9 years

9 years.
Everything has changed. Well, almost everything.
9 years ago, I was driving home and got the call that you hadn’t shown up for work. I had no idea where you were.
That hasn’t changed. 9 years later, and I still have no idea.

But yet, I was driving home to a home we no longer live in.

Your nephew had just celebrated turning 4, and now we marked 13 two days ago. He has lived this story, so he remembers stories, remembers searches, and knows your face well.
He won’t say so, and I don’t ask, but I doubt he remembers you, other than what he’s been told.
He was so sweet, asking people to “help me find my uncle austin” without really understanding what was happening.
Now he’s a kid that reminds me much of you (and me). He’s a smart ass, and speaks sarcasm fluently. He laughs at me, like we laughed at our mom.
The morning of an awareness event we did for you about 6 weeks after you went missing, I walked him across the busy street, his hand in mine, to register him for t-ball. We’d looked forward to that day for so long, and I didn’t want to skip it. We signed up, walked back across, and continued our quest to raise funds and awareness for an upcoming search.
The plan was to find you quickly, and get on with letting that cute kid learn to play ball.

9 years later and he’s a pretty darn good ball player, driven to be great. He is now a big brother, to the sweetest boy in the world (who is also a bit wild) who is already older than when you last knew Drew.
Then there is the precious toddler who brings new life to our home, who has her own difficult story that I’ll tell when you meet her. Well, I don’t think you’ll meet her, but maybe you already know… or if not, this isn’t the place.

But you see, everything has changed.

Michael has long ago given up his football playing cleats for coaching cleats, and stopped chasing his own trophies and instead now builds them. His health hasn’t been good.
Our mom and dad… well, they have their own stories to tell, I suppose they aren’t mine to share. They love us, love my kids, but your void can’t be filled.

9 years later and it’s still surreal. I still avoid discussing it much. What can I say?

9 years later and it’s still the same, because we still don’t know where you are. We still miss you. But yet it’s all so different, because time cannot stand still. It just doesn’t work that way.

9 years….

(note: this is a bit disjointed and not very poetic, and yet it fits because that’s how it is.)

 

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8 Years

If you turn the number 8 sideways, it looks a lot like the infinity sign.

If you’ve lived without knowing where your brother is for 8 years, it feels a lot like you’re turned all sideways and have been for infinity. But that sideways becomes your norm and you function quite well walking around sideways.

But after 8 years, I can still hear his laugh with no trouble. And in those moments it seems like maybe I’ve made all this up and he’s here, that at most I just saw him yesterday.

That’s what it’s like. Forever and yesterday, and turned sideways and sometimes feeling right side up, tears and laughter.

There is no new news, no new search or anything to mark the day. Sometimes that’s the way it is after 8 years. You get up, go to work, love your kids, go see a movie with friends, and carry on. I’m okay with that today. I couldn’t forget if I wanted to, but today I choose to focus on the laugh. My oldest ‘baby’ comes home from camp today and I’ve missed him and will hug him lots! One of our best friends is leaving in another week and we’ll hang out with his family and laugh. Each year is a bit different, and we each handle it differently. And there are other sorrows I could easily focus on right now, but not today.

Job 8:21

He will once again fill your mouths with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy.

a&alittle

Showing Up

A few weeks ago marked the annual “worst week” for us, which is the week 7 year ago that started with such joy, and ended with such heartbreak.

7 years ago, a little boy was turning 4 and celebrating with people who loved him, with cake and swimming and toys. The world was perfect that afternoon. One of his favorite gifts was a big green dinosaur that moved and roared, from his Uncle Austin. He was excited most of all to be going on a trip away from mom and dad for the first time, heading to the beach with his beloved Nina.

The trip was cut short, the beach had to wait, as he and his Nina rushed back to help find Austin.

