Posted on Dec 8, 2011 in Blog |

Dear Loved Ones,

Usually, I look forward to writing this annual letter.  It gives me a chance to capture the highlights and reflect on the low moments to see what wisdom I can gain and utilize for “the next time.”  It gives me the opportunity to openly thank those who have been especially helpful.  But this year, I have dreaded this task.  Most of you already know why, and for the rest of you, it will become clear in a few paragraphs.  I use this letter as an imprint of our memories, so there are some things I want to say first . . .

2011 was a year of changes.

In January, Heather left myNeighborsNetwork after working for me for almost four years. She took a job as the salon manager at Tangerine Dream Beauty Bar.  She continues her studies at George Mason University and expects to graduate in 2012 with a BS in Mind/Body Wellness.  In the meanwhile, she also earned her yoga teaching certification.  She is currently teaching power vinyasa and flow yoga.  She is also preparing for a trauma certification course at the Kripalu Center in Stockbridge, MA in January.  She seems very happy in her life and it shows.

Stephen was notified in January that he had been awarded a regional Gold Key Award for a computerized self-portrait he made (see photo to the right: that’s the winner!).  It was a big deal.  And we are very proud of him!

A few days later, Stephen made it to the big 18.  We celebrated over a series of days and meals.

On March 1st, Stephen was accepted into his first choice college, Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA.

Just after Valentine’s Day, Joey asked his girlfriend, Cortney Jones, to be his wife.  She accepted.  They came out over the summer for a quick trip and introduction to his East Coast family.  They are tentatively planning on a 2013 wedding in California where they are currently living (Simi Valley).  In March, Joey underwent major successful back surgery.  He is now able to work and is enjoying his new job at Milgard Windows.  Having a job in California is treasured item and Joey is grateful to have a good job with great potential.

It seemed that 2011 was going to be a great year with some terrific milestones.

And then, on March 28, our world changed.

Our nephew, Preston Schneider, died as a result of suicide at the age of 16.  He killed himself in McLean, so we had a memorial service for him here since Gayle and her family had lived in Oakton for many years and many long time friends close by.  I then went back to Colorado Springs with Gayle and Brittany (the rest of the family followed soon after) and we had the funeral out there a week later.  Preston requested to “rest on a mountain top” so his body was cremated; this past summer, Gayle and Brittany spread his ashes at Pikes Peak and a few other places where he loved to mountain climb.

Preston’s suicide left us devastated.  Eight months later, I still can’t find appropriate words.  I do want to thank everyone who has reached out to our family this year.  I have kept every card sent, every email, every text message.  Many of you shared your own stories and helped lighten the loneliness. The other mothers who have buried their children, thank you for coming to the funeral, for showing Gayle she can survive this. Those who have lost a sibling, please keep talking to Brittany.

The pain has been excruciating.  Each of us has been grieving in unique ways. I have learned that no one’s grieving process is right or wrong. But grief shared is suffering lessened, ever so slightly.  Getting through the first year is just the beginning, so please keep in touch beyond just the first anniversaries without Preston.

Thank you to the Fairfax County police force; every single officer we encountered was amazing.  To my guardian angel, John Carney, thank you for walking me through every single step of those first few hours, days, and weeks.

Thank you to Laura Martin, my operations manager at work.  I’ve known Laura since she was 13. I hired her in February and basically left her to run the company while I spent time with Gayle and Brittany.  And Laura did a phenomenal job.  Her personality and talents make it fun to come to work every day.  She has been the perfect person to share my office with this year.

I had started a poetry course with my favorite teacher, Reuben Jackson, in January.  We had a few weeks’ break, coinciding with Preston’s death, starting back up three weeks later. What little I did write was only about Preston; the class of nine gave me a safe place to grieve, to vent, to cry.  And they cried with me, for me, for Gayle and Brittany; I carry those nine poets in my heart daily.

The very same week as Preston’s death Stephen starred in his friend’s one act play at Langley High School. I was able to attend the night before I left for Colorado Springs.  And I laughed hard.  Jeff went the next night and agreed: it was hysterically funny and Stephen did a fantastic job! Stephen helped write the play and he played several characters within the play.

