These Two Days…

Let’s set the scene for a moment:

February 18, 2015 is the 4th anniversary of Liam’s death.

February 19, 2015 is the 15th anniversary of Jonathan’s death.

Today, I was greeted by a warmer than normal winter day with blue skies and lots of sunshine. I was greeted by good people at work coming off of shift, and more good people coming into the station with me. We have been greeted by lots of texts, Facebook posts, e-mails, comments, knowing taps on the shoulder, pictures and even a wonderful poem – all sending their love, thoughts, and support. And this carries us. But…

These two days fucking suck.

I thought for a minute about what words I should use to describe the annual emotions of Feb 18/19. Whether or not I should try to string together a series of descriptions that wouldn’t fail any appropriateness tests, because, you know…using profanity is a judgment on intelligence (which I think is bullshit, by the way). But clarity and understanding are what I seek…not a lesson on how to beat around the bush.

Just like most emotional situations, these anniversaries bring with them a roller coaster of emotion – probably near bipolar at times. Happy to sad, engaged to apathetic, patient to short fuse, committed to tired…and then visa-versa and all over again.

There are two grieving processes that run headstrong into each other over the course of 48 hours. One of those processes is a lot further along than the other, but it’s precisely because of their anniversary proximity that at times they are nearly indistinguishable in their grief.

There are a lot of things that I have learned over the past 15 years, and especially in the last four. But there are two things that stand out above all of the others as ones that feel most paramount this year: Time doesn’t heal. And, relationships matter.

The saying that “time heals all wounds” is an outright criminal statement. Time by itself doesn’t heal anything, what it does do however, is allow things to be less raw. At first, there wasn’t even a five minute stretch where I wouldn’t feel a sickening pit in my stomach; but the longer that goes by, well, I think there are even stretches as long as a few days where there isn’t that pit in my gut.

I have cried a lot – and still do. But time has meant that the need to do so doesn’t come on nearly as suddenly or dramatically. To be sure, this isn’t all about simply time passing – meaning it’s not like we sat in a house and waited for the hours to tick by. This is about the combination of a great support network, a lot of conversation, participation in a grief support group, an amazing family, and a partnership in life with Ahna that …well, she’s just the greatest person ever.

(As if the segue was planned…) There was an assignment as part of the aforementioned grief support group that asked us to think about the people that were there for us when we most needed, and the people that surprised us by their absence. While there were some obvious answers to that question, I didn’t realize at the time how impactful those results would become.

Previously I would have established that two of the most important features in a relationship were blood and longevity. Generally speaking family is important; and if you have managed to stay friends with someone for a long period of time, then that shows a lot about each of you. Actually, I have discovered that neither of those hold the weight that social history would place on them. And even though both sets of people will always have some level of importance in my life, just because we are blood or just because we have known each other for a long time no longer is the pass that it used to be.

Most of my closest friends now, most of the people that I want to spend time with, most of the people that I deeply care about either established and/or cemented their place four years ago. And this group of people  – who all feel like family that I have known forever – looks significantly different that the group of people did only five years ago.

In the last four (and 15) years I have tried to not wait for time to pass and to address the emotions as they came. I have tried to migrate away from the relationships that just don’t matter as much, and more into the arms of the people that do. There have been more successes than failures on both fronts, and precisely because of that, I can sit here and openly tell you that these two days fucking suck…BUT it’s supposed to snow this weekend, which means that things will get better.

dressuni1 IMG_0249

This Connection Continues

The night that we were admitted to the hospital with Liam, a wristband was placed on my right wrist identifying me as his Father. This physical symbol has been an important connection for me for the entire time since, and for moments – no matter how short they have been – to be without is is like missing something big. Some version of the wristband has lived on that right wrist ever since Dec 19, 2010, and recently I had to seek out it’s fourth incarnation due to the constant wear. I did a bunch of research on-line (mostly through Etsy), and found something that was similar, yet vastly different that the previous one. It arrived in the mail today, and when I opened it, to my surprise, I was perhaps more excited to see the note accompanying the band than I was the band itself. The note was a handwritten thank you from the artist who made it, and it said “I hope you love this & it makes you think of Liam.” Anytime that I hear his name – as referenced to him, not someone else also named the same – it brings a great warmth…I am so appreciative for the note, for the band, and for the connection that this maintains.


