Saying Goodbye to Dad

It was a difficult decision in this environment, and a risk, I know, but I decided to leave the kiddos for several hours today and head up to PA  for my dad’s < 10 person funeral mass. 

The absolute saddest part of dad’s passing was the timing.  Dad had been ready for a long time.  Before Tim died, I spoke to him about how much I wish that across the country we had Death with Dignity options.  Imagine if Dad could have made his own choice?  He would have made it years ago, and gone to rest peacefully, surrounded by the support of his family.  My heart breaks to think of the sadness and the confusion of this time.  I can only imagine this is the case for many other patients in care facilities across the country, who can not understand why their family members are not able to visit.  Death is always sad for those of us left behind.  It is a heavy weight to carry.  But I like to imagine a world where the suffering can find their way home in peace, in a manner and time of their choosing.  

I am glad that I was able to go today.  I wrote and gave the Eulogy, which I will share here.  I may have broken my own connection to the Catholic Church in 2016, but I can not deny that Father Ed did a beautiful job with Dad’s mass.  He had met dad, and he read carefully the background on Dad that my sister-in-law, Gaby, provided.  He incorporated those thoughts beautifully and connected them to both readings and the gospel in his homily.  My sister, Jean, and my Aunt Kathleen did a beautiful job with the readings, my Aunt Dolly with the prayer of the faithful and the Church staff who joined for the piano and singing did a gorgeous job.  The pianist went so far as to add a few chords of ‘Somewhere over the rainbow’ at the end after hearing the end of the Eulogy.   And my mom, who I hate to welcome to widowhood, was her strong, beautiful, elegant self.  

Here are the words I shared today with the small crowd allowed for the funeral mass.  Mom hopes to have a burial that more can attend in the future.  

Good morning.

(Here I ad libbed that before I started I wanted to mention that my immediate family had joined a video chat the previous evening to wish my 18 year old niece a happy birthday and we had agreed… as weird as this funeral mass is for all of us here  – the size, only a few immediate family members –  it would have been right up dad’s alley).

We, here in this room today, and others that could not be with us, we are Dad’s legacy. Most significantly, Mom, Joe, Jean, and I (and our spouses and children) are dad’s greatest legacy.  Even though he couldn’t always show it the way we might have liked for him to, it has always been clear to me just how much Dad loves each and every one of us.

At my first job after college when someone would accept a new position and be moving on to the next adventure, we would celebrate (sometimes roast) them with a top 10 list, Letterman style. At my husband’s Celebration of Life, we developed a collection of things that “we learned from Tim” particularly for our children to have for years to come.

So today for this small group of us gathered here, I will share the top 10 things that I learned from Dad, whether directly or indirectly…

  1. The value of family, resilience and perseverance.  I know how much it meant to Dad that he and Mom got to fulfill a longtime dream of visiting Ireland together, where they met some of dad’s cousins and saw where his mom was born.
  2. The value of education. Dad always made it clear how important he found education of all kinds.  The love of a good book! And a library! Dad was a lifelong learner. And it’s not surprising then that my sister, Jean, is an educator.  
  3. The value of hard work – whether this be at school, work, around the house or in the yard, where my brother, Joe’s nickname for Dad – “Johnny Flamethrower” – came.  Dad’s favorite tools may have been his lawnmower, leaf blower, and subsequently lighter – to light the leaves on fire… eventually only on the county-approved days.  
  4. The value of understanding and appreciating cultural differences.  This was something I think Dad struggled with personally all his life.  He made a point to talk to me about gender and racial equality in particular, as well as the damage of prejudice, and every year he looked forward to signing right up for the Church and Synagogue interfaith community sessions.
  5. In a similar vein, Dad taught me the value of a good debate, of challenging the status quo, of pushing yourself to think differently then you’ve been taught to think.  
  6. Dad taught me that it may never be too late to reinvent yourself.  This was something Dad did over and over.  Brother, son, friend, soldier, Stone Container worker, husband, Philadelphia Police officer, father, Wharton School Business student, Blacksmith/farrier, rubber stall mat installer, woodworker, chef, grandfather, student of history and law.
  7. Dad taught me the importance of mental health. Mostly, that mental health and challenges with it are very real.  I learned through him the damage of secrecy, and with it the value of transparency, openness and speaking the truth.  
  8. Dad taught me that It’s never too late to bury the hatchet… When Dad’s brother Hugh was sick, I went to visit him at his home and he told me and Tim about Dad coming to visit him in the hospital.  They had not spoken for many years. Uncle Hugh looked me in the eye and said “if roles were reversed, MaryBeth, I don’t know if I would have done it…. He was the bigger man.”  Nothing in all the years of my life could have prepared me to hear those words. I was shocked, but I was also incredibly touched, and those words have stayed with me.  
  9. Dad shared with me words he often recalled from his sister, Patsy… Regarding burial for GrandPop Saunders, and whether it be with Grandmom Saunders, or in a plot where in the future Grandmom Mary could be buried with him, Dad said Aunt Patsy told him, “Johnny, let us appease the living, rather than the dead.”  Dad and I spoke of that many times and it stuck with me.  Based on the life I’ve lived, those words have been incredibly important to me.  
  10. For many years, on the second Sunday of December, my family would go cut down a Christmas tree.  Whenever we would do this, Joe, Jean, and I would wait to hear the words Dad always spoke “Just remember, the farther you walk out, the farther you need to walk back.”  We laughed about it a lot, but it’s a valuable lesson in life.   

