Six months – an open letter to my love

Dear Tim,

Today, it’s been six months since I last heard your voice.  Since I last saw you smile at me.  Since you last squeezed my hand back.  Since you last told me you love me.  Since you last saw your children.

A few days later when I was on the phone with your company benefits trying to arrange short term disability coverage for you, they started talking to me about long term disability, saying that it sets in in 180 days. So, November.  On that hot May day, November seemed a lifetime away.   Which I guess it is…. but how is it that today is November 16th? How is it still possible that you are never coming home?

Six months later, what do I want to tell you?  So much.  Every thing.  All the things.  There is not enough room even on the internet to write it all.  There is not enough time.

You didn’t have enough time.  We didn’t have enough time with you.

I want you to know first and most importantly that I miss you every day, every minute.  I carry you everywhere I go.  I know, in theory, I don’t have to wear my wedding rings anymore… and I do catch people looking at them sometimes.  But I can not take them off.  Also, the day you died, I put your wedding ring like a charm on that heart necklace you bought me in Boulder… It’s heavy, so heavy,but it feels good to rub it between my fingers a couple times a day. A small piece of you.  Your death, the fact that you are not here for me to speak to, to hug, to fall asleep beside, to lean on your shoulder, to talk about everything, it doesn’t change the fact that I am still in love with you.  I know that I promised “until death do us part” but I had no idea that would be so soon, and I was not ready.  I am not ready.  I carry the weight in my heart always.  I am always sad.  Sometimes, I fear that the sad is contagious.

I can imagine you having two reactions to this: 1) You telling me I’m not really sad – I’m fine.  I’m a rockstar, your rockstar, a pillar of strength. There is nothing I can not do.  I need no one.  But that is not true.  I need you.  2) You teasing me about “liking to be sad” with my listening to sad music, or my Jodi Piccoult novels.  And I can imagine you ending that teasing by reminding me I can’t be sad all the time, because the kids need me.

I’ll tell you this: I don’t think its obvious that I’m always sad.  It’s not that I specifically am trying to hide it from others.  It’s just that I smile.  I try to be “normal.”  I look for the silver linings.  I try.  I try to do all the things you would want me to do. I try to be both mom and dad for the kids.  I try to pour into them all the love that they would have gotten from you.  Even if I am falling short of all the sports they’d have had in their lives with you.

I want you to know I bought T Swift’s new CD this week.  You would have ordered it on Amazon the day it was released. So that you could have it on your Amazon playlist, but pretend it was for me for the car… I saw it in the checkout at Target and just had to pick it up.  I want you to know I took A to Mason Madness this year.  I want you to know that last week on election day, our state really made history. Unlike last year, it was in a GOOD way!… Danica Roem became the first elected openly transgender candidate to serve in the Virginia House of Delegates. (And she beat out Bob Marshall, who would not debate her an earlier this year advocated for a bathroom bill! ) Kathy Tran became the first Asian-American woman elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, and she had been a refugee – her parents fleeing with her from Vietnam at 7 months old. Our state elected the first two Hispanic women to the Virginia House of Delegates: Elizabeth Guzmán and Hala Ayala.  Hala Ayala is a cyber-security specialist, and helped to organize the Women’s March.  Finally, (and the only one we were eligible to vote for) Justin Fairfax was elected lieutenant governor as the second ever African-American to hold a state-wide office in Virginia.  (And yes, for real his last name is Fairfax.)  I think you would have really enjoyed the results of this year’s election.

I want you to know I am doing all the things that I think you are supposed to do.  Counseling, counseling for the kids (“play therapy” they call it), a support group (YES, I joined a support group, can you believe that?), I even joined the “hot young widows club”!  I think you would really enjoy that.

I want you to know that I went to my first parent-teacher conference without you.  It didn’t hit me until I was sitting in that chair, that you had gone to every single conference with me since they started them in daycare at 2 years old!! And as I was thinking of what you would say – the results were very similar to the one we had with the kindergarten teacher in May – it occurred to me that it was the first one without you.  I hadn’t prepared myself for that and I nearly cried all over the teacher’s desk.  For behavior, she told me A listens, is respectful, and caring.  Whatever else my concerns may be, how could I ask for more?  Above all, our girl is a good human.  She was the apple of your eye, and you would be so proud of her.  I am so proud of her.

