Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Evening Comes

The afternoon consisted of Audrey watching a video while I lay next to her.  Audrey hanging on me asking me to play with play dough with her, while I googled your name and read the articles surrounding your death- some I hadn't seen before.  It is very difficult that you died such a public death when for most of our life together, you were not a public figure.  I read a few harsh comments suggesting that you couldn't swim or were drinking.  Neither of these are true.  I felt angry at people who would see you as just an article to comment on, rather than a husband and father who was lost to us.  While I was reading those, Audrey started getting frustrated- maybe she felt my own emotions.  So she started to pull on me and ask to watch a video on your iPod and she started to cry and I started to cry too.  That was the afternoon.

We ate dinner and worked on a puzzle before bed.  I skipped bath time altogether- no energy.  Not the easiest thing to do- help a toddler with a puzzle that's a bit too challenging for her while in the midst of debilitating grief.  As she tries to shove any two pieces together: "No, look for the colors that match."  "No, that's a corner piece."  OK, she's not even two and she's pretty good at the puzzle actually, but I was counting the minutes until bedtime.  The cold and heavy feeling in my chest that I had in those early days is back and had been building there all day.

After she was asleep, I watched the video I posted below- the one I made last year for our 5 year anniversary.  You were away and I was sad that we didn't get to do anything special.  I made you promise that for our ten year we'd go back to the resort we stayed at in Mexico on our honeymoon.  Was so looking forward to that- now I wish we'd just gone for no occasion at all.  As I watched some of the more random, intimate moments of our marriage- you became you again.  You weren't the "cellist" anymore, but just my Dan...looking at your face was kind of like looking at myself.  And I couldn't believe that you're truly gone.  I am glad I made that slideshow for you last year- I'm glad ended it by telling you I'd love you forever.   It was a tough year- this last one, but I hope you remembered that.  I will love you forever.

5 Year Anniversary Slideshow

5 Year Anniversary

Remembered I'd made a bunch of slideshows last year including this one. Just sat at your desk watching it, crying a lot. A lot of the photos are inside jokes between the two of us I realize now. No one else will get them. I will love you forever.

Grief and Hope

Before her nap, Audrey and I were planning her birthday party a bit.  In terms of invites, her only request was Grandma and Grandpa.  But then after I'd put her down for her nap, she was dancing and banged her head...so requested the little cat ice pack.  Then she started dancing and singing Happy Birthday to herself again- and asked if Appa would be there.  "Appa birth day?"

The verse that I chose for your funeral program said "We do not want you to be ignorant of those who've died, so that you may not grieve like others who have no hope."  Another paradox of the Christian faith- grieving with hope.  Not at all the absence of grief.  But grief tempered with hope.  I want to grieve with that hope, but honestly- sometimes I do not.  Sometimes it feels false and he feels gone.  A friend told me this morning not to demand that of myself- 100% hope all the time.  He said maybe I can shoot for 80%.

I suppose even if I lose all hope for a little while, it would not change where you are.  It is not my hope that makes it so.

I had to tell Audrey that, no, you would not be at her birthday party.  I grieve that fact.  You will not be there.  That is the grief without hope that I feel I suppose.  It is for the short-term, for the temporary- which for now- is all that I know.

See You in A Few Weeks

Grief feels a lot like clinical depression, I read.  It does.

"There's nothing wrong with you going on some medication to help if you get to that point where you can't function.  You'll know when that is," the grief counselor told me our first meeting.

Lisa took Audrey to her house even though there was no play group today.  I couldn't stop crying in the lobby while waiting for her.

I had visions the old Julia would've had of cleaning my entire apartment while she was gone, but mostly I wanted to get back in bed.  I thought I'd try to do one thing- maybe clean out the fridge- which was sorely in need of cleaning...but instead I found myself eyeing that suitcase still on the balcony where I left it weeks ago.  I am so tired of seeing the Airline tape wrapped all around it- so tired of the funeral home's name in big letters on it.  I opened the sliding door and brought it inside.  I went through the things I'd left in there- your new custom made sneakers you were planning on wearing there- unworn.  I tried one on.  You had big feet.  I know those would've looked really cool on you Dan.  I went through little plastic baggies with contact lens solution, extra toothbrushes you snagged from hotels, and q-tips and cotton balls.  There wasn't that much in there.  I thought about putting some of it in our toiletry bin and throwing out the rest, but in the end I put it all in one big baggie and tucked it in your back pack.  I cut off the labels tied on to the handle addressed to the funeral director.  I tore off the tape wrapped around your suitcase- but it left a lot of sticky stuff and its imprint behind so you can still see "Transatlantic" all over the silver-grey suitcase.  I cried and cursed and cried as I went through it and as I went through your back pack again also before placing those things inside.  "You should be here!  You should be home now!"  I can't believe this actually happened.  I can't believe this happened.  To you and to me and to Audrey.

