Let me tell you about right now

Dear Tim,

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

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

<Pausing to let that sink in.>

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love Always,

MaryBeth

Happy Anniversary

Dear Tim,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wherever you are, my love, Happy Anniversary.

I love you, always,

MaryBeth

Where his body is (a letter to our children)

Dear A, R, and D,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All my love, Always,

Mom

Two years later (alt. title Rainbow)

This was a post I started in June 2019… and had a sync issue writing it on different devices, and then never published it. I can’t believe its now been over two and a half years.  The two year mark was tough though.  D’s broken femur was rough of course, but R’s surgery brought it’s own unique challenges…

 

Last weekend, my sister put a song on she’d already played for the kids and they started all singing it. She said it reminded her of me, but I really couldn’t understand the lyrics with all three of them mumbling along.

So when we declared movie night, I ran up for a shower in the middle of Madagascar 2. I listened to it in the shower and cried my eyes out. Shower and car bawling has been on the rise again lately. I’m not sorry to admit it. I’m only starting to feel like myself again. For the last 6 months, I’ve been surviving. Surviving with the fierce determination of a mother. The broken leg, the secondary trauma, the anxiety I felt leading up to finally having my middle child – my passionate, decisive, middle child – have a surgery I was afraid of since her second week of life, that I spoke to and cried to Tim about, getting the surgery scheduled for the day after her father’s second Deathaversary, scheduling all the support needed to be with her for it / through it, bringing her up to Hopkins for it, being there for it, after it… Possibly the worst of it was that post op was exactly as bad as I had imagined it would be. Beautifully, our friend Dawn (I should say Tim’s friend but I will say our friend) was there with me and I remember saying to her “this is exactly what I was expecting, honestly, but that doesn’t make it easier.”

The longer story about Rose’s surgery starts when I was pregnant with A… at 36 weeks, they declared her with “hydronephrosis.” Unfortunately, our OB/GYN told us that “it could be nothing, and go away before she’s born, all the way to a possible sign of downs syndrome, or many things in between… but don’t worry, very unlikely to be downs based on your previous testing.” Wait.. what?!? Tim and I were distraught. At that time, I was blogging about my pregnancy and Tim asked me not to include this while we processed it. He was fretting that with kidney issues, she wouldn’t be able to play sports. (Because you know – of course he was!) I was just fretting because that’s what I do – and also isn’t that what first time moms do? They put A on an antibiotic the day she was born, and lots of early testing I remember fairly well considering the postpartum hormones. Mostly I remember feeling my first real mama bear instincts… when they put an IV needle in her tiny hand vein and all I could think was let it be me instead – I don’t want her to feel any pain! Then when they gave her a sugar water pacifier so she wouldn’t mind the catheter and it worked like a charm I thought: this is amazing!!!  Where do I get this miracle stuff?  After all the testing, A didn’t have reflux.  She had one kidney that drained slower than the other.  They kept her on the antibiotics through 7 months, monitored periodically, then at 18 months they told us we were done… except RIGHT at that time, they saw it on my last ultrasound with R.  Her hydronephrosis measured smaller (by .1mm) on my ultrasound than A’s did so I hoped hers would be even easier.  She also started on antibiotics on day 1 of birth… and then we went in for her first VCUG (voiding cystourethrogram) at 2 weeks of life just like we did with A… A VCUG helps diagnose vesicoureteral reflux – a condition in which urine flows the wrong way, from the bladder back up to the kidneys.  When we saw the images on the screen, it was obvious to us both that she had reflux… and then they told us: grade 4 or 5.  Basically, as bad as it gets.

Here is a photo of Tim right before R’s first VCUG:

IMG_20130502_093404

There I was, post partum with a two week old and the tears just streamed down my face. I knew this was not the end of the world, but I was so sad.   It was Tim’s turn to be strong.  He held me and soothed me, and held R so I could pull myself together.  And he put his big arms around us both while I held her, my sweet baby girl who I could not believe was anything short of perfection.

