Archives for posts with tag: son

My only son, my youngest child of four, died ten years ago at the age of 35 after a long battle with cancer. He left us memories, his wonderful wife and his daughter, who was 15 months old. I’ve written about how it feels in the years after you lose a child, but it’s always different.

One of my grandsons was available to help me, although it was a very hot, humid day, so we tackled a little bit of the stuff in my garage. There were four shelves that were full of my son’s things, but I didn’t know if some of them were just things he collected when my mother or his father died or what was in the containers. We started pulling them out and found all kinds of treasures that warm a mother’s heart.

There was a plastic box with clothes and my college age grandson grabbed an old fanny pack and a red corduroy lined hat with flaps. If there was one thing my son had, it was his own style along with a vast knowledge of everything pop culture. He collected vintage clothing and lunch boxes and Scottish things and whatever caught his fancy. His old Star Wars toys are in other boxes and he would know the name of every character to this day. The original was his first movie when he was about a year and a half and all of it was such a huge part of his life. I also have his Lego blocks, having stepped over them and picked them up for years.

There’s a box out there with photos and school papers and notebooks that I just closed up for another day. I did move it from a cardboard box to a plastic container. Here are some of the other items we discovered in our archaeological garage dig:

There was a big box with his teddy bear collection. Again, he would know all the names. There was the little panda we got when we visited the pandas at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. when they had first arrived in the USA. There was the bear that he posed with in his one year photo. There were some other animals and puppets that actually came from the gift shop I owned when he was in high school and college. And this one was on top:

I needlepointed this for him when he was about three or four years old. His father was a sailor in the Navy, so it was a special bear for many reasons. He’s on my bed for the moment.

There were several books that he loved from his childhood. He didn’t have our copy of “Where the Wild Things Are,” his favorite, but he had taken this one that I must have read hundreds of times.

There were magazines from pop culture, such as a People magazine with Jerry Garcia on the cover along with others that are probably collector’s items today. There was an anthology from Tulsa Public Schools that I swear I had never seen with this published poem of his.

I now have a sealed valentine box of chocolates with Elvis to make me smile. The fact that they are Russell Stover chocolates is also fun since those were his father’s favorites.

I will sit down on days when I want to go back and learn more about my son and explore his drawings and writings. He tended to doodle, which his father did and his daughter does, in his notes, although most of his notebooks seem to be only used for a few pages, which matched what his attention span was. There is so much to explore.

One of the big pieces was an art project from his high school days. I think he was President of the school Art Club. Anyway, it was a big open box with lots of strips of film clipped to the sides. I had my grandson throw it in the dumpster that my son-in-law and daughter across the street were filling from their garage. A piece of plaster had dropped out of it and, when I picked it up, I realized that it was a plaster cast of the bottom part of my son’s face. This took me a minute because my son’s face had changed due to the treatment he received for the cancer he had in his mouth. I took it inside and my grandson threw the rest of the project away. I had seen other bits of plaster still in there, but didn’t look. Now I got curious and had my son-in-law climb into the dumpster and retrieve the plaster pieces. What we found were a complete face along with a sculpted piece of it. Pretty amazing. I have taken the pieces to be framed, but here they are.

I’ve always said that one of the nicest things to find is a photo of a lost loved one that you had never seen before. It’s like getting a piece of them back. I’d say that our little bit of cleaning in the garage brought me more pieces of my son than I realized were on the shelves. It seems there is a reason I sentimentally keep so many things that others throw out without a thought.

Now that I know what’s out there, I know I will return to the boxes to dig through papers and objects and recover little memories and new knowledge of who my son was and what his impact was on so many. It’s so comforting to know he can return to us through our memories and these pieces of him. I wish you had known him. I’m glad to know there is more for me to learn about him. We all miss him.

Can it be five years already? Is it only five years? I’m trying to process the death of my younger brother last month and the anniversary of my son’s death is here. Too much death means I’ve shared so much life. That’s how I’m choosing to look at it this time around.

