Milestones

April, May, June.  They feel big.  Full of big milestones.  Full of firsts.  Full of anniversaries of lasts.   And then I start year two.  Year two which everyone says is worse than year one.  Which I get.  I get it – people expect you to be ok now.  You’ve already experienced the first one of those without him, so… you’re ok now, right?  Or, you’ve moved on.  Even when you see us moving forward, my friends, we do not “move on” from this kind of loss.  I will carry this loss with me… I will carry Tim with me.  Always.

April came crashing in with Easter.  Easter was April 1st this year.  I planned big Easter bunny plans.  No family was going to be in town, so I made other plans and had a big, busy, exhausting weekend.  Which was wonderful.  And then I had a moment when I took out the trash and I saw cardinals in the trees and I burst into tears.  These are just moments I have.  And Easter night was… interesting.  A story for a later post.  But April came in with a bang.

April 4th would have been Tim’s 38th birthday.  I took the day off.  I knew I’d need it.  I made an appointment at a friend of A’s mother’s tattoo shop.  I’d been considering this tattoo a while and knew I wanted it, and felt his birthday was the right day for it.  The day he should have turned 38.  But he did not.  Because he will forever be 37 years old.  I also bought orange star balloons and a Happy Birthday balloon at the dollar store.  And I made a cake.  With orange frosting.  I planned to make red velvet but both girls asked me not to.  I drove out to Veramar to pick up my wine and sit on the bench I bought him there.  I put candles on the cake and sang with the kids, and we wrote on the balloons, and went outside and let them go.  During the cake, R said, “I wish Daddy could come back.” I do too, my love. I do too.  As the balloons drifted out of sight A shouted “I love you, daddy!!”  Handling their grief and my own is often overwhelming.

The tattoo I got is his signature from my last Valentine’s Day card in 2017.

MVIMG_20180404_124446.jpg

A friend asked me on April 5th if I’d get any more tattoos.  He didn’t know this was my second.  I don’t know.  Maybe.  Probably.  When I got the first, I thought it could be my only.  Maybe.  But I’d be open.  Tim wanted to get one involving the kids.  But he never formulated exactly what he wanted.  This one came to me easily.  I asked one colleague what he thought about its relative visibility regarding professionalism, really just out of curiosity.   Nothing was going to change my mind.  He told me his wife advised against it for professional reasons.  I get it.  I would have done the same, a year ago.  But it was too obvious to me that this was something I had to do.  I didn’t want it on my wrist where it was very easily visible… but this seemed the right place.

All the decisions I’ve made lately are challenging.  But I do my best to always do what seems like the right place… or what simply feels right.  I’ve gone with my gut most lately.

On Thursday night, we celebrated our dog’s birthday.  His adoption day really.  10 years since when Tim and I took him home. Tim loved that dog so much.  He was really our first baby.  When I started traveling for work a lot in 2008-09, Tim started letting him sleep in our bed and getting on the couch!  In 2015, my in-laws took him for the summer while we prepped and sold our condo, bought and moved into our current home… Tim told me he thought maybe we should leave him in New York… because it would be so hard on all of us when he dies!  He was literally afraid of the grief we would all experience when our dog inevitably dies.  I can’t believe our dog outlived him.  That fact was not lost on me as we celebrated the dog’s “birthday” on Thursday.  I felt the loss.