This year, that little boy turned 11 and he celebrated with people who loved him, with cake and swimming and electronics, and a carbon copy 4 year old brother. The world was almost perfect for an afternoon. He slid down roller coaster type water slides, posted photos on his new Instagram account from  his new phone, and stuffed his face with pizza. He was excited about his baseball trip the next weekend, ready to hit the clay.

But before that trip, he helped welcome his Nina back, as she came to help find Austin.

So much the same.

7 years ago, friends and family rallied beside us, determined to help find him. Now, in all honesty, most of those who knew Austin don’t show up anymore. But more people than we ever could have asked for, that never knew Austin, do show up. They showed up in large groups, from all over the Southeast (and a few even further).

And the same story was told over and over. They showed up, because my mom shows up. She showed up and sat with them on the side of the interstate while their son was pulled from the water. She showed up and wouldn’t go home when planned, because they needed her. She showed up and handed out tough love, pushing searchers hard. She showed up and was cut and bruised and swelling and kept going.

There is so much to be said for showing up.

This group stood together, on the side of a busy road and hugged and cried and loved. They showed up. For my mom and for Austin. For Rosemary and her family. For Mark and Bryan and their families. For Josh and his family. For John and his family. For the others represented there that night.

vigil

And then they searched.

For 2 days, in 100 heat index weather, in long pants and long sleeves and boots, with short breaks for water and snacks.

Including my mom.

jester_mom

And we reached the end of this part of the journey. Austin wasn’t brought home. And that creates more questions than answers. It felt like our story of the search for Austin was coming to an end. But instead, it was the end of what we know to do for now.

I don’t know what’s next. Before I even thought about it, we needed to go enjoy some family time and be reminded of all the joy there still is. We cheered on Drew in baseball. We swam in freezing springs. We listened to bullfrogs and crickets and horses. We reconnected with friends and twirled sparklers on a beach in the dark.

We celebrated summer like we didn’t get to 7 years ago.

We won’t ever stop searching. We won’t ever stop yearning for answers. We won’t ever stop aching with miss.

But we’ll keep showing up. For me, that mostly means showing up for my kids. Because they deserve summers full of all the things my brother and I enjoyed.

And I’ll keep hearing his laugh, knowing that we haven’t lost all of him.

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What’s keeping you from showing up in areas you maybe should? For hurting friends, for fast growing kids, for yourself.

Showing up can look like many different things. It can look like a hug, a text, a card. It can look like a freshly mowed yard, a plate of cookies or an afternoon entirely dedicated to them.

Something is coming to mind- somewhere you need to show up.

Show up. Celebrate. Laugh. You won’t get today back.

 

 

 

How to Survive Your Heart Exploding

True to my last post, we’ve been trying to do more NOTHING. And for the record, we still fail most of the time and still stay crazy busy. But I’m finding more moments to rest, and am taking those moments to just enjoy and focus on our family, and to also think through what my real goals and dreams are- and which of those can be worked towards now, and which of those God may be saying “wait” on. That’s why I’ve been here less.

Sunday we did nothing. Both boys have been coughing like crazy, I’d had a pretty awful week, and Michael was feeling some effects from lots of new medicine. So we did nothing. And as the day wound down, I purposefully took a few more minutes with the boys, first laying in bed with Ben and then going to Drew’s room. He’s old enough that he rarely asks me to lay with him now, so I jumped at the chance when he asked me.

The conversation that ensued both broke my heart and reinforced my plans to spend more days like this.

As I laid by him and held him, I simply asked him how things were going with him. I usually just get one or two words to any question, and have to pry. But tonight I quickly got more.

We made a deal earlier in the day that exchanged some gift cards of his for an iPod (he hasn’t had one for quite a while after sending it through the wash, and I wanted to teach him the value by offering him one, but at a price) and he was upset about it. But not about not being able to spend the money. He didn’t want to lose something that someone he loved had given him. He was worried that if they went missing one day like his Uncle Austin did, that he would wish he’d saved everything they’d ever given him.

I couldn’t breathe for a moment. I thought my heart would explode.

