Three years

I remember so vividly three years ago today.  There are times when I could not tell you what I had for lunch yesterday, but those last moments in the hospital are crystal clear.  I mentioned in June 11th is coming. that right there at the end I sang to him our wedding song, and I told him, “I will not make a big deal of this date.”  I knew he would hate that.  And I’ve tried to maintain that… plan the memorial sporting event around this time of year / father’s day, plus “celebrate” father’s day.  And I managed again this year to not tell the kids what today was… I didn’t think I would get away with it this year, because A mentioned it the other day, “isn’t June 11th the day daddy died?”  But she did not mention it today, and I did not bring it  up.  I told them there was a special end-of-the-school-year treat coming.  And it did – we had an ice cream truck come to our cul de sac!  They loved it!

Tim and I once took part in an “ice cream Thursday” tradition at work, and today being the ultimate “ice cream Thursday” brought me some joy.   It also brought the opportunity to celebrate the end of this difficult school year, with three months of the kids at home, all of us at home, staying safe from the corona virus.   We were delighted to have other neighbors come down for the ice cream truck, including R’s  first grade teacher!

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But I can not help that this day hits me hard.  As much as I want it to be just any other day.  The date is everywhere.   I wrote the date on a million forms and papers, had it engraved several places.  The date is engraved in my heart.  And try as I might to not make a big deal of the date, it ends up making a big deal to me.  So many memories flood in.  The whole day feels heavy.  Tim loved me so much for who I am, I am sure he would forgive me for this.  This guy here, his son.   This week I mentioned daddy while we were in his hammock together, and D turned to me and said very seriously, very matter-of-factly “Mama, my daddy  – he is always dead.”  It surprised me as he has never said this before.  But it is also simply true, however much I hate that this is his reality.

I am sad that due to the corona virus, we will not be able to celebrate with friends and family at the memorial sporting event this year.  But I am hopeful that we will be able to do that next year.  This time in history that we are in right now also feels very heavy: emerging into summer, and a phased re-entry into a “new normal,” and trying to imagine what comes next.

I so hope that this time brings transformational social change that we desperately need, change that makes it a better, kinder, safer world for every single citizen on earth.   I know that is what Tim would want for the world his children live in.

Three years, and so much has changed.  We have all changed – me, and each of the kids.  The world around us is changing fast.  I hope we continue to change with it.  I have no doubt that Tim’s light, life, and spark will be in our hearts always.  Always.

“You have stolen my heart
And from the ballroom floor we are a celebration
One good stretch before our hibernation
Our dreams assured and we are, we’ll sleep well… sleep well… sleep well… sleep well”
~ Dashboard Confessional “Stolen” (Our wedding song)

Saying Goodbye to Dad

It was a difficult decision in this environment, and a risk, I know, but I decided to leave the kiddos for several hours today and head up to PA  for my dad’s < 10 person funeral mass. 

The absolute saddest part of dad’s passing was the timing.  Dad had been ready for a long time.  Before Tim died, I spoke to him about how much I wish that across the country we had Death with Dignity options.  Imagine if Dad could have made his own choice?  He would have made it years ago, and gone to rest peacefully, surrounded by the support of his family.  My heart breaks to think of the sadness and the confusion of this time.  I can only imagine this is the case for many other patients in care facilities across the country, who can not understand why their family members are not able to visit.  Death is always sad for those of us left behind.  It is a heavy weight to carry.  But I like to imagine a world where the suffering can find their way home in peace, in a manner and time of their choosing.  

I am glad that I was able to go today.  I wrote and gave the Eulogy, which I will share here.  I may have broken my own connection to the Catholic Church in 2016, but I can not deny that Father Ed did a beautiful job with Dad’s mass.  He had met dad, and he read carefully the background on Dad that my sister-in-law, Gaby, provided.  He incorporated those thoughts beautifully and connected them to both readings and the gospel in his homily.  My sister, Jean, and my Aunt Kathleen did a beautiful job with the readings, my Aunt Dolly with the prayer of the faithful and the Church staff who joined for the piano and singing did a gorgeous job.  The pianist went so far as to add a few chords of ‘Somewhere over the rainbow’ at the end after hearing the end of the Eulogy.   And my mom, who I hate to welcome to widowhood, was her strong, beautiful, elegant self.  

