Happy 12th Birthday, Jax

Sunday was a mother fucker.

Phoenix hit day three of a cough that progressively worsened over the weekend, and now had light fever. It was my wife’s first time seeing him, as she just got home from her shift at the hospital. His breathing labored. I just thought it was from a runny nose. She knew better. When he breathed, sometimes it was through pursed lips. Other times he appeared barrel chested. My wife was coming in the middle of a brutal work schedule, and needed to grab sleep as she had to get back to the hospital Sunday night. She asked me to wake her if he didn’t feel better in a couple of hours, and we’d take him to urgent care.

I took the kids over to DICK’S Sporting Goods to look at softball and baseball bats, as there was a weekend sale for the local recreation leagues. Phoenix is starting tee ball, and Ellie is back at it in softball. Gray found a mini UCLA football, and hoped that he’d find a West Point football, as he’s a fan of the military academy. So we were on the hunt. That’s when my phone buzzed, and I glanced at the TMZ notification.

I had to read the headline a few times before it made sense. It took my breath away. I’m sure I cursed, prompting the twins to ask what happened. I tried to keep my composure, and gathered them up as I pushed Hendrix in his stroller to leave. I text some friends. The news spread fast, and it was all unbelievable.

We grabbed some lunch on the way home and ate while KTLA covered the tragedy. Meanwhile, Phoenix’s condition was deteriorating. His cough was worse and more often. His eyes watered. He looked miserable. Reluctantly, I went upstairs and woke the wife up. I let her know that Phoenix wasn’t going well, and we should take him to urgent care. I gave her a couple of minutes to gather herself before I told her.

“Kobe died today,” I said softly.

“WHAT?!?”

“He died in a helicopter crash.” I couldn’t hold back the tears anymore. “His daughter was on board, too,” I added, agains, softly.

I went downstairs to check on the kids as she woke up. We found the closest urgent care our insurance would cover, and decided that I’d take Phoenix so that she could go back to sleep when Hendrix napped, as she needed to rest for the night’s shift.

As I drove, I figured the doctor would check Phoenix out, give him a breathing in treatment, a prescription and we’d be on our way. Phoenix wailed from his car seat as the radio aired Los Angeles’s mourning in the background. He was coughing every 10 seconds, often uncontrollably. He was beyond miserable. And then we waited two-and-a-half hours to see a doctor.

After finally getting in to a waiting room and running through breathing treatments, I noticed they wanted to keep checking Phoenix’s pulse. They were concerned about the heart rate, so now I was concerned. It was up to 153 beats per minute before he even started the breathing treatment, which was only going to increase it more. The doctor tested P for the flu, strep throat and Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection (RSV). The nurse commented about how much of a champ Phoenix handled the nose swab, throat swab and breathing treatment.

Then the doctor returned. She said Phoenix tested positive for RSV, the breathing treatment didn’t have enough of an effect on him and she was recommending us to the ER at Children’s Hospital of Orange County. I text the wife with the update. She was  now awake and getting the kids ready to be dropped off at a friend’s so that she could get to work. I asked the doctor if I had time to run home two minutes before driving out to the ER, which was another 30 minutes away. Phoenix puked on me during our wait after a coughing fit, and I wanted to clean us both up before an anticipated four-hour ER wait.

She said I needed to go straight to the ER. Then came my wife’s texts. Her panic leaped out of the phone. And it all became very serious.

At this point, Phoenix just wanted to go home. As we pulled out of the urgent care parking lot, I started to tell him we weren’t going home. But I couldn’t get the words out. I was trying not to cry. The weight of the day felt heavier, and it was jammed in my throat.

Through the tears, I told him about the ER. I expected an outburst. He was tired, he didn’t feel good and he just wanted to be home. Of course he did. But that’s not what happened.

“Dad, you need to calm down,” he said in a parental tone. Comfort was in his voice. “I’m going to be okay. I feel better.”

A friend of the family happened to be the charge nurse at the children’s ER. I text her, she was on shift, and she either pulled some rank to provide us with immediate care, or the RSV was that serious to them, too.

A return to CHOC’s ER is not something my wife and I ever wanted to experience again. Jax died here. My wife was now getting off of work to meet us. The thought of returning to CHOC is one reason my wife sobbed as she dropped the other kids off at our friend’s.

In 2013, I drafted a post about why we participate in the CHOC Walk. It was extremely detailed and vulnerable, and my wife and I decided not to post it. Below is a snippet.

For about three hours, the hospital staff did everything they could to save our boy. But it was after he left us that the CHOC staff’s grace, compassion and solace left an overwhelming mark on my wife and I. We lost our boy, but it was if they lost him with us.

After two-and-a-half hours of breathing treatments, vacuuming mucus from Phoenix’s nose, steroids and cuddling with mom in his bed, Phoenix was released. His chest sounded much better and his breathing improved. The respiratory distress was gone. The CHOC staff was amazing at treating and releasing our boy in the same time it took for us just to get in to a room at the urgent care.

