What Grief looks like

I said before that grief is my constant companion. But I’m really not sure I have ever done justice to what grief really looks like. The truth, of course, is that it looks different to everyone. But for everyone, it’s ugly. My cousin’s wife said those words to me right after Tim died, “the ugly parts of grief,” and I nearly immediately understood them in a way I never could have “before.”

I try hard to be positive most of the time.  Mostly, I think people need to think I am OK. But who is OK?  Am I a model for what a grieving widow should look like?  I work.  At the very least, I show up every day and try to do at least one thing that makes someone else’s life easier, or in some way generally moves the economy forward.  But truthfully, I show up because I am a mother.  I am a mother before I am a widow.  It’s job 1.  Exactly as Tim would want it.

But here’s the thing.  Grief is hard.  It’s hard for everyone, sometimes I get sucked into posts from the Hot Young Widows Club, or the Terrible Club.  (Reference: American Public Media Podcast “Terrible, thanks for asking” with Nora McInerny)  And then I think, ok, I don’t have it so bad… it could be worse, right?  But no. We don’t have to constantly compete on who’s bad stuff is worse. Who has it worse right now?  It doesn’t matter.  We can simply have compassion for others but still feel absolute crap about our own situation.

I actually listened to an episode of the podcast where a woman had to give birth to a baby she knew was already dead – how terrible is that?  Who should ever have to bear that?  But then she said that when the procedure was over and the medical professionals left her, her husband held her and they cried together.  And the emotion I felt then?  Overwhelming jealousy.  Here I was sitting in my car, jealous of a woman who had just gone through this absolutely terrible, unimaginable ordeal which when I had considered (any version of) during all three of my pregnancies I thought I could never survive.  And I burst into tears.  I cried so hard.  All over the steering wheel and leather seats.  Tears and snot and sobbing and all the ugly things no one wants to see.  Because that split second of – I’d rather that if I had Tim – I knew it wasn’t even true.  And yet for a second it’s what I felt.  It was absolutely my truth in that instant.  That right there – that is one of the ugly parts of grief.  Want to hear another?  Sometimes I see old men on the street and I hate them.  I hate them for being old when Tim never will be.  Sometimes I literally hate everyone in the world, even the people who love me the most, who I love the most, simply for being alive when Tim is not.

And hate is an emotion I try never to feel.  I tell my children not to say that word like its the F word.  And yet I feel it.  Towards literally everyone in the world sometimes.  Because they are not my Tim.

Many widow/widowers get comments about how strong we are. Others mean it as a compliment, certainly… they don’t know how we do it.  If  it were them, they wouldn’t get out of bed… but you know what?  We don’t want to get out of bed either.  We don’t want to be strong either.  Sometimes, it feels like an insult – like we aren’t doing grief right.  Like we must not be as in pain as they would be if it were them.  Like we didn’t love our person enough.  I had someone tell me once, a month after Tim died, “I had no idea.  If you mentioned it, I’m sorry I didn’t hear you. (Um no, I didn’t causally mention to a person I just met that my husband died last month.)  You don’t look like a person… who went through what you went through.. what you are going through.”  I smiled, nodded, said Thank you. But what I immediately thought was “am I not doing justice to Tim?  To the love we had?  To the life we had?  Because I seem ok to other people?”

I try to channel my grief into preserving beautiful memories for the kids.  From remembering Tim in big ways with a bench, a tree, who know’s what else… but also in the small ways.  At the dinner table, “Remember how daddy used to…?” But there are those ugly parts of grief that creep in too.  It’s probably the bigger part, though I mostly keep it hidden because its ugly.   I hide those ugly parts behind the facebook posts that Tim would have made.  That he did make back when we were a #partyoffive.   I no longer spend my time reading mommy blogs.  I read widows and widowers blogs.  I read posts from sad people.  Because I understand them.  I am a sad person.

I am trying hard to put together “selfies with Dad” books for each of the kids.  They are beautiful, and wonderful, but also, looking through all the photos… damn, it hurts.  Seeing how much he loved each one of them.  What he wouldn’t give to be with them here, now.  The selfies end 6 months ago.  But before that, there are so many.  The joy he had in his smile, in his eyes, whenever he was with them.  Unadulterated, unfiltered joy in his children.  I grieve that they don’t get to experience that in their dad anymore… that they won’t experience all the hurt that life will throw at them, and then come home to collapse into his big warm arms.  They don’t even know how much they are missing with that.  How good it was.  Feeling the warmth of his big arms around you was one of the most good things in the world.  His blood flows in their veins, and yet that is lost to them.

