Monday, December 31, 2012

A Bit About 2012

I guess it's to be expected that I might usher out 2012 and race to drag in 2013 but that's not the case.  2013 means a full year to come of no Christopher and that's not something I'm interested in.  I think I'll stick with happily hugging 2012 for a while thanks.

Two thousand twelve was wonderful - for the most part, eleven months of it anyway.  There were so many great aspects of it, why would I wish them away so fast?

January: Of course it began with Christopher's birthday on the 9th.  He kicked off the new year of birthdays in the family.  He had the first one on the calendar.  The big deal about him turning seventeen in 2012?  Driving after 9pm... UGH!  I dreaded that - he constantly brought it to my attention beforehand too.  He'd smile with that shit-ass grin and remind me that once he hit that magic age he could stay at Bailey's beyond 9 because he took drivers ed.  I hated that!! I loved having the law on my side so I had someone else to put the blame on for making him come home so early... I leaned on the rules and used them to my advantage.  I used to tell him how lucky he was to use Skype once he got home so he could say goodnight to Bailey.  Somehow I guess I hoped that would ease his annoyance.  I would text him at 8:30 so he knew it was time to say goodnight to her.  I reminded him that he was so fortunate because “skyping” wasn't available in the 80's with my boyfriend... nor were cellphones.  I told him I shared one rotary phone with a long cord between 11 of us.  Like he cared?????  He didn't.  He wanted to stay at the Wind's.  I don't blame him.  I used to text Bailey's mom and tell her I was coming over too - her house was so much fun!!! I was envious.  My place was quiet and boring.
I don't recall much about the winter, other than we really didn't have snow.  That was great for him, of course, because he was my “shoveler” and “car cleaner offer”... I know he reveled in skipping those duties.  He was good, however, at warming up the cars in the morning.  He would start them up and let them run a while so they were toasty when we would head out for work and school.

June brought junior year graduation which was exciting.  Junior year is in my opinion the toughest. Chris took some hard classes but finished with a 92.  WHEW!! I was so happy once SAT exams were finished as well as finals and term papers.  I say it like I had anything to do with them... I didn't.  I guess I just commiserated because I remember going thru it myself junior year of high school.

June also brought the beginning of football.  Camps began.  Oh my, was Chris out of shape!  He came home groaning, sore, tired and hungry.  He twisted his ankle too but he was also excited.  These camps meant he was headed into his senior season and that was something he had been waiting for!  As a junior plainsman (pop warner football) he looked up to the varsity players in awe.  He thought they were NFL stars. He loved it when they talked to him and gave him pointers.  Once June hit he was sorry he didn't listen to my advice and go running in the Spring.  He should have!  I got the giggles when he could barely walk up the stairs.  "What's the matter Chris?" I'd ask him.  He'd do that famous eye roll and grunt with each excruciating step of the stairwell.  Eventually he toughened up and those calves were like rocks again.
We spent a bunch of time looking at colleges thru Spring and Summer.   I used up almost all of my vacation time.  It really was our summer 2012 vacation.  We went to Springfield, Assumption, UMass, Holy Cross, U New Hampshire, SUNY Cortland, St. John Fisher, U Maryland, U So. Carolina, SUNY Albany and Marist.  There were some colleges that liked Chris for football and some Chris liked whether they liked him or not.  We had a lot of fun.  Every place we went we had to try the cafeteria... No visit was complete without the dining hall experience.  He never found one he didn't enjoy.  He tried breakfast, lunch and dinner at some - all in the same sitting.  I know he would have put on the freshman fifteen no matter what school he picked. Probably would have been more like thirty.

When SHEN football tryouts approached things got a bit more intense.  I remember the day the roster was posted; Chris sent me a text "I made the team!"  I got the biggest kick out of it.  Of course you made the team I thought to myself - you're a senior how could you not????  You've never missed a year since Kindergarten!!!  But it was cute he didn't assume it.  It made me grin at my desk at work.  I loved his random texts.  I still think I'm going to get one... I wish I would.

