I used to bring up my troubles around Austin, and he would just laugh. Somehow, strangely enough, that usually made things better.
Was walking back late from lab and had the Austinian urge to keep walking. Dumped my stuff off at the apartment and paced around the nearby park- not the same as walking the tens of miles that Austin was fond of, but still a wonderful experience. The stars were so bright tonight, even with Chicago's light pollution. Breathtakingly beautiful crisp air, with each exhalation's smoke curling off into the night sky with the biting breeze. Can feel the cold lingering in your bones, but it feels good, knowing you have somewhere warm to return to. Miss you, Austin.
While visiting with some friends in Albuquerque over winter break, we ended up playing a game of Scrabble. We of course couldn't play without talking about how good Austin was at Scrabble and Words with Friends online. Austin was tough to beat, because the game is a combination of vocabulary and strategy--perfect for Austin. You never felt bad about losing to Austin, though, because you always knew that he was all about the joy associated with playing the game with his friends, not about winning. I think these words games are a perfect testament to how Austin treated the ones he loved and to Austin's joy and love for fun.
I first "encountered" Austin while writing an Amazon review for the organic chemistry textbook I had just finished using in school; he had also written a review for the book, and I thought it was spot-on, so I decided to check out his other reviews.
Over the next 15 mins or so, I thought to myself "this seems like a pretty cool, smart guy," and I wondered if he by chance went to my school (not many schools use the chemistry text we both reviewed).
My google search eventually led me here, and I couldn't help but notice that in the picture of Austin at the ballpark, he seems to be wearing a watch he reviewed on Amazon - the second review of his that I read. It seems we both had the same "retro geek chic" style-sense in watches! While I never got to really know Austin (and it turns out we did not attend the same university), I feel like I got a small sense of him as a person through his reviews on Amazon. He came across as smart, funny, and very likable. Reading about him on this site, I think we would have gotten along well had we ever somehow met - our college majors were very similar, and we're both weather geeks, classical music enthusiasts, and lovers of the outdoors.
It's a wonder to me and a testament to Austin that he still can manage to touch people.
dark spiraling staircase to the top- luckily for me, the key hadn't been changed, and I emerged onto the Observatory deck, the white dome housing the telescope covered in layers of silky snow. The sky was cloudy and I couldn't see the stars, but I had a perfect view of the Christmas-lights decking the quad-trees. It was gorgeous and just what I needed. The wind was blowing south-east and bringing fog along the coast-line; Chicago was reduced to a lighted blur. A few people wandered along the quad (I resisted the temptation to throw snowballs at them), but for the most part everyone was gone, home. There's nothing as refreshing or beautiful as a normally hectic place reduced to a quiet winter landscape, blanketed in snow.
Just taking the time to walk outside and look at the white campus was the best part of my week. Thank you, Austin.
For those of you who were unaware of Austin's secret life as a reviewer of Amazon products, behold......
Austin the Amazon Reviewer!
Our thanks to Mary M for reminding of these posts.
Aspen - One of many beautiful memories
Some of my fondest memories of my time with Austin are during the three wonderful years that I lived in Aspen. It took me a lot longer to appreciate the magical powers of nature than it did Austin, but on arriving in Colorado mid winter, it seduced me instantly.
If anyone who is reading this has been there you will be nodding your head about now.
An added bonus to living surrounded by such incredible majestic beauty was that I was now just one state away from my American family. I remember us meeting in the centre of town on one, it may even have been the first, of their visits to see me there. Having worked late, and no doubt having gone out for a “couple” after work, I of course overslept and woke to a phone call announcing, “We’re here! We’re by the fountain”. So excited to see them again I literally grabbed my keys, stepped into some flip-flops and ran, in my sleeping gear, straight to meet them all. I can still feel the butterflies in my stomach as I raced down the road, eager to throw my arms around all of them, Which I did. And then I ran through the fountain, which is a series of jets that shoot up from the floor sporadically. As luck would have it, (for Austin and Aidan) I timed my sprint exactly as all of the jets went into full force, soaking me from head to toe. They made me feel so happy, I wanted to be a child again with them. The burst of laughter that escaped from Austin and Aidan’s mouths is one of the sweetest sounds I shall remember. The power of memory never ceases to amaze me. l just close my eyes again and there it is, that carefree image, their smiles, their laughter, ringing like bells in my ears.