Then I zipped it up, and decided to walk around the apartment pulling that suitcase.  I remember seeing it in TJ Maxx and thinking what a great find it was for the brand and price- and filling it up with tons of goodies for your first trip last year- and a big photo of Audrey on top saying Happy Father's Day- that was your present last June.  I wanted to send you off well.  I'm not sure you used half of what I bought- but it felt good to do when I was so sad about your leaving.  I wish there was something like that I could do now.  Going to Duane Reade and buying a whole bunch of travel sized stuff isn't the answer.  But what is?

After I walked around the apartment twice, I reenacted our last goodbye...pulling the suitcase up the door the way you did.  I opened the door after checking through the peep hole that no neighbors were around.  I looked out into the empty spot in front of our door and pictured you there.  "I love you.  See you in a few weeks," I said quietly but out loud.  Then I shut the door and turned around to see the suitcase still there.

Then I cleaned the refrigerator.  Really well, though not as well as the old me would've.  Still, I took everything out and wiped down the shelves and inside the drawers.  I took out the recycling and the trash.  I am exhausted- Audrey should be home soon.

A friend told me since it's Tuesday it must be eight weeks.  I don't really keep track of those dates.  There's still no time yet for me.  She also told me I'd gone through all of August without Dan.  Have I really?  I am still waiting to see you.  I know our reunion will be so sweet.

I had a dream about you last night- but it wasn't a "God" dream or anything.  I've had this similar dream many times when we were dating and married.  In it, you don't want to be with me anymore.  You seem cold and distant.  I feel the pain and the hurt of rejection.  But in this dream, I had the distinct thought, "Wow- I guess we're really not going to be together?  I thought we were truly meant for each other. I thought no matter what happened - we'd always wind up back together?"  

Monday, August 30, 2010

A Place at the Table

Still no sedative.

I couldn't rest while Audrey napped, and then she was up again.  We headed downstairs to the lobby to get the mail and sit outside on the bench and blow bubbles for a while.

A friend had dropped by a little package and left it at the front desk.  I opened it as Audrey ate pretzels on the bench next to me.  In a little box was a pretty locket for his photo.  I had just been thinking the other day about getting a locket to wear Dan's photo in."Whatever you need- it will be there.  God will bring it to you," the grief counselor had said at our first session.

I was surprised to find another document from Switzerland in the mail today- so I opened that next- only to find a $3,000 bill for a helicopter rescue/search.  I didn't even know there had been helicopters involved in finding Dan's body.  It is a devastating detail of a death I was so removed from- an ocean away.  I folded it up and blew more bubbles.

Marie, my friend in the building who lost her first husband around my age stopped by to say hi to Audrey and see how I was doing on her way back from the gym.  I told her it was getting harder.  She said she hated to tell me, but it was going to be a long, long time.  "Keep your ring on," she said- for some reason.  I will.  Of course.  She also thought I should consult an attorney about the new bill I'd just received.  For someone so thrifty in life Dan- you sure did die an expensive death.  You would be pissed.  But please don't worry- I know that stuff will work itself out.

While we chatted- another older woman M. knew walked by.  M. leaned in and told me that she had met the love of her life at 49 only to have him die of a heart attack suddenly.  For seven or eight years, this woman set a place for her husband at the dinner table and "ate dinner with him."  "She said am I crazy Marie?" Marie told me.  We both agreed that she is not.  Something must be done to fill the great absence.  Something- anything.

Under the Knife

There is no inebriate.  There is no sedative.   No anesthetic.  I go under the knife again.

I had been hoping I'd felt the worst of this- willing to go along with societal pressures to hurry up and grieve and get going again.  Even though other widows told me it would get worse once the shock wore off, I wanted to believe that maybe I was just stronger than them- in those earlier days when I was functioning in emergency mode, but functioning- because I didn't get it at all yet.

It was the same when I was attempting natural child birth.  I wanted so much to believe that since I'd had painful cramps my whole life, labor would be easier for me.  I dropped to my knees in pain as we were getting to the hospital, but still found it bearable, and was hoping to find I was at least half way there.  I was one centimeter dilated- not even close.

This morning Audrey and I were talking about her upcoming birthday at breakfast.  "I'm TOOO," she says.   You would've loved the way she says it hon.  But I began to cry as I realized you truly wouldn't be there- because I'd known it before, but now I felt it.

I opened another bag of photos we'd never unpacked from our last apartment- took out one large photo of us looking into each other's eyes on our wedding day.  Then I found a small oval, etched, mirrored frame tied with a thick black ribbon that I'd placed our wedding vows in.  I typed them up and aged the paper I printed them on with tea bags.   "til death separates us," I see.  "for richer or poorer"- I remember we looked at each other and laughed at that point in the vows because we both thought we were always going to be on the poor side.  I placed the mirrored frame on the table with all of your photos and leaned it up against the vase of flowers tenderly.

