In the Peanuts comics Lucy had a habit of saying, “Good Grief, Charlie Brown...” It left me always wondering, is there such a thing as “Good Grief?” By the end of this series I hope that you can derive my answer. In September of 2018 we put my Mom to rest next to my brother. Because of AIRA, I was able to participate in the service as a speaker and at the gravesite. The descriptions were vivid, real and made me feel like I was part of saying goodbye rather than someone just standing there, robbing a friend or family member of their time to reflect and grieve because they didn’t have to take time to explain things to me. Rather than standing out and taking the focus away from my Mother and that day I was able to be just another attendee. One of the intangible benefits to this technology is the anonymity it can provide you, a lesson I am learning.
Fall was in the air, a season that represents the beginning of renewal. Soon the leaves would change, the trees would set them free to start the cycle of life and growth in motion. Looming on the horizon was the Holiday Season, a season in years past that bore witness to my Mother as she bloomed, this is when she truly came to life. This year, this year would be different. Fall had represented the promise of celebrations with family and friends, however, for the Burton family this year it represented opening a new chapter of life after the loss of our Matriarch. There were additional heartaches sprouting like weeds for our little family that would make the prospect of healing more difficult. It seems that the old axiom of “When it rains it pours” is not just some cute saying, it is the hard-cruel reality of life. What those weeds were, who they represented isn't important, what is important is the fact that dealing with and healing from a death would not be an easy task, instead it would test the mettle of the family I love. Like any refiner’s fire, the story ends well for those whose priorities extended beyond selfish pursuits and trended instead to the health and well-being of those they love, truly love. The kind of love that goes beyond words leading to selflessness and sacrifice. The kind of tenderness capable of recognizing when someone is in pain and instinctively martyrs themselves on the altar of service. It was a reminder to me of those in my life who knew and understood and those who were capable only of a commitment to mere words and feigned action. This was a time I learned who not only loved my Mother, but by extension, love those we called family.
This time was especially difficult for my Father. He had known two women in his life, his Mother and the woman who would become my Mother. My father left the loving arms of his Mom at the tender age of 18 and married my Mom to whom he pledged eternal love to and spent 57 magical years with. They were a power couple, my mother sacrificed and worked to help my father complete college, Medical School, an Internship and Residency in the Navy. All while juggling a family. I could tell a whale of a tale about the life and times of my Mom and dad, but that part of life was over because now it was just him, alone, adrift, missing the other half of his heart and soul. There would be no replacing her in his life, there would only be the opportunity to fill the void as best we could. Again, AIRA came through during this process. I was able to travel freely between Dallas and Phoenix. So freely that at times it felt normal, like life was supposed to be lived. I wasn’t the “Blind Guy” during that time, frankly I didn’t have the time to think of or lament my troubles. No, during this time my worries and concerns were put on a shelf and I was just a son and a brother.
My Dad wasn’t used to living alone, wandering the halls of his home alone, sleeping alone or waking up alone. This was virgin territory for him so it was up to me and my sister to fill the void as best we could. So, when I wasn’t able to be there, she was. I had the chance to work from his home because I had AIRA. I was able to live a normal life without burdening my father at a time when he didn’t have the strength to carry my burden because his was so unbearably heavy. I was able to be there for him because AIRA gave me that ability. Without AIRA, I would have required too much of my father and rather than being there for him, he would have to have been everywhere for, and with me. This is the gift of technology, the intangible actions of a ‘free to live’person rather than a prisoner confined to a gilded cage. So, for the next couple of months there was time spent there, on the phone when I wasn’t able to be there, all in an attempt to keep my Father focused on what was to come rather than what had been lost. We got him to join a gym, begin to replace time he would have spent with my mother with time spent with friends and yes, we even convinced him that it would be okay to go on a date. Nothing serious, maybe lunch or a movie, the easy things that would help him pass the time.