I grieve his losses. I grieve their losses.  A is so like him, they were kindred spirits in so many ways. A has the flair of anger and temper he had.  He could understand that temper better than I can, because it was his.  I grieve that she will not grow up with that understanding.  R has his goofiness, his sense of humor, his flair with sarcasm, and his comedic timing.  You can see it in the selfies they did together, in all the expressions they could make.  I grieve that she will not grow up with that  comedic appreciation and understanding.  And D… I grieve for him, but I’m not even sure I know yet what he will miss most of all.  I know this: He has the LAST selfie with dad.  The very last photos Tim ever took on his phone were of him and D.  And yet… there aren’t any that show their similarities.  He was only 9 months old. He never got a beach trip with dad, never got to spend a Father’s day together.  We don’t have photos that show their similarities, we didn’t even know what those similarities could be yet… and that is hard.  And I grieve my loss.  Every day.  Having him there each day to talk to in the present.  And I grieve the future I planned with him, that I imagined with him. That future is now lost to me forever.  And all I am left with is grief.

No one should ever have to give birth to a baby who is already dead.  A child that you’ve loved since you peed on a stick.  But you know what else?  No one should ever have to have their 37 year old husband, and baby daddy to three beautiful souls, die in their arms.  No one should have to watch the love of their life die before he fully got to live.  And that’s my truth.  It sucks.  And I am allowed to be sad about it whenever I want, and for just as long as I want.  I am allowed to do weird things.  I definitely think I creep people out sometimes.  But then I just remind myself it takes a certain strength of character to be around me.

There’s one big thing I notice.  I noticed it most the weekend of our wedding anniversary.  There were a lot of photos that weekend.  A lot where I am smiling.  Holding the kids and smiling big.   And that weekend we looked at a lot of photos of our wedding day too.  There is a key difference in the photos if you really look. In 2017, in any photo taken after May 16, 2017, the smile does not reach my eyes.  There is a part of me that died this year.  Maybe many parts.  But you can see it, if you look, in the sparkle that used to be in my eyes. I grieve the loss of all the parts of me that died too.

What does grief feel like?  There are moments when the loss hits you so hard it’s a physical pain.  This can happen literally out of nowhere.  When you least expect it.  It feels like someone has either destroyed or simply removed all your internal organs. Your stomach, your heart, lungs, esophagus, its all simply gone, and in its place is a gaping hole, like a pain so big and deep you can not breathe, how could you possibly go on in this world one more minute?  I don’t know how.  But you do.  Simply because you have to.

The only thing I ask, if you are reading this – if you got this far – is if you are grieving now, (or if not, hold on to this for when you grieve in the future): let yourself feel all the grief, whenever you can, and don’t compare.  Don’t think your grief is worse or not as bad as mine.  It’s all bad.  Life hits us hard.  And sometimes you will hear words that help, like “grief is the price you pay for love” which I heard on Anne of Green Gables on the day Tim died and has stuck with me.  And other times, no words of consolation will help and you are just so filled with anger and rage, you want everyone to stop talking.  Whatever you are feeling, just feel it.  Even when you have to feel it through changing a diaper, or giving a bath, reading a story, driving someone to something, the necessities of a life that goes on even when it feels like it shouldn’t.

“The other night dear, as I lay sleeping
I dreamed I held you in my arms
But when I awoke, dear, I was mistaken
So I hung my head and I cried
You are my sunshine, my only sunshine
You make me happy when skies are gray
You’ll never know dear, how much I love you
Please don’t take my sunshine away”
-Jimmie Davis, You are my Sunshine

Thankful

This year brought me the sourest lemons of my life thus far.

Still, I know I have much for which to be thankful.

My own health, the health and well-being of three beautiful young souls.  Souls who are half Tim, and who remind me of the love of my life daily.

The means and the strength to survive this tragedy.

A wonderful marriage, the love of a wonderful man, even if it all ended too soon.  I had something not everyone gets, and I shouldn’t take it for granted.   I am thankful for the support, confidence, and strength he gave me, and that I have thanks to the time we were together.

