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Andrew

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From a Glance to First Visit

Caleb Andrew Dubas was laid to rest at a small cemetery at Salem Bible Church in Macungie, PA and is also where we are church members. We decided on Salem cemetery because in a way, we wanted Caleb close. Being a young family we honestly never thought of where we might want to be buried or what if something happened to one of our children. So when deciding, it just felt right to bury Caleb as Salem.

I think the hardest part for me is coming to church each week and seeing the cemetery as we approach or when dropping the kids off for Sunday school at the youth building which sits directly across from the cemetery. Typically I just glance and turn my head as not to ponder too long or to reflect too long as to avoid extra suffering. Though there are times I want to see and I want to visit or I might liken the feeling to when one drives down the highway and there is an accident so many people slow down to turn their heads to look. Part of me wants to look and another part does not.  It’s this dance I do with reality each and every week.

We are still waiting on Caleb’s monument to be completed and in my mind I wanted to wait to visit until the stone was in place to also give myself some time. I already deal with enough and I find my approach guarded as not to allow too much suffering at any one time. I’ts been a long time coming and after many glances and flat out stares from a distance, I finally felt drawn to Caleb’s grave side.

I was not having the best morning at home with Tiffany so I left for some solitude. Some time to reflect and to perhaps grab something to eat. I drove to the Boyertown McDonald’s and for some hot cakes and sausage. I don’t normally eat that stuff but was feeling like I needed some comfort food and McDonald’s hot cakes for some reason fit the bill. While there eating in the parking lot, I started thinking about Caleb and for whatever reason thought, “You know what, it’s Saturday and a little misty rainy out I’m sure no one will be at the church so maybe now would be a good time to visit.”

My assumptions were proven correct as I arrived and the parking lot was empty. I pulled into park in front of the cemetery gate where I sat for a few minutes to look around from the safety of my car. The windshield had rain on it and I could barely see out so I engaged the wiper motor and blades just once so I could see to the end of the cemetery where Caleb is laid to rest. I was a little concerned about my timing because of the light misty rain that was not forecast. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the neighbor through the woods on his mowing tractor. I guess I was hoping for total solitude and started to question if I would be getting out of the car or not.

Mustering some inner strength and not knowing what might happen if I made the next step, I turned the engine off and exited the car while glancing an eye on my surroundings (hoping I’d be alone) and most importantly an eye down the main cemetery isle where Caleb’s resting spot is. When I put my hand on the cold wet cemetery fence to unlatch the chain link gate and open the door was when I knew there was no turning back and I was fully committed to my mission. I took care to latch the gate behind me and slowly turned towards Caleb’s spot and started a slow approach with misty rain landing on my face.

As I slowly walked down the isle, my eyes took in the other grave markers and also fresh grave sites recently dug. I also saw a very large tree stump that I never noticed before off the main isle. About halfway to my goal my eyes trained forward to Caleb’s grave. I looked down once more to see my shoes already damp from the wet grass (Like walking through morning dew). I could start to feel my emotions welling up when I got to about 40 feet away. My soul welled up and my eyes began to overflow.

As I approached I could see the soil where Caleb had been laid to rest had begun to settle and I could begin to read the grave marker with Caleb’s full name,  birth, and death year listed. I could also see that someone brought Caleb flowers and a Happy Birthday flag. I knelt down and as I started to bow my head two sorrow soaked tears fell from each eye and as if in slow motion I watched the tears fall and collide with the already rain wet soil that covers Caleb’s small casket. They instantly disappeared as they met the earth. I couldn’t help but wonder if he can see me from heaven or if that tear caught his attention because for me, the emotion in each tear was enough to trigger an earthquake on impact or at least I felt that way. I did not end up staying long as the rain became more steady though I think this was good start for me. A start. From a glance to a visit.

The grass is beginning to grow again on the earth where he lays. I’m not sure who placed the birthday flag and flowers but obviously this little boy touched more than our family and I am glad someone showed him that respect.

I miss Caleb and once we move I’m not sure how often I will be able to visit and pay my respects. My only prayer now is that his memorial stone is finished in all its glory so I can see it before we move to Colorado at the end of June. I am still pushing on and looking up and processing the loss of my youngest child. God alone sustains me. God’s will not mine be done.

Author: Andrew Dubas

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Costly Cleanup

Today probably should be something better than it is since its my birthday however I never really liked the attention a day like this brings. I haven’t really given it much thought other than noticing I woke up a bit blue. I didn’t sleep well waking up several times during the night to wind and rain pounding the house along with the flag pole outside my window shaking back and forth and that distinct snapping sound of the flag in the wind. I knew the forecast wasn’t going to be great but yesterday we had our first showing of our house. My company is transferring me to Colorado Springs at the end of June so there’s been a lot of preparation and stress getting the property ready including spending a lot of money on upgrades and finishing projects I would not have otherwise started if I knew we would be moving. This is my backdrop.

With our first showing looming, Sunday I spent many hours both inside and out of the house cleaning and doing detail work to prepare and found trouble both inside and out when it comes to Caleb triggers. Staying in our house has been very difficult because of the trauma that we went through on October 14, 2014 when Caleb passed away. Though I could describe that day in vivid detail, it’s the remnants I tend to deal with that take me back to those intense moments. Just walking through doorways, cleaning the carpet (what I was doing when tragedy struck), seeing the back porch, seeing the scar in the earth where the pond was, our kitchen table where Caleb loved to climb upon. The list truly goes on and on. On most days I do very well but yesterday I was home alone tackling a lot of prep work on my own. I did have Christian radio blaring while inside and keeping my focus on the Lord is where I find refuge and there is no better place to be however the triggers were many.

