39

Dear Tim,

Today is your 39th birthday. Is? Was? Would have been?… I’m not sure. I’m going with “Is.” It will always be the anniversary of your birth.

I just re-read last year’s posts on Milestones and Pain and wow. Year two and I feel it coming on again. This time of year is heavy with memories. And looking back, it surprises me how much I survived last year at this time.

Mostly, I think you would be proud of me. Mostly, I still think “what would Tim do” or else just do what you’d want me to do reflexively. I do that with the big things that matter. But I did do one thing for which you wouldn’t approve… and what’s worse: I did it in the name of buying myself something for YOUR birthday! I bought a new dishwasher! You would not have wanted to replace only one appliance. But the other appliances simply don’t need replacing. And man, have I wanted a new dish washing machine!

I’m doing my best. I am. I know I am. And I think I am doing ok. But this time is hard. And not just for me. Annabelle burst into tears at the breakfast table yesterday morning. She also asked several times about “Daddy’s friends” coming for cupcakes… which isn’t the easiest to pull off on a Thursday evening… Thank goodness for our friends who came with their kiddos! I think it made her happy. I think she is emotional this time of year without fully understanding it. This week I have felt detached and… confused? without being able to pinpoint why.

I’ve lately been listening to some music from the Broadway musical “Dear, Evan Hansen,” and there is a song the teenagers sing (relative to a teenage suicide)

No one deserves to be forgotten
No one deserves to fade away
No one should come and go
And have no one know he was ever even here
No one deserves to disappear

– Benj Pasek / Justin Paul

So many times in the hospital I told you that even if I’d known this would have happened I wouldn’t change a thing about our life together. On my hardest days, in the darkest moments, I wonder about whether that’s true. In those moments, Tim, I think about how much easier it would be if we had known this was coming to never have children and to just enjoy our time together… maybe put in for a whole lot of life insurance for you so that now I could just use that to go to some tropical island and never have to work again and not have anyone that I need to support…

But those thoughts never last very long… I know it’s true that I wouldn’t change a thing because all of it is for love of you… It was for love of you that we had the family we had in the first place. While I know how sad you would be that I have to be both mom and dad on my own, I also know that raising them on my own is the best way to live my love for you.

And oh my goodness, how much they are like you and how much you would love every minute with them… Annabelle’s love of March Madness, the way she listens and remembers these intricate facts… Rose’s humor, innate interpersonal understanding, her intuition, the way she loves so big … Declan’s absolute love for anything sports-related but also his love of taking care of baby dolls.

They are your legacy. The legacy you dreamed of… the greatest legacy you could have ever imagined. I can buy myself that dishwasher for your birthday, because the gift of mothering is my gift to you. Raising them without you is both my most tremendous challenge and my greatest honor.

Happy 39th Birthday!

Love always,

MaryBeth

Secondary trauma

I have many draft blog posts that I haven’t completed… But this one has to make way.

What I experienced on January 31st through now is not really secondary loss or secondary traumatic stress … But it’s hard to describe what it is…

It was the first major trauma in my life since Tim’s.

You may read this and say… it’s a broken bone… its not comparable to cancer and death after 26 days in the ICU. And yes, that is true. However, for me… living it… there was so much “again.”

