In Loving Memory

  • Remembering my beloved child, Austin, who passed away at the early age of 14. He lived more in those 14 short years than most and is an inspiration to us all.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Brotherly Love

I miss the relationship my two boys shared - and it wasn't even mine. I enjoyed watching them together, as brothers, and how they changed over the years. Austin went from protective to jealous to protective through those nine years with Noah. Through it all, Noah fully admired and looked up to Austin, he was and is his hero.


I also miss the pranks they used to play on each other, even though most of the time it ended in a fight. One funny story we have all retold through the years was when Austin told Noah how we came up with his name.

The entire time I was pregnant with Noah, we thought we were having a girl. I only had one ultrasound and the tech was an iffy on saying it was a girl. I never went back for another one but we were convinced Hannah Grace was on her way. Needless to say, when the doctor said, "It's a boy!" we were surprised. We literally had to stop off at the store on the way home from the hospital to buy a few outfits because everything we had was pink and frilly!

Austin told Noah that when he was born, I yelled "No!" and Dad said "Ah!" because we thought he was a girl. And together it made "Noah". He told this to Noah when he was still little and he believed it for awhile. Once Noah learned the truth, it was a running joke in the family. Austin would use it to tease him by yelling, "No!" and "Ah!" down the hall. I can still see Austin's smile every time he would begin to tell the story - or tease his brother. It was always followed by that full, hearty laugh I loved so much.

I'm saddened at the fact that Noah won't have his big brother around to protect him, pick on him and grow up with. But I know in place of that, he'll forever have a guardian angel, watching over him from above.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Road trip memories

Tim and I rode around this weekend, just the two of us. The weather was beautiful and we had the sun roof open. We had just visited Austin's grave for the the first time together since his monument has been installed. The ride was quiet for awhile, as we were deep in thoughts, memories and sadness.

I could feel Austin with us though. We began reminiscing how much he loved to go for a ride. It didn't matter where, he just loved going for drives through the countryside. We'd crank the radio up and let the wind blow through our hair, enjoying the scenery.

During our ride, certain songs would come on that either had a message we needed to hear or were favorites of his. At one point, we passed a country road that had his name on the sign. He seemed to be with us everywhere we looked.

Later, we went down a road we've been down so many times but were again reminded of him. It is a very hilly road with dips and curves and can make your stomach flip if you are driving fast enough. Tim and I laughed, remembering the first time it happened to Austin. He was little, still in a booster seat. Tim winked at me before he approached the hill and I knew what he planned to do. I turned in my seat to watch Austin's face and Tim moved the rear view mirror so he could also see. We hit the dip and instantly Austin's expression changed. I still chuckle, as I can picture his little hands grabbing on to his car seat as his face and stomach dropped. Once he realized it was nothing bad, he loved it and would ask to make the dips every time we took that road.

I am reminded of Austin every time we get in our trucks. If I am alone, I miss him sitting next to me as my co-pilot. He spilled over into the seat, all arms and legs, head reaching the ceiling. I often wondered how long I had until he outgrew our vehicles. If I'm taking Noah somewhere, I remember the constant arguments of who got to sit up front. The past year or so, Austin almost always was allowed up front for the simple fact that was so tall. I felt bad for him when he sat in the back because his knees were practically up to his ears. And if we're going somewhere as a family, we are saddened because anywhere we are going, we miss that he isn't there with us. Tim normally drives and so in my position on the passenger side, I had eye contact with Austin in his seat. It is now empty and I know each of us feels sorrow when we see it.

The empty seat is much like our hearts these days. There is a hole in each of our hearts; they still function but are different and heavier.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

the best gift

As with any holiday approaching, I tiptoe towards the date. The next, Mother's Day, will probably be the hardest holiday I've had to face yet. All other holidays are tied to multiple people, the entire family, but my memories of Mother's Day are tied to just the two of us.