I decided since we had no plan,  Monday could be our "walk to Whole Foods and get mac and cheese for lunch day"- keep it consistent and simple- as few decisions to be made as possible.  On the way there, I saw an old man across the street.  Cried again imagining how handsome you would've been as an older man.

On our walk I thought about a lot of things- and was thankful for once, that Audrey's stroller was facing the other way.  It seems to be a day where every stage of grief attacks at once.  I have felt it all so far today.  Denial: I try to imagine there is still some way for the outcome of your swim to change.  I enter negotiations- I wish for you to see me now- how your death has changed me- I'm no longer the woman you left here on June 29th.  Guilt: I feel guilt for the first time specifically relating to your death.  What if I had called you that morning and we'd talked for a while?  What if you hadn't met up with that friend?  You might have still went in the water a bit, but surely not as far out on your own.  Why didn't I call?  I was doing my own thing- trying to keep us busy because it was so hard- because I missed you so much- every moment.  Every day.  But I didn't bother calling.  I thought when I came inside from the pool and that dreadful phone rang- I thought that was you calling me.  I think about when I saw your suitcase laid out on the floor the night before you left.  I noticed your tan and striped bathing suit in there.  I almost said to you, "Why are you packing your bathing suit?  You're not going on vacation?"  because I was resentful that I'd be alone and you might be swimming.  Then I stopped myself.  I thought you'd get really angry, take the suit out, and say "Fine, I won't take it!"  And then I'd feel bad. Why didn't I just say something?  How dramatically different our lives might have been had I just nagged one more time.

Last night Audrey was up at 4 am screaming for a while- I tried to ignore it but it didn't stop, so I had to go in, give her some water, and sit for a while.  After that I couldn't fall asleep.  Anger: This is when the anger comes in.  Another widow tells me it was when things in her house broke down.  For me, it is in the middle of the night when Audrey is screaming and I am tired and alone.  "How could you leave me like this?"  "Look at this!" I think or say out loud.

At Whole Foods, I made conversation with a young mom who I see there often working as a cashier.  I asked about her son- "Two boys," she said.  She told me about how one was upset with her for putting something off she said she'd help him with on the computer.  "I'm a single mom," she said.  

"I am too," I answered back...trying it out...surprising myself.   It felt false and I hated it.

Audrey and I walked all the way down the path by the river even though it was very hot in the sun.  I felt like walking, but I walked very slowly pushing the stroller.  I forgot to put sun-tan lotion on Audrey and I know you would've said something.  Even if she was in the sun a little bit, you'd position your body as we walked to shade her as she sat in the stroller.  I look for your shadow.

And then I recall how also, in the cold winter, on windy days- you'd insist on walking in front of me and make your shoulders wider- to shield me from the cold.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Talking to Myself

It is very, very lonely in a one bedroom apartment with a toddler and no other adult.  You prepare meals, eat them together at the table alone, clean them up.  You play, and bathe, and read.

And then once she's asleep, you sit in your room and wonder what to do with yourself.  It's quiet.  It's dark outside.

If I speak out loud as if I'm speaking to you, there is no comfort at all.  You see, it is the person's presence that allows your voice to sound a certain way- as if you're really talking to someone- not just yourself.


Tonight I am a fully saturated cloud- waiting to have my "time" when Audrey went to sleep for the better part of the afternoon.  It's getting harder to function now in a different way than before.  The functioning and even the playing with Audrey is seeped with grief.  I feel emotionally removed from her while I play with play dough or even read a story- because I'm flooded with so much pain and so many thoughts of her father.

I keep having the urge to ask people, "Is Dan really dead?"

Tonight I watched my shadow on the living room wall kiss his photo.  I looked through the funeral program again- I look at the cover mostly- "Daniel Cho- A Celebration of Life"- and try to recall that I planned this program because Dan actually died and we had a funeral for him.

Whenever I type in a title for these blog posts as I just did, if I just put one letter- a bunch of choices come from the blog Dan had started for Audrey.  So I type in "S" and see "Somebody's a pretty girl!"  It is even there- as I write- like I am treading in his mist.

The memories don't let up.  I imagine a deck of cards and someone who knows how to shuffle really well is doing that move where they drop all of the cards on top of one another- it feels like that.


So, I've taken Audrey on a summer outing- along with the help of my parents who drove us and came along.  It was one of the things I'd had on the list of "fun things to do this summer with Audrey" before the phone call.  I'd found a farm not too far away that had raspberry picking and figured since it had no association with Dan, it'd be a good first outing.

So, I was somewhat surprised at how overwhelming the grief still is- to be out- anywhere- doing- anything.

