It’s October, bittttccchhhheeessss

spooky-halloween-landscape

It’s October, my favorite month. I don’t care what yours is. October is the best.

It’s finally starting to cool off in southern California, except for the week that the Santa Ana winds hit and half the region becomes a giant barbecue. The air feels more crisp. Sure, you people up in the northwest, east coast and Midwest can laugh. But the slightest chill to the air means crisp out here. AND IT’S FANTASTIC. The leaves turn from green to brown; it’s beautiful.

Football is well into its seasons (college, NFL). Our favorite television shows have returned to hopefully not start sucking. Homeland returned this weekend with LOTS AND LOTS of talking. We finally get to find out how Ted met his children’s mother, Parenthood is back and I have no recollection of how last season ended. The mom doesn’t have cancer anymore, right? RIGHT??? The Walking Dead and American Horror Story start back up. Great, two MORE hours of trying to cram in TV that my wife doesn’t want to watch with me. My DVR will want a raise.

But there are two main reasons why October owns my heart.

Halloween

The older I’ve gotten, the more Halloween romanticizes me. As a kid, I don’t remember caring a whole lot about Halloween. I mean, sure I dressed up and trick-or-treated, and it was fun, but it came and went and that was it. Now, I find everything about the holiday enchanting. Black and orange are like the best color combination possible, right? Throw in some purple and holy crap why use any other color combos at all. Candles, ominous trees, fog, tombstones. Spooky is sexy.

(I love that commercial. This was from 2012. It’s a play-on of the Knott’s commercial for the regular park.)

At 14-years-old, a freshman at El Modena High School, I first went to Knott’s Scary Farm. That began an annual tradition of 12 consecutive trips to the fright farm. Until finally no one wanted to go with me. This year I’m going to Universal Halloween Horror Nights for the second time. Last year’s The Walking Dead tram ride blew my f’ing mind. AND IT’S BACK!

halloweenhorrornights12_1

The week after Universal we’re taking the kids to Mickey’s Halloween Party. Two years ago we took Jax, then 3, and the infant twins. Jax was in heaven. And so was I. Fog oozes off the Rivers of America. Halloween music blasts from party spots. The villains are out, cruising around. And the haunted mansion is transformed into The Nightmare Before Christmas ride. I could sit outside the mansion, illuminated by candles and jack-o-lanterns, for hours. I feel warm and fuzzy gazing at the beauty.

Beautiful.

Beautiful.

I’ve seriously considered a cemetery scene for a tattoo. That’s how much I like the atmosphere. I’d get it along my rib cage. Which is really just blubber, and why I haven’t done it. It’d be like inking a water bed. Anyway, the image in my head, which I can’t describe, is black and white. A creepy willow tree. Crosses and unmarked tombstones, to be filled in later. But three marked tombstones – Presley, Jax and Addison. Fucking morbid, huh?

Baseball Postseason

Ever since I was 9, when I started Little League, fell in love with Wally Joyner and the Angels and memorized The Natural, I’ve been obsessed with baseball. To put it lightly. I’m a baseball fan first, an Angels fan second.

Baseball-October-Playoffs

October 1 marks the beginning of postseason baseball. If the World Series goes a full seven games, it’ll end on the 31st. So pretty much, the entire month is postseason baseball. Every game matters. The intensity is ramped up. The pressure boils. My wife actually pays attention, it’s that captivating.

The New York Yankees aren’t in it this year. So that’s a bonus. I’ll be rooting for a first-round exit for the Boston Red Sox. And I’ll enjoy watching my friends and family live and die by each Dodgers game.

But all of it makes me miss Jax even more. I want to watch the Dodgers and Braves with the the lights out in our house, candles lit, fake jack-o-lantern glowing in the kitchen, my right arm wrapped around his shoulders and his head resting against my side. I want to watch his excitement after a collision at home plate or diving catch. I want him to be disappointed when I put him to bed in the 7th inning of a 4-3 game, only to tell him in detail how it ended the next day.

I want him to beg me to watch Scream. I want to watch him flip through the Halloween costume catalog as he flops between five different costume ideas. I want to carve a pumpkin with him. I want him to help execute my weekly plans to scare Gray. I really, really want to take him to Mickey’s Halloween Party again.

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October would’ve been Jax’s favorite month, too. I just know it.

