When Cody died Troy and I were faced with having to make decisions, plans and choices about things we weren't necessarily ready for. My sister and I did some of this for our mom, but that's kind of the way the cycle of life is supposed to happen. It's not something you think you will ever have to do for your child. But, nevertheless, we were catapulted in to this horrible new reality. Grief stricken and still going through shock, we sat at the mortuary wondering how in the world our son's life could have been reduced to a small bag of his belongings. It was so cold, feeling more like a business transaction than anything else. Then we spent the next 3 days waiting in a hotel room so that we could take our son home.
I spent a great deal of time in the hotel room trying to imagine how Troy and I would ever get through a service, listening to a minister talk about grief and sadness and the afterlife as it pertained to our son. Cody was deeply spiritual, looking for meaning in the tiniest things nature and our universe had to say. He believed in God but was completely turned off by organized religion. A conversation I had with him about 2 years ago summed up perfectly why.
"Lots of churches and religions have rules just to be able to walk in the door, Mam. Even if there are no rules, there are still judgments made about people's appearance and actions. Jesus hung around with a bunch of thieves, liars and whores. Do you think those kinds of people are welcomed with no judgments in today's churches? Not likely. So I'll just keep doin' what I do."
Knowing that was how Cody felt made it difficult to plan some kind of service at a church or mortuary where there would be some sort of religious aspect to it. It certainly would be appropriate for ME. But not for CODY. So after a brief discussion with Troy to see if we were on the same page, my sister and close friends started the process to find the right venue, plan the food and help with logistics. It was the perfect place, right next to the high school where he started 9th grade. In the very park next to the river where he had gone many times with friends. And none of them had any idea until I walked up to the building in tears and told them all of that. God had His hand in everything that happened that day.
My focus was on setting up the service to honor Cody in just the right Cody-way. I asked a very special friend from work who knew Cody to open the service with a reading and a prayer. I knew I wanted to do a video with pictures and music. I also asked a few friends if they would like to speak.
We were still faced with some sort of Eulogy. I felt very strongly in my heart that specific things needed to be said. So I decided that if I wanted to say specific things, then I needed to be the one to say them. Quite a daunting thought given my frame of mind and I wasn't really sure what Troy would think of it. The only thing he said, with a look of grief-stricken fear, was that there was no way he would be able to speak.
It made it even more important in my mind that I speak for both of us.
So the morning of his service, I sat with my laptop on my back porch at 6:00 a.m. I cried, laughed, sobbed and cried some more as the words poured out of me. I printed it out and read it to myself 3 times. I Read it to Troy to make sure he was okay with the message. I read it to Sydney to make sure she was okay with the message. Then I got in a hot bath to soak and read it about 10 more times, trying to make the words come easier without the tears while also trying not to memorize it and make it sound rehearsed and cold.
I asked my father-in-law to be on standby in case I couldn't get all the way through it. But sheer exhaustion and reading it 5 more times before I left helped and I managed to deliver the entire message myself. The video with music and many pictures of Cody's life played just before I spoke. A video clip of Cody with Nathan talking in the background was at the very end.
And then I spoke:
“Why are you always taking pictures” was the question Nathan asked in the background of that video. I’m not sure if I was trying to capture moments in time for my children to look back on later in life or if it was simply for my own amusement. Today clarifies why. Why every picture I took….regardless of how blurry or silly or posed or random….was for a bigger purpose that was not revealed until this week. As I started the process of planning how to honor Cody in just the right “Cody-Way” I knew that his very essence…his very spirit….was captured in every picture taken of him, regardless of whether I took it, a friend took it, or JC Penny took it. That smile. Those beautiful blue eyes. That goofy smile. That shitty grin.
Cody was a beautiful pain the in butt from the moment he was born. Quite literally because I almost tore my sphincter muscle in half delivering him. In retrospect I see his birth as the definition of what it meant to be his mother: A journey filled with moments of indescribable pain that, for however brief or long the pain lasted, could be overcome with hard work, focus, love, determination and the momentary cry out to God to please make the pain go away….but in the end was a beautiful, heartwarming, enduring love that filled me to the brim.
