Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012, Plans for the Day, and Giving Thanks

This Thanksgiving, Thursday, November 22, 2012 marks the beginning of the second holiday season without Timmy. As melancholy as it is without my son, I am grateful for the memories and love I have of my son, as I am grateful for my surviving children. I am grateful for the support I had received from family and friends during the course of the past eighteen months since Tim’s death; without that support I would have fallen into an abyss which may have been a struggle to climb out of and possibly no escape. My plans for the day are simple.

First, stay out of the kitchen.

Second, watch the parade on television as floats, bands, celebrities, and the jolly fat man to run up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum to officiate the beginning of the Holiday Season and the countdown to Christmas Day.

Third, visit Tim’s grave.

Four, listen to Pierre Robert, WMMR's San Franciscan born-Philly adopted disc jockey, to spin both digital and vinyl versions of Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant” complete with 8x10 glossy crime scene photographs, as is his tradition for over twenty-five years.

 Five, sit down to dinner with my family and give thanks over a turkey dinner.

It may not sound like much, the emotions and memories have not come to fruition as I write this entry. I check my email alerts and I see posts from parents who have lost a child or children. I see from those posts those who every day is a struggle, because the emotions shred the fabric of his or her person; I also see those that, like myself, know each day is a struggle – but are determined to know that the best way of keeping whole is to live each day and embracing their memories of their child and using it in an attempt to educate those that do not understand that this grief is different from most other feelings of grief and to help those who are among our ranks know they have support and an offer of friendship when it comes to feeling no one else understands the pain they feel.

If I were to say I have my heart on my sleeve, I do. I wear it in the form of a tattoo in my son’s memory; with ink and flesh I wear with pride and shame in constant conflict. I don’t care who understands the symbols I had chosen or modified by my tattooist. I share my stories of my son and this journey I am on which, like any other bereaved parent, can be akin to Dante’s Divine Comedy. I don’t seek atonement or forgiveness – I simply express the love I have for my son, my children, and thankfulness for the people, especially the kids from Archbishop Ryan and the neighborhood, who each and together as a community, kept the faith alive. Faith in a future, faith in my place as a parent, and faith in how my Tim saw the world without my cynicism; each time I run into one of these kids or receive a message from them I see how they were affected by the accident and resulting death of Tim.

I look to the past to anchor my thoughts of the future without inhibiting what may come or diminish what it means when it drifts to the past. There are times when the memories rush in like the waves of the ocean when a hurricane blows inland. I could choose to let the wave rush over me and become submerged, or swim to the surface aware of its presence and drift with the current of the memory until I reach the shore which is the present.

Over the summer, a friend lost his daughter to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. I read his posts on Facebook or the comments made by other friends of his. I understood his pain, but to say I knew it would be wrong. His pain is something only he could feel. I understood because I knew my pain and I could interpret his expressions and relate them to my own. It wasn’t that I didn’t know what to say to him, I didn’t want him to feel that I was attempting to overshadow his grief with my own. A day or two after his daughter’s death, I received a message from him asking if he could talk to me on the phone. As I feared overshadowing his grief with my own; he feared opening any wound that I may have had dealing with my son’s death. I told him he could call me, and call me at any time.

I remembered when someone, I never met, did that for me. It’s when I learned that as grieving parents we do not walk alone.

Mickey Hirsch is someone that reached out; know all too well the pitfalls of being a bereaved parent. Mickey is a transplanted contractor who lives in New Jersey. His son died about two years before Timmy after fighting a strain of H1N1 influenza. Mickey wrote to me and asked me to call him, I did and I have never forgotten our conversation.

"You may not want to hear this now," Mickey said. "You will get through this. You will carry this hole in your heart, but you will survive. One day you may be saying this to another parent."

Mickey described his son with love and honesty. Despite all the love that Mickey described and relayed for his son, sadly he was a young man who, in my thoughts, life had jilted; Kevin was born with Down Syndrome. He worked at the McDonald's at the Franklin Mills Shopping Center. I remembered Kevin and realized I hadn't seen him in recent months. Still I remembered him sweeping the floor, doing other tasks in the dining area of the fast food restaurant. I remembered he always said hello or politely excused himself if he moved a chair to sweep under a vacant table. Kevin, for fifteen of his twenty-six years, never called out sick – was never late, and took pride in his work. To me, Kevin did more for his wage than the majority of people in the same employment.