Above all, I think, I am thankful for the love and kindness of so many family members, friends, and even strangers this year.  Those who reached out to me from earlier in my life, who never even knew Tim.  Those who reached out who never even knew me.  To all who simply showed up, and gave of their time and talents to make my life and logistics, and those of my children, in any way easier.  Big and small, all of those gifts of love, affection, and time fill my heart with gratitude.

This time of year it’s extremely easy to get focused on the sad. To get bogged down in the big loss. I am trying to remind myself today is a day to remember what we are thankful for, and there is certainly much for me to be thankful for, and I need to set that example.

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” J. K. Rowling via Albus Dumbledore

Six months – an open letter to my love

Dear Tim,

Today, it’s been six months since I last heard your voice.  Since I last saw you smile at me.  Since you last squeezed my hand back.  Since you last told me you love me.  Since you last saw your children.

A few days later when I was on the phone with your company benefits trying to arrange short term disability coverage for you, they started talking to me about long term disability, saying that it sets in in 180 days. So, November.  On that hot May day, November seemed a lifetime away.   Which I guess it is…. but how is it that today is November 16th? How is it still possible that you are never coming home?

Six months later, what do I want to tell you?  So much.  Every thing.  All the things.  There is not enough room even on the internet to write it all.  There is not enough time.

You didn’t have enough time.  We didn’t have enough time with you.

I want you to know first and most importantly that I miss you every day, every minute.  I carry you everywhere I go.  I know, in theory, I don’t have to wear my wedding rings anymore… and I do catch people looking at them sometimes.  But I can not take them off.  Also, the day you died, I put your wedding ring like a charm on that heart necklace you bought me in Boulder… It’s heavy, so heavy,but it feels good to rub it between my fingers a couple times a day. A small piece of you.  Your death, the fact that you are not here for me to speak to, to hug, to fall asleep beside, to lean on your shoulder, to talk about everything, it doesn’t change the fact that I am still in love with you.  I know that I promised “until death do us part” but I had no idea that would be so soon, and I was not ready.  I am not ready.  I carry the weight in my heart always.  I am always sad.  Sometimes, I fear that the sad is contagious.

I can imagine you having two reactions to this: 1) You telling me I’m not really sad – I’m fine.  I’m a rockstar, your rockstar, a pillar of strength. There is nothing I can not do.  I need no one.  But that is not true.  I need you.  2) You teasing me about “liking to be sad” with my listening to sad music, or my Jodi Piccoult novels.  And I can imagine you ending that teasing by reminding me I can’t be sad all the time, because the kids need me.

I’ll tell you this: I don’t think its obvious that I’m always sad.  It’s not that I specifically am trying to hide it from others.  It’s just that I smile.  I try to be “normal.”  I look for the silver linings.  I try.  I try to do all the things you would want me to do. I try to be both mom and dad for the kids.  I try to pour into them all the love that they would have gotten from you.  Even if I am falling short of all the sports they’d have had in their lives with you.

I want you to know I bought T Swift’s new CD this week.  You would have ordered it on Amazon the day it was released. So that you could have it on your Amazon playlist, but pretend it was for me for the car… I saw it in the checkout at Target and just had to pick it up.  I want you to know I took A to Mason Madness this year.  I want you to know that last week on election day, our state really made history. Unlike last year, it was in a GOOD way!… Danica Roem became the first elected openly transgender candidate to serve in the Virginia House of Delegates. (And she beat out Bob Marshall, who would not debate her an earlier this year advocated for a bathroom bill! ) Kathy Tran became the first Asian-American woman elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, and she had been a refugee – her parents fleeing with her from Vietnam at 7 months old. Our state elected the first two Hispanic women to the Virginia House of Delegates: Elizabeth Guzmán and Hala Ayala.  Hala Ayala is a cyber-security specialist, and helped to organize the Women’s March.  Finally, (and the only one we were eligible to vote for) Justin Fairfax was elected lieutenant governor as the second ever African-American to hold a state-wide office in Virginia.  (And yes, for real his last name is Fairfax.)  I think you would have really enjoyed the results of this year’s election.