Once Fall hit, Chris made team captain.  Oh my God I thought Mike would broadcast it to the world. I don't know who was happier but I remember we were all thrilled.  Never could I have expected that my son would hold a leadership position like that at such a big school!!!  How prestigious but what big shoes to fill!  Good thing he wore a fourteen cleat!  Coach Clawson told me Chris was a great leader.  Loud when necessary but not often - and when he was - the team listened.  I have never heard Chris yell, or get loud.  Sometimes he'd get excited on Xbox but never did he raise his voice or get upset.  I wish I had some of his locker room talks on video.  Those are something I have never seen and that's an atmosphere I'm not accustomed to.  That would be different for me.  I'd enjoy that.  I like thinking about it.  I wonder what he said to motivate them???
Fast forward thru the season to the last playoff game.  The SHEN kids gave it their all but Shaker had it all going on that night.  Both wanted it but Shaker had that extra something to propel them to the victory.  I never said it out loud but as a mom my heart lied with a Shaker victory.  (Sorry Coach!) Shaker had never gotten that far and I could feel the happiness pouring out of them.  It was impossible not to want to see them win in my opinion.  Don't get me wrong, my heart burst for Christopher and SHEN and it was heartbreaking to see Chris linger on the field after it was over but I was so happy for the Shaker boys.  Is that wrong?  Chris was the last one out on the grid iron, so distraught we sent Bailey out to get him.  Some of his teammates were already showered and gone and we couldn't get Chris off the fifty yard line.  He was sobbing and sobbing and in a heap on the ground.  
I always found it interesting how men could fall to pieces during a sports loss, isn't it just a game??? Apparently not.  I believe I understood more about it that night when I felt my sons sorrow. It's not just a game, it's life.  A very important piece of their life that remains forever more.

Well, that brought us into November the 27th which was Chris and Bailey's one year anniversary.  I had the pleasure of helping him fund the evening as well as choose the dinner menu.  He called me on the phone at work because he couldn't find the mozzarella sticks.  Hello?  The freezer might be a good place to look!  That's where we put them when we bought them at the store...  I wasn't there for the date but I found the remnants of what must have been a good time when I got home from work.  There were tealight candles on the table and Diana Krall music playing on my ipod.  Now that's cute :-)  Do seventeen year olds know who she is?  Mine did. Seems he must have paid attention to my musical selections when I didn't realize.

So, 2012 was for the most part a magnificent year for me.  I had my son for eleven months!  Better than 2013 when I won't physically have him for any.  I'd like to remain in two thousand twelve if God would allow but I know he still has plans for me.  He wants me to keep moving forward.  So I will. But only if you stick with me too.  I don't want to carry this load alone.  You make me feel better. You respond to me and share my grief.  You make me feel less lonely.  You tell me stories of your family and I like reading about you because it takes my mind off my worries.  I see the same names reply on my blog and I feel as though I have new friends.  I DO have new friends!  Who would have ever thought we'd meet and share these sort of details?  Maybe you find it as helpful as me?

I hope you'll look back on 2012 and remember all the great things that happened rather than wish a full year away.  There must be a handful of things about it that were wonderful and unique?  I know I have plenty.  Many more than I noted here.  I so wish I was just heading into 2012 so my son was here with me still.  I will relish everything I can remember and I pray you'll do the same.  Enjoy 2013 and all it has to bring but don't trash 2012, it's way too meaningful to all of us.

Thank you for reading. Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

30 Days

Well, it's been almost a month since the accident.  It feels so fresh, so brand new.  I know it hasn't been long, thirty days isn't much but it seems like only a few days.  There has been so much that has happened so quickly I somehow lost a few weeks.  There's a lot that seems blurry to me.  The deadlines on wake and funeral decisions were so fast and furious my head was spinning.  Thank God my family and friends stepped in.  I'm so fortunate so many people helped.

I ventured out a little this weekend, something I haven't done unless I was headed to a fundraiser - or something centered around the kids. My tendency has been to stay in but I know that isn't always good.  I have to get out a bit.  It was a snowy weekend as you know, and I just felt like doing something, even briefly.  The house seems to get smaller and smaller the more I stay in.  The rooms look messier and the stacks of papers and cards and mail take up corners of my desk and tables and I don't seem to put a dent in them.  I felt the need to step outside for a change.  This was good!  I went out just to go out.