Most of the inside of the house is sterile when it comes to Caleb I think for that very reason. For a time we had some of his pictures on the fridge but they have since come down in preparation to have our house painted and never went back up. Other than his painting he made us I do not know of any other images of him displayed in the house. While cleaning inside though, we have a very large blanket in our living room that friends gave us with several of Caleb’s pictures painted into the fabric. We do use it as sometimes as it’s nice to be wrapped in it on chilly days but with his image hard to see sometimes, it can be difficult to use if not in the right frame of mind. I wanted to fold it with my favorite image showing so I did taking great care to place it just right on a seat cushion but as I walked away I had to pause because the image is so large and obnoxious that I wasn’t sure how the rest of the family would take it. I know how triggers can be so I picked it back up to hide him(his image) instead in a closet for the house showing…

Taking the blanket off the seat, I  folded it over again and saw the picture of him and I and his big happy smile sent a dagger straight through my soul. A mix of pain salted with suffering and a glimpse of joy for who that little boy was to me. My flesh and blood and my little friend who loved his daddy. One thing I know is the sorrow soaked tears and weeping are never far from the surface. I placed the blanket in my closet and quickly closed the door and retreated to the outside work and for some fresh air and sunshine. Though refuge outside doesn’t come easy either because I spent so much time with him on my back in his little backpack walking the property, I do tend to do better outside. I just needed to be somewhere different. Triggers are hard but I had to press on with so much work to do.

I went outside where landscapers were on the property all day on Saturday grading and seeding and one of the spots on that list was where the pond was. I had covered over the pond in the fall with soil but the dirt scar still remains and needed to repaired and seeded before our move. It was a little easier to see the scar with straw over it and smoothed out as it now blends with the other areas close by that were also fixed and seeded with grass however close to the house was a pile of rocks from the pond. They were put there when I tore it down and not all of them would fit in the pit and with it raining the day I tore it down, I just tucked the rocks away and only remembered them in passing from time to time as something I needed to clean up later. Well, later was Sunday.

I have a flat tire on my wheel barrow so I fired up my backhoe knowing it would be easier to get them all in one shot. This aspect was easy and like a machine, I too drove to the side of the house to retrieve the rocks. I parked the backhoe  and set the bucket close. Approaching the somewhat hidden rocks, I could not help but soak them in and what they meant to me. I recognized some of them because I placed them around the pond as a border. They took me right back to that day and that time… To a wound that is just 5 months old. Bending down to reach for the rocks knowing where they came from each one was like a perfectly placed dagger stabbing me over an over. I tried my best to get them quickly but there is a part of me and the connection to those rocks and Caleb that left me holding each one carefully and placing it in the waiting bucket.

I can’t say I will miss this house when we leave. Sure there are aspects of the house that hold good memories and I try to focus on those and it’s an absolutely beautiful property but this has been one costly cleanup. Financial is just a small aspect to that regard. It’s the soul rocking loss of a child and the sheer trauma associated that is the hardest aspect. As each day passes, I know full well that my only refuge is with God. It’s the only place on this planet where I find rest for my soul. This suffering is not in vein. I am closer to my maker now than I’ve ever been because of it but each day is still hard when I can’t help but miss that little boy.

Please continue to pray as we prepare to move to Colorado. I spent some time there on business in March and I had such a spiritual connection with God there. Seeing His created earth and those mountains truly speak to his power and Glory! My prayer is for a new beginning with fresh perspective and more peace without the many triggers we face at home on a daily basis. I certainly did not ask for this move so the fact that God knew and provided the way forward only leads me to believe big things are coming 🙂

Author: Andrew Dubas

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Not Two…

Today has started it would seem like any other day but the weight I did not want to give this day is here and parts of me wants to ignore it and act as if it never happened but reality dictates a much different scenario. There is a reality that grabs hold of me and shakes me to attention. There have been several times Tiffany has brought to my attention this day and what we might do. To be honest, each time I gave it some thought but mostly brushed it off. Tiffany is a planner and likes things in order so I know it’s important but this is not a day I want to glorify or give too much significance to. I mean, I do and I think I am but I am not sure what to make of it or even how to handle it. Cool and calm would be how I am on the outside but the days leading up to today were not exactly graceful.

As an example, yesterday was Easter and though I went through the physical motions of getting ready for church and driving my family there, I found myself totally in rejection mode. I’m not sure if I was mad at God or just needed God in a different way. Don’t get me wrong, I understand full well what Easter represents but in some ways it’s so busy with people who only go to church once a year and to me it doesn’t feel right. I’m not a huge people person to begin with but this is not what was simmering under my lid and instead of parking my car and going inside, I made a break for it and drove home instead.

I took the time as I was driving home to consider if I was making the right decision but at this point I made it a very selfish one. I knew we were having people to our house for Easter dinner and though my wife had made a valiant effort to straighten, I knew there was plenty of detail work to do so I wanted to do something that would make my wife feel better and clean the house in detail so that she would have one less thing to worry about as guests were coming.

The thing is, I wasn’t really after that motive when I left church though it was a big part of it. In reality, I had an appointment with God that I had been avoiding. I love to play worship music and I don’t get to blare it as often around the house because either the kids have control of the room or Tiffany asks me to turn it down. I took this time to both worship and clean. I have a playlist from when Caleb past away and I put that on and it rocked me. I was OK for a little while but soon found myself  on my knees weeping and crying out to God. Some days seem OK but this losing Caleb thing is a big deal. Yes, we are getting better at making it through each day and certainly on the surface we seem quite normal but there is always an undercurrent.

I can’t quite describe it but it’s like a water dripping on my forehead. Not a steady drip like early on but definitely not something that can be ignored or shoved out of my mind. I’m not going to attempt to flesh this description out in this blog but there is a piece of me that is missing and can’t be replaced with anything this planet has to offer. Yes, I can be distracted from it for a time but as I mentioned earlier, reality dictates a different scenario that I do not control.

Today on April 6, 2015, Caleb was born two years ago. Two years old. I wish I could be celebrating in a different way and I want to celebrate but the magical question is how? Do we have a cake? Do we sing? Do we just talk and reflect? Do we go through pictures? Caleb is NOT TWO… He is frozen in pictures and video and our minds at 18 months of age. I don’t want to wonder what today would be like if it weren’t his not being here as my reality. Yes, my mind floats to years from now and what other birthdays might be like or what Caleb would be like or what man would he have become but they would be a lie. The things that will never happen.