When I was young, Dad and I enjoyed watching The Wizard of Oz together, and he made me memorize “Somewhere over the Rainbow”.  He’d even record me singing it on a little black tape recorder.  

I hope you are somewhere over the rainbow, Dad. I know a couple people who will be happy to show you around. May you be at peace. May you be at home. There’s no place like home.

 

Let me tell you about right now

Dear Tim,

Here it is, 2020.  We are still in our house.  You’d recognize it with only a few changes.  But in the past few weeks, the world has changed rapidly.

Are you ready?  Please sit down.  They cancelled March Madness.

<Pausing to let that sink in.>

They also cancelled / postponed the Olympics. The Olympics.  This is the first time that has ever happened. (Which of course you would already know.)

I have imagined you with this ultimate set up in heaven where you are finally not limited by any number of screens… you can have ALL THE SCREENS, see ALL THE SPORTS at once!  Except now – all the screens go black.

Now, are you ready for this?  The girls  – our first and third graders – are not going back to school this year.  Their last day of school was to be June 12.  Your memorial sporting event was to be the day after the last day of school, June 13th. I have no idea if that will happen.  But I do know now that the last day our girls were in school for the year was MARCH 12th instead!  And when they left that day, a Thursday, they had no idea they wouldn’t be back the next day.  Also, understand that was less than 2 weeks ago!  That’s how much and how rapidly the world has changed in the last 2 weeks.  It’s a world you would not recognize.

People are dying.  This virus is spreading rapidly in every corner of the world.  Our healthcare systems are not equipped for this.  Do you remember when we lamented in November 2016?  May he never have anything big and important to lead us through as a Nation?  Well. Yeah.  Here we are.  And it’s exactly as bad as you would imagine.

Many times throughout this pandemic… because that’s what we are dealing with here – a Global Pandemic.  For real.  That is not melodrama.  That is actually what it is.  A Global Pandemic, called Coronavirus, or COVID-19.  Many times throughout this pandemic, my anxiety builds in my chest. All of the possibly possible “what ifs” go through my head in an intricate mental gymnastics.   Honestly, the “schools closed for the rest of the year” news today caused me to need a good heaving cry in the shower.   The anxiety builds because it is so much, for all of us.  It is a lot.  Because people are dying.  Because people are getting sick – and if they get better, their lungs may be forever weakened.  I learned a lot about lungs when you were in the hospital.   Because people are not following the rules.  Because some of the rules keep changing.  Because the economic effects are devastating, life-changing, unimaginable, unprecedented.  Because I need to not get sick.  Because I still need to provide for these three.  Pay the mortgage.  Survive.  Parent alone.  Because at the end of the day, when I turn out the light, your side of the bed is still empty.  Because you are still gone.  I can imagine what things would be like if you were here.  (For sure, I know our lawn would look amazing right now.) But that is not helpful.  Because you are not.  You will now always be gone.

So I allow myself the good cry.  The heaving sobs in the shower.  And then I ask myself “what would Tim do?”

And then the calm.  The calm that helps me take it one day at a time.  Because everything is changing so fast – worrying about June will not help me today.  It will not help me get ready for tomorrow.   You would tell me to worry about nothing else – simply make sure the kids are OK, that they are safe.  Do whatever I need to to keep them healthy, safe, loved.

I promise you that I will do “the next right thing” – whatever that is.  I will keep our babies safe.  I will try to make the best decisions for them.  And I will try to stay sane in the process.  Whatever that looks like.

