Saturday, June 28, 2014

In memoriam

We've been here in Austin for a little over a week now. It's been a heartbreaking time, but also good and comforting to be here with my sisters and parents to mourn and cry and talk and laugh and just remember our brother together. We had a memorial service for him last wednesday, which was lovely and sweet. I had not realized just how active and beloved he was in his church community. I feel like there are whole sides of him that I hadn't been aware of and it's a shame to not have noticed until now, but it is sweet and heartwarming to see how much people adored him and what he meant to so many. 

My sister Criss spoke at the service, mostly retelling stories about JC. There were a couple that stuck out to me, that I had not known or remembered but really capture who he was. One was her remembering trying to get him to play house with her-- Criss being the mom, JC being the dad, and her doll being the baby. All would go fine until JC decided that really he was a government agent and the baby was not a real baby but AN ALIEN BABY WHO NEEDED TO BE STOPPED!! I keep chuckling out loud over that mental image. 

As background for the second story, in college my brother had been studying Radio-Television-and-Film at UT, towards the end narrowing his focus to sound editing. In his last semester, after months of feeling unwell, he was diagnosed with a malignant and aggressive brain tumor. They thankfully found it just in time, and between the surgery and months of radiation and chemo he beat the cancer but he also had to relearn how to walk and talk all over again. He also lost his hearing in one ear, effectively taking away one of his passions. 

But Criss remembered a conversation with him where, instead of feeling bitter or angry, he said that he didn't see it as losing the hearing in one ear, but as trading that ear for his whole life. That he could still hear from his other ear (he became a pro at finding just the right place and direction to sit to still appreciate the quality of sound for music and movies through his beloved sound equipment).

I also wrote a few words for the service, though I didn't have it in me to read them aloud (I asked Zach to do so). But I figured I would share them here as well:

Over the past few days I've been looking back at memories of JC that stand out in my mind. I remember him as a kid, setting up his action figures in the backyard into scenes that he would photograph (I smile watching my own sons do the same thing now). I remember him coming to my aid whenever Cristina would pick on me. I remember him making us watch the terrible horror movies he so enjoyed, reassuring me that they weren't really scary because the blood and everything were fake and explaining how they did the various gory effects. I remember him coming home one day with a grey kitten hidden in his jacket-- he had found it under the seat on the bus and couldn't bear to leave it there, alone and helpless. That was not the first nor the last stray cat he would bring home.
I remember going to see him in the hospital after the surgery for his brain tumor, feeling so scared but also hopeful that he would be ok. I remember watching him go through all of his treatment and physical therapy in the months afterwards, working tirelessly to literally get back on his own two feet. 
One of my last memories of JC is from this past Christmas. To say that JC was a Star Wars fan would be a bit of an understatement. He was also an incredibly loving and devoted uncle to his nieces and nephews. This past December JC showed my kids theoriginal Star Wars trilogy, sharing the films he loved so dearly with his beloved nephews. It was such a special moment. 
Now let me tell you a few things I do not remember... With all that JC went through, I don't ever remember seeing him be cynical or bitter, or complain about what happened to him. He had every reason to be angry at the world, but he wasn't. He just kept on going, working to get better physically, then working to make the world better through his volunteering and then getting his masters, wanting to turn his experience into a way to help others. 
I honestly don't know how he did it. JC possessed an inner strength that I cannot fathom. But I realized that in this time of deep sadness and grief, I can find inspiration in his great attitude. I could feel angry and bitter about having had my brother taken from me, from all of us. Or I can view the years we had with him as a gift, as something to celebrate and honor and remember. I can be grateful for the marks he left on this world. I can be grateful for the pleasure and honor of having known him and called him my big brother.
JC's obituary can be found here.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Sometimes life hands you a lemon. And sometimes life just punches youright in the face

Thursday afternoon we headed over to the home of one of Donovan's classmates. Our moving truck had been picked up earlier that day, and after the whirlwind week of madly packing up our house and fitting all our things in the trailer, we were more than happy to take a quick breather. This was our first real playdate with this family- they have two daughters who are about the same ages and D & Q. The kids hadn't ever played that much together at school, but on the afternoon where we stayed for a while on the playground after school pickup I'd had many great chats with the parents and clicked well with them. It's a shame we didn't manage to hang out more before now, but that's just how things go sometimes I guess. 