I want you to know I am doing all the things that I think you are supposed to do.  Counseling, counseling for the kids (“play therapy” they call it), a support group (YES, I joined a support group, can you believe that?), I even joined the “hot young widows club”!  I think you would really enjoy that.

I want you to know that I went to my first parent-teacher conference without you.  It didn’t hit me until I was sitting in that chair, that you had gone to every single conference with me since they started them in daycare at 2 years old!! And as I was thinking of what you would say – the results were very similar to the one we had with the kindergarten teacher in May – it occurred to me that it was the first one without you.  I hadn’t prepared myself for that and I nearly cried all over the teacher’s desk.  For behavior, she told me A listens, is respectful, and caring.  Whatever else my concerns may be, how could I ask for more?  Above all, our girl is a good human.  She was the apple of your eye, and you would be so proud of her.  I am so proud of her.

I want you to know that for our sensitive flower, as you would expect, this has all been very difficult.  As you know, she is wise beyond her years, she FEELS, she goes through life with her heart on her sleeve.  And this is the hardest of the hard things to experience as a child.  To lose one of the two people who mean the most to you.  She loves to wear her locket and look at your picture. (Caroline got the girls amazing always in my heart lockets with your photo inside.) She loves to talk about you.  Though sometimes they are made up stories.  She has had true fear and anxiety about me disappearing too… but it is slowly getting better.

And I want you to know that D is still a joy.  I am sure this will have a profound effect on his life – never knowing you, but for now, he is so wonderful.  We have a large canvas print of the two of you from last October on his wall, and he looks at it and says “Dada” – which both warms my heart, and breaks it at the same time.  That its all he has of you.  That he won’t remember you beyond a face in a photo.  He is walking now.  He is no longer nursing.  Which gives me more flexibility, but he is still Momma’s boy!  You told me not to spoil him because he’s the baby.  But… I don’t know that that is a doable-do now. Oh, but you’ll be happy to know the hockey sticks are his favorite toy…closely followed by a broom, lacrosse sticks, or a wiffle bat..and a ball. I can not wait to watch him grow, even as I want him to slow down!

Mostly, I think you’d be very proud of me.  In small ways, I think you’d be disappointed in me.  When I have those moments, I try to redirect.  I’m doing the very best I can.

I want you to know about the village.  You wouldn’t even believe it.  All the people who showed up.  All the people who stepped up.  My experience with loss now has taught me what many say – which is that tragedy allows people to show their true colors.  And sometimes this will be very disappointing.  But I must say in only VERY extremely rare cases has this been disappointing.  On the whole, I have been absolutely amazed by the kindness, generosity and magnanimity of our friends, neighbors, family, friends of friends, and the list goes on…  You would have said this was because I’m a good person.  But the truth is, it has a LOT to do with you! The outpouring of love for you, and for the four of us because of your love for us would have amazed you. Your family has embraced us as their own.  All of it…It is truly humbling.

I want to thank you for all the gifts you gave me.  The obvious ones – A, R and D.  But the less obvious too.  The gift of you. And of being such an open book that I knew you so well, I am almost never truly wondering what you would have thought, what you would have said.  I always know.  Its like I wear a “WWTD” bracelet.  But its around my heart. And I try to (nearly) always act accordingly.  (Admittedly, there are times when I have to agree to disagree with you and remind you that much as you would have hated it – I get the last word here.  Because I am here.) You are my north star.  My morale compass.  You are still my partner in parenting even though you are not here.

That may be the hardest thing.  The parenting without you.  You were such a presence.  You were so dedicated to being Dad.  In the last 6 months you tried to take over a lot more of the responsibilities.  We balanced each other so well in parenting. When one of us was about to lose it, the other stepped in. Truthfully, you flew off the handle more than I did… but now… when I am about to lose it with one of the kids…. there is no one there to step in for me.  It’s always me.  The only parent. I am always in charge.

Today was A’s  school Thanksgiving lunch. Remember when we both went last year?  I asked neighbors how it works – should I pack her lunch?  What should we do?  This year, I let her buy.  And I bought the Thanksgiving lunch myself too.  That was interesting!  She has been obsessed with the school yearbook lately.  It came out after you got sick.  A photo of you and our A on your Watch Dog day is right in the centerfold.  And you and A and I are all pictured on the Thanksgiving luncheon page.  So I had to go.  After lunch, I went back to her classroom.  She made a turkey of the things she is thankful for.  At the end, she said, “wait, Mommy where is the hand I listed you on?”  (The hands were the turkey’s feathers.)  Then she wrote Daddy on that same hand.  You may have been an after thought, but she did not forget.  She is thankful for you.