No, today I want to celebrate Caleb’s short 18 months with us. I want to proclaim and celebrate the gift God gave us. He truly was a blessing in every respect it’s just I want more of him and my goal is to focus more on the blessing he was during that time and remember him. It’s just that it hurts so deeply that he is not here. At just about 6 months out from his going home to be with the Lord, it’s still very raw and as much as I want to go through his pictures, I just can’t right now. This wound is still very open. Though it’s been stitched to some degree, it’s still seeping and oozing and needing care. Thank you Lord for the many blessings and thank you for Caleb. We miss him dearly but know he is in good hands.

Please continue to pray for our family and especially for this day that we might find it more joyful in reflection than painful and raw. God’s will, not ours be done.

I miss you little buddy.

Author: Andrew Dubas

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Subtle Reminders…

Tonight my family and I went to a Chinese all you can eat buffet in Allentown. It was to use a gift certificate generously donated to use after Caleb passed away. Doing things as a family since Caleb passed away has been especially challenging for me in a lot of ways. From counting heads before we leave in the car to where we go and how we are received. Being a large family is not terribly common in this day and age and we tend to chuckle at the looks sometimes or get puffed up on nice comments as we sit at restaurants and people are amazed at how well behaved our children are even though we might disagree.

I experienced gentle reminders tonight and really missed Caleb tonight at one point during dinner. We had basically finished up and our other kids were just chatting and living live as normal. I looked around the table and could help but be reminded we were one short. The last time were were at this restaurant Caleb was with us and Caleb always seemed to be the center of attention wherever we went. I couldn’t help relive that last time in my mind as I surveyed my surroundings and feeling a little hollow hole in my heart. Having Caleb had its challenges compared to having older kids who can take care of themselves. Even walking through the parking lot into the Chinese food place as I scan for hazards I can’t help but be a little less tense because most of our kids are old enough not to walk the parking lot without holding our hand so to speak and follow my verbal lead.

Things are very different and I can’t help but miss Caleb and everything he brought to our family. The dynamics have changed and our youngest is now five years old and that alone is weird. This will be the longest time in our marriage that we didn’t have a child in diapers. So I am trying to accept our new normal but it’s really hard. On the surface it appears OK from the outside but the inside is still very wounded. I wish Caleb could know how much we miss him. The reality that we will not see him again this side of heaven is what makes things so challenging along with all the subtle reminders. The problem I run into is not letting the subtle reminders take me to darker places in my mind where I end up angry, depressed and paralyzed. Taking each day one day at a time and missing that little boy like crazy.

Author: Andrew Dubas

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Counting the Cost

Priceless has a whole new meaning in my life. I say priceless because in every aspect life truly is a priceless gift from God. I say priceless in respect to it’s impossible to weigh on a scale or attach monetary value to a human life. I know on some financial level one can run a formula based on what it cost in dollars to raise a child from birth to adult and this would not be the cost I am referring to. I can’t say I ever considered actual dollar costs when my wife and I wanted to have children. Early on in our marriage, we really did not have much money at all yet made a choice to allow God to decide the size of our family and always relied on God in every respect. I know we had our family who questioned each and every child and how we needed to be a good steward with what we had. In fact, My father-in-law each and every child said he was going to cut my manhood off and the more we had I think the more he would shake his head and grumble in disbelief.

Looking back, God truly has provided for our every need and more. Doors opened and though times were tough at times in the beginning, we remained faithful even when we were going to get food from a food bank when we hit a financial rough patch. It’s not that we wanted to disregard what our family was saying but our desire to put God first in our marriage was all that mattered. Certainly our family did welcome each child and it’s not like they would be willing to send any one of them back. Each child and each life is a gift from God.

Psalm 127:3-5 English Standard Version (ESV)

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
    the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
    are the children of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
    who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
    when he speaks with his enemies in the gate

Psalm 127:3-5 The Message (MSG)

3-5 Don’t you see that children are God’s best gift?
    the fruit of the womb his generous legacy?
Like a warrior’s fistful of arrows
    are the children of a vigorous youth.
Oh, how blessed are you parents,
    with your quivers full of children!
Your enemies don’t stand a chance against you;
    you’ll sweep them right off your doorstep.

It’s been 4 months almost to the day since my son Caleb Andrew Dubas went home to be with the Lord and this Sunday evening I was sitting on my couch rehashing his life and counting the cost. I was missing him and I picked up my phone to scroll back to some pictures I keep on my phone. It’s very hard to see him frozen in time and it only amplifies my sorrow yet I needed to see his picture even if for a moment to be reminded of him. My mental pictures only do so much so it’s bitter sweet to have so many photos and video of him. My emotions are still very raw and I could only glance and soak him in for a few moments. The extreme intensity of emotion is not like it was early on but I am very much still counting the cost.

Cost not so much in dollars but an every day toll on my soul, my wife, my marriage and family. We are in the midst of a battle against our adversary and the cost is high and just like life is priceless, so is the cost of losing a child. My feeble attempts at conveying that cost in writing do little justice to the payment required. I’d say its a forever debt. My only refuge is God alone. Some days I try to manage on my own but I am quickly consumed and find myself back on my knees. The only place I find rest is in the Lord. It’s hard to fathom the rest of my life without Caleb and that’s why I stick to one day at a time. As parents, my wife and I always had fears of something like this happening and having so many kids the chances are higher that something tragic could happen. Sure, we’ve had scares and injuries with our kids and but all of this with Caleb has turned things upside down. I can’t really count that cost because it’s on going but I know the price and it’s not a number.