I remember being so excited on my first Mother's Day. Austin wasn't even a year old so he certainly didn't know what the day was all about. I felt so blessed though to be a mother, especially his mother, and looked forward to a day of celebrating this gift.

My first Mother's Day present was a framed poem with his baby hand prints dipped in blue paint. I still have that frame, hanging in my bedroom. Over time, I would look at those little prints and be amazed at how quickly his hands (and the rest of him) were growing.

Through the years, I've been given jewelry, more hand prints, and flowers. The gifts never really mattered, it was the giver and his sincere love. I can remember his chubby little hands, proudly presenting me with gifts he'd made at school or picked out with his Dad. He could hardly ever keep a secret so I usually knew what I was getting before that day arrived.

Some Mother's Days, they planted flowers in the yard as a surprise for me. Some days, we would take day trips, such as picnics in the park and a visit to the zoo. Wherever we were, we were together, and that was always the best present a mother could ask for.

Last Mother's Day, Austin asked Tim to take him to the store. He bought my present with his own money. In the past, Tim had always paid for the boys and it touched me that Austin saved up for this occasion. Tim said he knew exactly what he wanted and where it was. Apparently he had picked it out on previous shopping trips.

It was a teapot, the kind with a whistle. Something I had always wanted and mentioned in passing. He was listening. I like to drink hot tea when it is cold outside, when I'm not feeling well, or just as a change from coffee. Every time I used it, I'd smile, thinking of Austin. At 13, I expected him to outgrow Mother's Day for awhile. I expected it would be a holiday he would come back to appreciate as an adult. As always, he surprised me.

The teapot remains on the back of my stove. The first time I used it after Austin passed, I cried. I had poured the water into it as always, without thinking. When I heard the whistle, I was taken back to last Mother's Day.

Thirteen Mother's Days were not enough. I treasure every one, every moment that he was in my life. Of all the gifts he ever gave me, his love was by far the best. Having Austin was one of the greatest things I ever did. I was and am proud to be his mother. I miss him with every breath.

Friday, April 24, 2009

finality

We got word yesterday that the final results were back on the cause of Austin's death, or rather the lack of results. Other than knowing it was a virus that took our child, we have no other answers. It is frustrating, worry some, and yet not having answers is an answer in itself.

Sometimes man can't explain what God can. Some things are just not meant for us to know. No matter how advanced our technology is now, God is still more powerful - and all-knowing. I have to just put my faith in that. Not having a "reason" tells Tim and me that it was just God's plan. I don't understand it and many days I don't agree with it but I trust in him.

And if this is how it had to be, I am grateful that he passed painlessly, quickly. He didn't suffer with illness as so many children do. He wasn't involved in some tragic accident. Austin left for a bike ride around our neighborhood and ended up in Heaven.

His life was never filled with pain or tragedy. His memories are of a carefree childhood. His memories are of exploring the world, fearlessly learning new things, and the innocence and simplicity that comes with youth.

Today, Austin's monument is being installed. Everything seems so "final" now. There is nothing left for us to do, no more tasks to accomplish for him, no more news to hear. I feel emptier knowing this. All we can do for him now is remember him. All we can do now is hope his spirit lives on in others, that he continues to inspire. All we can do now is continue to love him, even though he isn't here.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

In his footsteps

Noah is walking around the neighborhood, collecting money for Relay. I can't help but be taken back to memories of Austin doing the same thing at the age of 9.

Just as with Austin, it was entirely Noah's own doing to raise money. He's asked for several weeks to go door to door and I've hesitated - partly because I'm overly protective of him now and partially because I knew it would bring back memories and tears.

Being involved in Relay is on one hand so painful this year and on the other healing. Painful because I am always reminded of Austin's absence. He would be so excited this time of year, planning our family car wash and other fundraisers. We would have drawn out campsite ideas and he would have drafted his yearly request letter that we mailed to friends and family by now. As with any activity, it is emptier and difficult to participate in without him here.

