My only Uncle passed away last month just a couple weeks shy of one year after the death of his wife, my only Aunt. Lately is seems as if the foundational relationships of my life are slipping away one funeral at a time and I find myself wondering, “Who hijacked my life?”

The older I get the more I look back at the snapshot memories of my past and long to step back into them with the new appreciation that comes with age and distance. There are of course memories that I would rather eliminate all together but not as many. With age comes the selective memory application you won’t find on any smart phone and Photoshop has nothing on what the mind can do with our memory snapshots. I now hear the same words coming out of my mouth that used to drive me crazy when I was young…”When I was your age…”. I also love listening to the 70’s station and telling my youngest son what age I was when the song was a top hit. I’m sure he loves that!

With this melancholy nostalgia comes the familiar companion of grief. Grief for what once was and will never be again. Grief for long ago celebrations like Christmas with my nine cousins and our parents all crammed into our grandmother’s little two bedroom house. Sweet aromas filling the air: homemade chicken and noodles, homemade dinner rolls and enough cookies to feed an army. Of course we pretty much were an army. The basement was filled with gifts that seemed to be stacked to the ceiling from my vantage point. A classic tinfoil tree with the essential color wheel changing the glow from red to yellow and green to blue stood majestically on top of a table. When there are 12 sets of rambunctious arms and legs hyped up on sugar cookies the table top was the only safe place to perch that shiny tree. Nothing at floor level was safe. Christmas will never be as magical as it was back then.

Most of my snapshot memories seem to involve my cousins. Some of them are of the Jungle Hut, a small postage size cabin in the mountains of Colorado that my parents have owned since I was seven. The toilet is still in the back yard. The shower is now in a room of its own in the spot that used to be a small tool shed type space rather than a plastic barrel on the garage with a shower head stuck in it. I haven’t been there since my husband died. I can so easily smell the crisp clean air every time my mind wanders back there. I can also conjure up the odor of the outhouse; yeah, I’m just lucky that way.

The common thread among all of the memories is the thought of, “What happened?” At no point in time did I ever imagine myself widowed at the age of 45. Not once did my hopes and dreams for my life include raising my youngest son as a single parent. I never imagine a life where holidays brought the loneliness of just my youngest son and me by ourselves. My older three sons have grown and are now living their lives distant from us leaving my youngest to grow up without the noise and joy of our large family. A stay-at-home mom for 18 years, I reentered the workforce two years ago which means my youngest spends a great deal of his time at home with just the dogs to keep him company. Not the greatest scenario for a 14-year-old. He’s a great kid though, the last few days he’s shown up at my office with a homemade lunch in his backpack for the two of us to share. He’s getting to be quite the cook and I love seeing him come in the door with that look of pride as he sets my lunch down in front of me. He cooks way better than I do.

My son was away from home a couple of weeks this summer. He had band camp one week and tagged along on a family vacation with his best friend another week. These were not a happy example of what my life will be like in four short years when he goes off to college. I did not enjoy being at home with only the dogs for company, they don’t talk much. This was a time in life that my husband and I had dreamed of and planned for. Those dreams and plans were buried with him nearly six years ago. Now I look at the uncertainty of the years ahead and I grieve some more.

Grief is my constant shadow; some days longer and darker, some days barely visible, but always there.

Shelley Brandon

My bio is rather complex and like most people's starts at birth, or maybe before. I was adopted as an infant by very special and very loving parents. Pretty normal and average childhood with two younger brothers. Married at 22, motherhood at 25, divorced single parent at 29. Blessed at 31 with a new chance at love and the family I'd always wanted. Eight months later two of my sons lost their mother to pneumonia. Our blended family was tossed by the waves of grief from the beginning. The waves became a tsunami when my wonderful husband died 14 years later. Grief has been my shadow for nearly 20 years now, but life is still good when you're standing in the light.