Thursday, March 25, 2010

higher education

When discussing the importance of school now for jobs later with Grant the other day, Gavin jumped into the conversation:

Gavin: No, Grant, you just have to get married.
Me: What do you mean?
Gavin: Yeah, I'm gonna get married some day and make my wife go to work.
Me: Really?
Gavin: Yup, we're gonna have kids and I'm gonna stay home with the kids.
Me: Don't you think maybe you'll want to go to college to get a job so you can make money so your WIFE can stay home with the kids?
Gavin: No. And I don't have to go to college. I already know everything.
Me: Whatever. And you DO NOT know everything.
Gavin: Yes, I do. I don't need to go to college cuz I already know so much.
Me: You don't know how to do surgery.
Gavin: They do surgery in college?
Me: No, but you have to go to a lot of college to learn how to do surgery and you don't know how to do surgery, so you don't know everything.
Gavin: I'll marry someone who does.
Me: (under my breath) If you marry a surgeon, you can stay at home with the kids. Well done.



I'm thinking it might be time for me to think about going back to work some to show my boyz I'm educated and set an example that school is important in the life ahead of them.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A tribute to Brian - March 17, 2010, 1 year later

Brian Edward O’Neill

November 2, 1972 – March 17, 2009

I have struggled for many weeks about this post's focus on the 1-year anniversary of Brian’s death. I decided to have it be completely and totally about BRIAN. Not about how the boyz and I are doing. Not about how his family is doing. Not about life in general.


Son, Brother, Friend, Employee, Husband, Father


Brian was the son of Ed and Jan O’Neill, born in Hong Kong while on international assignment. Brian was an adventurous and inquisitive child giving Ed and Jan many scares. He nearly drowned twice while jumping into a swimming pool before he could adequately swim to save himself. He stuck his finger in an electrical socket as a toddler warranting a trip to the ER and adorning himself with a lifetime scar on this thumb. He always flirted with danger with his love of all things extreme – skateboarding down mountainous terrain at the age of 4, climbing walls and hills with cliffs beckoning on the other side and choosing ice hockey and BMX racing as his two favorite sporting activities. Ed and Jan spent countless hours and many years of vacation money to keep Brian involved in those activities. Brian was excellent in hockey with his small team of only two lines consistently winning over opponents with twice the budget, matching warm ups, and 2 times the line up. His team won State his junior year. His senior year, he made the all Illinois team. When asked, Ed and Jan have no regrets about the sacrifices they made to allow Brian to play. He loved it and they loved watching his talent. It was their life at the time.

As a son, Brian was always compassionate and empathetic to the family’s issues, but also gave them a run for their money - breaking windows, coming home with gaping wounds and occasionally staggering in after a late night.

Even though Brian is their son, Ed and Jan continually learned from him. Watching him gracefully handle life in his health and his illness, they, in turn, learned to handle life with the same grace. (Truth be told, though, Brian learned to handle adversity through the example of grace exhibited by his Mom and Dad.) Brian was a continuous source of pride for Ed and Jan from birth through death.



Brian was the 5-year younger brother of Sean. Brian and Sean were some of the best of pals despite their age gap. While living in Asia, it was Sean that pulled Brian from the swimming pools TWICE when he couldn’t swim enough to save himself. It was often Sean that was showing Brian the ropes on how to teeter on the edge of danger and certain injury on those skateboards and bikes. Brian was Sean’s best man.

Brian was the 8-year older brother to Michael. Brian was Michael’s mentor and example. Michael admired Brian and longed to spend time being like him and being near him. Brian and Sean both tormented Michael to an extent as big brothers are supposed to do, like smashing his invisible friend, manipulating him into making milkshakes and hanging him on doorknobs. Despite their age gap, Brian and Michael grew a strong brotherly bond and a great friendship. Brian always joked about Michael being his little brother then his “bigger” little brother. Brian was the shortest of the 3.

