|Big Pink Farm||
When seven of your dairy goats give birth within the space of four days, it gets a little crowded in the barn.
Within days of Max's death, we started to receive lots of cards of sympathy and condolences in the mail. One such card came from a woman I had never met; in fact, she was (and still is) a stranger to us. She was writing because she had read about Max's accident in the news, learned that he died as a result, and had also suffered a similar loss when her daughter died suddenly from a similar accident years earlier. What she wrote in the card was brief, yet heartfelt, and it was the first time I learned about The Compassionate Friends and their annual worldwide candlelighting event:
Now believed to be the largest mass candle lighting on the globe, the 20th annual Worldwide Candle Lighting, a gift to the bereavement community from The Compassionate Friends, creates a virtual 24-hour wave of light as it moves from time zone to time zone. TCF’s WWCL started in the United States in 1997 as a small internet observance, but has since swelled in numbers as word has spread throughout the world of the remembrance. Hundreds of formal candle lighting events are held and thousands of informal candle lightings are conducted in homes as families gather in quiet remembrance of children who have died, but will never be forgotten.
So on December 9, 2012, at 7 pm our time, we lit a candle at home for our son Maxwell Dennis Romeo. It was surreal to know that around the country and the world, other parents were doing the same thing for their dead children at 7 pm in their local time zone when just weeks earlier, we had never known such an event existed.
This coming Sunday, we will be lighting a candle again for our boy. Actually, I'll probably light several of them because I like candles and soft, glowing light that pierces the darkness, if only for an evening.
(Sometimes friends light candles for Max, too. When they do, I love it when they take photos of their candles and share them with me. It reassures me that through their quiet rememberance of Max, my son will never be forgotten. For a bereaved mother, that's about as good as it gets.)
The lady at the liquor store asked for my ID, then looked closer at me and said, "No."
Then she peered closer again and said, "Yes."
When I started to laugh, she looked like she was going to change her mind again, so I handed her my driver's license just to be done with it. That was weird and fun.
In other words, I'm white knuckling my way to the end of the semester. Witness my research paper misery:
A collection of random thoughts:
My husband is out of town for work and I have no assurance that he will make it home in time for Thanksgiving. When he's home, I irritate him and he irritates me, but when he's gone, it's like the sun has gone missing from the galaxy.
My college girl arrived home from Kentucky last night. My heart is full. At one point last night, six of us girls were crammed into the bathroom while my daughters modeled all the formal dresses they had worn over the years. Girl stuff. And at another point in the evening, my college girl gave a conceptual lecture -- complete with diagrams -- on astronomy to her 11 year old brother. I think his brain started to melt.
Today we're going to have lunch and do some shopping with my father and stepmother who are visiting from Texas. It's much colder here than they're used to, so mostly we're going to be looking for winter coats and some hoodies. Bonus points will be awarded if we can score Ohio State gear from the Goodwill. Dad is going to the OSU v Michigan football fame on Saturday and needs to dress the part.
The holiday season contains hundred of landmines for grieving parents. Angela Miller wrote an excellent essay about what it's like to be both grateful and grieving which you can (and should!) read here. "Gratitude is great– really, it is– but it can’t fix child loss. Nothing can. The only fix for my pain would be to raise my child from the dead."
Happy thanksgiving, friends!
Within days of Maxwell's death as a result of the devastating injuries he sustained from what happens when a 20-wheeler plows into the side of a tiny car at a terrifying rate of speed, we had erected a small wooden cross at the site of impact. Like so many decisions I made during those early days that are shrouded in the fog of early grief, I can recall only very dimly my thought processes that led to a cross. Nevertheless, two days later, there was a cross where hours earlier there had been wreckage.
If you've driven anywhere in this country, you've seen them. Perhaps you never gave them much thought, but you've definitely seen them. Tragic crash + grieving family = the cross by the side of the road.
Eventually the wooden cross was completely overgrown with grass and not visible from the road. Not having any experience in Roadside Memorial Construction, we had no idea to what scale we should build it. So we scrapped that cross and built a new, larger one, this time made from white plastic that we got from Lowe's made to look like wood.
