It has been a while since I have posted to Nate’s blog. I apologize for that but I have found it hard to muster anything to say recently. I find myself trying to live life for my family. Making sure that Katie, Drew, and Kaylee are taken care of and that we as a family are “making it”. I have thought intently about writing and expressing where I am but just haven’t brought myself to put my thoughts on paper. I want to make sure that when I write – it is thoughtful and from the heart and not just rambling thoughts that I experience throughout the day. See – writing for me has always been more about me. I think that I write more for me than anyone. Writing for me has probably always been more about expressing myself and letting others know what Nate meant to me and how his life affected mine. The only two reasons that I write are to let others know more about Nate and to express how I am feeling about where I am in my life. I don’t write to counsel others or push my thoughts or parental guidance on others. For me to do that would not be genuine – I am not a prefect parent nor have I ever been. I was not a prefect parent to Nate and I am not a perfect parent to Drew or Kaylee – I wish I could claim otherwise. As a person and parent – I find flaws in myself daily and I don’t claim otherwise.
Shortly after Nate died I met with a good friend of mine who has also suffered a significant loss in his life. He is a GREAT friend and he counseled me extensively about what to expect in the days to come. He explained to me that my life would forever be defined as before and after. I listened intently as he explained to me that life was now about BEFORE and AFTER. I admit that he was on point as he explained life after the loss of a loved one. Life had become defined by moments. Those moments consisted of BEFORE and AFTER Nathan’s death. Everything that happened would be thought of as BEFORE Nathan’s death or AFTER Nathan’s death.
Prior to September 2nd, 2012 our lives would be described as average. Katie and I were happy. We were the proud parents of three beautiful kids and we lived the crazy, hectic life that everyone else who has kids becomes accustomed to. We are the aunt and uncle to 12 kids and extended family to many others. Our weekends are typically filled with family birthday parties for a niece or nephew or consumed by sports or parties for friends or our kids. We ran ourselves thin and were fine with that but had also made it known that it was impossible to make it to every scheduled event. We did our best to attempt to make it – but my schedule and logistics just made it impossible to attend every event.
When September 2nd, 2012 arrived, nothing could prepare us for what lied ahead. Shortly after Nate’s death, I realized that my friend was right – everything in life was defined by that date. Every moment in life was either BEFORE Nate’s death or AFTER Nate’s death. Everything that I thought about was remembered with the caveat – was it BEFORE or AFTER September 2nd, 2012? September 2nd, 2012 is a date that defines every moment in our lives. Every movement, every action, every event revolves around September 2nd, 2012. Crazy – but a date that had no prior meaning now defines us. I constantly find myself thinking of September 2nd,2012. Whether it is October 2nd, 2012, November 2nd, 2012, December 2nd, 2012? Each anniversary marks a new milestone that you wish would fade into another day. You can feel the anxiety that builds up and through the 2nd day of each month.
Thanksgiving just passed and Nate was born on December 23rd. Each holiday is a reminder that we are missing something so significant that it is undescribable. Each December 23rd will pass and we will not be able to know what Nathan would aspire to become. Each moment passes and we are reminded of his absence in our lives.
I am sure that the next few weeks will be even harder as Nate’s birthday is followed by Christmas and New Years. I remember Nate grabbing each toy flyer that came in the mail and circling every toy in each as a present that he wanted for Christmas. It is heartbreaking to go to the mailbox each day and find another flyer for a toy store only to realize that each one will slowly find its way into the trash because Drew could care less about it and Kaylee is too young to know the significance of the day. The magnitude of the occasion is not lost on Katie or I. We are keenly aware of Christmas and the hole that Nathan’s death leaves on such a significant event. Christmas is supposed to be about the birth of Christ our Savior but is instead marked by the loss of our son.
Recently I heard a song that has stuck with me: When a Heart Breaks by Ben Rector. The lyrics are as follows:
I woke up this morning
And I heard the news
I know the pain of a heartbreak
I don’t have answers
And neither do you
I know the pain of a heartbreak
This isn’t easy
This isn’t clear
And you don’t need Jesus
Til you’re here
Then confusion and the doubts you had
Up and walk away
They walk away
When a heart breaks
I imagine that this song stuck with me because it talks about waking up one morning and hearing news that breaks your heart. It was like I woke up September 2nd, 2012 to a new reality. No one knows what it is like to wake up on September 3rd, 2012 and feel this way. No one knows what it feels like to not have the answers to questions that should never have to be asked. I realize that others have lived through this – but no one knows this heartbreak. My good friend always said “I am not comparing my loss to your loss.” And I do not venture to compare my loss to others – every loss is unique. Every relationship has a special bond that no other knows – I know my relationship with Nate and no other is like it. I am not saying my relationship with Nate was better or worse than others but it was unique. It was special and no other can replicate it. No other relationship can be compared to Katie and Nate, or Drew and Nate, or Kaylee and Nate, or Nate and his grandparents, or Nate and his aunts and uncles, or Nate and his cousins, or Nate and his friends…..they were all unique and therefore – special. No one can compare them or know the impact that his loss has.