The 3 O’Neill brothers shared a wonderful reciprocated respect for each other. They enjoyed each other’s company whether it included listening to countless hours of music discovering new bands, attending concerts together (once Michael was finally old enough to tag along), playing Euchre, camping, fishing, shooting guns or discovering a new microbrew. They were GUY’S GUYS and were very good at it. They were constantly there for each other urging the other to try new things and covering the other’s back when push came to shove.

The last time Brian fell in March of 2009, Michael picked him up. The last time Brian needed to be moved but was unable to stand or walk, Sean held him up. It was just as it always had been, but not so metaphorically this time.



Brian was ALWAYS surrounded by many friends. This was no accident. So many friends surrounded Brian because Brian was easy to be friends with. He was the guy that didn’t idly wait to be invited to a party or drive around to find the party. He WAS the party. He was the guy who would make the first few phone calls to get people motivated to get something started. He ALWAYS got something started. And if something was already planned and started, he motivated everyone around him to be excited to have a good time at it. He was loyal and funny and fun. Everyone loved being around Brian.


Brian worked for Caterpillar for his entire post-college career. He had several different positions within Caterpillar. Brian was well respected in the workforce. He worked hard, but made time for relationships. He tried his best and always followed through. He was dedicated and thorough. He was willing to learn and took all forms of criticism well. As he grew sicker and lost his ability to speak fluently and use the right side of his body, he continued to work. While the job was not as demanding as some of his other assignments, Brian took it just as seriously and dedicated just enough of himself to it to perform well and still allow his body time to recuperate and heal. In doing this, Brian gained even more respect in the workforce. While his speech failed him, he learned to patiently listen to what others had to say because he could no longer interject. He gained new perspective on when it was worthwhile to talk and how to be concise. In his illness, he showed what dedication and effort truly encompass in merely showing up each day with his continuous positive attitude and outlook.


Brian was faithful, romantic, real, complimentary, supportive, and loving. He made sure I knew he loved me but didn’t overdo it. He constantly encouraged me and instilled confidence within me. I don’t know how to put this adequately into words. I have had many people over many years tell me that most people in a lifetime do not reach the level of intimacy and love in a marriage that Brian and I had even early on. And we only grew from there. I could not tell you anyone on this earth that I would have rather spent time with than Brian. He made me laugh, cry, think, dream, reminisce, plan, and smile all in the same day. We had a good life together. He helped me learn to enjoy the moment and believe in the good of life. He personified optimism. I may have brought him to his faith in Christ, as he told me, but he helped me grow in my faith.


From the moment we decided to try to have children, the best word I can think to describe Brian’s perspective on the entire process and parenting would be patient. He was patient and trusting of God’s provision during inseminations. He was patient during both rounds of in-vitro. He was patient during the adoption processes. He was patient and calm during the 72-hour waiting period till the first waivers and papers were signed. As a daddy, he was patient and calm with almost all discipline issues and temper tantrums. He was the teacher and the leader of the boyz way more than I was. He obtained the highest level of respect and admiration from them. They adore(d) their daddy.

While they have little memory of Brian prior to his recurrence and his resulting problems, what he instilled in them prior to that and what he exemplified in how he handled his illness is powerful. On more than one occasion, when I have tried to get the boysz to stop doing something dangerous for fear of losing a limb, they have retorted to me how “yes, you can tie your shoes (or button your shirt or play catch or, or, or…) with only one hand” . When they respond with such comebacks, I have no choice but to knowingly smile and nod knowing Brian did exactly that (while praying they do not actually have to live life with the loss of a limb to prove it). He showed them that you do not pity yourself, but you use what God has allowed you to have and you use it to the best of your abilities.


Brian was truly a great man. He was remarkable in childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, and into his death. He was witty, dignified, hard-working, dedicated, intelligent, thought provoking, enjoyable, inspirational, athletic, patient, and eternally optimistic. His mark on the world is obvious. Heaven’s gain is the earth’s loss in that I can only imagine what else Brian could have taught us had he continued to live. However, in his death and memory, Brian continues to inspire us today.

