I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Saturday, November 12, 2011


Diane took this picture of me on Thursday during our stop at the North Butte of Blanchard Mountain, overlooking Samish Bay. I look happy and content, don't I? Wearing my little ear cozies and gloves, I was quite warm without need for my new expensive raincoat. This week, however, I'm getting plenty of use for it, as the weather has turned blustery and very wet.

Although I was glad to go on the hike last Thursday, the date kept bothering me, since it would have been my son Chris' fiftieth birthday, if he had lived. I wasn't really as carefree as the picture makes out. It's been almost ten years now since Chris died in August 2002, and I find that anniversaries, especially big round anniversaries like fifty years, won't stop bothering me without some introspection. I sure know where I was fifty years ago. I wasn't hiking and skydiving and being surrounded by the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. I was in Puerto Rico with my first husband awaiting the birth of my first child. I wrote about that time in detail here, at the beginning of this blog when I needed to examine carefully all the pieces of my life. Today I'm trying to dispel the melancholy of the past week.

I just re-read what I wrote in that link and find that it brought it all right back into the present. I was so young and inexperienced, not even nineteen when he was born. I remember being terrified about having to experience childbirth and knowing so little about the process. There were no internet search engines, no computers to connect me to the wider world, only whispers and conjectures from one female friend to another. I lived in a ramshackle house off base surrounded by Spanish-speaking neighbors, so my only source of information was from other Air Force wives in the same situation.

The wild ride in a fellow soldier's car in the middle of the night to the Air Force Base Hospital is a dim memory, but what I remember the most was the doctors and nurses putting me onto a table and strapping my arms and legs down so I couldn't move! The first thing they did was shave my pubic area and then put an ether cone over my face. I remember trying to stop them but it was no use. The next thing I knew I had delivered my baby and he was somewhere else away from me. In those days, especially in military hospitals, the mother was considered to be a nuisance and the doctors and nurses routinely knocked out the mother so they could do the important work. Today it seems almost brutal, and the wonderful experience I had in a regular hospital with my second son makes me realize it actually wasn't done everywhere.

After I was released from the hospital and back in our home, there is a moment frozen in time when Derald and I had our arms around each other as we gazed into the crib at this miracle of life. He was lying on his stomach (which is now rare with a newborn baby) and he looked so incredibly perfect and so tiny. (He actually weighed 7 pounds 7 ounces, a healthy size, but what did I know?)

That child grew to be a big man who loved and was loved throughout his life. He was married when he died, to Silvia, a German woman he met while serving in the Army, which had become his life. The terribly painful time when I went to Bamberg Air Force Base to attend his memorial service, when I saw my son for the last time, in a coffin wearing his dress uniform... it is still painful to this day to recall that memory. But I learned how loved he was in his life, how much his fellow soldiers loved him, how much Silvia loved him, and I know he died surrounded by the same love that started his life.

And he is still loved today. Silvia still misses him, I still miss him and wonder what life would have been like for me if he had lived. All the different decisions I would have made if I had had a grandchild, if Chris was somewhere still in the world raising a family. It is a shock to realize that any child he might have had would be grown and I could be a great-grandmother without any stretch of the imagination.

No more than a hundred years ago, living to be forty years old was considered to be a complete, full life. Chris had begun to turn gray and was distressed by the fact that he was beginning to lose his hair. He struggled to keep his weight under control because he loved to eat. The Army required him to keep it down, or he would have been quite a bit heavier, I suspect.

Fifty! I remember when I turned fifty and now my son would have passed that milestone. And then on Friday of this week, the world marked Veterans' Day, or Remembrance Day, and I thought of my son and all the other members of my family who have served their country. I have nieces and nephews who are still in active service.

It all started with my parents, who met when Daddy was a young handsome soldier who saw a beautiful brown-eyed girl across the room at a party. As he made his way over to ask her to dance, the future expanded and the possibility of my existence was born. I am grateful.


Whitney Lee said...

Why am I not surprised that you ended this post with gratitude? Your strength of spirit is always amazing. I cannot imagine that melancholy really covers the gamut of emotions that you must have been experiencing this past week.

I am certain that you would have been a fabulous grandmother. If you'd like to test the theory for awhile I'll be happy to ship you two children:o)

Dee Ready said...

Dear DJan, normally I have lots of words to say in response to someone's comment. Today, hardly any. I read your posting about your getting pregnant and married and the poverty of your first husband's home. Then I completed your latest posting and I'm heart-sad for the sorrow you have endured.

And yet, I know one thing for sure--from living my own somewhat staid life. That out of everything comes good. And Chris was such a goodness in your life. Even the memory of his memorial service has given you the goodness of knowing how loved he was. And yet, great goodness or none, we weep because life just is hard and it just isn't fair.

Teresa Evangeline said...

Whenever I read of your loss, I'm brought to tears. Such a hard thing to endure and you seemed to have moved through this most difficult of human experiences with such strength and love of life. Your last paragraph about your father crossing that dance floor... beautifully written.