However, I know Austin is smiling down on us with everything we do for Relay. I've spent over a decade of my life dedicated to this cause and it has always been more than just a "job" for me. My passion passed down into my children naturally and I am proud of them for taking that torch. I imagine he is proud too of his little brother, following in his footsteps.

Austin left such a legacy behind - of servant hood, of compassion for others, and of living each day to the fullest. He will forever be my hero. And, while I recognize and love Noah for the qualities that are unique to him; I am thankful and blessed that he shares some of the best of Austin.

As I sit on the back deck and watch my little guy, purple bucket in hand, knocking on the neighbor's doors, I am filled with a sense that Austin is right here beside me and proud of us both.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Mom and Austin Days

We didn't plan for Noah and Austin to be nearly 6 years apart. In fact, Austin was around two years old when we started trying to have another baby. It was only after we gave up, that Noah surprised us with his arrival.

At that point, Austin was used to having us all to himself and we knew there would be jealousy involved. I remember in the early weeks of Noah being born, Austin let a room of us know this. Everyone was circled around Noah with the "oohs and awes" that come with a new baby. Austin stood up on a chair and said very loudly, "You aren't paying enough attention to me!"

It was then we invented "Austin Days" - a date in which he could chose the parent and the activity. I called them Mom and Son days and looked forward to the one on one time we shared. Whichever parent had a date with Austin, the other had a date with Noah. It was a way we could give focused attention on one child and really get to know them as person.

Austin and I loved going out to eat on our dates. He enjoyed those dates because he could order nearly anything on the menu, not being on the typical budget as when the four of us ate out. We would select restaurants that others in the family didn't like (like Shogun) or the more expensive places so he could go wild with the order. Sometimes we would also go to a movie or to the mall or just riding around.

One of the last dates I remember was to the Drive-In. We had both wanted to see whatever movies were playing and nobody else did. I'm guessing one was a scary movie, which Tim refuses to watch. We would shake our heads and laugh at him and the fact he was too scared to see them. The weather was beautiful and we got there early to get a good spot. We sat up our chairs, cooler and blankets and settled in for a fun night. We ordered greasy burgers and onion rings and snacked on popcorn and sweets throughout the evening.

It was so much fun just being together. I remember thinking how lucky I was during the night, that my teenage son still enjoyed spending time with me - and went out with me in a public place. We saw many of his friends that night and he never ducked his head, not wanting to be seen out with his Mom, or asked to run off and talk with them. He was content being with me.

I was secretly planning our next date and it would have been the ultimate Mom and Austin day. His favorite group was AC/DC and they were going to be fairly close to us in January. I had not yet really found anything to get him for Christmas and had pretty much decided to surprise with him with tickets. I knew Tim had no interest in seeing them and Noah was way too young to attend a concert like that so it would have been for just the two of us. Austin had never been to a concert and I looked forward to sharing that memory with him.

It hurts. My heart aches that we never got to take that trip - and that he never even knew I was planning it. It hurts thinking of all the other trips and "Mom and Austin" days we'll never get to experience. I guess I just have to remember and treasure all the ones we did have. And I'll forever hold on to the memory of the fun we had on our last date. The Drive-In will always hold special memories of good food, many laughs, and the pride of knowing he still enjoyed time with Mom.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Stones for Bubba

Noah brought home rocks today for Austin's collection. It was all I could do to choke back the tears.

He had been on a field trip at Lost River Cave and was able to hunt for various stones. I'm sure he was filled with memories of Austin, as I am anytime I see a rock. It was sweet of him to think of his brother and bring some back; however, it hurts so much that Austin isn't here to benefit from it. I know if he were, they would be huddled over the kitchen table right now, excited over the findings.

I don't remember how Austin began collecting rocks. From an early age, he was fascinated by them and over time his collection grew and grew. He didn't only collect them but he studied about them and could tell you what a rock's name was or where it could be found by a glance.

