For better or for worse

Normally, the “until death do us part” is the part of our marriage vows that rings in my head these days.

But today was a strange day.  I mostly took the day off work to take A to doctor appointments.  And mostly it was an awesome day.  There’s just something about getting a lot of one-on-one time with one of our kids.  They are all seriously amazing, awesome humans.  At their current ages,  and considering I work full time, when we are all together there is a lot of vying for my attention, and they can get nasty with each other, or with me, and exhausting, and just generally challenging the way young humans are.  But A is 7 now, and goodness, she’s just a good and interesting human, and we mostly had a great time together (except when I basically had to hold her down for a flu shot, but…)

A few things stand out.  I had an interview with one doc.  Going through my file he asked, “so what happened with her dad ?”… the usual shock: “Wow…. nothing short of tragic…how are YOU doing?… are you seeing someone? Do you have friends?”  You may think some of these sound blunt, but I typically appreciate the blunt comments to the over-cautious, or completely- ignoring-it ones.  But I would be lying if I didn’t admit my eyes filled  with tears a few times during that discussion.

At the next appointment, I got some paperwork I had to update highlighted fields and glance over the rest, all vital PII… down to Marital status: Single.  Choke.   I get it.  I do.  And yet…  Widowed should always be an option.  Single just does.not.cover my status.  That appointment brought us to the 6th level of a building with glass walls and elevators and A kept talking about how if Daddy were here she would not let him near the edge, would tell him not to look down.  Daddy is afraid of heights, yes.   In the present tense.  This discussion with the nurse, who didn’t know.  The anticipation/discomfort I felt for whether she would find out in this conversation (she did not.) The doctor who did know.  the discomfort I felt for her/me/A.  The present tense.  I love that she speaks of him that way.  And yet…

At the end of the day, I had to take the dog to doggie ER.  Hopefully, fortunately, he’s going to be ok.  On the way home with him and 3 prescriptions, I felt myself falling apart at the seams.  The engineer in me tackles. Assesses the situation.  Takes action.  The human in me is secretly always afraid if I take someone I love to the ER, he or she will never come home.  It’s a weird sort of PTSD.  And with a 13 year old dog… is he already living on borrowed time?  I don’t know.  There is the part of me that remembers how much Tim feared dealing with his death – the dog’s death.  The moment for the kids of course, but secretly, I think the thing he feared most was dealing with it himself.  Watching the movie “Marley and me” broke him.

And here is the thing I thought about driving home tonight: Tim, my love, for better or for worse, everything in my life is because of you.  What a strange thing for a feminist to think, to know to be true.  My whole life is inextricably linked to you. This dog that we got together.  This particular dog that you convinced me to adopt, when I was initially turned off by his jumping up on me at the Homeward Trails meet and greet event in Georgetown.  This dog who was our first baby, our first shared love, who stole my heart before our children did.  This dog, these other three humans who made my heart grow and expand and who have all basically defined my life, whether I thought I wanted that or not – for better or for worse.  Everything I do and everything I am is now defined by them.  For better or for worse.  Whether or not it was what I ever thought I wanted.  And I would have it no other way.  I told him that a million times in the 26 days.  And yet. I have to make all the decisions alone now, without him here.  All the decisions for all of them, without the one other person who loved them just as much, who’s life was defined by them as much as mine is.

When I came home, E told me that the kids were asleep.  That the girls had asked if BJ was coming home tonight, or if he would stay forever.  And  for the zillionth time I was reminded:  I’m not the only one with that special brand of PTSD.  I woke them both to tell them I was home.  To tell them BJ was home, and he got medicine and should be OK.  But I remind myself he may be on borrowed time.  And I will need to deliver another message some day.  And the way in which I deliver that message is entirely up to me.

Anyone who has worked with me is likely to tell you that I love to be in charge.  I tend to think I make decisions better than most people.  But there are days when the magnitude of my personal responsibility is crushing.  And all I can do is hope that I continue to make the best decisions possible.

For better or for worse.

Hamilton

A month ago I went to see this at the Kennedy center, with some great friends, and thanks to my friend Jen’s incredible perseverance to get tickets!  Her husband took this shot of us…. now I’m trying to refrain from the “I’m not throwing away my shot” joke…mvimg_20180809_192341I could not have been more excited.  I’d been listening to the music, and its just so great.  Honestly.  It’s story telling at its best.  Lin-Manuel Miranda rivals only J.K. Rowling in my mind with artistry of words.  But lyrics… to music.  Oh my goodness.  Words fail me.  I would recommend seeing it to anyone who has the opportunity.  So what do the lyrics mean to me? Where I am now, in my life…. in my journey of grief and healing?