This past weekend, I took off Friday.  I took my son to get ear tubes.  I was constantly reminded that Tim would have been there for that.  Forms and people asked me where Tim was… who else was coming…  there was a little boy (older than D) who got out of surgery just after he did who had something done on his eyes who was really hysterical.  His dad was called back and I swear they asked him a half-dozen times about Mom.  I was close to saying “He said she’s not here!!!”  English wasn’t this family’s first language, and I know there could have been a million reasons this poor child’s mother was not there, but my heart went out to this boy and his father in such a big way.  D was a trooper, and yet, doing this without Tim felt big.  I felt the loss.  I then went to R’s classroom to celebrate her 5th birthday.  Something we had done together last year.  I then took R to Kindergarten Orientation… which I attended 2 years ago with Tim, on a day where I had an ultrasound (that he also went to with me) in the morning.  I felt the loss… that he wasn’t there… for R and for me.  I also had a 5th birthday extravaganza at my house on Saturday… and bought her a big gift, that nearly wasn’t ready on time… and  pretty much emotionally shut down at that point.  It all just became too much and my brain shut down.  My sister and my sister-in-law and my two college friends who flew in for the event took over, and simply did.  And everything got done.  And I think R had fun.  All the kids had fun.  That night, my father-in-law took A to the father-daughter dance with her girl scout troop.  It was lovely.  Beautiful.  And yet what Tim wouldn’t have given to go to that with his girl?  And I felt the loss.

I guess the point is that it’s impossible not to feel the loss in the big milestones.  Sometimes its crippling.  Sometimes less so.  But its unavoidable.  All I can do is let myself feel it.  Feel the loss.  And try to feel less of the guilt.

“Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them” – Leo Tolstoy

Annual Tim Gaige Memorial Event

I’ve had some time to think about this.  I really want to have an annual event we can do as a family to remember Tim, and to bring together those who loved him to remember him in a very Tim-way for the kids.  I want to do it in June… because he died in June and because of Father’s day, since being a father was his absolute favorite thing.  Something we often did for Father’s day was go to a Potomac Nationals game.  Tim loved them even more than going to MLB games in a way, and they were a perfect family activity.  We even went pre-kids. So I decided on that as a memorial event pretty much as soon as I thought of it.   Here is a picture of us in 2016 at a Potomac Nationals game, after Tim snuck to the gift shop and came back with hats for all 4 of us!  D is in this photo in utero. #partyoffiveIMG_20160507_193807.jpg

After deciding on the type of event, the questions were in arrangements, and what organization to benefit.  Tim was passionate about many, many things.  Everyone who knew him could attest to that.  I already had sports covered, but the absolute # 1 thing(s) Tim was passionate about above all were his crazy ambitious wife and their “three unique and amazing children”.  (That’s a direct Tim quote from the Mother’s day card he gave me 2 days before we last spoke in the ICU.)  I don’t say that to self-promote, but because it was unequivocally true.

I considered medical research organizations, cancer societies, the ACLU, NPR, and many other worthy organizations that Tim either supported directly in life or would tie to his untimely death.  But I was brought back to his wife and children as his passion.   He would have been so incredibly touched by how our community rallied around his wife and children during his illness and incredibly untimely passing.  He would have been overwhelmed and so moved by it.  I have also learned that not everyone experiences that family and community support that I received.  And that’s where I want to be able to give back.  So, I decided on Together Rising, an organization that came about from a blog I used to follow called Momastery. I remember lying in bed with my phone or laptop a time or two and reading to Tim out loud a particular quote or paragraph or blogpost that Glennon Doyle had written in Momastery that really spoke to me.   I remember it was he that came and told me that she was marrying Abby Wambach.  Because 1) he always had all the latest in pop culture (I feel so bad the kids are stuck with me on that front) and 2) he had such incredible respect for Abby and the entire US Women’s National Team. Aaaaand there we are back to sports.

I just had to reach out to see if they were on board with partnering with me.  And they were amazing!  Got RIGHT back to me, had good ideas, called me Warrior Mama (and there’s no way they even know about my Warrior Tim post, I’m guessing that’s more a nod to Love Warrior or Carry On, Warrior books) and made my heart happy.  So then I reached out to the Potomac Nationals and they were also very helpful in arranging the date and the setup.

So here are the important facts.  SAVE THE DATE.

The Game will be the day before Father’s Day, Saturday June 16, 2018 at 6:35pm vs Buies Creek. 

