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

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.

 

 

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

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