Sunday, September 25, 2016

Monarchs and Burr Oaks

I am grateful for a butterfly. My day started at 4:00 a.m. At some point, I opened an envelope containing Adam's last notes, and I was compelled to re-read those painful words.  I shed a few more tears while walking around the track at the Y. Earlier in the week, I was catapulted back to 1992 (?) when I heard the new country mash-up of "I Will Always Love You," "Country Roads," and "On the Road Again." Adam absolutely hated when we would sing along with Whitney Houston's version of  IWALY which played on the radio seemingly every five minutes when he was about 4. He would yell at us to "Stop Singing!!"

Looking at my calendar I realized I had been invited at 11:30 to a tree planting by Adam's high school class of 2006. A friend Max conceived and collected money from classmates at their recent reunion for a tree and plaque to be placed at Macomb High School in memory of classmates they have lost. I arrived early and watched the process and learned the steps to successful tree planting from Max's dad, the city arborist, however this was not an official duty, but done out of love. He was assisted by Michael T, stepping in for Max who has moved to the state of Vermont and couldn't see this happen. Another classmate Sarah G attended to remember her friend Suzie R who was killed in a car accident the summer after 8th grade.

I was able to sprinkle some of his ashes and a note in the hole before it was filled. Tim had remembered planting a tree in front of our house many years ago, and Adam slipping a note into the hole with his name on it. It was really sweet how he said Adam could now rest here, too.

The tree is a Burr Oak (also spelled Bur); no pretty fall colors, but a strong, large, shady native tree, one of Tim's favorites. As they were staking the tree, a Monarch butterfly passed over, a fitting sign.

Michael T and Tim H 

Sarah, Michael, me, Tim
Max's mom Suzan N served as photographer and supporter. 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Grilled Cheese

I learned a few things last weekend from Adam's friends. His usual order at Red Robin was a Tavern Double, no mayo, no cheese. Typical Adam. Betsy and I ordered the Tavern Double with onion straws in his honor.

So, Adam wouldn't eat anything with cheese; mac and cheese, cheeseburgers, casseroles with cheese, tacos with cheese. EXCEPT grilled cheese and pizza with cheese.

Ashleigh (Adam's roommate) told me last weekend, he never let anyone make his grilled cheese, and he had a special dedicated grilled cheese pan.

Here's how a typical visit from Adam would begin.  No matter the time of day or night, somewhat sheepishly he would say, "Mom, could you make me two grilled cheese?" Whatever bread was on hand, (always wheat) and plain old American cheese, one slice per sandwich, fried in a pan with butter. Oh, I forgot. He didn't put butter on anything, EXCEPT grilled cheese. It was one of the few things Adam allowed me to do for him, and I enjoyed doing it. Doesn't every mom love to feed their kid?

Sunday, September 11, 2016

September Sunday

For some reason this fall I am remembering a lot of events I experienced last fall: the start of school, a Labor Day parade, Al Sears Jazz Festival, followed by the thought, "when Adam was alive." This may have been around the time last year when Adam met Bella. There are more heartbreaking milestones coming up to get through in this journey I wish I weren't on.

Here is some of the Springfield gang February 6, 2016 after Adam's memorial service.

Here are some of the same peeps, seven months and a few days later, gathering to honor Adam at Springfield's Out of the Darkness Walk. It was wonderful and humbling to be with these friends, even though my only wish is that we could have been together with Adam having fun.

I am now left with the sad hangover I get after visiting Springfield and Adam's friends who I only got to know after his passing. I can only imagine how strange and awful it must feel to have a lost a friend at such a young age. I pray for these young adults and am grateful for their love and support in these trying times.

Friday, August 26, 2016


Time is charging forward, and I am laser focused on the upcoming Out of the Darkness Walk for Macomb/McDonough County. I just read the heartbreaking story of another young life lost (friend of a friend of a sister-in-law in NH). When will it end?

What started as my attempt to comfort myself by creating an event aimed at supporting survivors of suicide loss and my need to put something in place so that my Adam would not be forgotten, has morphed into a semi-permanent labyrinth that anchors me to Adam.

The symmetry and beauty of this place amazes me. If others can find comfort in the labyrinth and/or this event, it will bring me great satisfaction. If we succeed in preventing suicide in some small way, even better.

Labyrinth at sunset by Sharon Walters Knight.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

I am proud of this guy. I probably didn't say this enough but that's another story.