Of course Hamilton, an American Musical is about American History, which I love, its about politics; it pushes you to think a little differently about both of those things.  But above all, it is a story.  And it is a story about love and loss and healing.  Romantic love, the love of a parent, the love of a country, the love of freedom, and the ideals of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  Loss through death, loss through War, loss through betrayal, embarrassment and disappointment.

I guess all of us are living a life that is a story about love and loss and healing.  Maybe they all take slightly different forms, but these three things are essentially what our stories are all about.

I could go on at length about what so many of the songs meant to me, but I will pick just three, in honor of Angelica’s “three fundamental truths”…

Aaron Burr is “the villain in your history” and this story of course, but his story is also told in a very relate-able way.  He may not have taken very distinctive political stances but his life was full of love and loss… and hopefully some healing…  This was one of my favorite songs, “Wait for it” which he sang:

Death doesn’t discriminate
Between the sinners
And the saints

It takes and it takes and it takes
And we keep living anyway
We rise and we fall
And we break

And we make our mistakes
And if there’s a reason I’m still alive
When everyone who loves me has died
I’m willing to wait for it
I’m willing to wait for it

I am the one thing in life I can control

I hope that I do not spend my life waiting.  But I do need to remind myself sometimes that I am the one thing I can control.  I can’t control anything else, but my own actions, choices, responses, attitude. I also know that not everyone who loves me has died… but  the one who loved me… the one who loved me the most, in a complete 360 degree way, in the way everyone dreams of being loved… he has died, so if there’s a reason that I’m still alive….
OK, I also just have to mention two other songs that I won’t quote… one is “Burn”.. it is so well-done.  The most perfectly eloquent song about response to public betrayal.  Whether or not you can relate personally, it makes you feel so much.  The other is “Non-Stop.” It is a long-ish song.  It tells so much story, and it incorporates almost every other song from the musical together into one song in the most beautiful way, and exhibits how everything comes together.
Also.. the songs King George does are hilarious.  They are so ridiculous… informative and ridiculous… and then when he jumps in with “he’s never gon’ be president now” in the Reynolds Pamphlet… just hilarious.
Later in the play, after the Reynolds Scandal, Alexander and Eliza’s 19 year old son, Philip, dies in a dual.  Unimaginable.  This song could have been called that.  Alternately, it is called “It’s Quiet Uptown”:
There are moments that the words don’t reach
There is suffering too terrible to name
You hold your child as tight as you can
And push away the unimaginable
The moments when you’re in so deep
It feels easier to just swim down
The Hamiltons move uptown
And learn to live with the unimaginable
This.  So very much, this.  Our family’s story was just so very unbelievable… unimaginable.  No one could get their head around it.. suffering too terrible to name.  What else can you do?  But push away?  So often, I have been so deep, when it would have been easier, so much easier, to just swim down.  And yet… I learn to live with the unimaginable.  I learn every day.
You knock me out, I fall apart
Look at where we are
Look at where we started
I know I don’t deserve you, Eliza
But hear me out
That would be enough
If I could spare his life
If I could trade his life for mine
He’d be standing here right now
And you would smile, and that would be enough
This part reminds me in a different way of Tim’s dad.  It’s a different context, for sure.  But how many times I heard him express his desire to trade his life for his son’s.   It is the pain of a parent, that I can imagine, that I have seen with my eyes, but I have not lived.
I don’t pretend to know
The challenges we’re facing
I know there’s no replacing what we’ve lost
And you need time
But I’m not afraid
I know who I married
Isn’t that the truth?  I know who I married.  This time has shown me how very much I know who I married.  For that, I am grateful.
If you see him in the street, walking by her side
Talking by her side, have pity
Eliza, do you like it uptown? It’s quiet uptown
Look around, look around, Eliza
(They are trying to do the unimaginable)
This part reminds me so much of the interesting use of words.  Of their meaning, and of choosing words carefully.  I never liked the word “pity.”  It has such negative connotations in our society.  No one wants to be pitied.  Certainly, I never wanted pity.  Then, a circumstance arose where I could have felt many things… but what I felt was pity.  I didn’t want to say that to the person I pitied though, because it felt mean.  And that’s not what I wanted to convey.  Meanness or ill-will was not what I was feeling.  So I looked up the meaning of “pity” almost for a thesaurus option, and the very definition of the word was exactly how I felt for this other person: the feeling of sorrow and compassion caused by the suffering and misfortunes of others.  And then I realized, that I have no shame for all of the pity others have felt for me.  Why should I?  Should I not be grateful that I have people in my life who are caring enough to have sorrow and compassion for the suffering and misfortune my children and I have endured, and continue to endure for the sudden loss of the love of my life, of their father?
There are moments that the words don’t reach
There is a grace too powerful to name
We push away what we can never understand
We push away the unimaginable
They are standing in the garden
Alexander by Eliza’s side
She takes his hand
It’s quiet uptown
Forgiveness.. Can you imagine?  Forgiveness.  Can you imagine?
Have pity… they are going through the unimaginable.
I resound with these words so much when I think about how others see us.  Everything we have experienced, and do experience, I know is (to others) unimaginable.  And yet, to us, it is life.  It is hard to imagine.
May we all experience the forgiveness.  May we all experience a grace too powerful to name.
And the final song in the play… “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story.”  Isn’t that what it is all about? When I have read about others’ discomfort with the widowed finding love again, that is often how it is explained that others feel… would their spouse “move on” so quickly?  What does their life mean?  Who would keep their flame, who would tell their story?  The thing that maybe only the widowed can really understand, is that we may move forward, but we never move on.