They have the classic New England home out in the country, with tons of land and a garden and flower beds. The kids all got along great and had fun running around outside while we grownups talked. It was a gorgeous sunny day, just warm enough with a light breeze. Idyllic and lovely. 

As we were about to sit down for dinner my phone started ringing. It was my mom. I ignored the call, not wanting to be rude to our hosts and figuring I'd call her back once we got back home. A few minutes later Zach came up and told me he got a text from my step-dad that I should call Mom back. I checked my phone again and saw texts from both of them to call home asap. 

That's when I got that sinking feeling in my stomach. 

I walked over to the part of the yard with the best cell phone reception and called Mom. The first two tries went straight to voicemail, but on the third it rang and she answered. "Honey, are you someplace where you can sit down and be ok?" 

And there's that moment when you are gripped with terror because you know something horribe has happened and you can't stand not knowing and you can't stand finding out what it could be. It's like something out of a book or movie except it's real life, and it's happening right here and now. With a lump in my throat and my voice already breaking I asked her what was wrong, and that's when she told me that my brother, JC, had died the night before, suddenly and unexpectedly, while out in LA visiting his best friend. 

No one really knows what happened exactly. He had been feeling sick, had a fever, but nothing that seemed alarming or serious. He had chosen to stay in by himself that night, and there's a trail of texts and then...nothing. They say it seemed like he went very quickly. Maybe it was the illness, his body and immune system made frail after the intense rounds of chemo and radiation he underwent 17yrs ago for his brain tumor. Or maybe it was something else entirely. We don't know, and it doesn't seem like we'll ever find out, which feels maddening and yet I doubt any of this would feel any better if we knew the exact cause of death. He's just... Gone. 

I talked with my mom on the phone for a few more minutes, Zach by my side, before she had to go to make more calls. I sat for a moment, dried my eyes, then walked back over to the table with our friends. Zach told them what had happened, and we briefly discussed going home but I didn't want to end the playdate. The kids were having a great time and I welcomed the distraction and beautiul setting while I tried to process this new reality. 

Eventually, after finishing dinner and the rhubarb crumble and toasted marshmallows, we left to go home (or to our temporary home, a friend's house in the neighborhood who was gone for the summer and let us use their place so we'd have a furnished place to stay after shipping all our things). Zach put the kids to bed while I called my sisters, then Sasha and Jeremy. I felt like I was in shock, and numb, unable to really feel the impact of my brother's death. It just felt so surreal and distant. Hearing the voices of some the people I love most on this earth felt like being wrapped in a warm blanket. I kept repeating it in my head, "My brother died. JC is dead. My brother is gone," trying to convince myself that it was real. It just made no sense. 

So that was Thursday. 

Friday morning I talked with the boys about it. Zach had told them the night before, at bedtime, but I wanted to talk with them myself as well. Donovan told me he felt sad. Quinn asked some other questions, trying to comprehend something his 3yo brain isn't meant to. Zach booked us all on flights to Austin for Saturday. My sisters would also be coming into town, so we would all be together with our parents. 

Friday was when things started to sink in a little more. I cried as I got messages of love and condolences from family and friends, offering their support and saying such kind words about my brother. I cried when I searched for recent pictures of him, feeling so annoyed that I had only my phone to do so, with all my tens of thousands of photos stored on a computer that was in a truck already. I found the last family photo we took, this past Christmas, and felt sucker-punched at realizing he won't be in any future pictures with us. I also suddenly realized that in flying to Austin the following day, we would be saying our last goodbyes of New Hampshire (the boys and I will fly straight on to California after this). In the process of moving I've been started by having to say a few goodbyes before mentally preparing for them, and here was yet another one. 