It started out like a regular Thursday. A and R have play therapy for grief on Thursdays, so I always pick them up from school and take them. I got to school, and headed into their aftercare and chatted with teachers, while they took their usual forever to get backpacks, jackets, projects, water bottles, etc… when we got to the car, I glanced at my phone while they were buckling up. I had a message from my au pair that she and D were at Target, he fell down and he tells her his leg hurts so she is taking him home… he was pushing the cart and he jumped up on it and half fell on his leg, thank God she held the other part… I really didn’t know how to interpret this so I responded with a crying emoji! Like the kind with the big tears! And then the girls call out her name! And there she is next to my car. So I jump out. (The school is on the way home from the Target.) And she says he is still crying. So I run over to that car. I look in his eyes, and I know right away something is wrong. He’s not really hysterical but he’s crying, nose running, and he touches his thigh and says “my leg hurts, Mama!” But it was his eyes. His eyes told me something was very wrong. I said “OK! Let’s switch – let me grab my bag, take the girls to Ms Paige’s, and I’ll take D to the Doctor. I ran to my car. The girls started crying, that they wanted to be with me. I said no, firmly, D needs me right now. The car next to us was complaining they couldn’t get out, because the car D was in (Tim’s car) was blocking them in, so E moved it while I got my bag and then we switched, and D and I were off. I actually considered going to the pediatrician, but I knew they’d be closing as it was 5:00 pm.

So I took him to the closest ER. The off-shoot ER near us. The place where I took his father on May 16, 2017. I walked him in as quickly and safely as I could. Everyone was calm. They don’t say this to you, but both times I felt like they thought I was overreacting. First, with a perfectly healthy looking 6’4″ tall, 37-year-old man, while I did all the talking, then, less than 2 years later holding my 2.5 year old son. I had been to this ER with R. And I had been there myself when I had severe dehydration, with step throat and a stomach bug when pregnant with D. But those times, I drove us home.

As they took D back for his x-ray, I passed the ambulance bay and I realized for the first time – this is where they took him to load onto the ambulance after I left with A, to pick up R and D. They had told me they didn’t think D’s leg was broken but they would x-ray it just in case. I was confused at the confidence. Why? Just because he wasn’t screaming bloody murder? He wouldn’t put any weight on it, he certainly wouldn’t walk (or even stand on his own) when the Dr. made me make him try to walk. So off we went to xray together, me holding his hand. He was not excited to move into all different angles for the x-ray but he handled it pretty well, truthfully. And then we walked slowly back to his little room, past the ambulance bay again.

When the Doctor (who told me she didn’t think it was broken) returned she said “so you heard the news?” to which I said, well I OVERheard you guys ordering “transport” so….” And she confirmed it was broken and that he’d be getting some stronger pain meds. (Went from tylenol to morphine!!)

As I should know well by now there is a lot of hurry up and waiting in medical situations. No matter how much I might will things to go faster. He started to doze with the morphine though so I could text and get things in motion, let people know what was going on. My amazing OT friend who works at the hospital that the ambulance would soon be taking us to showed up, then once transport arrived, left with my keys to get another friend so they could move my car (Tim’s car to be honest) to the hospital.

I was there. I was 100% with my boy then as they moved him to the stretcher and started to wheel him to the ambulance bay…. he looked so small. Too small to be broken. And then we were in the ambulance. He was cheerful (maybe it was the morphine).. he called the ambulance the white bus. Every day he watches his sisters get on the school bus and he wants on that yellow bus so badly. Here he was, getting his own special bus ride. (Spoiler alert – the school bus is way cheaper!)

And then we were driving in the ambulance and I was holding his hand. Talking to him… looking into those baby blues. His father’s blue eyes… and all I could think was how I should have been in that ambulance with Tim. I had never thought that thought before. I did what I had to do. I simply executed. I wasn’t a hysterical mess. I calmly got Annabelle out and got the other 2, and got all 3 home for dinner with my friend who showed up to help… then I drove to the hospital in my car, met him in his room. I did not let myself feel, cry or worry; I executed. It’s one of my greatest strengths. A cool head in crisis. It’s something Tim loved about me. I never doubted that he would have wanted it any other way. Always – the kids first. But there I was in that ambulance with my son, holding his hand, looking into those blue eyes, making that exact same drive that Tim’s ambulance had made, the last time Tim was ever outside. I thought about what we might have talked about. Certainly not anything intimate in front of the paramedic, but just the idea of one more conversation with him, the missed opportunity. My eyes filled with tears. Then I scolded myself. D. He is here now, he is the one who needs you. Look at this tiny little person on this stretcher. You are what he has in the world, you make all decisions for his well-being, you CAN NOT FALL APART.