Every day there is new bad news.  Every day it feels like we are living our worst nightmare.  The mantra in my head that plays over and over goes like this,

This is not my worst nightmare.  I’ve already lived through that.

Because I have.  That’s the only thing I can say about the loss of you.  I’d still take it back if that were a thing in my power… but since it is not… I appreciate the resilience it’s brought in me, and especially in the kids.  We are a resilient people.  The craziest part may be that when we lived through our worst nightmare, we looked around, and the world just kept spinning.  But now…  This is a nightmare for everyone!  We are not alone.  I am touched by all the people who have reached out, though truthfully there is very little any of them can do for me right now.  I am grateful for what we have.  I am grateful for who we are – who we are because we had you, and who we are because we lost you.

This is where we are right now, Tim.   I wish you were here.  Every day, I miss you.  You would have gotten frustrated, probably even more than me – but you would have taken on home-schooling with great enthusiasm.  In a few weeks, we will be celebrating what would have been your 40th birthday.  In isolation.  A day which by any measure you ought to have been here for.

But then, you never saw a world without March Madness and the Olympics.  And maybe a small part of me is grateful for that too.

Love Always,

MaryBeth

Third Annual Tim Gaige Memorial Event

This year, we are changing up the Tim Gaige memorial sporting event in June to a DC United game! Thanks so much to everyone who came out the last two years!  I love that the kids have a fun way to honor and remember Daddy while understanding the importance of giving back to our global community!

This year’s DC United game will be held at 8:00pm on Saturday June 13th, at Audi Field (100 Potomac Ave SW Washington, D.C. 20024),DC United vs. FC Cincinnati.  Tim was a big fan of this team, even getting season tickets with his friend, Mark, the last season at RFK.  Most unfortunately, Tim never got to a game at the new stadium.  But Tim, forever a fan, has a brick at the stadium!

To read more about why I chose to benefit Together Rising, you can go to My 2018 post.

The link to buy tickets is below, $45 each. This year $10 of your ticket will go directly to Together Rising to help people in need. You have to use our specific link to buy tickets for it to go to the fundraiser.  (And to get seats together! ) I strongly encourage buying your tickets EARLY for this!  Once I figure out the best lot to park in, I will send notes to encourage carpooling and tailgating before the game.

To make it easier to spot me on arrival I plan to wear an orange tshirt again, since it was Tim’s favorite color! I would encourage you to wear orange too if you have it!

Here’s where to go to buy tickets:

https://fevo.me/tgrdcu

For those interested in donating to the cause, but who can not join us for the game:

http://igfn.us/vf/TimGaige

 

New Year’s Resolution

Like all people, I am lousy at keeping them.

I will vow to write more, but I am unlikely to follow through.

“Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?”

Eliza.  I do.  Just today I told someone who never knew him about how much he hated when people put their windshield wipers up on their car in preparation of a snow storm.  Only a few hours later, a friend of his reached out to me to share a post about someone not understanding that practice – and how it will always remind her of Tim.   (Because it snowed today.)  Yes.  That.  He hated that.  And he hated pie charts.

I will tell his story.

But my 2020 resolution is simply this: I resolve to fell less guilt.

Guilt runs in my veins. Catholic.  Female.  Not-quite-millennial.  Whatever it is, I feel all the guilt.  Like most mothers, I am sure, but extra as an only parent.

I resolve to remind myself that anything I do to take care of myself and be more physically and mentally healthy – is as a byproduct healthy for my children, and I do not need to feel guilty about it.

If someone – even if it is my children – look and say, Damn, she’s selfish…. This is not a thing I need to worry about.  If I reach that point – I will have arrived.  I have resolved.

 

Happy Anniversary

Dear Tim,

When my facebook memories came up today, they included our last Anniversary spent together… at Peterson’s  Ice Cream Parlor and the nearby park.. with a ~ 6 week old baby, and a 3 and 5 year old!  You are drinking a Peterson’s milkshake, pushing kids on the swing, getting on the seesaw with the girls, pushing D in his stroller.  Deferred a celebration to an October Sunday when my sister’s family was in town for an Anniversary dinner.  It was lame.  And yet, I smile knowing that even if you ever could have known it was the last, you wouldn’t have wanted to spend it any other way.  Ice cream, and the people you loved the most.  The memories also included your wishes to me “to my lovely and talented wife”, a pic of me with the girls: “A family, three years in the making.  Happy Anniversary to my wonderful wife.”