Let me tell you what I wish I’d known
When I was young and dreamed of glory
You have no control, who lives, who dies, who tells your story?…….

But when you’re gone, who remembers your name?
Who keeps your flame, who tells your story? Who tells your story (who tells your story?)

(Eliza) I put myself back in the narrative
I stop wasting time on tears
I live another fifty years, it’s not enough

Wow.  That’s possible.  I could live another 50 years…

I try to make sense of your thousands of pages of writings
You really do write like you’re running out of time (time)

He really did… My Tim.  He ran out of time.

I rely on Angelica
While she’s alive, we tell your story
She is buried in Trinity Church, near you
When I needed her most, she was right on time

Isn’t this the truth? My sister was absolutely right on time, when I needed her most.

And I’m still not through
I ask myself, what would you do if you had more time? (time)

You could have done so much more if you only had time
And when my time is up, have I done enough?

Will they tell our story? (will they tell your story?)
Oh, can I show you what I’m proudest of? (The orphanage)
I established the first private orphanage in New York City
(The orphanage)
I help to raise hundreds of children
I get to see them growing up (the orphanage)

OK, this is something I can’t exactly do but… are there other things that I should be doing?

In their eyes I see you, Alexander
I see you every time

In A, R and D’s eyes, I see Tim.  I see him every time.

And when my time is up, have I done enough?
Will they tell my story? (will they tell your story?)
Oh, I can’t wait to see you again
It’s only a matter of time..

Those last two lines haunt me.  I hear them in my head so often now.  When I miss him the most… I hear them at the gym.  Or when I am driving in my car, alone….. and after all, I guess it is true.

… I can’t wait to see you again.  It’s only a matter of time…

Yes, I am

This evening traffic was terrible.  I was rushing from a meeting to get the girls to take them for their Thursday “play therapy.”  I was so excited when I realized that I’d be able to pick them up at just one place… but I had planned to pick up Cava for dinner and there wasn’t time.  So I dropped A off for her half hour, and instead of waiting with R in the waiting room, rushed over to Cava for food for all 3 of us. R and I ordered, went to the bathroom, glancing at my watch, we were late.  I was telling R to hurry with the lemonade she was getting herself… I look up and a woman ~ my age, probably younger is smiling at me.  I smiled back, but it did seem a bit more familiar than to a random lady rushing her daughter through the  drink area at Cava.  So then she looked me full in the face and said, “are you Tim Gaige’s wife?”

Without thinking, I said “Yes.”  She said she worked with him, and she recognized R from pictures he showed her… that she still had some FB messenger conversations with him that she’s saved.  I introduced her to R, and said “this lady used to work with daddy!”  R beamed… she told her how proud he was of her, and how often he spoke of her, and also that she is such a brave little girl.  This interaction meant a lot to R, I could tell.  She talked about it back in the car.