I remember when we brought Cody home from the hospital. Troy and I were so amazed at this tiny little human with all his perfect little fingers and toes. We would lay on the bed with him between us, silent, and just stare at him. Every yawn, every stretch, every sigh was something worthy of acknowledgement from my dog to God Himself. As he continued to grow each milestone was monumental to this first time mom….but his first laugh was particularly wonderful. It was a full belly laugh that happened when my dog jumped up in my lap and scared me a little. It’s interesting that that’s what made him laugh because when he was older one of his favorite things to do was scare the crap out of me at the top of our staircase. It was a fun little game that he got his brother and sister to do, too. Everyone laughed every. Single. Time. Except me. But eventually my heart would start beating again and I would chuckle a little.
My children have always been pretty good at getting me to laugh. But in particular Cody. Every person in this room knows what I mean, even if it was my retelling of some story about him. His sense of humor was silly and sarcastic and sometimes completely irritating. He was a goofball. A comedic force to be reckoned with, whether it was some random stupid delivery of nonsense or dancing his way in to a room when no music was playing. Or dancing his way out of a room when no music was playing. Or dancing to every type of music imaginable. His humor sustained him. It was the biggest part of his personality and undoubtedly one of the reasons each person in this room wanted to be around him. He was infectious. At his best, Cody was someone who could make your darkest day brighter by just simply being himself and allowing you to be yourself with him. No judgments and no agenda.
When you have a personality with a spirit to match that is that big, who do you turn to when your own life just seems too intense? In grammar school one of Cody’s best friends died under horribly tragic circumstances. It crushed him. His spirit and humor were still present but were forever altered. And his heart was altered, too. His relationships were more intense for him, more meaningful and more passionate. He cared about people with his entire soul. He lived for the day. He learned at a very young and tender age that you don’t know if you are going to have a tomorrow so he lived in the moment. Sometimes the moment was dark and difficult and self-medicating with some sort of substance became the norm. It hurt Troy and I to see him struggle. I prayed for him daily, but my prayers during those times were filled with a mother’s desperation to see her child happy and healthy again. Then my prayers were simple requests to keep him safe. Eventually he entered rehab and kicked the bad stuff to the curb.
But once you struggle through darkness with that taste of relief it hangs around like an old friend waiting to comfort you. So Cody surrounded himself with human friends from every corner imaginable. Look around you. Some of you had only known Cody for a short time. Some had known him since high school. Some had known him since grammar school. Some had known him his entire life. But his dedication to his family, friends and relationships was intense. He was loyal to a fault. Even those friendships that seemed toxic were the ones he clung to the tightest, not because he could self-medicate with them, but because they were the ones he wanted to save and deliver from their darkness, too. He needed a partner to save and keep himself on track. But keeping himself clean became the focus and he ended up leaving Sacramento. With a backpack filled with a few necessities, he took off one July morning in 2013 on an adventure of self-discovery. He was in search of something that would truly bring meaning to his life and make him happy. It was a hard day for me, letting him walk out that door with no real destination in mind, toward a world that had been particularly hard for him the previous 3 years. But he had that sparkle back in his eyes and I knew this was a journey that would deliver both of us from heartache in the long run.
After a couple of months, I heard it. That familiar sound. The voice of a happier, enthusiastic Cody who had fallen smitten. I listened to him as he described this person who had filled his soul and lifted his spirit in ways I hadn’t heard in years. I laughed as he told me stories of his adventures on the road. I cringed as he told me most of them happened as he hitch-hiked and trekked his way through the western states. But mostly I just listened, my heart happy because the sound of his voice was something I hadn’t heard in so long. I knew his eyes were the brightest of blues, beaming with hope and peace and adventure.
His silly, wonderfully annoying spirit had returned.