Now, I still recognize it on social media.  I got flowers because I knew A would want me to have them, like if you were here!  A friend and neighbor got me flowers! I broke out the wedding wine glass and a bottle of Chardonnay from the vineyard where we got married to toast to us.

It means a lot to me when people say, “Happy Anniversary.”

This one is a funny milestone.  I miss you every single day.  And there are times of year that are harder for me than others.  Particularly the Mother’s Day to Father’s Day time and the Winter holidays.  But this milestone.  Somehow, to me.  It’s still a happy one.

I recognize that the idea of a Wedding Anniversary is to celebrate another successful year of marriage!  And yet, I can’t really do that anymore.  Because really, for the last year, I haven’t been married.  And yet, its still the anniversary of our wedding, and it makes me happy.  All the memories do.  It is a good day to hold them close to my heart.

As I said in my first Anniversary post, what an honor it was to be your wife.  I miss you every day.  Every day, in some way, I grieve your losses, my losses and the loss of you from our children’s lives  – their losses.

But today, is a happy day.  I am so touched when people say “Happy Anniversary” to me.  Yes, its terribly sad that you are not here to celebrate it with me.  But it is still our day.  And to me, it is still happy.

Wherever you are, my love, Happy Anniversary.

I love you, always,

MaryBeth

Where his body is (a letter to our children)

Dear A, R, and D,

I know there are many hard conversations ahead of us.  Some, I can never imagine.  Others, I know will happen one day… and I always think “that day is not today.”

Maybe its true that I have already had the hardest conversation… but that doesn’t make  the future ones easier.

D, I often wonder how the understanding will have played out for you.  When you are grown, and look back, you will surely never remember a time when your father was alive.  But, how will you remember your understanding of death to have taken shape?  To be honest, I can’t say how I want that to happen for you.  When we were at the beach this summer, there was a day when you and I and A, walked back from town together, hand in hand.  R was ahead of us on her scooter.  We were talking about where in the beach house you left your daddy doll (I try always to know since you will not sleep without it – thank goodness we have 3!), when A said something about Daddy the person and you said, “where IS Daddy?… Big daddy?” and I realized it was the first time you’ve ever asked that. I said, “well, Daddy is in Heaven…”  Annabelle piped up and added to it, and we both talked about how great he was, how much we miss him, how much he wishes he could be with us.  But I really don’t know what of that you understood.  I don’t understand what Heaven is, so how can I really even try to explain it to you?  Recently, you looked at the picture in your room and said “I am wearing blue, and Daddy is holding me.”  I stopped what I was doing and looked at the picture and said, “that’s right, D, you are!” There was no more, but it pierced me.  I wanted that photo right there where you could always see it, and see his face, and how happy he was to be with you!  And here it was having that desired effect.  I think. I don’t know. I never know how to do this.

Recently in the kitchen alone, R, you looked at me so earnestly and said you don’t know where daddy’s body is.  You said “I don’t understand what happens to us when we die,”  and I answered honestly.  “I don’t understand either.  But here’s what I believe…”

The other night, we were at the pool with friends.  The big kids did a play, and there were zombies. Later it came up about a smell… “couldn’t be the zombies! … What? …  Zombies are dead!  Have you ever smelled a dead body?…  No!? … Gross.”  My whole body went rigid, wondering whether any of the 3 of you heard… what you might say… what questions you might ask me.

Because here’s the thing. It’s been two years and none of you knows what happened to Daddy’s body.  I’ve explained that he died.  That he’s gone from this earth.  That he’s in our hearts. That he’s in “heaven.”  I know you understand that you will never see him again.  When I was young, as long as I can remember I went to funerals.  I grew up Catholic, where funerals are part of the social experience.  Where open casket viewings are common, traditional.  I grew up going to Mass on Sundays, and more often than not going to the cemeteries after for my parents to visit their parents, for me to visit with them – my grandparents.  I remember going to funerals.  The Mass, the viewing, the open casket, the procession line, the cemetery, the lowering into the ground.  Unfortunately, your dad and I never spoke very clearly with each other about our exact wishes upon death because it was the furthest thing from our minds.  Before our youngest child even finished nursing, or his first year of life, before our oldest child finished Kindergarten, the idea of one of us dying and the other needing to deal with death was unthinkable.  And yet, your father was a passionate, opinionated man and I did know exactly what he would NOT want.

You all know that we had a celebration of life because Daddy hated funerals.  We have a tree and bench (two actually in two different states) because Daddy didn’t like cemeteries.  But you do not know WHERE his body is.  And one day you will want to know.