I believe the game will also be a military appreciation night, which I am delighted about, and I think they will both have fireworks after the game, and let the kids run the bases.

Individual ticket sales start on Monday, March 19th, and I hope to have an online portal set up by then that I can share and let people buy tickets to the game, where up to half of the ticket value goes to Together Rising.

Fun fact: 100% of what Together Rising receives from every personal donation goes directly to an individual, family, or cause in need – not one penny we receive from individual donation goes to administration costs, unless a donor specifically authorizes that use. (From: https://togetherrising.org/

So put June 16th on your calendar.  Plan to come enjoy a fun, family-friendly baseball game, and raise your glass (or more likely cup) to Tim Gaige. And while doing so, give a little back to the community, and good folks in need.

 

Update: tickets on sale!

http://pn1.glitnirticketing.com/pnticket/web/logingroup1.php?&refresh=1521495331

Password: gaige

 

Update #2:

Some asked how they might pay tribute / honor Tim if they could not make it in town that weekend for the game. Here’s how you can do that!

https://app.mobilecause.com/vf/GaigeFund

 

Update # 3:

Some who are visiting from out of town have asked about accommodations close to the stadium, and honestly there aren’t any SUPER close, and I haven’t’ been able to find anyone who could give me any sort of recommendation either way, about the closest ones along I95. So I thought I would share the info we shared last summer for the Celebration of Life.  These are in Fairfax, and  the prices listed were researched last June (2017). I feel like if you are coming all the way out of town for Tim’s celebration of life, you might like the additional opportunity to see his children that weekend.  For any other questions/ concerns / suggestions, please feel free to reach out to me.

Residence Inn Fairfax City  for $89.00 USD per night (either King or Double)

3565 Chain Bridge Road, Fairfax, VA  22030  Central Reservations: 877-399-6027

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Hampton Fairfax for $99.00 USD per night (either King or Double)

10860 Fairfax Boulevard, Fairfax, VA 22030 Reservations: 703-385-2600  Go to: fairfaxcity.hamptoninn.com

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Springhill Suites Fairfax Fair Oaks for King room: $99.00 USD  per night / for Queen Suite: $109.00 USD per night

11191 Waples Mill Rd., Fairfax, VA  22030  Reservations: 703-691-7880

New Year’s Day

I survived 2017.  What more can I say?

Tim did not.

It’s true,  I feel like half of me died last summer.  However, my heart is still beating.  Kidneys, lungs, all of it.  And tiny humans still need me.  There are all the logistics. There is the world that just keeps spinning, 24 hours after another.  Relentless.

Some days, the amount of life I have left seems daunting.  All of the days and the weeks and the months and the years that I have to live without him.  That just simply was not the plan.

I survived Christmas, somehow.  Well, with family, with a lot of support.  That is how I survived Christmas.

New Year’s brought me great anxiety.  Both eager anticipation to get the heck out of 2017… and the realization that with the end of 2017, came the end of the last year Tim ever saw. The last year that ever knew Tim.

My solution?  Invite around 30 people to my house to provide distraction.  That worked, but then this morning, I felt the deep sadness welling up.  The kind of sadness so deep and powerful that the only way to deal with it really would be to cry and sleep all day.  That, of course, was not an option, so I was infinitely grateful that I had been invited to my first ever in-person get together of the DC area members of the Hot Young Widows Club.   I took the kids and truthfully it was a lifesaver to have something to do, around people who just simply get it.  And the power in the girls realizing that all of the other kids there had dead dads too.  And meeting a widow my age live and in person for the first time ever.  It turned out to be the exact medicine I needed.

My goal for 2018 is to find a balance between the sadness and hope for the future.  I want the kids to hear all the stories about their dad, to hear his name, to feel him in their hearts. But I also want to do whatever I can for myself to avoid them living with a sad sack until they go to college.  I don’t know how to find that balance, but I have to believe there is always hope, and that I can find it.