Rubye Jack said...

The ebb and flow. It has got to be the most difficult thing in the world to have your child pass away, and you talk about it with such strength in spite of the pain you have. I admire you greatly DJan.
To be grateful for life in spite of our pain is what it's all about I think.

Anonymous said...

What a touching story, DJan! It brought tears to my eyes. The thoughts of what might have been... I can't begin to imagine your sorrow.

CrazyCris said...

DJan, I admire you so much for how you have managed to come through a life with such a terrible loss as your two sons, for how you manage to find the joy in things afterwards, how you don't seem to let it drag you down. You are truly an inspiration! hugs!

Rita said...

I think we moms always remember falling in love with our babies...no matter how old they get. And we were young and often unprepared...hindsight and all that. You did your best and should forgive yourself. You will always miss him. He will always be your baby boy.

You really did live through some strange times with his family, but Chris turned out to be a good man, a loved man. Sounds like he had a good life while he was here.

Isn't it a surreal feeling when you get older to be able to look back for decades and wonder about the randomness of it all...like your folks meeting and falling in love. Thank goodness! Or we wouldn't have you, and you wouldn't have had Chris. :) Meant to be. Somehow it all fell into place over time and helped to form you into the wonderful, strong, complex woman you are today. You're a survivor with a smile and a new hiking jacket. ;)

Grandmother Mary said...

Great photo (although, what are ear cozies?). From the present to the past since milestone birthdays are so remarkable. Bless you for having Chris and loosing him, bless him for living and loving and serving his country. The biblical quote that speaks to me: "I love you, I have carved you on the palm of my hand." Isn't it that way with our babies?

Red said...

You express strongly great sadness and great happiness.
Well done on this post. You cover a difficult time.
My sister who died in 1953 would have been 70 on Jan 1. Again the same questions must have gone through my parents minds when they thought about her.
Remembrance is a complicated process and as I said to you the other day we all have our own ways of remembering.

Friko said...

I am so sorry for your loss, I suppose the loss of a child remains fresh for the parent no matter how many years pass.

At the same time I am glad that your life still has meaning, that you haven't let the terrible events and grief destroy your own life. That would be worse.

All life is a gift and all life makes some kind of mark on this world of ours, no matter how short.

Remain the wonderfully brave woman you are. My best wishes are with you.

Gigi said...

Chris shares a birthday with my husband and now I will always think of your son on that day - and continue to be amazed by his mother. You are a strong and wise woman - and it sounds like the world was lucky to have Chris for the short time he was here.

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

Oh DJan, this is very sweet and very sad. I am struck by your description of Chris's birth in a military hospital, with you strapped down and knocked out. I'm glad you remember that moment of gazing at your newborn and feeling your love for him. And I'm moved by your closing, cycling back to your parents and being grateful that they gave you life. As I just said on your other blog, you are an inspiration.

Sally Wessely said...

Dear DJan, I have no words. My heart is both blessed and broken by the story of Chris. It is blessed because you had a son you loved so much. It is broken because you have suffered so much from both the circumstances of his birth and his death at such a young age.

You have had more than your share of things to resolve in this lifetime. Your vulnerability is all the more beautiful because of your great fortitude. You model strength to those of us who have lost. You show us the way to keep on living our lives. You have not given in to loss. You are not stuck in grief. That is important for me to see.

I send you my love, my sympathy, my admiration, and my respect.

Trish said...

Your spirit is rare, DJan. I'm so glad and grateful I found your blog.

Carol C said...

What a wonderful way to end your sad story! I am impressed at your ability to put a positive spin on such a tragedy. It must, as Whitney Lee and other commentors have mentioned, be a sign of your strength of character. Thank you for sharing this day with us.

Linda Myers said...

Such sadness. But still, gratitude.

Thinking of you.

Arkansas Patti said...

You have managed to carry us along on your roller coaster of emotions. The fear, the joy, the loss and the rememberance. Wonderfully written.

Far Side of Fifty said...

Another milestone passed..and all the remembering that goes with it. You wrote a beautiful post..straight from the heart of a loving Mother. I am sending you a hug...you would have been an awesome grandma:)

JDS said...

Wow, what deep and heartfelt post. It was moving to read. I can not even conceive of what it would be like to bury either of my children.

Linda Reeder said...

As I read your daily blog it is easy for me to forget what I have learned of your life struggles from this blog. You have suffered and survived much. It is a tribute to your lost loved ones that you live each day so fully, so full of life.

Beth said...

What a very moving post. It was if I was seeing it all happen before my eyes. Losing a family member is tragic (I have been there many times) but the thought of losing one of my children is beyond heartbreaking.

Hugs for you.


Stella Jones said...

I can't imagine being without any of my three sons D-Jan. It must be very hard for you at times and I feel for you. This week will pass as all things pass. Just stick with it. You have so many friends to help you through the difficult times and you are so brave.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

There is not anything profound I an able to add but I hear you.