I look through photos and my mind tries to latch on to my favorite or how I remember Clayton. Do I remember him at two, a grubby little boy of already legendary impishness and imagination? Scan 13Do I remember him at five, already well into his Star Wars obsession?ScanDo I remember him with his buddies in grade school? 9025_273731980146_544045146_8769282_6837187_nOr as the latest style setter?Scan 1Is my best memory of him as teenager? Crazy, silly, exasperating as all get out?Scan 45Do his friends remember him as the funniest guy around? Possibly the most dedicated and goofy class 9th grade president and 10th grade vice-president they could ever hope for?CLAYTON 1993Do I remember him dancing at his sister’s wedding?Scan 5Do I remember him with his father without a tearful smile for both of them?Scan 1Or times with his cousins and sisters?Cousins 1990Were his college years his best?006_6Or the times with his sisters?ScanDo I remember his battle with cancer? His courage and his ability to bring us all through it with his incredible humor?Clayton's maskDo I remember the friends who were there through all those difficult years?Scan 1Scan 11Scan 11Do I remember most when he told me he was smitten?86838-PH-Box 01-060Or their magical wedding?Clay___Whitney_s_Wedding_004And their joy at becoming parents?


Was he the best uncle ever?photoOr the best son, brother, friend, husband, father? He was all that and a kind, generous, loving, cantankerous, hilarious man to boot. Ultimately, he was uniquely Clayton.

It’s been a journey through his life today. Five years later…I miss him more, I appreciate him more, I love him even more.


Today is my son’s birthday. Thirty-eight years ago today I was lucky enough to bring him into this world where he shone so brightly. As his mom, I’m trying not to get sad or do something worse and make him seem bigger than life or better than he was. I can hear him saying “Mom!” The truth is that he was a whole person who lived and loved his entire life and, like a true star, he left some of his shine on those who met, knew and loved him.

He was a cute little boy, a loving little boy, a funny little boy, a mess of a little boy.


Scan 14


Scan 1

He was a sweet kid, a fun kid, a sometimes exasperating kid. He was a kid who embraced pop culture from the beginning, always on trend.


Scan 1

He was a teenager, a handsome teenager, a teenager who worked hard and played hard and studied when the mood struck him or a teacher inspired him.


Scan 45


He was a college student who partied and danced and went to class and learned what he learned. He rallied for women’s rights, he formed an improv group, he graduated years after he should have, but he graduated.

Scan 5



He was a young man who became an uncle to his three sisters’ kids, loving them with all his heart.

Scan 13

He was a cancer survivor for 10 years. He rose to the disease, fighting it with everything he had. When he returned from radiation, I found him comforting other cancer victim online in chatrooms. He volunteered at the hospital, working with cancer patients when most would have rather have been away from that world.

Clayton's mask

He fell in love, deeply in love, and married in all his Scottish finery.

Scan 16

Scan 7


And he continued to have fun.


He was a brother


and a son


He became a father, a father who loved his little girl with all his heart.


He lived his life right up to the end, teaching us all how to fight through pain every day


He lived a life, a complete life, a circle of life. Today, his wife and daughter, his sisters and their families and I will celebrate that life with Clayton’s Pie Night, pizza (which he delivered in college) and pie (which he loved to bake). His life touched his family, his friends, strangers who met him.

I sang the song to him as a child, as I did to his sisters and to my grandchildren.
You are my sunshine.
May we always bask in the light that he brought to our lives.


It’s stupid to make generalizations about Daddys or Mommys because there are so many kinds. Since it’s Father’s Day, I’m thinking of the fathers I’ve known and lost…grandfather, father, father-in-law, husband, son…and celebrating the sons-in-law I have as fathers to my grandchildren. The best I can do is talk about the things that I’ve loved the most about all of these important guys in my life.

Scan 2

I’ve seen them cry. Maybe not my grandfather, but all the rest of them have at least had a tear in their eye from laughter, pride, love, grief more than once. Real men DO cry for the right reasons.

They’re responsible. They do their very best to take care of their family financially. They teach their children right from wrong. They have great work ethics. They take the time to share themselves with the next generation.


They pitch in when needed. They help around the house, help with the kids, help with dinner. My own father may have been the worst…he didn’t know we had a hammer, but he did mow the lawn. He only cooked outside. But he was there, trying. My husband, son, and sons-in-law are all over helping everyone. They diapered, fed, cooked, helped anyone in the family move anything.

They love their wives. Maybe the most important thing because it teaches their children so much.

