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

This is Eight

Our girl.

It’s hard to believe she’s already Eight years old.  She made Tim and I parents and changed our lives.  I will never forget the tears of joy Tim cried when he first laid eyes on her.  When he first held her in his arms,  I felt my heart grow so much I thought I might explode.  The limitlessness of love was so obvious to me in that moment.  How much I loved her, how much he loved her, how much I loved him, how much he loved me… I remember thinking I didn’t think I would love Tim more than I did on our wedding, and realizing just how wrong I was.

This year we had a big Harry Potter themed birthday party complete with potion making, Honey Dukes, donating socks to free house elves, a big sorting with a talking sorting hat, pumpkin juice, butter beer, and most importantly: Quidditch!  Where I basically taught a bunch of elementary school students to play beer pong (minus the beer).  She loved it all.  Before the party, she looked around and said to me, “Daddy would have really loved this, Mom!”   Her birthday, and every bit of the work was worth it.  Her birthday, and yet to hear her say that was such a gift to me.  It was true, of course.  He would have loved it!

And how he would have loved to see her love it!  This has been a big year of struggles and self-discovery for A, and she has a long road ahead.  Things don’t come easily for our firstborn, but she has worked so hard, and has conquered so much this year.  My heart explodes with love and pride for her, and I can only hope I can show her how much – not only I love and am proud of her, but how much Tim is as well.

We are ready to face all this year has and will throw at us, together.

This is Eight.

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Another year without your voice

My dearest Tim,

Here it is, May 16th.  How is it even possible that its been two years since I heard your voice? I wrote about this last year in my post Reliving the trauma – a year without your voice, and so tonight I pulled up old videos, to do just that: to hear your voice.  It’s so good to hear it.   But hearing it reminds me how MUCH I miss it.  How much am I allowed to sit in that pain?  How much do I need to let go?  I tell anyone who asks me to let themselves simply feel what they are feeling.  Don’t rush, don’t try to force yourself to feel differently.  But that is advice that its so much harder to give myself.

I miss your voice, I miss your FACE, I miss your LAUGH.  I miss your big, lanky SELF.  I miss the way you (impossibly) tried to make yourself small.  If you had told me this was coming, and asked me what I would miss, all of that is obvious. All of that I could have predicted.  What I would not have known is how much I even miss the things about you that got on my nerves.  There are times now when I find myself seriously missing and longing for the things that drove me crazy in life.  That would surprise you even more than it surprises me!

How is it possible that I’ve had two trips around the sun since I last heard your voice? Since we last talked and joked with each other, and the nurses? Since they told me they would need to intubate soon?  Since you told me you were just so tired, and just wanted to sleep?  I do not know how it is possible, but here we are.

I spent some time thinking of this letter and the things I would want to tell you if I had just a few minutes to tell you things… the very very top is this:  Oh if you could see them, Tim!  The other day I said out loud to someone “my oldest was in Kindergarten when my husband died” and I saw the effect that had on them.. this person who knew I had three children… my OLDEST was in KINDERGARTEN.  I saw it, but it wasn’t something I had thought about before.  I thought about it tonight when I looked at videos with you and the kids. How YOUNG they were in the videos with you.  How evident your love for them is in each one. Goodness, Tim, how they’ve grown!  A has improved her speech, and is playing lacrosse and loving it! She can be a total jerk to her siblings, and as a fellow oldest child, you would have more sympathy and understanding for that than I do.  She is thoughtful, her attention to detail and memory is incredible.  She absolutely LOVES when we have visitors, she gets SO excited when we have guests.  She loves to have anyone and everyone come, and yet she is the one who thrives most on one-on-one attention.  She is the MOST looking forward to your baseball game next month!  R is in kindergarten now!  And the end of the year is approaching.  Two years ago, just before you got sick, A brought home a packet of Patriotic songs, for her June 13th patriotic performance.  All through the time you were in the hospital folks at the house sent me video of her practicing her songs.  Then the performance was two days after you died.  I went faithfully, but when they got to “My Country tis of thee” and Annabelle faltered on the line “land where my father died”… I LOST it.  Now, R is preparing for that same concert.  We shall see how it goes.   R is a goofball.  She is not serious like A.  She has a great sense of humor, just like her Dad.  Also like you, things tend to come easily to her, especially writing and math.  She FEELS BIG like you as well… which can be so beautiful, and can be so challenging!  D just potty-trained!  And he rocked it!  He also has a great sense of humor!   He’s less good about sleep.  But, I think he’s a genius.  I love to watch him play on his own and use his imagination.  You two would have so much fun playing together!  He absolutely LOVED the hockey game, and the basketball game this winter.  I think he will be addicted to sports like you.  And I think he’s going to be a leftie!  But even better, he has a kind soul.

