Year Two

June 11th came.  And I survived it.  I did a round trip drive to Pennsylvania to see my nephew graduate from high school.  I stopped in A’s classroom before I left.  Worth every moment.  I spent the morning at a coffee shop we used to go to together… working on the 26 days post.

I woke up on June 12th and Tim’s car was gone from the driveway.   Someone came into my driveway and took my property.  Tim’s car.  Which as of September 2017, was registered and titled to me care of the Virginia DMV.  So close to my home.  So close to where my three babies were sleeping.   I’m a short female, widow…living alone… with three small children.  Surely, I should have felt “vulnerable” before.  But I just… didn’t.  Maybe that’s foolish, but it’s simply true.  This one act rattled the core of my being.  I missed another day of work, I dealt with so many police, detectives, insurance agents, adjusters, car lot, tow truck drivers, body shop managers… you name it that week.  I got the car back.  Spent more to get it back than it’s worth and should have just let it go and bought a new car… but I will let that car go when I am ready, on my own terms.

Year Two.  People tell me it’s worse than year one.   I actually remember Tim remarking about that once with respect to the overwhelming sympathy/support you receive because people note the “first” of everything… but they have moved on by the second… and you haven’t.  I guess this is true.  It may also be that the cloud of grief has lifted, and you have to feel more, you still have to live the new reality.  There are a hundred reasons people may say that year 2 is harder than the first… but I didn’t want it to be true for me.  Of course not, I never do.  Well, I guess how the year turns out remains to be seen, but it certainly started with a bang!

Year Two for me has been difficult in a unique way as well, that not all widows face in exactly the same way.   For me, as a result of the size of my heart, along with random happenstance and timing.  Hopefully one day I’ll be ready to write about that.

Tim had such a solid and nearly instantaneously good sense of people.  I used to say he was an excellent judge of character, but it was more than that.  It used to drive me crazy how he always turned out to be right about people.  The thing for which I am most grateful is how much we knew each other.  And how much he shaped me.  While we never discussed death and arrangements for us specifically, I knew immediately every step of the journey how to do exactly what he would want.  I worried sometimes (because I am me) how they would be received by others, but I always knew what he would want… and I executed accordingly.  In any difficult situation in the last year, I’ve offered it up to him in my heart and I hear an answer from him nearly immediately.  That fact has a spiritual / other-worldly nature to it that I don’t typically buy into… but it’s simply true.  I hear him in my heart telling me what to do, whenever I ask.  Sometimes, even when I don’t.

In D’s room I have a picture of him and Tim where Tim is looking straight into the camera.  I picked it to put up on a canvas on the wall even though there is one I have in the same position of them looking at each other that I like even more… because I love the idea of D having that in his room… with Tim looking right out at him.  I both love and hate that picture.  It has a Mona Lisa quality of Tim’s piercing eyes.  Tim could pierce you with his eyes like Dumbledore… in life, and most especially in the picture in D’s room, beyond life as well.

There was a saying that I always liked that went “if equal affection can not be, let the more loving one be me.”  (From a W. H. Auden poem.) I have often lived that way.

There was a time, when I put D to bed while Tim was in the hospital… when I bathed or put D to bed right after he died…  when there were many people here with the girls, that I was finally alone with D, and I would just cry.  And I would worry, what am I doing to this poor kid to cover him in my tears all the time?   That hasn’t happened in a long time.  But tonight, I let the girls watch something while I put D to bed, so we were alone reading stories… while he was getting another one I looked up at that picture of Tim.  I let his eyes pierce me.  I let everything he would say to the questions of my heart wash over me.  And I cried.  I felt bad, because D looked at me very confused.  But when I smiled at him, he smiled at me and snuggled in for “one more” story…

What I hear him say is this:  I know you, MaryBeth.  You know me.  Don’t let your emotions cloud your judgment when it really matters.   I can’t be there to envelope you in my love.  I can’t be there to adore you.  Surround yourself with people who adore you.  People who adore you, but will also call you on your BS… 

So this is what I must do.  This is what I will focus on doing in year two, and I will see where it takes me.

“Love is not a victory march, it’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah” – Leonard Cohen

June 11th is coming.