I want you to know that for our sensitive flower, as you would expect, this has all been very difficult.  As you know, she is wise beyond her years, she FEELS, she goes through life with her heart on her sleeve.  And this is the hardest of the hard things to experience as a child.  To lose one of the two people who mean the most to you.  She loves to wear her locket and look at your picture. (Caroline got the girls amazing always in my heart lockets with your photo inside.) She loves to talk about you.  Though sometimes they are made up stories.  She has had true fear and anxiety about me disappearing too… but it is slowly getting better.

And I want you to know that D is still a joy.  I am sure this will have a profound effect on his life – never knowing you, but for now, he is so wonderful.  We have a large canvas print of the two of you from last October on his wall, and he looks at it and says “Dada” – which both warms my heart, and breaks it at the same time.  That its all he has of you.  That he won’t remember you beyond a face in a photo.  He is walking now.  He is no longer nursing.  Which gives me more flexibility, but he is still Momma’s boy!  You told me not to spoil him because he’s the baby.  But… I don’t know that that is a doable-do now. Oh, but you’ll be happy to know the hockey sticks are his favorite toy…closely followed by a broom, lacrosse sticks, or a wiffle bat..and a ball. I can not wait to watch him grow, even as I want him to slow down!

Mostly, I think you’d be very proud of me.  In small ways, I think you’d be disappointed in me.  When I have those moments, I try to redirect.  I’m doing the very best I can.

I want you to know about the village.  You wouldn’t even believe it.  All the people who showed up.  All the people who stepped up.  My experience with loss now has taught me what many say – which is that tragedy allows people to show their true colors.  And sometimes this will be very disappointing.  But I must say in only VERY extremely rare cases has this been disappointing.  On the whole, I have been absolutely amazed by the kindness, generosity and magnanimity of our friends, neighbors, family, friends of friends, and the list goes on…  You would have said this was because I’m a good person.  But the truth is, it has a LOT to do with you! The outpouring of love for you, and for the four of us because of your love for us would have amazed you. Your family has embraced us as their own.  All of it…It is truly humbling.

I want to thank you for all the gifts you gave me.  The obvious ones – A, R and D.  But the less obvious too.  The gift of you. And of being such an open book that I knew you so well, I am almost never truly wondering what you would have thought, what you would have said.  I always know.  Its like I wear a “WWTD” bracelet.  But its around my heart. And I try to (nearly) always act accordingly.  (Admittedly, there are times when I have to agree to disagree with you and remind you that much as you would have hated it – I get the last word here.  Because I am here.) You are my north star.  My morale compass.  You are still my partner in parenting even though you are not here.

That may be the hardest thing.  The parenting without you.  You were such a presence.  You were so dedicated to being Dad.  In the last 6 months you tried to take over a lot more of the responsibilities.  We balanced each other so well in parenting. When one of us was about to lose it, the other stepped in. Truthfully, you flew off the handle more than I did… but now… when I am about to lose it with one of the kids…. there is no one there to step in for me.  It’s always me.  The only parent. I am always in charge.

Today was A’s  school Thanksgiving lunch. Remember when we both went last year?  I asked neighbors how it works – should I pack her lunch?  What should we do?  This year, I let her buy.  And I bought the Thanksgiving lunch myself too.  That was interesting!  She has been obsessed with the school yearbook lately.  It came out after you got sick.  A photo of you and our A on your Watch Dog day is right in the centerfold.  And you and A and I are all pictured on the Thanksgiving luncheon page.  So I had to go.  After lunch, I went back to her classroom.  She made a turkey of the things she is thankful for.  At the end, she said, “wait, Mommy where is the hand I listed you on?”  (The hands were the turkey’s feathers.)  Then she wrote Daddy on that same hand.  You may have been an after thought, but she did not forget.  She is thankful for you.