I’d want to tell you about the disappointing things going on in our country and in the world… I’d want to hear your outrage – not because I want you to be upset, but because it always inspired me, and because I’d know there was one more white male in this country who GOT IT.   I’d want to tell you what has happened with me, with my work,  ask your advice, report on friends, with other family.. well, I’d want to tell you everything.  But you probably wouldn’t let me get to it if we were short on time.  All you’d want to hear would be our children. I wish you could see them now!  I like to believe you can.  I wish we could see you!   I guess I do.  I see so much of you in them every day.   No matter what, you live on in us.

All my love, always,

MaryBeth

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.

The second Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Holidays

The Holidays are joyful, magical, especially for children. The holidays can be difficult for adults. They are difficult for many people. They are especially difficult for grieving people, people in crisis, people processing tragedy.

The Holidays – Christmas in particular – are for children and people in love. This year, I am neither of those. But I do have three small children at home for whom I must ensure the magic.

When I was in the Widow’s support group “the Holidays” was a topic on the giant post-it note paper, and I didn’t totally understand it. It was October, so I think I knew intellectually it was staring us all in the face, but I could not yet comprehend it.

The best that can be said for me last Christmas is that I survived it. I think the kids enjoyed it. I went through the motions. I know this for sure because when I unpacked the Christmas ornaments I found a homemade ornament from each kiddo marked 2017, which I would swear I’ve never seen before, and yet I am positive I must have seen last year. On my birthday (two days before Christmas), I drove to the grocery store and fantasized about running away. My kids were with two people I trusted completely. Certainly, running away was the best option. Tim loved Christmas. He was absolutely kid-giddy about it. When we first took the kids to our new home, the first thing he asked them is where we should put the Christmas tree. (It was June). He loved Christmas lights! I know, without a doubt, that if Tim had died on me before we had children, I’d want to take time off and go to some tropical beach, and completely ignore the holiday. But that’s simply not an option at this point of my life. Not when I need to supply the magic of Christmas to our children. To help them see the Holidays through the lens their father would have showed it to them. I feel the pressure to give them the best Christmas possible, for them, because of what they are missing without him here, and because he was the great Christmas lover. So I ask myself “What would Tim do?” and then I do it… And so often that helps.

Today, I listened to an episode of my favorite podcast, Terrible Thanks for Asking, Happy(ish) Holidays III . In it, a man talks about looking forward to a Christmas that he will spend with his family, including 2 teenage sons, through a stage 4 cancer diagnosis, knowing that this is likely to be his last Christmas season.

And it made me think. What if we all thought about how we would want to spend the holidays if we knew it was our last? How would it change your perspective? How would it change how you spent it?

As much as I wish we could have had so many conversations… to prepare… for ME, I am absolutely thrilled for him that he never knew. Had no idea that this was coming. But if he had known…. If he had known that his last Christmas, would be his last Christmas, how would he have wanted to spend it? Like all things with Tim, because of how well I knew him… the answer comes to my mind immediately: exactly the way he did. Everyone said we were crazy. But he didn’t care. And for once, I didn’t care either! We threw caution to the wind, we planned, and we took a 5 year old, 3 year old, and 5 month old to London for Christmas. We took time off. We traveled. We trusted each other. We relied on each other. There were few gifts that year. The gift was the experience. Exactly the way he always wanted. We said that the Christmas gift we gave each other was paying for expensive airport parking to make our lives easier getting in and out of the airport in the US. Santa had small, modest gifts under the tree in London Christmas morning. The kids didn’t seem to notice Mom and Dad didn’t get anything. Most importantly, we spent Christmas together, simply. We played games, pulled Christmas crackers, I cooked dinner, and had some snacks and charcuterie for “lunch.” We enjoyed each other. Just our small immediate family. And we could not have been happier. I don’t tell myself that’s how he would have spent his last Christmas to make myself feel better. I do it because it is simply true. But thinking that today… it did bring a measure of comfort.

So then I thought to myself…. if I knew this Christmas was my last… how would I want to spend it? Again an easy answer. I would want to spend it with my family. However, wherever, that was. Spending it with Tim is not an option. Yet if this was my last Christmas, I’d want to be with my children, and make it special and memorable for them. I would want to see the magic of Christmas that can only be seen in a child’s eyes. I’d want to slow time down, and just BE with my family.

It’s probably not my last Christmas. But I don’t know that. And elements of it could be “the last”… kids grow and change so quickly. My children’s cousins will be here this Christmas again, but one of them is already in College, so I know that family togetherness is fleeting. If I’m lucky, I will grow old. My kids will grow up, and have their own interests, their own people, and they may all chose to spend it with their own families… maybe then I can try that tropical vacation Christmas.

Somehow, there is comfort in knowing the answer to that question. It’s not a question about Tim, and doing what he would want me to do. It’s a question about me – how would I want to spend it if I knew it would be my last?

I know the answer. And that is just what I am going to do.