Looking back on his life, as trite as this may sound, I mentally repeat this phrase that I have heard uttered by SOOO many when referring to Brian, “Man, THAT guy was absolutely amazing.”

 I will tell you that he loved the Lord. Without that, he would have been less amazing.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

firsts and lasts

When my children were born, I remember vividly the first time I held them. In fact, that entire first year, I spent countless hours documenting and savoring all those “firsts.” I remember the first bottle, but I don’t remember the last. I remember the first diaper I changed, but I don’t remember the last. I remember the first time they crawled and the first steps they took. I remember their first teeth. I remember the first time I fed them baby food. So many wonderful "firsts."

I wish we would carry over that savoring of the precious moments into adulthood. Some of the firsts and lasts.

Today, I have been thinking so much of the first and lasts of my relationship with Brian.

I remember vividly our first kiss. I do not remember our last.

I remember the first time he told me he loved me. I also remember the last.

I do not remember the first or last time we held hands, but I can recall the countless times in between.

I remember the last night we slept in our bed together.

I do not remember the first words Brian spoke to me. I DO remember the last.

I remember the first time we had sex. I do not remember the last.

I remember the first time we flew together.

I can’t stop thinking about the last day of Brian’s life today. To me, he died on the 16th of March. That is the day his body started seizing uncontrollably and he lost the ability to communicate with us. It is THE ABSOLUTE SINGLE worst day I can recollect. I am trying really hard not to recall it over and over today(Brian would hate it if I dwelt on something like that. He'd call it a waste of time and energy), but if I stop for even 5 minutes I am flooded. I am forced to face that day and the entire last week of Brian’s life again. I was numb last year. I would like to remain numb forever.

If I would have known it was Brian’s last week of life, I would not have gone out to dinner with friends on Friday night just a couple days before he would breathe his last. If I had known it was his last night, I would have stayed up all night singing to him and gently talking to him telling him how much he has meant to me. I would have held his hand and stroked his hair. I would have gazed into his eyes and mentally recorded every single square inch of him that I could.

If I had known it was the last time the boyz would see him alive, I would have at least taken a picture. For ALL THAT IS HOLY, the last picture I have of them together is a few weeks before he died. WHY? I sent my boyz away for the weekend. They left and it was the last time they would see his body when it was not lying in a casket. I do not remember the last thing he said to them. I think it was along the lines of “give me a hug, buddy. I love you. Bye bye. Have fun.” But I DO NOT REMEMBER!

Thing is, I should have known. I knew he was dying. I just didn’t know when would be the last. We were told he would drift to sleep and sleep more and more til he didn’t wake. Brian did exactly the opposite. He stayed awake for nearly 4 days on end. His eyes would wander around the room looking for non-existent noises. He spoke to people who were not here. He was dying and we all knew it. How did I not treat every single solitary second like it could have been the last? I was so petrified of being tired and therefore being a bad mom to my boyz that I gave so many duties to our family and friends – including staying up at night with him.

I was ready for the sleep. I was ready to sit next to him and watch him peacefully drift out of this world. I was prepared to hold his hand, stroke his hair, sing him songs and pray with him as his soul left this world.

It didn’t happen like that.

I don’t know why.

I don’t know if I will ever overcome the regret of how I spent those last few days.

I think I will.

I have to.

I don’t remember the first words I said to Brian. I do remember the last.

I told him I loved him. I told him that I was a better person for having known him. I told him the impact he had on my life and so many others is immeasurable. I told him it was okay to go. I told him that Jesus was waiting for him. It was okay to go now because the boyz and I were going to be just fine thanks to how he has shaped us. I told him I loved him.

I don’t remember the first words Brian said to me. I do remember the last.

He said, “Yeah, I love you too.”

Those were the last words Brian ever spoke.

He loved me.

He loved me.

He loved me.

I loved him.

I loved him.