I reflected.  She didn’t say “were.”  She said “are.”  She didn’t say “widow,” she said “wife.”  Really, none if it was true.  I haven’t been a wife in over a year.  But it was the brightest spot of my day.  For just a moment, to say yes.  To see the look on R’s face.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.  Do not hold back from saying his name.  It was a beautiful thing that happened in Cava today.  Raw, unfiltered, and beautiful.  Another person may not have wanted to speak to me.  For fear of upsetting me/us.  For fear of it being awkward – introducing yourself to a stranger.. and in that way…. They might have stepped back and whispered behind their hand to their someone, “I think that’s my former co-worker’s wife… He died……”

This stranger that I’ve never met, and may never meet again, she was the highlight of my day.

Don’t forget the impact you have on others, friends.  And say his {or her} name.  It feels good to know the impact {t}he{y} made on others besides your immediate family.  We want to hear how you remember.  37 years may have been too short, but he lived every one of them.  It is so wonderful to hear him remembered.  Don’t be afraid you will upset us.   We never forget.

For just that moment today… it felt good to say yes.

Mother’s Day

The village is amazing, and many people reached out to me regarding Mother’s day plans and for this I am so incredibly grateful…

I answered them mostly in much the same way, “I have very complicated feelings about mother’s day.”

And that’s the truth.  I do.  My feelings about mother’s day are very complicated.  Mostly, maybe because they are overwhelmingly negative.  And no one is supposed to feel negatively about mother’s day, right?  Especially not when you are a mother, right?

So at the simplest level there is this: Mother’s day is the day when my husband got sick… and never got better.  And that was last year.

But there’s more.  We spent many mother’s days at the winery where we got married.  In 2015 we had a great day there.  I had a bit too much to drink, and that night, after we got the girls to bed, Tim and I had the worst fight of our marriage, or our friendship, of all the years we’d known each other.  I was very willing to move on from the memory of that low moment.  But Mother’s day 2016, when I was 8 months pregnant, he “had to work” and I took the girls there alone, and met my friends with my pregnant belly for a day at the vineyard.  Last year, even before he got sick, he told me he didn’t want to go…. that he couldn’t go there on Mother’s day and remember the lowest point of our relationship. And I was incredibly moved.  I was a little bitter, that he was making my holiday about his feelings… but I was also moved that that lowest point in our relationship had such an effect on him.

So last year, I didn’t have a lot planned.  Maybe Peterson’s (ice cream) in the afternoon. The girls had swim lessons in the morning.. When he asked me what I wanted for Mother’s day I said…. to sleep in, to get time in the bathroom alone.
I was running low on my perfume. If he could order some more on Amazon that would be great.  Maybe it would be great to get another family photo shoot, since the last was in October when Declan was only 3 months old… but it was probably too late for that… He told me I’d get a Mother’s day do-over.  He was so incredibly sorry for being sick and not helping with the kids at all all weekend.

But I will never get that Mother’d day do-over.  Although honestly, people take a lot of the logistics off my hands. And I have often thought, I’d take all the hard stuff and the exhaustion of the day-to-day, for just one more day with my Tim.  But that is not meant to be.

And I often wonder – was I bitter?  Or did he think I was?  I’d hate for him to have thought that…. there was a text from him that weekend where he thought I was ignoring him and said “I know you’re mad at me but..”  And in telegram there is no response to that… but I know I went up to our bedroom and saw him and said “I’m not mad, hun, I’m just tired, and busy. with the kids.. what do you need?”  It just makes me hope I wasn’t bitter.

And maybe there’e also the what-ifs.   The what-ifs that I try my best to chase away but creep in.  What if it wasn’t mothers day but a regular weekend – maybe then he would have given me more details?  What if not wanting to burden me on Mother’s Day weekend made him hold back details of how he was feeling that would have raised my red flags sooner, or given me critical information to help the doctors make a diagnosis sooner?  What if it being Mother’s day was the problem?

Tonight I went to see the movie Tully with two mom-friends.  And in the end, it made me feel better.  I don’t remember feeling bitter exactly, but if I did, it was no more than the average new mother with a baby who doesn’t sleep through the night.  I loved him.  He knew that.  No matter if I was exhausted that weekend, no matter if we had that terrible fight in 2015.  He knew how much I loved and was dedicated to him, always.  I showed it in life, and I show it now.

Maybe some day I will feel differently about Mother’s day, but for now,  and for my children, I will grin and survive it, just like I do every day.