And because she made something so beautiful to accompany the band, I would like to throw a shout out to Summer at Dakota Designs Jewelry…make sure to check her stuff out. photo photo(2)

Liam’s 3rd Birthday: A Request

Tomorrow is supposed to be Liam’s third birthday. Alas, it is actually a day that has this off combination of current reality and memory, and a day where all of the emotion doesn’t have a place to release. Last year we asked a favor of you, and within that favor we looked for ways to cope with the absence. And you delivered it to us in ways that we couldn’t have imagined.

So guess what…we are asking again. I’m not sure if this is going to turn into the same request each year – there might be a slight modifier in the future – but so far, this request hasn’t jumped the shark. It’s still relevant, and there is still much that can be done. So as a reminder of what we asked last year (or if you are new on this journey with us), we are asking that you go out and do something nice for someone else.

The recipient can be a family member, a friend, a coworker, or a complete stranger. All that we ask is that you expect nothing in return, and that whatever you choose to do will have positive outcomes in a way that would be appropriate for celebrating Liam (it doesn’t have to be for a kid or kid-centric, but you know what we mean).

You can do it tomorrow, or within a few days…but please don’t delay: keep your act of amazingness relative to the inspiration. Give someone the gift of a free coffee or meal, pass along something that you don’t need anymore to someone that does need it, give your employees some extra family time, donate, or find your own way to give. You will know what you need to do when you look for it…and if something smacks you in the face, don’t ignore it because it’s hard or it’s something that isn’t easy.

It would be an honor if you remembered Liam and celebrated him with us in this fashion. Let us know (if you want) by posting either here or on Facebook what you did: it will allow a geography dissecting celebration of Liam possible.

Rewind: What Is There To Say?

Elia was just a few months old when this picture was taken – around five months – and noticed the iPad for the first time.


We Carry – A Poem

A beautifully written poem by a great friend that has also lost like we have.

We Carry

We carry the grins

The belly laughs

The chubby cheeks

We carry the smiling eyes

The first steps

The shared naps

We carry the “I love you”

The hugs and kisses

The birthdays

We carry the could have been

The should have been

The memories

We carry the tears

The longing

The impossible good-bye

But most of all

We carry the love

The hope

The promise of One Day

We carry You

In our hearts


J.R. Ganzel

A Father’s Day Essay

I was recently contacted by the Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep organization about writing a piece on Father’s Day for their newsletter…below is what I came up with.

From A Father’s Perspective. by Liam’s Dad
It’s hard when people forget to tell you “Happy Father’s Day!” because they don’t see the child that you have. It’s hard to watch and hear other people tell stories about how they get to go do something special with their kids on Father’s Day, and we have to go to a cemetery (or memorial spot) to spend the day together. But the truth doesn’t lie with everyone else.
This is the third Father’s Day that I spend as a grieving parent.
I was not supposed to know what it felt like to spend three Father’s Days as a grieving parent. Father’s Day celebrations that I had dreamed about did not look like this. But here I find myself, like all of you, grappling with the idea that I am a father without one of my children.
Two days shy of being two months old, our son Liam, died in February of 2011. As June rolled around a few months later, the thought of a “Father’s Day celebration” seemed like an idea that was far away from what my emotions could handle. Even saying the words created a pit in my stomach. I actually tried to mentally prepare myself for the day, but as you all know, no amount of ‘preparation’ actually compared to how the day presented itself.
June 19, 2011 was an emotional roller coaster that lasted all day long. It was worse than I thought it would be. As parents, and as fathers, our expectation is that we will work tirelessly to provide for our families. We will do whatever it takes to care for them, and that we will exist in concert with our spouses to ensure that every opportunity is given to them. We cherish that we will laugh, hug, and buy ice cream. We support, and mentor our children; and under no circumstances will we let anything bad happen to them. This is what Father’s Day celebrates. It has nothing to do with the legal fact that you conceived a child; rather that you are that child’s loving and caring parent. And when it is all taken away from you, it’s difficult to cope with what the day actually means.
The truth is that we may not have been able to take our kids out for an ice cream; but we have shown them in our time together that we love, care, and cherish them. However that time was spent for however long or short it was. We are reminded of this through the pain and the exhaustive loss that is felt every day, especially on Father’s Day.
I wish that I could tell you that it has gotten easier over the last two years, and that entering the third time around, I have been able to focus only on the ‘love, love, love.’ But that would be a lie.
The day has not gotten easier. The celebration has lost almost all of its luster. Sometimes on Father’s Day I feel ashamed, sometimes I do feel love, and sometimes I feel satisfied; but I always feel incomplete.This year, I am committing to doing one thing: smile more. I will look at the amazing pictures that I have of Liam and me, I will say his name, and I will try to remember that Father’s Day 2013 is celebrating the time that I had with Liam, not the time that I have been without.

