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

Second Annual Tim Gaige Memorial Event

This year, we will again hold the Tim Gaige memorial sporting event in June at the Potomac Nationals stadium. Thanks so much to everyone who came out last year!  I love that the kids have a fun way to honor and remember Daddy while giving back!

This year’s game will be held at 6:35pm on Saturday June 8th, at G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium 7 County Complex Ct, Woodbridge, Virginia 22192. Potomac Nationals vs. Lynchburg Hillcats – It is Military Appreciation Night, to include Camo Hat giveaway! Fireworks! and Kids Run the Bases!

To read more about why I chose to benefit Together Rising, you can go to last year’s post.

The link to buy tickets is below, $20 each. This year $14 of your ticket will go directly to Together Rising to help people in need. You have to use our specific link for it to go to the fundraiser.

We will sit in the Grandstands on the first baseline. If we sell 100 tickets, we will get to throw out the first pitch! (Like Declan and Lucas did last year!)

To make it easier to spot me on arrival I plan to wear an orange tshirt because it was Tim’s favorite color! I would encourage you to wear orange too if you have it!

https://pn1.glitnirticketing.com/pnticket/web/gpcaptchaRC.php?ordersrc_id=200&gpid=284
password is: gaige

For those interested in donating to the cause, but who can not join us for the game:

https://app.mobilecause.com/vf/GAIGE

Gaige #partyofFive (one in utero) enjoying a Potomac Nationals game in May 2016

39

Dear Tim,

Today is your 39th birthday. Is? Was? Would have been?… I’m not sure. I’m going with “Is.” It will always be the anniversary of your birth.

I just re-read last year’s posts on Milestones and Pain and wow. Year two and I feel it coming on again. This time of year is heavy with memories. And looking back, it surprises me how much I survived last year at this time.

Mostly, I think you would be proud of me. Mostly, I still think “what would Tim do” or else just do what you’d want me to do reflexively. I do that with the big things that matter. But I did do one thing for which you wouldn’t approve… and what’s worse: I did it in the name of buying myself something for YOUR birthday! I bought a new dishwasher! You would not have wanted to replace only one appliance. But the other appliances simply don’t need replacing. And man, have I wanted a new dish washing machine!

I’m doing my best. I am. I know I am. And I think I am doing ok. But this time is hard. And not just for me. Annabelle burst into tears at the breakfast table yesterday morning. She also asked several times about “Daddy’s friends” coming for cupcakes… which isn’t the easiest to pull off on a Thursday evening… Thank goodness for our friends who came with their kiddos! I think it made her happy. I think she is emotional this time of year without fully understanding it. This week I have felt detached and… confused? without being able to pinpoint why.

I’ve lately been listening to some music from the Broadway musical “Dear, Evan Hansen,” and there is a song the teenagers sing (relative to a teenage suicide)

No one deserves to be forgotten
No one deserves to fade away
No one should come and go
And have no one know he was ever even here
No one deserves to disappear

– Benj Pasek / Justin Paul

So many times in the hospital I told you that even if I’d known this would have happened I wouldn’t change a thing about our life together. On my hardest days, in the darkest moments, I wonder about whether that’s true. In those moments, Tim, I think about how much easier it would be if we had known this was coming to never have children and to just enjoy our time together… maybe put in for a whole lot of life insurance for you so that now I could just use that to go to some tropical island and never have to work again and not have anyone that I need to support…

But those thoughts never last very long… I know it’s true that I wouldn’t change a thing because all of it is for love of you… It was for love of you that we had the family we had in the first place. While I know how sad you would be that I have to be both mom and dad on my own, I also know that raising them on my own is the best way to live my love for you.

And oh my goodness, how much they are like you and how much you would love every minute with them… Annabelle’s love of March Madness, the way she listens and remembers these intricate facts… Rose’s humor, innate interpersonal understanding, her intuition, the way she loves so big … Declan’s absolute love for anything sports-related but also his love of taking care of baby dolls.

They are your legacy. The legacy you dreamed of… the greatest legacy you could have ever imagined. I can buy myself that dishwasher for your birthday, because the gift of mothering is my gift to you. Raising them without you is both my most tremendous challenge and my greatest honor.

Happy 39th Birthday!

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

 

For better or for worse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For better or for worse.