It's virtually indestructible. And the road maintenance crews of the state of Ohio (or whoever maintains the mowing schedule for that section of road) kindly mow around Max's cross, which means it's always visible to passersby.
This gives me a strange kind of satisfaction. My son died. But his cross is there to say that his life matters and you should SLOW THE EFF DOWN. Also, hug your loved ones. And watch out for semi-trucks traveling too fast. Just be careful. I mean it.
But one of the things about maintaining a roadside memorial for your son is that the atmosphere does terrible things to it. The flowers that you carefully select from the craft store in his favorite colors of red and black will fade in mere weeks. The black ink that your husband painstakingly hand draws will soon be unreadable. The very nature of a roadside memorial is its inherent temporariness.
And that shit kills me: That time still moves, that everything tends toward entropy, that I have to agonize over silk flowers in the middle of holiday shoppers at Joann's. It's just wrong.
On the way home from church this past Sunday, Roger and I set out to spruce up the cross. The old flowers were sapped of color and the letters that spelled out his name and dates were faint. It was beyond time to fix it. Usually, it's just Roger and I doing this while the kids wait in the van. It's a busy road and rough walking terrain to get to the site and honestly, I can't imagine why anyone would want to spend time there unless they had to.
But this time, instead of waiting in the van, Lucy asked if she could come with us. We're indulgent parents of the last baby, so naturally we said yes. She watched as we gathered the faded silk flowers, replacing them with new ones, and as Roger slowly inked over the faded letters of Maxwell's name. Then she asked the two questions foremost in her mind: What kind of car did Max drive, and what kind of truck ran into him?
She's six years old. This shit kills me.
Vote. Or don't. Honestly, I don't care who you pick for president and really don't want to hear about it. The thing is, your one ballot decision will probably not significantly change the fate of anything that you care about.
On Wednesday, it will be over. And then the real work begins: living in harmony with the people who disagree with you.
When my older kids were little, we didn't really do the whole Halloween thing. Part of the reason was due to a misguided pseudo-religious conviction, but mostly I was just lazy. Or overwhelmed. But probably both. (Just to give you some perspective, there was a time when I had 5 children under 6 years old. I loved that period of my life, but boy howdy, was I ever exhausted!)
By the time Halloween 2008 rolled around, I was finally ready to do costumes and candy with my kids. (And again, for perspective, I had 9 children ranging in age from 15 years down to 1 year old.) I don't remember what costumes my kids wore that year, because I am pretty sure I had very limited involvement in the decision process. Instead, I had farmed that out to the teens and tweens as part of their well-rounded homeschool education.
However, I recall with much fondness the costume I created for the one year old and me. I dressed up in a blue turtle neck with coordinating blue jeans and also dressed the baby in a matching blue onesie. I affixed cloud-like clumps of white batting to each of us and carried her around on my hip like usual. I also carried a squirt bottle full of water and randomly spritzed into the air. When people naturally asked me what I was dressed up as, I sprayed a fine mist of water in their direction and told them with a very straight face that I was -- wait for it -- Partly Cloudy with a Chance of Rain.
Then there was Halloween 2011, when I wore my beekeeping gear while holding the newest Romeo child on my hip whom I had dressed up as a bee. (My forte seems to be mother and child combo costumes.)
Fast forward to now.
My 18 year old daughter is keenly aware of how quickly time is passing; next year at this time she will be away at college. As if to make up for all the lost years of not carving a single pumpkin as a family, she set out to carve six unique pumpkins by herself. There's probably a lesson in this, but I'll leave it up to you, dear reader, to find it. (Because I'm still lazy that way.)
The Romeo child I dressed up as a bee in 2011 is old enough now to use my cell phone. I had given it to her while I was making dinner and her sister was carving pumpkins, assuming she would play a game on it, like Goat Simulator or Angry Birds. Nope. She recorded videos instead. I think she's lobbying for her own YouTube channel.