I was impressed by his knowledge and a little relieved. In his early collecting days, he thought a piece of gravel was cool. It was nice to see his collection get weeded out once he learned more about them! However, I have fond memories of walking with him and stopping whenever he found a new treasure. He'd squat on chubby legs, eyes bright with excitement, as he held the discovery in his little hands. After turning it over a few times, it would get shoved into his pockets, ready to continue in his search.

On a trip to the Smoky mountains, he discovered a rock store on the downtown strip. We could have cancelled all plans for the rest of our vacation and camped out by their display cases and he would have been content. The first day it was hard to pull him away but those of us who weren't as interested could only look so long. Afterwards, he wanted to go back every day. It was also our last stop before heading home. He'd saved up all his souvenir money from the trip to make one final purchase.

They are all proudly displayed on a bookshelf in his room. I guess we have some new stones to add to the collection now.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sweet Dreams, Little Man

Every morning when I walk past Austin's door to wake Noah up for school, I'm hit with a sadness, knowing I can't open his door and wake him too.

The past few years, Austin was so easy to get up for school. All it took was a small knock on his door and he was awake, ready to hit the shower. Tim and I laugh though remembering the long showers he took, sometimes over 45 minutes. We honestly think he figured out how to go back to sleep standing up! However, he never had to be reminded of the time and was always on the couch and ready to go before the bus arrived.

This wasn't always the case though. As a baby, I exposed Austin to noise while he slept. I had read somewhere that this was the best way to raise them so that sudden noises wouldn't startle them back awake. I think I took it to the extreme because Austin learned to sleep so soundly a train could have ran through his bedroom and he would have remained in dreamland! As a toddler and young child, it was very difficult to wake him and I regretted reading that book. Eventually, he learned to find a happy medium.

Going to bed was a different story. As Austin grew older, his bedtime naturally increased but he still complained and we struggled with a bedtime we could all agree on. As a mother, I wanted him to get a good night's sleep. As a teenager, he wanted to stay up late and watch tv, talk to friends, or play on the computer. We compromised with the agreement that he could go to bed within a time-frame, depending on when he grew tired, provided he never gave us trouble in the morning and kept up his grades. Sometimes, we'd have to cut him back to 10 pm but it didn't take long for him to make good on whatever was needed to allow us to extend the time again.

I guess that is a common struggle with children, no matter the age. Both Tim and I would have to tuck him in when he was little. Sometimes it required several trips to the bathroom or for a glass of milk (or whatever excuse he could think of) before he was settled. We would both kiss him goodnight, tell him we loved him and pray for his health and safety.

As a toddler, we would have to read (often the same book every night) before he would go to sleep. I didn't mind reading to him;, I read to him while he was still in the womb, but the same book night after night got old. The bad part was that Austin would memorize the book that he was currently hooked on so I couldn't rush through it or skip pages to get him to sleep quicker. He knew if I missed a word and didn't hesitate in telling me!

When he grew older, we began reading chapter books and would sometimes take turns reading. I loved listening to him read to me and imagined he might do that someday when my eyes grew to old to do so for myself. The past few years, he grew too old for Mom to read to him anymore; however, we shared books and recommended them to each other. It was fun reading the same book and then talking about things we liked afterwards.

Reading was no longer a bedtime ritual but the one thing that remained constant was a hug from him and a "Love you, Mom" before he went to sleep. Even at 14, he still came into my room each evening (because I normally went to bed before he did) to tell me goodnight. On the rare occasions when he did fall asleep before me, I would sneak into his room, kiss his forehead and watch him sleep.

It was something I did so often as a young mother. When you have a baby, I think you naturally check on them several times throughout the night. I even remember placing my hand gently above his lips, makings sure he was still breathing as an infant. As a toddler, I would sit in amazement at how peaceful and calm he was, which was nothing like when was awake! Austin was always running, always into something in his preschool age. He was sometimes more than I could keep up with; however, at night, he was this precious, calm little child, lost in sweet dreams.