And so I didn’t. I did not fall apart. However much I may have wanted to… I told the paramedic his father also broke his leg at 2 years old (a fact I knew but confirmed with Tim’s parents while I was waiting)… but I didn’t tell the paramedic that this little boy’s father was now dead. Sometimes, I just can’t… My two amazing friends showed up at the hospital ER and when they hugged me… how I wanted to fall apart. When my in-laws called me (when I was in that Emergency room with D and my two friends waiting for Dr.’s and trying to entertain him with television) and they told me my father-in-law (who happened to be arriving the next day for a scheduled trip) could stay as long as I needed help, I teared up, but I did not fall apart. When I was told we had to wait for the morning for an OR and I didn’t even let the Orthopedic guy in scrubs finish talking before I handed D some water (which he had desperately wanted but I could not give him in case they could take him into the OR that night.) I simply executed what was best for my boy. When my friends left and we were transported to a children’s room for the night… when I “slept” the worst night I think I’ve ever had in bed beside him, where he would doze, then wake himself with a start and burst into tears… I held him, and soothed him, and I did not fall apart in the darkness. When they finally got him in the OR the next day and for the first time, I was alone… alone with the exact same color-coded paper in my hands they had given me when they sent Tim into surgery to get the ECMO set on May 17, 2017. And I sat in that waiting room alone… alone where I should have been waiting with my husband for our son with the broken femur to get out of the OR. I did not fall apart. When one of my friends’ friend who is a Pediatric surgeon in that hospital came to see me in the morning, filled with so much kindness, intelligence, knowledge and compassion, I teared up, but I did not fall apart. When a good friend showed up with her son (a friend of A’s) and Dunkin donuts coffee and a wake up wrap, I teared up, but I did not fall apart. I executed. When I saw the full extent of the Spica cast he was in, when I had the thought “my baby is broken,” when the OT explained to me diapering, clothing, getting in and out of the car seat, no baths, no putting any pressure on his leg, that the pain reliever they had for him was a narcotic, that it could cause constipation, that he would need 24×7 care in this cast…. any of these things that made me want to burst into tears… I did not. I listened, and I did. I did whatever needed to be done for my boy. Because that’s what I do. Because its what widows with small children do. We do what must be done, even when reliving the trauma feels like more than we can possibly bear.

These past 6 weeks… there was darkness. There were many difficult nights. There were times when the light at the end of the tunnel was too dim to see.

Someone asked me yesterday at an impromptu St. Patrick’s day and “cast off” party “So what’s your secret? How did you survive?”

I said “I don’t have one… well, I had a lot of help. I guess that’s it ” – and I proceeded to describe the help I had – people flying in from LA and Chicago and New York, family and friends driving long distances to come and help, my au pair, local friends supporting us.. and on and on.

And that is the truth. That is how I survived the logistics of this situation that felt impossible to survive. I had so much help. From people I can probably never repay. And my heart explodes with gratitude just thinking about it.

But here’s my secret.. in so many ways, the logistics were not the hardest part. That is a fact that maybe unless you UNDERSTAND, you can not understand. And I am truly happy for you if you can not UNDERSTAND. The parallels, the reliving, the questions that come in the dark, the longing for the one person who was supposed to be here to help you through all these hard times, in sickness and in health. He should be here. For me, for D, for himself. One morning after several without sleep, I woke up, looked at Tim’s dad and told him, “I just feel so confused that Tim is not here.” I know that makes no sense. Its been 20 months… I know he is dead. I understand. I understand the permanence of death. Then why do I feel so confused by his absence right now? My father in law said “because it makes no sense.”

So here’s the thing. We did survive it. And we will survive the next curve ball that comes our way. I survived it thanks to an incredible village of support for which I am forever grateful. I once heard Glennon Doyle say “I created the community that I would one day need” and I so feel that way about Tim and I. We had no idea of the community we were creating.

