New Year’s Resolution

Like all people, I am lousy at keeping them.

I will vow to write more, but I am unlikely to follow through.

“Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?”

Eliza.  I do.  Just today I told someone who never knew him about how much he hated when people put their windshield wipers up on their car in preparation of a snow storm.  Only a few hours later, a friend of his reached out to me to share a post about someone not understanding that practice – and how it will always remind her of Tim.   (Because it snowed today.)  Yes.  That.  He hated that.  And he hated pie charts.

I will tell his story.

But my 2020 resolution is simply this: I resolve to fell less guilt.

Guilt runs in my veins. Catholic.  Female.  Not-quite-millennial.  Whatever it is, I feel all the guilt.  Like most mothers, I am sure, but extra as an only parent.

I resolve to remind myself that anything I do to take care of myself and be more physically and mentally healthy – is as a byproduct healthy for my children, and I do not need to feel guilty about it.

If someone – even if it is my children – look and say, Damn, she’s selfish…. This is not a thing I need to worry about.  If I reach that point – I will have arrived.  I have resolved.

 

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:

IMG_20130502_093404

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

Secondary trauma

I have many draft blog posts that I haven’t completed… But this one has to make way.

What I experienced on January 31st through now is not really secondary loss or secondary traumatic stress … But it’s hard to describe what it is…

It was the first major trauma in my life since Tim’s.

You may read this and say… it’s a broken bone… its not comparable to cancer and death after 26 days in the ICU. And yes, that is true. However, for me… living it… there was so much “again.”

It started out like a regular Thursday. A and R have play therapy for grief on Thursdays, so I always pick them up from school and take them. I got to school, and headed into their aftercare and chatted with teachers, while they took their usual forever to get backpacks, jackets, projects, water bottles, etc… when we got to the car, I glanced at my phone while they were buckling up. I had a message from my au pair that she and D were at Target, he fell down and he tells her his leg hurts so she is taking him home… he was pushing the cart and he jumped up on it and half fell on his leg, thank God she held the other part… I really didn’t know how to interpret this so I responded with a crying emoji! Like the kind with the big tears! And then the girls call out her name! And there she is next to my car. So I jump out. (The school is on the way home from the Target.) And she says he is still crying. So I run over to that car. I look in his eyes, and I know right away something is wrong. He’s not really hysterical but he’s crying, nose running, and he touches his thigh and says “my leg hurts, Mama!” But it was his eyes. His eyes told me something was very wrong. I said “OK! Let’s switch – let me grab my bag, take the girls to Ms Paige’s, and I’ll take D to the Doctor. I ran to my car. The girls started crying, that they wanted to be with me. I said no, firmly, D needs me right now. The car next to us was complaining they couldn’t get out, because the car D was in (Tim’s car) was blocking them in, so E moved it while I got my bag and then we switched, and D and I were off. I actually considered going to the pediatrician, but I knew they’d be closing as it was 5:00 pm.

So I took him to the closest ER. The off-shoot ER near us. The place where I took his father on May 16, 2017. I walked him in as quickly and safely as I could. Everyone was calm. They don’t say this to you, but both times I felt like they thought I was overreacting. First, with a perfectly healthy looking 6’4″ tall, 37-year-old man, while I did all the talking, then, less than 2 years later holding my 2.5 year old son. I had been to this ER with R. And I had been there myself when I had severe dehydration, with step throat and a stomach bug when pregnant with D. But those times, I drove us home.

As they took D back for his x-ray, I passed the ambulance bay and I realized for the first time – this is where they took him to load onto the ambulance after I left with A, to pick up R and D. They had told me they didn’t think D’s leg was broken but they would x-ray it just in case. I was confused at the confidence. Why? Just because he wasn’t screaming bloody murder? He wouldn’t put any weight on it, he certainly wouldn’t walk (or even stand on his own) when the Dr. made me make him try to walk. So off we went to xray together, me holding his hand. He was not excited to move into all different angles for the x-ray but he handled it pretty well, truthfully. And then we walked slowly back to his little room, past the ambulance bay again.

When the Doctor (who told me she didn’t think it was broken) returned she said “so you heard the news?” to which I said, well I OVERheard you guys ordering “transport” so….” And she confirmed it was broken and that he’d be getting some stronger pain meds. (Went from tylenol to morphine!!)

As I should know well by now there is a lot of hurry up and waiting in medical situations. No matter how much I might will things to go faster. He started to doze with the morphine though so I could text and get things in motion, let people know what was going on. My amazing OT friend who works at the hospital that the ambulance would soon be taking us to showed up, then once transport arrived, left with my keys to get another friend so they could move my car (Tim’s car to be honest) to the hospital.