I loved him.

If we could all be so intentional in words and actions as though they could be our last, the world would be a better place.

Our first photo together. February 1993

Last photo we took together, February 14, 2009. An entire month before he died.


I apologize for this post being all over the place. I lost my original. I have been so BUSY today intentionally. If I stop, I am overwhelmed. I stopped just long enough to write this. Now, I am off to being intentionally busy again.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Grant is seven

Hard to top this post, buddy. I was feeling it that day, back when I had creativity and a desire to write.

The events surrounding your birthday last year are beyond heart-breaking. The last day you saw your Daddy alive was March 14, 2009, the day you turned 6. I had to make the pain-staking decision of sending you to St. Louis to be surrounded by loving family to help distract and spoil you by helping you celebrate your birthday or let you stay here not knowing what was happening with Brian. In my heart, I knew Brian’s time was limited, but I didn’t know how much. I didn’t know he would die while you were away. How could I? I pray that the events of those few days March 14-March17th do not overshadow your birthday every year. I pray this day can be a celebration of your birth instead of a memory of Daddy’s death.

Today, Buddy, it’s all about you! I celebrate YOU!




My baby.

My contradiction.

Complicated yet so simple.

Challenging yet rewarding.

Strong-willed yet soft-hearted.

Grumpy yet giggly.

Tough yet tender.

Show-off yet insecure.

Innocent yet forced into maturity.

Serious yet silly.

Little boy yet so grown up.

Grant-Pants! My always-climbing, never-stays-on-his-feet-rolling-around-and-sliding-across-the-floor, thumb-sucking, Spongebob-loving, infatuated-with-all-things-firearms, best-giggler-in-the-world, protects-his-mommy, talks-of-someday-being-a-big-brother, chased-by-girls-daily, challenging, delightful SON!

I love you, my little man. SO VERY MUCH. But, Jesus loves you even more!


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

1 year ago

Been flooded with "1 year ago" thoughts the last month.

Like the last soccer game Brian was ever able to attend. I don't remember it, but i know it was in February some time.

Like the last time he left the house - it was to go to Buffalo Wild Wings, enjoy a couple microbrews and some wings, and his entire family - brothers, wives, parents, nephews and nieces - were there. It was so windy he could barely walk in the door. He could barely walk anyway. That was March 8, 2009. It was also the last night we would ever sleep together.

March 9, 2009 was the last morning he ever woke in our bedroom. He came down the stairs, went to sit in a kitchen chair, fell, and never walked up or down those stairs again.

March 9, 2009 was the first day of the week leading up to his death.

It was the strangest week of my life. So many blessings. So many regrets.

I can't stop thinking about it.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

(Tooth) Fairy Tales and other happily ever after farces…

In two days time this week, I have witnessed a couple of instances of fairy-talish happily ever after via mainstream media - the season finale of the Bachelor and the Tooth Fairy movie. And both of them set the wrong way with me.

Let me start by telling you I LOATHE the Bachelor. I detest every single solitary second of the pining away over the ever-so-difficult decision of being in love with two different girls at the same time. DUDE! IF YOU ARE IN LOVE WITH TWO GIRLS AT THE SAME TIME, THEN YOU ARE NOT REALLY IN LOVE WITH EITHER OF THEM!!!! And by the way, what got you there was NOT REAL. It was in front of a camera. It was in a tropical or other paradise. It was all expenses paid. It is NOT REAL LIFE!!! So, how can you know whether or not you love this person when you come home from work each day? How can you know if you love this person after they look like crap and were lying on the couch sick all day? How can you know if you love this person when you have to cancel plans because something else came up and you totally let them down? YOU CAN’T!! I hate the freaking show. Because it is about as UNREALISTIC as it gets regarding love and relationships today.

Yet millions flock to watch this show and make judgments on the girls’ character, values, etc. based on what a few biased producers/editors want to show them based on the fact that THEY are looking to make money with the show. So, YES, they are going to make a couple girls look like total Bee’s with itches in order to boost some ratings. Because February? Is a SWEEPS month for television. And high ratings in SWEEPS months equals big bucks for advertising on that station next year.