Here are the words I shared today with the small crowd allowed for the funeral mass.  Mom hopes to have a burial that more can attend in the future.  

Good morning.

(Here I ad libbed that before I started I wanted to mention that my immediate family had joined a video chat the previous evening to wish my 18 year old niece a happy birthday and we had agreed… as weird as this funeral mass is for all of us here  – the size, only a few immediate family members –  it would have been right up dad’s alley).

We, here in this room today, and others that could not be with us, we are Dad’s legacy. Most significantly, Mom, Joe, Jean, and I (and our spouses and children) are dad’s greatest legacy.  Even though he couldn’t always show it the way we might have liked for him to, it has always been clear to me just how much Dad loves each and every one of us.

At my first job after college when someone would accept a new position and be moving on to the next adventure, we would celebrate (sometimes roast) them with a top 10 list, Letterman style. At my husband’s Celebration of Life, we developed a collection of things that “we learned from Tim” particularly for our children to have for years to come.

So today for this small group of us gathered here, I will share the top 10 things that I learned from Dad, whether directly or indirectly…

  1. The value of family, resilience and perseverance.  I know how much it meant to Dad that he and Mom got to fulfill a longtime dream of visiting Ireland together, where they met some of dad’s cousins and saw where his mom was born.
  2. The value of education. Dad always made it clear how important he found education of all kinds.  The love of a good book! And a library! Dad was a lifelong learner. And it’s not surprising then that my sister, Jean, is an educator.  
  3. The value of hard work – whether this be at school, work, around the house or in the yard, where my brother, Joe’s nickname for Dad – “Johnny Flamethrower” – came.  Dad’s favorite tools may have been his lawnmower, leaf blower, and subsequently lighter – to light the leaves on fire… eventually only on the county-approved days.  
  4. The value of understanding and appreciating cultural differences.  This was something I think Dad struggled with personally all his life.  He made a point to talk to me about gender and racial equality in particular, as well as the damage of prejudice, and every year he looked forward to signing right up for the Church and Synagogue interfaith community sessions.
  5. In a similar vein, Dad taught me the value of a good debate, of challenging the status quo, of pushing yourself to think differently then you’ve been taught to think.  
  6. Dad taught me that it may never be too late to reinvent yourself.  This was something Dad did over and over.  Brother, son, friend, soldier, Stone Container worker, husband, Philadelphia Police officer, father, Wharton School Business student, Blacksmith/farrier, rubber stall mat installer, woodworker, chef, grandfather, student of history and law.
  7. Dad taught me the importance of mental health. Mostly, that mental health and challenges with it are very real.  I learned through him the damage of secrecy, and with it the value of transparency, openness and speaking the truth.  
  8. Dad taught me that It’s never too late to bury the hatchet… When Dad’s brother Hugh was sick, I went to visit him at his home and he told me and Tim about Dad coming to visit him in the hospital.  They had not spoken for many years. Uncle Hugh looked me in the eye and said “if roles were reversed, MaryBeth, I don’t know if I would have done it…. He was the bigger man.”  Nothing in all the years of my life could have prepared me to hear those words. I was shocked, but I was also incredibly touched, and those words have stayed with me.  
  9. Dad shared with me words he often recalled from his sister, Patsy… Regarding burial for GrandPop Saunders, and whether it be with Grandmom Saunders, or in a plot where in the future Grandmom Mary could be buried with him, Dad said Aunt Patsy told him, “Johnny, let us appease the living, rather than the dead.”  Dad and I spoke of that many times and it stuck with me.  Based on the life I’ve lived, those words have been incredibly important to me.  
  10. For many years, on the second Sunday of December, my family would go cut down a Christmas tree.  Whenever we would do this, Joe, Jean, and I would wait to hear the words Dad always spoke “Just remember, the farther you walk out, the farther you need to walk back.”  We laughed about it a lot, but it’s a valuable lesson in life.   

When I was young, Dad and I enjoyed watching The Wizard of Oz together, and he made me memorize “Somewhere over the Rainbow”.  He’d even record me singing it on a little black tape recorder.  

I hope you are somewhere over the rainbow, Dad. I know a couple people who will be happy to show you around. May you be at peace. May you be at home. There’s no place like home.

 

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

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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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:

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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

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