We had to drive down Route 17 to get there- past the little bus shelter where Dan and I said our goodbyes and hellos for many years- the bus from there goes to Port Authority.  The shelter is old and worn looking with graffiti and usually a few flyers hanging up with information on an apartment for rent or car for sale with the little strips of paper ready to be torn off.  It sits right on the highway and during winters, the cold and wind would be brutal waiting there for the bus.  Once we were married and living in Brooklyn, we often took the bus back to the city from my parents together.  We'd stand huddled together- Dan would try to warm me up, but sometimes I'd joke that he was really trying to warm himself.  He was always so prone to being cold.  He told me when we first met that he was allergic to the cold- and would break out in little bumps.  He hated the cold office buildings he had to work in, and when I heard that his last words were, "This water's cold-I'm heading back," I felt sick.

But we would stand there, and sometimes if I didn't have any, he'd give me his big gloves.  Then I'd feel bad at how cold he seemed so we'd each wear one and put the other hands in a pocket together.  Sometimes we'd jump up and down together to keep warm.  Sometimes we'd sing.  I hated waiting for that bus there at that little shelter on the highway- but it had been much worse when I was just dropping him off to say goodbye.  At least after we were married, we traveled together.

There's a Stop and Shop behind the bus stop and sometimes we'd miss the bus and go in there and walk around.  We'd get a cup of coffee or some gum other times if we needed change for the bus.  A few times Dan really had to pee and had to ask to use their restroom.

There's also a Wendy's towards the end of the parking lot.  I remember us going there once after fighting for hours- some long, drawn-out dramatic fight.  "Let's go to Wendy's," we said.  And all was well.

On the highway we also drove past a small shopping area that used to have a Circuit City.  I remember taking Dan there to get a computer so he could do music production.  Then driving him to his apartment in Staten Island.  We passed Barnes and Noble- where we'd often go to look around and get a cup of coffee.  I remember most recently going with Audrey when she was about four months old.  She slept in her car seat stroller while we enjoyed each other's company and a cup of coffee.  You loved heading to the music section and listening to all of the samples.  You'd often introduce me to music that you thought I'd like that way- and you usually knew my taste.  "I think you'll like this," you'd say.

We also passed Babies 'R Us where we'd gone together to pick out Audrey's Bumbo seat and a few other things when we were living with my parents.

Once we headed further north on the highway, I felt a sense of relief- I'd made it past the toughest parts.  As we pulled into the farm, I saw a large, orange butterfly fly overhead.

Audrey enjoyed raspberry picking- even though it was hot in the sun.  She enjoyed popping quite a few in her mouth as well.  We filled up two containers and headed to a picnic table in the shade to eat lunch, but Audrey wasn't really hungry and wanted to do a little bit more picking so my parents took her.

As I sat at the table, I began to weep.  It had been building in my throat and my chest since I saw that run-down old bus shelter.  It's like I see our ghosts everywhere- I see us standing there together, cold but embracing.  I want to be that girl again so badly.  I don't care how cold and windy it gets or if I have to wait there for hours.  I will.  I would.

I looked around at a pretty pond and some weeping willows on the farm.  You would've thought it pretty, Dan.  "I miss you so much," I said aloud.  It is as I've read in my current book "Lament for a Son:" "When we gather together now there's always someone missing, his absence as present as our presence, his silence as loud as our speech."

Your absence today overwhelmed me.  I could see you taking Audrey's hand and leading her to ripe berries, "Good job Audrey!" you would've said.  I could see you telling me we should be careful because the bushes had tiny thorns.  "Hmmm, I don't know about this," you would've said to me when you first realized it.   How can you not be here?  And you're not away?  But you're genuinely gone for the rest of my life?  How can this be I ask myself as I sit alone on the gray bench.  It is very quiet without you.

So, it's done now.  We're back home and I'm feeling quite drained- from the sun, but mostly from your absence.  "Waz bewwy pi cking!" Audrey says.  "Waz bewwy EAT!"  She had a good time, so I am glad.

At the picnic table, I saw the shadow of a butterfly on the table, but couldn't find the source.  Then before we left, I saw one more butterfly fly past us.  These butterflies comfort me.  What will I do in the winter?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Best

This wound up being a packed afternoon with two out-of-town visitors.  Right before Audrey's nap, a new widow friend came by.

While Audrey slept, we sat on my bed talking.  Not only is B. a young widow- we are the same age- but she also knew my husband and our husbands knew each other.  Even though we only met once briefly at the funeral- we chat online or the phone quite a bit.  And even though the circumstances of our loss are quite different, the ultimate loss is the same so there is always much to talk about.  We talked like that until Audrey woke up- about in-laws, about final words, regrets, holidays, and when to move the clothes out of the dresser.

After B. left, a close cousin of Dan's came by- she was in NYC for a wedding and just called this morning to see if she could stop by.   She hadn't been able to attend the funeral, so even though I was looking at a full day of visitors, I wanted to see her.  Dan and I were especially close with her family whom we stayed with on numerous visits to Chicago.