We made it to October, Halloween to be exact before that void crept back in. I mentioned earlier that the Holidays were my Mom’s “Springtime garden,” she blossomed and loved celebrating them. My home was always decked out like a picture from Better Homes and Garden or an advertisement for FrontGate magazine. However, without her magic, it was just sad and led my Dad down a slow spiral where he hit his first bottom in the pit of grieving. It culminated on Halloween night and according to him it was an epic turnout and he was convinced my Mom would have been disappointed by the decorations or lack thereof as well as the chance missed to witness the faces of all the little ones decked out in their favorite make-believe characters. My dad was sad, desperate to have the love he once had return and rescue him. It was after that we decided that Thanksgiving would be different so we set out to shake it up. Rather than trying to replicate something my Mom would have done with the knowledge we would fail, we set out to redefine the holiday, begin a new tradition. So, I flew out early, again, AIRA made that effortless and set forth on planning an epic and new tradition. Rather than the home cooked meal we opted for dining out leaving memory in the past and blazing new memories. We ate an amazing meal at a nice restaurant and then went to the movies to see Ralph Wrecks the Internet. I am glad that he didn’t in real life because my movie experience with AIRA may have suffered. All in all, we had a great day and accomplished our mission of distraction. It was then and there we began plans to spend Christmas in Dallas. My sister would load up with my dad and her daughter and Husband to make the trip. We arranged for both our kids to visit as well.
With Christmas upon us, a houseful of people and hotel rooms secured we set out to ensure that we could again create new memories, relive a few old ones in a healthy way and spend time sharing each other, sharing our love, exchanging gifts and pleasantries. It was at this time we learned some news that held promise, the promise of turning grief into nothing more than a nightmare of the past. It seemed that during the time after my Mother’s passing he had reconnected with a woman that he and my Mother knew from their childhood. Sarah had come to visit my Father shortly after my Mother’s death. She had lost her husband 7 years ago and she had a book on grieving that she wanted to share with my Father. I know what many of you are thinking, IT IS TOO SOON!! Maybe it was but I need you all to know something. In my Fathers religion, his faith tells him that you do not marry “Until death do you part,” you marry for time and all eternity. This is an important distinction because Sarah belonged to the same church and was sealed for time and all eternity to her spouse just as My Mother and Father were sealed as well for time and all eternity. As a result, their time together was merely a mortal companionship, someone to spend time with until the day they could respectively be reunited with their true loves. After my Father informed us that he was now dating and after many, many hours of talking and discussing our feelings we all came to the conclusion that this in fact was a blessing. Christmas 2018 was a great success and with AIRA I was able to share my city with my family, cook, and enjoy the festivities of the holiday with the same innocence and glee I once knew.
This is where part 2 of the story ends. There was now a light coming into focus, a light ahead, down that long and painful tunnel. My Father was well on his way through the stages of grief, he had found purpose and meaning to a life that not long before that held nothing good for him. Our fears were beginning to abate, we had successfully gotten our Father through the Holidays, a time that is notorious for reducing those who are already sad and depressed into piles of emotional dust. For me, it was also a time where I put AIRA to the test and through the paces of life and I was left with no battle scars, no fatal stories of technology failures. I was left with only feelings of gratitude for having technology in my life that enabled me to be part of the solution rather than one of the factors others would have to take into consideration. I was able to accompany my family anywhere and everywhere we went, not just as a third wheel, but as an active participant. For years I was the one who walked behind someone with my hand on their shoulder and my cane tapping the way, I was the one who robbed someone in my party the chance to experience things unabated. I was the one people would change their plans for or miss out on doing something because maybe it wouldn’t be fun for me. In the end, in the past, “I was the one” and it wasn’t a good feeling. Now, with AIRA, I am no longer the one, people act and behave normally, plan freely and rather than being the one I am now just one of, one of those who doesn’t need anything, doesn’t need anybody, one of those who can just go and do and that is worth the price of admission to the world of being “One Of.” My ARA life is richer, more meaningful, more useful and that is an awesome feeling and a great reality. Thank you AIRA, you took the single worst time in my life and made me part of the solution. Tune in for the final installment, “My AIRA life, The Other Side of Grief.” Coming soon.
Picture from the 90’s of my Mom holding the our Thanksgiving Turkey with her her typical Holiday cheer.