Little League Remembers Jax

My wife and I have two purposes in our “new life” (I fucking hate that term, by the way). The first is to make sure Gray and Ellie grow up loved, protected and know how to execute the wheel play flawlessly. The second is to make sure as many people as possible know Jax.

It’s why we walk every October with his cartoon super hero across our chests to raise money for Children’s Hospital of Orange County. It’s why we give to the scholarship fund his preschool started in his name. It’s why we held a remembrance last June. And it’s why my wife and I jump at every opportunity to talk about Jax to Gray and Ellie. Everyone needs to know him.

On May 6 of last year I emailed the president of the Corona American Little League with an idea to help further our efforts. And to give back to something that meant so much to him and our family. Baseball.

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“Jaxson played as a 4-year-old on the tee ball Brewers last year,” I wrote. “Shortly after the season ended, he died from a drowning accident.” Then I shilled this blog. I’d rather just link to the About section than type much more than that. It’s easier for my psyche.

Anyway, I’m writing because my wife and I want to give back to the league. He loved baseball, loved his team and baseball is a passion of mine. I’ve been meaning to write this email since December, but kept putting it off because I knew I’d cry (which I’m doing now). 

I finished with my idea that our family sponsor the Brewers tee ball team permanently. Chris, the president, replied compassionately that same day and said he’d review it with the league’s Board of Directors. You see, each season the league determines which teams they’ll purchase jerseys for in the league. The Angels and Dodgers are always popular. The Brewers? Not so much. Two weeks later he wrote that the Board approved of my suggestion.

In December the league’s new president, Jeff, said they wanted to design a patch to sew on to the Brewers jersey to honor Jax. My wife and I decided on his number three and “Jax”. A week after Jax’s sixth birthday, Jeff invited our family to walk with the Brewers during the league’s Opening Day parade.

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“F that,” I initially thought. That’s not comfortable. But I knew it was the right thing to do. I talked to my wife, who felt the same, and we accepted Jeff’s invitation. Then I blocked it out of my head. When I over-think things I become anxious. I didn’t need my hypertension getting any more hyper.

A weekend of rain pushed Opening Day back a week, which was initially scheduled for the same day as Gray and Ellie’s third birthday. We were late out the door because Gray decided he wanted to leave the house as dressed as the Lone Ranger. He couldn’t figure out why we wouldn’t let him out the door with his white cowboy hat and shit-kicking boots, which my parents got him earlier that week for his birthday. He screamed, cried and yelled. He has the kind of complexion that when he cries hard, he ends up with red blotches covering his face. Which wouldn’t go well with photos.

Reasoning wasn’t working. Somehow, after gentle touch and a bribe of watching the Lone Ranger when we got home (with the condition that he was good), he cooperated. We hustled over to the packed park and found the tee ball Brewers lined up. No more than ten seconds later Jeff came by and found us. He presented Gray and Ellie with Brewers hats and jerseys. He saved the number three for us. My eyes started to mist. Ellie chose three and Gray grabbed the number one.

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I stood at the back of the Brewers lines with the kids and tried to explain the significance of the patch on the jersey while using my tattoo as illustration. My wife introduced herself to the coach. It turns out that he is the lead pastor of the Baptist church that supports the preschool Jax went to. He knew our story before he signed up to coach the Brewers. He went out of his way to make us feel a part of the team. He encouraged the twins to shag balls and run the bases at their practices, invited us to take pictures with the team at photo day and shared the team’s game schedule.

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My heart warmed. What I thought was going to be a very difficult, sad day turned in to a day of love for Jax and for our family. I breathed the anxiety away and allowed myself to soak in the rest.

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The parade began and we walked from the left field foul line towards home plate as Jeff quickly introduced the team to the crowd of parents, grandparents and siblings looking on. The Brewers banner read “In Memory of Jaxson Keichline” at the bottom. Jeff mentioned our family to the crowd who clapped. I kept clutching Gray’s hand, looking down. I didn’t want to see them. And I didn’t want them to see my tears.

We sat on the infield grass and watched the rest of the league parade passed us. I recognized one former teammate of Jax. He’s the same age. It was hard for me to watch. Jax should’ve been there.

