We are moving forward. Slowly, but forward. Calm.

The better days in a long and difficult month have been the quiet days when our energy wasn’t tapped to make decisions or aid in the memorial planning. Jay and I, sitting for hours either reading or listening to music, or truly just sitting, didn’t need words. We understood each other.

He has lost a son.  No words necessary.

Yet other times words simply leave me puzzled.

Soon after Jeffrey died, one friend addressed Aimee, expressing sadness directly to her for the loss of a brother. I was right there–I must have been invisible. It has been my experience that even those who have known me the entirety of my marriage have little understanding of the unique role of step-parent.

I have experienced a profound loss, too. I’ve always said that Jeffrey and I grew up together.

I was so young! I married at 19 years old, having known Jay not a day more than six months. He had two children and his divorce was so fresh we had to wait for the ink to dry. And I wondered why my parents thought this wasn’t a good idea?

He had primary custody of 7-year old Jeffrey, and his 3-year old daughter was living with mom, sixty miles away. There were “every-other-weekend” logistical issues to navigate, financial disagreements, and near-daily shots fired across  the bow for one reason or another.

And the children? Well, in my ignorance, if they were clothed and fed, provided transportation to school and homework supervision, and generally kept safe–parenting mission accomplished!

It took many years to understand how much more children really need to feel nurtured.  I am very fortunate that I can recall many conversations where Jeff and I forgave each other for any limitations. I developed patience with him, and through the years he many times thanked me for adding stability to his life. He was generous.

There are funny memories, too.

I remember stepping out the back door and finding him prone, face down in the dirt with arms and legs outstretched, and doing what? “I want to know what it feels like to be a bug. Like in my collection.”

I hope I at least said something encouraging his inquisitive nature.

He was also stubborn. One morning he refused to get out of bed, announcing he couldn’t move. This didn’t sit well with me and I started drilling down. He was adamant that he had awakened paralyzed. He was eight or nine, and I was at my wits end. I tried all the reverse psychology I had at my disposal and when that didn’t work,moved to threats. Nothing worked. Sometime late in the day he miraculously improved.

Over the last month we’ve recalled many stories from the difficult years, but we’ve also laughed a lot at some of the funniest memories.

There was the time a highway patrol officer pulled him over for speeding.  He argued with the officer that it wasn’t his fault because there was so much fog he couldn’t see his speedometer. We gave him points for creativity and then took away the car.

He figured out how to swat at bees and render them briefly inactive. Then he’d tie silk thread to them and carry them into the classroom where he’d release them–tethered to his “leash,” creating classroom havoc. The school had us on speed dial.

Not long after high school he found work on the island of Oahu, and spent most of his adult years in an environment he truly loved. He did miss family, but he loved surfing and living an island life. It fit his need for freedom.

He returned to Southern California about five years ago as he began to have some health problems. He wanted to be near family again.

So it was fitting that a life-long surfer be returned to the Pacific Ocean he loved.

Paddle-Outs are surfing’s most hallowed ritual and follow the tradition of many ancient cultures. Today would have been Jeff’s 55th birthday, and so, yesterday, family and surfing friends gathered at one of his SoCal surfing spots and we witnessed this solemn and meaningful goodbye.


Aloha, Jeffrey William.



60 thoughts on “Aloha

  1. Debra.

    A lovely and endearing tribute to Jeffrey, your “bonus” son, as I often called mine.

    Such a caring tradition is the Paddle Out, ever so poignant for family and friends. All sympathies to you.

    Warmest thoughts,

    1. Thank you, Ellen, and for your card, as well. It’s been a very full month, and not without a lot of complexity, but yesterday’s paddle-out was just about perfect. Everyone was in tune and it was a very meaningful ritual. So nice to hear form you. And again, thank you.

  2. Touching and heartfelt words! I also enjoyed the joyous memories you shared that will forever be passed along in stories of his life. Boys will be boys – the story with the bees on a thread mirrored my 4th grade antics. I would capture a drone bee and tether it to a thread to later be flown in my classroom.

      1. Thank you so much, Linda. I think he would have been so pleased at the way he was remembered yesterday. It was solemn and respectful, and simply beautiful. And knowing how much we love that stretch of beach, we’ll have that as a place to reflect in the future. ox

    1. Your passion for bees started really early, Bishop! LOL! If only Jeffrey had channeled his “bee taming” ability into something lucrative. Ha! As you can imagine, we have a LOT of such stories. And the memories will be a comfort. Thank you for your kind thoughts.

  3. Ah, dear Debra, hitting the “like” button just doesn’t seem right, yet hit it I did as I wiped tears from eyes. Your tender, loving words and remembrances, even the ones from testier times with a young lad, are so loving and poignant, as is the “solemn and meaningful goodbye” to Jeffrey,
    My love and condolences to you and Jay, family, and all that knew and loved him – love him still.

