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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Death and Life and Flying Little Boys

Written by Lee

He wasn’t my uncle by blood. But it doesn’t matter. He was family. He is the brother of my step-mother-in-law. Is there such a title? She’s been with my father-in-law for over seven years. And she has a brother. And his name is Bill.

When I first met Bill it was like meeting someone I’d known forever. He reminded me of my Polish relatives from Chicago. Open arms and an open heart and feet planted firmly on the ground. A ground that was familiar to me. There was an instant comfort when I met him. And so it began. Family.
In the best sense of the word.

This past Saturday, it was my dude’s birthday and in the middle of a mellow evening of kids and ice cream scoops in plastic party dishes with candles burning, we got a phone call.

Bill was gone. He was brain dead, my father-in-law told us. He had been in a motorcycle accident.

No one knows the details of the accident but Bill was alone when it happened. Having just finished a weekly ride with his Harley bike group, he was headed home to his wife, another soul I adore and don’t seen enough of. It was some mystery of an accident where a state trooper found him on the side of the road with his motorcycle 75 feet away from him. Hours earlier he was riding with the wind blowing against his face invigorating his soul and then - he was gone.

After everyone had done all that could be done in a situation as grave as this, Bill passed away in the middle of the night as the sun shone on another part of the world.

I woke up Sunday to the official news of his death and I’ve been feeling sunk. Like I'm living with a blanket over my head. And a surge of feelings swirl within my being and I’m stuck on how abruptly life can leave us. Like a moment in time with happy thoughts in your head and love in your heart and things to look forward to and then…. what? Where?

You know. All of the stuff that you think about if you allow yourself to think about it. Death. And life. And the space where the two meet.


I put on my running shoes and grabbed my iPod and left to clear my brain on Sunday afternoon. I cranked the volume up loud, too loud, in my ears and as my feet pounded the pavement and my heart sped up and the tunes played, the tears welled.

“Funny the way it is, if you think about it

Somebody’s going hungry and someone else is eating out

Funny the way it is, not right or wrong

Somebody’s heart is broken and it becomes your favorite song”

- Dave Matthews Band

And the instruments welled with my tears and the words spoke to me and I crunched hard on the thought of “Hell yeah, funny the way it is…..”

Funny the way it is…..

How life can throw you such juxtapositions…like my kids doing a funny dance for a video camera on Sunday afternoon oblivious to the pain that so many were now feeling that Bill was gone. Lives altered. Plans instantly changed. The world felt different just knowing that Bill wasn’t walking on the planet anymore.

But all my kids wanted to do was ride their bikes.

“Funny the way it is, if you think about it

One kid walks 10 miles to school, another’s dropping out
Funny the way it is, not right or wrong
On a soldier’s last breath his baby’s being born”


Boy, their clothes look colorful, I thought. Bright pinks and deep purples and why does it seem like they’ve always coordinated their outfits even though there is nothing the same in each of their own eclectic ensembles?

Hairbands and homemade necklaces, tights under skirts, winter gloves and bike helmets, a orange dress over a pair of brown and pink patterned pants, freckles, rosy cheeks, wide eyes, and wider smiles.

I sat on the grass alone with their bikes by my side and watched as they ran over to the playground and started climbing. My girls were the most vibrant pictures of life right then and there. In that whole park. Climbing together over a netted bridge, talking and laughing and is anyone else as blinded by their light as I am? Does anyone else see it? How come no one else in the park seems to notice these fluid, alive, colorful, bubbles of love and light climbing over the monkey bars?

And those life feelings within me surge and my heart swells and the tears well and how can this be? Life is so big and it beats huge within my chest and inside I am filled with a million, zillion thoughts and feelings that define just one life. Just one life. Mine. All of this swirling stuff inside is just. me.

Bill had all of that swirling inside of him too. His. And only his. And I am thankful for the time that my life crossed his. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t that long. But it was enough. For him to have a real impact on me. He was an exceptional soul.

And then in a flash of color, those pink and purple creatures of light are running toward the tire swing.

And my sorrow is mixed with boundless joy.

It was in August when I left our week-long extended family vacation on the lake leaving my man and my kids behind as I drove back home to perform in that show I was in. And Bill was with me. We had quite an adventure on our trip down the mountain as I drove him to the airport to catch a flight home. For the first time in my life, I had a tire blow out on me on the freeway and Bill was right there.