In the past few years, I would stand looking down at my son and find it hard to take in how quickly he was growing. Long gone were the traces of a baby; my first born was becoming a man. When he was asleep, it was the only time I could run my hand through his jet black hair or pause at his beating heart. Awake, he would quickly brush me off, embarrassed. Signs of affection had to be on his terms, not mine!

I remember the night he passed, Tim and I alone in the hospital room with him. I had cleaned him up, not wanting to remember him with the mess a trauma can leave behind. As I ran my fingers through his hair, so shiny and black, I realized this would be the last time I watched him sleeping. In that moment, I was reminded of our nightly ritual, as I kissed him softly and told him "I Love You." Just like when he was little, Tim and I were there by his side, to tuck him in and pray for him as we watched him peacefully sleep.

Painful Silence

Sometimes I think Austin's been gone on a long trip and that he'll be walking through the door any moment. Rather, it is wishful thinking because in my mind I know that isn't true; my heart just doesn't always listen.

I've never been away from Austin this long - 4 1/2 months. Before he passed, we were never apart more than a few days at a time. Actually our vacation to Jamaica was the longest and farthest away and we were only gone 6 days. That trip was difficult because we didn't call every day, which was unusual for Tim and me. Normally, there was never a day that passed that we didn't at least talk on the phone, if we were apart. When I was traveling for work, I would call before they left for school, text in the middle of the day and call before they went to sleep at night. I just didn't like going through a day without talking to Tim and my boys.

For as long as Austin had a cell phone, we really didn't go but a few hours at a time without talking. He texted me even from school. Sometimes so often that I questioned what in the world he was doing in class! It was my source of communication with him though and with a teenager it was sometimes the only way to know how his day went. He texted me when something funny happened in school, or when something upset him. He texted me jokes or the latest news he'd heard. I miss having that link so much and long to hear my phone ding, telling me a new message has arrived from him.

I also stayed in the loop on Austin's life through networking sites, like Myspace. In fact, he is the reason I joined last year. He wanted to have a site and being a protective Mom, I wanted to know what he was up to. I created a page and became his friend so I could quickly check in on him and his friends. It didn't take long to realize his intentions were completely innocent and my need for checking in became less about protecting him and more about connecting with him. I smile remembering his comments about things I should or shouldn't do on the site, as if he were the protector of me. Of course, I also know his motive was to keep me from embarrassing him, as we shared friends.

Not surprising that my profile views and friends list grew by multitudes after he passed. Many of his friends became my "friend" - some to support me, some just looking for a connection with Austin. I have been so touched though by the overwhelming support of those friends, some of who were strangers to me before this tragedy.

Sometimes it seems so unreal that all these weeks have passed without him in my life. For so many years, he has been a constant in our lives. And, as I became pregnant only three months after our wedding, even our marriage has been primarily connected to him. Basically, we have many more memories with him than without. Having someone be a part of your life for so long makes it nearly unbearable when they are gone. Every memory, daily ritual, way of life is entwined with him and so there are now holes where he is no longer there.

It is difficult not having him here and being able to talk to him. All I have left now are those memories. How I miss that sweet smile, his sarcastic humor, funny text messages, and tender hugs to say hello, good-bye, or I Love You.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Easter memories

With Easter approaching, I'm filled with memories of Austin and that holiday, as memories are the only way I can have him near me.

Those snapshots in time are still so vivid, like photographs in my mind. They are of him as a little boy, looking so handsome in Easter outfits for church. As a toddler, he loved dressing up for church and the outfits always made him look like a little man.

They are of coloring eggs, which he always loved to do. I see an array of coffee cups across the kitchen table, covered with newspaper. Each cup containing a vibrant spring color, which would rise to the top when an egg was placed inside. I see his smiling face as he discovered the changing colors, from a plain white egg to a mini, edible masterpiece. He loved to write on the eggs with white crayons and watch the words magically appear while they bathed in colored cups.

