My husband Justin's death was both sudden and tragic. It occurred three days after our first baby Jax was born. I never thought at only 31 years old the title WIDOW would find me, and certainly not on one of the happiest days of my life.
After reading a lot of nasty feedback on this article. I want everyone to know that a vast majority of my open letter was taking place in my mind, IT NEVER ACTUALLY HAPPENED!!
None of my letter happened in real life. Besides this—My son pushed his feet on the man’s seat and the man stood up and yelled at him. I apologized and told my son to stop. But my kid is three, he doesn’t quite understand what is going on yet. Less than five minutes later, he got into a confrontation with another couple on the plane. He was sitting in their seat and the flight attendant was forced to defuse the situation by bumping him up to first class.
I never actually got into a confrontation with this man. Nor did I let my kid kick his seat for two hours. My son kicked his seat once and that was it. I did, however, get pissed of over the remainder of the flight. I stewed away, thinking about how rude he was to my kid. The only other thing that actually happened was the nice lady on our connecting flight. She did tickle his feet and talk to him over the course of the flight. She made it easier for him to relax and not swing his feet around. This was my attempt to thank her and shine a light on her kindness, as well as his rudeness.
I will always try my best to keep my son’s feet off of an airplane seat. I can now see how this article might have given people the wrong impression. I have learned from this and going forward, I will be much more aware of what I write. I won’t leave so much up for interpretation.
Let me also say that mommy shamming is not nice and I really wish we would stop. We need to support one another, instead of putting each other down. I myself have internally judged another mother before and I realize just how self-righteous it was. If you are keeping them safe, teaching them right from wrong(telling them it’s not okay to kick a seat), and loving them with all your heart. BRAVO!!! Kisses to all!!!
The winter holidays have always been my favorite time of the year. You know those obnoxious people who put a Christmas tree up before December comes? That was me. I binge watched the Hallmark channel, played Mariah Carey’s All I want for Christmas is You on repeat, and drank enough eggnog to fill a swimming pool(bourbon included of course). By the time New Years rolled around my credit card was maxed out, and I could barely button my jeans. I couldn’t make sense of why anyone wouldn’t love the song Santa Baby and had a disdain for people with a “Scroogey” mentality.
Even though I had sympathy for those in need, I lacked empathy for the average Joe or anyone who put a damper on my Christmas spirit. I assumed their holiday depression could be remedied with a delicious gingerbread cocktail, or some warm apple pie. It wasn’t until I was pushed into my own worst nightmare that I realized what a fool I’d been.
I became a widow on June 17 of 2014. Three days before my husband died, we had a child together. Bringing my son into this world was a nothing short of a miracle, but my joy was turned inside out when I lost Justin. It would be a short six months until December, and I knew it would be a catastrophe. My “Baby’s First Christmas” ornament would be replaced with a “In Memorandum” one. I would not just mourn my husband, I would also mourn my baby’s first Christmas.
Weeks after Justin’s death, I started seeing a counselor. He was helping me through the different stages of grief when out of nowhere he breached the subject of the holidays. “Don’t you dare,” I said in anger. It wasn’t even October and he was already talking about Christmas? Tears filled my eyes when he informed me that I needed to start facing this now. I protested; telling him of my plans to bypass the holiday season. “It won’t be something you can escape,” he said. When October rolled around we made plans to have our weekly session. But this time it would be at a Sam’s Club. I was clueless as to why. Upon entering the store I noticed a Christmas light display. “Follow me”, my counselor said. We walked a few feet and stopped at the beginning of an aisle; the Christmas aisle. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was October, yet the insane amount of Christmas decorations made it look like December. As we made our way through the red and green garland, I sobbed while I remembering all of the happy holiday memories with Justin. That was the moment I realized I could run, but I could not hide.
My family and I came up with a plan for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. We would remove ourselves from any familiar surroundings as we knew they would only torment us. I told every friend, foe, and family member of our plans, and made it clear that I would not be accepting any gifts or attending anything resembling a turkey dinner. We flew to Newport Beach, CA on Thanksgiving day. I was refreshed to spend 10 days with my childhood friend Kimmy. It was the first time I could breath in five months. I’d been surrounded by death for so long and I finally felt a little free. I ran laps around the cliffs of Corona del Mar while blasting my iPod. I told myself not to stop. I could feel my heart pounding harder the faster I went. When I finally slowed down to catch my breath I noticed the magnificent view of the cliffs, and the beach down below. I felt at peace, and I never wanted to leave.
By the time we returned to Florida, the Christmas holiday was in full swing. Our neighborhood was oversaturated with white lights, wreaths, and blow up santas. That calm and peaceful place I found on the cliff that day was slipping away. Having always been on the other side of Christmas i.e. the joyous side, I never realized just how much society throws it in your face. Why had I wasted so much time watching the Hallmark channel when even the Syfy channel played Christmas programs? Did every single restaurant have to shove a gingerbread martini down my throat? And since when did grocery stores start playing holiday music. I couldn’t even shop for milk without hearing my once beloved Santa Baby. It was everywhere! Serves me right I suppose. I took each day as it came and when Christmas eve finally arrived, we drove to Atlanta, GA.