Mickey told me that I will laugh and find some joy again; he told I will feel again. Now over a year and a half later, although not healed, Mickey had been right. I don't know who helped him, or supported him; it seemed to be a knowledge that is passed from one grieving parent to another. For that one hour conversation, I am grateful to Mickey – he was the catalyst that sparked my first steps forward on this journey.

About a week after Timmy's funeral, I started looking for support groups on-line. Mickey had offered his friendship. I took up a position on my sofa, staring into the computer screen and started writing about Timmy. I found Loss of a Child, an online support group founded by Tami Scalise-Halton. Tami's son Joey died from a motorcycle accident two years before. Tami, who lives 3000 miles away in the Bay area, was among the first to welcome me. I read her posts, looked at her pictures of how she celebrates her son’s life. Pictures of Chinese lantern balloons inspired me to do similar for Timmy's birthday with sixteen red balloons and glow sticks. Eventually we traded jokes, teased each other over personal photographs with another friend or two, tell about our children both in Heaven and surviving with us. To be honest, if I didn't find Tami I doubt very much I would be able to write.

So in a nutshell this is only a small note of thanks.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Day-Cation, Kryptos, and the Spy Museum

By the summer of 2002, Timmy had developed an interest in spies and spying equipment, in part due to the Spy Kids movie directed by Robert Rodriguez that came out in the spring of 2001 and DVD and VHS by September 2001.  Timmy was fascinated by the idea that kids were the heroes who were tasked with saving their parents whom were spies and from a long family line of spies on each side of the family.  Other media bolstered his fascination – Max Steel, Johnny Quest, the Power Rangers – shows where the adolescent was smarter, braver, or able to use technology than their adult counter-parts.  There was the Spy Gear toy line that also caught his attention.  As my vacation neared, I thought it would be a cool idea to go to the Spy Museum in Washington DC for a day-cation.

We drove to Washington relying on MapQuest printouts and directions from the Spy Museum’s website; we didn’t have GPS – the units then were still expensive, about $300 to $500 for a decent one.  As we neared the exit on the Beltway to enter Washington, triangular orange road signs appeared announcing construction and detour to the next exit which would have us go into Anacostia, Maryland – a sleepy little river town, cross over a bridge that turned out to be I-395 that put us on the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

Cars zipped past at amazing speeds; some displayed Diplomatic tags.  As we passed Arlington Cemetery, I asked Gi to keep an eye out for a spot for a U-turn or a visitor’s information center. I tuned the radio to the news station on the AM band listening for traffic conditions. A few miles more, Gi said she saw a sign for an information center.  I felt some relief and reassured that it wouldn’t be a wasted trip.  Timmy sat quietly in the backseat.  We continued north on the parkway until we saw a sign reading “George H. Bush Information Center Exit Next Right.”  Strangely there was something familiar about the association between the former president and the word “information”; I just couldn’t grasp what it was.

I found the exit and drove down the road from the parkway.  I saw a small structure in front of me.  I thought ‘Oh great, a toll booth.’  As I drove closer to the “toll booth” I noticed signs – Prepare to Show Identification, No Photography Permitted, and Vehicles Subject to be Searched; a little odd for a toll booth.  I slow the car down and dig into my back pocket to take out my wallet that contained my badge and credentials.  Two patrol guards in full uniform were manning the booth which turned out to be a gate.

Suddenly what was eluding me suddenly jumped into my brain.  “Oh my God, do you know where we are?”

“No,” Gi said.

“It’s the CIA.”

“The CIA,” Gi asked.  “You mean like the real spies?”

One guard, white male in his mid-forties, began to step forward waving his hands slowly and calmly to tell me to stop.  His swagger reminded me of Dean Martin in the movie Rio Bravo – but sober compared to Martin’s character Dude.  The other guard, a black male about twenty-five to thirty years old, stayed back near the structure. For some reason he reminded me of Chris Rock. 