Jeff and I also had our 20th wedding anniversary on April 6, 2011.  Being best friends is key to a good marriage, in my opinion.  And Jeff remains mine. I would do it all again with no one but Jeff. I am thankful for our journey together, even the rough spots.  He is my rock.

On April 29th, I finished my last dose of antibiotics for Bartonella; 20 months of treatment.  My bloodwork finally came back clear for Bartonella, but it also tested positive for Protomyxzoa Rheumatica, formerly known as FL1953.  There is no known cure (yet) for this particular Babesia form of protozoa, but it is manageable.  I have had a setback or two since April, but I know I am headed in the right direction.

In May, Jeff finished his antibiotic treatment for Bartonella; it took him just under a year of treatment to get back the most beautiful blood smear I have ever seen. Stephen’s bloodwork for Bartonella came back clear in September, a huge relief to us all.

Jeff also celebrated May with a regional Chrysalis award for a Finished Basement remodel.  It’s nice to win awards!  You can take a virtual tour of the project at http://www.vpix.net/index.php?tour=3302.

Mom celebrated her 80th birthday with a “girls’ luncheon” at the Ritz Carlton and then a family dinner the next night.  Gayle was able to return for Mom’s birthday celebration over an extended weekend.

June was a busy month, preparing for and celebrating Stephen’s high school graduation.  Jeff’s dad, Jim, came up from Ft. Lauderdale to help us celebrate.

I was also selected as one of six Northern Virginians of the Year by Northern Virginia magazine.  I got a great write up in their June issue.  I also was honored to serve on a town hall panel hosted by State Delegate Barbara Comstock regarding Lyme Disease.

At the end of July, Jeff, Stephen and I flew to Colorado Springs to spend a few days with Gayle and Brittany.  That’s where the front of our Christmas card came from.  Each night, we sat on Gayle’s deck and watched the sunset over Pikes Peak. On that particular evening, we saw the heart shaped cloud.  Stephen captured the shot, and Gayle whispered, “Hi Preston. I love you too.”  We shed tears during our visit; but we also shared much laughter and sweet memories of Preston.  We all visited Garden of the Gods, Jeff took Brittany flyfishing, Stephen took more amazing photographs (http://www.flickr.com/photos/stephenrainey).

We drove from Colorado Springs to Gunnison where Jeff fished.  We spent a night at Three Rivers where I actually accompanied him fishing.  We are in agreement that I do not have the most appropriate flyfisher temperament as I ended up yelling at the trout for not taking Jeff’s fly.  We drove along the Colorado Scenic Byway. I think if we uttered, “amazing,” “green,” or “lush” one more time, Stephen might have mutinied the vehicle.  We spent some time in Taos, and Los Alamos, New Mexico, finishing our trip in Santa Fe with a college friend whom I had not seen in 25 years.  We attended two of the nation’s top ten Farmer’s Markets, lit a candle for Preston at San Francisco de Asis Mission Church in Ranchos de Taos, prayed and collected some sacred dirt at El Santuario de Chimayo, and bought two ritablos at the Spanish Market.  Cindy even fed me green smoothies every day, nicely complimenting our beloved southwestern cuisine.

The Southwest still holds my heart and soul.  It was very difficult to leave.

Stephen and I both went through Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) in August.  The transformation for Stephen was astounding and impressive.  My changes were not as impressive, but I’m also not 18.

Stephen’s arrival at Old Dominion University was delayed by a hurricane; not an ideal start to his freshman year.  We also had an earthquake this fall; I happened to be in the HBOT chamber at that moment.  And then torrential rains . . . Mother Nature just didn’t give up this year.

Jeff made impressive expansions in his organic garden, though he will never be able to plant enough kale and spinach to keep me stocked for my green smoothies. But I tell him to keep trying.