I’m not going to stand here and tell you that Cody didn’t struggle sometimes after that. People like Cody shouldn’t be expected to conform to what society deems “normal” and “acceptable”. He was a free spirt who needed to live by his own rules. And I was okay with that as long as the rules were safe and legal. I raised my children to be good people. I raised them to be respectful and kind and generous to others as well as to themselves. Cody took that goodness and lived his life in a way I certainly didn’t understand. He went on a permanent camping trip for 2 years to spread that infectious spirit of his around. He traveled on a bus with a dozen other people and just as many dogs. I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand it. But he found a soulmate who perfectly understood that.
Sydney was his everything. She made him want to be a better person. Everything he did and tried to do was for her happiness. Every conversation I had with him the last 3 years was about treating her right, taking care of her and being the kind of man he would want his own sister taking off on a stinky bus with. They loved each other unconditionally and at the end of every day were grateful they had found their own spirit in each other.
The last time Troy and I saw Cody was just 5 short days before he died. We had a wonderful visit, full of laughs and good conversation with a bit of fun thrown in for good measure. He was happy. Peaceful. Full of plans for the future. We had breakfast before we headed home that morning. I asked Sydney to take a picture of us before we left. I begged him, like countless times before, to just give me one nice smile for just ONE good picture. He teased me incessantly with that stupid serious crap until I gave up. Little did I know it would be the very last picture. A moment of his silliness and ability to make me laugh and frustrate me all at the same time frozen forever in that last picture.
I posted on FB that we refuse to believe he purposely took his own life so I will not talk about how he died. The circumstances were unfortunate and we are convinced that it was an accident, not because it is how we want to deal with the grief, but because of our last visit with him. I don’t need more proof than seeing that sparkle in his eye, that sound of happiness in his voice and the spirit of Cody that seemed to have returned. He was living life on his terms and he was becoming a better man because of it. So to his friends I say take that with you. Keep his spirit in your heart, know that he had found happiness. Be like Cody in wanting to rescue people. If you need to do that by starting with yourself first, do it. Find someone to talk to. To relate to. Someone who will listen. Someone who will help you on the road to being the best version of yourself possible. If you are the person someone wants to talk to, feel privileged you are the one being confided in and take the role seriously. Find the grace and compassion needed to help someone through their struggles, even if that means finding them the help you cannot provide.
Cody talked a lot about his adventures the last 3 years. He wanted to travel even more, to see places right within our own borders and beyond. You don’t cage a spirit as big as Cody’s or try to make it normal with some desk job or traditional living space. And so in death this will continue. We will take a piece of him wherever we may travel, whatever journey we embark on. He wanted to see the world so we will make sure that happens. If you ever go to the Oregon Coast, he will be there. If you decide to hike to a mountaintop overlooking Lake Tahoe, he will be there. He will be in New Orleans, the gulf coast, Florida and the Caribbean Islands before the year is over. Pictures will be taken at every location so that we can share Cody’s eternal scenic view. This entire world will be his final resting place.
My final words are for Nathan and Lindsay. Your dad and I love you more than can be expressed here. Those 3 simple words have deeper meaning now, something that once seemed impossible. You’ll understand when we hug you a little tighter, linger with the hug a little longer. As your mom I will try my hardest not to worry to levels beyond how I previously worried. It may take some time. Be patient with me. Don’t get so caught up in your lives that you don’t stop by or call just to say hello. Come for dinner and stay for conversation. We want to hear about all the mundane, seemingly unimportant things you are doing. I asked your dad if there was something specific he wanted me to say to you, and in his ever-eloquent don’t candy-coat-life he said, “Let life’s bullshit go”. So talk with each other. Hug each other. Support each other in the way only two siblings who have just lost one CAN support each other. We love you.
Thank you to each and every one of you for being here to support our family. Cody cast his net far and wide and that is evident here. The outpouring of love and prayers brings great comfort…..not only from those who walk through our front door but also the ones from halfway across the globe.
God bless you all.