R spent 3 years on antibiotics which I didn’t love.  Then at 3 years old, fully potty trained they let her go off to see what would happen.  What happened was we rushed her to the hospital or Dr’s office many times with spiked fevers close to 105 degreesF.  She always vomitted when her fever would spike.  They always wanted a urine sample which is HARD with a stubborn 3 year old.  I was relieved she got one right before we went to London so we had antibiotics for London so we couldn’t get it WHILE in London… then we returned and she and I spent New Year’s day at the hospital while I was still nursing D.  So… when the pediatric urologist suggested returning to the antibiotics I said ok!  Back to daily antibiotics… 3 months passed, she turned 4.  Another month passed and our whole world turned upside down.  On the six month anniversary of Tim’s death I found myself with R at the same ER I had taken her father to, in the middle of the night.  I wrote about this in The half year mark.  After that, at the pediatrician follow up, was when I was encouraged to seek a second pediatric urology opinion and referred to see Dr. Gearhart at Johns Hopkins.  That in itself  was interesting, from being asked to come back to discuss the surgery with dad (after it was laid out pretty plainly that it was necessary), explaining, the pity, the “you will find someone else” along with a story that included other men not being threatened because another man won’t be coming around… to scheduling the surgery for August 2018, only to have to reschedule it for June 2019.

It was scheduled for June 12, 2019.  I took off Tuesday through Friday immediately.  Tuesday was the second deathaversary, and the day before we had to be checking into Hopkins early for the surgery.   I did everything with conviction.  I did everything with the fierce determination of a mother.  I had great support at home from my au pair and my father-in-law for the other kids.  And yet.. it took everything out of me.

In October, R and I went back for yet another VCUG (easily her 5th or 6th).  We went to the Fairfax hospital.  The hospital where her father died, but also where he stood in the penguin radiology apron with enthusiasm.  While we were there, I saw that penguin radiology apron, and I told her how Daddy wore it for her very first one.  For the very first time, there was no sign of reflux on the VCUG.  This time, I could have cried from the relief.

As I move more fully into the third year, my goal is to see that rainbow over my head that my sister sees… Here is that song she said reminded her of me:

When it rain it pours but you didn’t even notice
It ain’t rainin’ anymore, it’s hard to breathe when all we know is
The struggle of staying above, the rising water line
Well the sky is finally open, the rain and wind stopped blowin’
But you’re stuck out in the same old storm again
You hold tight to your umbrella, darlin’ I’m just tryin’ to tell ya
That there’s always been a rainbow hangin’ over your head
If you could see what I see, you’d be blinded by the colors
Yellow, red and orange and green, and at least a million others
So tie up your bow, take off your coat and take a look around
‘Cause the sky is finally open, the rain and wind stopped blown’
But you’re stuck out in the same old storm again
You hold tight to your umbrella, darlin’ I’m just tryin’ to tell ya
That there’s always been a rainbow hangin’ over your head….
– Songwriters: Shane L McAnally / Kacey Lee Musgraves / Natalie Hemby

Second Annual Tim Gaige Memorial Event

This year, we will again hold the Tim Gaige memorial sporting event in June at the Potomac Nationals stadium. Thanks so much to everyone who came out last year!  I love that the kids have a fun way to honor and remember Daddy while giving back!

This year’s game will be held at 6:35pm on Saturday June 8th, at G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium 7 County Complex Ct, Woodbridge, Virginia 22192. Potomac Nationals vs. Lynchburg Hillcats – It is Military Appreciation Night, to include Camo Hat giveaway! Fireworks! and Kids Run the Bases!

To read more about why I chose to benefit Together Rising, you can go to last year’s post.

The link to buy tickets is below, $20 each. This year $14 of your ticket will go directly to Together Rising to help people in need. You have to use our specific link for it to go to the fundraiser.

We will sit in the Grandstands on the first baseline. If we sell 100 tickets, we will get to throw out the first pitch! (Like Declan and Lucas did last year!)

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

https://pn1.glitnirticketing.com/pnticket/web/gpcaptchaRC.php?ordersrc_id=200&gpid=284
password is: gaige

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

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

Gaige #partyofFive (one in utero) enjoying a Potomac Nationals game in May 2016

May

May came crashing in. I woke up thinking about the hospital time in a confusing wake up where it wasn’t clear where the dream stopped and the conscious thought began.