Saturday I headed out for a very late breakfast, IHOP in Clifton Park.  They recognized me when I didn't expect they would.  The restaurant team bought my breakfast.  Thank you very much!  My sever, Lisa and I had the nicest chat.  I'm going back to see her again sometime.  She told me loads of SHEN students and parents had been in recently.  I know it was a place Chris enjoyed with many of his football buddies.  He even filled out a job application there last summer.  
He liked those fattening cheesecake stuffed pancakes with whipped cream on top and I always got some sort of light and fit meal.  He would devour his happily. NUM, NUM!!", as Chris would say!  I'd tell him mine was healthier.  He'd shrug and keep forking it in anyway.  I suggested he get a job there if he liked it so much so he applied.  I told Lisa that while we talked.

I bought an IHOP Groupon back in November, fully intending on using it with Chris.  He could easily spend $16 on his meal.  I brought it with me on Saturday but since the restaurant paid my tab I gave it to Lisa to use on another customer.  No need to save it.  I'll consider that my second act of kindness.
I've got to do more random acts of kindness.  There's so much room for improvement in my life and it feels good doing the right thing.  After seeing so many kind gestures people have done for me and in honor of these four great kids, I know I can do better. 

I headed to the Empire State Plaza after that.  A trip to downtown Albany in the snow, it was so beautiful out.  I wanted to get a look at the Olympic skater Paul Wylie.  I'm a fan of figure skating.  I love watching it on TV and I actually went to the 1980 Olympic women's figure skating in Lake Placid.  That was so great!  I love Lake Placid and head that direction when I can.  The hiking is amazing and the village so inviting.  
But anyway, when Stars on Ice, (the Olympic skating tour) would announce their yearly schedule I would grab tickets from the Times Union Center and bring my mom.  We used to hold up "10!" signs at the end of each skaters performance as if we were handing out judges scores.  (silly I know!!) My mother loved it, she's a huge fan of Scott Hamilton.  Such great times.  So... it peaked my interest to go see Paul skate right before my eyes again.  I've seen him several times before but never up close, only in the arena.  I thought I could snap a picture if I could get close enough.  Turns out the crowd was so spread out I got right up front.  I got a better photo than I expected, look here we are!  
 That was a huge pick me up :-). Thanks Paul!!  :-)

Sunday was quiet until afternoon.  I had visitors!  
The Winds and Hardys came over.  I haven't had Matt to my house yet and I was hoping he would like to spend some time with us and see Christopher's room.  I hope it brought him comfort.  I love it in there as does Bailey and Chris's friends.  I was praying Matt might find it peaceful.  I'll have to ask him later.  Coach Clawson and his wife came over as well and a few of the football players.  It was a nice houseful of friends that would never have been sitting in my living room had circumstances been different.  I'm glad they spent their afternoon with me on their vacation.  I couldn't have asked for a nicer Sunday afternoon other than to have Chris there in person.  I know he was there in the room though.

I met an Olympian and forged new relationships with friends this weekend.  I shared a smile and some funny stories.  It was so uplifting.   Remembering Chris with those that loved him makes me feel so warm inside.  It made my weekend bright.  

Thank you for reading.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Siena connection

 I find it interesting how Siena College is connected in so many ways to what has happened.  I looked up the word "siena" on in hopes some phenomenal meaning would pop up but all it said was "a city in Tuscany, Italy"... Not quite what I was hoping to read.  Is that where Chris might be??? I think not.  I was looking for a more profound definition like "one who is perpetually happy" or " the name for the colorful rainbow one sees after the storm". Oh well.  I know there's a sienna color, I've seen it in a crayon box before but that's a different spelling.  It's a burnt orange color.  Very nice but still not what I was hoping for.
My dad went to Siena.  He never graduated.  He had, I believe, less than a year of classes left to get his degree.  He passed away in 1973 when I was in third grade.  I don't recall him taking any classes but what would I have known about that way back then.  Still, he walked the halls there and sat in classes.