I left the ER early to go pick up the kids and get them to bed. I showered and cleaned up. As my wife drove home, Phoenix asleep in the back of the van, a fire truck pulled out of a driveway within a half mile of our house. It was after 10 P.M., and sirens and lights were not activated. It was as if Jax wanted her to know he was with us today, keeping his brother safe and comforting him – and us.

While the two are very different in so many ways, Phoenix reminds me the most of Jax, mainly due to similar hair color and texture, the chubby cheeks and goofy, eye-rolling faces they make. There are times that it hurts, a gut punch of pain reminding me what is lost when Phoenix flashes a Jax memory. But then there is today, when their strength and love and compassion shine. And I’m so honored to be their dad.

Today we will celebrate Jax’s 12th birthday the same way we have since he left us – delivering cupcakes to his preschool teacher for her class to celebrate, a trip to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles and meeting family for dinner at Ruby’s Diner.

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

Happy 11th Birthday, Jax

Kristina and Phoenix just walked out the door to deliver cupcakes topped with little plastic dinosaurs to the preschool that Jax went to. His teacher remembers him every year on his birthday, and her and her class sing happy birthday to him.

The baby (we don’t really call him much other than that) is napping, and Gray and Ellie are at school.

“Watch that video while we’re at school,” Gray told me while putting his pants on this morning.

It took a bit for me to register what video he was talking about.

“Oh, you mean Jax’s video?” I asked, referring to the slide show of photos and short that was shown at his funeral.

That was the one.

“You don’t want to see me cry?” I said.

He does not. I told him I won’t watch it in front of him. Truthfully, it’s been a while since I’ve watched the video. But I think it’s time for Phoenix to see it and get to know his big brother. The little guy is very excited to go see dinosaurs today at the Los Angeles Natural History Museum.

All weekend he’s alternated between having dinosaurs fight to the death in his room and then apologize to each other in sweet, innocent toddler voices and playing with a figure that Kristina and I have named Scuba Steve. It’s a plastic scuba diver he got from the Aquarium of the Pacific. He thinks that the scuba diver swims up in the air, so he says that’s what he wants to do. He plays with him while wearing swimming goggles, and he asks for flippers.

But P’s excitement today makes me excited to experience it with him. It’s somewhat softened the blow of an emotional day. In a couple of hours I’ll wrap up work, we’ll pick up the kids and head out to LA. And, as always, we’ll meet up with family for dinner at Ruby’s Diner to be together.

I’ve stopped trying to figure out what Jax would be like as an 11-year-old. It’s too hard. I mean, I have my hopes. I hope he’d be kicking everyone’s ass in baseball and playing fantasy football with me and serving as my assistant general manager for my Strat-o-Matic baseball team. I hope he’d still love puzzles and dinosaurs. I hope he’d be a protective, loving and teaching big brother to Gray and Ellie. But then I realize these hopes are impossible dreams, and pain sets in.

My hope today is for a peaceful, loving day together as a family remembering Jax, honoring him by doing the things we know he loved.

If you think about it today, do a puzzle. Watch Jurassic Park. Grab a shake at Ruby’s. And smile when you think of our little man.

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

The First Sunday Since

I woke up Saturday morning at 3:30. It wasn’t on purpose. I had to pee and grab a drink of water. When I lied back down, I wasn’t sleepy. Typically, this isn’t a problem for me. But this wasn’t a typical morning. It’s a day I was dreading. And, mostly because of that, I never did get back to sleep outside of 20 minutes before the twins woke me up a little after 8.

Jax died on a hot, sun-filled Sunday. Yesterday was the first June 24 that was a Sunday since he died six years ago. It was definitely sunny, and mostly hot. And I was dreading all of it. I didn’t want to pretend to be okay, and I really didn’t want to have to talk to anybody.

I managed to wear enough of a smiley face once we arrived at Angel Stadium, and it helped to watch the kids play at the Family Sunday zone before the game as friends and family snuck some shade under a tree and listened to mediocre kid-bop cover songs of some decent artists.

Soon it became a place of warmth (not just because it was hot), positivity and love. It wasn’t anything that was said or done. It was just loved ones, being with us in support, all together in whatever each of us were feeling – and not doing it alone.

I’m continually overwhelmed by the amount of love and support everyone has, continues to, and will give us as we continue to mourn the loss of Jax. I get lost in my own junk, and it clouds my vision of what’s real and what’s imporant, and it’s a day like yesterday that helps me to see and feel what is real, and what matters.

I love you all. My family loves you. And thank you.

Jax Remembrance 6/24/18 – Angel Stadium

JAX REMEMBRANCE 2018

Just a quick note that Jax’s remembrance this year will return to Angel Stadium, as the Angels host the Toronto Blue Jays for a 1 P.M. game on Sunday, June 24.