Gray wished he brought his glove. He didn’t understand why he couldn’t play baseball when we were done. It stoked Ellie to see so many girls on teams. As sexist as she is, it was important for her to see baseball isn’t just for boys.

Next spring Gray and Ellie will join the league. Jeff already said they’ll be on the Brewers. No doubt our number three will be with them. With that sweet lefty swing, laser-sharp focus and gorgeous smile.

Taillights Fade in to Darkness

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Four years ago I surfed my way on to a eulogy of sorts for Los Angeles Times sportswriter Mike Penner. I grew up reading the Times while I chomped on my cereal before school every morning. I remember Penner, Mike Downey, the best-ever Jim Murray and his page two replacement Alan Malamud.In a 2007 Times column, Penner announced to the world that he was a transsexual.  He returned from a vacation as Christine Daniels until March of 2008. In October of that year, he returned to using Mike Penner as his byline. He never explained the change. Penner killed himself November 27, 2009 after he ran a hose from his car’s exhaust pipe into the car while it ran in the underground garage of his apartment building.

Penner’s friend, Kevin Bronson of buzzbands.la, wrote beautifully about his friend and former colleague two days after Penner’s death.

Bronson’s ending haunted me.

Penner would smile knowingly whenever I effused over the years about the staying power of that Buffalo Tom selection from 1992. “Taillights Fade,” the Boston trio’s epic anthem of anguish and isolation, embodied that vague sense we had of the inevitability of sadness — but with a cathartic roar that made us hungry to embrace the next moment. When they lower me into the ground, I remember telling Mike Penner with a wink at my own mortality, this is the song I want them to play.

The liner notes to “KPEN 1992″ captured the song in six words: “A suicide note set to guitar.”

I opened another tab in my web browser, fired up You Tube (I’ve embedded the song at the bottom of the post), and listened to Taillights Fade as I re-read the column. And I wept. A lot. The song tore at my guts. I was a mess.

A few days ago Taillights Fade popped up on my Pandora custom station. As I went to thumbs-up the song as a favorite, my eyes set on the lyrics. This is me, I thought.

Sister, can you hear me now
The ringing in your ears
I’m down on the ground
My luck’s been dry for years

I’m lost in the dark
And I feel like a dinosaur
Broken face and broken hands
I’m a broken man

I’ve hit the wall, I’m about to fall
But I’m closing in on it
I feel so weak on a losing streak
Watch my taillights fade to black

I read a thing about this girl
She was a hermit in her world
Her story was much like mine
She could be my valentine

And although we’ve never met
I won’t forget her yet
She cut herself off from her past
Now she’s alone at last

I feel so sick, lost love’s last licks
But I’m closing down on it
I feel so weak on a losing streak
Watch my taillights fade to black

Lost my life in cheap wine
Now it’s quiet time
Cappy dick nor Jesus Christ
Could not help my fate

But I’m underneath a gun
I’m singing about my past
Had myself a wonderful thing
But I could not make it last

I’ve hit the wall, I’m about to fall
But I’m closing in on it
I feel so small, underneath it all
Watch my taillights fade to black

Watch my taillights fade
Watch my taillights fade
Watch my taillights fade

In grief recovery people say you don’t move on from losing your loved one, you move forward. After Christmas I stopped moving forward, and slid backwards. I fell to the ground, too tired to get up. My luck’s gone dry and I’m on a losing streak. I’m a broken man. F it all, I thought. F. It. All.

My luck’s gone dry. I’m a broken man. Lost in the dark. Down on the ground. I feel so weak, on a losing streak.

And I feel alone. This has changed everything. The way I relate to people. The way people relate to me. Broken relationships. Apathy. The fake smiles. I feel myself pulling away. Anguished and isolated.

I wanted to write a post and update you all, since I went about three months silent. This song does that for me. These feelings, these thoughts. It’s why I haven’t updated this site until Jax’s birthday. I’ve been too tired, too overwhelmed and would rather just pull away. I’m not going to sugar-coat anything, it’s been pretty dark. I’ve felt extreme hopelessness. The anger has returned. And I don’t want to feel better. I just want to stew in my shit.

Had myself a wonderful thing. But I could not make it last. 

I’m sorry, Jax. I’m so sorry.