Mike went to Siena, he graduated and got his degree there.  He worked full time and lived at home but commuted daily from his parent’s house nearby. He said he would have liked living on campus.
I was accepted to Siena and went there right after high school.  I commuted also.  I lived in Loudonville at the time and couldn't justify staying on campus when my home was ten minutes away.  I wish I had lived there.  Something big is lost from not immersing yourself in the school community in my opinion.  But I worked part time and so I'd go from class to my job.  I really wasn't ready for college.  I didn't know what I wanted to do or be.  I loved high school and wanted to stay there with my friends.  But off I went.  I didn't do so great...  I think I dropped a class the first semester as well as another the second semester.  Oops. (I don't suggest this any seniors that might be reading!)  There was nobody pressing me to show up and learn and I enjoyed my new found freedom so I slacked and skipped classes.  Not so good I know.  As I was paying my way with loans it occurred to me I might be better off somewhere less expensive so I transferred myself out and went to Hudson Valley Community College followed by Russell Sage College.  I did finally get my Bachelors but I was a year behind when all was said and done.

Jeremy was accepted to Siena with a nice scholarship.  He debated about it because he liked the program but what he wasn't thrilled about was the closeness to home.  He wanted some distance.  I can't blame him.  Mike and I tried bribing him, we offered to buy him a nice car if he lived home and commuted! He turned us down and headed for Massachusetts.  He made a great choice for himself, he's doing wonderful and found a second home.  That's reassuring for us.
My nephew Bob, who I spoke of yesterday, was admitted to Siena.  His deposit was in and he was planning to begin his first freshman semester but he passed away before the first day.  His parents helped set him up with a car and schedule his classes but it never came to be.  Bob was a 2010 SHEN graduate looking forward to college life.  
All these Siena connections!

Christopher never applied to Siena.  He really wanted to go into teaching phys ed or becoming an athletic trainer.  Siena doesn't offer it.  I think Chris was fine with that.  I don't think he wanted to follow our paths but carve his own.  We tried the same bribery trick on him with the car offer.  It didn't work.  He didn't apply anywhere locally to our dismay.  I tried telling him he should pick a safety school near home in case he got cold feet and opted not to go away.  He basically giggled in my face and reminded me he liked meeting new friends.  I know, I know... I was the one who didn't want to part with him... I was already missing seeing Jeremy nightly so I was pressing hard to keep Chris close.  Totally selfish but he wasn't biting anyway.  I needed to try!  I would miss my little "squirt" (as I called him)...  

Christopher, Deanna, Bailey and Matt were actually on their way home from the Siena vs. U Albany game the night of the accident.  Ironic that Siena played into the picture again.  There has to be a connection of some sort.  So many of my family members have a tie there plus I have other family members that go there now.  I'm curious if Bailey or Matt or Deanna's families were past graduates or had applications out there for next year? I don't know the answer to that.

I'm not sure why I felt the need to talk about Siena College with you.  Merely, I guess because I'm intrigued as to how these veins link together.  Some of us actually went to classes there, others merely thought about it and Bob never had the opportunity although he planned to.  Curious how things play out.  Not nearly as we expect sometimes.

I like the word Siena but I think it should have another meaning, something good, something positive and powerful, something beautiful and glorious like that rainbow I suggested.  
I like driving by that college campus on my way to work, seeing the students out front playing frisbee on a sunny day.  I looked on Siena's website to see what it says: 

Developing Leaders Capable of Extraordinary Achievement


Siena has been kind enough to allow SHEN and Shaker high schools the opportunity to hold a fundraiser on January 10th for the SHEN scholarships for Chris and Deanna.  The varsity basketball teams will play, both girls and boys.  I'm sure it'll be a great night; a sea of blue and green shirts in the stands with happy students and spectators cheering.  The best part, for me, is that my brother’s son plays varsity for Shaker and I will scream the loudest for him!  GO ZAK!! I so look forward to it :-)

Good things are happening from this terrible tragedy.  I need reminding when I'm having trouble.  I think about, and grasp onto some of these fabulous future events and they help me.  There are so many kind hearted people who donate time and money and ideas.  They create and solidify these amazing events and propel me to hang on tight to those nuggets of goodness.  When I have something to look forward to it makes me so happy.  So thankful.  I immerse myself in knowing, wholly, that my community cares and they want to help.  I'm so appreciative!  I hope you'll come out and enjoy the night with us.  My son Chris will be right there too. He was also a leader capable of extraordinary achievement. 

Thanks for reading!