What People Did To Remember Liam

Last week we tossed out the idea and asked if you would help us remember Liam by doing an act of kindness in your part of the world….and honestly, we really didn’t quite know what sort of response to expect. I can tell you that even though we know that we are surrounded by a community of amazing people, I don’t think that either of us expected the outpouring that you gave to us, to Liam, and to others. As every single example was shared with us, we battled through tears to just finish reading the sentence. It was a stunning example of love and remembrance – and I’m not sure that we could ever thank you for that. During a day that was difficult for us, these stories were very uplifting.

There isn’t a good way to get a hard statistical breakdown on how many things were done, but I can tell you that literally from California and Washington to Massachusetts and Virginia, from Montana and Minnesota to Texas and Florida….and everywhere in between….we received stories of people doing things for others, donating time or money to amazing causes, giving of themselves to honor Liam, and introducing Liam and his story to new people.

I can assure you that every time we think about this year and about what happened – about how many people’s day/life was made a little better in memory of Liam – that our emotion will fall never short of ‘extremely loved.’

I’m always afraid of seeing or taking a good idea and it becoming overexposed and watered down, but I wonder about doing it again next year…

For now, we wanted to compile and share some of the stories that we received (we also know that the names below represent entire families). We know that many other acts occurred, and we thank all of you for your kindness.

“I just filled out the form to start the process [of volunteering at Children’s Colorado] 🙂 and since TCH has been so good to us (and to you), it just made sense! HAPPY BIRTHDAY LIAM!!”
– Anna

“We made a donation to Martha and Mary Ministries. We remembered Liam and his family in our prayers and in the prayer community of my college. And I spent the evening making candies and cookies to share because what little one doesn’t just love sweets!”
– Anonymous

“While checking my e-mail today I decided what I could do to honor both Liam’s birthday and the children who died in the Sandy Hook shooting. The Metrodome opens it’s concourse in the winter for inline skating; tomorrow they are donating all admission fees and any additional donations to the United Way to help those affected in Newton. So in honor of Liam and all the new playmates who recently joined him I will be skating laps at the Dome tomorrow and donating a dollar per mile with the goal of 26.2 miles. Happy Birthday Liam!”

“Hey Liam! Happy birthday buddy! Two things…first, one of Emma’s pals had a fire in his house, so in your memory, we’re going to donate a gift card to him and his family so they can buy new clothes and toys. We thought you’d think that was pretty cool! Second, we miss you and think about you all the time! Love you guys.”

“Happy birthday Liam – a new baby, Andrew and his brothers and mommy are enjoying a week of dinners in honor of you.”