In summary, I can’t believe it’s been 6 months since May 16th, when I took you to the ER, when you were admitted to the ICU, when you asked me if I brought  a book.  When my life changed forever.  I want you to know that I miss you constantly, with every breath I take.  I am trying hard to keep your memory alive in the hearts of our children always.   And I want you to know that I’ve got the kids… and I am doing the absolute best that I can.  And I will keep trying.  Every day.  Forgive me on the day I get things wrong, OK? I miss you.  And I love you.

Love always, MaryBeth

more of the beginning

 

In early May, 2017, I had installed the Telegram app on my phone and I had a few contacts, but when I saw that icon, it mostly meant I had a message from three of my close friends (whose husbands are all friends with Tim too) OR Tim.  Mostly, it was from Tim.  It was our primary form of communication if we weren’t together.  We never used SMS texting, and I’m so glad because now I have it all saved.  When he got sick, even though I pretty much spent at least 8 hours a day at his bedside at the hospital, I still Telegram-ed him. I had his phone, and I saw he was getting other telegram messages when I turned it on, but I didn’t read them.  I sent him updates on the kids I knew he’d want when he woke up and could check his phone again.  I poured out how much I missed him, how much I loved him, anything, so that he could look back on it when he was able.  Looking back on those telegram messages, brings that time back in such an acute way.  And before, his last messages to me, they help me remember those last times together, that I never could have imagined were the last.

In my Origin Story post, I talked a bit about the beginning… the weekend leading up to him ending up in the hospital, the trip to the ER with A, getting the kids with a friend and a neighbor, getting back to the ICU, our last moments that night before they intubated him… here is a bit more detail of what I can remember from memory and from telegram…

Here was our last Telegram communication:

Tim: Room is 415

Me:Yes/  Dr told me/  I’m here/  On my way to you/

Tim: I have no white blood cells

All of that is time stamped 6:37 PM, to give you an idea of how fast that typing occurred.

 

Going back in time…. On May 1st he went downtown after work to watch some sports thing with a friend.. he called it “baseball nerd stuff” at Howard Theater.  He was very excited about it.  On May 2nd (a Tuesday) we both worked short days so we could meet with A’s Kindergarten teacher in the morning, then make it back to the elementary school in the afternoon for her Tumbling showcase.  I took A to the bus, then the other two to daycare while he swung by Dunkin and got us each an iced coffee before the teacher meeting.  I was concerned that she wasn’t ready for first grade, I had always been worried mostly because of her age relative to the other kids in her class.  Tim was adamant that she was ready and she would be bored if we held her back, so I said we had to at least meet with the teacher to learn some strategies to support her where she was behind her peers.  I met him in front of the school with the 2 iced coffees, and we headed in.  It was like a date.  After the Tumbling showcase later that night, he pointed out that there were $1 subs at Jimmy John’s that day and we had to go.  He took A to soccer practice, I picked up the other two and we met at Jimmy John’s. A was so excited!  It was a scene.  We had to wait in a huge line with lots of other people while more bread came out of the oven, and they could start selling sandwiches again.  I remember thinking how ridiculous this was as I tried to keep D happy and A&R from climbing all over EVERYTHING, and from whining too much.  Tim chatted with a couple behind us and bragged about how awesome it was to be a dad.   He smiled from ear to ear, with pride at his kiddos.  After the kids were in bed that night he watched the end of the Celtics / Wizards game.  He sent me an article on fidget spinners being a threat to America, and commented that he saw a lot at school that day (on our two trips there!)

On May 4th he first commented on not feeling well.  He said he thought he had gout.  Between 6:30 and 7am he got stuck in the drive thru of the worst DD ever on his way to work, and eventually gave up and drove off without his food and coffee. That afternoon he was eager to get out for a run because he was getting frustrated with the kiddos, and the house being disorganized.