Drew was just two days past his 4th birthday when Austin disappeared. A month younger than Ben is now. He remembers so little of him, but that seems to make it worse in ways, because he wishes he knew him more. He wishes he had more of him saved away.

Losing my brother is hard. But it’s nothing like the pain of watching my son lose him and not be able to give him answers.

I wish there was more than, “we just don’t know.” He deserves more. We all deserve more.

But while I couldn’t offer answers, I did remind him of a box in his closet. One that he never looks at, but I stash things away in. Cards from family, special things from school, and beside the box sits a big green dinosaur. That was the last gift Austin gave him, for his 4th birthday. And we’ll add these gift cards to the box. Not so much as a reminder of who gave him the cards, but of the night I was reminded how deeply he feels and loves, and how important it is to help save memories.

I can’t take it all away, but I can teach him that we never lose our memories or our love. And we don’t need stuff to keep that alive.

But I still won’t be throwing those gift cards away.

giftcards

 

 

 

Aunt Cathy’s Dressing

After 12 years of marriage, something is happening for the first time that makes me sweat.  I’m hosting a meal for part of my husband’s family.  His sister and her family are coming to visit, and we’re really looking forward to it.  We don’t get much time with his family- with them several states away and the great difficulty we have with traveling, it’s very rare.  So spending time with them at all is special, but getting to share our home with them makes it even more so.  And did I mention it’s for Thanksgiving?  So feeling auntcathy_dressingsome pressure.

My first stop for help was my Aunt Cathy.  She’s a great cook, but in particular does the.best.dressing. every year- I asked her to send the recipe, and instead of emailing or sending a message, she took the time to hand write it and stick it in the mail, along with a recipe for gravy.  It’s in her handwriting, and something I’ll pull out and use year after year for as long as I cook.  It’s more than a recipe, more than instructions- it’s our family history.

About ten years ago, before I even realized how much our family history meant, or knew that I’d soon be missing loved ones every holiday, my Aunts and Mom knew.  We spent hours writing in recipe books, sharing our favorites with each other in our own handwriting.  I didn’t cook a lot- and still don’t honestly.  But now I pull that book out and find extended family favorites that have become our favorites too, and feel the connection.

I see my grandmother’s handwriting- sharing her potato soup, vanilla nut cookies, and surprise lemon cake.  Recipes she used with her family of 6, that she then passed on.

She’s gone now.  But the written words and legacy are an ongoing gift.

I see my mom’s recipes for things that Austin and I grew up with as favorites, and remember.  And I make them for our family now.

I’ve tucked my Aunt’s recgrandma_cakeipes into that book, and have decided to start building it again.  This year, my brother-in-law will be preparing some of their favorite things too.  And I’ll add those into our book.

I’m realizing that our traditions can continue to grow, and despite missing people at our table this year, we can celebrate those gathering at our table for the first time.

I’m thankful that there are plenty of empty pages left in the book to be filled in.  I’ll always look back to the special recipes written in my grandmother, aunts and mom’s handwriting.

But I’ll keep building new memories too, that can become my kids family history.

What are the traditions that you’ll honor this year?  What will you do new?  I can’t wait to hear!

Come Home

Do you see the same stars and sky tonight?
Are you warm and dry with a friend to make you laugh?
Do you hear melodies that calm your soul?
Are you held tight by one who knows your heart?
Do you long to come home?

Or

Maybe the stars are watched with their maker.
Maybe the joy never ends.
Maybe the songs are true and sweet and full of praise.
Maybe the very one who made your heart holds you tonight.

Maybe you are home.

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These were the words of my heart a few days ago as I was reminded that despite us missing Austin, God knows where he is, and some days that has to be enough.

It’s the very reason that I can be hopeful.

The hope doesn’t come in believing we’ll find him alive, but in believing that God has this. God has him.