Go On

While deciding on songs to use during the video for Jax’s remembrance I came across Jack Johnson’s “Go On.” While my wife purchased the album Sleep Through the Static, I never recall hearing this tune. Taylor Swift’s “Ronan” deservedly drew the majority of everyone’s attention who viewed the video. However, I wanted to bring attention to this song, as well.

Jax LOVED Jack Johnson. My wife listened to his music constantly while Jax was in utero and the little dude came out constantly comforted by Johnson’s soothing voice and laid back guitar. When he was 4, while in the back of our minivan, my wife told me Jax once shouted his disagreement with the radio choices “I only want Jack Johnson or rock and roll!” He was pissed at what I can only assume was KIIS-FM playing.

Anyway, here are the lyrics and the song on YouTube below.

In my rearview
I watch you watching the twilight
Behind the telephone lines
Nothing to prove, or to assume
Just thinking that your thoughts are different than mine
In my rearview
I watch you
I give you your life, would you give me mine?

I see you slowly swim away
Cause the light is leaving town
To a place that I can’t be
There’s no apologies

Just go on
Just go on
There’re still so many things
I wanna to say to you
But go on
Just go on
We’re bound by blood that’s moving
The moment that we start
The moment that we start

I see perfect little eyes
Watch the shadows of the clouds
And the surface of the ocean out the window of a plane
I get nervous when I fly
I’m used to walking with my feet
Turbulence is like a sigh that I can’t help but over think

What is the purpose of my life
If it doesn’t ever do
With learning to let it go
Live vicariously through you
You can do the same
It’s the least you can do
Cause it’s a lonely little chain
If you don’t add to it

So go on
Just go on
There’s still so many things
I wanna say to you
Go on
Just go on
We’re bound by blood and love
The moment that we start
Just go on
Just go on
There’re still so many things
I wanna say to you
Just go on
Just go on
We’re bound by blood that’s moving
The moment that we start
The moment that we start

Video From the Remembrance

Several people have asked me for a link to the video we showed at the remembrance on Monday, so I uploaded it. It also gives those that could not attend a chance to watch it.

As I mentioned before, my wife’s brother created the video, so all credit goes to him. Here you go. For those of you reading from your email subscription, you’ll need to click on the link to the site to view it.

The Remembrance

I remember the drive home when the blind hope

Turned to crying and screaming, “Why?”
Flowers pile up in the worst way
No one knows what to say about a beautiful boy who died

By Taylor Swift and Maya Thompson

 

Courtesy of Crossroad Photography, Heather Kusunoki

Courtesy of Crossroad Photography, Heather Kusunoki.

Around October of last year, as we approached Halloween, a very difficult time for me as it was right there with Christmas as Jax’s favorite time of year, my mom emailed my wife and I a link to a song Taylor Swift performed about a boy with cancer. Swift wrote the song “Ronan” based on a blog Maya Thompson, the mother of Ronan, created when her 3-year-old son was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in August of 2010. Ronan died in May of 2011 three days before his fourth birthday.

My wife’s brother created a beautiful tribute video that we showed last night at Jax’s Remembrance. I’m guestimating about 100 people came to Mountain Gate Park in Corona to be together as a community to share stories, hug, laugh and cry.

Projected on to a make-shift movie screen (as you can see in the background of the photo above), the video wrapped up with “Ronan” playing as we watched videos of Jax performing for the infant twins and photos as we all last remember seeing him. The song crushes me every time I hear it. I managed to mostly avoid tears throughout the night until that song played. Even though I watched the video earlier in the day and wept alongside my wife, I still lost it at the park, standing in the background and swigging Macallan scotch from a flask while I wiped away tears. (thank you my very kind friend for sharing).

Courtesy of Crossroad Photography, Heather Kusunoki

Courtesy of Crossroad Photography, Heather Kusunoki

The best way to describe last night was beautiful. We gathered beyond the outfield fence since the Corona American Little League all-stars practiced on the large field. Blankets and camping chairs filled the grass area and children played wiffle ball as we listened to some good music and mingled with each other. The way the sun’s glow shined upon us as it set in the crystal blue sky filled me with warmth and peace.

My wife made some keepsakes for people to leave with. Maria, a mother of one of Jax’s t-ball teammates, created this beautiful graphic shortly after the event, displaying and engraved washer and a jack, our symbol for Jax.