I stopped the car.  The radio squelched loudly, I reached to turn the volume down and accidently hit the horn on the steering wheel.  The Chris Rock-guard suddenly dropped into the isosceles stance putting his hand tightly on his sidearm.  The Dean Martin-guard continued walking towards me as I held out my credentials in my left hand that was shaking. 

“Philadelphia Police Department, huh?” said the Dean Martin-guard.

“Uh, yes sir.”  I kept my eye on Chris Rock-guard.  “Sorry we got lost.”

“Well if there would be one terrorist organization I’m glad is on our side, I would say it had to be Philly Police.”  The Dean Martin-guard took my credentials and looked it over.  “Which do you prefer Pat’s Steaks or Geno’s?”

I’m lost, accidently winding up with my family in the car at the gates to the Central Intelligence Agency, and being asked about cheese steaks?

“I like both.  I’m friends with Pat’s son, Larry.  Geno helps out the police and fire families and he has our fallen officers names etched in brick and set into the sidewalk at the corner.”

“I like it with…how about you?”

“With onions…always…and with Provolone,” I said feeling my throat go dry.

“Where were you heading?”

Okay here it comes, and I was thinking how suspicious is my answer would sound.  “The International Spy Museum; I got detoured off the Beltway and wound up on the Parkway.”

The Dean Martin-guard gave directions heading back down the parkway and over another bridge that would take us right to the museum.

I had read about Kryptos, a sculpture on the grounds of the CIA, which was etched with encryptions.  So far, three of the four sections of the sculpture were solved.  “Hey, uh, could my son see the Kryptos monument?”

“Sir, if it were up to me, I would take you there personally but I have to say ‘No.’”

The Chris Rock-guard activated the gate; the Dean Martin-guard told us to make a U-turn and back up the drive with the directions he provided. 

We eventually found the museum and spent the rest of the day looking at James Bond’s Aston-Martin, the Jell-O box-tops the Rosenbergs used to pass off atomic secrets to Russian spies that were sent by a cousin in Los Alamos, learning about disguises, Nathan Hale, and how not so far-fetched some things done in the movies were in real life.  We drove home later, I was somewhat satisfied not only had I gotten Timmy to the Spy Museum, but showed him where the real spies work.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Santa Scanners, Gift Wrap, and a Coke for a Marine

The chain he drew was clasped about his middle. It was long, and wound about him like a tail; and it was made (for Scrooge observed it closely) of cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel.
~ A Christmas Carol
Charles Dickens, 1843
The Holidays are soon to be upon us.  To 
some of us it is a time to remember those we lost; those that left us either through illness, accident, or other method.  This is my second Holiday Season without Tim.  I walk through the toy stores with my daughters, having them pick out what they want Santa to bring and rush the item over to the “Santa Scanner.”  It’s the price check-scanner, reading the bar-code and displaying the price.  To the girls, it scans the item and sends off a message to the North Pole that gets printed out for Jolly Old Saint Nick.  It’s something that was started when Timmy was little and was used to calm the “Give Me” and “I Want” tantrums.

The exception was that I would have to make a mental note of the toy; now I take a picture with my cell phone.  Alaina, my oldest daughter, is quick on the pick-up – I can certainly say she has a natural knack for deduction.

“Daddy,” she would ask.  “If Charlotte and I are scanning the toys on the Santa Scanner; why are you taking pictures of the toys too?”

“Uh,” I thought of the Grinch and Cindy Lou-Who.  “If the Santa Scanner printer gets jammed up or runs out of paper, I thought I could send it off to Santa from my phone – just in case.”

“But Santa doesn’t bring grown-ups toys.  Why would he want a picture from you of girl-toys?”

Okay, I have this under control.  Sweat beaded on my brow.  I could feel it break out on my chest and underarms.  “Because Maas, Santa knows I have two little girls at home.”

“Does Santa know Timmy is in Heaven?”

“Yes.”  I choked.  “Santa knows everything.”

“Do they have Christmas in Heaven?”

What to do? What to say?  I tried not to look into her eyes; I didn’t want her to possibly see the pain or the uncertainty.

“Yeah, I am sure they have a big birthday party for Jesus.”

