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Celebrating Life and Saying Goodbye

May 3, 2010

This is a week filled with goodbyes and fresh beginnings. Last week, we said goodbye to fellow co-blogger, W.J. Howard, who has been a tremendous member of this team. She’ll be sorely missed, and we hope to see her back often. We wish her the best with finishing The Courier and I, for one, am looking forward to reading it.

Next, we celebrate our short story contest winners – first place goes to Harley Palmer for her entry, My Nightmare, and our runner-up is Tom Hall with The Return.  Honorable mention goes to Tracey James and her story My Five Angels. Thanks so much for entering, and we hope to see you all, and more, back for our short story challenge later this month. Harley’s story will be posted on Wednesday, and Tom’s will be posted this Sunday–please stop by and give them a read and comment to show your support!

Our topic this week is open, meaning we can blog about anything we wish. Normally, I would keep the following thoughts and emotions on my personal blog, but I don’t have the mental fortitude yet to brush a recent tragedy behind and blog about writing.

As you read this, I’m attending a full-honors 21-gun military funeral in New Jersey for my nephew, Eric Monson. I debated internally for days about speaking at his services, and at one point my husband had even broached the topic because we had so much to share about Eric. I think my answer surprised him. Most times I don’t mind attention, but when it is a day to honor the passing of someone I love, I would never want to switch the focus to have people trying to console me if I were to break down in tears at the podium.

Today is a day to celebrate Eric, say goodbye, and to remember him, which is what I intend to do here.

One of my earliest memories of Eric is when he’s about six or seven. My husband Pete lived in a gorgeous, but run-down rental in Montville with three other guys. His sister and her family came by over the holidays for a gathering. Eric and his older brothers always did something the boys called “couch diving” when they arrived. They picked up all the couch cushions to look for coins and bills that may have slipped through. Laugh all you will, but four guys in their mid-twenties tend to pass out drunk on the couch fairly often, so their labors usually proved quite fruitful.

Another fun day was when Pete and I took Eric to the Liberty Science Center for his ninth or tenth birthday.  We took him to breakfast first and it became apparent early on that Eric was uncomfortable with our undivided attention. I distinctly remember Eric asking, “why are you both looking at me?” Pete and I laughed about it later, but at the time Eric was pretty stubborn, “Quit staring at me!”

When we brought him to the gift shop later at the science center, we told him to pick whatever he wanted for his birthday gift. There was some pretty cool stuff in there and yet Eric still had a love of stuffed animals and chose a long-armed, velcro-handed monkey as his gift and hung it around his neck in a hug. I’ll never forget how we kept trying to encourage him to get rockets or glow-in-the-dark planets or something… but he wanted that monkey.

Pete and I have always done extensive work on all the homes we owned. In the early years of our marriage, we flipped a home every two years or so. At our second house, we wanted to build some rock-retaining walls out back and hired all three nephews to pull rocks off the hill and weed. Justin complained but did it, albeit slowly. Asa worked his butt off, being the hardest worker of the three, and Eric was out there for maybe thirty minutes or so and came back in declaring, “I don’t do manual labor.”

Now, if you knew Eric in his later years, you’d know exactly how damn funny that is. He and Asa visited us quite a bit here in Virginia over the past six years. And true to form with all our other homes, we’ve worked a lot on this one. Eric and Asa helped to build the pergola over the hot tub, then stain the structure and a bunch of lattice that they hated doing at the time. They replaced boards in our deck and installed new railings as well.

Eric built a fire-pit table we still have and even accidently cut through our cable wire while digging in the backyard.  Those boys were never scared of hard work when they came to see us in their later teen years, and our home is filled with memories of those visits.

How does one say goodbye to a person so young? Honestly, I’m not really sure. Everyone grieves differently, everyone handles death differently—it’s a personal thing. Today, I will be joined by dozens, maybe hundreds, who struggle to say goodbye to Eric. None of us will be the same because of his passing.

He was a special young man, full of promise and full of life. He served our country in Iraq and was so well-loved, most of his platoon is making the trip from Texas to Jersey for the services. He struggled with his own personal demons in his teen years, and came out a better person for it. Eric had the creativity and intelligence to go far in life and a depth to his soul that was a beauty to behold.

I’ll cherish every moment big and small, and I’m grateful to have had Eric in my life. Eric and I discussed his werewolf character and he sounded excited to see the story unfold. He was proud of his aunt and made me feel like writing a book truly was something special. Parts of him will live on in my series, and I hope you all will enjoy Eric and the adventures I plan for him. And I can guarantee his will be one character that never dies within the pages I write.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. May 3, 2010 7:30 pm

    My condolences to you, CJ. Sounds like he was a bright soul and someone very special.

    • May 4, 2010 4:07 pm

      Thanks, Greg. I swear these past three days away felt like a week or more. It was long and difficult and I wish it on no one. He had some amazing friends and served with some men I was proud to meet and thank personally for their service to our nation.

  2. Michelle permalink
    May 3, 2010 10:26 pm

    Very nice commentary C.J. Your pride of your nephew shows in your words. I’m sorry to say I didn’t know how, but am thankful he was such an important part of your life, and you in his. And though I can’t thank him personally for serving his country, I can thank you and your family for being selfless in letting him pursue that calling.
    My sincere sympathies on a loss so great.

    • Michelle permalink
      May 3, 2010 10:27 pm

      That should say I’m sorry that I didn’t know him…but am thankful….

    • May 4, 2010 4:10 pm

      I can’t say I’m selfless, when we found out he was joining, like the other two brothers, we certainly weren’t too thrilled (that’s for sure). But in the end, the military helped him become a man and gave him a sense of self and purpose he may have been lacking prior.

      Thanks for the kind words. It was the hardest few days I can recall in a very, very long time.

  3. Madonna permalink
    May 3, 2010 10:37 pm

    I shall light a candle for Eric and for his very proud aunt.
    A quick answer to how you say goodbye is that you don’t.
    This wonderful young man will live in your soul and that of other family members forever.

    Blessings to you and your family in this very difficult time.


    • May 4, 2010 4:13 pm

      Thanks, Madonna. The candle and blessings are much appreciated. It’s his parents and siblings I worry about the most, I can’t even begin to imagine their own personal pain or feelings.

      And you are right on the goodbye, thank you for your insights.

  4. May 5, 2010 5:43 pm

    My apologies for my relative silence these last days, C.J.

    My thoughts are with you and Eric’s family.

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