Bob and Andy

One of the things that makes me saddest these days is knowing I won't be preparing Chris for college.  No dorm room shopping, no fussing about the cost of books, no upgrading his laptop and no discussions on how to do laundry.  
I had the pleasure of that with Jeremy and I love every minute of it.  I'm glad we're not done yet.  I remember having discussions with several people about the cost of sending a child to college.  Of course it's insanely expensive. Jeremy opted for a very pricey institute but Mike and I were (and are) determined to provide him with his desires to the best of our ability.  We would have done the same for Chris, financially painful but worth it for having them here.  I wish for it now more than ever.  So, during these discussions -when mention of the cost of college came up I always said the same thing... Here's my thoughts:
When I knew I wanted to have a family I went into it with the frame of mind that the child would be healthy and smart and grow up to contribute to the world. The child would go to school, learn some skills, get a job, possibly marry and maybe start a family.  Why wouldn't I think he would be anything other than perfect? Nobody goes into pregnancy intending on a child with disabilities or learning difficulties.  So now that my boys are old enough for college it's no surprise to me to pay for college. It's what I planned for all along.  It's costly and we make huge sacrifices and take out loans and juggle funds to pay the semesters tuition but in my opinion it's what I agreed to in my own mind when I brought them into the world. Yes, I may be a little nuts but I think paying for college is good debt.  I'm thrilled Jeremy's in the midst of it and I looked forward to the challenge of seeing Chris thru it too. I can juggle and get creative with the dollars.
So this brings me to Bob and Andy.  You may have read Christopher's obituary where we asked for donations to go to St. Coleman's for the Autistic program Christopher's cousin Andy is in. It's a wonderful place where he takes the school bus and goes to school.  Andy is slightly younger than Chris and Bob, Andy's older brother, a tad older than Jeremy.  Our four boys grew up together. We spent a lot of time together on vacations, at holidays and playing sports.  Andy doesn't speak with words yet he makes himself clear with actions. He enjoys playing with little rubber balls like you'd find in a grocery store vending machine and he carries as many as he can hold.  He doesn't like to share his handful of toys much. Chris and Jeremy would try to get them from him by trying to avert his attention or sneaking their hands in for the steal. Andy's hand was always like a vice and he'd be quick as could be to stop them.  Bob would laugh each time they'd try.   
Rather than give you the details of Andy and Bob I thought I'd share with you Christopher's college application essay.  This essay was read by his high school guidance counselor , Mrs. Jan Reilly, at his funeral.  I'd like to thank Jan as I know it was tough for her.  I hope you enjoy it and I hope it helps you better get to know Chris.

Thank you for reading.

Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.

I would say there are many people that have influenced me in my life so far. One of the most influential people was my cousin Bob Stewart. Bob would have just celebrated his twenty- first birthday in September but he unfortunately passed away suddenly in August 2010 from a heart condition. Bob was born with a heart valve problem. He took daily medication. I never knew that until a few years ago. It wasn’t apparent in his abilities and nobody ever said anything about it when we were kids. His classmates were stunned when they heard the news that he passed away because they all knew him as a typical kid with many friends.
The reason Bob has influenced me in a good way is because he never brought it to my attention that he suffered a health problem. Bob was the same as me or my brother Jeremy. We were all treated the same by our family too. Bob never asked for special treatment and he was private about taking his medicines so we wouldn’t ask questions. He never talked about it and we never noticed.
I spent a lot of time with Bob when we were young. We were fortunate to have grandparents with a camp where we could have sleepovers in the summer. Bob, Jeremy and I would go fishing, drive golf balls, go out for burgers and ice cream, go bowling, catch turtles and frogs, swim, watch videos and play with our Pokémon cards together. Although I was the youngest, they always included me.
Bob couldn’t do much running around so he golfed and bowled, therefore we did too. We would swim and he would use the row boat or a float when he got tired. He still stayed out in the water with us. He graduated high school with his varsity letters in golf and bowling and was planning to join the golf team at Siena College but he died a couple weeks before his freshman year began.
I admired Bob’s focus on life, not his disability. Since he couldn’t run he found a couple of sports that were less strenuous. He was a good student, a great cousin and an unbelievable brother to his younger brother Andy who has autism. Bob always made time for Andy, either to play with him or help him.
I hope to always focus on the positive things in life like Bob did. I’d like to think that when I come upon an obstacle I will find a way around it like Bob did. He was a great cousin and I miss him.

Christopher F. Stewart