A Day at the Museum

Ellie and Gray spreading love at the Natural History Museum of L.A.

Ellie and Gray spreading love at the Natural History Museum of L.A.

Every night as they’re tucked in to bed, Gray and Ellie ask where they’re going the next day. It’s become a routine. Target? Aunt Karis’s house? Anywhere? So they woke up on January 29, Jax’s sixth birthday, knowing we were going to the museum to see dinosaur bones. My wife made cupcakes the night before. Like last year, she planned on delivering them to Jax’s preschool teacher, so they can have a little party for Jax. I didn’t go last year. I couldn’t deal with it. This year, though, I was going. So when the twins’ heads hit their pillow, they knew the next day we were going to Jax’s school and to the museum.

On the morning of the 29th, Gray confirmed our plans with me from his crib.

“Jax will be at his school for his party,?” he asked innocently.

“No, buddy,” I replied, with what’s left of my heart breaking into more pieces. “Jax is in heaven, remember?” Gray wants to see his big brother again so badly. He thought he’d see him on Christmas Eve at my parents. He was convinced. And now, I mean how could Jax NOT be here for his birthday?

“Okay, so after his school we’ll go to heaven?,” Gray asked.

I wish, I thought to myself. I wish.

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The kids grubbed on breakfast, my wife packed up and in a feat in and of itself, we were out of the house on time. It rarely happens. On our way to the preschool, which I haven’t visited in 18 months. It was a good start to a long day.

We passed a fire truck that parked in front of a residence on our route to the preschool. I nudged my wife. We both knew. He was with us.

We entered the preschool and were welcomed by the school’s director. She hugged us and said that they received a donation earlier that day for Jaxson’s scholarship, which they started to aid families with the cost of attending the preschool. In fact they were able to offer four families assistance in December, she informed us. I started to cry. I was a mess. My wife teared up. We went upstairs to Jax’s old class and visited with his teacher. She was wearing the same shirt she wore on the last day of school in June of 2012. The last day she saw him. My tears wouldn’t stop.

She visited with us for about 10 minutes as her class patiently waited on the carpet in a circle as the confetti cupcakes topped with a green jack (like the game, jacks) teased their taste buds. It was so good to see her. She was so good to Jax and loved him so much. A photo of Jax and my wife was posted above her desk and a rectangular wooden sign with his name and 6-24-12 hung on the wall. Gray and Ellie didn’t want to leave. They were all set to hang out the rest of the day. We don’t have to worry about them crying on their first day of school in August.

This was a perfect way to start the day. The amount of love everyone at that school has for Jax and our family is astounding. I walked back out to our minivan with a little more peace. It made facing the day a little easier. And I’m grateful for that.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The night before I tried to get Gray pumped about dinosaurs. We got him some plastic ones for Christmas, so he and I played on the floor for a bit with them. He asked all of their names, and I struggled to read the bellies of the creatures to confirm. The triceratops is his favorite. When we were done he placed it by the front door so he’d remember to bring it with him to the museum the next day. The T-Rex, Jax’s favorite, also came along.

At the center of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, once you’ve entered, is a display of a tyrannosaurus rex and a triceratops. Orange lights illuminated the brown fossils. I’ve always thought it was beautiful. But during our last two visits, my chest tightens, my belly aches and I hold my breath. Those bones, that room; they remind me of our day with Jax.

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Gray was interested in the fossils for about five minutes. He and Ellie were more interested in exploring the halls of the museum. They asked where every door led to. For some reason, as we walked back through the fossil exhibits we already paroozed, Gray had me carry him. The bones scared him. The hell? Little man, you were fine the first time. Weirdo.

photo 1bI couldn’t get Jax off my mind. Where did he stand? What did he say? I wish he was standing next to me.

We went upstairs and looked at the specimen that proved my “Jax is a huge dinosaur nerd” statement. I told my wife the story. In short, Jax saw the bones and named the specimen. I told him I thought it was something else (I don’t remember the name, but it started with the letter P). Both had a funky bone on the skull that looked kind of like a fin. He was convinced he was right. I was convinced I was, but I didn’t let him know that. As we walked by I read the name. Corythosaurus. He was right. Of course. Why’d I ever even doubt him? Mind blown. My little paleontologist.