I still see him on his first Easter, in a cute striped jumper, sitting in the tall spring grass. He was still to young to really understand the concept of hunting eggs but we laughed as he picked one up and put it to his mouth. Why use a basket when you could just eat them? He didn't know the shell had to come off first! I can close my eyes and remember his little legs, sometimes the same length as the grass he was hunting through, running and searching for colors among the green.

As he grew older, he enjoyed hiding the eggs for the younger kids. Our last Easter together, he hid dozens of plastic eggs outside our house, some filled with chocolate, some money, for his brother and cousins. He did a great job hiding them on various levels, as the ages spread from 6 to pre-teen. And I can remember him with his Mamaw June, always excited for her neighborhood egg hunt. One year, he was lucky enough to find the prize egg for age and was rewarded with a large, oversize basket filled with goodies. What he most looked forward to on those hunts was the hot dog cookout afterwards. He and his cousins would line up on the sidewalk in front of June's apartment, eating the first hot dog of the season, sun shining down on them.

My memories are of moments on the couch, Easter mornings, to view the baskets the Easter bunny brought. Eyes bright with wonder at the basket filled with shiny fake grass, full of colorful candies, chocolate bunnies and stuffed animals. As he grew older the baskets changed, including the latest DVD releases or favorite music cds. The Easter bunny gave a big upgrade last year, leaving the Rock Band (video game) in the living room as a surprise. Of course, at 14 Austin had long surpassed the bunny phase but he did enjoy getting that holiday treat!

And while for many children the meaning of Easter is sometimes lost in chocolate treats and fuzzy bunnies; I am filled with hope knowing that Austin understood the true meaning. In 2002, Austin became a Christian and it was among my proudest moments for him as his mother. This Easter will be hard not having him here but knowing he is celebrating this blessed holiday with his Lord makes it easier.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Angels are hard to find

When God calls little children to dwell with Him above,
we mortals sometimes question the wisdom of His love.
For no heartache compares
with the death of one young child
who does so much to make our world
seem wonderful and mild.
Perhaps God tires of calling the aged to His fold,
and so He picks a rosebud before it can grow old.
God knows how much we need them and
so he takes but few to make the land of
Heaven more beautiful to view.
Believing this is difficult still somehow we must try,
The saddest word that mankind knows
will always be “good-bye”.
So when a little child leaves those of us behind,
realize God loves his children and Angels are hard to find.
Missing you this Easter, Austin

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

One Last Ride

I realized the other day that the two times Austin was featured in the newspaper both included a bike. I wish however that the first story had been his only one.

The first article was of Austin when he was 9 years old. It was about him heading up our team for the Relay For Life. In the story, it was mentioned that he could be riding his bike like most 9 year olds but was instead knocking on doors and raising money for Relay.

(I now find history repeating itself as Noah, now 9, is on our Relay team and is going door to door to raise funds. We are having the team in honor of Austin because there was never a year he didn't participate in some form. While he can't be with us physically this year, we know he'll be there in spirit. And I know he is proudly looking down on us for carrying his torch.)

I still remember the day Austin learned to ride his bike. He was around 7 and it was summertime. We lived in a little house on Rochester Road with a long, shotgun backyard. Austin would wobble across the yard, practicing and trying so hard to keep the bike upright. His cousin, Larry, was the one who helped him figure it out. In a matter of moments, it seemed he was flying around the house, full of smiles and confidence, from his latest achievement. ...Funny how you can go from shaky wobbles to speeding with ease in a few peddle pushes.

Austin was thrilled when we later moved to a neighborhood that was more bike friendly. Our street is in a quiet subdivision loop and all the children ride their bikes, play and walk around it all year long. In fact, it was right outside our house, in the front drive, that Austin passed on his skills to Noah and taught him to ride. Again, one of my boys went from wobbles to happily zooming around the loop within a few tries. I remember Austin's smile, for Noah, almost as big as it was for himself on his first ride.

We have a shed to hold their bikes but if the weather was warm, they were rarely stored there. Instead, the bikes held a permanent spot at the end of our drive, ready for them when they came home from school. During the summer, the boys rode their bikes several times a day.