Some of the millions that flock to this show are my girlfriends. So, for the last two years, we have had BACHELOR parties to watch the season finale. Last year, I wore my wedding veil and shoes and pearls to mock my friends. This year, I hosted the party. I’ve lost about 10 pounds since last year. So, this is how I hosted:

A couple of others joined in the fun including a surprise visit from Napoleon Dynamite. He noticed I was drinking 1% milk. He asked if it was because I thought I was fat. Cuz I’m not. He said I could drink whole if I wanted. He’s so smooth.

The second fairy-tale I experienced was taking the boyz to see the Tooth Fairy. (Spoiler Alert) This movie is based on an aging, brut hockey player who is trying to woo Ashley Judd as he dates her. She wants to see how he interacts with her two kids including a middle-school son and a daughter at tooth-losing, tooth-fairy believing age. I would say 6ish. He is sentenced by the fairies to do tooth fairy duty for a couple weeks due to his constant crushing of dreams by telling kids to aim low and that their chances of making it big are slim, etc. because that is his own experience in life.

My issue with this movie isn’t the fairy aspect or the shrinking paste or the amnesia dust or invisibility spray or the random disappearing into a swirling colorful vortex. My issue with this movie isn’t even an issue I would have had 6 months ago. My issue with this movie is taking my boyz to see it and wondering what goes through their minds, wondering if they caught on to the happily-ever-after theme of a man trying to woo a single mom with kids who had no apparent father figure in their life (no mention of Dad at all), a man who had little interest in the boy at first, but gradually (after two whole encounters) assumed the role of mentor and encourager in the boy’s life. I wondered what went through their minds as they saw this man who was obviously smitten with the beautiful mom become just as smitten with the kids and develop into a part of the kids lives.

All before the 2-week tooth fairy sentence was over.

It is obviously a sign of the time of my life when the largest concern I have over a movie is whether or not my boyz are buying into the “happily ever after” concept as it pertains to their own situation. I just don’t want to feed them any unrealistic expectations. I worry about what they think is going to happen next in their lives.

I notice how they so badly crave adult male attention – so much so that they act like idiots when they do get it. They really don’t know what to do with it. I don’t know how to help them. It breaks my heart.

So I wonder how they process watching TV or movies where the parents are not married or a parent is not present (hello Disney movies) and what events unfold in the characters' lives.

Gavin randomly mentions that I should just get married again. According to him, I’d be less sad, there would be someone else to help me and he would have someone to play catch with and wrestle around with. Someone else could take him to play his sports and stuff like other dads. Yes, he says this.

Grant never says a word about it, but he is the one that acts completely goofy and says really off–the-wall and sometimes alarming things to get the attention of adult males around him.

The void in their lives is apparent only to me. I obviously don’t point it out to them. Others don’t notice it and would think Grant to be strange or rambunctious or violent.

I see two fragile little boyz who have had a rough life chock full of harsh reality. I see two little boyz that loved their daddy and miss everything he was to them. I see two little boyz that I want to protect and help. Part of that protection is keeping them from having unrealistic expectations and believing in the fairy tale.

I guess because I don’t believe it myself. Not that I can’t get re-married some day. Just knowing it is way more complicated than the movies and TV.

Sometimes I wish I could believe in the fairy tale version. I hate that as adults we get so beat down with reality it causes us to stop believing.

As I have said in the description of the blog and in the “about me” section, the title of this blog used to pertain to Brian’s healing and health. He is completely restored in heaven now. Now the title pertains to the boyz and I finding our place in this world. As a good friend once encouraged me, it is a fluid statement relating to whatever season and circumstance the boyz and I are experiencing. It didn't end with Brian. Whether it is doses of reality, fairy tale endings or something in the middle, I find it very fitting today to close with…