Are you in a place today where you wonder if God is there, if he sees you or hears you? I’m there sometimes, wondering if despite His love for me, my hopes and dreams don’t matter as much as others.

But he says this-

Come Home. Rest in me.

No matter where we are, Home is waiting.

 

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Looking skyward from our Home

I’m Back

I’ve been absent here for a bit.  Some of you know that when there’s been a bit between posts it’s usually because I’m struggling with how to turn junk going on in our lives into something positive or sharable here.  It’s a bit different this time, with a conscious decision to give myself time to get through some stressful stuff and come back later.  It felt good.  But I also missed writing.  So here’s what you missed. 

 

The CUE Center for Missing Persons does an annual event called ‘Road to Remember’ that helps raise awareness of missing person cases, most of whom haven’t had as much attention as they need.  Monica Caison and her crew travel for about 10 days, on a loop that starts and finishes in North Carolina, but covers several states with multiple tour stops each day. 

 

Though the tour was coming through Florida this year, we decided not to host a stop.  In truth, we don’t need more awareness for Austin, we need more searches. 
And though we want to help with awareness of missing persons in general, and specifically of the families in Jacksonville we know with a missing loved one, this year the amount of work it would take during a very busy time wasn’t a good tradeoff. 

 

But then Austin was named as the tour’s honoree, right about the same time that my mom confirmed her job offer that would mean moving away and likely starting her first week the same week of the tour.  When the date/time of our tour stop was given to us, it also fell two days before I left out of town for a week, a day when I was being requested to travel to another city, and on a weekday afternoon when we wouldn’t have the help and support of the people we could normally count on. 

Super.  {eye roll}

But I managed to stay in town that day and made it work.  My mom managed to put off her start date a week. My fabulous aunt came in to town to help us too.  It happened.

 

For the record, I hate these events.  I like thinking, I don’t like feeling.  I like taking action, not looking back to remember.

 

Though very few people attended, we did meet our one goal.  We actually exceeded it.  We hoped to get just one news story about our missing shown, and we had one story air three times, showing the names and faces of many of our missing in the area.  We also had another story shown multiple times, again with many of their names and faces shown.

 

So, I guess after all there was progress and there was action.  It was a good day.

I spent the next 10 days immersed in a busy work week of travel and catching back up with my boys.

 

But I’m back after the craziness, and happy to be sharing with you again.

Hope you’ll stick around.

rally

Charlie & The Least of These

Earlier I was reading a blog post that was really powerful, but I had such a strong response to that I had to stop and wonder why.  You’ll have to go read it to fully understand, but in essence, Josh Collins reached out to truly see someone that most of us would overlook, a guy named Charlie.

I’ve never been that guy- the one who has so little, is unseen in society, or could disappear with no one noticing.  So why did I connect?  Because, if Austin is alive, he is no doubt one of “the least of these.”  And I realize that Charlie is loved by someone and maybe even missed by someone.

He may be someone’s Austin.

My brother didn’t disappear because he wanted a different life or because he was on the run from criminal activity or afraid for his life.  He didn’t take money and isn’t living the dream on an island in the Caribbean.  Austin disappeared because he was ill, because depression had taken over, and because he’d stopped seeing that it could change.  We believe that.  The only missing piece is what happened after those last moments we know about.  Did he become a Charlie?  Or are we right in focusing our search on a search for remains?  It’s unlikely, very unlikely, that he’s alive today.  But if he is, he’s almost certainly living a life like Charlie.

And maybe someone like Josh Collins is showing him some compassion and seeing him just for a few moments as God does.

Josh wrote that he thought about Charlie’s family, and about where Charlie had been and was going.  I pray that if Austin is out there somewhere today, that he encounters someone like Josh.  Someone who can see him worthy of being acknowledged and spoken to, and even helped.

Sometimes it’s harder to picture Austin out there facing a hard life alone than it is to picture him in the arms of God.  Sometimes for me, hope looks like the opposite of what people expect because of that and I shut out the possibility.