    1. Thank you so much, Penny. You’ve been a dear friend during this time to listen when he first became ill. The paddle-out was mesmerizing to those of us on the shore observing. There were lots of hugs and tears, but I can honestly say many of those tears felt like relief and release. We’ll keep the stories going and we are blessed to have had a strong marriage despite our foolishness, don’t you think? 🙂

      1. Tears are good, my friend. They help us as we deal with our grief and they help to make way for the smiles and even laughter that come as well. I do agree, wholeheartedly, that your strong marriage is a blessing – and I do not think you were foolish, but, rather determined. We weren’t much older. I was the morning kindergarten teacher, and Tom didn’t even have a job – 46 years later, here we are – as are you and Jay. Yes. Blessed you are. Hugs from across the Mother Road.

  4. Perpetua

    Such a tender and beautiful reflection on this much loved and mourned stepson of yours and on the wonderful, if sometimes frustrating, mystery of human relationships. Go on remembering with gratitude and laughter, as I have done in honour of my beloved elder half-sister who died in January.

    1. Ah, Kathy, I’m sorry for the loss of your half-sister. The “half” part of siblings is often very complex. There’s so much that is shared, and yet other aspects aren’t shared because of one different household. I recall our younger children often being torn while their older half-siblings were shuttled between homes. Here one day, gone another. There was some instability for everyone. But the relationships grew and we do need to keep the gratitude and laughter going. Thank you for that. And I love your comment about “frustrating, mystery of human relationships.” That is certainly true. I attribute our marital longevity to the fervent prayer of my grandparents. I know they prayed for us at every turn! And here we are 48 years later…despite our personal nonsense! LOL!

      1. Perpetua

        Thanks so much, Debra. Thankfully we never had the shuttling between different households to cope with. My father was a widower with a young daughter when he met and married my mother and had 4 more daughters. I love the thought of your grandparents praying every day for you both and your marriage. Their prayers have certainly been answered in full.

        1. Five sisters all together! I must admit that I didn’t even consider remarriage after the loss of a spouse. Goes to show you how much my world, and those around me, have been mostly affected by divorce. I can imagine that your older sister held a very special place in your heart.

          I have missed my grandparents this past month as I’ve done a significant amount of “life review.” They were wonderfully supportive and very special to me. They always modeled God’s goodness and mercy and for them, and that, I’m truly thankful. Thank you, my friend.

    1. Thank you, Kate. I know you have firsthand experience with the role! 🙂 I am glad I could share a few humorous moments. There were so many and we’ve had a good time recapturing some of those memories.

  5. Catherine Wade

    Debra, my condolences to you and the family. What beautiful, funny, and heart breaking memories of a much loved son. Love is love and hurt is hurt regardless of the blood involved.

    Blessing my friend.

    1. Thank you, Catherine. I do know that you understand, and I appreciate your kind thoughts and words. And is this a good time to tell you that I miss you? 🙂

    1. Karen Snyder

      Family is often created as much by heartstrings as by genetics, and the ornery young ones leave a very different mark in their wake. Your love and sense of loss is apparent in this tender tribute, Debra. Prayers that you and Jay will continue in your forward movement, no matter the speed with which it’s done, and that your hearts will be at peace.

    2. Loss is indeed hard for everyone, and the one thing we’ve said throughout this month is that everyone goes through a version of what we’ve experienced. And we’ve known far too many parents who have lost adult children, in particular in this last year. So no feeling sorry for ourselves. But we’ve taken good care of ourselves, and keeping the stories going is part of our healing. Thank you so much for your kind words, Andrew.

  6. M-R

    You have a gift for writing of something truly sad and yet rendering it entirely readable. Enjoyable, almost !
    Beautiful Debra, OF COURSE you were an integral part of Jeff’s life; and anyone who doesn’t recognise the fact is simply unworthy. Trade ’em for something else.

    1. M-R you always make me smile! I mean that. I must admit I can get my feelings hurt a little too easily sometimes, but in this last month I’ve had to remind myself over and over that people speak too quickly and don’t think. I so appreciate your kind words and that you enjoyed reading the post. I wanted to be able to share a little of who he was, and I think by your response I was able to do that! Thank you!

  7. You were so young to be a mom . . . you and Jeffrey really did grow up together. Glad that you are finding quiet, calm, and peace. And what a lovely send-off for a CA surfer.

    Enjoy your memories. Best to you all.