In some ways it was refreshing to wake up on my own like that. It’s rare. I usually awake suddenly right in the middle of a sleep cycle by one of my offspring calling for me or busting into my room.

I woke up thinking about the hospital time. And then I remembered it was May. Much like last year, all the thoughts are creeping in as the time of year approaches. As I mentioned in my post last year Pain, my body is readying to relive the trauma.

There is a part of me that wishes I could skip this part. Skip the pain …

Last night I went to the gym. Another rarity. I worked hard. At the end I felt like I was going to vomit. But I felt alive. So I’ll take it.

I remind myself what he wouldn’t give to be alive … To be here with me, with his children whom he adored. To take every chance to learn new things, to experience the world, to watch, to play, even to worry. And I know that even with all this pain, this grief, the struggles, I am so fortunate to be alive.

Last night a picture came up of the four of us (before D was born) standing at a farm in the fall in front of a field of sunflowers. I loved that photo. I think I made it my Facebook profile picture after it was taken. But as I looked at it last night on the screen I thought to myself, I never appreciated how perfect my life was. I don’t want to do that again. I’m not sure I can simply STOP worrying about the worry of the day, but I want to consciously appreciate.

Maybe my life isn’t “perfect” anymore with the love of my life dead, but here’s a thing: I can stop and think about how much he loved me and it still fills me up. It still takes my breath away. What a gift to have been loved like that. What a gift to love like that. Even if it ended tragically. That kind of Love is such a gift. And while the task of raising these three humans may seem monumental most of the time, and while I feel like I’m mostly screwing it up… The task is also a gift I need to fully appreciate.

I can be grateful. I can accept the suckiness. I can demand more. I can demand more of myself, and of life and of the world around me.

I can not skip the pain. Feeling the pain… is what it is to feel alive.

I have so much more to write, but for today, this is enough.

Here we go, May! Here I am. I am alive.

This is 6

After a big exhausting 6th birthday tea-party on Saturday, I fell asleep on the couch watching a movie with the girls.   Just completely exhausted.  That made the girls bedtime a blur… D was up a few times, but my sister got him, so I was able to sleep.  She even got up with him in the morning, so I woke up next to R, with a start. I realized I had to leave immediately or I’d miss my class at the gym, so I jumped up.  I was confused because I had just woken from a dream.

As I was getting ready and working out, it was a dream I couldn’t stop thinking about… Tim was in it.  Those happen less often these days, but I wonder if they will ramp up this April-May-June time automatically like they did last year.  In this dream, I can’t remember hearing his voice, but I remember him leaning against the kitchen counter, larger than life, as always.  I remember that my dear friend, and D’s Godmother was visiting, and he wanted to tell me something privately, so he asked me to follow him to the garage (or somehow communicated this to me, because again, I can’t remember hearing his voice).  This was not strange.  Tim loved my friends, and this friend specifically, but if he wanted to talk to me privately he would.  I assume this is a common marriage thing… in the confusion, I remember hearing R say she wanted me to help her with something, and telling her I’d be right back… I remember Tim was wearing a favorite pair of red-plaid pajama pants and a favorite long sleeve polo that had orange and green stripes and I remember thinking what a strange combo.  And I remember him looking slightly hunched, as though he was in pain. I separated myself and went after him… he had just gone into our garage, closing the door behind him, such an ordinary thing… but when I opened the garage door he was not there.  There was R on the floor of the garage, looking through an old dresser with interest.  She looked up and said, “Mom, great! I need your help…” I glanced up/around the garage looking for Tim.  He was no where to be found.  And then I woke up.  And she was lying in bed next to me.

For a little while after I woke up I was fixated on Tim.  Those fleeting moments of seeing him in a dream, I treasure.  It was a little while before I realized its symbolism.  As though, I could hear him in my heart saying to me, “All the big moments I am not here for, I know are hard on you… all of you.  You wish I could be here, I know.  Come to the garage, I have a message for you.”…  And there she is.  A reminder of 1/3 of the Tim that is still here.

This birthday, every single time she blew out her candle (there were 3) she remarked that her one wish was for her daddy to come back.  Tonight she said she knows that some people have wishes that are a little silly.  She said she knows that her wish is both happy and sad.

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This is 6.