On Christmas day there wasn’t much to do, most places were closed. My mom discovered the Georgia Aquarium was open, and it seemed like the perfect place to spend our anti-holiday. As we walked around with hundreds of strangers, it occurred to me that I had now become that person I’d always loathed; and I felt ashamed. Ashamed of not only the person I used to be, but the one I’d become. I gazed into the bright blue fish tank and noticed a stingray swimming my direction. My six-month-old son pointed at the beautiful creature and he started giggling. Tears streamed down my face as I smiled and made a promise to never be so selfish again. In that moment I realized that a big part of me still wanted to buy my son his first Christmas ornament. I found a beautiful silver one in the shape of a baby rattle. It opened up and on the inside was a place for a photo. I had inscribed: “To my gorgeous son, you are my strength.” It still sits next to his daddy’s things in a box.
This year will be mark my fourth Christmas without Justin. I still dread this time of year, and I suppose Christmas will never be the same. But I know that it can and will be good again. I have my son to thank for that!
I did something today that I haven’t done in over three years. I put on my wedding ring. And guess what . . . it still fits! I don’t think it’s weird or psychotic for me to wear it today. I think it’s fitting.
I’ve been wearing it around my neck for three years now and when I realized the significance of it being our fourteen year wedding anniversary, I had to put it back on.
Fourteen years isn’t a round number but it has a special significance to me.
I was 14-years-old when I first fell in love with Justin. We would have been married now for the same number of years that I was alive when we first got together.
We were just babies and somehow managed to make the best decision of our lives. Each other!
There was a special song I sang to Justin on our wedding day and since he’s been gone it has triggered sad tears instead of happy. About a year ago I decided that “Our Song” was too important to be thrown away.
It needed a new meaning and I wanted to pass it on to our son. So I started singing it to Jax as a lullaby before bed and he seems to love it.
Allison Krauss – When You Say Nothing At All
“The smile on your face let’s me know that you need me.
There’s a truth in your eyes saying you’ll never leave me.
The touch of your hand says you’ll catch me if ever I fall.”
“You say it best, When you say nothing at all”
July 26, 2003 was a beautiful day and one that I will honor for the rest of my life. Our Jax will grow up knowing that he was created out of pure and intoxicating love. A special love that a lot of people never experience. And for that reason alone I can celebrate today and maybe even smile. Because lets face it, you always loved my smile!
The sun is sweltering, the rain is steady, the beaches are swarmed, and school is out. It’s summertime again; mid-June to be exact. For a lot of people, it’s a time for celebration and vacation. The Knot.com even rated it as the most popular month to get hitched, love is in the air. Unfortunately for me, it’s the month Justin was killed, and it will always measure how long he’s been gone. It’s been three years now and this year feels no different than last. It kind of makes me wonder if it will always feel this way.
A few years ago my Aunt Jo Beth decided to go big and throw a soiree for my uncle Greg’s 60th birthday. She asked all of his friends and family members to write a personal story about Mr Bird. I was six months pregnant at the time and decided Justin should be in charge of ours. I was on pins and needles to see what tale he’d share, I knew it wouldn’t disappoint! I especially love how it brings new life to a simple yet fun day we all shared with my family years ago.
You don’t get many (if any) perfect days here on this earth, and chances are, when they do occur you don’t even realize they’re happening until you look back and reflect on the them. The truly great days can be remembered as if they happened just yesterday. Here is just a glimpse into one of those days.
A few years ago the Hinson-Ayers clan was in St Mary’s to visit Gamma and stay at the Bird house for the weekend. Whenever our families get together it is hard not to have a good time. It goes without saying that on this particular occasion karaoke was involved. There may have also been a little bit of drinking going on. I seem to remember Jo Beth serving an electric blue rum cocktail called a “zombie.” (Probably because too much of it and you felt like the walking dead). You know it’s a real party when even Gamma joins in the singing. I recall a rousing rendition of “King of the Road.”
Anyway, we were all feeling good…..flying high. Between Billy and Greg it’s a wonder that anyone else got a chance to sing, but this night was a real karaoke marathon. Everyone sang numerous hits spanning about six decades of great tunes. Jessica and I could barely keep up.
After several hours of singing….and drinking Jessica and I decided to call it a night. One of our favorite things about staying at the Bird house (haha……the bird house) is staying upstairs in the loft. There is nothing like sleeping up there with no windows, no light, and no concept of what time of day it is. However, after all of that singing and drinking I guess we were feeling a little frisky.