October 21st, 2013
Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, University of Chicago
Thank you all for being here. Once again we are surrounded by the love and support of this community and we are grateful.
I’m Austin’s mother and I had the joy of knowing and loving him for the nearly 21 years of his life.
I wish I could convey the entirety of his unique beauty to you, yet I know that is impossible.
I can’t capture Austin’s essence in these few words, but I can share something about one of his distinguishing qualities.
Austin was emphatically, unapologetically and unabashedly himself. He embraced his passions and quirks, and in doing so, enriched the lives of those who knew him.
He loved the urban energy of Chicago and also actively sought the beauty of nature. On our first hike in New Mexico when Austin was five, the adults were starting to tire. I tried to gently set the stage for our imminent return by explaining to him that there were process hikers---people who just liked to be in nature-- and there were destination hikers. I thought I was being clever and planned on labeling us as process hikers so we could go home. But before I could say more he proudly exclaimed that he was a destination hiker. We made it to the top of the mountain propelled by his short legs and outsized enthusiasm. He remained a “destination hiker” in life, eager to stretch his boundaries and reach each summit whether by walking from Hyde Park to Evanston or gleefully seeking unfamiliar foods with his friends in this vast terrain of Chicago.
His love of numbers could be applied with equal intensity to weather data, a county-by-county analysis of pre-election polls or baseball. He sought knowledge and insight by finding patterns in data, but mostly it was just fun for him in a way that wasn’t always evident to others. When he was a kid I overheard his cousin exclaim in exasperation “Austin, you’re the only person I know who answers my questions with numbers!” Yet, despite his respect for statistical predictions, he preferred to cheer for the underdog in a baseball game, because he welcomed the possibility of surprise.
He was a young adult who had little patience for contemporary music, and to the chagrin of some of his friends and family, never even pretended to enjoy anything playing on the radio. Instead he immersed himself in classical works because he was moved by the structures and emotions of the music. He would go to concerts alone or with friends, although music was best when shared. Last Christmas Austin gave his father 36 hours of his favorite music with four pages of annotation so Gregg would know why each piece was meaningful to Austin. And I’ve been told that he tried very hard to convince a Streetwise vendor outside the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to come inside and enjoy a free concert where Yoyo Ma would be performing. He was equally willing to share his passion with a close family member or a stranger others might have overlooked.
Austin was a science scholar who loved Nascar which frankly befuddled me until I asked him what he liked about the races. He explained how he held each driver’s past performance on different tracks in his mind and compared them with their strategies for the current race. A couple of years later around a campfire in the mountains of New Mexico he described in loving detail what he had learned about the Krebs cycle, an iconic biochemical pathway that generates energy for living cells. Under the stars we could see his wonder as Austin was visualizing and flowing along with the electrons traveling in their circle. He was following those electrons just as he had followed Mark Martin’s car. His descriptions of these two seemingly unrelated loves provided a beautiful window into his mind, where ultimately everything was connected.
Austin was happy to be who he was and happy to share his love for life even when –and perhaps especially when-- it flowed from his unusual blend of interests and passions.
He was a loving family member, friend, scientist, outdoorsman, lapsed cellist, weather hound, goofball, budding chef, music lover, dreamer, scrabble player, explorer, and scholar.
He had a huge and compelling smile, was insatiably curious, enthusiastic, thoughtful, intellectually intense, honest, a great listener, proud of his family and friends, unmaterialistic, compassionate, quietly funny, factually precise, affectionate and kind—deeply kind.
Austin was a gift.
After we learned the sad news of Austin’s loss, we asked everyone to commit a bit more fully to what matters most in their lives—to live a little bit larger in order to take up some of the space he leaves behind.
We now make an additional request.
We ask everyone to find the courage to be more emphatically, unapologetically and unabashedly themselves.
Because what we learn from Austin’s life is that sharing one’s authentic self is the greatest gift one can offer.