Having traveled this 4 month road, I’m grateful I had God in my life all this time because I’m not sure what my life would be life without Him. There is no doubt God is refining me each and every day and I continue to praise Him for each and every arrow in my quiver. My wife and I will continue to trust God no matter the cost. I often see people requesting prayer for their children for certain situations and easily praise God when things go their way but please do understand that sometimes God says, “No.” and our very response should be to praise him the same in both the good times when it’s easy to but also when it’s hard. Losing Caleb is by far my greatest test in life. I pray God continues to give me the strength.  My family and I continue to covet your prayers. Thanks!

Author: Andrew Dubas

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Fission of my Heart

I sit here searching the depths of my sorrow. Confined in a dungeon against my will. The fission of my heart has lead me to this place. It wasn’t a clean cut. No, the jagged tear of my beating heart is from top to bottom. This prison, It’s a forsaken place with cold stone walls and miles of hallway to nowhere. I know because I walked every one of them searching for answers. Moisture from the earth above has penetrated and seeped through the rock. Every few seconds the sound of new mineral laden water drops strike the floor with precision from above shattering the cold silence. There’s very little light to speak of from one small window with thick iron bars. Slowly dragging my palm and fingers along the cold stone. Broken chains and shackles from long ago litter the dark earthen floor. What does it all mean. As I wander with one had on the wall, my fingertips fall into each valley between the stone where cold mortar rests. Rough to the touch I push on to feel every stone. To wonder what it’s like on the outside. Searching for warmth and signs of life I find the only window is out of my reach. Dappled sunlight wars to enter, barely enough to cast a shadow. I stretch my hand up to reach the light if only for a moment for relief but I am met with disappointment each time as I extend on the balls of my feet to be reminded it’s not for me. Crouching to my knees with one hand extended onto the wall, my head lowers to find rest on my outstretched arm. Mercy is not found in this wretched place but I continue to look for it.

I wrote the above the evening of Friday December 26, 2014. It would be the next day on Saturday that my wife and I would pick out a headstone for my son Caleb. We were invited over to a friends house for the evening on Friday but as the time got closer to leave, the storm clouds of my thoughts were getting deeper and I had absolutely zero desire to be around anyone. In the last few minutes before we were set to leave, I found myself on the couch with my arm over my face and the back of my head wedged back against the arm and cushion. If I could disappear into the couch, I would have. I asked that Tiffany go on without me.  I had few days and I kept finding myself in an off and on funk. I tried to paint a picture with my words of what I was feeling but it still doesn’t fit right. Even now as I continue my thoughts, I still try to find words to describe where I was that evening.

Saturday would come and the morning came with just as much weight as the night before. Having to pass through another unknown door. We were focused but the closer we got, the more real our situation became. Talking briefly in the days before, we knew we had to do this and it was just finding the right time to do it. Being price conscious, I mentioned,  “do we shop around?” The thought though of prolonging this task lead me to go a place I hear on the local radio often and Tiffany really had no stomach for shopping around. I still had no reference and no experience in picking headstones and Google searches really didn’t do it for me either. After years of hearing ads on the radio, I felt comfortable going to Earl Wenz Inc. in Breinigsville, PA.

I work in Breinigsville and it just seemed right. I only had a mental picture of what this place might be like after years of ads on 790 AM and as we approached and pulled into the driveway, the picture did not match at all with my mental image. There weren’t any parking spaces per say, just a horse shoe stone drive with some puddles scattered about. The property was strewn with stones of all types. I pulled to the side of the driveway and parked. I quickly turned my head and surveyed the lot to digest my first impressions. Because it wasn’t at all like I had imagined, I was a little apprehensive. The business is run out of what seems like a very old house that was converted to be used as office space and very dated from the outside. We guessed what door was the entrance and slowly approached on the old concrete sidewalk. It was warm morning. Almost spring like for being early winter on the calendar. Tiffany knocked and the front door quickly opened and we were greeted by Bill Wenz. He invited us in with a warm smile. After our pleasantries, we were invited into his office.

Tiffany and I were already on edge. This was a big moment for us. We had no idea what to expect and there was certainly and awkwardness about our situation. There wasn’t really any easy way to say why we were there. Had it been for an elderly aging parent or grandparent who past away and had lived a full life, it may have been a bit different than to have to say we were there to pick a stone for our son who tragically past away at just 18 months of age. Even as I type these very words, it’s still hard to believe it’s true. I still have this weird hope I am just in a wicked bad dream and will wake up soon. Anyway, our passage through this next door had already begun and we began to tell our story. After telling Bill about Caleb and our ideas, he wanted to show us some example stones and what he had in mind. The three of us went outside to walk the property. He first took us to a heart stone with a teddy bear wrapped around it. Honestly the whole teddy bear thing did not do it for us. We had something else in mind.

Tiffany began to mention she liked the heart shape but not the bear. She began to tell Bill about her new affinity for hearts since Caleb passed and why she only wears socks with hearts on them. I wasn’t totally familiar with the story but as Tiffany began to describe it, her well filled and began to spill out down her cheeks and onto the ground along with my tears as well. It was an emotional moment. I would like to detail that story in another blog post but as for now we were still on the hunt for the right stone. We continued for some time and found another standalone heart stone that both caught our attention. It was black. We told Bill we really liked it and all but decided that was the one. Bill led us back into the office where we would spend a lot of time discussing options. In that discussion, we talked about the size. The one that we liked was a bit big for one plot. When we told Bill we bought plots on either side of Caleb, he brought up doing one stone for the three of us. This idea intrigued us and continued to explore that option with some custom ideas that Bill would sketch on paper. After several iterations and hours later, we decided on a stone design.

Bill also took us to his shop on the property where all the stone work is done to show us other examples and also the process by which our stone would follow. It was a great moment to actually have a decision made. Bill was great and made the process easier than we thought it might be. He thoughtfully answered all our questions and I am glad we pushed past our initial apprehensions because Bill in my opinion really hit it out of the park. He obviously has very talented artist on staff and I am confident our stone for Caleb will be nothing less than perfect. We wanted something that stood out because of the location where Caleb is buried. There is unobstructed view down the main center isle of the cemetery to Caleb’s resting place and we wanting him to stand out from the rest without being obnoxious in such a small church cemetery. No, it’s not super huge but does need a cement footer. I think the base is just over 5 ft long. I will post pictures when I have them and the stone should be set in the May-June time frame of 2015.