Adam hadn't lived at home since the summer of 2010. He went back to Springfield that fall to complete a required internship for his psychology degree. I helped him connect with the Illinois office of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. One project he worked on was preparing written guidance for videos developed to help teens learn about depression and other mental health disorders. He was proud of this work and provided me with copies that I used with my high school students.

In the spring he had to finish one ECCE class to graduate which he did in May 2011. ECCE classes are Engaged Citizenship Common Experience, a set of courses tied to UIS’ heritage, mission, vision, and values. That's when he began working at Kiku and later Little Saigon. 

I don't remember Adam ever asking for money or help with anything financial after that point. He bought his own cars and took care of his mishaps. In short, he took care of his own business. I know he wanted a professional job in psychology in the worst way, but we were pleased he was supporting himself and working hard to do so. It limited his time with us, especially since restaurant work requires weekend hours. He always made the time, and was always home for holidays and short visits in between. 

I'm pretty sure it was Memorial Day of 2013 (the day I got a call Uncle Cal died), that I had gone down to Springfield for the day to prepare a cookout with Adam and his friends. I was excited to finally meet some of his friends, and that he wanted to share this with me.  Unfortunately, a bad storm came up, and we went out to eat instead at one of his favorite places, the totally old school Chesapeake. This choice surprised me a little; it looks like one of those places my parents would have gone to: low ceilings, wood paneling, fishing gear on the walls, "cocktails" for those who partake, baked potatoes with butter and sour cream, you know the kind. When the check came, I remember vividly that he insisted on paying. That's when I knew something had changed, and he was really an adult. It was honestly a very important moment for me as a parent. 

I don't think I took our time for granted. I do wish I had seen where Adam's dreams would have taken him; teaching ESL in another country, grad school, working with vulnerable populations....I pray every night he has found the peace and freedom he was looking for.

Monday, August 08, 2016

This past Friday and Saturday I attended a spiritual retreat in Cedar Rapids, IA. Part of the process was painting and crafting what I called my 'soul cottage.' They called it a house, but I kept seeing signs for Cottage Grove this and that around Cedar Rapids and that was a street I lived on in Des Moines so many years ago, and so cottage resonated with me more than house. Friday evening the leaders said we could bring in a momento to add to the collage, and I was disappointed that I didn't know ahead of time, or I would have brought something to remember Adam in the painting. 

That evening before bed, Julie (my friend who had invited me to share this experience) came into my room and gave me an envelope of pictures her mom had saved, and carefully documented name, place, time on the backs (except for this one): 

I of course knew this was taken at my brother Chris' wedding in 2002 in New Hampshire. What I wasn't sure was why my friend's mom had it (she and I live in Julie's and my hometown and became friends in our own right when I moved back here 20 years ago). Julie's mom had passed on last April and her father moved out of their home, carefully making packets to deliver to people of things they might make more use of than he. Well, I knew immediately this family photo would be part of my creation. How serendipitous was this?

Stage 1 was assessing our mental, emotional, physical and spiritual status (rooms) and writing that with Sharpie on a piece of foam insulation (like the construction theme going here?). You can see that peeking through:

Stage 2 was me painting with blue and green, and then Julie bringing her red and yellow and applying it to my piece.

In Stage 3 we got either black or white paint and a tool of some sort. I had  black and a sea sponge; Julie had white and the flower stamp:

We got to go around to everyone's painting in the room and add our mark. This was difficult for some people but I was into letting it flow. Then the crafting up began, with each adding our house and embellishments, and a paint wash if desired.

Here is my completed work. See if you can find the cherished family photo:

As we gathered to share with each other what was created and the meaning behind it, Adam's death came spilling out of me, in this cozy conversation corner:

It was cathartic without taking over the room. I felt supported and accepted by these mostly moms of young adults. One woman approached me in the bathroom afterwards and shared that she had seen me struggle with my emotions as another woman shared about her relationship with her young adult son. She hugged me and later asked me what Adam was like as a kid which made me feel pretty special.