I snapped a pic of the fossils, but the glare off of the glass is pretty hideous. Here’s an illustration I stole off the ‘net.

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For the most part the kids were well-behaved. They got excited and would run or yell, but that was it. At one point Colin Farrell walked by, all L.A-ed out with tight jeans, white t-shirt, boots and some weird wrap thing in his hair. He told his son, this little sandy-blond kid, that he already had enough toys at home. It was definitely Colin Farrell. Have you SEEN those caterpillar eyebrows?

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We spent about four hours at the museum. We picked out a totally nerdy dinosaur book for Jax and let the kids get a souvenir. Gray grabbed a T-Rex stuffed animal he named Cracker. Ellie took a monkey, but she’s not original to come up with a name. At first she said Ellie, then Gray Gray, then Cracker (stealing Gray’s brilliant name). Meanwhile, I fell in love with a $500 robotic dinosaur named Pleo.

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After suffering through traffic in downtown L.A. we met up with our family at Red Lobster. It was comforting for me to be with everyone. It’s a safe place and we could all share our own sadness on this day together. As it should be. Not alone, separated. I downed two Maker’s Marks on the rocks and a Bud Light to help ease my anxiety and numb the pain. Gray desperately wanted to try lobster for the first time. He took bite from my fork and quickly washed it down with his water. I don’t think he even took a bite. Just swallowed it whole.

We ended dinner and sang Happy Birthday to Jax with our candle-lit cupcakes that my wife made. I felt peace this year. The experience at the preschool, sharing a fun day with the twins and my wife, together, and being with family (and maybe the drinks?) made the day bearable. It’s a day Jax would’ve enjoyed. Part of me likes to think he did enjoy being with us all day. But then the angry, bitter, pessimistic part tells me not to be such a pansy. I can’t reach over and hold his hand. It’s not the same.

Back at home we watched slide shows and videos of Jax as we cuddled on couches together. Then Ellie puked all over my wife. Really. She warned us when we left Red Lobster.

As good as could be expected. That’s how I described the day when asked. Sadly, that’s about as good as it gets for me now, especially on holidays, a birthday or remembrance. As good as could be expected. My new, unwanted measure.

Happy 6th Birthday, Jax

Jax turns 6 today. We’re celebrating the same way we did last year. And the year before, his last birthday he shared with us. When he turned 4, my wife and I took him to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles to check out its fantastic dinosaur exhibit. The prehistoric lizards fascinated him. He knew all of their names. And I’m not just talking about the basic four or five. He knew the nerdy shit that no 4-year-old should know. Or would want to know. Or cared. So we took him there, because we knew he’d love it. And he did. And we left the twins with my mother-in-law, because we knew he’d feel loved, having us all to himself. And he did.

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Jax also dug trains. After the museum we met our family at Ruby’s Diner in Orange. We sat on the back patio to watch the metro and freight trains roll by. He loved that, too.

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So last year, as we celebrated his fifth birthday without him, we took the twins back to the museum. I held back tears as we shuffled the twins through exhibits. And I shed tears as our family sang happy birthday to him in the middle of Red Lobster, perhaps his favorite restaurant at the time of his death. After he completed his first year of preschool, he chose Red Lobster as the restaurant to celebrate.

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Now he’s six. And it breaks my heart to say, but I don’t know what he’d be in to. Would it still be dinosaurs? I know he’d be in to super heroes still. It’d better be baseball. But what else? Would it be something I can’t even fathom?  So again, we decided to return to the dinosaurs. To relive one of his happiest days without him. And to spend this very sad day with our family, eating at his favorite place, and crying together.

I may have posted this before, but I’m doing it again. It’s the first post from my first blog. It illustrates Jax’s arrival was to us.

Sixteen weeks of joy, bliss and walking on cotton candy clouds crashed to a screeching halt. The Boobs called me at work after a check up with the obgyn. He couldn’t find a heart beat. He sent her to the hospital for an ultrasound which confirmed there wasn’t a heart beat. Our baby died. A couple of days later The Boobs underwent a D&C at a Los Angeles clinic. We elected for the sex to be determined and tests run to determine cause of death. It was a girl, but no dice on the cause of death. The clinic was kind enough to send us home with footprints of the fetus the doctor extracted while performing the procedure.