They have great senses of humor. Maybe the second most important thing, really. They all had more than a sense of humor…they were genuinely funny. And silly. My father used to sit at the table and start stories like “when I discovered America…” I know he did it just to see us roll our eyes. But it made us laugh too. He was an elegant man, but he could be silly. My husband was just funny, silly, goofy. And we could always laugh together. Sometimes we were having an argument and then we’d look at each other, realize the absurdity of it all, and just burst out laughing. My husband and son used to sit with each other making up puns from the time my son was very small. We laugh a lot in our family. I think my daughters must have known they’d never be happy without that quality.

They play. There’s a lot of the little boy in them that comes out to join their kids.


They’re not perfect. Thank goodness. I’ve known people who had to be right, had to meet expectations of perfection, and it was tough. I could go through flaws, but they are part of what makes them each unique. They’re perfect enough…

Thanks to all my guys, those gone and those still here. I can’t love any of you enough.

My mother used to always tell us the story of our birth on our birthdays.  She would call or I would see her and she would start off with “Twenty-one years (or whatever our age was) ago today, I had a baby girl.”  Then she would tell us the details of that day.  And we laughed…but, we always waited for the story.  I’ve done the same with my kids.  It’s just a funny tribute to my mother and a sweet remembrance of those special days when I gave birth to my incredible children.

Thirty-seven years ago today, I had a beautiful baby boy.  He was my fourth child, following three girls.  He wasn’t planned, which turned out to be appropriate.  Who could have planned for Clayton?  That day, I felt like I was having labor pains, so I called the doctor and he had me go to the hospital.  I had the girls very quickly and he knew that I didn’t need to wait around.  The girls were all born early and this one was late by about a week.  Of course, we didn’t know he was a boy.  This had been an interesting pregnancy anyway.  I didn’t know I was pregnant and they did some tests and decided it was an etopic pregnancy.  I had surgery and they cut me open to find out that everything was ok.  I must have had an MRI  and they had just gotten the machine and nobody was very proficient in reading the tests.  I remember the doctor opening me up and then cursing.  He realized I was awake and apologized, but I understood that he was frustrated that he had just done surgery on someone who didn’t need it.  From then on, the pregnancy was easy.  I remember diving in the pool all summer, feeling great.  I also remember being at the mall where there was a fountain.  I was very pregnant with three little girls with me and one of them tried to climb in the fountain.  The thought went through my mind that I must look like a mother duck waddling along with little ones trailing behind me.  Another friend told me I just looked like a knocked-up 14 year old.

Anyway, on that day, I went to the hospital and waited.  The doctor wouldn’t let me go home because of the other quick births.  Finally, they sent me out to the fathers’ waiting room to sit with my husband.  You can’t imagine how strange that was.  Dads didn’t get to go in while you were in labor or giving birth back then…nobody did.  The fathers’ waiting room was full of about to be Daddys who couldn’t figure out why I was there.  I read magazines with them and read the comments book that the fathers wrote in while they waited.  Alan was frustrated and nervous.  This was too odd.  When I went back into the labor rooms, they tried to check the baby’s heartbeat.  The nurse said they were having a problem because the baby was dancing around in there…”doing the hustle.”  Well, it was 1975…what an inkling of things to come.  At some point during the evening, after we had been there all day, the doctor came in to tell me that the baby was stuck and they needed to do a c-section.  I guess the head was pressing on my pelvic bone and couldn’t get over to the way out.  He had a dent in his head for a long time that made me laugh.  Tears rolled down my cheek, not from fear, but because I could just see another scar on my stomach next to the one from the earlier surgery that had stretched to about an inch or more wide as my abdomen expanded.  It turned out that they took that one out & made another one.

When they wheeled me into the operating room, it was later that night.  They painted my hugely expanded abdomen with iodine so it was oddly orange.  They put a curtain across me so I wouldn’t be able to see the operation, but I turned my head and saw the reflection in the window just as they began to cut.  I turned back and listened to the conversation.  The anesthesiologist was holding my hand & sitting by my head…his name was Dr. Love.  When they pulled out Clayton, Dr. McShane almost shouted “it’s a boy!”  Dr. Love kissed me on the forehead.  Dr. McShane couldn’t wait to get out of there and run to tell Alan.  They all knew I had three girls by this point.  I just laid there and smiled.  Unbelievable!