    1. Nancy, if I had the opportunity to visit other “surf-side” memorials just as a respectful spectator I would want to do it! It was beautiful. I am so glad we waited until the end of the month and had by then had a little time to absorb the shock. We were ALL very present with each other and to the moment. There was no divided family anywhere on that beach. We were one, and Jeffrey would have loved it. I think he did. 🙂 Thank you for your kind words.

    1. We are indeed doing very well, Frank. We told ourselves that we’d give the month of July to process what we could and generally rest and move through the paces put in front of us. I said early on that we were fortunate that we are both retired and not forced to put everything into a few days of bereavement leave! We could take care of ourselves. And yesterday’s beautiful service really provided the framework to end the month with warm and full hearts. Thank you for your kind words. All is well.

  8. Debra,

    I am so sorry for your/your family’s loss. What a beautiful post you have written here honoring your step-son, your relationship, and your own feelings of loss.
    Sending blessings and healing thoughts to you.

    In peace and grace,

    1. Thank you so much, Eva. I was hoping that just sharing a little of our experience would provide the pause before I move forward with the routines and activities we typically enjoy. I needed a period at the end of July! The paddle out was so very healing. We were one small group of friends and family, but there were many more observers respectfully standing on-shore, witnessing the surfers in their lovely ritual.

      I really do appreciate your kind thoughts. Thank you.

  9. What a wonderful way to say farewell. It reminds me of the ‘Missing Man’ formation often flown by members of a flying club when one of their number has gone beyond the clouds. I hope you and Jay are able to find peace now. Our thoughts are with you 🙂

    1. Thank you, Martin. We are definitely doing well and will continue to do so, I’m sure. We are learning a lot in this time about just being gentle with each other and ourselves. 🙂

      The “Missing Man” formation is a very close analogy and I wouldn’t have thought of that. Thank you. Words run really thin, but observing some of these wonderfully meaningful rituals, is extremely healing. 🙂

  10. Debbie

    Debra – this was so wonderfully written. I have never heard of a “paddle out”. The picture brought tears to my eyes! What a meaningful tribute. So sorry for your loss.

    1. Thank you so much, Debbie. I’m glad I could share the focus of the paddle out with you. I really appreciate you stopping by and sending your kind thoughts.

    1. Thank you so much, my dear friend. It was a beautiful morning at the beach and everyone felt a close, unifying presence. I know he’d have been really delighted! xx

  11. Sorry darlin! I’m at a loss for what to say. Life is very cruel sometimes but it seems he had good times and was loved. But not for long enough. Sending hugs xx

    1. You’re right on, Jo. There really aren’t words. I’ve found “words” to be very highly overrated this past month. Thanks for the hug. I’ll take that, gladly! xx

    1. Thank you very m much, Janis, for articulating so well how much the paddle-out signified in bringing us together as a family, and also signaling our love of Jeffrey, acknowledging his “own terms” That was so true!

    2. It’s interesting how children shape us as much as we try to shape and mold them into the confident and beings we wish for. I’m sure his memories are taking much space in your hearts and thoughts right now…courage and strength to you and yours Debra.

  12. My eyes are full of tears, but not just sad ones for the loss of Jeffrey (and of course, he’s not lost, he’s on his next path), so for YOUR loss of this imaginative sweet wonderful man, this son of yours. For I don’t really believe he was a step from being your son. He was your son (biology doesn’t matter a wit). You were a caring mother presence in his life, and his life was sweeter for it. I send you a huge hug of sympathy and love. A paddle out of joy for Jeffrey’s life.

  13. Thank you for sharing this…what a beautiful tribute to his life. And I loved learning about your relationship with him…what a blessing you both were to one another. Sending you much love.

  14. My son Mark is exactly Jeffreys Age. A loss you hear about is never so real than it becomes I f you put it in the context of your own life. How young fifty five is, and how much more to have experienced; I am so sad for you and your family, and for the experiences that Jeffrey never had the chance to experience.

  15. Dear Debra, as Dulcy told me, “At the end, all that matters is love.” Then she told me, “I have planted the memories of our life together in your heart. You will find them there, when I am gone, and they will comfort you.”

    I am so happy for you that your memories are bringing you comfort and helping you move into even a greater Oneness with Jeffrey. The love at the end ever endures. Peace.

  16. Pingback: I Spy… – breathelighter

  17. You brought Jeffrey alive for my eyes with your lovely tribute to him. He must have been quite a person. And, yes, stepping in as step-parents is never easy, it takes time and effort, to break through to the other side. But, of course, step-parents will grieve just as if they have lost one of their own kids. Good to read that you are having better days now.

    1. Thank you so much, Otto. This weekend we went back to the beach where we’d witnessed the paddle out in July, and it was so lovely to sit and remember Jeffrey while watching a beautiful sun set over the ocean. It was a special time.

I always enjoy hearing from you!

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