We cried a lot over the next few weeks. I mean, a whole lot. It was the summer, and I eventually ramped up by social calendar to get my mind off of things. The Boobs, however, dealt differently. There were nights where I’d find her crying on the floor of the bathroom. Our souls ached.

Eventually the fertility doc allowed us to start trying again. This process was like ripping open a healing wound, peeing inside of it and then punching it for good measure. Month after month our hopes of another pregnancy were dashed by an early period, too many produced eggs at once or cysts cock-blocking our chance for conception.

On my birthday, over one year from the time that our lost baby girl was conceived and one final attempt before in vitro would be thrust upon us, the goodoo magic worked again.Throughout the pregnancy our joy, bliss and sugar-plum thoughts were tempered by fear of losing another child. If it happened again, could we ever recover?

Nine months later, after 26 hours of labor, The Boobs popped out a healthy, beautiful…

“Holy crap it’s a boy,” I exclaimed a mere 1.2 seconds after the doctor tugged the little sucker out of my wife. We decided to be surprised on the sex of the baby. The Boobs, a nurse, said that for some reason, infertility leads to a girl more often than a boy. Being an odds guy, I was fully expecting a little chica. But it was a boy. There’s something hypermasculine about having your first-born be a boy. Maybe I’ve watched too many mafia movies.

Happy Birthday, Jax. My love for you knows no limits. My heart aches beyond comprehension. And my soul longs to be with you again.

Love you,

Dad

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Jax turns 1.

Jax turns 1.

For his second birthday, we themed it Jax Bowl. That's why I'm wearing the referee shirt. My dad and my grandpa. Four generations.

For his second birthday, we themed it Jax Bowl. That’s why I’m wearing the referee shirt. My dad and my grandpa. Four generations.

Jax's third birthday.

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Shattered Faith, Part III – The Final Chapter

To catch up on this series, check out:

Part I

Part II

Sunday night my wife, her mom and our friend Megan went to another show of Theresa Caputo’s, the Long Island Medium. We hauled out to the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills (oohhhh la la) with seats on the floor this time. Jax came to Theresa again, and this time she saw us stand up and flail our arms for attention. This is our story.

~~~

Life’s been busy. I haven’t written anything on this site since November 1. Mostly because I don’t have the energy. Two-and-a-half hours in a car, a new job that requires full brain power and juggling the crazy schedule of a NICU night nurse have worn me down. So I completely forgot that my wife bought tickets for us to see Theresa Caputo again. A friend also going to the show kept reminding me.

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As last Monday rolled around, I began to feel anxious. With seats on the floor this time, my expectations and hopes of Jax coming through and Theresa reaching us were sky-high. As the days led up to Sunday, I started talking to Jax. I told him the date, time and place. Described Theresa’s big hair and loving personality. Reminded him this was the same person he connected with last time. But that she couldn’t see us or reach us. I told him that his mom and I wanted to hear from him so badly. I told him he’d have to be strong. He’d have to speak up and be loud so Theresa could hear him.

I also prayed. I asked God, again, if Theresa’s gifts are from Him, that she could see/hear/feel Jax. That whatever Jax is doing for God on the other side, that He’d let Jax use his energy to reach Theresa.

As the weekend approached Sunday was all I could think about. My wife worked. We took the kids to see Santa Saturday night. But it felt like it was all just time filler until Sunday night.

On Sunday morning I got the kids’ breakfast ready and tried to wake up my wife to go to church. I failed. As they chomped on donuts and bananas, I felt anxious. Not a pleasant anxious, but a fearful anxious. What if we just got really lucky last time? What if it wasn’t Jax last time? What if nothing happens? I tried to spin it in my head that it was a night out to see a show. I made sure we had some good pre-show dinner options. And that all of our options had booze. My mind game didn’t work. I just kept hoping, hoping and hoping.

I took the kids to my parents to spend the night and talked to my mom a bit. She was anxious for us. I could see how deeply she just wanted something good to happen for us. I went home with thoughts of football and my dorky fake baseball draft preparation to look forward to. It helped distract me.

Megan met at our house, we got in the car and I forgot to print the tickets. Back on the road for a second time, we met my mother-in-law on the way there, picked her up and headed to Beverly Hills to eat.

We ended up at Rocco’s Italian Kitchen about a mile away from the theater on Wilshire. It scored four stars on Yelp and reviews praised their pizza. The service, though, was horrible.

About halfway through dinner two fire trucks pulled in front of the restaurant. The ladder truck was number 61 and the other was number 261. My wife either looked at me or said something, I don’t exactly remember. But there it was. More fire trucks.

On the day of Jax’s viewing, five days after he died, my wife got a voice mail on her cell. Now, before Friday, she’d received many texts and voice messages. Everything worked fine. The voice mail she got was from my phone. Sirens screamed. It was chaotic. I pocket dialed her or didn’t hang up when she didn’t answer. It’s eery that the voice message, recorded Sunday, didn’t land on her phone until Friday, the day of his viewing.

She told me she remembers thinking that it had to be Jax sending her a sign. Since that day my wife’s had a strange relationship with fire trucks. She sees them when she needs them most – to remember that Jax is close by. She saw one drive by our church the day of his funeral service. After a hard commute home, she saw one pull out of our tucked-away residential street. On holidays she finds them driving around town without sirens or an emergency to respond to. The engine that responded when Jax died was number 6. She’s also had a handful of run-ins with engines with number 3 (Jax’s number in tee-ball).

Some people have butterflies follow them, which are supposed to be the spirits of their dead loved ones. Kristina gets fire trucks.

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So there we were. A fire truck parked outside Rocco’s window. Right in front of our Camry. With the number six in it. Coincidence or an omen?

While we were eating, Theresa finished the 3 p.m. show. We found out later that Jax talked to her well before our show at 7 p.m. She picked up a boy who drowned. And he told her that his parents would be at the show and that she needed to talk to us. I was likely licking my hot sauce-soaked fingers from the buffalo wings I clutched around that same time. Go me.

We packed our to-go boxes in the Camry and hustled on over to find parking, which isn’t very convenient in the area. With about 20 minutes until show time, Megan and I hit up the tiny bar and grill next to the theater for some shots while my wife and her mom found bathrooms in the theater. The two Miller Lites at Rocco’s didn’t calm me enough. But that large kamikaze shot sure helped.

After waiting for a mom and daughter to get out of the single-toilet men’s restroom, I peed and we found our seats. My wife had butterflies in her stomach. I was calm. The booze washed it away. Or, more likely, God brought me peace.  He knew what was going to happen.

Saban Theatre

Saban Theatre