In other words, Friday pretty much sucked ass, not that I expect it will get much easier for a while. 

We are currently on our way to Austin now. The trip hasn't been our smoothest-- security almost didn't let me through because of a typo on my boarding pass; our layover in Atlanta lasted 3.5hrs longer than it was supposed to; and the boys spent much of that time driving me and Zach up the wall with their totally-age-and-situation-appropriate-but-extremely-difficult-for-grieving-parents-to-handle energy and wrestling/fighting/punchingeachotherintheface. BUT as I type this (on my phone, as D and Q finally sleep on the plane) we are within an hour or so of Austin and I just have to get through the next few minutes, and then the next few minutes after that, and so on, until we land and I can give my mom and my sisters and my dad and my step-dad the big ole hugs I've been craving and needing to give. 

Last night I talked briefly with Sasha. She asked how I was doing, and it's really hard to know how to answer that right now. I mean, yeah, I'm ok. I know we'll be ok. I know we'll get through this and we will miss him and remember him and honor him. And it's like staring down this road, or maybe up a steep mountain trail, you know you can do it (you have to, there's no other real choice, is there? Is that naive of me to say?) but you know it's gonna be hell and it's going to suck, but you can't go under it or over it you have to go straight through it and just "embrace the full force of the brutality." 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Tuck Investiture 2014

Two and a half years ago Zach decided to come to Tuck to get his MBA. Just under 2 years ago, we arrived in Hanover, excited and nervous, wondering how this new adventure would unfold. There's something fascinating and strange about reading back through those old pots, being on this side of things now. Just over a week ago Zach graduated as part of the Tuck class of 2014, receiving a Tuck Scholar award no less. We're a little bit proud of him.

Tuck had its own small graduation ceremony (which they call the Tuck Investiture, I think MBAs like having their own fancy words for stuff), separate from the larger Dartmouth graduation that happens on the same weekend. It was a gorgeous day, sunny and with a nice breeze. Zach's parents came into town for graduation, and we decided to bring D & Q as well which was a bit challenging but it was also a decent set-up for kids-- we were able to sit kinda off to the side under some shade, and had plenty of space for Q to run around on the grass without bothering other people. My in-laws helped keep an eye on the kiddoes, which freed me up to try taking some pictures. I realized I finally had a good reason to break out the 70-300mm lens we've had for years but rarely use, so I brought that along for getting pictures of Zach and his classmates on stage. Unfortunately my inexperience with that lens really showed, and I didn't pay enough attention to my settings, and so half the shots with that lens came out blurry. I was pretty upset with myself when I browsed the pictures on my computer that evening and realized my foolishness.... oh well. Rookie mistake.

Dean Paul Danos

Zach getting his cool swoopy masters choky-robe thing

The family shot (Q perhaps getting a bit restless...)


Friday, June 13, 2014

packing packing packing packing

Life is a whirlwind. There is so much to write about... Zach graduated from Tuck last weekend! Then at the last minute I invited myself along to help Jeremy and Jody move their family from New Hampshire to Wisconsin, which involved lots and lots of driving, meeting some of Jeremy's family along the way, and soaking in as much of their darling kiddoes' wildness while I still could. Then I flew back to catch my sister Criss and her family's visit here in NH, and now Zach and I are in the mad dash to get everything ready for our own impending move back to California. Oh, and Zach's birthday was yesterday (and I'm a terrible wife because I didn't even get him a cake this year...).

So, um, yeah, there's kinda been a lot going on...

 And there's a lot I would like to blog, but I'm focusing my energy and time right now to packing boxes and catching up on pictures on the computer before it gets loaded up into the moving truck on Wednesday (I took like 600 pictures at graduation I have a another few hundred from my phone to sort through...eek). In the meantime I will probably compose several blog posts in my head, and if I'm lucky they will eventually make it onto the keyboard. Stay tuned.


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