From May 6-7th he scheduled “beer and brunch with Jared” an occassion for Tim and 4 of his closest local buddies to visit the 6th of their crew (the poop group) for a Richmond beer crawl, in advance of the birth of Jared and his wife’s second child.  Before he left he left out the sight word notecards he had made for A, in three piles and let me in on his method of assessing her, with checks, minuses and sad faces.  He thanked me for letting him go to Richmond, he said he loved me, that he owed me one… I sent him updates from A’s soccer game (she scored!), where I was standing in the rain under an umbella with D in the carrier (thank goodness R was at a friend’s house!) He started sending me questions on how we were going to handle “no more babies” since we were leaning that way,  and had said we would make a decision by D’s first birthday.   I was pretty clear on how that should be handled.  He said tournament time next year.  He had a great time with his friends in Richmond, but when he contacted me to say good night he said he was exhausted,  and with “the gout, the sores in my mouth, and the hemerroids… I feel so old and broken.”  I told him at least he looked good.  He said he was too old for this (brewery crawl). The next day when he was in the car with friends heading home I asked how he was feeling and he said “better than you would think!  Didn’t actually drink all that much.”  When he got home, R hadn’t napped, so he and she went straight out to his hammock in the backyard to nap together.

On May 8th, he mowed the lawn.  He sent me a photo. He was so proud.  He said he was getting quicker, did minor trimming but got to use the new blower.  (I think when I read that in real time I thought “how many new lawn products is he buying?” But I didn’t question him even then, I knew he was having so much fun with the lawn!) That night he took care of Declan while I took the girls to Girl Scouts.  This included giving Declan a bottle, and my pumping when I got home.  He lamented adding more to the bottle and then him not drinking it. We talked about my family and my parents’ health.  On the 9th he sent photos from As soccer practice.. mostly selfies of him with R and D on the side lines… and mentioned the hemerroid pain.

May 12th was a Friday and his last day at work.  We talked about his outfit choices that week and the compliments he got at work.  (He had just started Men’s Stitch fix and was loving it.) I went to Muffins for Moms at the school for Mother’s Day and sent him pics. He messaged me at 1:35 that afternoon that he was going home.  He wanted to lay down – again complaints were only about hemerroids. He typically left work at 2:45pm every day to pick up Annabelle so this wasn’t shockingly early.

May 14th, Mother’s Day, was when he first mentioned a fever.  He had one, then he didn’t.  He told me he loved me and he was sorry to have ruined mother’s day.  He said he was supposed to make french toast but could only muster the ice cream sandwiches.  He said he promised I would get my weekend.  I told him the ice cream sandwiches they made me Saturday were so good – and how was he feeling?  I sent pics of us out with some friends for ice cream Sunday afternoon at one of his favorite places to go.  At 5:36pm Sunday he told me the fever was back – 101ish.  Thats when I said I really thought he ought to go see someone Monday morning, and he agreed.  That’s when he asked me to go with him.  I said yes, and that A needed to go to her room when we got home, and I was stopping with the kids at Safeway, and did he need anything  He said “Severe pain killer.  You are super mom.”  He also said he thought we needed to hug A more. Just because.

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On Monday, the 15th, our conversation was about getting ready to go to the doctor’s office. I thought I passed out in the waiting room, but I have messages with him while he was back there.  “She thinks its the infection in my mouth/ To make an appointment with Dr .Z (our dentist)/ For the end of the week/ She’s going to give me a foam for hemerroids / Since it wasn’t black and blue she doesn’t think it’s thrombrosis (He had clearly been googling/ WebMDing).  I asked if they thought the mouth infection was what was causing the fever?  He said Potentially yea.  I asked if they were giving him abx and he said yes.  We went to Target to get the antibiotics.  He said he was freezing.  Then shaking.  We went to Target, I got him home and in bed.  He never did use that foam.  He took the antibiotics.  I went to work.  He got A from the bus stop, and let her watch a movie til I got home with the littles. She had speech therapy that night. I had a lot of proposal work to get to at work after the morning doctor trip.  I  constantly ask myself why I hadn’t just stayed home with him that day. I had absolutely no clue.

The next day was the 16th.  A day I will never forget.  At 11:02am while I was at work I said: OMG next Friday D is 10 months! (I could never have imagined that D’s dad would die when he was 10 months old.)  At 1:33pm Tim said he vomited. I told him I’d come home to get A off the bus if he wanted – let me know… at 2:18 he said it was ok, he was going to get up and shower.  At 2:25 he said please come home.  I responded with “309 eta/  I think we go to the ER this time.”  I called him on my drive home.  I called my boss and told him he needed to get my deputy help with the proposal ASAP.  I grilled Tim on his symptoms while I was waiting for A at the bus stop… hemerroid pain he said was better, no mouth pain…lymphnoids didn’t seem as swollen, but sweating, fever, vomiting… I asked him if he’d been talking to his Aunt (because she’s a Dr and he’d spoken to her the previous year when he had an infection.)  He said no.  He said he was looking for socks… and brushing his teeth… next messages were the Room number and the white blood cells.