In summary, I can’t believe it’s been 6 months since May 16th, when I took you to the ER, when you were admitted to the ICU, when you asked me if I brought  a book.  When my life changed forever.  I want you to know that I miss you constantly, with every breath I take.  I am trying hard to keep your memory alive in the hearts of our children always.   And I want you to know that I’ve got the kids… and I am doing the absolute best that I can.  And I will keep trying.  Every day.  Forgive me on the day I get things wrong, OK? I miss you.  And I love you.

Love always, MaryBeth

Day in the Life

DITL was a term in one of my jobs.  It was even the nickname of one of the guys I played softball with… yes, pre-children I played a lot of work co-ed slow-pitch softball!

Today, two-thirds of my children threw up… one in the car on the way to school, one at the dinner table.  They have incredible gag reflexes.

Today, after the months-long process of calling MetLife critical illness insurance to check on my claim, calling doctors, getting a friend who works at the hospital to physically stalk doctors, getting my company benefits administrator to call, fax information, seeking clarification, giving my claim or certificate number, my DOB, address and contact number should we get disconnected…over and over and over again… today, it got to me.  Today, I found myself shaking with rage, and then, as close as I’ve ever come to bawling my eyes out at my desk at work.    It’s dirty money.  Insurance money.  That’s how it feels.  Critical illness, or life…insurance feels like dirty money.  I remember one life insurance check specifically stating “death benefit” and it made me feel like I was going to vomit (which I know never to do in front of my little gag-masters.) But I survived, I got through the day. (Stay tuned because Critical Illness insurance is still not resolved, even though Tim was critically ill close to 6 months ago.)  I even finished a compliance training.  I drove home.  I played with A, R, and D.  We read books.  We talked about the sunny, stormy, and surprising parts of our days.  I got everyone to bed. I listened to a podcast while I made egg salad and did the dishes.

And you know what?  I conquered the car seat cleaning.  That was always Tim’s self-appointed job.  There have been many car trip puking incidents… and on each one I handled the cleaning of the child, and Tim handled the cleaning of the car seat.  Once, on our way to Richmond in 2015, we pulled over to the side of the road IN THE SNOW, jumped out, I cleansed and changed R, and he cleansed the car seat.  We were back on the road in record time and Tim gave me a huge high five and was incredibly proud of our efficiency.  Never did I imagine that was something we would get good at together as a couple, as a team.  But we did.  We were quite a team.  We handled a puking in the car seat child with the best of them!

Tonight, I reinstalled the clean car seat cover, and the car seat back into the car.  I didn’t want to, but it was a necessary evil.  I missed him.  And not just because it was a gross annoying job I didn’t want to do, that he did valiantly without complaint…. but because I just plain miss him all the time.

This is a day in the life of a 36 year old widow with three small children.   Thanks for asking.

This is Us

Last year I binge watched the first season of This is Us.  Tim started it with me but eventually found it too intense.  He kept asking me “do you know how the dad died yet?” He wanted to know, but he couldn’t handle the suspense.

A friend and I decided to get together at my house every Tuesday night to watch it this year.  I knew what we were getting into.  So did she.  We were watching a show that is at its core about 3 kids whose dad dies, and how it affects their lives, going back and forth in time.

In the first episode of this season, Rebecca, the mother who lost her husband, talks to her adopted son, Randall, about how he (the husband, Jack) was the one to push for the adoption.  “Sometimes in marriage, someone needs to be the one to push to make the big moves… and oftentimes in our marriage, yes, it was your father.  Our marriage wasn’t perfect, it’s true.  But none are.  And your father wasn’t perfect either, but he was pretty damn close.  As close as they come.   He pushed this stranger on me and that stranger became my child, and that child became my life.  He became you.”  That’s how I feel especially when I remember those days in the hospital when I told him every day that even if I had known this would happen I wouldn’t change a thing…  because I knew if he could talk to me, and knew what was going on that he would apologize.  Unnecessarily, but he would have apologized.  Because kids, 1, 2, 3… it was all him pushing. And now – they are my life.