Jeff also added a few beehives and harvested two rounds of honey; dissention pulls between which harvest tasted better.  We just need to keep trying it until we all agree.  If you want to purchase some of Jeff’s honey, feel free to visit his page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Backyard-Eden-Honey/252042151507577 to get on his waiting list.  You can also purchase it exclusively at Katie’s Coffee in Great Falls.  And if you dine in one of the best restaurants in the nation, also located in Great Falls, you might just taste some of Jeff’s honey there as well!

Mom and Dad celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary with a family celebration at the Ritz-Carlton.  It was a happy occasion for us to gather.  Mom and Dad enjoyed the rest of the weekend reading the many anniversary cards their friends had sent.

Gayle and Brittany also spent September 7th, Preston’s birthday, together.  Jeff, Carol and I had dinner with them, fixing Preston’s favorite dinner.  We spent the evening reminiscing and healing.

In October, Jeff and I, the family rabble rousers, drove to Boston to protest at the annual convention of the Infectious Disease Society of America (IDSA).  We protested their published treatment guidelines for Lyme Disease and their refusal to identify advanced Lyme Disease as a medical condition.  We really went to meet the other Lymies we have met via Facebook and Twitter.  70 degrees and sunny all weekend made it an incredible autumn getaway for these two empty nesters.

Heather ran the Army 10 Miler again this year as well.  For someone who doesn’t like to run, she sure seems to excel at it.

October also brought a setback in my Babesia treatment; my blood smears looked a lot worse there for a few months but with a few medication changes, I am back on track and headed in the right direction again.

Jeff passed his final inspection on a whole house remodel he started a year ago.  This house is one of the most exciting projects I think he has ever had, though my bias is totally because of the incredible contemporary nature of the project.  I love the client’s color choices, textures, and lines.  And I can’t wait to photograph it for various contests!  It is sure to be a winner!

On November 18th, we got a text from Stephen, “Hey! Just wanted to let you know I broke my collarbone. Waiting to see dr in the er.” He fell off his skateboard. The next morning, we brought him home from ODU.  A week later, the same surgeon who saved Jeff’s leg three years ago salvaged Stephen’s shattered collarbone with plates, screws, and needle and thread (literally).  Dr. Klein said it was like putting Humpty Dumpty back together again. There is still a significant chance the plating can fail, so Stephen is home for December with plans to return for the Spring semester in January. We are still working out the particulars for his course work.

We are also still sending care packages to the troops through www.neighborsfoundation.org.  All donations are tax deductible.  It costs $14.95 to send every box . . . just sayin’ . . .

It has been about a year now since I published my first book, Making a Pearl from the Grit of Life.  We also now have a Kindle version available if you are interested!  Both are available on Amazon.

I have started work on my second book relating to my journey through Lyme disease, but have not made as much progress as I originally planned.  But I do hope to finish it in 2012.  Of course, there is the slight issue of how many pages my co-author has or has not written . . .

I’ve worked on this letter for more than a week; today, I feel completely out of sorts.  I’m not sure if it’s another herx coming on from my Lyme treatment, or if it’s just the need to finish this letter and put it behind me.  The grief of Preston’s death permeates everything right now.

I don’t know why Preston chose death on March 28th.  I do know God was with him when he made that choice. I know many people (including myself) have considered suicide as an option at some point in their lives because the emotional and/or physical pain was overwhelming.  Every day that we get out of bed is a day that we choose life over death.  I thank everyone who makes that choice every single day.

By virtue of the internet and cell phones, we seem to be more aware of everyone’s struggles in life. It’s important to remember that everyone has their burdens to carry; but also important to know that as we share the burdens, they become lighter.

Having Preston ripped from our lives has been devastating.  His death rippled through my relationships with everyone.  I have become more ‘blunt’ in what I say and how I say it, but I have found I no longer am willing to waste my time in beating around the bush.  So, I say I love you more often, I hug more often, and my emotions are closer to the surface. And for now, that’s ok.  Though I wouldn’t mind fewer tears.

In a year that I thought would bring an end to my treatment, Jeff has continued to do everything in his power to help me heal; from cooking every night, to growing more kale than some local farmers to decorating the Christmas tree and putting up all the decorations. He is my best friend, my biggest supporter.

I wish you all peace.