Theresa came out on stage. The show was beginning. I’m not positive, since I don’t remember this kind of thing, but she might have worn the same outfit in June when we saw her in Cerritos. I know she was wearing those same disco-ball like high heels. Those are unforgettable. She gave the same spiel and then finally started to talk to Spirit.

“Who has a finger print and ashes with them?” Theresa asked the crowd to start. “This is from a boy.”

My wife, her mom and me instantly stood in unison and waved our arms. But Theresa got stuck with someone closer to her. No one else, at least that I saw, raised their hands. This other person only had a finger print – no ashes. And it was for a girl, not a boy.

My mother-in-law was wearing a necklace with Jax’s finger print, just like the first show. My wife couldn’t connect the ashes, and I quickly said “tattoos” and pointed at my forearm. Both of us had very small portion of his ashes in the ink we were tatted with. Then she really started waiving her arms.

Theresa moved towards us. HOLY SHIT JAX YOU’RE A STUD! YOU DID IT AGAIN! YOU’RE SUCH A FREAKING STUD! That’s all I thought. How in the hell did he pull this off twice? If you don’t recall, he was first at the Cerritos show, but we were too far away for Theresa to see or reach us. We stayed standing and they passed us mics. Two camera men set up on each side of Theresa as she faced us from the aisle.

“You lost your son am I correct?” she asked. “And you lost him suddenly and/or tragically?” We nodded.

Now, I’m not going to get into the play-by-play of what was said. Simply because I don’t want to misquote or anything. The four of us spent the drive home talking about the experience and I tried to take notes. But I will paraphrase what Theresa told us.

Understand that we’re standing this whole time at our seats holding the mics, Theresa’s in the aisle and the entire theater is watching us on the big screen. She told us twice that this is the first time she’s ever started a show in the back of the room.

She began by telling us that he took responsibility for the way he died. That confused me. She said she felt like this was a preventable accident. Like it shouldn’t have happened. And it’s mysterious how it happened. Which it was. An adult right next to him, adults all around the pool. Very preventable. The guilt weighs on me daily. It’s the cross I carry. How could he take responsibility???

Theresa said it happened in an instance. She saw a snap of a finger. He didn’t suffer. 

She said there was a father figure with him. We couldn’t think of anyone. After she moved on from that, my Uncle Tom popped in my head. He’s the only male figure in my life that has passed. He also passed tragically and unexpectedly. Could it be him? She then asked about a motherly figure. Kristina’s grandma died when Jax was 2. That was her. He’s with loved ones.

“He told me he’s making himself bigger,” Theresa said with a smile, as if Jax was so proud to tell her.

She described Jax as so full of energy. Radiant. He’d run up to her and jump in her arms. Those of you that knew Jax could see this. So happy, so much energy. So passionate.

Theresa got on a roll. Is his room untouched? Did we release balloons in his memory? Yep and Yep. Then she asked how we related to the number seven. We told her we didn’t.

“Something about a daughter and the number seven,” Theresa said. Holy crap that’s Presley, our first baby. She passed in July at 16 weeks gestation. She told us he brings this up to let us know that she’s with him.

Theresa asked if I carried Jax after his death. I did. I carried him from the hospital bed to the couch my wife sat on to hold him. And then back again to the bed. She asked if we spent time talking with him before the funeral. And we did. She said nothing was left unsaid. He got all of it.

“Was he buried in casual clothes?” Kind of. “Because he showed me dressed in a suit, then he spun around and was wearing casual clothes.” And she knew that we kept the outfit from his funeral. He was, however, cremated wearing an Iron Man costume.

Jax told Theresa his mom was pretty. Random, eh? In the middle of everything he said that.

Theresa asked if we had a dog. Which, if you know my wife, is laughable. No, we answered. She asked because she sees something being attracted to his room. Something that senses his spirit.

“Those are our other kids,” I answered. Gray is fascinated by his big brother and his room. Sometimes Ellie will join him in knocking on the door, looking underneath the door and asking to go in to his room. Fortunately they don’t open the door themselves. They respect it. But those are our “dogs.” They want inside.

She looked at me. My long-sleeved shirt covered both arms to my wrists ever since we parked the car. For a reason.

“Do you have his face or a picture of him tattooed on you?” I rolled up my right sleeve to show her. I told her I purposely made sure to keep my sleeves down. A little later she asked my wife if she had anything with her that Jax had written. She showed Theresa her small tattoo on her left wrist. It’s a copy of J-A-X in his own writing.

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Theresa told me she sees Jax standing behind me, saluting. That’s her symbol that he’s proud. He’s proud that I was his dad. I lost it. Strangers were handing us tissues.

She asked if we took a family portrait before he died. We couldn’t think of anything. Then Megan reminded us of a giant photo in our front room of us at the Angel game. It was taken four days before he died. It was the last family photo taken of the five of us. Gray looks at that photo when he’s missing his mom, or me. And he likes to look at Jax.

She also asked if we’ve taken a family picture lately. Which we did, last Monday. She said he was with us.