We, including our good friend Jo, cared for Austin and Aidan in their early life. We are part of an unbroken chain of love that has surrounded them always. Gregg, Laurie, Austin and Aidan really are the most amazing, giving, caring family. But you all know that, have been touched by their love. We are so lucky to be a part of that. Their wider family too; Austin's grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and family friends have always been so warm, so welcoming and so inclusive of us, and we appreciate them wholeheartedly for that.
Jo was Austin's first nanny. Jo cannot be here today although she would dearly love to be. She is with us in her support, her love and her thoughts and she went to Gregg, Laurie and Aidan in their time of greatest need and we will be forever grateful for that.
Austin was six weeks old when Jo arrived. They shared a profound love and connection and here are a few of her words:
"How to articulate a love that lives on so deep in me, perhaps all the more, for knowing I can never again express it to him. I must use that energy in my movements and actions towrds others. So much easier said than done. I'd trade anything to look into his eyes again, tell a tale, make him laugh, watch him enjoy a dish that he didn't think he'd like but tried anyway. We loved him before we, or he even knew who he was, or was to become"
I am Emily. I have loved Austin since he was very small; for all of my adult life. I was his nanny from 14 months to 26 months. I would like to share some memories with you.
It is a cliche that children go through the'why?' stage and people often jokingly groan about this. I remember we were all together when Austin was four. One of us casually wondered which country was on the other side of the world. Australia is on the other side of the world from England, so we joke of digging a tunnel and popping up there. We were all sat on the sidewalk and Austin seized on this remark and asked why, and why, and why until all of our admittedly limited knowledge of sub-strata and geography was exhausted. It was all new ideas to him but our answers were absorbed and seriously considered and he wanted more, and more, and more of this precious stuff- knowledge. He loved it, he thrived on it, he needed it.
I happened to be in the playground with him the day he understood and could process the concept of counting for himself. You could see it in his eyes; that lightbulb moment. The expression which played across his face in that moment has come back to me, a gift, with utter clarity as I wrote this down. Wonderment, joy and eagerness to share the sensation was shown in his eyes, the tilt of his head; questioning that I understood and gladness that I did.
Austin would play a game where he would put his arm up his sleeve and into the body of his shirt. You would then have to ask with mock alarm 'Where is Austin's Arm' and look for it. He would then then deftly pull it back through and wave his arm truimphantly and dissolve into giggles, his eyes shining with happiness. We would repeat this many times and the more effort we both put into this performance the more we both enjoyed it. He was hilarious.
Austin was incredibly lovely. I have tried to distil the essence of this into words but I cannot. It will suffice to give you the bulletpoint I started with and know that you can provide your own resonant mental images of this from your own memory, or from the stories and pictures on the Remembering Austin site: HIS SMILE, HIS EYES, HIS TRUST, HIS GIVING NATURE.
So to re-cap Austin was smart, Austin was passionate, Austin was funny and Austin was sweet. The two year old Austin was just the same person as he has always been ever since. I recognise his essence in every story I have ever heard about him and in every achievement. I have always taken such pride in my small but important part in his upbringing.
It is the way, and how fully we live our lives which is important. Achieving our potential, being caring, being forgiving of ourselves and others, knowing and challenging our natures, being present, loving life. Austin showed us this throughout his too short life. I carry him always in my heart, in my actions and how I raise my children. I love you Gregg, Ilove you Laurie, I love you Aidan, I LOVE YOU AUSTIN.
It is one of the first beautiful fall days in Chicago. I can still hear the cicadas’ song which is becoming noticeably weaker each day. I hear the leaves scattering across the sidewalks with the wind. Summer has ended in Chicago. And I still find myself reflecting on the death of a young man who died in Chicago at the beginning of this summer, and of his family.
In Chicago, we are pummeled in the news daily with yet another tragic death of a young person, often by gunfire. Then there are the equally numerous, painful losses due to car accidents and drownings. It seemed there were a lot of deaths of young people in Lake Michigan this summer. These daily and wrenching accounts of young lives cut short become numbing. We read these stories and perhaps send up silent prayers for the families. Most of us then move on to the next news story and on with our lives. The toll of these daily losses forces us to become almost immune to the sadness of so many young deaths.
