Sunday, January 31, 2016

31: Thankful for so, so many things...

Greetings All,

For those of you who follow me here, but not on Facebook, it’s been a while.

About 5 weeks ago, on Christmas Day, I started a thankfulness project, to help kickstart my waning thankfulness/optimism/cheerfulness and decrease the negativity/cranky in my  life.  The wonderful and creative Jennifer Garland came up with a list of possible names for the project, and I chose #thankynotcranky.  It’s been a fun 5 weeks, and several others joined in as well.  J

I wasn’t sure how long I was going to ride the #thankynotcranky train, but thinking this is going to be my last formal post, #31.  It gives me a “month” of posts in just over 5 weeks, and I think that’s just about right.  Hell, it worked well enough to get me out of the house, away from my video games (Divinity: Original Sin Extended Edition), and using my wordsmithery to process….  So yeah, a lot more thanky, a lot less cranky.

Before I wrap up my #thankynotcranky project, I wanted to riff on a few things that have been bouncing around my brain like a superball the last few months.

Firstly, I love words.  LOVE.  I love new words, precise words, the correct spelling of words, and all things in between.  If I wasn’t as lazy as I am, I’d know a few languages too, because then I’d know more words.  Anyway, I always strive to use the correct word in any given situation…correct in context, syntax, grammar, and the whole shebang.

With all of that being said, when I refer to my family, do I refer to my family as “kid” or “kids”?

For example: 
Yeah, that sounds like a something my kids would love!
Yeah, that sounds like something my kid would love!

When I speak in the past tense, I can easily use kids.  When I speak about the future, I feel like I’m lying, or faking, or in some state of denial when I say “kids”.  I do not any longer have “kids”, I have a “kid”. 

But then again, I would never want to deny the awesomeness of having Amelie for the time that we had her with us, and if anyone ever thought that I was doing so, it would wound my soul.  She was a great kid, and she was my bud, and nothing will ever change that.

I just sounds so damned weird when I am speaking about something and reply with kids…  but then again not to use kids seems just as wrong.   I know, something most people don’t care about, but well, it feels real, so that means it is.

I’m a full page into writing, so I guess I ought to give a bit about “how are things? How is Shelley? How is Anya?” (as my Dad would ask).  Things are as good as they can be.  That’s about the best I can say.

The best way I can say to describe it is to describe the weekend we just had.  Anya was away at Special Days camp (more later, and in many previous blogs).  She left Friday afternoon and returned today at 2:15p.  We had talked sporadically about doing a bunch of different stuff, but I knew, deep down, that if we were going to do anything, it needed to be me that was the propulsion system for that adventure.

There’s nothing wrong, but there’s also this empty spot.  That spot is the sum total of: all the joy of Amie, all the caring for Amie, all the 2nd kid stuff you have to do, all the hospital visits, all the cancer anxieties, all the car rides to Mott, all of it.  That empty spot (I don’t want to say hole, because that’s inherently negative) is just there.  It’s slowly being chipped away to make it smaller, and getting filled in here and there with new passions and activities….but it’s there….and some days, the vacuum of empty pulls the energy in from other places and just makes it too hard to move past what you do to survive. 

So, we hung out this weekend, watched a bunch of stuff, had some good food out, and made some good meals in.  We enjoyed each other’s company, parallel played for a while, and then went and got Anya.  Was it exciting? No.  Was it alright? Yes.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Special Days camp.  Anya went (again, 4th year!) to winter camp for Special Days, <http://specialdays.camp/> and once again it was the shining star of her winter.  I wish (at times) I could jump into her head to see what exactly she loves about it so much, but she just loves it so much.  When Amie died, we asked that people send donations in lieu of flowers to that organization.  What they do, simply put, is amazing.

With all of the above being said, I wanted to give one last blast of #thankynotcranky.  For my 31st post, I want to be thankful for:

Jennifer Overholt – A student who I’ve sung the praises of way too much on this blog, but who just returned from volunteering at Special Days camp, again.  She goes there because she, as a soon-to-be-nurse, knows that the kids there deserve normalcy as much as any other kid, and the work that needs to be done to ensure that normal is far more than most people would imagine.  Thanks for doing that work, Jen, and to do it for free.

Special Days Camp – You give my daughter a week each summer, and a weekend each winter, where she can run around and be free from all the anxieties, fears, grief, and dashed expectations of her parents.  You do it with minimal financial costs from the parents, and have staff like Stan who so desperately care for my kid (kids?) that I am brought to tears each time I see you.

Kim (head custodian at McBride) – I have never seen a person work as hard as you do to keep our aging building looking as good as it does, each and every day.  I have never seen you sitting.  I have never seen you talking on your cell phone.  I have never seen you hiding from work.  I have only seen you doing the small, detail oriented things that make things sparkle, and are nearly never noticed.