In the months before Austin passed, he was riding on a daily basis, with greater speeds and distances. He would either take a small path that connected our neighborhood to downtown Beaver Dam or we would drive him to the fire station. From there, he could ride with more variety, instead of going around and around one circle in our subdivision. He would also ride his bike to a sweet elderly lady's home where he mowed her lawn. I know he felt so mature and grown-up, knowing he could ride unsupervised, even if only a short distance from home, to a "job" that gave him a little extra spending money. Ms. Embry thought so much of Austin and enjoyed his company, as he not only mowed her lawn but always came inside for a cold RC and a friendly chat.

The night Austin left for a bike ride that would be his last, was just like any other evening. Because it was dark, he was limited to our subdivision and I never hesitated in letting him go. He had been so helpful earlier that day that both Tim and I agreed to the ride when he asked. I never imagined he wouldn't return.

In the beginning, it was thought that the bike ride caused his death. We assumed, he was riding too fast and flipped. I hated that bike and couldn't understand how he couldn't survive a minor bike wreck. I questioned how Tim and I survived a motorcycle wreck but he didn't. How I wished I had never let him walk out that door. So many "if onlys" clouded us with guilt. Of course, in the end, we discovered the bike had nothing to do with his passing.

Sometimes I wonder if he knew on some level and that is why he asked to ride. Maybe he knew it would be easier if he left us from there, instead of inside the house. Or maybe he just wanted one last ride - to feel the air hit his face, rustling through his hair, to feel the freedom, wheels spinning below your feet. I hope it was his last memory, as it would have been a happy one.

Monday, April 6, 2009

23

Austin's favorite number was 23.

I really don't know why, it just turned out to be his first jersey number in baseball and it stuck. From that point forward, he was always #23. He requested it for every team he played on throughout his life.

Austin had a closet full of shirts with the #23 on the back. Some were actual baseball uniform shirts, some were airbrushed shirts from vacations. We later realized that the year he was born, 1994, when added is 23.

Coincidentally, a movie came out in recent years about the number 23. It was a thriller and of course, Austin and I watched it together. We both got goosebumps during the movie as we started to realize other similarities with the number. We began to see it everywhere during the movie and right afterwards. At one point, Noah came through the room, wearing one of Austin's old jerseys, with a big blazing #23 on the back and we both jumped off the couch!

This past weekend, we went on our first trip without Austin. It was unbelievably hard and yet somehow, we still managed to have a decent time. (More than anything I think we enjoyed having exclusive, uninterrupted time together.) However, there wasn't a moment he wasn't on our minds.

I thought of Austin during the drive and remembered how he loved riding shotgun on trips, counting down Waffle Houses, and random car games that we'd play. If we found or saw something new, I thought of him and what he would think or feel about it. As I took pictures, I thought of him and the fact that these are memories we now have where he wasn't present, at least not physically. There was an emptiness wherever we were on the trip, because he was not there.

However, as always, Austin showed his presence to us during the trip. Maybe it was a funny memory, that we all were able to share, and bring him closer to us. Or, it was finally using the travel blanket and pillow he bought for me last summer. As I snuggled under it on the way home, I could almost feel him, wrapping his arms around me. Or, it was the many signs of #23 we saw along the drive through the Natural Bridge park. The first day we laughed at the sign, thinking that was an odd amount for a speed limit. Moments later, it hit me what that number represented, and so each time we saw the speed limit sign, Austin was there.

It is so hard moving forward without him by my side. I long to see him again, to talk to him, to touch him and watch him grow. It breaks my heart that this isn't possible; however, I hold on to memories and the precious times when he comes back to us in spirit. Knowing he is there, at least in some form, helps me make it through another day.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A Beautiful Mess

When you lose a child, you somehow forget about any bad habits, as the best of them shines through in memories. Austin wasn't perfect by any means, even though I think he was wonderful. Like everyone he had his own share of character quirks and attitudes that sometimes got the best of my patience. However, even on his worst day, I'd take him back in a heartbeat. I even miss the not-so-good days we had!