You can watch her cute video and running commentary of the pumpkin carving below.
Many people think that farm life is so peaceful and quiet, but to me, it's noisy. I don't think it's because I have exceptional hearing, but rather because I have an exceptional sensitivity to sounds. So just for fun, I tried to capture some of the animals sounds on the farm. The goats, chickens, cats, and wild birds were cooperative, but the cow steadfastly refused to make any noise except for some sniffing.
(I should point out that he's not really a cow, per se. He's a castrated male Holstein 9 month old calf that we're raising for meat for the freezer. It's just easier to say cow. We raise one like him every year. Because he's a dairy breed, we won't get the same yield as a beef breed, but for us, it's a good way to feed a large family.)
Enjoy the noise!
And now for something completely different, a very old and very silly cartoon just in time for Halloween.
It never gets easier. For some wounds, time is most definitely not a healer. In fact, time is often a cruel master.
Yesterday was the fourth anniversary of the death of Maxwell Dennis Romeo, my son.
Four years ago, I was sitting at my kitchen table wondering how I was ever going to sleep again and more importantly, what now? How do you plan for the funeral of your child? Where do you even begin?
So I drank a lot of the very fine bourbon that a friend had smuggled into the ICU of Akron General earlier in the day where I was keeping vigil. We both had assumed I would be spending long days there while Max recovered from his very extensive injuries and the bourbon was a gift to help ease the nights there.
We were so very wrong about that.
"Hurry up!" I hollered from the kitchen before he left for school on the day of the accident. Not "Goodbye." Not "I love you!"
The next time I saw him he was unconscious and trapped in the twisted metal of his car.
I went to class yesterday because I had a quiz. I had thought about emailing my professor to explain why I wouldn't be in class that day (aka, revealing my tragic backstory), but I eventually nixed that idea largely because the syllabus provides no make-up options for quizzes.
After the quiz, I went outside to cry, which smudged my makeup. I subsequently spent a considerable amount of time trying to convince myself to go back into the classroom for the lecture and lab that followed. (Eventually I did.)
While I was outside, squatting against a brick wall and sobbing quietly, a small bird flew so close to me that I could feel it in my hair. It felt to me like the bird was acknowledging my pain. Or maybe not. Perhaps it was just a weird bird acting erratically.
Nevertheless, I like my version better.
Just when I thought I would never discover another new photo of Max -- I mean, it's been four years already -- yesterday I found two of them. Photographs are like gold to a grieving mom, so finding two in one day is like winning the lottery.
Natalie was home from Kentucky this weekend for fall break (aka the shittiest time of the year.) She was planning to leave on Sunday afternoon to go back to school for Monday classes, but we talked her out of it. She pulled the "dead brother" card in emails to her professors Sunday night and left for school yesterday around the same time that I did.
Next year, we need a better plan. This was the first time in four years that I actually had to be somewhere on the anniversary, and I guess I didn't really understand how woefully unprepared I was for it.
This past weekend, I took a trip to eastern Kentucky with some of my favorite people for Alice Lloyd College's Appalachia Day. Like last year, I sold my handmade goat milk soap and Natalie sold her handmade jewelry, but mostly it was an excuse to visit my college girl. And of course, with the ever-looming anniversary of Maxwell's death, October could use a bright spot.
And now, commence with the poorly-framed and hastily snapped photos.
Would you like to watch a short video? Of course you do. This is a new song for the Voices of Appalachia, Natalie's college choir. It is based on a poem by James Stills, a former poet laureate of Kentucky, and composed for them by a friend of the choir director from Cornwall.
(The wind was wicked during their performance, and this is the first time they sang it for an audience. Given those constraints, I think it's still quite lovely.)
I arrived home on Sunday night to a large package. In it were two quilts that were lovingly and painstakingly created for me by my mom. I could describe them to you, but instead, I think I'll show you.
You're looking at Max's t-shirts. I am undone.
Much of the blame belongs to me, Alison. I am: Wife to 1 man, Mom to 10 kids, and Farmer to a great many critters.