, literally the happiness of the Torah, where we joyously dance with the scrolls, conclude reading the 5 books of Moses, and because Jews are eager to continue Torah study, we re-roll the entire thing and immediately begin reading from the beginning.

Those three weeks can be exhausting. Preparing elaborate dinners, the day of fasting and atoning, building the sukkah, receiving visitors for meals, interspersed with many mornings in shul praying, observing special services, and for me, the blessing of the Kohanim. I perform the blessing with love, as commanded, but the rest of the service is just words. What is most exhausting, is that I no longer get any spiritual recharge from these holidays. Most of the meaning has been lost for me. Perhaps it is sad to admit, but my appearances in shul are mostly perfunctory. This year I didn’t even go to the Simchat Torah celebration. I don’t really read the prayers, I go through the motions.

Those prayers ring so hollowly now. They speak of the Merciful God who protects his children, who answers prayers. Why couldn’t he protect my child? Why didn’t he answer my prayers? I know I have been over all this before, but sitting in shul, looking at the words in the book, it all comes rushing back. My prayers for Jake’s safety. Asking God to watch over him, to keep him safe. The only thing I ever asked for. The only thing I ever wanted. My entreaties fell upon deaf ears. So why bother asking for anything now? More questions for which there are no answers. If my faith was stronger, perhaps it might give me some comfort, but to paraphrase Bob Dylan, I had no faith to lose and I know it.

I did not grow up in an observant home. When I entered my teenage ‘existential’ years, I questioned everything. As far as I was concerned, there was no magic man in the sky who wrote everything down, who knew secret thoughts, had the future all pre-ordained. I was a consummate skeptic. Over the years my spiritual beliefs waxed and waned, but I never really bought into that omniscient being that controlled the universe. When Jake was born, we strove to bring him up in a Jewish home. Terry lit the candles every Shabbat, we celebrated all the holidays, built a sukkah, something I never did as a kid myself. As he grew and we found ourselves in a local Chabad for his bar mitzvah preparation, I began a journey back to a more observant place. The study of Torah was, for me, mostly an intellectual exercise, I liked the discussions, the way some of the writings applied to our daily lives. I went to shul every week, learned the Blessing of the Kohenim and in general, participated more fully in our community. I prayed, not fully ‘believing’ but rather to hedge my bets. What if it was all true?

Then came December 28 and all that carefully cultivated “faith” shattered. Where was the merciful God? Where was the god we prayed to that protected his children? If God was infinite and timeless, capable of such miracles, why in the hell did he take Jake? How could He need him more than we did? More like a selfish, indifferent, and capricious god as far as I was concerned. Or maybe there wasn’t a God who pulled the levers of our universe at all, as I suspected all along. Maybe we live in a random and unpredictable world where each one of us is responsible for his or her own lives. Where life can change forever in an instant. Where shit falls on us out of the sky for no reason, where senseless things happen daily – things for which there is no explanation, no understanding. This is the world I now inhabit.

Years ago, during one of my spiritual ‘quests’ I came to the conclusion that our purpose on Earth was to enjoy this magnificent planet as much as we can and to do as little damage to it and to one another as possible. I still think that is true. I also now know, that when Jake was born, my true purpose was revealed to me, and I reveled in that knowledge. Now, I struggle to find my purpose. To find the same complete fulfillment, or even a fraction of it, I experienced as Jake’s dad. It has been nearly four years now, and that struggle goes on every day. Who knows when or if I will ever find it. But I don’t have the luxury of giving up the search. As it is written in the Pirke Avot, the Ethics of our Fathers, “You are not obligated to complete the work (of making the world a better place), but neither are you free to desist from it. 

 

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A Perpetual State of Bewilderment

It seems unbelievable that exactly three years ago, I wrote a post for this blog titled “A New Stage”. It was a stage of grief that isn’t really discussed in the “grief literature”, one that I named the WTF stage. Back then, just four months into our surrealistic journey, I wondered what happened. How my life, our lives had come to this. I simply couldn’t believe it was all happening. That Jake was gone. How could this be? In other words: What. The. Fuck.

The other thing I couldn’t understand was how could the rest of the world continue without acknowledging my personal tragedy. My world had imploded, but during our daily walks, I’d see people going about their lives as normal. Didn’t they know the world had suddenly changed? Couldn’t they see it would never be the same?

Now, three years later, I am still wondering what happened. Not so much what, I know the what, the who, the when, the where, but I’ll never figure out the why. I lie awake some nights, (like tonight, for example) and roll those same baffling questions around and around in my head, questions for which there are no answers.

I have come to a different place than I was then. That indescribable agony of those first months has softened a little; the scab is thicker, rips off less frequently. But the pain and confusion still simmer along. Maybe not quite so close to the surface but it can come bubbling up at any time without warning. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. There wasn’t any indication that we would end up like this when Jake was growing up. All the promise, the joy, the excitement, the pleasures of his life, our happy family, the fulfillment of purpose I felt; that’s what I expected. Not the hollowness of days that followed his death and continues today.

Even when we were going through his battles with addiction, even when we didn’t know if he would make it, I always believed, with a father’s certainty, that he would. That he would survive. That we could carry him. The all the love of all the people who loved him would pull him through. I couldn’t imagine anything else. And we thought, during those last few months, he had finally turned the corner at last. He, we, had been through it all before and we thought, this time it would stick. He had his own apartment, he had a wonderful job prospect, had friends who stood by him, who loved him. He seemed genuinely excited about his job. Had his chef’s whites pressed and ready to go for the Saturday night shift he would never get to. That’s why his death was such a shock, was so mystifying, left so many unanswered questions. We thought we were out of the woods.

The code words we used describing his passing, “suddenly and unexpectedly”; people who knew what we were going through knew what they meant. Other parents who were fighting the same battles knew. Anyone who lost a loved one to the same disease knew. We called it an accident, and in fact, it was. Not an auto accident, or a boating accident, or a climbing accident, but a horrible accident of prescription pharmacology. An accident of muscle relaxants, and mood stabilizers, and pain killers. Such a waste. Such a tragic waste. My rant on the failure of the medical and “rehab” establishment will have to wait for another time, but it is coming. Perhaps a little late, but it is coming. Right now, I just don’t have the energy.

This is not something I have talked about here, thus far. I have avoided it because of the societal stigma of addiction and didn’t want to tar Jake with that brush. Most people view it as a moral failing or a weakness of will or some personality flaw. Jake had the strongest will of anyone I know, the most dynamic personality, a clear sense of morality, and yet, inexplicably, he succumbed to this dreaded disease. How that came to be is just another part of my confusion.

I will never fully grasp the why. Part of my frustration stems from the impossible exercise of “what if” or as some prefer, “if only”. What if we had gone to Palm Springs that weekend to celebrate New Years? If only I had done this or that the month, the week, the year before? How could I have “let” it happen like this? All the things we “should have done”. And of course, I couldn’t have changed the outcome no matter what we did or didn’t do. I say that, but I don’t really believe it. Goddammit, what if …?

So I have to live with my decisions, his decisions, our decisions, as agonizing as that is. Perhaps as the years slide by, I will be less concerned with trying to figure out the why and the how, but I will never have the answers. So I live in this perpetual state of bewilderment. As I posted three years ago, I will be in the WTF stage for the rest of my life.

 

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