June 11th is coming. Like a storm brewing in the distance that you are powerless to stop.  Just like the freight train that May 16th was… So too is June 11th. I woke up and knew it was Monday.  It’s a week from today.  A week from today, it will be a year from that morning that I had to walk out of the hospital without him, for the last time.

And I remember standing at his bedside, singing to him, and telling him it was ok to “let go,” it was ok to “sleep well” and telling him I wouldn’t make a big deal of the date. Promising. Because he thought recognizing deathaversaries was ridiculous. He teased me about my “obsession with dates.”

But that was before I was widowed at 36.  That was before my love, the man I gave my heart, who I had babies and plans and dreams with, died in my arms.  That was before I was in the hot young widows club and was familiar with the word “deathaversary.” I think of how he responded when my friend died.  How he felt for her husband.  And I think he would forgive me.

But I think I can honor him by not making a big deal of June 11th with the kids.   We have the baseball game coming up next Saturday, followed by Father’s day.  Where we will honor him, we will celebrate and remember, like we did for his birthday.  But I think the idea of them noting his deathaversary he would have really disliked.  I decided to take the day off work.  I could plow ahead, and work that day.  I worked May 16th and 17th… I’m sure I could do it…but when I considered taking December 11th off for The half year mark, and didn’t go with that… I ended up with R in the ER the night before and taking off anyway.  So I took the day off.  And we’ll see how that goes.  But I am not telling the kids I took off, because I don’t know how I’m going to be.  And if they learn that I didn’t go to work, I am definitely not going to tell them why.

I worry about them all, constantly. This time last year top priority went with A, when her interest in what was happening was heightened… That it wasn’t just a party with friends showing up at the house all the time… But something was really wrong. And why could everyone else go to the hospital to see daddy and she couldn’t… Right now she’s the one I’m worried about most too. Will she know or find out what Monday is even if I don’t tell her? Last night she did something that upset me for the first time. At a girl scouts end of year pool party we had pizza, then she asked for a cookie AND a brownie. I was fine with it so long as there was still enough for everyone. Maybe another parent had said one or the other (my standards have dropped in the last year) because a friend said to A “no fair.” And I heard her say “don’t you know what happened to my dad?!” I was shocked and I let her know. Only one other parent heard it and it was a brownie’s mom so I’m not sure if she knows… I went over and told A that what happened to her dad is incredibly sad but it does not mean she gets extra desert. They are completely unrelated. Goodness, sometimes I have no idea how to do this.  We had another sad, sweeter moment over the weekend where I chose to sit down and look through her selfies with Dad book with her. I hope it helped. Without completely understanding the calendar, I can’t help wondering if she feels what this time of year brings.

June 11th will come.  I can’t help that I know what day it is.  But I think I can honor him by not telling them.  But I also remember that these tiny humans I look at every day aren’t only half-Tim.  They are also half-me.  So I have to hope they forgive me for not telling them what day it is.  Some day, they won’t be able to help knowing, and they can chose to do as they want with that information.  But for now, I will keep it to myself.  And we’ll see how this goes.

“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)

Flooded with memories

May 17, 2017

I have a voicemail from the hospital at 2:04 am on May 17, 2017.  I’ve never been able to delete it.   My phone is always on silent when I sleep.  I came home from the hospital exhausted on the night of the 16th… sent my neighbor home, sent Tim a telegram message I knew he wouldn’t get since I had his phone, and crashed.  At 2:30am, D woke me to nurse, I grabbed my phone and saw I had a message.  Crap!  I listened to it while I nursed and felt like I heard the judgment in the nurse’s voice… um, we need you to call back… um, we need your authorization… um, your husband is declining fast, why aren’t you here or answering your phone? Maybe that wasn’t there and its all in my head, but its what I hear.

I took D downstairs to call back without waking the girls.  I paced the playroom.  I talked to a nurse and then a nephrologist.  Tim’s kidneys were shutting down.  He needed to go on dialysis.  A machine needed to act for his kidneys.  I needed to verbally authorize the dialysis.  I’m pretty sure I only really knew what dialysis was because I had recently watched a John Oliver episode on it.  (Yup, I just quick googled that episode: Published on May 14, 2017.)  I asked if I needed to come back…. was it ok if I came in the morning when I got the kids to school? They said that was ok.