People who send anonymous gifts – (this is NOT a plea for such a thing, just a blanket thanks, as we cannot send proper thank you cards!)  For the people who have sent anonymous gifts to my family over the past 3.5 years…thank you from the bottom of my heart.  From the bag that someone made with the cat embroidery on it and the girl’s pictures, to the blankets for each of us, to the purple tulips that arrived last week…  we appreciate all of them.  The fact that people are still thinking about Amie a year after her death makes us smile, and reminds us that the power of her story reached way beyond family and friends, and snaked its way out into many of your lives.  Thank you.  Deeply.


With that said, I’ll wrap it up and share a few pictures:


This is Anya with Stan, the saintly gentleman who takes care of Anya year after year on the bus to Special Days.  What a wonderful, amazing team.  This was leaving for Anya's first camp ever, when she was 5 (according to my limited researching).



This is Anya returning from that camp.  Such good sister-friends.



Here is us sending Anya off to her 4th camp.  Still willing to take a picture with us, so that's a win!  :)


...and finally, our mantel, as we walk the last 13 days until the 1st anniversary of Amie's death.

The world is a sadder, less-brilliant, and less sorted place without you, m'darling.  But know that the people you touched with your jokes, your hugs, your shoulder rides, and your squeezes have not forgotten you one iota.  You're a good kid, Amie, and we miss you more than you will ever understand.

Rest well, Ams.



Friday, December 25, 2015

Thankful project, instead of a blog post...

I have started, and deleted, so many blog posts in the last two months.  Endless streams of words that I type, read, and delete.  Over an over again, I write a bunch of stuff, and then chuck it into the trash because it’s just too negative to post.

Thanksgiving and Christmas have been exceptionally hard, for the regular reasons, but also for the indescribable reasons.  I can’t say why I am feeling so ungrateful, but I am.  I can’t say why (exactly) I have so little patience, to little empathy, and so little optimism.  But I do.

But, again, this is not who I (think) am.  I am the person who seeks to right the wrongs, to fight the good fight, and to make the world a better place.  But. But.

So, with that being said, I’m going to be doing a side project for the next month, and if it catches, keep doing it for a while.  My project is this:  force myself to be grateful for one thing each day, and publically post that.  I can’t say that they will all be gloriously transcendent, or that even all of them will make sense.  But I’m going to force myself to focus, at least once each day, to be grateful for one thing.

I’m going to take a picture of that one thing, or something that represents that thing, and then cross post it to FB, Instagram (@jasonstrzalkowski) and Twitter (@fossileyes).

If you want to comment, comment.  If you want to like, like.  If you want to ignore, ignore.  But, I’m hoping that my empathy pool, my utter belief in the goodness of humanity, and my connection to the larger community out there will be redrawn, repaired, and renewed.  If not that, as it’s a little high-minded, at least I’ll have a project, and it will be amusing.

With that, my next post will be my first thankful moment.  If you have a snazzy name for these things, let me know.  I’m running short of snaz right now.


Hope all is well with all of you, and that you had a great Christmas surrounded by those who love and care for you.

Monday, October 5, 2015

You Did It!

Greetings All,

Firstly, thanks for still tuning in, for those of you who are still reading, still interested, and still on our journey.  A lot has happened in the last 6 weeks, most of all school started up again, and I entered the extremely fun, totally chaotic, and ever eventful tumble-dry year of teaching middle school.  I’m teaching a new course this year, Computer Education, and the time/attention it takes is truly overwhelming, not to mention the fact that the 7th graders that I (mostly) teach are just….  7th graders.  More on that later.

The next reason it’s been so long is that I wanted to delay the next post until our super-special reveal was ready to go. Today it is, and we can pull the curtain away on it.  More on that later.

I wanted to start by riffing a little bit on some things that have been bouncing around my head.  We started back at Ele’s Place two weeks ago, and I’ve really enjoyed the conversations going on this time.  Not sure if it’s me, if it’s the people in our group, or what…but it’s no longer as taxing to me to go to the sessions.   We’ve had several really good discussions about things over the last few weeks that I feel like I’ve been able to make valuable contributions to, and get little nuggets from. 

A woman in our group made the comment that “It never gets better”, in regards to losing a kid.  I disagreed, vehemently, but I’d never say that to her in that setting.  To me, it’s always changing, the grief, if you let it.  It’s always a different thing, week to week.  I miss Amie more than I can ever explain, but at the same time, I can hold a simultaneous thought that I’m truly glad she doesn’t have to go through the treatments anymore.  She’s free of that.  But she’s also free of being able to spend time with Shelley doing crafts at the table, and playing silly games with Anya, or riding on top of my shoulders, playing with the wispy remains of my hair.