But I thank God that there are people willing to stop and see the Charlie’s of our world.  Not just because that’s what God wants from us, but because in someone else’s story, Charlie may just be named Austin.

 

** Josh, you impacted more than just Charlie.  Thank you.

 

Austin in happier days

Austin in happier days

Losing Cherish- And a Guide to Teaching Our Kids to be Safe

I had the chance to share this very important post on another site today (though it was written weeks ago)- it’s one I feel so strongly about, and hope that you’ll read and share.  It’s originally posted on Time’s Up Blog and I invite you to visit there to read more.  Though more than a month has past since this tragedy, we can’t forget.

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Losing Cherish- And a Guide to Teaching Our Kids to be Safe

 

by Anita Davis Sullivan

Saturday, June 22nd, I think you could hear our corner of Florida wail. It wasn’t the first time that something tragic has happened, but it was fresh and raw. Many of awoke that Saturday morning to reports of the abduction of 8 year old Cherish Perrywinkle the previous night. Shortly after, we learned that Donald Smith, the prime suspect, had been arrested during a traffic stop, with no sign of Cherish. And a very short time later, we learned that the body of 8 year old Cherish had been found, near the Walmart she was abducted from.

Within moments, there were questions. Why had the mother allowed the child to go with a man they had known for just a few hours? Why had the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office not alerted the public sooner that there was a child abduction? Why did the FDLE not notify the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which would have prompted the phone alerts for the Amber Alert?  Why had Donald Smith seemingly fallen through the cracks and not been treated as a Sexually Violent Predator as recommended by the Department of Children and Families 11 years ago?

I don’t know. No one has the answers yet.

And though I pray they come, and that other children may be saved by what our community learns through this tragic event, my focus quickly turned to how we can help those here now. I heard from parents who sat and talked with their children about ‘Stranger Danger’ or watched them ever closer this weekend. I heard from one mother who had the heartbreaking job of telling her 8 year old daughter that her good friend Cherish was forever gone.

And though we must teach our children, I fear that we teach them the wrong things too often. The real danger is not in strangers- even Cherish was taken and killed by someone who gained her mother’s trust, albeit in a few short hours. But it’s estimated that less than 5% of attacks on children are by a stranger.

We must focus on teaching our children what is appropriate behavior, and how to trust their instincts.

June 26, 2013 marked the six year anniversary of the day that my brother, Michael “Austin” Davis went missing from Jacksonville, Florida. He was an adult, and most likely wasn’t abducted. But from this experience sometimes comes a need to protect my children even more. To make sure that our family doesn’t lose another. So I do teach them, not to be afraid, but to:

  • Know what kind of touching is appropriate and inappropriate, and that it’s okay to say “No!” and get away from anything that makes them uncomfortable.
  • Know who we consider safe grownups are. These are the people in our circle that they should be able to trust. But always reminding them, that it’s okay to say “No!” to even these people if they’re uncomfortable.
  • Know that they never have to protect us. If someone threatens us if they don’t do what the person says, they don’t have to do it.
  • Get permission to go anywhere, and stay in groups.
  • Never help an adult without our permission. It can be a trick.

In six years of missing my brother, we’ve also had to deal with the question of how much to tell our oldest, who celebrated his 4th birthday just two days before his Uncle Austin went missing. No matter if it’s a lost family member or a lost friend, children grieve and need help doing so.