Before bed tonight, the girls and I read a book with a shooting star, and R said she knows what she would wish for if she saw a shooting star… she would wish for Daddy to come back “that’s always at the top of my list of wishes.” She told me she had a dream that he came back for a day. A chimed in that she had those dreams too. And we sat in that moment. Me too, guys. Me too. I know without a doubt that I would give up all the help from family and friends if I could have him back – even for one day. But I also know I can not. I know I can never have him back, and I know that the grief will change in waves over time, but it will never be gone. And I know that this pain and suffering, as well as simply being the woman he loved, and the mother that my kids have, every day it is making me who I am. The person I will bring into the future. I don’t imagine that he would want anything else for me.

Snow days

How I miss him when it snows.

I realized that yesterday.  It may have been a little hard to realize last year because I simply missed him so very much all the damn time that it was very hard to distinguish, but I remember feeling it the first time I went out to shovel, the first time I saw the white stuff out the front window, and watched as my au pair that year, who had never seen snow, was amazed.  I certainly felt it the day we went to Longwood in the snow.  I had never before seen Longwood Gardens in the snow.  He never saw Longwood in the snow.  How he would have loved it.

Snow days are hard.  There’s what everyone thinks of first.  The basic logistics.  The anxiety if we can’t get out, run out of food.  The anxiety to shovel, get the driveway cleaned… but truthfully, I think snow brings out greatness in neighbors.  Realistically, I know my neighbors will help me.  They are amazing.  At least three different neighbors attacked my driveway at various times yesterday.  So if I can quell the anxiety, I know the logistics will be just fine.

The hard part is just how much he loved snow.  Snow was his thing.  He loved to stay on top of the Capital Weather gang reports, he loved to get out there and shovel.  Even when we were in Arlington.  In January 2015, our first winter in Fairfax, we got a huge amount of snow starting Friday night all through the weekend.  The plow couldn’t get to us for a long time.   The public schools were closed for a week.  (Our kids were not out of daycare yet.)  Still, our driveway gleamed bright and black, for Tim was out there with the shovel and the salt nearly hourly.  He had a blast playing not just with our kids, but all the neighbor kids.  Yesterday’s snow was a good snow.  Tim would have loved it.  There is guilt there.

Snow reminds me of getting out there and playing in it and shoveling it, and it reminds me of snuggling up together inside.   Loving being together, and letting the rest of the world go by while we had each other.  There is longing there.

There is also an element of snow that is like Christmas.  It’s magic.  It’s a magic that their father truly loved, and I want to ensure is passed down to A, R and D in just the right way.  There is also some pressure there.

But I myself have always loved snow.  I love ice skating, ice hockey, sledding, skiing, every winter sport.  It was the driver of my wanting to go to the Winter Olympics in Torino in 2006.  There was a moment yesterday when the kids got sick of sledding and went inside to warm up.  I took that opportunity to grab a sled and go down the hill on my own… and it was wonderful.  Just wonderful.  Selfishly, it was the best part of my day.   Then I went a few times, because, why not?  I even raced one of my mom friends down the hill!

Looking out at the snow… it’s so beautiful, it takes your breath away.  I miss him when it snows for all the reasons I’ve said above, and yet, when I was exhilarated from sledding – I felt him smile.  I know he would tell me not to put so much pressure on myself to make things a certain way for the kids… he’d tell me not to worry about the shoveling, or the food, or the amount of screen time, or whatever my exact worry is… but just to enjoy these moments.  But as I am me, that is not easy to do.  However, when I let myself relax, and just completely enjoy speeding down the hill on a little sled, I feel his smile, and its the best gift I could give myself.

I know now.  I know a little more how much a simple thing like a snowfall can mean to a person.  – Sylvia Plath

The second Christmas

I’ve read a lot about the second milestones and the second year being “harder.”