Esther and I played with Audrey- she had brought new toys- and in between we talked about Dan's death.  She looked at the photos I have framed on the table with flowers.  We ate dinner together with Audrey and I told Esther more of the details surrounding Dan's death that she hadn't heard.  She fed Audrey rice and gim (seaweed), and we talked about Esther's family and the funeral.  Later, we put Audrey in her pajamas and I showed Esther the last photos Dan took of the place of his death on his iPhone.  I look at them often.

Only twice did we cry- once when she was leaving.  We held each other and cried for quite a while while Audrey was running around in her room getting books for story time.  "Keep in touch."  "We'll come visit." "Us too."  And earlier, while I was clearing the dinner table- I simply said, "He was the best, right?"  She shook her head and could not go on.  I saw myself in the mirror behind my kitchen sink with tears down my face and eyes I barely recognize.

Mothering You

We are running out of the paper towels and toilet paper that you ran to Target for before you left.

I've been thinking about this post for a long time.  The grief counselor told me that we grieve the relationship the way it was lived, and in our relationship, I mothered you a lot.  I worried about you.  I made sure you took your vitamins.  I folded your clean socks and underwear.  I packed Vitamin C drops and medicine for your tour in case you caught a cold.  I told you to wear a heavier coat when the weather was changing, but you usually didn't listen, "I'm fine," you said.

So I've been worrying about you for eleven years.

After your funeral and burial, and the lunch we had- your Aunt from Chicago walked with me arm in arm towards the parking lot.  She told me that I could still say goodnight to you each night, even if you didn't answer back- that was OK.  But she told me, "You don't have to worry about him anymore."

I'm having some trouble letting go of that role.  I think that's why the quest that I've focused most of my attention on the past month or so is to know whether or not you're OK.  I don't give too much thought or attention to whether or not Audrey and I will be alright- or how we'll live.  I somehow know we'll get by.  We're alive...we can struggle along.  But it's you that I still find myself worrying about because I don't know where you've gone.  I only know that you didn't intend on going there so soon.  So I worry.  Are you surprised/shocked?   Do you have any sorrow over what happened?  I know you're not supposed to, but I worry.  Are you worried about us?  Are you watching us sometimes and in dismay to learn that you are dead?  All I need is some assurance that you are well.  Then I know, I just know, I can go on and live well even without you.

On that first drive to Maryland we took before we were dating, I always remembered how my friend Cathy sent us off for the drive home and told you to take good care of me.  But I remember you answered, "She's the one taking care of me!"

After you were stabbed in the chest on the subway platform, I wanted you in my sight at all times.  After staying overnight at the ER and one night in my own apartment, we both went to stay at my parent's house for the holiday week.  You slept in my childhood bed, but I placed couch cushions on the floor next to you each night.  I just didn't want to leave your side.

This year your mom forgot my birthday.  You were away too.  It was a quiet, uneventful day.  But later she called and apologized.  She told me, "You take care of my son- I have to take care of you."

In every email from the past year, I ask you to be careful and to eat well while away.  But that was all I could do.  You promised me you would.  The very last words I spoke to you on Skype the day before you died: "Take care of yourself."  You said you would.

I received your bag from Switzerland and in it was the pill box with the days of the week I'd packed with vitamins for you, but some of them had spilled out and were loose in your back pack- they looked like they'd gotten wet.  I tried to count them to see if you'd been taking them up until then- silly thing to do.

So, all I want to know- is are you well?  Are you alright?  And if you can, or if God can- can you give me some assurance of that?  Then I will go on...then I can stop worrying.

Love, Julia, Daniel, and Audrey

It's been a long morning already.  A. didn't sleep well and was clingy and quickly frustrated this morning.  I was feeling ready to get a few things done.  I ordered large yellow lollipops on Etsy as per her request for the favors for her upcoming second birthday.   I wrote our rent check and another dues check to the Music Union who apparently are holding a check for Dan.  I finished most of the application for state health insurance.

My productivity was thanks to a friend who came with bagels and cream cheese and juice around ten 'o clock.  She kept Audrey busy for a while.  Right now I've just discovered that giving Audrey some play dough along with the little pots and pans my mom gave her buys me quite a bit of time to myself.  She'll be getting a play kitchen for her birthday- something I'd planned to do long before this happened and will still do.

Even amidst this productivity, I felt so much sorrow this morning.  I wrote a thank you note to the friend who was watching Audrey- who had visited three cemeteries with me- and to her husband, who organized and preached at Dan's funeral.  I had been meaning to do this for some time.  I thanked them for being there for us during such a profound time and told them I would never forget.  And as I wrote, I wept.  I signed the card Julia, Daniel, and Audrey.  I feel I am Dan's voice now left in the world- and I want to be sure to thank those whom he would thank.

I found another journal that had morphed into a to-do list- very telling how many of my more recent attempts to express myself had that same fate.  In it I found a random poem written on 6/24/09:

They sky must have agreed with me
it wept when you left.
They call that pathetic
but the rain stopped
as your bus drove away,
the sky cleared-
now on with the day.