I felt so much conviction to TRY to keep things as normal as possible for the kids.  I would get A on the bus, and R and D to school…then instead of going to work I’d go to the hospital.  We’d see what the day held.  Maybe someone else could get Annabelle off the bus.  Maybe someone else could pick up the other two from daycare…

I fell back to sleep around 2:45 and turned up the volume.  At 4am my phone rang again and I jumped up like my bed was on fire.  It was my friend Anne. She happened to be in MA, and the night before when I texted friends and family, she had offered to come and I said yes.  Now it reminds me of the first week of freshman year of college when her mother offered to come get me from the dorms when I had mono… and I said yes.

I got up early and showered.  I was so tired.  But mostly, I was so scared.  While blow drying my hair I texted people.  My friend Jen who had put my kids to bed the night before offered to take the day off work and meet me at the hospital.  My friend Christine works at the hospital, but she was off that Wednesday.  I didn’t want to inconvenience Jen, but she seemed to want to do it, so I said yes.

On the drive to the hospital, a drive that would become like the back of my hand in the coming weeks, I sat at a light and texted Anne and my two other best friends from college and said at least Anne would have good weather for the drive.  Shruti who was in Austin where it was raining, asked if I was being sarcastic, so I sent them this photo:

IMG_20170517_083635.jpg

When I got to the hospital, I found my way to Tim’s room in the regular ICU area. It was around 9am.  I didn’t recognize anyone so I introduced myself.  They said they’d started dialysis at 6am, and they would be taking him out for a test soon, and I would need to talk to the new attending when he was available.  It seemed like there was going to be time, so I picked up my pump bag, “ok, I’ll go find a place to pump, and then he’ll be back?”  All of the sudden, there were a million medical professionals in his room.  The new attending doctor was very talkative.  He said a million words.   Then the cardio-thoracic surgeon showed up and everyone made it clear I had to pay attention to him. He told me they had to put Tim on ECMO.  (I had no idea what that was.)  He said it would be a surgery and it would be putting him on a machine that would bypass his heart and lungs.   He would be moved to the other side of the hospital for the surgery, and after he would return to the Cardiovascular ICU (ie the “CV ICU” or  my”home” for the next 26 days.) He told me that there was a 10% mortality rate in just going on the machine, but basically without it he’d be dead in a couple days for sure.  OMG, where do I sign?  10%?  Thats nothing.  When can the surgery start?  After I signed the paper, the surgeon went away and the attending was talking to me again about drugs, treatments, tests they wanted, all the things they didn’t know, all the blood and blood products Tim needed…. I was at the foot of Tim’s bed, under a lot of lights, holding my pumping bag, and a ton of interns were standing there,  along with nurses buzzing around… so many people and many of them were staring at me… and it was the first time in my life I thought that information was going to make me pass out.  I swayed.  I grabbed Tim’s bed.  I asked if I could sit down.

One nurse really jumped into action.  Most of the nurses seemed sort of exasperated with the attending for saying so much to me.  The attending told me they all knew about us, about my family… that they all had families… then he nodded towards the interns and said “well not them, they are too young!”  They all looked at me with so much compassion. It made me fell a little stupid?… uneducated?.. slow? I am used to people looking at me like that now.  But I wasn’t on May 17, 2017.  No one had ever looked at me the way that everyone in that room was looking at me.

I went to pump, and a nurse gave me a piece of paper and pen and I wrote down everything I could remember from that conversation. One nurse practitioner kept asking me who was coming… telling me I needed people here… telling me people needed to come.  I kept saying “My friend is here… she’s just downstairs getting us coffee, its fine.”  She was so incessant, that people needed to come… and what could she do for me?  And it occurred to me “How do I tell his parents?” So I wrote down their numbers and asked her to call them.  I had texted them both the night before.  I texted them to say to expect the NP’s call… I don’t know what she said to them, but I’m not sure that did anyone any favors based on the state they were in when they called me.  They were getting on airplanes.

Jen and I followed Tim’s bed to the elevator and down to the basement of the hospital and way across the hospital until they took him into the OR and I couldn’t follow anymore.  It was a long journey, a lot of people had to push his bed and all his machines, make sure his huge feet didn’t hit anything. Jen was helping me be sure me and my million big bags didn’t cause any issues.

