Alexis’ mom passed away a few weeks ago. Much sooner than any of us should have to leave. Her name was Elizabeth, but family called her Lisa. It’s been hard to witness the emotional and physically toll Lisa’s passing took and continues to take on Alexis. Mostly it’s had me feeling helpless. Especially leading up to it. Understandably, there are certain weights that just can’t be lifted from the shoulders of the ones we love, no matter what we do or say.
Alexis had a complicated relationship with her mom, but even still, one that was rooted in love, and had countless moments that shone bright all the same. Unfortunately, I can’t say I knew her as well as I would have liked to myself. Over the years though, I did get to know her secondhand through stories Alexis would tell me about her childhood. Her Mom’s obsession with the movie Titanic. Her abundant and quirky sense of humor. How every time she used a strangers driveway to make a 3-point turn and headlights briefly flooded a house she’d say, “Don’t put the coffee pot on, we’re not staying!”
The days we spent sorting through and organizing her belongings after she was gone, grew my sense of knowing her even more. I learned she was a beautiful writer. She wrote a lot of poetry. She was a singer in a few bands as a teenager. She had many struggles. She held on to the smallest things from her children, which spoke volumes for how much she loved them. I also learned she was crazy about lighthouses! Just when we thought we’d collected and packed up all the lighthouses, of all shapes and sizes, without fail a few more would pop up somewhere. Over the course of a few days, we’d always laugh discovering a new lighthouse. A welcomed lighter moment in heavy days.
One of my favorite memories with Lisa was when we all went miniature golfing together. It was Alexis, myself, Her sister Elizabeth, our niece Scarlett, Grandma Nancy, and of course Lisa. Somehow I wound up with the tiny pencil and score card. After each hole, without fail, Lisa would check in to make sure I marked her score at least a stroke or two better than Grandma’s, regardless of what anyone shot. All the while, Grandma Nancy was asking me to do the same for her. Back and forth, and back and forth. Adjusting scores from four holes ago if need be! It was only my second time ever meeting them, so I was eager to please and in turn sweating bullets cooking the books. In the end, I think to keep all parties happy I declared Scarlett the winner, who couldn’t have been more than 5 years old at the time. It was a fun memory, and I think a testament to her fun loving spirit and humor.
It’s been a hard few months and weeks, and I’m left saddened this happened but thankful to have been able to stand tall by my wife’s side when she needed me most. In the end, I’m incredibly inspired by Alexis’ strength under such crushing weight of grief and responsibility. She’s navigating uncharted waters in her life, and doing so with as much grace as anyone one of us could ever hope for when it comes our own time to do so ourselves. Goodbye Lisa, we love you and will miss you.
We traveled to Florida in late October to spend some long overdue time with family. Our first stop was Anna Maria Island to see Alexis’ siblings and nieces. We spent our time exploring the island, chartering a boat, swimming, grilling, building a sand metropolis, carving pumpkins, and getting our Halloween costumes good and sandy. It’s not everyday we get this group together in the same room, so I designed (under Alexis’ supervision) some commemorative shirts for some added fun. By our last day I even got called “Uncle Kyle” a few times, which is always as equally terrifying as it is heartwarming.
After a few days we were off to Estero Island to see my parents at our family timeshare, where one Smith or another has been making memories at for over 35 years. Here we got a few good sunsets in, tore across the Gulf of Mexico on some jet skis, and drank an amount of alcohol that would be cause for concern if we weren’t on vacation. We were also lucky enough to catch up with some aunts, uncles and cousins who we rarely get to see, but who were also vacationing on the island.
Before we headed back to California we had just enough time to clink glasses and crack some jokes with my brother, as well as drop in on some friends in Fort Lauderdale. It was a long trip, that went by all too fast, which is really just a roundabout way of saying, we had a great time.
My Mom turned 60 years old today, but really I should be saying 60 years young! She looks great for her age and believe me, she knows it. She’ll never miss the chance to tell you one of her many stories about her customers at the bank who are left in total disbelief after they learn her age. Just last month when we were in Florida together someone thought I was her husband! Surely I’ll never hear the end of that one.
All kidding aside though, the fact is my Mom is just as beautiful today as I’ve always known her to be. Inside and out. Maybe even more so now that I’m grown and able to understand just how selfless a person she’s always been for us.
Happy sixty Mom, we love you. Don’t worry, it’s just a number, you don’t look a day over 30!
Off the Southwest Florida Gulf Coast there’s a place called Estero Island. On that island there’s a seven-story condo called Sea Watch. On the 7th floor of that condo, there’s a unit that’s been in my family since before my time. I was just five months old my first visit. The Smith’s are still making memories there to this day.
My parents hold the keys to it now, and Alexis and I tagged along this year. It was her first time and I hadn’t been back in eleven years. It’s a special place, with a lot of history. It’s a place I’m very thankful for.
You forget just how much family you really have until you get them all in the same room. We did just that for my Grandfather’s 86th birthday. All his grandchildren, some of us scattered across the country, came together for him. Can only hope all those years down the road the story goes the same way when it’s my turn.
My Mom’s side of the family got together for us at my Cousin Michelle and Mario’s house too. It was a great time. We ate, we drank, we laughed, and saw lot’s of faces. Some I hardly recognize anymore.
Going back is always a nostalgic flood. A reminder of where I come from. Things get so busy, you almost start to forget. But we always go back. Thankful for a small place in a big world that will always have us. You know what they say, home is where the Italian beef sandwiches are.
My Dad, manning the grill, next to the pool, under the Florida sun. Following his dream of getting his family the hell out of the Chicago winters.
Here’s to him, and my Mom, for showing me what it means to take a chance and follow a dream, and for always encouraging me to follow my own.