Here are my tips on helping your child through a time of loss:

  • Let them see your emotions.
  • It’s okay for them to know you’re sad, as it let’s them know it’s okay for them to be sad too.
  • Encourage them to share memories of their loved one.
  • Create a scrapbook or box of memories that they can look through and remember their loved one. Allow them to participate in adding to it. For example, my son has a great memory of my brother taking him fishing. I’d forgotten about it, but he hasn’t.
  • Communicate with caregivers.
  • Let teachers or caregivers know that your child may experience out of the norm behaviors as they cope with this. Let your child know they can talk to these adults in their lives about what they’re feeling.
  • Share stories with your kids.
  • Tell stories about the lost loved one as your kids grow, reminding them how much the person loved them, or would have loved seeing them grow. Keep them alive in the heart of the family, giving your kids a feeling of roots and love. My sons have limited family in their lives, but I always want them to know the love of family.
  • Be honest on a level they can understand.
  • When my brother was first missing, we didn’t know what to tell our son. We didn’t want to lie, but we don’t really know the truth. We don’t know where he is. We’ve come to realize that it’s okay to say “we don’t know but we won’t give up until we do” and keep the brutal details from him (like that we believe he killed himself). As he’s gotten older, we’ve added more details but always the truth as he could understand and cope with it.

There are no simple answers on how to keep your kids safe, or how to help them through a loss like this. Just as there are no easy answers on why this tragedy happened.

But on this anniversary of my brother’s disappearance, I do know that I can help educate parents, who truly just want to keep their kids safe.

Rest in peace Cherish. You will not be forgotten.

Leaving a Legacy

What would you do, if during your child’s last hour on earth, they asked you to make a promise to carry on their work?

Six years ago today marks the last time I ever saw my brother.  My husband, Austin, and I went to see a movie and laughed together.  I had no idea it would be the last, that the very next day he would be missing.  I think he did though.  I think he had a plan for the next day that we still don’t know all the details of, but meant that we would never see him again.  I think that night out might have been a gift, something he gave me without me knowing at the time what it meant.  Or maybe that night changed his plan, not wanting to bring pain into our home.  Or maybe there was no plan that night, maybe there was only laughter and the illness of depression took it’s final stronghold that next morning.  We may never know.  We have lots of maybes, and very few knowns.

I struggle with those questions, and with what he would want us to be doing six years later.  I don’t think he could have seen, in the darkness of depression, that what he did would still be so heavy on us.  His heart was too good and loving to want this for us.  But I do believe if he could see now, he’d be proud of what we’re trying to do.

Last week I had the great honor of hearing a man speak, a man who almost 18 years ago made a promise to his dying daughter.  She asked him to carry on her work.  Her name was Jenny Eller, and she’d battled Leukemia for almost four years.  During that time, she was a fierce advocate for donating blood, as she had herself needed hundreds of units during her treatment.  Her father, Dean Eller, started fulfilling that promise just a few days after her death when he spoke to a group about the need for donating blood, a group she was scheduled to speak to.  He went on to become a tireless advocate, and eventually to lead the Central California Blood Center where he helps ensure that there is always blood for any patient who needs it.  I’ve been in the beautiful building that he had a vision for, named for his daughter, and seen donors in the chairs fulfilling that promise.

He is fulfilling a promise.  He is leaving a legacy.

Since hearing Dean speak, I’ve been thinking more about my message and my legacy.  Not just for Austin, but for my own sons.  When I’m gone one day, what will I have left or impacted.  What do I want my message to truly be?

I want to help others find their purpose and leave their legacy.

Dean helps ensure that there is blood for everyone who needs it.  (And we should be a part of that by donating at our local blood center!)  My mom Christy works in Search and Rescue, helping families like ours, and is leaving a legacy of service.

What is your passion?  Where can you have an impact?  Never think that your story, your voice, or your life is too small.  Never think that what you do doesn’t matter.  It matters.  You may not have a platform like Dean, or the skills of my mom.  But what you have can have an impact of your family and the community around you.  And when you teach your children to be involved, to care, to donate, you are leaving a legacy.

This year, I have a new purpose, to grow out of my comfort zone and go where God is calling me.  This year I plan to speak to groups, churches, and my own community, about finding your purpose.

I can’t wait to see where that takes me.  It can’t take me back six years to another day with my brother.  But maybe it can help others facing that same darkness of loss.

 

The godly walk with integrity; blessed are their children who follow them.
~ Proverbs 20:7, NLT