“With cake and ice cream?”

“I am sure they do.  I would think they have a cake that is every kind of cake.”

“Timmy’s favorite was chocolate.”

The girls rushed off down the doll aisle – Monster High, Barbie, Winx, Novi dolls.  Next the ornaments and gift wrap.

“Daddy, can we pick out what wrapping paper we want Santa to put our presents in?”

Charlotte would quickly reinforce the question: “Can we pick out the paper?”

They went through the rolls of paper.  My Little Pony and Hello Kitty paper were dunk into the cart like they were miniature Michael Jordans.  They froze looking at the ornaments. 

“Daddy,” they exclaimed in unison.  “Look its Spider-Man!  It’s the new one from the movie!”

“Should we get it for Timmy to be on our tree this year?”


I walked down the boy stuff, with the girls in tow, looking at the action figures, the collectable figures, Hot Wheels, Nerf guns and swords.  It wasn’t so long ago; Timmy and I would each grab a Nerf Sword or a toy Light Saber and have a sword fight.  To us we were Jedi Knights dueling or modern Ninjas stalking each other as prey.  To the outside observer, I guess we appeared more like Inspector Jacques Clouseau and Kato from the Peter Sellers’ Pink Panther movies – sometimes wreaking havoc knocking over a display here or there much to the disdain of the aisle attendant or store worker.  Other times, I would be in trouble with Gi for giving him a wallop on the noggin with the heavy foam sword blade or green or blue tube of a light sabre.  Sometimes it was because I snuck up on him before he had the chance to get the same idea.

As we passed the Marvel superhero action figures, masks of Iron-Man, Captain America, Spider-Man, and the Lizard were displayed.  Charlotte asked to try each one on and take a picture of her wearing each.  I remembered when I didn’t have a decent job and bought toys that were red tagged and discounted; Timmy’s stocking filled with half-dozen Hot Wheels.  So much had changed since Tim’s first Christmas and the present.  Some for the better; some changed for the worse.  The worst being that the boy stuff haunts me like Jacob Morley’s ghost warning me of being fettered by the chains and ledgers of life.

At the front of the Toys R Us, stood two Marines – a Sergeant and a Lance Corporal, collecting for the Marine Toys for Tots Drive.  I thought of the Christmas when Tim was five or six.  A Marine was standing in front of the Kay-Bee Toy Store at the mall.  Tim asked why the Marine was guarding the toy store.  I explained he wasn’t; he was collecting toys for kids that may not have a mommy or daddy, or their parents may not be able to afford to buy them toys.  Tim asked if he could give the Marine a toy because he didn’t want another kid to be without a toy.  I told him he could.  He went up to the Marine, handed over a Batman action figure for the toy drive and a Coke for the Marine.

“My daddy said you can’t drink it now ‘cause you might get in trouble with your boss.  He said you can drink it when you go eat lunch.”

The Marine was gracious and thanked Tim for both the toy and the soda.  It was one of those occasions that should have been photographed.  I wonder if that Marine remembers his Christmas soda.  I wonder if that toy is still played with by the recipient from the toy drive.

This Christmas there will be a toy given in Tim’s memory.  No one needs to know its origin as it is mixed in with the daily collection by the Marines; just a simple toy given with the love of a boy I love more than life itself as I love his siblings.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Prodigal Parent