Tickets are $16 and the seats will be in the shade. However, seats are getting low in the section we want, so I need to know by Sunday, May 6, if you want seats. Please let me know how many. You can reach out to Kristina or myself to RSVP.

Thank you for your continued love and support of our family as we remember Jaxson forever.

Happy 10th Birthday, Jax

Last week, Kristina text me that National Puzzle Day is today, January 29. She came across a link about silly days of recognition. For example, February 5 is Chocolate Fondue Day. Go wild, people.

nationalpuzzleday

Jax loved puzzles. He started young, and enjoyed them up until the time he left us. At 3 he was assembling 100-piece puzzles. He had a distinct pose when he was in his puzzle zone – one knee on the floor, one knee up at his chest, with laser-like focus.

After the pool party the day he died, Jax was supposed to clean his room. Toys and puzzles covered the floor of his room, including the one below, which we’ve framed. IMG_0417

For today – Jax’s birthday – to be recognized as National Puzzle Day blows my mind. Puzzles were such a piece of him that we’ll always remember (sorry for the bad pun).

Today we’ll spend his birthday like we always do. We’ll drop off dinosaur cupcakes to his beloved preschool teacher and her class. We’ll pick the twins up early from school and head out to the National History Museum to explore the dinosaur exhibits and whatever else strikes our interest. Then we’ll meet up with family for dinner at Ruby’s Diner, one of his favorite places to eat.

Moving forward, it seems like we should add a new tradition to the day – putting together a puzzle.

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

Five Years

5 years later

A couple of weekends ago I was driving all three kids home from an over-night stay at their great grandpa’s with their cousins. They conked out about five minutes after getting on the freeway, exhaused from staying up late and suffering from excessive sugar hang overs.

I was somewhere between Cerritos and Buena Park on the 91 East when it hit me, hard, like a punch in the gut from late-80s Mike Tyson. Jax has been gone longer than he was here.

That’s fucked. Lonliness filled me with despair. For whatever reason, a quiet car has been a magnet of super shitty thoughts for me since Jax died. In that moment, all those feelings came rushing back. It only lasted for 10 minutes, but it left its mark. Then, as I do, I crammed those feelings way down deep. And now, here we are. Five years that I last rubbed my fingers through his hair, heard his voice, made him smile and gazed in to his gorgeous eyes.

Saturday, the day of the remembrance, was rough. It was the hardest remembrance for me emotionally since the first year. The lack of booze didn’t help. At least at the Angel games I can numb myself up some. Disney’s El Capitan Theater offered no such relief. I didn’t want to be in my own skin. Acting natural felt forced, and I had trouble relaxing and just being.

Kristina missed most of the movie as Phoenix, who was missing his nap time, didn’t want to sit quietly. She was having a hard time Saturday, too, and this didn’t help.

The movie experience itself was terrific. Jax would’ve loved this so much. El Capitan is beatiful and the preshow, which I can only describe as a 13-year-old’s idea of a fun day on acid, was pretty cool. And the movie, Cars 3, was a fitting end to the franchise. Garvey, who is slightly older than Jax, said it was the best movie in the trilogy. I think Jax might’ve agreed, especially with the emergence of namesake Jackson Storm. It was an apt way to honor our missed little boy.

After the movie we gathered in the lobby, trying to catch up and say hello to those that joined us. At one point I looked out to the front on Hollywood Blvd, and what do you know, a fire truck inched its way along traffic. That’s our boy for us. Much needed. A few minutes went by and I couldn’t hold my emotions in check any further. Hugs made my eyes swell and at some point I lost it, breaking out in a hard, loud, ugly cry. The climax of my awkwardness.

I’m pretty sure we held the El Capitan crew up from opening doors for the next show time, but they never asked us to leave and were very courteous. We headed back to the parking structure and began our voyage out of Los Angeles, stuck in 101 traffic. We ate lunch with friends at an Island’s in Long Beach and then went home.

Kristina crashed on the couch. She didn’t sleep well the night before, with the day looming. Gray pulled out his Cars toys to play with, so we raced together while he recreated the movie on our living room floor. At night, my mother-in-law picked up balloons and we wrote notes to Jax and released them.

Then Kristina and I headed back to the theaters to catch a 10:30 PM showing of Cars 3. We weren’t the only ones in the theater, but it was pretty bare. No baby to hold or kids to rush to the bathroom, so Kristina could an enjoy an uninterruped viewing. I tagged along mainly for security. I didn’t feel great about her going to the movies late by herself. When we walked out back to our cars after midnight, I asked her thoughts, and she said it was cute. And agreed Jax would’ve loved it.

Saturday is a reminder that none of this gets easier. Some days are just shitty. And it’s normal, even after a string of non-shitty days, no matter how many years after the fact.

Thank you to those that joined us Saturday and those that couldn’t, who continue to honor our missed little boy and support our family with love and kindness. Sometimes, because of my own shit, I’m not able to express it. But it does mean so, so much to us. We love you.