There was a ton of waiting.  We waited for hours.  It was awful.  But then all sorts of people started showing up. I can’t even remember all who arrived that day but it was a lot.  Anne arrived later after he was out of surgery.  She ended up sleeping at the hospital that night after I left to go home and get the kids to bed and get some sleep. His best friend and his wife came up from Fredricksburg.  My sister and her husband and 2 teenage children.  My sister-in-law.  My mother-in-law and father-in-law.  Friends.  I remember when the doctor came out to tell me about how the surgery went. Someone had just made me laugh.  I jumped up to go talk to the Dr.  He looked so serious.  I felt judged for my laughter.  My friend  Christine, who works there, followed me and stood there basically holding me up and rubbing my back. He told me they were providing way above the normal standard of care.  Those words “standard of care” were said a million times and I just didn’t understand.  It felt like medical speak that they understand.  There are words in my industry like that. And acronyms.  That other people don’t understand.  I recognized this as that.  But I WANTED to understand.  I asked Christine.  And she couldn’t really translate it for me.  Much later, I would understand.  At the moment, I said “are they saying I’m going to have to make a decision to have them stop?”  and she said no.

After that it gets blurry.  Eventually I got home and my sister told me to go to bed.  My sister and her husband and kids were downstairs.  My 3 were asleep.  I knew I needed to sleep because D would be up to nurse at some point… but when I laid down… unlike the night before.. I could not sleep. I could not even sit still.  I was freaking out.  I ran downstairs and asked my sister if I could take some sort of tranquilizer.  She looked concerned. She didn’t let me take anything, but she came up and got in bed with me.  Warmed a heat/rice thing and put it on my chest.  And I did get to sleep….

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May 17, 2018

This morning I was going to a conference in Arlington.  I turned on Waze and started driving… and it took me the exact way I went to the hospital last year…

Then, I drove through Arlington on the way in and out…  Arlington, where Tim and I had lived as friends, boyfriend/girlfriend, fiances, husband and wife, and parents for 10 years…. the memories were on every corner. I  drove by his Ballston apartment, the restaurants where we went on dates in our 20s before going on dates was a big deal, the house where two of his best friends lived and we spent New Years Eve, barbeques and random drinking game nights.  I drove right by the rose garden where we did Annabelle’s 6 month photos, the park where we had Rose’s 2nd birthday, 7 corners and all the stores we went to a million times… the memories almost drowned me like today’s rain.  They are all good memories.  I am so blessed to have so many good memories.  I know that.  But goodness, today, they hurt.

Tonight I had a gym class scheduled… as I was parking, the James Arthur song came on.  The one I sang to him nearly every day in the hospital… until I could no longer ask him to “say you won’t let go.”  The song that now makes me cry every single time I hear it.  Immediately after that I heard the new Shawn Mendez song :In my blood:

 

I’m looking through my phone again, feeling anxious
Afraid to be alone again, I hate this
I’m trying to find a way to chill, can’t breathe, oh
Is there somebody who could
Help me, it’s like the walls are caving in
Sometimes I feel like giving up
No medicine is strong enough
Someone help me
I’m crawling in my skin
Sometimes I feel like giving up
But I just can’t
It isn’t in my blood
It isn’t in my blood

So the memories hit hard today.  Big memories.  I just wanted to write some of it down.

It’s absolutely true that sometimes I feel like giving up.

But its also true, that it isn’t in my blood.

Photograph in Music (Alternate title: I’m not Dead)

I am falling behind.  I have a hundred blog posts in my head and half started, but this one was longing to be written.

This weekend I officially joined a fitness place, and went to a class Saturday morning.  I like it because the music is good and motivating and they tell you what to do constantly so you don’t have to think.  During the floor exercises, when I was lifting weights I saw myself in the mirror, and somehow in the combination of music, adrenaline, and tingling of my soft muscles that had gone unused basically since November, I looked myself right in the eye and thought, “You are not dead.”  “I’m not dead.”

I felt like a piece of me, half of me, sometimes more, died last June.  In my post 6 months, an open letter to my love, I mention that sometimes I feel Tim would be disappointed in me.  I don’t think he’d be disappointed in me when I do what I have to do to heal, or to survive, when I allow the kids more screen time than I ever would have “before,” but I think he’d be disappointed in me when I do more of the holding on, the feeling sorry for myself, the wallowing.