The retreat ended with sharing a meal at one leader's gorgeous home. What a lovely way to wrap up a fantastic weekend.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016


Guest Blogger: my baby boy Calvin

6 Months Later
            To say the last six months of my life have been the roughest I’ve experienced would be an understatement. What started off as a normal day during my senior year at ISU quickly turned into an unforgettable nightmare. After a puzzling text message around 3:30 PM followed by a few phone calls I was informed that my oldest brother, Adam (27), had taken his own life in Springfield. My parents then said that they were on their way to Bloomington-Normal to be with me and my brother, Eli (22). I immediately started pacing around my apartment with my hands on my head not knowing what to do. My roommate who is my best friend asked what was wrong and I told him that my brother had just died. He immediately e-mailed his teacher and said that he could not go to class that day so that he could be with me which I was extremely grateful for. Still in complete shock, I heard my phone vibrate and it was my brother Eli returning my call from earlier. The moment I told him that Adam was no longer with us was the first time it actually hit me that our big brother was gone. I waited for 20 minutes for Eli to get to my apartment and when we saw each other for the first time we embraced each other and I could feel his body shaking as we hugged and did not let go. We laid on my bed for a few hours and waited for my parents to arrive; tears, nothing but tears ran down our faces for two hours as we sat there confused and in dismay. Eventually my mom and dad arrived at a nearby hotel and Eli and I made the walk over to see them. I entered the room and immediately hugged both of my parents and could feel the tension looming in the air. It was a surreal moment in my life; sitting in the hotel room with my family wondering what had just happened and where we go from here. After hours of speculation and crying we got some dinner and my parents went to bed and Eli and I went back to our apartments which were located in the same building. Coincidentally, one of my good friends from home was in Bloomington and heard the news from my dad’s Facebook post and came over to comfort me for the night as well as a friend from school. As I cried myself to sleep that night, I knew that my life would be forever changed as of 2-2-16.
            Waking up the next morning it was as if someone had stabbed me in the heart. The realization of it all came that morning when I woke up and it wasn’t a bad dream, it was real life. My brother was gone and I would never see him again. I would never get to watch NBA basketball with him, never get to have an argument, my future children would never get to meet their uncle. It all hit me like a brick wall that morning, I was absolutely devastated and did not know how I would move forward. That night I made a Facebook post in memory of my brother and was bombarded with over 100 text and Facebook messages. I had to use a generic thank you response that I had copied and pasted so that I could keep up with all of the overwhelming support. Despite everyone showing their love to me that night, it almost felt as if I couldn’t take it all in. There were people I had barely known or did not even have their number telling me they had attempted suicide before or knew someone that committed. That night was a blur to me but I still to this day remember the people who took the time to send very detailed texts that showed that they truly cared about me.
            A few days later was Adam’s funeral in Macomb. Throughout these last six months I have had nights where I feel isolated and alone and can do nothing but cry for hours on end thinking about my brother. Different memories come to me. The phone call I got from my mom, hugging Eli for the first time, waking up the next morning, and most of all the funeral. Driving as a family to my brother’s funeral was something I never thought I would experience. As we stood in line and greeted people as they walked in I encountered several people who I recognized from my childhood. Seeing Adam’s roommate Tim and embracing him was the first time I got emotional that day. We hugged each other and immediately both started sobbing. Seeing some of my close friends there meant the world to me. My cousin Ethan playing the piano and singing was one of the most beautiful things I had ever heard and I know Adam was looking down on him and smiling. The day went on and the support was amazing. We had so much food we joked that it was the first time in history I could find something to eat in the house.
            Let’s flash forward to present day. Six months have gone by without my brother and it doesn’t get any easier. Little things will trigger emotions such as someone saying, “I just want to kill myself,” or someone pretending to shoot themselves in the head. It is the little things like that that keep my emotions ultra-sensitive. One of the best things I have been told was that I am going to live a life that honors my brother. I try to do the right things in every situation in life and sometimes I imagine my brother standing right next to me and he gives me the motivation to accomplish anything. Anytime I need a little help I picture my brother pushing me and I always get whatever needs to be done, done. As the days pass, I still think about Adam walking through the door and greeting me with a handshake. The harsh reality of it all is that it will never happen and my family and I will have to move on with our lives. Adam was a great young man that I looked up to and always wanted to be like. His untimely death shook those of us close to him very hard. With that being said, we must learn from it and make the world a better place because of it. If you need help, ask for it. If you have questions, ask them. This life is too short not to speak up and out for yourself which is why I encourage anyone reading this to not be afraid to get help if you need it. My brother Adam affected a lot of lives during his time on Earth and I want to make it my mission to help as many people as I possibly can. Please, tell the people close to you that you love them because you might not know if it will be the last time you’ll get to tell them.

-Cal Denecke