When I look at everything that goes into the holiday season and where we are emotionally, even trying to choose the right holiday message on the box of holiday cards seems overwhelming. So, we just skipped that. Then, I thought about sending a Christmas letter, but the idea of addressing all the envelopes, getting stamps, signing them over and over again, “Love, Dan, Cassie, and Gavin…” Yeah, I’m not writing THAT missing sentence multiple times, either. So, I skipped mailing in general. I don’t think there is a person that reads this blog that doesn’t know what’s been happening in Grainger Land this year. But to be honest, a lot more happened than just losing Noah. So, if I WERE to gather the strength to write a holiday letter, to address those hundred envelopes, and make my way to the post office, this is what the letter might say:
Family and Friends,
Well, this was an unexpected year for us. Looking back on 2015, it is of course bittersweet. You all know about the bitter. But maybe you don’t know all of the sweet. 2015 will go down as both the best and the worst for us. Here’s why.
The hubby came home and we moved across the country! Last November, we were setting up house in Roseville after a sprint across the country with two dogs, two kids, and two cars from North Carolina. After the hubby returned from an 8-month deployment overseas, our most stressful to date, we raced the moving truck across the states so they wouldn’t put our stuff in storage! Every military family knows that a door to door delivery means a better chance of your belongings surviving the move. All in all the move itself went smoothly.
Hubby started his new job. People used to tell us that the hubby’s new job is one of the hardest billets in the Marine Corps for his rank, which at the time, I found quite laughable. Because, really, what could be harder than the deployment we had just been through? Well, they were partially right. I’d like to think that my husband can handle just about anything–I mean, he wears a Superman suit to work every day. But this job takes “demanding” to another level. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and his Marines. These guys work their asses off to ensure only the best young men and women have to chance to become part of such an elite class of warfighters. I’m very proud of how far he has come in just over a year on the job, despite the tremendous challenges he has faced both personally and professionally.
Hubby won the Heisman. Okay, he didn’t *really* win the Heisman, but it’s the Marine Corps Officer equivalent of the Heisman. Back in the spring, the hubby was honored among his peers for his superior leadership, which is okay for me to talk about because he says he never reads my blog. If he did, he would promptly ask me to take this part out, so don’t tattle on me that I’m bragging about his awesomeness. Just let me have my proud wife moment. We were flown back to DC for the awards ceremony where they presented the hubby with his enormous trophy, which now lives at his office. Some day we will need to find “Lefty” a place to live at our house, but for now, he stands guard in Sacramento.
The kids started school and settled in fast. A military kid can only describe one of my biggest motherly fear for the boys after a move. Gavin once told me that if the new guy can’t immediately find a familiar face at lunch, they sit at the “adoption table” in the cafeteria. Within a day or two, the new guy is adopted by a group of kids, sometimes it’s a good group and sometimes not, and that’s how you make friends. The other option was to join a team or a club, sometimes with the same adoption table results. I’ve heard some horrible adoption table stories from military kids over the years. Kids can be cruel and closed to new people that might disrupt the flow. I was always thankful that at the very least, Gavin and Noah had each other and that they could sit at the proverbial adoption table together.
This new school was not like any the boys had experienced before. Gavin immediately settled into wrestling and Noah’s new band family welcomed him with open arms, even though I would find out later they were intimidated by Noah’s mad drumming skills. The kids at the school were amazing. Each week, I would quiz them about bullying or making friends. Each week they would open up a little more about how much they loved it there. They were never picked on. They were never made to feel like they didn’t belong. They were welcomed. They were home. They successfully made it through the first semester of the new school marvelously. Relief flowed through my heart, daily.
I got a chance to be the mom I wanted to be. Late 2014, I left my full-time job to spend more time with my kids. Looking back, I know it was God preparing me for this year. Words can’t describe the peace I feel when I think about the profound impact my decision to put my kids first had on us. It was like pulling a release valve. All the relationships in our family improved, but most of all, my relationship with the Noah. For most of Noah’s life he and I were like oil and water. 2014 was our hardest year. He was very 16. I had a choke hold on his adolescence. Dad wasn’t home. I was working too much. But we were able to overcome it. Noah and I were never closer than we were the last six months of his life. God was opening my heart to see my son for the amazing kid everyone else already knew he was, and preparing me to be strong enough to say goodbye.
Noah found his way. One day back in the spring, he and I were driving home. He was chatting about his day, his new friends, the band, etc. It was like someone had turned on his happy light. I asked him, “Do you like it here?” He said unequivocally, “I love it here. It’s like all the stress I had in North Carolina has just melted away.” Junior year was big for Noah. He was finally connecting all the life dots. The hubby explained it well in his eulogy. He had drive, direction, but most of all, he was happy. As a mother, that’s all I could ever ask for. That, and for him to be here. But even mothers don’t get everything they want.
We are surviving the unthinkable. I’d be lying if I said we were fine all the time. We aren’t. Six months ago on Monday, we lost 1/4 of our family in a very traumatic way. Losing Noah is unthinkable and at least once a day I ask myself things like,
- How the hell did we get here?
- How am I going to spend the rest of my life without my son?
- What do I do now?
- Is this really my life?
It is our life. It is real. Hubby goes to work every day and fakes it until he makes it. Gavin still puts one foot in front of the other every day. I still try to find something every day that isn’t negative. To have to endure this tragedy, and yes, it’s a tragedy, isn’t fair. But we are surviving. Together. There isn’t anything on this earth that we wouldn’t give to turn back time. Nothing. But that’s not how life works. We move forward, even when it’s hard.
This Christmas, I wanted to send a heartfelt thank you to all of you for your encouragement and support in 2015, not just as it relates to our loss, but just by being in our lives. Without you, we might not be in the same place. As you head into your celebrations with your family, open your hearts to each other. Hear each other. Enjoy each other. And know that the Graingers are wishing you the very best this holiday season, even if we can’t quite say it out loud.