Tim had a complicated relationship with death.  I believe now it was mostly a result of not ever experiencing it up really close.  I think he was mostly afraid of it.  Having experienced it up really close, as close as it gets, I can say there is a beauty in the sadness.  This is something I’ve heard from other widows too.  Living up close to death seems to be the only thing that can truly rid us of our fear of it.

But it is a challenge to always look at the positive, look for the good, find the silver lining.  When I hold on too much, is when I think Tim would be disappointed.  When I do things for other people, or for appearances.  He always hated that.  He’d tell me if he could to keep living.  He’d tell me that I don’t have to wait a certain amount of time for anything; that there is no formula; that weeks, months, years from now, he will still be dead.  He’d tell me: Don’t miss out on anything today because you are simply missing me and feeling sorry for yourself.

I can both love Tim, and be alive.  I can stretch, strain, and push all my muscles.  I am reminded of this in music.  And I felt like it was a nudge from Tim that gave me that thought.  It may seem overwhelming how much life I have left without him.  But I have it.  I have to accept that.  I am not dead.  And there is great beauty in that if I can find it.  And live it.

My sister-in-law asked me after Tim died if I hear every song differently now, and I really do.  Every love song has a different kind of meaning by me ears.   All of them.

I really love Ed Sheeran’s song Photograph, and when I heard it the first time after Tim died, I heard it with new ears, and it resounded with me in many ways.

Loving can hurt, loving can hurt sometimes
But it’s the only thing that I know
When it gets hard, you know it can get hard sometimes
It is the only thing that makes us feel alive
We keep this love in a photograph
We made these memories for ourselves
Where our eyes are never closing
Hearts are never broken
And time’s forever frozen still
So you can keep me
Inside the pocket of your ripped jeans
Holding me closer ’til our eyes meet
You won’t ever be alone, wait for me to come home
Loving can heal, loving can mend your soul
And it’s the only thing that I know, know
I swear it will get easier,
Remember that with every piece of you
Hm, and it’s the only thing we take with us when we die….
~ Ed Sheeran, Photograph
If love is the only currency we take with us when we die, then Tim died an incredibly rich man.  He lived big, and loved big and openly, and people loved him back.  So many of us loved him.  He loved life.  And life loved him.  He took so much love with him when he died.
I can only try to live my life so that I can be as rich on the day I die.

The hospital time… “Love is watching someone die”

I spent every single day from May 17th through June 10-11th at Fairfax Inova hospital.  25 long, full days, in the cardiovascular ICU.

For the most part, I am glad that most people did not see him then.  He would not want anyone to see him like that.  While he wouldn’t have wanted me to see him that way either, I know he wanted me there. He made that clear in our last moments talking together.  And I also know, because I would have wanted him there for me. When I was in the hospital for all three deliveries, I insisted on him staying there with me throughout… even when we had another child or children at home for whom we needed to get childcare.

So my goal is to spend some time writing about our hospital time.  Using my trusty notebook that I scribbled away in every day while I was there.  It was 25 days.  It was a lifetime, and it was also the blink of an eye. I’m hoping I can do the time justice for the kids to read about later.  More to come… these may come in time, interspersed with some updates on the now.

This Deathcab for Cutie song was brought to my attention by an online widow’s group.  It’s very powerful to me.   Very close to home.  I pretty much lived it.

“What Sarah Said”
And it came to me then that every plan is a tiny prayer to father time
As I stared at my shoes in the ICU that reeked of piss and 409
And I rationed my breaths as I said to myself that I’d already taken too much today
As each descending peak on the LCD took you a little farther away from me
Away from me

Amongst the vending machines and year-old magazines in a place where we only say goodbye
It stung like a violent wind that our memories depend on a faulty camera in our minds
But I knew that you were a truth I would rather lose than to have never lain beside at all
And I looked around at all the eyes on the ground as the TV entertained itself

‘Cause there’s no comfort in the waiting room
Just nervous pacers bracing for bad news
And then the nurse comes round and everyone will lift their heads
But I’m thinking of what Sarah said that “Love is watching someone die”

So who’s going to watch you die?..