Don’t read the last page
But I stay when it’s hard or it’s wrong or we’re making mistakes
I want your midnights
But I’ll be cleaning up bottles with you on New Year’s Day
Hold on to the memories, they will hold on to you
Hold on to the memories, they will hold on to you
Hold on to the memories, they will hold on to you
And I will hold on to you
~T. Swift, New Year’s Day

The half year mark

I knew it was coming.  Coming at me like a freight train.  And yet I had promised him.  Bedside, when I accepted that it was happening… that it would happen within the hour, certainly it would happen that day.  His last breaths.  That June 11th would be the date… I told him, “I promise you I won’t make a big deal about the date.  You don’t understand why people do that… you don’t understand my thing with dates.  I won’t make a big deal about this date.”

But deep down, I know, he would not have held me to that promise.  He would have told me to do whatever I need to do.  To take care of the kids first.  Then, to take care of myself, since he couldn’t be here to do it.  Sometimes, it’s so hard to me that we never had the chance to talk about these things.  I never got to ask him what he would want me to do about <insert anything at all> after he was gone.  But I search my heart, and I know what he would say.

Last weekend I took the kids to Longwood Gardens for their Christmas lights display.  I had gone to Longwood growing up in the summer, but he had visited PA a few times at Christmas and gone then and it always stuck with him.  He absolutely loved it.  We went together for the first time in 2007, and then every year since except when we bailed last minute last year due to D having a really bad cold.  I took the kids this year, and it snowed.  That brought logistical challenges, but my family showed up for me, and we went, both my sister and then my brother driving for me in the poor visibility.  But, wow, how beautiful it was in the snow.  How much he would have loved that.  On the way out, with D on my back and the girls with their aunt and uncle, I walked through the beautiful scenery and I just cried.   The tears just streamed down my face.

On Sunday, we had a lovely Christmas brunch with my family.  The kids got too many gifts, had fun and got to make a snowman with their cousin’s, and we returned to VA with my sister-in-law’s help.

I had honestly briefly considered taking off December 11th in advance.  Taking a mental health day.  I’ve already acknowledged to myself how impossible this month is going to be.  This holiday that he loved so much, so much more than me.  That if I could, I would escape… but of course, that is not an option.  This month that includes my first birthday without him.  And then, add to that the half hear mark.  A half a year that I’ve been breathing, and he has not.  But of course, I am me.  And I said no, I will go to work as usual.  I have a couple meetings that day.  I have so little vacation time after this summer…

Every Thursday, I drive the girls to play therapy.  And every week we drive by the ER I took Tim to last May.  Some weeks, A points it out.  Then, inevitably, R gets sad/mad that she didn’t get to go there with Daddy, to take Daddy there like A.  That A got to see Daddy there, and R did not.  And I realize, some day I will have to go there again.  Last May may have been the only time I took Tim, but he and I had taken R.  And I had taken myself when I got very sick and dehydrated and my OB told me to when I was pregnant with D.

Then at 3 am on December 11th, I find myself rushing to that ER with R.  It was the exact scenario I had envisioned as worst-case when I was planning for childcare assistance after Tim died.  And almost exactly 6 months to when I rushed back to the hospital to be with him when he took his last breaths, I was rushing back to the ER, I had first taken him to with our middle child.  I was up all night.  There in the ER I realized, there was no way I could go to work that day.

But I survived.  I didn’t turn into a blubbering mess and tell anyone  at the ER that I had walked my husband in there and he never came home.  I knew what I had to do for R, and I did it.

This week, I’ve had to make big decisions.  Medical, financial, professional and personal.  I hate every one I have to make without discussing with Tim.  And yet I am doing it.  And yet, I can hear him.   I can find him in my heart.  I’ll take it.

The half year mark did, in fact, hit me like a freight train.  All I can say is:  I’m still breathing.

“The ones that love us never really leave us.  We can always find them… in here. <3” – Sirius Black (J.K. Rowling)

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