In the Halloween episode this week, they cover when Rebecca’s first grandchild is born.  After, she cries saying “That was one of the happiest moments of my life”and Randall asks her if they are happy tears, she nods, “but also your dad isn’t here.  And that’s just something I’m going to have to deal with for the rest of my  life –  the happiest moments will also be a little sad.”  It rung so true, because I remember thinking that exactly this summer, and I am pretty sure I said those exact words to my sister.

It was a tough moment watching that episode this week, it was so incredibly close to home.  And I know it was for my friend who watched it with me.  But I reminded her – we knew what we were getting into here.

When I watched the final episode of Season 1 last year, Tim had already gone to bed.  There is a big fight scene between the two main characters, Jack and Rebecca, where Rebecca asks Jack what he loves about her and he can’t answer.  In the morning, he wakes up and has a very moving speech before he leaves for his friend’s couch for some space.  Tim and I had 3 kids.  We didn’t devote as much time to each other, to our relationship, as either of us would have liked.  I went up to bed after watching that episode and Tim rolled over to greet me when I climbed in so I said, “Tim, what do you love about me?”  I couldn’t tell you honestly all the words he used at that moment, but I can say this: He did not hesitate to answer, and he listed many things.

It’s very hard to know who I am right now.  I am many things.  There are many things I am not.  Someone asked me recently if I felt like I’m living a label.  Last weekend, a fellow widow commented on not being the old her… and another reminded us that we are still the person that he loved.

It is incredibly powerful to remind myself that however lost I may feel right now, without that person who pushed me, however difficult it is to swallow that every joy in my life will be hand-in-hand with sadness… I am still the woman he loved.

T Selfie

Last night all the kids were piled on our bed, and I thought of one of my favorite photos of my family, which is a selfie of the four of them on our bed that Tim sent me on my way home from work last winter. Its been the “wallpaper” on my phone since the day he sent it to me. So it popped into my head and I said “hey guys, heads together, let’s take a picture!” A says “a selfie?” (Daddy’s girl).

Not my most flattering photo but I got one of everyone looking! Score!

Then I just had to laugh. He bought M, A, R, T and D pillow covers for our bed at Target. With extras for the kids’ rooms. He actually bought an M and a T and 2 As and 2 Rs first, then we had to buy two Ds when I was pregnant with a boy…before Target stopped carrying them! In all the madness the other pillows were knocked off the bed. But there’s the T, in near perfect position! Tim never could miss the opportunity for a selfie.

more of the beginning

 

In early May, 2017, I had installed the Telegram app on my phone and I had a few contacts, but when I saw that icon, it mostly meant I had a message from three of my close friends (whose husbands are all friends with Tim too) OR Tim.  Mostly, it was from Tim.  It was our primary form of communication if we weren’t together.  We never used SMS texting, and I’m so glad because now I have it all saved.  When he got sick, even though I pretty much spent at least 8 hours a day at his bedside at the hospital, I still Telegram-ed him. I had his phone, and I saw he was getting other telegram messages when I turned it on, but I didn’t read them.  I sent him updates on the kids I knew he’d want when he woke up and could check his phone again.  I poured out how much I missed him, how much I loved him, anything, so that he could look back on it when he was able.  Looking back on those telegram messages, brings that time back in such an acute way.  And before, his last messages to me, they help me remember those last times together, that I never could have imagined were the last.

In my Origin Story post, I talked a bit about the beginning… the weekend leading up to him ending up in the hospital, the trip to the ER with A, getting the kids with a friend and a neighbor, getting back to the ICU, our last moments that night before they intubated him… here is a bit more detail of what I can remember from memory and from telegram…

Here was our last Telegram communication:

Tim: Room is 415

Me:Yes/  Dr told me/  I’m here/  On my way to you/

Tim: I have no white blood cells

All of that is time stamped 6:37 PM, to give you an idea of how fast that typing occurred.