Once the music died down and it seemed as if everyone was turning in for the night, well…..I won’t go into details, but let’s just say we were about to practice making a baby. Just as I was about to “go for it” something downstairs brought our escapades to a screeching halt. Nothing puts the kabosh on a 20-something year old libido like the opening bars of “Margaritiaville.” I guess Greg was saving that one for the grand finale. “Nibblin on sponge cake.” There was no way Billy was gonna sing the last song. It was more of an endurance race. Last man standing. Greg had saved that one for the encore.
Greg is the Karaoke King. All others bow down before him. His house,his rules. Karaoke is not over until Greg says it’s over and you have to respect that! Happy Birthday, Greg! We love you, and look forward to MANY more years of singing, partying, and just LIVING! I would not trade this family for anything in the world. It is an honor and a blast to be part of it!
Love you guys, Justin
In his own words, Justin described how much he loved living and was excited for the many years he had to come. Justin was killed only three months after he wrote this story. He was looking forward to a future that he would never have. I wish I could go back in time to this day and experience it all over again. I doubt I’d change a single thing. But I would hug him a little tighter and kiss him a little longer!
Thank you JoBeth and Greg for helping create this beautiful memory for us. It’s a story that Jax will enjoy to read about when he’s MUCH older!
We miss you like crazy Justin and we love you with all our hearts!
My life has changed so dramatically since you passed, and every day I think about how different it would be with you. I usually push away these thoughts; realizing the pain they will bring.
Instead, I try and shift my focus to my current life and new reality. I now view my “alternate life” as a fantasy per se. This fantasy is that you and I are our raising our son as a family in some alternate universe.
In honor of what should have been your 36th birthday, I’ve decided to go all in and imagine where we would be if you were still alive today.
Would we still be living in the house on Michigan Court?
The house that I will always regret buying was sold to a family a few months after you died. I drove by it the other day out of curiosity. They’ve changed a few things, but it looks cozy.
While sitting in my car that day, Jax innocently peered out the window, and hollered “Dog!” It was heartbreaking to see his sweet face smile at a home where so much horror took place.
I pictured you mowing the lawn wearing that black sleeveless KISS t-shirt with your hair pulled back into a ponytail. Your ensemble was always completed with a red bandanna and aviator sunglasses.
I realized this was a home we’d only planned on having a couple of years because we would need more room. It only had two bedrooms, and we wanted to have a second child less than two years after our first.
Would it be a boy or a girl?
Would Jax have a sibling by now and what would the gender be? We wanted a boy first, and then a girl. Everybody wants both right?
We even had her name picked out – Sadie Lynn Ayers (to honor my aunt Lynn who was taken by cancer).
I wonder if she’d have your red hair? That would sure make your grandma Ruby Nell happy, whom you inherited your red hair from.
I wonder if Jax would be jealous of his baby sister or maybe the opposite? He lights up like a Christmas tree when he sees a baby, and always says, “Hey baby!” It’s adorable.
Would a Beat Better Music still be around?
The day Tony informed me they had a new guitar teacher at the store, it shattered the remaining pieces of my already broken heart. My mom and dad had to bring me a bag to breathe into because I was hyperventilating from this awful news.
I can remember my dad trying to console me. In a fit of rage I yelled, “I keep losing the few pieces of Justin I have left, eventually I’ll have nothing.”
After some therapy and some healing I was able to visit the store again. I looked forward to future visits and Jax being able to see the place you dedicated your heart to. It was also the place I could sense your presence the most.
I thought I had plenty of time and never imagined it would close. Now, it’s all gone, and my heart has been broken once again. I think you were the heart of that store, and the second you took your last breath, so did it.
Would we all still be there today? Me, You, Tony, Larry, and Tim? We were a family, and I can picture us all crowded around Jax while you desperately try to turn him into the next Kenny Wayne Shepherd .
Tony would throw up his hands and snicker, “Ssssssss he’s already better than you Justin.” Oh what fun we’d still be having, making new memories and savoring the old.
Would we still have our band The Ayers?
For the ten plus years we were married, live shows were our life. We lived and breathed music, but we both knew things would have to change after Jax was born.
The plan was for my mom to become our travel nanny. I was clueless to the level of commitment a baby actually took, and now I wonder if we’d been able to pull it off. I do perform every weekend now, but I don’t think we both could do it.
Music was your life, and I knew you’d never give it up. I on the other hand, could (and would) have been content supporting your music career. Maybe we’d play the occasional acoustic show together, but I seriously doubt we’d still have our own band.
Every time someone gives me a compliment, I think of you. I think of what a tragedy it is that they are missing out on the incredible talent that was Justin Ayers.
Before I lost you, my greatest fear was losing you. I thought the world would stop turning or time would stand still.
But the harsh reality is time marches on, and it will continue to do so. I will attend more funerals, and welcome new babies.
The second you left this earth will forever be frozen in time. Every new endeavor will ultimately bring me back to that moment in time, and I will once again wonder, “Where would we be?”