The lyrics “You don’t need Jesus til you’re here” hit me. I have prayed for my family and the safety that no one but God can guarantee. Prior to September 2nd, 2012, I had asked for God to watch over my family and protect them. I had prayed that nothing like this would ever happen. But until September 2nd, 2012, I didn’t need Jesus. I didn’t need the strength of others until I found myself at this very moment in my life. On September 3rd, 2012 – I needed all the strength that Jesus and others could provide. I needed anything that would provide me the Hope that I would someday be able to be reunited with Nathan.
Prior to September 2nd, 2012 – nothing in the world could bring my life to a stand still like Nate’s death has. My life was pretty immune to such things. Naïve – I know but prior to September 2nd, 2012 – life was just life and we were just living it. Like every other family who lives life – we made it work with what we had. I never thought that life could change so quickly and permanently. After September 2nd, 2012 – FOREVER took on a whole new meaning. Forever meant something totally different. The things that we could have done – seem like things that we should have done. The important things that we think we needed to do – seem like unimportant things that we never really needed to do. The times we didn’t spend together seem like times we should have never spent apart. The things we got mad about seem like things that we could have forgotten about. The I Love Yous that were never said seem like lost opportunities. The maybe laters seem like times that will never present themselves again. September 2nd, 2012 redefined all of that stuff. What was important in life – is no longer so important. What is truly important in life – seems so much more important.
I remember leaving Smith Mountain Lake (SML) after Nate’s death and driving back to Maryland. My brother drove Katie, Drew, Kaylee and I back in our car. It was a rainy and miserable day to be traveling. I remember driving away from SML with an empty feeling knowing that we were leaving with less than we came. We were emptier than we were on September 2nd, 2012. I remember packing up the SUV and feeling incomplete. Nathan’s things were packed in the car – his bags, his toys, his clothes, his red and blue Crocs that to this day remain tucked under the seat of the SUV. Leaving a place without a child that you came with was unbearable. Just unbearable!
I remember leaving SML and getting about 3 miles from the house before a song came on the radio – Gary Allan – Life Ain’t Always Beautiful. I had heard this song a million times before but never had it hit me as it did at that moment. I hung my head and cried thinking about how it related to what I was feeling…….
Life ain’t always beautiful
Sometimes it’s just plain hard
Life can knock you down, it can break your heart
Life ain’t always beautiful
You think you’re on your way
And it’s just a dead end road at the end of the day
But the struggles make you stronger
And the changes make you wise
And happiness has its own way of takin it’s sweet time
We drove north towards Maryland and reached Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. During the ride I had been writing my thoughts on my iPhone. Thoughts that would later make up much of what I spoke at Nate’s funeral. We had mostly listened to CD’s, the radio or remained silent during the ride. None of us had much to say and Katie had played some songs on her iPhone. When we reached Harpers Ferry, I turned off the radio and played a song by Chris Rice (Spare and Angel). This song had meaning to Katie and I because it was sent to us by a friend of mine when Drew was in the NICU in 2005. Immediately after the song ended – I received a text message from the person who had initially sent me the song in 2005. The text read “Oh Justin, No.” I knew that this friend had heard about Nathan’s death and I responded in a text. My text message never went through to my old friend since we were in an area without cell service. I remember thinking to myself – How coincidental is it that I played this song and immediately after it ended I received a text message from the person who initially sent me this song. He had sent this song to me 6 years prior hoping that it would help lift my spirits when Drew was sick. The lyrics talked about a woman who is staring into darkness and pain and asked how much she could take. The song goes on to ask God to spare an angel. I had always thought about Katie when I heard this song but on this day more than ever. I wondered if God would take Katie’s broken heart into account and spare an angel for her. The song was fitting and it meant more to me than it ever had.
I know that no day since September 2nd, 2012 has been the same and that no day since will ever be the same. No day since September 2nd, 2012 had been as happy and that no day since will ever be. I know that life as I knew it on September 2nd, 2012 is different and that every day of life since then will be different. I have reluctantly come to grips with these realities and struggle each day to accept that reality and make each day better than it was since Nate’s death on September 2nd, 2012. No day will be as good as September 1, 2012 when life was as expected but each day since September 2nd, 2012 can only get better. Nathan’s memory will ensure that we live a better life than we did on the day of his death and that we make sure that Drew and Kaylee have the one thing that we can promise and have promised to all of our kids – unending love.
September 2nd, 2012 was a defining day in our lives but we will not allow it to define the rest of our lives. We will move forward with Nathan in our hearts, guiding us as we continue to remember him and teach others what it means to Go Out and Be Great.