Theresa asked if we’re grieving differently. We are. I was at the pool party, she wasn’t. I had control of the situation, she didn’t. Then Theresa asked if one of us felt guilty for not being there. My wife shared she did. She struggles with it a lot.

“But you weren’t supposed to be there,” Theresa told her. She described to us an episode of her show. A mom spent every day with her son. The one day she didn’t, the son drowned and died. When Theresa communicated with the departed son, he said she wasn’t there because she wouldn’t be able to handle it.

Theresa put her finger to her mouth, put her head down and thought for a few seconds. She asked if we’re worried that he’ll be forgotten. My wife and I have discussed this. We both have this fear, but my wife really struggles with this. We want to keep his memory alive. It’s why we do the CHOC Walk. It’s why we’re going to sponsor the Brewers tee-ball Little League team in Corona. And it’s why there’s a plaque hanging in his preschool with a scholarship in his name.

She went on to tell us that our situation was similar. It’s my soul’s burden to live with the fact that I was the one at the pool party that day with Jax. Because I wouldn’t want my wife to have to live with that. And that’s true. But damnit that’s a heavy thing to carry around.

I know this has been jumbled and probably doesn’t read well. I’m just listing shit. I don’t know how else to let you know all that was said. As she moved on from us we sat down. My brain was fried. It was hard to pay attention for the next 115 minutes.

The show ended and the theater emptied out. We stayed near our seats and talked. My wife’s mom and Megan went upstairs to the bathroom and my wife and I stood around the theater lobby. We talked a little. Hugged. Then I started to feel stares and looks. A few people came up to us. One asked to see my wife’s tattoo. Others offered condolences and joy that Theresa found us.

Over 24 hours later I don’t feel closure that I thought I would. I mean, what happened is f’ing awesome. And I’m so grateful and it puts me in awe of Jax. Maybe I’m still wrapping my brain around it. Maybe what I thought would fill the giant hole in my heart only numbs the pain, like everything else I’ve tried.

Or maybe it’s a level of peace built to last. I don’t really ever talk to him. That’s going to change. I know he’s safe. I know he wasn’t scared. I know he’s with us. Maybe that’s the foundation that will build the new me. The me that won’t let grief keep me from becoming the person God intends me to be. The me that can enjoy Gray and Ellie for who they are; they aren’t Jax.

The me that doesn’t sit around waiting to die and see Jax again.

(T)GIF – Dia de los Muertos

Halloween is officially over, but the Mexican celebration Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) rocks on for two more days. This holiday honors friends and family that have died.

Take a minute to honor yours.

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(T)GIF is a regular Friday feature at Smiling Through Tearz. Know of an animated gif that makes you tinkle with laughter, cry or cringe that you think should be featured at STT? Let me know at seth@smilingthroughtearz.com.

Jaxson’s Last Halloween (PHOTOS)

Jax spent just about the entire month of October studying a costume catalogue we received in the mail. He’d ask me what certain costumes were. He’d skip some of the scarier ones. And he’d change his mind on his favorite almost daily.

Ghost Face and T-Rex were consistent favorites. But I think ultimately, had it been his choice, he would’ve chosen a super hero costume. Earlier in October, his preschool held a fall/harvest festival. He won a costume in a cake-walk type of game, and chose a Fantastic Four outfit. He wore that ridiculous looking thing everyday. The only time he was able to leave the house with it on was on Halloween day.

As it was the first Halloween with the twins, we wanted to dress as a family in a theme. And since Jax was so awesome, he agreed to our theme if he could also wear his Fantastic Four outfit. We decided on a farm theme, which he got in to, and we figured starting the next year Jax would start wearing the costumes he wanted. We had lots of Halloweens left, right?

Thanks to a dear friend’s frantic hunting, we dressed Jax in an Iron Man costume to be cremated. We added an accessory he would’ve loved, but I can’t remember what it was. I just know it’s what he would’ve wanted. And it kills me that  he wasn’t able to be that super hero for Halloween.

On to the pictures. Oh, and Moo made another appearance as a pumpkin.

Gorgeous.

Gorgeous.

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The Fantastic Four costume.

The Fantastic Four costume.

Farmer Jax.

Farmer Jax.

He loved handing out candy, but was wisely cautious.

He loved handing out candy, but was wisely cautious.

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So happy about his candy.

So happy about his candy.

Pajamas on Halloween night.

Pajamas on Halloween night.

This was the first year Jax really got into candy. A few days after Halloween, on a quiet Saturday as the twins napped, I came out of the office to find Jax wasn’t in his room napping anymore. Around this time we had trouble having him nap, and he usually played in his room for 30 minutes before coming out, against our instructions. I walked in the living room and he wasn’t there. I went into the front room and found a trail of blue pixie dust up on to the ottoman, his back to me hunched over, eating the sugar straw.

And that, folks, is what happens when an oppressed kid finds freedom. They become junkies.

Happy Halloween, everyone. Enjoy tonight.