Monday, March 12, 2012

The Bitter and the Sweet

Never have I understood this more than I do now:  Life can be bittersweet.

About a year ago, we said goodbye as our boy hopped on a helicopter and left for his big adventure.  The few weeks leading up to that time were so precious.  Family came in from out of town to say goodbye.  Friends stopped by to add their hugs and well-wishes for his journey.  We talked a lot about life: what we enjoyed, what we wanted for the future, and how relationships change over time.  We laughed a lot.  I cried a bit.  And I seized every moment I could to talk to, touch, hug, and generally love on that boy of mine.  I am so glad I did.

The journey over the last 7 months has been difficult, to say the least.  We are still journeying through the firsts of everything.  Some are expected, like birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, etc.  Some take me by complete surprise, like receiving his tag renewal notice in the mail or unearthing a pair of his boots in the coat closet I just cleaned out.  Yesterday, that journey took a different twist. 

Spencer's unit is coming home.  I could not be more thrilled and excited to see those Spartan boots step off that plane.  I am overjoyed that we will witness families be reunited, that we will get to hug friends once again, that we will get to meet people who were so important to our soldier.

But my son will not be getting off that plane.   So. Incredibly. Bittersweet.  

So yesterday, I was driving home from a gathering centered around our returning soldiers.  It was so precious to be around these ladies whose husbands/sons/fathers of their children were coming home.  The excitement, the relief, the pure love was evident as they set about the task at hand.  I cannot adequately describe the sweetness of being in the presence of such joy.

And then I got in my car.  It was the perfect storm of components for totally losing it.  There was, in fact, a storm.  It was raining, not just a little, but enough to cocoon me in anonymity in my van as I began to travel home.  It was about a twenty minute drive, mostly interstate, in heavy rain, and no one was with me.  I began crying.  It turned to screaming.  No words.  Just screams.  And lots of tears.  Grief is a bitter, bitter pill to swallow. 

In the near future, we will be standing in a crowd, waiting to see those soldiers get off that plane.  The last thing I want is to put a damper on their return or to take away from the joy of seeing their families.  So, we will stand aside, out of the way, and witness what has to be one of the most joyous sights we can ever have as Americans.  We will watch with great pride and great rejoicing as these soldiers (who, by the way, have been and will continue to experience their own bittersweet moments) come back home.  We will tell those who are hurting that Spencer would want them to get on with their lives, that moving forward is the best way to honor him, and that he loved being a Spartan.  But mostly, we tell them "thank you," not just for their service to this great country, but for loving our boy and honoring him in all that they have done and will do.

And that whole time, a familiar feeling will be hovering over us.  We will once again, for about the 10 millionth time, experience such conflicting emotions from such opposite ends of the spectrum.  Life can be so incredibly bittersweet.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Happy Birthday, Spencer

Twenty-two years ago, just after midnight, I felt the first contraction.  Eight and a half hours later, some of them pretty scary, our first child was born.  He broke my tailbone that day, and it was painful, but the joy of seeing that beautiful boy and hearing his strong and healthy cry far outweighed any amount of pain I experienced.

That boy had a laugh and a smile that brightened the darkest corners of my life.  He was so bright, so quick, so full of life.   And so, so brave.

It will take a lifetime to articulate all that I have learned and am still learning from having that hero in my life.  And today, when he would have been 22 (a non-event birthday, as he would have called it), I would have been anticipating his return in just a few weeks.  I would have been dancing around, bugging him on Skype, making his favorite cookies, and whispering in his dog's ear that her boy would be home soon.

But my boy won't be coming home.  There was a different plan for his life.  And the pain is so deep and still so fresh. Sometimes it still takes my breath away. Sometimes I cry so hard that I don't think I will ever stop crying.  But always, always I know this:  

I REFUSE to let the pain of losing him overshadow the joy of knowing him.

So, we put flowers on his grave.  We made cookies.  Tonight we will eat with a few friends and celebrate knowing such an amazing person.  We will continue to love each other, and we will always love that little boy who grew into such a fine man.

Happy Birthday, Spencer Duncan, my little pumpkin.  I love you forever, and I like you for always.  I miss you so.  

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Can I Really Do This Again?

I've written this post about a hundred times, sometimes making it as far as 3 sentences in, sometimes giving up after temporarily forgetting my password and writing nothing at all.  I've been afraid and overwhelmed.  Afraid that my words would be inadequate, sound trite, not convey what I really want to say.  Overwhelmed that some days I cannot string together a coherent thought, much less a group of sentences.

My oldest son died.

My son.  MY SON.

Spencer Duncan was a brave and honorable young man, 21 years old, serving his country when his helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan.  SHOT DOWN.  My son, my caring, brilliant, funny, adventurous, deeply curious, profoundly witty son will not be coming home.  And my heart is broken.

When I am able to string together words again, I will try to open the curtains and allow people to look into our grief.  That's a daunting task for me, because I am pretty certain I will never adequately convey how deeply we hurt or how well we have been cared for.  We are surrounded by amazing friends and family.  Our community has been incredibly respectful and caring. We are loved by our big God.  We are comforted by stories of Spencer from friends, co-workers, fellow soldiers, and strangers.

There are so many stories to tell, so many thoughts (however random they may be), so many ways we've been touched.  We've been blessed to come to know some truly amazing people through Spencer's death. We've been blessed to be reminded of some truly amazing people we already knew.  And, as weird as this may sound, we've been reminded of how truly amazing Spencer was.

And that is, I believe, why I will continue to write.  I will tell the stories.  I will introduce the heroes.  I will honor my son's sacrifice.  And with whatever time I have left on this earth, I will try to make a difference.

But mostly I will continue to write because I can still hear Spencer's voice asking me when I'm going to post another blog or write my book because he's running out of things to read.  What can I say?  The kid made me laugh, and he made me write.