I remember Tim talking to me about grief on the second Christmas for a family member grieving, saying that in the second year there is less help, less attention, less sympathy, less people are thinking of you or reach out, less people remember. Or even if they remember, it’s the first year after that people make a big deal about it.

That is all true. But that’s not at all what makes it harder.

And that, in itself, is surprising.  Before I experienced this – when I imagined the sudden loss of a loved one, I never could have imagined what really makes it hard.  So I understand why others can not.

There was less attention this year.  And my heart was so full of gratitude for those who made the effort to be with us, or reach out to us.

But honestly, I remember so little about the first Christmas.  I remember D was sick.  I remember a grit-your-teeth-and-bear-it determination to make it good, and magical for the girls and for D to whatever extent possible.  I remember going to Burke Lake Park with Tim’s dad and D.  And really, that’s about it.   That’s all I remember.

In early December, a good friend of mine told me that her dear friend from high school (also with young children) was also suddenly widowed.  Her situation drove a lot of difficult “logistics.”  My friend did not ask for my advice specifically, but this is what I offered, “Before Tim died, the idea of “the logistics” seemed like the big thing. The kids and the money and the paperwork and the arrangements and ALL OF THE THINGS.. that I call logistics… Seemed so overwhelming… and it is… And yet..somehow.. it pales in comparison to the bigger thing. The loss of him… and the grief.  She will get through the logistics. Because she loves her children. And because we just do. But the big thing being the loss of the person is something that’s hard to convey. But just being you and being you for her in any way you can will be big.  It will seem small to you, but I promise it’s not. ”

I offer this not because I propose that all widows have the same experiences, or because she asked for my advice, which she did not, or because I consider myself some sort of expert on widow grief…. I offer it because in almost all cases, when I see a HYWC post I say to myself “Yes. This.”  There is an empathy and understanding there that I have never before felt or imagined.  I offer it because since one of my dear friends with young children died 6 months before Tim got sick, I recognized what I experienced on the outside, what I felt/thought/imagined for her husband and her family, and I recognize the chasm between that and what I truly felt when Tim died.  And maybe, just maybe, if I can help explain that chasm in any small way to others, it lessens the distance between the deeply bereaved and their greatest (but fortunately inexperienced) supporters.

A dear widow friend who is on a similar timeline to me, described year two in this way “Less tears.  More sad.”  Yes. This.  I guess what I would say about this Christmas is less shock, more feeling the loss of him.  The first is about survival.  In year two, you understand that you will survive.  Slightly less effort is required to simply keep breathing in and out.  Which gives you more ability to feel.   I said to my sister on Christmas day (because I can) “I am so glad you are all here.  But I would send you all back in a heart beat if I could have him here.”  Without hesitation she said, “and I would happily go, if it meant he could be here.”  I told her it was both easier and harder this year.  I was more… involved… more awake.  She said she could see that.  (I can only imagine the dead look in my eyes she must have seen sometimes in the first year.) And in a strange way, there is guilt for any bit that gets easier.  It feels bad sometimes for anything to feel better.

I know the kids grief will always be there.  I know it will take different shapes as they mature, different shapes for each of them based on their personalities and based on the ages they were when he died.  And I want so badly to support them, even though I have no idea how to do it.  The best thing I know how to do, is read, learn, listen, and support my own grief.

The thing that made me happiest this year, was giving the kids and my father-in-law the quilts made from Tim’s t-shirts.

I asked my niece to video them opening them because the company I got the shirts through (Project Repat) advertised a video contest on Instagram.  Always ask creative teenagers to do this sort of task.  My niece did an amazing job, and then edited them and set them to music.   She set the one of the kids opening theirs to Beyone’s Ave Maria.