If only it were that simple now.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Dark

"...the darkness is my closest friend."  Psalm 88.18

When I was a child, I had night terrors, or something like them, quite often.  So, I remember sleeping with my light on for many years.

Since I received that phone call, I have become afraid of the dark.  In the beginning, it was because I felt such a strong presence in the house all of the time- whether it was Dan himself, God, or a self-awareness- me watching my self- I'm not sure.  But I had friends sleep over every night for at least the first ten days.  And then after I was left alone, I would have to be in my bed by 10 pm and tired enough to just turn out the light and quickly pull up the covers and close my eyes.

Just now I left my room and went into the kitchen to throw something away and felt the fear a little bit.  As I did when this first happened, I imagined Dan jumping out at me from behind the walls- in my mind, he would literally jump and have his hands open in the shape of a wave, and his eyes wide.  It is not a comforting image.  I think my brain is just looking for him- wondering where he went.  It is a long time now since I've seen his living face.  Almost two months.

The darkness- all that we don't know- the uncertainty of the world we find ourselves in- and especially what comes next.

After the kitchen, I stopped off in our closet...smelled Dan's shirt- the one that smells the strongest.  It is so strange how life-giving it is to me...that scent.  I sigh after I breathe it in.  And then tonight- I peered into the dark corner of the closet behind the door to see if the suit I'd picked out for him to be buried in, was really, truly gone, or if perhaps I would still find it there.  It was gone.


Inherit to grief is a loneliness and isolation.  Each grief is it's own and so the grief one widow feels is completely different than another- even though they grieve the same kind of loss.  The grief I have is different than the grief a family member or close friend of Dan's might have even though we grieve the same person.  And so, you walk alone.

I noticed yesterday as my grief counselor spoke of her own loss of her daughter, she kept saying the word "we" referring to herself and her husband.  "We" didn't know how we'd get through it..."We" couldn't have done it without ..."

And I suddenly felt very lonely.  There is really no "we" in this grief process for me.  My companion and partner is gone.  The one person I have come to rely on for support for the past eleven  years is missing during this, the most profound and terrifying experience of my life.  Each night I am alone as I struggle through the pain, and alone as I turn out the light and pull our quilt over my head.


Dragonfry- or Yong gui, in Korean, was the name of your favorite stuffed animal growing up.  He often interacted with a dog named Doopy.   I think there was also a story about how your mom got rid of it without your knowledge.

I don't know why this just sprang to my mind tonight, but it has brought me to tears.  The fact that you were still always telling me about that stuffed animal since I met you just speaks so much of your tenderness and child-like heart.  Sometimes we'd see a stuffed animal in a store and you'd have to point out that Yong gui was similar to that animal.  You spoke of him like an old friend of yours...

Friday night.  Audrey's in her crib asleep.  I am missing you very, very much.  I'm expecting two visitors tomorrow which is nice- one in the morning and another in the afternoon.  At times I'm starting to feel tired of the constant visits which is new...but at the same time, I can't imagine what we would do without them.  The day would stretch out before me and I'd feel quite lost and overcome by it.

So for now- I am grateful for the company.


Audrey has a couple of new favorite words.  "No" is one of them.  She says it even when she doesn't mean it- I think to try out its power.

"Stop" is the other.  When I'm tickling her, she now yells out "Stoooooop!"

I want to yell both of those because I am not sure I can take this anymore.  I have been grieving intensely, methodically, thoroughly for over 50 days- and I know that I am only scratching the surface.  But I am getting tired.

I realize I have cried, moaned, sat and stared, but I have not screamed.  I think about what my scream would sound like and it frightens me.  I think about where I should scream- and I imagine myself in front of that vast lake where your spirit left us.  Screaming.

The counselor yesterday told me that I'll know when it's time to start doing something different- time to just go out with Audrey, or time to watch a movie or be distracted.  So far I have not done that for one moment.  The grief is too intense for distraction of any kind and because we don't have a TV- there is no background noise to this grief.  It is just me sitting here in bed, during A's naps and after she goes to sleep- grieving.  "We grieve how we are," the counselor said at my first session- so for me that means methodically and thoroughly...reading books, writing thoughts, studying the pain.  But- it's like pulling an all-nighter working on a paper or thesis.  The next morning you are tired, cold, and collapse into bed after turning in that paper.  But I am still waiting for morning to come.

I will not forget you Dan, I promise you that.  How to keep the love but let go of some of the pain when one is caused by the other.  But will you forgive me if I can't maintain this level of intensity for too much longer?  I can not.  But I am my beloved's and he is mine- and you always shall be.  My beloved.

You Wanted

You wanted me to go back to work full-time so we wouldn't have to pay for health insurance and you could pursue music more freely.  I will go back to work.

You wanted to switch health insurance plans so that we could pay less.  We will pay less.

