Special Dates

Remember when I said that I feel as though I am finished with my writing? Well, there are events that bring me back to paper and pen (so to speak), as writing can be very therapeutic. I’ve learned from hard experience that when a child dies, nothing is ever finished. For all parents I’ve communicated with via “Gold Star Families” and “Compassionate Friend’s” facebook pages, special dates are especially brutal. My son’s birthday without him is not just incomplete but heart-breaking. We had our second birthday without Jake, and this one was different because I have learned some coping strategies over the past year and a half. I made a plan for a busy day and I stuck to the plan, each activity with Jake in mind. He loves others and everyone was his friend, so I went to the VA hospital to serve his brothers in arms and spent some time facetiming with my daughter and granddaughters, and even though I had a good cry at the end of the day, I did more than just “get though it”. I thought of Jake and acted upon his memory. I truly celebrated the day my boy came into my life and I celebrated in a way that would make him happy.

Thanksgiving was a bit more difficult for some reason. I guess because Jake was always such a big part of the cooking and continually hovering over my shoulder making seasoning suggestions. The mashed potatoes were his favorite food and he always made them. We added to our collection of “Turkey Curl” videos, which has now become a tradition. The best part was that my niece and her husband (back from his deployment for 1 week), drove here from Colorado to love and support me though the holiday and Hannah let my granddaughter, Emma tag along which made the weekend busy and joyful! They will never know how much that meant to me! Between the moments of joy, I could feel that familiar rock in my stomach and the ever-present sense that something important was missing. I think the rock has become a part of my anatomy; esophagus, intestines, stomach, rock… That rock and I know one another better than I would like.

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I tried to ignore Christmas best I could, but then I kept thinking that Jake would want me to break open the decorations. He loved decorating and he loved everything fancy, and Christmas decorations are truly fancy. After changing my mind continuously for two weeks, I finally ripped off the bandage and did it! I opened the boxes of memories, even the many handmade ornaments he had lovingly created over the years; gifts from his great big heart. Memories of my creative little boy who had grown to become my creative young man, always finding joy in making something from an idea in his head. As I unwrapped each ornament, I cried a little, smiled a little and felt a small sense of accomplishment. I was brave, and I knew Jake was happy!

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We spent Christmas morning at the VA hospital and delivered fleece blankets to the hospice patients, each having the insignia for the patients’ branch of service. For Christmas afternoon and dinner, we invited those we knew had no family near, making our own “family” and celebrating the birth of our Savior. My husband read the Christmas story in Luke as always, and we felt gratitude for our many blessings, even with the ever present rock in my stomach. I wish I could convince everyone who is suffering a loss to volunteer and serve others, because it lifts the grief even if for a bit. It is the only answer I have discovered and it is a great one! For that, I am truly grateful!

Okay! This is my favorite Christmas 2015 moment: We have a tradition that is somewhat like an advent calendar. We have 25 ornaments with a different name for the Savior. Each day we add one to the tree and look up scriptures that reference that particular name for Jesus Christ. I had completely forgotten that Jake had added two of his own as a joke (a scene from “Talladega Knights”). I was in tears as I opened the box, but as soon as I saw the two forgotten ornaments, I chuckled. He is still making me laugh almost two years after last seeing his face.

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Much like last year, as soon as Christmas ended, I felt a sense of panic! I remembered a new year would begin and it would be another year in which my child would not be on this earth. I cried and felt a sense of injustice that I am here to begin 2016 and Jacob is not. In my mind (and sometime aloud) I found myself repeating, “I don’t want to go forward, I want to go backward”. I just want my boy and nothing can be done except to bring his memory with me as I am forced to go forward; me and my rock.

 

 

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My last “Dear Jake”

Dear Jake,

I’m writing to you one last time. This experience has been both difficult and therapeutic at the same time. I’ve put my thoughts and feelings out there to hopefully help someone else who is struggling. I pray that nobody will ever again be in my shoes, but I know better. It’s not possible in this world that becomes more confused and more wicked with each day.

I tear up more frequently but cry less often. It seems to get me in quick splashes rather than the huge waves that used to come, crippling me and alienating me from life. I still break down every now and then and cry until I have no more tears left, but then I pick myself up and try my best to go on.

Losing you has changed me. I was always bubbly and enthusiastic about life, just like you were; outgoing, friendly and always smiling. I’m not at all withdrawn, but I struggle to find that happy woman I once was. Everything about life seems to have a more serious aspect than I once observed. Don’t get me wrong. I still smile continually, but there is less behind that smile than there has been at any other time in my life because my heart is secretly heavy.