It was freaky pulling over onto the shoulder in the middle of the insanely busy I-10 West and waiting there for 45 minutes for help. I told Bill over and over again after the ordeal, “Thank God Bill. Thank GOD you were here. I would have totally freaked if I had been alone.”
And that was the truth.

Bill, in his calm and assuring and understated way, did all of the things you are supposed to do when you have a tire blow out forcing you to sit on the shoulder of a busy freeway with big semis looking like they are headed right for you.
Bill popped the trunk, set out the orange emergency thing that I guess all trunks have? and started working on changing the tire. I kept yelling through the traffic noise, “Bill, why don’t we just wait for AAA? And “Is there anything I can do Bill except stand here and freak out and pray that something bad does not happen?”

He was cool and calm and collected and I was nervous and scared and useless.

A broken jack and 45 minutes later, AAA arrived and set us up to get back on the road.
Within the safety of a driving vehicle again, I laughed and said over and over “Thank God for you Bill. Wow. I am so glad I wasn’t alone.

I hugged him goodbye at the airport 30 minutes later never thinking for one second I wouldn’t see him again.

I just couldn’t get out of my damn pajamas today. It was noon and I was still sitting under that figurative blanket and I just couldn’t get excited about anything. I was motivated for nothing. Which is weird for me.

Staring at the muddy paw prints of three dogs drying on my bamboo floors and catching a glimpse of those orange ice-cream sticky hand prints that have been on our back glass doors for a week now – I could do nothing but stare some more.

This isn’t normal for me. I am known to keep myself busy with a never-ending to-do list that can pop out of my brain at any time of the day or night calling me to action but today – nothing.

Just life. Inside our home. With the sun shining brightly outside and the Southern California fall air with a hint of crisp calling me out to play but I stayed inside. In pajamas. With my Tommy boy. My two-year-old devil of love and carnage. Swinging a stuffed USC baseball bat around the house at anything that moves or doesn’t. Boys, I thought. How different than my girls. Swinging a bat and growling.

I put on some tunes, walked into my girls’ bedroom with a basket of clean laundry, dumped it on the floor and started folding. It was motion at least. That felt good.

And as I folded and the minutes passed and the music played, I looked up to the bed to see my heart boy playing with his “bat tub” and his “cage.” Oblivious to my gaze, he played. A joyful play filled with bursting imagination and wonder and just two-year-oldness.

And I stared at him. And the tears started to well. And I grabbed my camera.

I felt life swirling around in the space of that room – in the space that binds us all really. Whether we are breathing or not – or whether we can be seen or not – the life we live and lived is one in the same.

And I peeked out from under my little blanket and smiled.


Uncle Bill, we love you and we will miss you.

Lake Arrowhead, California - August 2009


  1. How does that happen? A gifted soul who resides in a totally different place - how does that one person, whom I've never "met" face to face, touch my armored heart? Beautiful. I hope his widow will read this.

    Tears are flowing for you, and for Uncle Bill, and a smile for sweet, maniac Tommy boy, lost in his safe world. How can bad things happen?

  2. Oh Lee, my heart is so sad and happy for you. Sad for your loss, but happy that you still can see and feel the joy of life through your children!

    That was an awesome tribute Lee. Just awesome.

    I loved those pictures of your Tommy. So sweet.

  3. "I felt life swirling around in the space of that room – in the space that binds us all really. Whether we are breathing or not – or whether we can be seen or not – the life we live and lived is one in the same.

    And I peeked out from under my little blanket and smiled."

    Beautiful words. Beautiful post.

  4. Okay I'm here bawling Lee - its just weird how life and loss works - there is so much around us to remind us that life goes on. Nothing more obvious or wonderful than a child's single-minded play time.

    Bill knew life and knew how to enjoy it to the fullest. And he's probably very fortunate that he passed from this earth doing exactly what he loved to do.

    And I truly believe that wherever his spirit is lingering right now, he's aware of your love and your dear, sweet words.

    Thanks for the beautiful thoughts - we'll be thinking about your whole family in this tough time. God bless you, Uncle Bill!

  5. That is a beautiful testament to the human spirit of Bill. I am sure that he knew how you felt about him. I am keeping you and yours in my thoughts and prayers.

  6. Sorry to hear of your loss. Your words are so eloquent and caring. Your Uncle Bill is in your heart and the rest of his families forever. Will keep you and yours in my prayers!