She was lost in so many different ways
Out in the darkness with no guide
I know the cost of a losing hand
But for the grace of God go I
I found heaven on earth
You are my last, my first
And then I hear this voice inside
Ave Maria
Sometimes love can come and pass you by
While you’re busy making plans
Suddenly hit you and then you realize
It’s out of your hands
Baby, you got to understand
Ave Maria
Ave Maria
Ave Maria
Grazia plena
Maria, grazia plena
Maria, grazia plena
Ave, Ave dominus tecum

 

The greatest Christmas 12/28/2016

Here it is, the last post…. But first I will share Tim’s words from what he posted to FB when we returned:

The Virginia Gaiges are back on American soil.

After 10 days away, 7000 miles of air travel, 15+ tube rides (including transfers between lines), 2 museums, Warner Brothers Harry Potter tour, an iconic department store and the Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park we only lost ONE MITTEN.

Boom.

Only Tim…

And here is what I shared last year….

Ok, FB friends. Thank you for coming on this trip down memory lane with me. We have now come to the end.
December 28, 2016: Saying goodbye to Edgeware, spending too much time at Heathrow, and flying across the pond.
We got home just in time for Rose to share with Timmy and I and Declan the British plague (cold/ flu) she picked up and ruin NYE 🤒😷. It was the trip of a lifetime and I fully enjoyed reliving it this year. 🇬🇧♥️

Way home I got a bassinet!!!

#selfieswithDad

#selfieswithDad

The greatest Christmas 12/27/2016

December 27, 2016, on our last touristy day, Timmy wanted to go to the British museum. It frankly was not my first choice, but he did much for me on the trip, so I was happy to let him have his pick. 🙂
The girls practiced walking like an Egyptian, we checked out the Rosetta Stone, and got lunch outside…hotdogs! I enjoyed a trip to Tottenham Court Road for the Harry Potter connection. We all had a lovely day, and Tim and I started packing when we got back to Edgeware.

The British museum

Walk like an Egyptian …

The Rosetta Stone was popular…

#selfieswithDad

Enough pics, mom -RKG

So British..

Waiting for the tube….

The greatest Christmas 12/26/2016

On December 26, 2016, after two low key days in Edgeware, we were ready to get out and about in London. And out and about we did! We walked all over and the girls were such troopers! (D got a lot of time in the Ergo :)) We went to see the changing of the guard at Buckingham palace, I tried to look for Will and Kate at Kensington, we walked to see Big Ben, explored St James’s park, then through Green Park to meet our friend Michael and his lovely companion Monique near Wellington Arch before heading into Hyde Park Winter Wonderland.
We totally gave Mike an out but he insisted they were up for meeting our full crew for Winter Wonderland. I was so glad we went with them because Mike and Timmy did the rides with the girls while baby Declan stayed with Monique and I. When we got hungry we hit the beer garden for brews, pretzels and the girls got down to music…and used Mike as a jungle gym. We talked international politics, life, love and had the most lovely time. Then they dropped us at an Italian restaurant to cap the night. We recently read a magic treehouse story that mentioned Hyde Park and the girls remember it well! 🙂 🇬🇧♥️❄️🍻🍝

The changing of the guard at Kensington Palace

St. James’s and Green Park

#SelfieswithDad

#SelfieswithDad

(This did not come through to the blog, bit this was a 360 degree photo)

Tim was amazing at these.

Me and the crew at Buckingham… Notice the much needed coffee!! ☕

Games and rides at Hyde Park. Rose especially loved the bumper cars… The announcer kept saying “Dodge em!!!” and she repeated it for days!
Note Annabelle pulling Mike around like she’d known him for years…

More rides… And Michael Jorge as a jungle gym!

#SelfieswithDad

She’s posing in front of that bridge in St James’s park because it was on an episode of Sherlock

Mike and Monique ♥️

Getting down to some live (American) music. Always, my loves, dance like no one is watching!

We terrorized this Italian Restaurant. Rose housed that huge bowl of pasta…look at those bags under her eyes…what a trooper.

Selfridge’s

Beautiful, crowded streets of London. Note the double decker red buses 🙂 🇬🇧♥️