My thoughts and feelings about death have changed drastically. I don’t feel sad or afraid about death. It feels like it’s become such a part of my life that I sometimes will it to come, welcoming it with open arms. I know that we’re all here until the Lord decides it’s time for us to go, so until it’s my time I will press forward, determined to do good works and live faithfully each day so that I may see you again. Nothing will stop me from doing everything I can to be with you and others I have loved and lost in this life.

You are the very best part of me, Jake. I will never be complete here without you. I will remain changed, living in this new world that still feels foreign to me. I will try my to succeed here, but I will continue missing the part of me that is you until I see your smiling face again. You have been a magnificent bright light in my life; my greatest blessing along with your sister. With all my heart, I love and miss you. I will say goodbye here and now, but I will never stop carrying you with me until we meet again, my sweet Jake.

Mom

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Your Angelversary

Jake,

This is the day. It’s hard to believe we’re at the year mark. Sometimes it feels like you were never here, like it was a wonderful dream and now I’m awake remembering a 21 year dream, but at other times, it feels like you’re not really gone but in the next room. I don’t look at the door much anymore, so somehow I’ve accepted that you aren’t coming though it. I still worry about you. Not because there’s anything to worry about, but because I can’t stop being your mom and worrying about you is a part of that.

I have a wall of pictures with you and your sister at various ages. I spend a lot of time looking at them and remembering. You two were so different, except for humor. She was the first born, a high achiever, bossy and she behaved like your other mother. You spent lots of time in Hannah’s shadow but as you did, you learned to shine in your own way. You became my buddy, my artist, my athlete, my dog-lover, my cooking buddy. Sometimes I feel bad because I had so much more time with you than I did Hannah. She was so independent that it’s still hard for me to pin her down, and get her to spend time with me. I miss this about you. You always came through the door and the first thing you would do is find me. Every single time. I LOVED that about you. You made me feel important and I never questioned your love for me. I imagine the next time, It’ll be me coming through the door and the first thing I will do is find you. I will see you, smell you and hug you again. I think of it every day and I can’t see that changing until we meet again.

Today, several people sent messages to you, written on helium balloons. Messages of gratitude and messages of love. There’s something healing about letting them go and watching them until they are out of sight. I know you get every message.

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Memorial Day

“Happy Memorial Day” was a strange phrase to hear at first, but then I thought, why not? Aren’t we grateful for our freedoms? Aren’t we grateful that there are still those willing to fight evil in the world; those trying to make the world a better place for people they don’t even know? Aren’t we grateful for those who made the ultimate sacrifice? Yes! This is a day to celebrate what you, and others like you have done for us. This day is about you, Jake and I appreciate this holiday more than I ever have.

Ryan and I visited your grave and then as you can see, it got busier and busier because you are so loved!

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A whirlwind trip to Colorado!

As I anticipated this trip, I had much anxiety. I knew this would be the last formal celebration of your life and the sacrifice you made. “Then what?” is all that ran through my mind. I realized my anxiety is simply fear that you will be forgotten, but so many have made it clear that you will never be forgotten.

Another worry was the contention that was created immediately after your death. I always thought it would get better with time, but it has only gotten worse as my efforts have not been accepted and lies have been told to turn others against me. I now realize that there are some things I cannot fix for you. Maybe one year of trying is good enough, because I believe that both you and God know that I have tried my best to do what is right. Maybe you’re doing just fine regardless of the disappointments here on Earth. That is my prayer.

The Memorial Day ceremony at the Army base was beautiful. This is how I got picked up at the airport. It made me laugh and cry at the same time. What awesome brothers you have!

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The ceremony was good, even in the pouring rain. I could hear more family behind me crying as the names of Ft Carson’s seven fallen were read. It’s so hard. It was yet another time to see your name in stone, and that is not easy for a parent. I always thought you would be putting my name in stone.

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The ceremony gave me a great opportunity to meet the other Gold Star families and make a connection. Somehow it feels better to be with those who understand. I hate that they were there too, but I also love and appreciate that they were there. That might make little sense to those who have not experienced it.

I have been in contact with another Gold Star Mom, Debbie since she lost her boy to an IED. Her son was the next casualty after you. He was only 19 years old and from California. I finally got to meet her and it was wonderful. She’s an incredible woman; so loving and kind. A strong Christian and a great example.

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My favorite part of the day was when we were brought back to the building where you worked. They had a surprise for us. They dedicated a conference room to you and said that as long as this building stands, this will always be your conference room. I hope you know how loved you are. It blows me away at times.

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Of course I went out with the guys in the evening, and I realized just how old I am! This was a special time for me to hear stories about you. They all shared something that they’ll never forget. For the medic, it was that you taught him to play catch so he could play with his baby boy when he gets older. For others, it was the big heart you have, because you were always willing to share anything you had. I heard about the way you made everyone smile all the time, how you were the one to raise the spirits and keep morale high and how easy it was for you to laugh at yourself. As these men shared their stories, they did so with huge smiles on their faces. Jake, you are so loved and appreciated. These are the very things I miss about you too. One of the best parts of me disappeared when I lost you, and I am trying to figure out how to be happy in a world without your joy. It’s taking some time, but I will get there. The Lord brings me peace and comfort. Without my beliefs, I’m not sure I would have survived this.