I’ve felt much better since that day. My spirits have been better and without any depression. I think this process was a bug weight lifted off of our shoulders and the next step in our healing process. I can’t say what other people do and or how soon is too soon but we waited a little over two months to get this done and probably would have done it sooner but we had financial obligations to get out of the way and other time constraints. I’m glad we are past this step and I am please so far with our experience with Earl Wenz Inc. I will report back with any updates and will add them to the end of this blog post and perhaps have a standalone post once the stone is set with pictures.

I keep looking up and continue to praise God for all he is doing in our lives. We continue to be refined and continue to covet your prayers. It’s currently New Years Eve and we are looking forward to a bright new year and a fresh start. Our next big milestone will be April 6th, 2015… Caleb’s birthday.

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Pieces of Me…

It’s December 25, 2014. I awoke today about 5:30 AM without the ability to fall back to sleep. This is not new and normally my restlessness on this day would be because the ensuing joy that would soon follow as our children discover what they seemingly waited for all year, gifts under the Christmas tree. Today is much different than years past. I haven’t posted a blog recently because of my suffering. I wish there was some easy way for me to express where I am emotionally however human language does so little to convey sorrow. I wanted this blog to be a place for me to journal but I find myself not doing so as not to be some depressing blog where after people read it, they want to run in front of a truck. I still struggle with so many things its hard after not writing for some time not to be so scattered.

It’s so easy when asked, “How are you doing?” to say, “I’m OK.” This type of response though cordial, avoids a deeper human interaction that puts me in a place of vulnerability. It’s not uncommon for most people to say they are OK when they aren’t. Many reasons surround such a response that I will not dwell on as I speculate why other people do the same thing I do. I can only speak for myself. I’ve had many trials in my life and experienced sorrow and anguish at the hand of imperfect people who wounded my soul by turning what I’ve shared as a weapon against me. To be close to people certainly is an art in some respect. Allow a little of me and see where they go with it. I’ve learned through suffering to erect walls and and keep to myself. Discuss the surface within reason and only engage when its necessary. This was all before Caleb came to be.

Losing my son however has taken me to a different state of being. A different level and type of suffering that has no comparison. My deepest challenge is to make sense of it all. As much as I want things to be my old normal, there is little refuge from this new place I find myself in. Now that I’m a pickle, I can never be a cucumber again and this is where I find my challenge. I have these new clothes on and don’t know where they came from. I touch them with my hand and look down and don’t recognize who I am with them on. It’s a stage of grief. It’s been hard lately to see Caleb’s likeness. At first I sought after every photo but now I hide them from my sight. I only glance at them to see what my reaction might be at the time. There are so many reminders that my erected walls are having trouble keeping me safe. Fresh mortar is being mixed while the old is not yet cured. I build higher and faster but gaps in the wall are leading to structural problems and it’s hard to keep up at times.

Human interaction is my weakest point. I tend to hold one inviting hand out while holding the other up saying, “Stop, don’t dare come closer.” I send mixed messages. The truth is, I do not know how to act or what to say a lot of times. People want to know how I am doing but how can I even begin to describe what I can barely comprehend myself? I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on so many things and life goes on whether I can keep up or not. So I’m learning all over again as if I’m an infant. I’m starting all over after discarding everything I thought I knew. learning how to maneuver and navigate new waters with a rougher sea and stronger headwinds in a rickety old boat. Dry land is on the horizon and it’s just a matter of time until I get there. This is not to say that all my moments are like this. I’m functioning at a high level with work and my responsibilities however it’s what occurs between my ears in the meantime that consume me at times.

Some days I just don’t want to be around people. Introverted to a whole new level. At times I’m this way with God too. My faith is strong however it seems all of my relationships are suffering. Early on, I found some writings by John Piper on the Glory of God. I actually wrote about them in a previous blog “The Switch, all for His Glory.” This would compel me to send a note to John piper via his website to thank him. One of his office workers recommend a book of John’s and actually mailed it to me free of charge. The book is titled “Suffering and the sovereignty of God” I am still trying to grasp what I read. This because though I heard of Calvinism, I never really studied it. There was some really good deep theological stuff in that book but at the same time it leaves more questions than answers and I’m working on those now because it challenges a lot of what I thought I knew.

I know I need more devotional time but I sometimes find myself both engaging God while at the same time pulling away… In the same way I treat my carnal relationships. I am all over the map. Sometimes I’m just looking for an escape. If I stay in my hole, no one will find me right? I’ve had bouts of depression and anger and on a whole I am doing better and this blog post covers several weeks of emotion. So don’t leave here thinking I’m in the bottom of the sea. I very much have new joy at times and have happy moments. Those are coming back but it’s the daily weight of my internal dialog that leaves me detached at times. So yes, Both Tiffany and I both very much have our ups and downs. We are in the very early stages of our grief. We try our best to put one foot in front of the other and push on. We are both still very much being refined by God.

Waking up today on Christmas has been exceptionally hard without Caleb. I stood from the top of the stairs looking down on our living room where my children and wife were ready to open presents. I wanted to take pictures and video like normal but there was one gift that was not there. Caleb. In my heart as I walked down the steps, I wanted to turn back to “Caleb’s closet” to bring out his large portrait picture to set near us as if to make him present with us though not possible. It was a fleeting thought but my heart yearned for him to be with us. I feel bad that Caleb has been relegated to a closet but it’s hard to see his likeness right now. More reminders of his absence that only amplifies the pain.