 

Going back in time…. On May 1st he went downtown after work to watch some sports thing with a friend.. he called it “baseball nerd stuff” at Howard Theater.  He was very excited about it.  On May 2nd (a Tuesday) we both worked short days so we could meet with A’s Kindergarten teacher in the morning, then make it back to the elementary school in the afternoon for her Tumbling showcase.  I took A to the bus, then the other two to daycare while he swung by Dunkin and got us each an iced coffee before the teacher meeting.  I was concerned that she wasn’t ready for first grade, I had always been worried mostly because of her age relative to the other kids in her class.  Tim was adamant that she was ready and she would be bored if we held her back, so I said we had to at least meet with the teacher to learn some strategies to support her where she was behind her peers.  I met him in front of the school with the 2 iced coffees, and we headed in.  It was like a date.  After the Tumbling showcase later that night, he pointed out that there were $1 subs at Jimmy John’s that day and we had to go.  He took A to soccer practice, I picked up the other two and we met at Jimmy John’s. A was so excited!  It was a scene.  We had to wait in a huge line with lots of other people while more bread came out of the oven, and they could start selling sandwiches again.  I remember thinking how ridiculous this was as I tried to keep D happy and A&R from climbing all over EVERYTHING, and from whining too much.  Tim chatted with a couple behind us and bragged about how awesome it was to be a dad.   He smiled from ear to ear, with pride at his kiddos.  After the kids were in bed that night he watched the end of the Celtics / Wizards game.  He sent me an article on fidget spinners being a threat to America, and commented that he saw a lot at school that day (on our two trips there!)

On May 4th he first commented on not feeling well.  He said he thought he had gout.  Between 6:30 and 7am he got stuck in the drive thru of the worst DD ever on his way to work, and eventually gave up and drove off without his food and coffee. That afternoon he was eager to get out for a run because he was getting frustrated with the kiddos, and the house being disorganized.

From May 6-7th he scheduled “beer and brunch with Jared” an occassion for Tim and 4 of his closest local buddies to visit the 6th of their crew (the poop group) for a Richmond beer crawl, in advance of the birth of Jared and his wife’s second child.  Before he left he left out the sight word notecards he had made for A, in three piles and let me in on his method of assessing her, with checks, minuses and sad faces.  He thanked me for letting him go to Richmond, he said he loved me, that he owed me one… I sent him updates from A’s soccer game (she scored!), where I was standing in the rain under an umbella with D in the carrier (thank goodness R was at a friend’s house!) He started sending me questions on how we were going to handle “no more babies” since we were leaning that way,  and had said we would make a decision by D’s first birthday.   I was pretty clear on how that should be handled.  He said tournament time next year.  He had a great time with his friends in Richmond, but when he contacted me to say good night he said he was exhausted,  and with “the gout, the sores in my mouth, and the hemerroids… I feel so old and broken.”  I told him at least he looked good.  He said he was too old for this (brewery crawl). The next day when he was in the car with friends heading home I asked how he was feeling and he said “better than you would think!  Didn’t actually drink all that much.”  When he got home, R hadn’t napped, so he and she went straight out to his hammock in the backyard to nap together.

On May 8th, he mowed the lawn.  He sent me a photo. He was so proud.  He said he was getting quicker, did minor trimming but got to use the new blower.  (I think when I read that in real time I thought “how many new lawn products is he buying?” But I didn’t question him even then, I knew he was having so much fun with the lawn!) That night he took care of Declan while I took the girls to Girl Scouts.  This included giving Declan a bottle, and my pumping when I got home.  He lamented adding more to the bottle and then him not drinking it. We talked about my family and my parents’ health.  On the 9th he sent photos from As soccer practice.. mostly selfies of him with R and D on the side lines… and mentioned the hemerroid pain.

May 12th was a Friday and his last day at work.  We talked about his outfit choices that week and the compliments he got at work.  (He had just started Men’s Stitch fix and was loving it.) I went to Muffins for Moms at the school for Mother’s Day and sent him pics. He messaged me at 1:35 that afternoon that he was going home.  He wanted to lay down – again complaints were only about hemerroids. He typically left work at 2:45pm every day to pick up Annabelle so this wasn’t shockingly early.