Austin had his father's short temper and his mom's stubbornness, not a good combination! Because his temperament was so much like his Dad's, they often butted heads and I was the mediator. We never had the screaming matches like I hear some teenagers do, but his temper mixed with his mom's stubborn "I'm right" attitude, did make for some heated discussions. I'd give anything though to hear his large feet pounding through the house, followed by the slam of his bedroom door. Because after any episode like this, it was later followed by a hug and a soft "I'm sorry" as he never stayed mad very long.

I also miss Austin's unorganized messes. Being the neat freak I sometimes am, it was something we often disagreed about. I'd let his room go for awhile, with frequent reminders, and then his dad or I would step in and clean out. He was so unlike me in this area and I couldn't understand how liked his room messy. Clothes piled on the floor so you couldn't tell what was clean or dirty (I guess he could), old coke bottles and food wrappers, a misplaced shoe and lost remotes, were a common view in his room. Occasionally, he'd get a burst of energy or desire to clean and he would tidy up from top to bottom, vowing to never let his room get dirty again. Of course, it was only a matter of days before he fell back into bad habits and the mess would overcome. But I'd give anything to step into room, see a new mess appear, and be able to fuss at him to clean it up. It would be so much better than walking into the emptiness that is there now.

I tried so hard to pass on my organization skills to him, and he tried, but he shared too much of his Dad to gain any ground. Austin was so smart, being selected for the Gifted Program and Duke TIP programs, but he had difficulty in school sometimes because of lack of organization. He would lose assignments, misplace homework, or forget to bring home a book to study. It was a struggle and we had so many conversations about his future and the need to get organized, especially before college. I would sit him down, help him organize his assignments, learn how to best use his planner, and help him get caught up so his grades wouldn't fall. It frustrated me that he would get zeros on his homework, just because he lost it or forgot to turn it in. He had the potential of making straight A's. However, I wish with every ounce I could go the mailbox in a few weeks and see his grade card, even if it included C's.

Austin was nosy, or a nicer word I guess would be "in the know" and his attentive ears sometimes got him trouble. If he heard a whisper, he was in full alert. He had an innate ability to radar in on drama and always knew who was going through what in the neighborhood and all around. What tickled me is that he always had an opinion about whatever gossip it was, and normally had wisdom about the issue well beyond his years. He was an excellent listener, whether you came to him with a problem or whether he just picked up on it. I've heard people since say he was their source, if they had to know more about what just happened. It wasn't that he gossiped or spread rumors, his facts were accurate. Like the news channel, he was just among the first to know. Sometimes the random text messages bothered me, interrupted my day. Do I really care that the bank pulled the plug on the latest business opening? Do I care that Sally broke up with Fred? Not really, but I'd love for my phone to play his song, announcing the latest news bulletin.

Austin was a wonderful big brother to Noah but as was said at his service, "Nobody could hit Noah, except Austin." He did pick on Noah, or knock him on the back of the head for no reason, or use his size to intimidate him at times. They often argued, neither ever wanting to take the blame. After school, it was not uncommon to get a "Mom, tell Noah to..." call or a text saying, "Noah needs to be in trouble when you get home." And I'd meet them both at the door upon arriving home, hearing both their cases at the same time, and usually sending them both to their rooms because I couldn't pick who was right or wrong. It was sometimes humorous to watch them, fighting one minute, wrestling the next, fighting again because someone pushed or pulled to hard, then laughing the next. The most precious was the random hugs or words of "I love you" I would hear pass between them. I miss those moments so much. I'd love to hear a fight breaking out right now and be able to go break it up.

Austin had so many wonderful traits and I have tried to share them on this site. However, even his bad traits are missed. I would take them all again, gladly, if it meant I got to have him still here with me.
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