For now there’re new shiny distractions on this date to tend to so as much as I want to seclude myself in writing, my family awaits. The kids seems to be doing rather well with everything. We all miss Caleb in our own way and every day brings new challenges of their own. My wife just completed memorizing the first chapter of James so I also have some catching up to do in that regard as well. I have some time off from work until January 5, 2015 so its a nice break from my day job though I will be working on my home instead as I’m finishing my basement for more living space. I could use some sunny weather too. The sun has been hiding a lot and that’s had a negative affect on me. Is it too much to ask for an early spring? 🙂

So this is my update for now. I can’t say when the next one will be but hope it helps you to understand me a little better and where I’m at. There’s nothing easy about suffering and grief and it’s even harder to put into words. Let’s see where this goes. I will keep looking up and please continue to pray for my family. Thanks!

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Author: Andrew Dubas

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Present from Caleb Andrew Dubas

A few days before Caleb passed away, I remember being in my bedroom and I started to hear what sounded like a pencil on the wall. Over the years most of our kids have wanted to draw on more than just paper. Caleb was NO exception. When I turned to hone in on the sound that was all too familiar as a seasoned parent of 7 children, I saw Caleb  with a pencil in his hand scribbling on my bedroom door! Lucky I was close by (15 feet away) and I said , “Hey” in his direction and he stopped for a moment to look over at me. Once he saw me and our eyes met, he tore off running full speed as fast as his two little legs could carry him with the pencil into the living room. “Hey, get back here!”, I said. He knew he was busted. It was a fun game to him.  I would retrieve the pencil from him and this is just one example of many of Caleb getting into things. Out of all of our children, he was perhaps the most curious of his surroundings. From tearing through the cabinets or pulling all the books down off the book shelf, there was no stopping this one man wrecking ball. He loved life and all that it had for him to explore and there was no doubt about it. I am so grateful for the time we did have with him and for our diligence in this information age to capture so many memories in picture and video.

Though I could write many blog entries on Caleb’s conquests in his short life, today’s entry is about a present my wife discovered weeks after his death. At times it was hard early on to see his toys or pictures of him as the reality is so raw and the pain so deep. For weeks my wife would weep each time she would find his clothing in the laundry. With a family of 9, the piles of soiled clothing are deep and the reality of his passing plus the aspect that his clothing in the laundry would no doubt come to a final end at some point was a sorrow filled journey that lasted weeks as his clothes worked their way through the cleaning process.

This present my wife found however was very different though. It was made by Caleb himself and ties to a very specific memory for my wife. For those that know Caleb, he loved to climb onto the kitchen table. Perhaps it made him feel taller in a house of giants. Being the smallest, he liked to be up high. Whether it was in our arms, on my back in the backpack or on the kitchen table, he loved being a big boy. As many times as we would pick him up and place him back onto the floor, he would just climb back up on top of the table. Honestly, it got to a point where we just accepted it. It was Caleb. It’s who he was. I will share a few of those photos now as a prelude to the present.

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So where the gift begins is a day of painting on the kitchen table. Alexis, Josiah, Isaiah and Caleb were painting pictures with tempera paint at our kitchen table. My wife often would allow them to paint and do other crafts. Caleb loved to do whatever his older siblings were doing and painting was one of his favorites. Anything messy actually. Though I was not there at the time because I was at work, my wife would relay the story to me weeks later after she was looking at the paintings on the freezer in our kitchen. After Caleb passed away, my wife approached the paintings because she knew Caleb painted one of them that day. The problem is even though Caleb had his very own painting he was working on in the color red, Isaiah our four year old son had painted over a lot of Caleb’s work but not all of it. As my wife studied the painting reflecting on that day, her eyes were drawn to a small set of foot prints on the left side of the painting. Could they be Caleb’s?

It was a huge find but we were a little cautious. My first reaction when she found it was to go to Isaiah and put the prints up to his feet just to confirm they were not Isaiah’s. My wife did remember cleaning Caleb up that day as he had paint ALL over him… Including his feet! Though she did not have pictures from that day, her memory is vivid of the event. Our excitement grew as the prospect of this being Caleb’s footprints on the painting would soon be confirmed. I quickly took the painting to Isaiah’s feet to match it up and it wasn’t even close. I held the painting in one hand and Isaiah’s foot in the other and it was obviously not Isaiah’s footprint. We knew right then that the footprints were in fact Caleb’s. This painting event happened just a couple weeks before Caleb passed away. So needless to say, this Painting has become a very precious gift from Caleb to us. It embodies who he was and the fact that he loved being on that kitchen table. So neat. No one should be surprised. Instead of painting from the chair, he climbed right up on top of the table where he could be as close as possible to the action! He dove right in and became the art. His body became the brush and the canvas.

Once we knew the prints were his, we wanted to spend whatever it would take to get this piece framed. To proudly display his work in our home. Though his older brother painted over a lot of his personal work, we know the red was his color that day. Sure it would have been better if it was only his but along with my wife’s memory of the event and the whole story in itself paints a beautiful memory that we can hold onto for years to come. We now have a priceless piece of artwork! Thank’s Caleb!

The next task would be to find a framer. My wife took to social media to ping her friends to find a reputable framer. We did not want to take it just anywhere. The suggestions started pouring in however one started to rise to the top. Some teachers as Brandywine High School had started to volunteer their time and expertise. We were concerned with the chain of custody and it was great because my wife took the painting in and was there the entire time as it was carefully measured. It only left her sight for a few minutes while it was digitally scanned for a high resolution picture shown below. No need to leave it with some frame shop with people we didn’t know. Obviously, before having it scanned, we would only have a cell phone picture of it in case something happened to the original. We are very grateful to those have helped make this possible. I would post their names but this is a public blog and until I get permission, privacy remains. Anyway, below is Caleb’s present. Sure, it may not be famous work of art or prestigious subject matter but coming from our 18 month old son Caleb who is no longer with us, it is absolutely priceless to us. Enjoy! Caleb’s foot prints can be seen in the middle to lower left side of the painting. Click on the picture to see a larger version.