  7. ..and while you were making our boys turkey and grilled cheese sandwiches, and I rambled on about blogging and life, you told me, "I am not a writer..."

    well, me dear...
    I happen to think you are.
    and a fantastic one at that.

    I am sad for you and the heaviness your heart feels.
    Keep that camera at reach...the lens has a beautiful way of catching and freezing some of life's most beautiful moments. Moments, we often miss.


  8. life really does go on whether we want it to or not. i guess being taken by surprise by tragedy is better than living a life expecting it around every turn? i know it doesn't make it any easier, though, and i am so sorry.

  9. oh, and those photos remind me of a certain 16 y.o. daredevil that only wants to jump off the highest of mountains and run through fountains in his speedo. you, girlfriend, are going to have your hands full with that handsome angel/devil.

  10. You and your post are ever-present on my mind.

    That was an absolutely incredible tribute to Bill. Such amazing writing my friend ... really. And what a wonderful job you do of intertwining the beauty in living through the photos of your little man. He's so dang cute. I really want to see him soon as he already looks so grown up since I last saw that little face.

    I will keep Bill and your family at the top of my prayer list.

  11. :( and :) and hugs.

    All three of my boys have loved the laundry basket and have referred to it as their "house".

  12. Wow. I remember that post about the blown-out tire in August. And now he's gone. But I bet if you're really still and pay attention, you'll sense his presence again, sometime when you really need it.

    I'm so sorry you lost this extraordinary soul. What a beautiful tribute you wrote. It is always so sobering to face mortality head-on like that. Especially when it's someone particularly special.

    And I love the bubbles of joy you see in your children. Celebrating their youth and vitality is a wonderful way to start healing from the grief.

  13. I'm sorry for your loss, Lee! It sounds like it is everyones loss.......

  14. So sorry for your loss, Lee. This was beautiful!

  15. Oh Lee. This is such an absolutely totally profoundly moving post about an exceptional person. I'm so sorry for your loss. THank you for sharing yourself this way. You're beautiful.

  16. I love those pictures!Nice timing, mom.
    In keeping with the theme of in-laws and out-laws: I once lost someone very special to me; my father-in-law's girlfriends' (of 10 yrs)mother- her name was Eleanor and she loved birds and National Geographic. I only knew her about 3 months before she died. We sat and drank tea and she told me all about childbirth back in the day (twilight sleep was for real!)
    It was hard to get people to see that even though she wasn't my relative from day one, that she was an amazing influence on me for that short time.
    Uncle Bill looked/sounded like a bad-ass and I am sorry for your loss. Hoping he's riding a motorcycle through heaven, maybe he'll pick up Mrs. Eleanor Jackson.....

  17. Two beautiful souls connected. Yours and my brother's. Thank you for this beautiful and moving tribute, an eloquent expression of the fullness of life. It's how he lived. I love you.

  18. Okay, I was just over at Jo's laughing 'til I snorted at her Conan O'Brien clip, and now I am hacking sobs. As usual, I am not even going to attempt to be eloquent, because you did it for me. Joy knows no earthly bounds. Hugs to you.

  19. So sorry for the loss of Uncle Bill, Lee. Lovely tribute...but I love how you encompassed it with love and the absolute joy of life. I think your uncle would be happy to see your outlook beyond the sadness.

    Hugs to you...

  20. My heart is breaking for you. For you and V and all those souls you hold close. Life is oh, so fragile, my friend. Leave it to a child--our precious children are such gifts-- to lift us out of the fog of grief.

    Love you...

  21. Aw, Lee. I'm so sorry for your loss. These are beautiful thoughts you have here (and the photos! oh, the photos...). I am with you on this. Two months after my 2nd was born, my brother in law was in a motorcycle crash that left him quadraplegic. All of what you wrote here - the juxtaposition of life and death and the perspective from which we look at life from then on out...I hear you and I am with you. I'm so sorry for your loss, Lee.

  22. I am so sorry. I often wonder about what swirls around in each of us and how unique we each are; and the same in so many ways.

    The pictures of your boy are precious. So full of life.

    I loved that your shared your last photo of Uncle Bill at the end of your post. Quite touching. What a great man.


  23. I am very sorry for your loss. I know its very sad. The pictures of the boy is so amazing. You got wonderful gift from the god. He is genius. He is so cute and so much hug.

    r4 dsi


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