We named him Clayton Alan Fraser.  Clayton was for all the men in my family (my grandfather, father and brother) who were named James Clay.  My grandfather went by Clayton.  Alan was after my husband, Alan, and his father, who was Ralph Allan.  We covered all the bases.  Alan went immediately to buy him a pair of jeans and found a size one.  They didn’t have baby jeans back then.

That is the story.  Clay was unique in all good ways.  He spent the next 35 years teaching me, teaching us all, to enjoy life.  He was the cutest, sweetest, kindest little active boy who was determined to be different from his sisters.  He didn’t need to try, but try he did to the point of trying us all.  Keeping up with him as a job for everyone.  He was always a character, always funny.  From as early as possible, he and his father would sit and trade puns.  He knew he was funny and it kept him out of the trouble he should have been in.  He was smart enough to know that he would learn the way he was going to learn and the teachers had just better figure that out.  He hated timed tests, preferring to work on his time.  He wiggled and squirmed through classrooms all the way through college but probably remembered more than I did being the perfect student.  He charmed his way past many a teacher.  The typical summary of a kid like this is that his sisters and I were driving to Westminster College for his graduation and got a call from him saying that he was going to go through the ceremony but wouldn’t get the degree.  I think he flunked bowling or something ridiculous.  We watched him walk in his cap and gown, taking another Clayton moment in stride.  He finally got that degree years later, taking two classes and getting As so that he could get into culinary school.  He promptly handed me the diploma as it meant little to him.  You have to shake your head and roll your eyes.

This is a long blog and my heart is full of memories today, so I’ll give the shortened version.  Clay grieved when his father died of cancer.  He went into a state of depression that we didn’t realize since he was away at college.  He came home, fell in love and the wonderful girl was killed in a tragic fire.  He picked himself up and went back to school, started a comedy improv group, and began living again.  He then went through the graduation I mentioned before, came home and started teaching English as a second language and waiting tables with his friends at BBD.  He complained of problems and pains in his jaw and nothing could be found.  One day he announced to me that he wanted to have his tonsils out.  I told him I didn’t know if you could just ask to do that, but he did.  When the doctor came out after that simple surgery, he told me they had found cancer behind the tonsil.  I had to wait the weekend to let the doctor explain it to Clay in his office.  A horrible weekend that makes me cry to remember…watching him and knowing I couldn’t tell him because I didn’t know enough myself.  When we left the office, a tear ran down his cheek.  “Why do we always have to get the rare cancers?”  Clay had Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma and his dad had died of cancer of the esophagus (rare at the time).  A friend told me it was the scream he couldn’t get out.  A doctor nodded when I told him that.

From the time he found out he had cancer, Clay was adamant with me that this was his cancer.  He would be the one to fight it.  We all know it takes everyone you have to fight cancer, but he was trying to make me not worry.  I look at a statue he gave me one Mother’s Day.  It’s of a buddha like figure, bent over with worry.  He told me it was to keep me from worrying.  That was even before the cancer.  The treatment – neutron and electron radiation – that Clay received in Seattle was new in 2001.  It gave him 10 more years and it killed him in the end.  The cancer did come back, as it does in this kind, and he was able to beat it with natural means.  His death was from the residual effects of the radiation.  But those last ten years were incredible.  As the radiation effects took hold, he lost his ability to talk and eat.  But along that journey, he met and fell in love with Whitney, finished school, went to culinary school and became an incredible baker (it didn’t take much talking), and produced Eliza May Fraser.  Many people don’t do all that with well bodies.

I look back on the 35 years we had with my incredible son and think of all that he gave us.  He lived his life on his terms, he loved and was loved by so many people, he made us laugh and he taught us bravery.  He lived with incredible pain and touched lives everywhere he went.  He had a full life in 35 years and taught me that we never know how much time we have on this earth.  This weekend, I was with his daughter Eliza, who is now 3.  She knew we were getting together later to celebrate her daddy.  We went to the park and she started calling out to him…”where are you, Daddy?  Daddy, where are you?”  She does this with a smile on her face as she seems to talk to him often.  She wanted him to be at the party.  It doesn’t make me sad because she seems to have a relationship with him that we all wish we were innocent enough to have.  I told her he was there…he is all around us.  She understands and that is the blessing.

I love you, Clayton Alan Fraser!