Author: Andrew Dubas

 painting

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Elephant in the room… What happened that day.

This entry starts with the Pennsylvania state police returning my security camera PC October 21, 2014. The recordings of which contain the last moments Caleb Andrew Dubas spent on this earth. Though I saw glimpses of what happened that night while reviewing the security footage with the state police before handing over my PC, I still had unanswered questions and needed more details. For seven days without my security footage, I wondered and agonized over the details recorded that day. The main question being, who or how was the door left open??? How did this happen when we are so obsessive with Caleb and where he is?

As parents, we try our very best to protect our children. Though we can’t save them from everything, we try. So the task of understanding what went wrong that day was something I was obsessing over. I knew the answers were on that computer and I really wanted it back badly. The police told me it would only take a day or two at most and I would get it right back so I reluctantly handed my PC over at the time; but after a few days went by, I began to worry and regret doing so. I reached out to the officer by phone and email several times with no response. I was beginning to think after six days that they lied to me and it would be months or more. Would I really have to wait months for answers? I already had a pit in my stomach over this so when the officer finally responded to my email, apologizing for the delay because of other events that happened during his week, I was relieved when he told me he would be returning my PC then next day October 21, 2014.

That next day would come and the officer called me in the afternoon of the 21st to confirm someone would be home to receive the PC. I assured him yes, someone would be there even though I was not home at the time. I explained to Tiffany the day prior that the police would be dropping off the PC  and someone needed to be home. I was OK with Tiffany receiving the PC however I wanted to be there and thank the officer and make sure it was OK with my own two eyes.  The officer eventually arrived and I couldn’t be more excited to see the police with my computer in hand at my front door. He handed me the computer and it felt like Christmas for a split second but the gravity of what it contained brought my emotions back in check. I set the computer down at my feet and I eagerly signed the paper stating I received it back. A quick “Thank you, I really appreciate it.” and the officer was on his way. As I closed the door, I looked down and to my left and stared at the PC. Even though my anticipation was building, it was also met with deep concern and some apprehension. I knew what was on there and it wasn’t all good. The footage I needed to see for answers, but was afraid to examine at the same time because I did not want to re-live this event over and over. It wasn’t easy. None of this is but I had to do it.

As much as I wanted to drop what I was doing and hook it right up, we had guests and I did not want to be rude and disappear. The anticipation was somewhat intoxicating in a sense because I could not stop thinking about it.  It got to a point where I couldn’t wait any longer. My emotions were consuming me and my desire to know outweighed courtesy.  Sneaking away became easy to meet the answers that I hoped were on that computer. The raw emotion as I connected each cable back in place was intense .From the mouse, keyboard, network cable, and finally the power cable. Every motion built on the next to the final pressing of the power button with anticipation. Starting that computer, my only thoughts were, “Please start, please start.”

My immediate concern was making sure the video data from that day was still intact and not damaged while in police custody. The computer thankfully booted perfectly. Before starting the security software however, I copied off the raw data files to a network location to prevent them being overwritten by new event recordings from the cameras even though they’re not set to do so. I wasn’t taking any chances. I wanted to preserve Caleb’s last moments on this earth and find further understanding of what went wrong. I had to know more. My next task was locating the export files with the date October 14, 2014. I quickly found them and started watching without hesitation. My focus was intense. I leaned in toward the screen so I could see better and started with the front door footage naturally because this was the last place Caleb was seen alive at 5:21 PM on camera.  I knew this because the night I sat and briefly reviewed the footage with the police while looking for quick answers.

Starting from 4:00 PM file, there was plenty of activity on the camera from Isaiah and Josiah to chickens walking in the front yard. Each motion event ended with the front door being closed. That was my focus. Was the door closed and when did it open or was it left open or was it closed and not latched all the way. The next event I witnessed was my wife Tiffany arriving home with groceries. The kids following her like little ducks however with grocery bags in tow. We do not normally bring groceries in through the front door so my first thoughts were I would soon be witnessing where my misery would begin but this was not the case. The door was shut behind them.

As I continued the footage, at 4:38 PM the next motion event was captured with my wife coming out to the front porch with Elijah,Josiah, Isaiah and Caleb behind. I could not help but notice the front door left wide open as they were all on the front porch. My wife made adjustments to the wooden chair on the porch and then sat down on the edge of our front porch on the concrete with her feet on the earth in front of her. It was 76 degrees outside. Quite balmy and a beautiful fall day. Caleb and the other kids seem to play and Caleb sat next to my wife for a few minutes. My 12 year old Elijah moved to the side of the house with the pond and trampoline out of camera view. At some point as the other kids left to the same side of the house to play, Caleb got up and walked off in that direction with the other kids. My wife was then alone on the porch.

Tiffany then stood up and looked to make sure Caleb was OK in the direction where Elijah was and it seemed and I tried to read her lips as she said something to Elijah who was over in that direction as well and out of view of the security camera. Elijah is a great caretaker and watches Caleb well. We trust him. My parents were coming over for dinner and to celebrate my wife’s birthday a day early as we would not be home on her birthday because we planned on being at church like usual on a Wednesday night. My wife was making tacos and asked for help around the house to straighten up. After Tiffany spoke to Elijah and was at peace that Caleb was being looked after, she went back inside to the kitchen. What I could not help but notice is that the front door was still wide open.

Still not sure if this is what happened, my emotions were swelling that this could be it. My wife re-entered the house around 4:48 PM. I thought to myself, it’s 76 degrees out and Caleb was already outside. If she knew Caleb was outside, there would be no need to shut the door on him. If Caleb is inside every door remains a fortress and Caleb was with the other kids. All the other motion events at the doors were normal all day except this one as Caleb was already outside. Even all the other kids closed doors after entering throughout the day as Caleb was in the house. This is our normal procedure. Knowing Caleb was last seen alone at 5:21 PM on the front porch and the front porch was completely empty at 4:48 PM, I had to know more. On the night this happened and I was sitting with police reviewing footage, things were moving quickly and I initially only saw the door open and Caleb last seen on the front porch at 5:21 PM. I did not see the proceeding events of who opened the door and that Caleb walked off with the other kids earlier. Naturally, I did not have enough data because I know Caleb left the porch earlier and no footage showed him come back or at least I thought so.