You didn't want to buy a house in the suburbs.  It wasn't your thing, but you were willing if it was the best thing for me and Audrey so we had started to look with a friend who's a realtor.  We won't buy a house.

You wanted me to worry less and write more- use my creativity and gifts.  I am writing.  I do not worry now.

I think about these things sometimes and think that you would be most relieved, but then I know that you never wanted


So much paperwork is trailing behind you Dan.  But I guess it's more for the living than for you.

I haven't been very good at getting it done.  There was not too much I could do without the death certificate.  But this morning, I tore open the Fed Ex package, only to find I had to find the strength to open another sealed envelope inside with the 20 death certificates in a neat little stack and a letter of condolence from the American Embassy on top.  I had to open it because I still hadn't been able to cancel your health insurance without it and refuse to pay when you're gone.  I had sent an unofficial copy with a letter of explanation to our COBRA company along with a check for the next two months for a new total someone on the phone gave me for just Audrey and I.  But I had to fax the official certificate in order to process the change and create a new account under my name.

Then- there is the matter of applying for state health insurance for at least Audrey.  I had asked one of Dan's cousins- a lawyer- if he would draft a letter for me.  There is a rule where you must have no health insurance for three months before you can apply, but there are exceptions to that rule which I am hoping we qualify for under the circumstances.  But along with the letter is a lengthy application and copies must be made of many supporting documents to prove citizenship, income, etc.

I have been avoiding this for weeks.

I was telling Mary this morning how I will do other things- but just not this.  I even cancelled Dan's AAA card and made sure I was returning our library books on time.  She told me how she feels the same about writing cover letters and resumes and sending them out- she's currently out of work.  Her rational is mostly because she knows those will probably not land her the job- these days it really is mostly networking/connections.  It's probably similar for me, I realized, with this state health insurance application.  When a friend called to find out information on it initially for me, she took notes and actually wrote down the instructions for "once you get your denial letter."  So, I think that's why I haven't been too motivated to get it done.

At any rate, I had a spurt of energy, and I think reached that point where the energy I was spending dreading the task was becoming more than the energy it would take to do- so I found documents, made copies, printed the letter- all while cursing and talking to Dan, looking at his pictures- which lately are becoming more "pictures" and less him.  This saddens me greatly.  

An Important Distinction

This morning my shower was brief but it was one of those that eventually released in me those cries and moans that come from so deep within.  I think I remember just asking the one-worded question, "What?"
Because before you can really even get to the why, you have to ask what.  What happened- what's going on here?  I think I'm still on the what.  

I was thinking about how people keep telling me about how something reminds them of Dan and then they remember- and how they can therefore only imagine how hard it must be for me- everything must remind me of him all day long.  

Actually, I have yet to have that happen really.  Nothing "reminds me" of Dan.  This kind of sorrow is embedded in my soul- it is with me all the time.  Even though there have been many moments and hours and days during which I just couldn't comprehend what is going on here- I have never once "forgotten" that he has left- that he is gone.  

A friend posted this link on her Facebook page this morning.  It's a beautifully written article by Joyce Carol Oates after her own husband's death in 2008.  

But what I found most interesting is a section where she discusses a work of Hemingway's that features the suicide of an Indian:
"Later, walking back to the boats to return home from the Indian camp, Nick asks his father why the Indian killed himself, and his father says, “I don’t know, Nick. He couldn’t stand things, I guess.”  No theory of suicide, no philosophical discourses on the subject are quite so revelatory as these words. Couldn’t stand things, I guess."
That got me thinking about what simple words would express the pain and place I'm in these days- rather than my own attempts here filled with so many words.   I can't think of anything right now and I think that's because I'm not sure what the question is yet.  Nick's question was "Why did the Indian kill himself?"  What would my question here be?  I'm not sure- but I'm back to the "what."  
While my parents took Audrey to her gym class, I had a nice visit from another Brooklyn friend.  She brought all the ingredients for gourmet sandwiches- fresh ciabatta rolls, with ham and cheese made with young cow's milk- I forget the name- olive oil, tomatoes, basil, and a black olive spread she made.   It was another beautiful day today, so we put them together here and ate while sitting on a bench by the river.  That sandwich may be the finest thing I've tasted since the call.  
Mary had cancer a couple of years ago, but she is now cancer-free.  She is maybe ten years older than me- maybe more- has beautiful gray hair that is now growing back nicely and she wore in a bob, genuine and caring blue eyes, and a quick wit that  made me laugh out loud more than once, even though we mostly talked about death and life, and after-death.  

At some point I asked her the question I ask most believers- "Do you believe it?"  She said yes.  "But do I have doubts?  Yes."

But then she talked about how she always comes back to God because "It's the only thing that makes any sense."  I closed my eyes and nodded my head as she spoke this and felt a peace wash over me.  It's like I told the grief counselor yesterday that even though I struggle - I think about it- a bunch of spinning balls in an endless black space- and everything in me screams that this is not all there is.