I described much of our last moments together in his ICU room at Fairfax hospital. Some other things I remember:

The hematologist came in while he was off for the CT scan.  My initial thought when they took him for the CT scan was how dangerous to finally be sitting, not responsible for the kids, or even for Tim – and alone with my own thoughts.  I texted his parents, my mom and sisters, my three close local friends (one of whom was with my kids and one who worked at that hospital and came back that night to be with me before  I headed home, the third happened to be on vacation in California), my three (very not local) best friends from college…

I didn’t know what a hematologist was.  They didn’t use the term “oncologist”with me that night though thats what he also was.  They already suspected cancer.  But I still had no idea.  When the NP told me things would get worse before they got better I was a cheerleader… I said we’d tackle it, I said we understood, right, Tim?  He said “well I’m not excited about it” (being intubated.)  I had no idea what the NP was telling me.  I had no idea that these crazy cheer leader go-get-em-we’ll-kick-this attitude I was portraying was the last conversation I’d ever have with my husband, my best friend, the love of my life.  When they gave him a catheter he really didn’t like it.  As a joke, I told him not to rip it out (because this was a problem my very-bad-patient-dad had been having) and I think I really freaked out the nurses.  So I had to explain.  They were both young and unmarried and said they thought girls married men like their dads.  I said I couldn’t have married anyone more different from my father, and my sister too.  Tim smiled at me through the oxygen mask.  I told him my friend who was watching the kids messaged me that she’d never changed a boy diaper before then (she has 2 daughters) and he asked why she’d never changed her sister’s son’s diaper!  There are times when remembering these last conversations burns me.  Why didn’t I tell him how much I loved him?  How much he meant to me?   How much I loved our life together? That I wouldn’t change any of it for anything?  Why couldn’t I have said all those things and more?  I had no idea.  I couldn’t imagine it was my last conversation with him.

Continue reading “more of the beginning”

Time

Time marches on.  It’s so hard to believe.  Tim used to make so much fun of me for my obsession with dates.  I’d always remember dates, birth dates, anniversaries, compare year after year, put significance in dates… when it was 12:23, I’d say it was my birthday in time… point out my sister’s birthday in time too.  He thought it was crazy, over-the-top. Mostly, I think he just liked to tease me about it.

At his bedside on June 11th, I promised I wouldn’t make a big deal out of the date, because he wouldn’t want me to. I’ve mostly kept to this.  I noticed 7/11… partially because it is his mother’s birthday, and because it was the date of the blood drive my company had in his name.  I largely let 8/11 go by unrecognized.  Mainly because I was packing for the beach. I didn’t acknowledge 9/11 in a big way other than to reflect on 9/11/2001.

But today I gave blood.  Which means it was 2 months or 8 weeks since the last time I gave blood.. the drive that was  in his name. The drive that was a month after he died. 3 months ago, my Tim breathed his last breaths on this earth.  It’s hard to avoid all that.  So I didn’t really try.  One of his friends told me we have to mark the passing of time.  Like it or not, I do.

This weekend we will celebrate what would have been my and Tim’s 7th wedding anniversary.  I have two big events planned – the dedication of a bench at the Vineyard where we were married and the planting of a tree in a nearby park that we liked and was where we took our family photos since moving to Fairfax.  It might be a lot.  But I wanted to fill the time… so I can’t wallow.  I look forward to this weekend and am grateful for all those who plan to join us!

It’s just so hard to believe.  As recently as early May, Tim was asking me what I might want to do for our anniversary this year…that seems like yesterday, and it also seems a lifetime ago.  Which I guess it was.

I can’t stop time, I can’t slow it down. I simply have to live in the present.  Breathe, survive the present.  Survive with my constant companion, Grief.  Try to recognize the wonderful moments with my little ones as they come.

Try to make a difference.

Any way that I can.

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