While I stood over Tim, as he was laying on the gurney, I turned to see a priest and an older woman standing off to the side behind me.  The priest, a short man, about my height of five foot-six inches, dressed in black with the exception of his collar.  The woman, dressed in professional attire, appeared to be out of place in the Emergency Room.  I didn’t know them.  I didn’t care to know either of them.  I assumed the priest was the hospital Chaplin or a Catholic priest called to the Emergency Room from the neighboring parish to provide comfort. 
“Mister Connors,” the priest began.
I cut him off.  “Father, I work in a world filled with vengeance.  I want my due.  Is God going to give me that?”  I turned back to Timmy’s body.  I noticed the faint, almost brush strokes, like the rubbing from a cloth that had wiped away a copious amount of blood.  His eyes, once so full of life, now dulled and looking to nothingness – the staff tried to close his eyes.
“I don’t want your comfort,” I growled at the priest.  I don’t remember exactly if I used any explicative language or what words spewed from my mouth after.
The priest took a step back and turned slowly on the ball of his foot.  I heard faintly a blessing and a asking of God to watch over me.  I wanted no comfort from my faith.  I wanted no prayer to be said.  I stood at this gurney looking down at my son’s body.  Angry burning tears streamed down my face.  I howled in pain...this was not real.  It couldn't be real.
God stopped Abraham before Isaac became a burnt offering…Jesus made a decision to be crucified to save mankind, against his Father’s wishes and Jerusalem shook with earthquakes and thunderstorms.  I don't believe that God wanted Jesus to sacrifice Himself to save Man from sin; but Jesus saw it was the only way to defeat Satan on the Devil's terms.
“Forgive them…because they do not know what they are doing.”  Isn’t that what along the lines of what He said with his dying gasp?  
Just days before He was hung on the cross, He brought his friend Lazarus back who was four days dead.  I wouldn’t be afforded such luxury.
I thought of Tim’s First Penance when he was about seven years-old.  After he received his sacrament, the parents were invited to do our own confessions.  I went into the confessional; Father Moriarty sat on a chair.
I blessed myself.  “Please me Father, for I have sinned.  It has been a long time since my last confession.”
We went through the ritual of the confession.  I explained that I work most Sundays and haven’t attended Mass in a long time.  I explained I was a cop.
“So you can’t go to church all the time because you’re doing God’s work?”

“I don’t know about that Father.  I just do my job.”
About ten minutes later I exited the confessional.
Timmy stood next to his mother.  “Daddy, what took so long?  What did you do?”
A vigil began at Archbishop Ryan.  Students gathered at the front of the school, organized by their own concerns and sense of community.  Mr. McArdle, the president of the school, broke the news to the students about Tim’s death.  The news media hovered overhead and among the students.
I was still at the hospital.  I didn’t know who the priest was and at that moment I didn’t care.  My son was dead.  I wanted someone to pay for his death.  I wanted someone’s head on a stick.  I cursed God.  I cursed the throne, choirs, and principalities of His Angels. 
Over the next few hours, pages appeared on Facebook wishing Tim a speedy recovery then changed to condolences and prayers for him.  A second vigil was planned by the students and announced on the pages.  Some other students from other Archdiocesan high schools asked if they could attend.  School  rivalry was dropped for the good of community and a common focus; youth facing the uncertainty of their mortality.

Gi went with her sister.  Jun drove me.  It began to rain.  As we got closer to Archbishop Ryan it began to rain heavier.  As we entered the grounds of the high school, the sign at the front of the school read “YOU ARE AN ANGEL TIM.”
“This isn’t real,” I said to Jun.  “This is a bad dream.”
“I know brother.”  Jun drove us at a slow pace.  We got out and walked to the front of the school where the chapel is situated.

I could feel the wind kick up a bit more.  I walked to the chapel.  Gi was standing next to the priest who was leading prayers by saying the Hail Mary.   I was told that one of the priests from the school stayed with Tim, gave him Last Rites, and followed him to the hospital with the principal of the high school.  I shuddered that I chased out a man and teacher that cared so much about my son.  I felt ashamed.
Hail Mary, Full of Grace
The Lord is with thee,
Blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus
The priest dressed in a black overcoat the collar turned up against the rain, a black Fedora adorned his head.  As it got darker, I couldn’t make out his face.  His voice was familiar.
Oh no, I thought, please don’t tell me I cursed out this man!
The vigil ended a short time later.  I walked to the priest.
“Father, I am so sorry.”

“It’s okay, there is nothing to forgive.  You have enough to worry and think about.”
I began to cry.  “I didn’t know.  I was so angry.”
I was the prodigal parent.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Halloween & All Souls Day 2012

 Timmy's Tree
Timmy's favorite candies: Skittles and Starbursts

The Jack O'Lantern I have had since Halloween 2011.
The On/Off switch is broken and the light still has not gone out.
A candle for Timmy at Archbishop Ryan Mass of Rememberance

A leaf on the Vine