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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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!

Not in the Happy Ending

I read something somewhere this week about the story of someone’s life not being in the happy ending, and it resonated with me strongly.  I try not to focus on the happy ending.  I really do.  But I always feel the need to have something I’m working towards, something to gauge my progress, or a milestone or event that should bring me ever closer to things being ‘easier’- whatever that means.

I once continued to date a guy way past when it was clear that he was not the one for me, simply because I thought I’d invested way too much into the relationship to not believe there would be a happy ending.  I’ve spent a few years at a job (several times) really enjoying it, but always thinking of how it would help me toward long term goals.  I’ve maintained a positive attitude about the search for Austin, because I knew there will come and end one day.

Newsflash Anita!  There may not be a happy ending for every situation.  Or the happy ending may not be what I hoped for or expected.  And even when there is, that isn’t where the story is.  They story is in the daily details, the ups and down, the good and bad, the joy and the pain.  And when we focus our own lives on the happy ending we expect, we miss out on our real story happening. Or at least I do.

Chill as he waits for surgery

This week, like most, we’re going through the not so fun trials of normal life for us.  Last weekend, Michael was sick and home in bed for much of it.  Tuesday, Drew had minor surgery and spent most of the week recuperating.  Austin’s birthday was Wednesday.  Today, Drew is doing another not so fun medically necessary activity.  I could have so easily been stressed out this week, because between all of that and working and hosting a party this weekend and preparing for travel next week, it’s just a lot.  But I kept taking deep breaths and remembering these things.

Michael was able to enjoy some of the weekend and is doing well now.  Drew’s surgery means that he should have relief from the constant sinus problems, asthma and headaches.  Austin’s birthday is a day we can celebrate his life.  Drew’s day today will go a long way towards solving some other issues he has going on.  A party to plan means we have friends to love.  My busy work schedule means I have a good job to provide for us.  These are good things!  Sometimes it takes looking at the flip side, to see the good through the junk.

There is one thing going on that I just can’t see the good side of this week.  32 years ago Wednesday, God gave me a brother.  28 years ago, God gave me more brothers, though not by blood or marriage.  One of them is in the hospital after a stroke, at just 37 years old.  It’s not his first stroke.  His kidneys are also not doing their job well enough, and different specialists are all involved to help him.  There’s nothing good about this happening.  But I do know there is this to be thankful for in his story:  He has been blessed with a wife that takes care of him with such strength, and is such a good partner.  He has four kids that love him and need him.  He has family who feel the same.  He has good doctors who will figure this out.  He has good therapists helping him work towards recovery.  For all that I am thankful.  For not knowing how to help more, for that I am lost….

I still hope for happy endings for us all.   But they may not come as we want them, or as quickly as we want them.  So for now I’ll keep looking into our stories, seeing all the good there is.  And praying for strength for the times it’s too hard to even see that.

Because our story is not in the happy ending.  It’s in the life in between.

~Anita

 

A Boy Named Austin

Austin

Austin is a fairly common name today, and we regularly meet kids named Austin, which always makes me pause for just a moment.  We know sweet kids and goofy kids, kids who make us laugh and kids we cheer for at baseball.

But besides my brother Austin, my favorite little guy named Austin is this one.  He’s a cutie!  He’s almost two.  We got to play with him and love on him a bit a few weeks ago, which is a treat because he lives in Oklahoma, far from us.

Matt and Austin

His Dad is one of my ‘other brothers’, those not made from blood but forged from years of being as close as family.  Matt is a great “kid”, that I remember asking 1,000 questions, loving animals to extremes, and then joining the Air Force and growing up before my eyes.  He and Austin were just a year apart, and also much like brothers.

Matt was very upset when Austin went missing, and called to check on progress or ask what he could do more than most .  It was always comforting to know that though I didn’t have my brother here, I had him checking in and knowing that someone else missed him too.

So when Matt and his wife were expecting their son, they asked about naming him for Austin…. though hard at first in a way, we knew we’d love this little guy and loved the honor.  I think my brother would love this kid, and would laugh at knowing someone had been named for him.  But knowing how much he cared for Matt, I know he’d be honored.

Thanks for sharing your Austin with us, we love him.

Ben and Austin

Flying Away

I’m on an airplane, headed to a work event and a quick visit with family in a city I’ve never been to. Four days away, missing my family but eating good food, sleeping all night in a nice hotel, and visiting family I rarely see. The nicest thing about traveling, either for work or for fun, is the escape. For a few days I have a reason to not check my blackberry incessantly, have a good excuse to not do things I wouldn’t have had time for anyhow, and have a few hours where there is really nothing productive I can do. I’d much prefer my travels to be with my family, but since the trip is a must I’ll still take the good that comes with it.



We all need an escape sometimes, a chance to break out of our normal daily routines and experience something different. That may be a chance to relax, or it may just be a different place with new sights to see. My travels don’t take me very far, but it’s nice to daydream about flying off to distant lands where escape is very real. Sometimes I think I’d love to escape to one of those lands, just me and my guys, and never return.

I don’t know what type of escape Austin was truly looking for, though I believe it was a permanent escape from this life he sought. I believe he saw it as his only escape from pain. Maybe if he’d had insurance and could have found relief from the physical pain, he could have dealt with the emotional better. Maybe if he could have just found his own escape he could have gotten through another day and then another. He did escape and ‘fly away’, that much we do know. He either flew into God’s arms or flew from his life into another.

The thing is, Austin couldn’t see past his pain that the best part of flying away is that one day soon you’ll be flying home. I’ve barely left, yet I’m already looking forward to coming home to hugs and kisses and the comfort of home. Maybe one day he will too.

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