Courtesy of Maria McRoberts.

Courtesy of Maria McRoberts.

Several courageous people stood in front of us all and spoke of fond memories, how Jax’s life and death has affected them and the love they have for our family.

Following the multimedia presentation we lit the night up by candle light. Following a moment of remembrance we released balloons. We invited people to write messages on some of the balloons while others came installed with a LED light and glowed red (Jax’s favorite color) deep into the dark sky.

Courtesy of Crossroad Photography, Heather Kusunoki.

Courtesy of Crossroad Photography, Heather Kusunoki.

The day wasn’t without any hiccups and stresses, but the evening came off as well as my wife and I could have hoped. Thank you so much to everyone that attended. We hoped this night would be for you as much as it was for us. We all continue to grieve in our own ways and doing it all together, I think, made it less awful.

Several of you asked about the “Ronan” song, so I’ll end with the lyrics and a link. While it’s written for Ronan, maybe you’ll think of Jax every time you hear it.

Jax – you were my best four years.

I remember your barefeet down the hallway
I remember your little laugh
Race cars on the kitchen floor
Plastic dinosaurs, I love you to the moon and back

I remember your blue eyes looking into mine like we had our own secret club
I remember you dancing before bedtime then jumping on me waking me up
I can still feel you hold my hand
Little man, and even the moment I knew
You fought it hard like an army guy
Remember I leaned in and whispered to you

Come on baby with me
We’re gonna fly away from here
You were my best four years

I remember the drive home when the blind hope
Turned to crying and screaming, “Why?”
Flowers pile up in the worst way
No one knows what to say about a beautiful boy who died

And it’s about to be Halloween
You could be anything you wanted if you were still here
I remember the last day when I kissed your face
And whispered in your ear

Come on baby with me
We’re gonna fly away from here
Out of this curtained room and this hospital gray
We’ll just disappear
Come on baby with me
We’re gonna fly away from here
You were my best four years

What if I’m standing in your closet trying to talk to you?
And what if I kept the hand-me-downs you won’t grow into?
And what if I really thought some miracle would see us through?
But what if the miracle was even getting one moment with you

Come on baby with me
We’re gonna fly away from here
Come on baby with me
We’re gonna fly away from here
You were my best four years

I remember your barefeet down the hallway
I love you to the moon and back

Songwriter(s):Taylor Swift, Maya Maria Thompson
Copyright:Taylor Swift Music, Sony/ATV Tree Publishing

Thank you Heather Kusunoki for the beautiful photos. You can find her work at Crossroad Photography.

One Year Later

For a few days I’ve racked my brain on what to post today. I wanted something special. Something symbolic and fitting of a year that’s passed since Jax died.

But there is no magic idea to make us all feel better today. It’s a day I have to let happen. I can’t just get through it. I have to be present as it takes place. I have to shed the tears, feel my heart squish in my chest and my stomach ache. Numbing the pain with distractions is temporary.

Tonight we’ll come together not just to remember Jax, because we remember him constantly. But to experience today together. To hug, laugh, cry and be present.

One year. It’s been both the shortest and longest year of my life, at the same time. I can’t believe it’s already been a year since it happened. But I feel like it’s been a life time since I heard his voice, gazed into his gorgeous eyes, held him in my arms, kissed his head and jumped in to his infectious passion.

I miss you, Jax.

I LOVE you,

Dad

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Shattered Faith, Part I

This is going to be weird. I’m going to open up about some stuff that will make you judge my faith, my strength, my mental/emotional stability and question whether you will keep reading this site, or even talk to me without looking at me differently. I just ask that you read with an open mind, without judgement and with love.

Faith, shattered.

Faith, shattered.

When Jax died everything changed. I used to pray every morning in the shower. Almost every single day I’d end by asking for God’s protection for my wife and kids. I prayed the same thing on June 24 when Jax died. On June 25 I stopped praying.

What’s the point? I was just wasting my breath. You know when your spouse gets so mad at you that they ignore you for a couple of days? That was me towards God. Except it lasted months. He was around, but I didn’t want to talk to him. I know, we live in a broken world, yadda yadda yadda. Shit happens. I didn’t care. I was beyond pissed. Now, I know there’s human element involved with life and death, and consequences occur, and it’s not all on God. I’m not discounting any of that. But if He can’t protect my kid, then what’s the point of any of this?