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I learned that you and Richard had plans to attend a Colorado Rockies game together as soon as you got home, so your sister and I took him to the game for you! Coors field is a tough place to be without you, Jake. Remember how we always said that it’s the real “Happiest Place on Earth”? We took Richard to dinner at our favorite restaurant and he order your favorite dish, and then we made him eat a Rocky Dog in your honor.  We had a great time, but you were so missed! I love you forever, my wonderful son.

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Impossible Questions

Jake,

The other soldiers who were on the helicopter with you are fighting to get the Purple Heart for you and them. They have involved parents and congressman and would like me and your dad to help in this fight. Jake, I don’t think this is important any longer. I know if you were alive, you would want this and I would fight your fight, but this award changes nothing for me and your dad. You’re still gone and we’re still broken-hearted. I politely told them that we had no fight left in us and they seemed to understand, but now that the interaction is over, I feel a little angry. I realize that it would help their cause to have us on board and that makes me feel a bit used. Are they thinking if they get the dead kid’s parents on board they’ll have a stronger argument? Do we have more clout because you’re the only casualty and their kids were wounded? Am I angry for nothing? Sometimes, I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel and if my actual feelings are different than how I’m supposed to feel then am I wrong? Am I going crazy? I know what is and isn’t important to me. Is it possible to be wrong?

I know that you are important, Ray is important, your sister and her family are important, all family is important. At the end of the day, all that matters are the people we love and the love we show others in our daily interactions. Things are not important. They are so temporary. Purple Hearts are not important. These people have their children. I do not. This fact forces us to think and feel differently.

Do you remember when Thursdays were a problem for me? They no longer bring me more pain that any other day of the week, but I find it interesting that your memorial ceremony coming up at Fort Carson is on Thursday and the anniversary of your death is the following Thursday. Will we have peace then? Will I be able to forget about the Thursday morning when I was told you weren’t ever coming home? What will happen when this year comes to an end? When the celebrations are all over? Will you be forgotten? Jake, I can’t bear the thought of your influence fading. Will there come a day when your grave is no longer visited? Do these things even matter to you? Jake I want to call you. I want to talk to you so badly, if only to know the answers to these questions. If only to hear once more, “Hey Mom, I love you”.

Actual Mother’s Day!

After all the anxiety leading up to Mother’s Day, it ended up being a day that I will treasure. During the week before, I got a text from Jake’s best friend asking if he could drive to Iowa to see me for Mother’s Day weekend. As you can imagine, I began sobbing. He will never know the importance of this gesture. I know he wanted to step in to help me feel loved, but what he did was so much more than that. It’s kind of strange seeing Alex without Jake. They were always together, inseparable for 10 years. It feels like something is missing when I am with Alex, because something is missing. It’s Jake.

He met us out at our property while we were meeting with the builder, we went to lunch/dinner, Alex (and sweet girlfriend) stayed the night, we played games and laughed quite a bit, all while there was a small silent and suppressed heartache. It felt like neither of us needed to say anything, because we are on the same page. I am so grateful for that!

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Alex and bailey left Sunday morning, and as I opened the door to leave for church, I found a box of flowers. I brought them in and tears filled my eyes as I realized Hannah successfully included Jake in Mother’s Day! Again, I hadn’t expected such a wonderful gesture…

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We picked up Dewitt from the nursing home and headed to church. There I received so many hugs and “Happy Mother’s Day” greetings from other moms and from the young women. In the afternoon, friends came over for dinner, as well as the missionaries. We played games, visited… It was a full day, and I was surrounded by love. This is my facebook report…

“The love of others has allowed me to have a great Mother’s Day! My daughter succeeded to include Jake, my husband spent every minute by my side, I was surrounded by love at church, friends here at home and lots of support on facebook and texts. When something is missing in our lives, the Lord sends angels to care for us, and I know so many angels now! Thanks for being there for me!”

Jake, I have been surrounded by angels here on the Earth and by you from above. Mother’s Day was not the same without you, but I felt your presence throughout the entire day and I know you were here with me. Thank you for loving me and for watching out for me. I thought I had so much more time with you. I didn’t know that last year would be my last time to hear, “Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I love you.” The great blessing is that I did have so many years with you, that when I close my eyes I can still hear your voice. Thank you for remaining with me in spirit, because I don’t think I could do this without you.