I was there. I was 100% with my boy then as they moved him to the stretcher and started to wheel him to the ambulance bay…. he looked so small. Too small to be broken. And then we were in the ambulance. He was cheerful (maybe it was the morphine).. he called the ambulance the white bus. Every day he watches his sisters get on the school bus and he wants on that yellow bus so badly. Here he was, getting his own special bus ride. (Spoiler alert – the school bus is way cheaper!)

And then we were driving in the ambulance and I was holding his hand. Talking to him… looking into those baby blues. His father’s blue eyes… and all I could think was how I should have been in that ambulance with Tim. I had never thought that thought before. I did what I had to do. I simply executed. I wasn’t a hysterical mess. I calmly got Annabelle out and got the other 2, and got all 3 home for dinner with my friend who showed up to help… then I drove to the hospital in my car, met him in his room. I did not let myself feel, cry or worry; I executed. It’s one of my greatest strengths. A cool head in crisis. It’s something Tim loved about me. I never doubted that he would have wanted it any other way. Always – the kids first. But there I was in that ambulance with my son, holding his hand, looking into those blue eyes, making that exact same drive that Tim’s ambulance had made, the last time Tim was ever outside. I thought about what we might have talked about. Certainly not anything intimate in front of the paramedic, but just the idea of one more conversation with him, the missed opportunity. My eyes filled with tears. Then I scolded myself. D. He is here now, he is the one who needs you. Look at this tiny little person on this stretcher. You are what he has in the world, you make all decisions for his well-being, you CAN NOT FALL APART.

And so I didn’t. I did not fall apart. However much I may have wanted to… I told the paramedic his father also broke his leg at 2 years old (a fact I knew but confirmed with Tim’s parents while I was waiting)… but I didn’t tell the paramedic that this little boy’s father was now dead. Sometimes, I just can’t… My two amazing friends showed up at the hospital ER and when they hugged me… how I wanted to fall apart. When my in-laws called me (when I was in that Emergency room with D and my two friends waiting for Dr.’s and trying to entertain him with television) and they told me my father-in-law (who happened to be arriving the next day for a scheduled trip) could stay as long as I needed help, I teared up, but I did not fall apart. When I was told we had to wait for the morning for an OR and I didn’t even let the Orthopedic guy in scrubs finish talking before I handed D some water (which he had desperately wanted but I could not give him in case they could take him into the OR that night.) I simply executed what was best for my boy. When my friends left and we were transported to a children’s room for the night… when I “slept” the worst night I think I’ve ever had in bed beside him, where he would doze, then wake himself with a start and burst into tears… I held him, and soothed him, and I did not fall apart in the darkness. When they finally got him in the OR the next day and for the first time, I was alone… alone with the exact same color-coded paper in my hands they had given me when they sent Tim into surgery to get the ECMO set on May 17, 2017. And I sat in that waiting room alone… alone where I should have been waiting with my husband for our son with the broken femur to get out of the OR. I did not fall apart. When one of my friends’ friend who is a Pediatric surgeon in that hospital came to see me in the morning, filled with so much kindness, intelligence, knowledge and compassion, I teared up, but I did not fall apart. When a good friend showed up with her son (a friend of A’s) and Dunkin donuts coffee and a wake up wrap, I teared up, but I did not fall apart. I executed. When I saw the full extent of the Spica cast he was in, when I had the thought “my baby is broken,” when the OT explained to me diapering, clothing, getting in and out of the car seat, no baths, no putting any pressure on his leg, that the pain reliever they had for him was a narcotic, that it could cause constipation, that he would need 24×7 care in this cast…. any of these things that made me want to burst into tears… I did not. I listened, and I did. I did whatever needed to be done for my boy. Because that’s what I do. Because its what widows with small children do. We do what must be done, even when reliving the trauma feels like more than we can possibly bear.

These past 6 weeks… there was darkness. There were many difficult nights. There were times when the light at the end of the tunnel was too dim to see.

Someone asked me yesterday at an impromptu St. Patrick’s day and “cast off” party “So what’s your secret? How did you survive?”

I said “I don’t have one… well, I had a lot of help. I guess that’s it ” – and I proceeded to describe the help I had – people flying in from LA and Chicago and New York, family and friends driving long distances to come and help, my au pair, local friends supporting us.. and on and on.

And that is the truth. That is how I survived the logistics of this situation that felt impossible to survive. I had so much help. From people I can probably never repay. And my heart explodes with gratitude just thinking about it.