May 14th, Mother’s Day, was when he first mentioned a fever.  He had one, then he didn’t.  He told me he loved me and he was sorry to have ruined mother’s day.  He said he was supposed to make french toast but could only muster the ice cream sandwiches.  He said he promised I would get my weekend.  I told him the ice cream sandwiches they made me Saturday were so good – and how was he feeling?  I sent pics of us out with some friends for ice cream Sunday afternoon at one of his favorite places to go.  At 5:36pm Sunday he told me the fever was back – 101ish.  Thats when I said I really thought he ought to go see someone Monday morning, and he agreed.  That’s when he asked me to go with him.  I said yes, and that A needed to go to her room when we got home, and I was stopping with the kids at Safeway, and did he need anything  He said “Severe pain killer.  You are super mom.”  He also said he thought we needed to hug A more. Just because.

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On Monday, the 15th, our conversation was about getting ready to go to the doctor’s office. I thought I passed out in the waiting room, but I have messages with him while he was back there.  “She thinks its the infection in my mouth/ To make an appointment with Dr .Z (our dentist)/ For the end of the week/ She’s going to give me a foam for hemerroids / Since it wasn’t black and blue she doesn’t think it’s thrombrosis (He had clearly been googling/ WebMDing).  I asked if they thought the mouth infection was what was causing the fever?  He said Potentially yea.  I asked if they were giving him abx and he said yes.  We went to Target to get the antibiotics.  He said he was freezing.  Then shaking.  We went to Target, I got him home and in bed.  He never did use that foam.  He took the antibiotics.  I went to work.  He got A from the bus stop, and let her watch a movie til I got home with the littles. She had speech therapy that night. I had a lot of proposal work to get to at work after the morning doctor trip.  I  constantly ask myself why I hadn’t just stayed home with him that day. I had absolutely no clue.

The next day was the 16th.  A day I will never forget.  At 11:02am while I was at work I said: OMG next Friday D is 10 months! (I could never have imagined that D’s dad would die when he was 10 months old.)  At 1:33pm Tim said he vomited. I told him I’d come home to get A off the bus if he wanted – let me know… at 2:18 he said it was ok, he was going to get up and shower.  At 2:25 he said please come home.  I responded with “309 eta/  I think we go to the ER this time.”  I called him on my drive home.  I called my boss and told him he needed to get my deputy help with the proposal ASAP.  I grilled Tim on his symptoms while I was waiting for A at the bus stop… hemerroid pain he said was better, no mouth pain…lymphnoids didn’t seem as swollen, but sweating, fever, vomiting… I asked him if he’d been talking to his Aunt (because she’s a Dr and he’d spoken to her the previous year when he had an infection.)  He said no.  He said he was looking for socks… and brushing his teeth… next messages were the Room number and the white blood cells.

I described much of our last moments together in his ICU room at Fairfax hospital. Some other things I remember:

The hematologist came in while he was off for the CT scan.  My initial thought when they took him for the CT scan was how dangerous to finally be sitting, not responsible for the kids, or even for Tim – and alone with my own thoughts.  I texted his parents, my mom and sisters, my three close local friends (one of whom was with my kids and one who worked at that hospital and came back that night to be with me before  I headed home, the third happened to be on vacation in California), my three (very not local) best friends from college…

I didn’t know what a hematologist was.  They didn’t use the term “oncologist”with me that night though thats what he also was.  They already suspected cancer.  But I still had no idea.  When the NP told me things would get worse before they got better I was a cheerleader… I said we’d tackle it, I said we understood, right, Tim?  He said “well I’m not excited about it” (being intubated.)  I had no idea what the NP was telling me.  I had no idea that these crazy cheer leader go-get-em-we’ll-kick-this attitude I was portraying was the last conversation I’d ever have with my husband, my best friend, the love of my life.  When they gave him a catheter he really didn’t like it.  As a joke, I told him not to rip it out (because this was a problem my very-bad-patient-dad had been having) and I think I really freaked out the nurses.  So I had to explain.  They were both young and unmarried and said they thought girls married men like their dads.  I said I couldn’t have married anyone more different from my father, and my sister too.  Tim smiled at me through the oxygen mask.  I told him my friend who was watching the kids messaged me that she’d never changed a boy diaper before then (she has 2 daughters) and he asked why she’d never changed her sister’s son’s diaper!  There are times when remembering these last conversations burns me.  Why didn’t I tell him how much I loved him?  How much he meant to me?   How much I loved our life together? That I wouldn’t change any of it for anything?  Why couldn’t I have said all those things and more?  I had no idea.  I couldn’t imagine it was my last conversation with him.

Continue reading “more of the beginning”