To say that it doesn’t get any better, to me, seems to not let it change.  To not let it flow through you, and recognize all the facets, and all the variables that it can take on.  If you hold on to it so damned tight, squeezing it for all it’s worth…you don’t let it change, you don’t let it free.  I’m not saying I’m anything even close to an expert at this whole grief thing… I just know what is working for me.  Letting things happen, and trying to be totally present to the way I feel…that works for me.  Honoring the feelings I am having, and letting them happen, not fighting them…that’s what works for me.  Crying like a little baby at a movie, at a commercial, at a tv show…that works for me.

The other thing that’s been bouncing around in my skull is the idea that there is a price, and a benefit, of pain like losing Amie.  The price, of course, is the hollowing out that happens.  This is the stuff of nightmares, the anxiety in the middle of the night about what the rest of your life looks like, with this on your shoulder.  This is not good.  But it lessens.  (see above paragraphs)

But there are so many things that are happening for Shelley and I, and to Anya to a lesser extent, as a direct result of the grief, and the hollowing out.  The running is one such thing.  We’ve been actively running now for 9 weeks.  Shelley has gone from running 90 seconds the first week of August and really (REALLY) hating it, to running 40 minutes today, and really starting to enjoy it.  She ran her first 5k this weekend.   I ran my first 10k, and did it in 52:20.  I’ve dropped nearly 30 lbs. now, and have an entire area of my wardrobe available to me again.



I could go on and on about the running, but I don’t want to be annoying.  I realize that running is a lot like my other passions (Dungeons and Dragons, Magic: The Gathering, random RPG video games, etc), whereas it’s a small group of people who are WILDLY passionate about it, and most other people just look at it in slightly amused confusion.  I say all this just to say that it’s something that’s working for us, and never, ever would have happened had we not been given this massive kick to the soul this past year.

As a final thing, I see how much better of a teacher I am becoming because of this.  Not 100%, because I think my patience and tolerance of off-task silliness has really suffered…but my ability to work harder, work more, and push myself and my students further in pursuit of making themselves the best version of themselves….yes.  YES.  This.

I see what I’m asking them to do, and it’s so much more, and deeper, than I was doing previously.  I’m pushing them in content, yes.  But we’re also writing more.  I’m grading them for grammar and capitalization.  For reasoning, and backing up their statements with fact.  I’m pushing them to be more rational, and to be more questioning.  I want them to do more…because Amie couldn’t, and wont, and can’t….and I think that’s a net gain for them, and a net win for me.  This probably sounds self-serving or something… but it’s good to know that I can do that again, and can find the place within me to push push push, where it needs to be done.

Ok. Enough about me. 

Anya is doing fantastically, and is really growing into a “big girl”.  She’s slowly, slowly becoming her own little adultish person, in that she no longer lives for our adulation.  She just wants to read, and do it all the time, and does a fantastic amount of work to get out of doing anything but reading and dancing around the living room.  Good story:  She hid behind a piece of furniture this weekend, in her room, to get out of doing some random chore that she perceived Shelley was about to ask her to do.  It nearly worked too, until Shelley found her, and then Anya told her why she was doing it.  I wanted to laugh, but that would not have been the winning choice in that moment.  I heard her say all this, and I said to myself that her doing that was so fantastically and amazingly normal….and what else could I have asked for her to be doing 8 months after Amie’s death.  So good, in a normal, normal way.


So, the grand reveal.  Amie’s birthday is in 13 days.  October 18th.  The first birthday that she isn’t with us.  We have been pondering what we wanted Amie’s gravestone/tombstone/isthereabetternameforthis for a while.  I wanted Shelley to take the lead on what it would look like, because us having a site was her primary desire.  When we returned from out west, we began to work in earnest on what it would look like, and it wasn’t clicking.  We went in to talk to the representative from Brewer-Bouchey Monuments, and they mentioned being able to replicate pretty much anything that existed, as long as we could provide a picture.  That got Shelley thinking about Amie’s art, and her name that she loved to write so much.  So, we played around with it, and after a few trials and errors, we have this to show all of you.  We think it’s about as perfect a marker as we’d ever have hoped to have.  Without further ado…


So, for those of you who want to visit it, here are the directions on how to find it:

  • In the westernmost area of Babyland are the new sites. Amie’s gravestone is site 294.



The only thing we ask is this. Bring a rock that you think is cool.  For Jewish families, bringing a rock to a grave marker is tradition.  I just did a ton of reading on it, and there’s no definitive reason as to why.  Lots of explanations, but none of them are canon.  I liked the idea of the permanence of stone, and the idea that the memory of a person, like a rock, will persist long past their passing.  That made me exceedingly happy, and tied into our adventures out west this summer.

So.  If you visit Amie’s grave, bring a rock that you find cool, that you find beautiful, that you find….anything. 

It’s the most beautiful place in Howell, and I think that’s fitting for the girl that I find the most beautiful that the city has ever seen.

Night all.  Time to head home and get ready to teach my socks off tomorrow.