But here’s my secret.. in so many ways, the logistics were not the hardest part. That is a fact that maybe unless you UNDERSTAND, you can not understand. And I am truly happy for you if you can not UNDERSTAND. The parallels, the reliving, the questions that come in the dark, the longing for the one person who was supposed to be here to help you through all these hard times, in sickness and in health. He should be here. For me, for D, for himself. One morning after several without sleep, I woke up, looked at Tim’s dad and told him, “I just feel so confused that Tim is not here.” I know that makes no sense. Its been 20 months… I know he is dead. I understand. I understand the permanence of death. Then why do I feel so confused by his absence right now? My father in law said “because it makes no sense.”

So here’s the thing. We did survive it. And we will survive the next curve ball that comes our way. I survived it thanks to an incredible village of support for which I am forever grateful. I once heard Glennon Doyle say “I created the community that I would one day need” and I so feel that way about Tim and I. We had no idea of the community we were creating.

Before bed tonight, the girls and I read a book with a shooting star, and R said she knows what she would wish for if she saw a shooting star… she would wish for Daddy to come back “that’s always at the top of my list of wishes.” She told me she had a dream that he came back for a day. A chimed in that she had those dreams too. And we sat in that moment. Me too, guys. Me too. I know without a doubt that I would give up all the help from family and friends if I could have him back – even for one day. But I also know I can not. I know I can never have him back, and I know that the grief will change in waves over time, but it will never be gone. And I know that this pain and suffering, as well as simply being the woman he loved, and the mother that my kids have, every day it is making me who I am. The person I will bring into the future. I don’t imagine that he would want anything else for me.

Snow days

How I miss him when it snows.

I realized that yesterday.  It may have been a little hard to realize last year because I simply missed him so very much all the damn time that it was very hard to distinguish, but I remember feeling it the first time I went out to shovel, the first time I saw the white stuff out the front window, and watched as my au pair that year, who had never seen snow, was amazed.  I certainly felt it the day we went to Longwood in the snow.  I had never before seen Longwood Gardens in the snow.  He never saw Longwood in the snow.  How he would have loved it.

Snow days are hard.  There’s what everyone thinks of first.  The basic logistics.  The anxiety if we can’t get out, run out of food.  The anxiety to shovel, get the driveway cleaned… but truthfully, I think snow brings out greatness in neighbors.  Realistically, I know my neighbors will help me.  They are amazing.  At least three different neighbors attacked my driveway at various times yesterday.  So if I can quell the anxiety, I know the logistics will be just fine.

The hard part is just how much he loved snow.  Snow was his thing.  He loved to stay on top of the Capital Weather gang reports, he loved to get out there and shovel.  Even when we were in Arlington.  In January 2015, our first winter in Fairfax, we got a huge amount of snow starting Friday night all through the weekend.  The plow couldn’t get to us for a long time.   The public schools were closed for a week.  (Our kids were not out of daycare yet.)  Still, our driveway gleamed bright and black, for Tim was out there with the shovel and the salt nearly hourly.  He had a blast playing not just with our kids, but all the neighbor kids.  Yesterday’s snow was a good snow.  Tim would have loved it.  There is guilt there.

Snow reminds me of getting out there and playing in it and shoveling it, and it reminds me of snuggling up together inside.   Loving being together, and letting the rest of the world go by while we had each other.  There is longing there.

There is also an element of snow that is like Christmas.  It’s magic.  It’s a magic that their father truly loved, and I want to ensure is passed down to A, R and D in just the right way.  There is also some pressure there.

But I myself have always loved snow.  I love ice skating, ice hockey, sledding, skiing, every winter sport.  It was the driver of my wanting to go to the Winter Olympics in Torino in 2006.  There was a moment yesterday when the kids got sick of sledding and went inside to warm up.  I took that opportunity to grab a sled and go down the hill on my own… and it was wonderful.  Just wonderful.  Selfishly, it was the best part of my day.   Then I went a few times, because, why not?  I even raced one of my mom friends down the hill!

Looking out at the snow… it’s so beautiful, it takes your breath away.  I miss him when it snows for all the reasons I’ve said above, and yet, when I was exhilarated from sledding – I felt him smile.  I know he would tell me not to put so much pressure on myself to make things a certain way for the kids… he’d tell me not to worry about the shoveling, or the food, or the amount of screen time, or whatever my exact worry is… but just to enjoy these moments.  But as I am me, that is not easy to do.  However, when I let myself relax, and just completely enjoy speeding down the hill on a little sled, I feel his smile, and its the best gift I could give myself.

I know now.  I know a little more how much a simple thing like a snowfall can mean to a person.  – Sylvia Plath

The second Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.