A few days after he died, or after the memorial service – I don’t remember which – I started to question heaven’s existence. What if there is no heaven? Will I ever see my boy again? I grew up in a Christian family and attended a non-demotional Christian church all of my life. I was raised to believe that you died and went to heaven if you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior. What if the Bible is just a book of mythological stories, and when we die, nothing happens? I felt alone. Everything I believed in before 6/24 shattered like a glass bowl on the kitchen tile. Tiny shards shot every which way and I’m walking barefoot trying to pick up the pieces. But it hurts. I keep stepping on the shards. I’m bleeding. And I’m overwhelmed.

Thirst for Knowledge

I started to read Heaven Is for Real in which an evangelical pastor writes about his 4-year-old son’s encounter with heaven while undergoing emergency surgery for a ruptured appendix. It didn’t help. Call me skeptical, but it’s written by a pastor. As much as I wanted to believe it’s all true, he has too much to gain from a great story that sells.

My therapist recommended 90 Minutes in Heaven, a book written by a man who displayed no signs of life to EMTs for 90 minutes following a brutal car wreck. Some of his accounts of heaven were completely different from the kid’s in Heaven Is for Real. But I guess a grown man won’t see a rainbow-colored horse in heaven or a pink-jeweled crown on Jesus’ head.

I bought a third book, To Heaven and Back, which chronicles an orthopaedic surgeon who nearly drowned following a kayak accident and her experience in heaven. I don’t even know where it is.

Found Peace

And then I found comfort in an unexpected place. I felt peace for the first time in months. Peace that I would see Jax soon and that he was still with me. Peace that he is okay and in God’s hands. I’ll explain more about that unexpected place soon.

The “Christiany” thing is to seek God’s comfort and know that Jax is with Him, he’s safe and the Bible tells us I’ll see him again. But remember, I’m still picking up those sharp pieces of faith on my kitchen floor. I’m pissed at God that this happened. Or perhaps my faith was never strong enough to begin with?

Rebuilding Faith

I’m back to speaking with God. Not as often as I used to, but those lines of communication, at least on my end, are open again. The line on his end was always free. I’m sure of it. This morning I prayed that if this unexpected source of comfort is of His will, that I may have peace with it. I still doubt whether it is, because really, it’s weird to me, too.

Tomorrow (hopefully) I’ll explain WTF I’m talking about. In the meantime, if you pray, pray for my wife and I tonight, even though you don’t know what you’re praying for. Things will get weirder tomorrow. I promise.

to_be_continued_back_to_the_future

 

Dreaming of the Sea

Written by Gordon Livingston

Written by Gordon Livingston

My therapist loaned me a book from author Gordon Livingston entitled Only Spring, based on the journal he kept after the news of his 6-year-old son’s diagnosis with leukemia and ultimately the agonizing cycle of faith lost and hope gained.

I’m in the faith lost part of it all in my life and I’ve forgotten the definition of hope. I mentioned my blog to my therapist so she told me about Livingston’s book. It seemed like a good fit on multiple levels. It only took the foreword to inspire me to share.

Written by author Mark Helprin – educated at Harvard, Princeton and Oxford and served in the Israeli Army, Israeli Air Force and British Merchant Navy – the foreword hit a nerve. It struck my longing to clutch Jax tightly once again.

Whether Lucas (Livingston’s son) rose into a world of light or was taken with a roar into waves of speeding darkness as if into the deep ocean, he went alone. The way I see it, he is either clasped tightly to the breast of God, or there is no God. One way or another, he has given his father, and in some respects all of us, a great gift. He has made death a prospect of fulfillment, an excitement, for what greater need is there but to find the lost child, or at least to chance that one may find him? If you were on a ship battered by immense waves (and, believe me, you are) that swept your child from your arms would you not (given that you had no others for whom to remain) throw yourself into the deep, hoping for the chance that in the vast black ocean you might grab onto him? Comforted just to know that you would suffer the same fate?

And if you had to remain, to protect others, would you not dream all your life of the day when, your responsibilities over, you would finally get to the sea?

I’ve mentioned before in this space that my wife and I no longer fear death, and Helprin’s words explain exactly how I feel. For now, we’re here to protect our twins. But I will dream every day of hitting that sea and feeling his little hands in mine again.