I did not know Austin. I do not know his family. Yet the news of his heartbreaking death saddened me deeply.
Austin’s story struck a personal chord with me. The picture of his beaming face at White Sox Park alongside his dad reminded me so much of a family member who similarly is always completely immersed in the joy of the moment no matter what he is doing, with a radiant smile to match. Austin’s boyish face and smile could easily have belonged to someone I knew and loved.
I also could relate to the stories of Austin’s fascination with weather. I have a son who also preferred watching the Weather Channel when he was a little boy over any other program—and which was often on at our house seemingly nonstop. My then preschool son would keep us abreast of upcoming—usually dire--weather conditions, in painstakingly and endless detail. Only other true Weather Channel aficionados can understand why Jim Cantore was a god in our house and why we were shushed into silence if Jim was expounding on some potential weather disaster.
I knew well the experience of having a son with a passion and enormous knowledge for all things weather. And I distinctly recalled my son speaking excitedly about the weather on June 12, 2013, as I drove him to the train that morning, stating there was a forecast of a possible derecho—an unusual and threatening large storm formation. When I subsequently heard on the news that Austin, a University of Chicago student, was missing while likely seeking out the weather that evening, I thought of my own son who would also have determinedly sought out that type of extreme weather experience regardless of personal safety concerns.
So I anxiously followed Austin’s story and of the heartbreaking discovery of his death. I grieved inwardly for this young man whom I did not know, and for his family, whose sorrow and anguish I could not begin to imagine.
But I do know what it’s like to love a child fiercely with every fiber of my being. I know what it’s like to love my children more than my own life. And I absolutely know that the loss of any child leaves an aching and unfillable hole in a parent’s heart that has to be cruelly recalled each and every day thereafter. A terrible loss and an unfathomable pain that every parent prays never to experience.
But I have also seen the enduring love for a child, for Austin, that is so much stronger than death. When Austin’s family almost immediately started sharing the many pictures, stories of friends and families, and even some personal family videos of Austin with his family, his family’s unwavering love for Austin pulled some of the essence of who Austin was into other people’s lives and hearts, including those of strangers like myself. It was astonishing to me that Austin’s family were able to share so many wonderful and intimate memories of Austin for anyone who wanted to know who he was, during what could only be the darkest moments of their lives. And it is this abiding family love for Austin that steadfastly survives his death, continuing to bring Austin into other’s lives, even those who never met him.
What I now have learned about Austin from those stories and memories is that he was a brilliant, loving and kind college student. He loved weather, numbers and classical music. He was not a fashion plate with his too-short pants and white socks. He was a deeply loved son, brother and friend. And like any son, brother and friend, he had wonderful talents and his own unique quirks.
Most importantly, as Austin’s parents and family so tenderly and lovingly depict, he was just a great kid. Everyone really needs to know that about him most of all, because he was their son and brother who they loved, and will always love, with all of their hearts and fibers of their beings. That never-ending love radiates in and through every picture, story and recollection shared. That they miss Austin more than words can ever adequately convey is achingly palpable. And to intimately know that kind of intense and boundless love in our own lives for our own children means that we strangers, too, can and should also grieve his loss.
I am driving my son to the train on what is probably one of the last of the truly spectacularly warm days of this early Chicago autumn. My son points to the numerous “cumulonimbus” clouds approaching over the horizon. He is explaining, in exacting detail, why they are often called anvil clouds. I look at the majestic white clouds slowly winding their way to Chicago and towards Lake Michigan. And I think of Austin and how he would most likely also have taken time to admire and appreciate the beauty and magnitude of the colossal clouds.
However, I think not just of Austin but also of the indomitable and forever love of his family and how that also continues to resonate with me on this beautiful fall day. Truly, a love that is far greater and stronger than death.
- Anonymous post to RememberingAustin.com
To whoever wrote this post, you have our deepest thanks and love. Austin's Memorial is Oct 21st at 6:30pm at the Rockefeller Chapel at UChicago. We hope you and your family can join us.
Collecting stories so that everyone can see who Austin Hudson-Lapore was to each of us.