Each year is a collage of images, and feelings. They roll over you with the regularity of tides, tossing you about in its foam. This has been a year that has both challenged and rewarded us as a family. Tears of sadness and joy have been shed in mingled measures, but we have come to year's end stronger and with smiles of hope.
2017 started with the loss of our friend, Marc. Friend doesn’t cover it. He was family. We loved him dearly and he left us. It hurt. It still hurts. His husband Dennis left us five years ago, and our love for Dennis which could exist also through Marc has simply turned into ache with the both of them together and not with us. This end of an epoch in our lives has taken a strong toll and has dominated this year just trying to contextualize it (because the pain will never lessen, though it is finding its place). It was our son, Michael, that informed us of Marc’s death, and Michael stepped up as a man and helped lead all of us who loved Marc so as executor of Marc’s estate. We said our final goodbye to Marc this summer in Michigan with Michael and Nikki, Haley and her husband Mike, and our grandson Russell. It was hardest to be there with Russell, who was saying goodbye to his Godfather whom he loved deeply. Still the event was marked by the joy of the gathering of new friends and old, and people we have come to know as family. Stories and smiles were shared over food and drinks in Marc’s parents’ yard. There is a catharsis in storytelling that eases grief.
As ever the world does not stand still simply because you want it to stop. And God placed a joy in the midst of the grief. Haley’s family came together and spread their wings for Russell’s graduation from Colorado Springs Christian School. Our grandson of 18 years, who my wife and I (his GiGi and Bumpa) have watched, and held, and loved since his birth, was in the blink of an eye a high school graduate. After graduation Russell got a summer job with the Broadmoor Hotel (5 star) working on the landscape crew out at Seven Falls. I have talked to his supervisor and took great pride in her report of his strong work ethic and how readily he made friends with his team. Russell selected Colorado State University for college and moved up there in August. Last night nearly brought happy tears as I was texting with Russell and realized that he was wrapping up his first semester at CSU. Meanwhile, Haley went into extreme mom-mode and directed her son’s graduation festivities, and spearheaded his college prep (Target never knew what hit it!). Since August, whenever we talk to Haley, it is never long before she asks if we have talked to Russell lately because she hadn’t heard from him in two days. Her husband Mike has been a prince throughout the year being strength when strength was needed, being comforting when comforting was called for, and being raw labor for the prodigious to-do lists that Haley produced in this hectic year. They both seem to be adapting to the empty-nest well. They go out, have been to concerts (most recently Lady Gaga), and host gatherings. From this side of the empty nest, I remember far fewer smiles adjusting to the hollowing of our home. More power to you, Haley and Mike.
Then there was Michael (now Michael and Nikki, but I will cover that). No one has thrown us for a loop this past year like he has. He started the year anchoring us and others as he guided Marc’s family and estate while we mourned. In the spring, he and Nikki had us up to their home in Denver along with Haley and crew, and gave Jean-Marie and I a card. Puzzled we opened it to find an ultrasound photo and the word “surprise”. We were to be grandparents again! In time we were to find out the baby would be a grandson. Upon his birth 12 October 2017, he would take the name Bennett Stephen Sampson (the middle name being shared with myself and Nikki’s dad, an honor that I will not ever be able to describe or repay). He would be beautiful, and he would steal his GiGi and Bumpa’s heart from the minute he was born. Not to be outdone by the shock of the news of a new grandchild, a couple of weeks later Michael and Nikki hit us with the awe that they were moving in the summer to Charleston and purchasing Marc’s home. But Michael and Nikki were not done with the surprises yet. At Russell’s graduation ceremony, Michael sat next to his mom and casually showed her his left hand that was sporting a handsome new ring. Michael and Nikki had gotten married quietly in Denver in a civil ceremony so they could start this new phase in their growing life together as husband and wife. In the span of four months Michael and Nikki gave us one hell of a roller coaster ride: A new grandson, YAY! Moving to Charleston OHNO! Having the best daughter-in-law ever, YAY! Michael and Nikki, we look forward to all the time we can spend with your family, and ask only to take 2018 a bit easier on us, you have left us exhausted!
All the while, our daughter Louise and her husband Jeff have been forging their life in the mountains of Colorado in the town of Como. As a life lesson to all of us, they have chosen quality of life over the more material options. The careers they had were taking a toll on both, and so they made a change to enjoy life and each other at a slower pace. Louise and Jeff have good jobs with the county, and live in a lovely cabin that is warm, happy, and eclectic – much like its owners. Jeff dotes on Louise, and most recently has built her a meditation hut. His love is more than I could have ever asked for Louise (and it takes a load off a father and mother’s shoulders). Louise has been cooking, hiking, and fishing with Jeff, and building her spirituality. She laughs and loves more freely than I have ever seen her. I envy the choices that Louise and Jeff have made. As can be seen, the brevity of this paragraph is a wonderful statement to the simplicity Louise and Jeff have achieved.
All this and more have flooded, swamped, and elevated Jean-Marie and I this year. We have made new friends in the wake of losing our dearest one. We have the wonderful dichotomy of two grandsons 18 years apart in their lives. And have added to that the symmetry by being named Godparents to our niece Sarah and her husband Mike’s new arrival William. The symmetry comes in the form of William being our second Godson. Our first Godson is our nephew Sam, a wonderful young man, high school senior, football player with a full ride to Western Kentucky, who is18 years older than William. We cherish our role as Godparents and are blessed that Sarah and Mike entrusted us with this honor. Jean-Marie and I have also traveled much this year, to Michigan for Marc’s funeral, to Athens (Georgia not Greece) for William’s baptism, to Chattanooga to watch Godson number 1 play football (and to get our eardrums burst by Sam's mom’s cheerleading), to Memphis to attend the wedding of our nephew Christopher, and to Charleston to greet and be captivated by our grandson Bennett. We also said goodbye to our little dog of 17 years, Sailor. Sailor, you were your own man and a curmudgeon after my own heart. I still feel you walking on me in bed. You will never be far from our smiles. Through the roiling surf of 2017, Jean-Marie and I have buoyed, hugged, and loved each other constantly. Jean-Marie and I have children and their spouses that leave us in awe, a grandson that grows in strength and character constantly it seems, a new grandson that we cannot possibly get enough of, and blessings in our sorrows and joys that we thank God for.
Thank you, 2017. 2018 we await your tides and have no idea what will wash ashore.