So, here is the answer.  He was cremated.  This means his body was turned to ash, instead of being put into a box and lowered into the ground.  Does this sound harsh?  Both options sound harsh I think.  But in one you can keep the ashes with you at all times – or you can spread the ashes out in the world in a place he would love to be.  We are going to do both.  And I can tell you for sure Daddy would not have wanted to be in a box in the ground.  And here’s another thing.  I made sure he could be in so many places.  I used to tease him about his desire to go everywhere.  He was a homebody who was also restless.  He was no good at travel, and yet he dreamed of moving so much more than I did.  He’d throw out options all the time.  Let’s move to California!  Buffalo, NY.  Minnesota!  Wisconsin.  Boston – definitely Boston.  Austin, TX.  Ireland.  London.  Australia. New Zealand.  It never ended.  But the plans to move were never well formed.  Just dreams he liked to mention.  I wanted to visit these places, because I love to travel.  Your father simply wanted to move there.  I often wonder if somehow, he didn’t feel deep down in a place that never caught his conscious mind that he wasn’t here on Earth for a long time.  So how did I make sure he could be in many places? When they asked me about an urn.. they mentioned they could do several keepsake boxes of ashes, and I asked how many.  They didn’t know.  I said as many as you can.   So I have no big fancy urn on the mantle.  I don’t need it to have him with us. We have so many other reminders of him visible in our home.  I have all keepsake boxes.  I’ve already given away the ones to Daddy’s family.  To the other people who were blood and family and so special to him.  Allow them to chose where their part of him should go.  Stay close with them at all times – or spread in a place he loved of their choosing.  But the others are still home with us.  Home with us where he would most love to be while you are young.  When you are old enough to read this, to get this information and understand it, all of you, then we will talk more about spreading his ashes out in the world in places he would most love to be.  I have a small keepsake box for each of you.   I will give it to you when you are ready.  You can keep it with you, or you can spread it out in the world as you choose.  Then I have 3 more.  There is so much that can be done: keep, spread, and more… I’ve seen some add the ashes to an hour glass.  Still others have had the ash made into jewelry of all types.  I have a big trip planed for us when you are older to spread one keepsake box in a place far from here that Daddy and I loved, that we loved together, and I want to show you.  I think I’d like to spread another at his tree with you all, if you agree, when you are ready to do so.  And the last, I will save.  And my wish is that you will share it with my ashes someday.  I absolutely hope that you will have me cremated.  If nothing else, to save you the money of a traditional burial!  Mix some or all of my ashes with your dad’s.  Either keep the commingled ashes with you, or spread them in a beautiful place where we’d love.

At the end of the day, it’s ash, it’s dust.  Our bodies will be gone.  But I hope that we will live on in you.  Always.

So that, my dears, is where daddy’s body is. Some day we will let go of his ashes together.  For now, they are with us.  His spirit lives on in our hearts forever.  The personality traits, quirks, mannerisms, and love that you have of Daddy’s – you have forever.  Daddy is in our hearts.  Always.

All my love, Always,

Mom

This is Eight

Our girl.

It’s hard to believe she’s already Eight years old.  She made Tim and I parents and changed our lives.  I will never forget the tears of joy Tim cried when he first laid eyes on her.  When he first held her in his arms,  I felt my heart grow so much I thought I might explode.  The limitlessness of love was so obvious to me in that moment.  How much I loved her, how much he loved her, how much I loved him, how much he loved me… I remember thinking I didn’t think I would love Tim more than I did on our wedding, and realizing just how wrong I was.

This year we had a big Harry Potter themed birthday party complete with potion making, Honey Dukes, donating socks to free house elves, a big sorting with a talking sorting hat, pumpkin juice, butter beer, and most importantly: Quidditch!  Where I basically taught a bunch of elementary school students to play beer pong (minus the beer).  She loved it all.  Before the party, she looked around and said to me, “Daddy would have really loved this, Mom!”   Her birthday, and every bit of the work was worth it.  Her birthday, and yet to hear her say that was such a gift to me.  It was true, of course.  He would have loved it!

And how he would have loved to see her love it!  This has been a big year of struggles and self-discovery for A, and she has a long road ahead.  Things don’t come easily for our firstborn, but she has worked so hard, and has conquered so much this year.  My heart explodes with love and pride for her, and I can only hope I can show her how much – not only I love and am proud of her, but how much Tim is as well.

We are ready to face all this year has and will throw at us, together.

This is Eight.

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