I quickly turned to the back porch footage where I know there had to be more details because when Elijah found Caleb in the pond at 5:39 PM he came out the back door outside our living room. I started to understand what happened but needed to confirm so I intently watched the footage. At 4:57 PM or there about, I saw the other kids come in and Elijah carrying Caleb back into the house and going inside the kitchen door instead. There are two back doors on the main house only a few feet away. The kitchen has a door and so does the living room that open themselves to the back porch. The living room has a double french style type door. Elijah entered the kitchen door where my wife was still preparing dinner. The camera clearly showed this as I could see Tiffany in the footage in the kitchen. The kitchen door has a storm door so it naturally shut behind him. Elijah stood there holding Caleb in the kitchen and seemingly eventually set him down. This was about the 5:00 PM hour.

Watching this, it became exceedingly clear what happened. I went back to the front porch footage with the knowledge that Caleb was brought back into the house so it was not possible my initial understanding was correct. The footage on the front porch shows Caleb on the front porch by himself at around 5:15 PM. Keep in mind that my security cameras are set to only record motion so sometimes footage can be choppy. I initially never saw Caleb come back to the front porch in the earlier footage from where he left earlier when he first left with the other kids to play but I knew he was last seen alone on the front porch at 5:21 PM.

It was then all the pieces fell together. The kids left to go outside from our front door, my wife was out there and when she went back in, had no reason to shut the door on her other kids and including Caleb when it is 76 degrees outside. They would soon be back in as it was close to dinner. I know it can be habit to shut the door always but not in this case. I understand. A lot is going on in our house always and my parents were coming and it’s 76 degrees and the kids are already outside. My wife knew Caleb was safe with Elijah and the other kids. He always is. What went horribly wrong is that instead of the kids re-entering the front door where they came from and would have shut the door behind them, they came back in through the kitchen back door where my wife was. Elijah was taking Caleb back to my wife. Handing off responsibility, a “changing of the guard” if you will. My wife never left the kitchen, she was making dinner. Because it was windy on October 14th, a towel hanging on the wash line kept the motion camera recording. The next main footage on the back door was Elijah exiting the living room door turning toward the pond and seeing Caleb face down in the pond. He ran obviously screaming and my wife ran from the kitchen with blood curdling screams. I was in the living room as well cleaning Nutella out of the carpet. I smashed through the screen door knocking it off its tracks to meet my wife who was clearly distraught.

Though I won’t be detailing my rescue attempt and the horror that follows, It was all crystal clear how this happened. Caleb left the kitchen while my wife was preparing dinner like he normally would as he is free to roam in the house. The house to us is the safest place for him. What no one else thought or could put the pieces together was that the front door was still wide open. My wife was distracted with dinner. We were all distracted. Caleb took the invitation of a wide open door at 5:15 PM where he spent a full six minutes playing on the front porch because he absolutely loves the outdoors and was last seen walking off the porch in the direction of the pond at 5:21 PM. This is the last time we would see him alive. Watching these events all over did not make it any easier however I understand now how it happened. I can tell myself a hundred times, if we only had a storm door, fence around the pond or any other number of security devices, I am quickly reminded that parents or those who are in charge of protecting the innocent have to be perfect 100% of the time. It only takes one misstep and tragedy can strike in a moment.

I understand what happened that day.  The perfect worst storm occurred and we can’t take it back. This event in the making was a recipe made up of a several bad decisions. Seemingly innocent individual events by themselves compiled together in one mixing bowl for a full serving of misery. I absolutely do not blame my wife. We both added ingredients to the mixture. As we pick up the pieces of what could have been, I am quickly reminded how fragile life is and that God is in full control. It’s not about me and it never was. Everything is for God’s glory. This event will not be foothold for Satan to tear us apart. As I declared at the end of Caleb’s service aloud, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”. My faith will not be shaken.

It does absolutely no good to dwell on the things I can’t change. This is not to say I haven’t. I would love to do things over to affect the past, but this is a travesty that can’t be rectified on this side of heaven by wanting a second chance for any one event that was in the mixing bowl. Our greatest challenge is not to examine the individual ingredients too much and have them constantly affect our daily lives by beating ourselves up for an individual bad decision wishing for a do-over. As parents, we need to understand our mistakes so they are not repeated. We have 6 other kids and as much as we try to do things right, we can’t be perfect in every respect. Hindsight is 20/20 and as much as we would love to change the past, we can only affect the present by holding every thought captive and making it obedient to Christ. Realize that this world is all for God’s glory and it’s not about me. To surrender all and one day, it will all be made right in God’s time.

I have been sitting on this blog post in draft for some time. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to share but I think parents need to understand how something like this can happen. How individual bad decisions compile or how easily distractions can affect outcomes. Tiffany and I both take some responsibility for this as we added some ingredients. Ultimately God is in control and we will continue to serve Him in everything including the size of our family. We have 6 other children that we continue to focus on. God’s will, not ours be done.

But As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord! (Joshua 24:15)

 

Author: Andrew Dubas

 

 

This security camera footage shows context. This is where Tiffany had the front door open and was relaxing with the kids. The video speaks for itself.

 

Below is the footage of Elijah bringing Caleb back into the house through the kitchen door to Tiffany. He continues to hold him after he gets into the kitchen and then sets him down. Tiffany will remain in the kitchen from this point forward until Caleb is discovered at 5:39 pm.

 

Below is the last footage of Caleb seen alive. It is hard to see because he happened to be playing with a Chinese food dish with water in it. He just wanted more water and just knew where to find some. The pond. Truly sad. He just wanted to play. Breaks my heart but is something I need to share. I miss him dearly.