“A donation was made to the Red Cross in memory of Liam.”
-Tauno & Ashley

“In honor of Liam’s birthday I brought dinner to a young mom from my grad school whose husband is deployed. Thanks for giving us the opportunity to celebrate Liam in this way. We also donated a toy to Growing Home’s Christmas toy give away :)”
-Abby and Teva

“I showed this video in PRO today and challenged my students to also do a random act of kindness (we filled out “Caring Coupons”).”

“A donation was made to Friends of the Children – Portland”

“We celebrate Liam’s life. We have donated to Children’s Hospital in his memory. We are so glad you felt so cared for during such a difficult time. Happy Birthday, Liam!”
-Ryan and Britta

“I have bought breakfast for the person behind me in the drive through…and paid fines for kids that I know simply won’t be able to come up with the money and then told them that an anonymous donor took care of it for them.”

“Pete and the big boys did shovel the snow and paid it forward by doing the neighbors too secretly! Happy Birthday sweet angel baby and his wonderful family!”

“In honor of Liam we purchased a birthday gift for a teenage boy at Children’s Home Society.”

“To celebrate Liam, I shared his story with my classmates and bought them a round of darts at the Ott House. It moved them and made them happy. Liam was part of our graduation celebration, and we send you love from Robbie (Missouri), Rusty (Maryland), me, Michael (Kansas), and Andrew (Indiana).”

“In honor of Liam, [we] made a donation to DC’s Homeless Playtime Project, a program that provides healthy snacks, one-on-one attention, games, arts and reading activities, outdoor recreation and conflict resolution twice weekly to the children of Turning Point Transitional Housing Program, DC General Emergency Family Shelter and weekly at DASH, Park Road Emergency Family Shelter, Griffin House and Valley Place.”
-Tim and Family

“While attending a holiday music class this morning at Foundations Music School, we dropped off a donation with the following note: “This donation is made in honor and in memory of Liam Bersagal-Briese in commemoration of what would have been his second birthday. We chose Foundations due to the family’s love of music. We can imagine Liam clanging and banging together a variety of instruments.” Per their website, “Foundation Music School is a non-profit community school of the arts committed to providing high quality arts opportunities to all individuals regardless of age, skill, ethnicity or income. Established in March 2006, Foundation Music School currently offers a range of classes for children of all ages and abilities which nurture the love of music in a developmentally appropriate way.””

“In honor of Liam, I delivered some fudge to the nurses at Perry Street Pediatrics & plan to make some donations in his honor also. Thinking of all of you today.”

“I did get to help out the family I’m staying with by getting their boys breakfast and dressed for the day. And I’m hoping to give some kids extra love tonight while thinking of Liam much love to you all!”

“In honor of Liam’s birthday: 2 pans of bars to the Salvation Army Christmas party, secret Santa gift for a neighbor who is alone, school fees and textbooks for kids as well as support for medical and dental care for kids through ELCA Good Gifts.”
-Dave and Mary Jo

“Hannah and I will pick out some food while we are shopping tomorrow to donate.”

“In honor of Liam, I made a donation to the World Vision Orphan Fund today.”

“Showering my little corner of the world with RAOKs in your honor today.”

“I held a Toys for Tots fundraiser party on Saturday. Went and dropped off 18 toys today.”

“I gave him a dollar because he didn’t look old enough for the senior coffee he was planning to ask for. I also gave him the rest of a coupon book we had bought for Lexy at Halloween with coupons for free apples, hamburger and milk. He looked at it and said “Halloween” and then “Oh, it’s still good!” with a big smile. Then his female friend came in, staring daggers at everyone and hanging onto half a roasted chicken from the Safeway as if it were gold. The guy next to us gave her a dollar for a drink. I bought them each a “big mac” with a two for one coupon and told them Merry Christmas. As we left I saw her waving at me with a shy smile and a very quiet “thank you”. She was pretty then as she didn’t seem to be before. Maybe Liam was watching over them as it was only a couple of blocks from where Oren grew up and most likely ate.”

“Today, we are mailing a check to the Blinded Veterans’ Association in Washington, DC.”
-Dave and Betty

“I chose the gift of time because it’s one thing my children treasure most. I came home from work and without doing anything else….I sat down and listened & shared my family’s day one-by-one and shared a special treat with them that showed “I know what you like. I know you & love you.””

