Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Reflections on my nephew Ethan

I excel at procrastination of difficult tasks and this one is more difficult than most. I want to pay tribute to my late nephew, whose birthday is today.

It is agonizing to have to go through February, March and April all in a row. We lost Ethan February 14, 2009. His birthday is in March. His body was found Easter Sunday, 2009. And if you've ever gone through bereavement, you know that the first year of holidays is painful. But the second year is something of a shock because you realize--oh, great--we get to go through the same holidays again and he still isn't here and it will be this way every year from now on. While the rest of the world is aglow with red hearts, birthday cakes and Easter eggs, my family feels a collective lump in the throat and a dread of turning the calendar page.

Not that it matters. Because Ethan is gone every day, regardless of the month. And we miss him all the time, not just on his birthday.

Still, a birthday is a birthday and just because Hallmark never seems to come up with a card that conveys the right thoughts for this sort of occasion, I will give it a shot.

Ethan: I cannot wish you a Happy Birthday. It doesn't sound right at all. There is nothing happy about a birthday--or any day--without you on this planet. But that's our failing, not yours. That's just the miserable human feeling of being a surviving family member. I want to think bigger than that. I want to honor you and your memory and stop whining about how I feel. Happy or not, Birthday or not, this day is still about you. You brought a great deal to this world, to your friends, your family, your causes. And to my heart, in particular. While it is bittersweet to write this, I know that the world is a better place for having had you in it and that deserves to be said. It must be written and damn it, I will write it, even if I must look through my tears and feel past the lump in my throat. I am blessed with having known you.

My mind starts to get jumpy now with emotion. This is so hard. I have been meaning for so long to write a tribute to you. I don't see how I will ever do it. The scope of the task overwhelms me and makes me wonder if I should just write about you in short blurbs instead. I don't know the answer. I'm losing my train of thought. Pick a specific, dj. Something specific.

I had a dream about half a year before your accident. I have it written down somewhere. It was a dream about a frontiersman or naturalist in the woods and he was warning us about impending death. When I dreamed this, I thought of you, but the character in the dream didn't look like you. Or at least, I didn't think, "Oh, there's Ethan," when I had this dream. I just remember that the naturalist in this dream reminded me of you, that he was very savvy about backwoods survivalist training, that he knew the woods very well, that he knew we were all in danger and we needed our wits about us to get through what was coming. The dream foretold doom. I knew that much. But I certainly never foresaw losing you. Now when I think about this dream, I wonder what it meant and what, if anything, I should have done differently.

Probably nothing.

Because I don't think you would have lived your life differently. You lived it to the fullest and it was through your various trials and your closely-held ideals that you reached the point you were at in the final months of your life. Maybe that is the lesson to be learned here: live according to what you believe. Better to grab all the adventure that life has to offer than to reach age 90 without having reached out. Better to take risks than feel safe and bored. Is that the message?

No. This isn't it. And that's okay because if I failed to capture what you stood for at this point, March 16, 2010, 11:55 CST then...fine. I'll give it another shot another day. I must try again another day.

Until then, Ethan-Pie...is it okay if I call you that in public? Well, you cannot stop me, can you? I think I see a slight grin as I call you that. You love audacity in others and you will not quench mine.

aunt dj
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