I love you so much. Thanks for the great Mother’s Day XO

Oh no! Mother’s Day

This week snuck up on me like a predator and there has been no escape. I have been so focused on the one year anniversary of your death at the end of this month and the trip to Fort Carson for the Memorial Day ceremony, I hadn’t thought about Mother’s Day. I didn’t even consider that this would be the first one without a call from you. After years of homemade cards, you planting flowers for me in the rock garden, offering to make me breakfast or dinner, I am alone and son-less. I have never spent a Mother’s day without at least hearing your voice. How could I not have anticipated the pain your absence would bring?

I want to be brave. I want to be strong. I want to smile when I think of you. Yesterday, one of your Army buddies put together a video containing footage I had never seen before. He posted it on facebook without sending it to us first. Suddenly, there it was and it took my breath away. There you were moving and smiling and full of life, and my heart broke all over again. Jake, I wish I could be as brave as you were. I want to live the rest of my life and find joy. It has to be somewhere, but because there is opposition in all things, my pain is great because my love for you is great. I don’t think I will ever be the same again, and sometimes I feel like I’m watching life go on around me and not actually participating. Sometimes I fraudulently participate and pretend that I’m enjoying myself, but the hole in my heart and the rock in my stomach are always present.

One thing I know for sure is that God is aware of me and He sometimes sends angels. Tonight, your best friend texted me to see if he could drive to Iowa to see me for Mother’s Day. I literally sobbed, and I’m sure you smiled. You always had such great friends, and even in your absence, they are here to step in because of the love they have for you. They know how much you love me, so they love me too.

I had lunch with two Gold Star Mothers today. One lost her son 5 years ago and the other 10 years ago (both from roadside IEDs). I appreciate the time I have with them. Even if we don’t talk about our boys and our pain, there is a silent comfort that comes with being together. We hear of casualties from training accidents and still others from over-seas, and with each story comes the reality and heartbreak that another family has to endure what we do daily. That arrangements have to be made, and that the heartache and the longing to have you back will become a daily norm.

I miss you every single day, Jake. I wish things were different, but they can’t be. I will keep trying to endure what has been given to me, and to remember that you are without pain. I would double my pain to ensure that you never had to feel heartache and sorrow again. This thought helps me with perspective and allows me to have peace in knowing that you are happy and without the trials of this life.

I love you, my boy. Forever and ever.

11 Months

It’s been 11 months today and I still selfishly want you back. I still can’t figure out why it seems impossible for you to be gone, yet you are. Jake, there is nobody else in my life who is like you, and that has left a huge void that nobody can fill. Should I have had more children? Would I have had another one to lean on, to help me? My mind sometimes wonders, but any of your siblings would have their own grief to deal with, leaving them unavailable to me. I feel selfish in expressing these feelings. I still feel so alone. Will the pain ever lessen? Should I be able to focus on the positive and remember the good times and remove the pain? I want to, but the pain that comes with your absence is often unbearable.

I often think about the “supposed to’s”. I don’t think it’s a helpful thing to do, but it’s probably normal. You were supposed to come home. You were learning about who you are, so that you could chose a career and learn and grow. I was supposed to be “Oma” to your children. I dreamed about who they would be, and often thought about how fun cousins are for kids. Your sister’s kids were supposed to love and play with yours. I was supposed to have all of you together for holidays and summertime at my house. I was supposed to have more time with you, Jake. I wasn’t supposed to lose you. You were supposed to outlive me.

Each day is different. Some days, I can walk by your picture on the wall, smile and say, “Hi Buddy”, and other days that same picture stops me in my tracks and I break down. I know what you would want. I know you want me to smile, to remember you and have faith that all is well. I want so much to feel that way every single day, but it’s just not possible. Will I be able to one day move through my days smiling, absent from the break in my heart? I want that so badly. I want to have a normal day, but the truth is that life will never be normal again. Not for me.

I will visit the nursing home today and get to the grocery store.., and these things help me to feel as if I’m still living life. It’s not the life I wanted, but I promise I will keep trying to be strong, because sometimes when I’m crying, in my mind I hear you say, “Mom, don’t be sad. Everything is okay. I’m doing great.” I will keep trying for you, Jake. I will move forward with the faith that you are doing well, always remembering that I will see you again, and loving you deeply with every moment of every day.

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Baby Jacob Techera

Hey Buddy,

Sergeant Techera and his wife had a baby boy! He was born less than 11 months after his dad was involved in the helicopter crash with you, so I guess he’s considered a “deployment baby”. I finally got to meet him. It’s hard to remember you being this small, but what I do remember is how much I loved being your mom and how much I loved raising you. You brought me joy from the first day I met you, and that joy never stopped and never will. I wonder if there will be other Jacobs. I’m guessing there will be considering how much everyone loved you and how much everyone always will.