Guys on duty at the department sent this over for Liam..."Happy Birthday from the Frozen Four."

Guys on duty (Thomas, Cameron, Matt, and Jeff) at the department sent this over for Liam…”Happy Birthday from the Frozen Four.”

A friend from high school left this note for someone random, and introduced Liam to someone for the first time.

A friend from high school (Carin) left this note for someone random, and introduced Liam to someone for the first time.


A brother from South Metro Fire sent this photo from his class at the National Fire Academy in Maryland. It has folks from all over the country - also meeting Liam for the first time.

A brother from South Metro Fire sent this photo from his class at the National Fire Academy in Maryland. It has folks from all over the country – also meeting Liam for the first time.

Scarves made for some students in South Dakota by the Smith family.

Scarves made for some students in South Dakota by the Smith family.

Liam’s 2nd Birthday Gift Request

December 19 is just two days away, and as we have thought about ways to celebrate Liam’s second birthday, a thought kept coming back into our minds. We had first heard about it a while ago (likely in the Parent’s Group), and loved the idea immediately. While we are going to remember and celebrate in our own way, this would allow each of you to remember Liam and celebrate him along with us.

Since there isn’t a need for toys, books, or games; we are asking that on December 19 (or as close to it as possible) you go out and do something nice for someone else. Our restrictions on activities are almost non-existent, with the only two conditions being: 1) you expect nothing in return, and 2) it will positively effect the recipient in a way that would be appropriate for celebrating Liam (doesn’t have to be for a child, but you understand the point).

Buy someone a meal, give something you don’t need to someone who does, help someone shovel their driveway, donate money, give, give, give, and give. You’ll know what it is when you look for it.

We would be honored if you remembered Liam and celebrated him with us on Wednesday. Let us know by posting either here or on Facebook what you did – it will inspire us and make us smile through our connectivity.

Like Brother, Like Brother, Like Sister

Eh, the top got cropped for some reason and I don’t feel like changing it. Deal. It’s a good series.

Dealing With Two

“Just wait till you have to deal with two.”

It’s one of the most innocent and well intentioned statements, and it flows off of the tongue so naturally in conversation that it’s annoying. It normally follows some statement of how easy or difficult things were during an experience with Erza, and it always comes from someone who already has more than one child. I know where it derives, and I understand why it’s said. Yet, it hurts every time I hear it.

We’ve said it before, we honestly don’t expect people to always have Liam in their minds, but somewhere deep inside, that is exactly what we expect….because he is always there with us. Liam’s life was – for most people – a long time ago (I don’t mean that disparagingly, but in the realm of life, a year+ is a long time), but for us it was like yesterday; and as emotion ramps up around the arrival of a baby girl, the feelings and thoughts of Liam are right back on top. It’s a weird place to be: we have asked people to be ‘normal’ with us, and we don’t always want a sad conversation; but at the same time, we want people to remember Liam, and remember that we are still living with his memory.

Let me explain something: we already have two children. This baby girl will be our third. It’s simple math, but it is so often avoided just to stop from putting someone else in a tight spot. It’s easier for most people to think and to say that we have one child. But the fact is that we are parents to two children….Ezra and Liam….and now a third girl is set to join the mix.

My instant reaction when someone says that statement is to throw down with some rant about how I would love to have two at home already, and how dare someone forget Liam, and how I would trade all of the difficulty in the world in loading two kids into a car for the difficulty in dealing with loosing a child. It’s just not comparable. But, we don’t. We nod our heads, and gently remind that we have two kids….or sometimes ignore it all together. At times, it’s so hard not to scream – so here is the blog posting set to scream it for us.

We are ready to embark on the joys of having a girl at home with the three of us. There is no hesitation on how hard, tiring, or trying it’s going to be. But we have been through something that will make us appreciate every single diaper change and every single night awake. Just wait till we have to deal with three kids.

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