We talked about her cancer and the things she's learned and ways in which she grew from such a trial.  And I talked about how I was experiencing healing in many old and broken areas.  "But," I said protectively, "there can be nothing redemptive about Dan's death.  No matter what happens from here on, nothing will be worth his death.  I will never say, 'Oh, Dan died so that this could happen.' It will never be that formulaic or simple."

Mary had an excellent insight.  She said that no, there is nothing redemptive about Dan's death.  It is tragic and doesn't make sense.  But there may be something redemptive about my grief.  What a beautiful and important distinction. 

And then I saw a butterfly flying up to the top of a tree behind her.  "Keep your eye out for butterflies," Sarah- another young widow friend- had told me in the very beginning of all this.


Everything I read and everyone I know who has suffered this kind of loss says nothing will ever be sweet again.  Every beautiful and sweet thing- will be bittersweet- every sunset, joyful occasion or holiday, or even a funny joke that can not be shared with you.

But certainly I am finding the most beautiful thing I have ever experienced, is watching our daughter emerge from infancy into herself.  Her language is absolutely exploding Dan- I though the first word or words were the treasure- but really they are just a small foretaste.  To hear her speak now- in phrases and sentences at 23 months- she is instantly a miniature person.  It is the sweetest thing I've ever known.  And how I wish I could enjoy the sweetness, but for that very reason, it is also the most bittersweet thing I have ever known.

I want to believe you are watching somehow.  If not physically, maybe they have an overflow room over there where you are where they will broadcast for you some of these beautiful moments.  I know you would love them so.  This morning I was cleaning up the table in the kitchen when she came running in with a pile of diapers saying, "Look, mama, look!"  It was as though she had become a character in one of her children's books- and I was simply in awe to hear my child speak to me like that for the first time.  I knelt down to finish picking up the crumbs off the floor with tears in my eyes.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Other Losses

When I woke up this morning, I read the new email subscription on grief I'll be getting for the first 365 days of this long journey.  They're actually pretty good at speaking to where I'm at each morning. Today's email spoke about the fact that when we grieve, our grief is often complicated because any other losses that we have not fully grieved in the past, will resurface- and guess what- we'll have to grieve those as well.  Terrific.

But seeing it in writing, I realized immediately that much of the sharpest pain I've been feeling during this process, is related to past losses that I had never looked in the eye.  There are so many layers to this thing.  Besides the loss of Dan when he left, I also grieve the loss of the Dan I met at 23- and my younger self as well.  When I write of our early dating days, that is when I feel the sting the most.

This morning I headed into the city for my second meeting with my new grief counselor.  I really like her- she listens mostly- but has much wisdom in her eyes.  I know she has also grieved deeply and that helps.  She asked me what I fear most, or what other emotion comes up the most, and I shared about the loss of the younger Dan and Julia that I've been grieving.  She told me that life had gotten busier and there just hadn't been as much time for that initial romance, "especially once you have kids."  "But that doesn't mean you didn't love each other."  This is true of most marriages, I know- but I am still grieving the loss of those people we started out as eleven years ago.  I don't think I realized until now- just how much I'd been missing them both all along.

The city had toughened Dan up considerably.  He was attacked on the subway platform by five young guys and stabbed in the chest- 1/2" from his heart a few years back, and I don't think he was ever quite the same.  They didn't take any money.  I imagined how terrifying that experience must have been- but after maybe one free therapy session the city provided, he said he was fine- though he continued to have dreams about those guys a lot which he would share with me from time to time.

He had been so innocent and so kind, and just the daily grind of living and working in NYC had really taken its toll on him.  I remember when we lived in Bay Ridge and he came home one night and told me he was too disturbed to sleep.  "I think it was demonic or the devil," he'd said.  He described a homeless man sitting on the subway platform absolutely covered in live bugs, but he made no effort to remove any of them.  Dan just could not get the image out of his head.

I showed the counselor two photos I'd brought of Dan.  In one he was smiling- but in a more recent passport photo he was sullen and cold.  This was the face he'd come to put on for the world- not his friends or family- but the people who bump into you on the subway rudely or stereotype an Asian male a certain way.

I also grieve for myself, the girl I had lost and the one I'd become as well. I too had become considerably hardened towards the world and even towards Dan.  I told the counselor that now,  when I watch a video of myself from just a few months ago, I kind of disdain that girl.  She seems so silly now.  So ridiculously silly in her concerns and even behavior, which I find I am too ashamed to put into words.   I had very much closed my heart to Dan as he came and went this past year.  It was hard to say welcome home when I knew it would be followed so closely by another goodbye.

And so this abrupt ending comes at a time when our relationship was quite strained- after a rough couple of years: moving, having a new baby, being apart-and just not having a lot of fun together.  The timing is excruciating.   A good friend tells me, "Just because he was taken at a difficult time, that doesn't define the relationship of Julia and Dan."  That helps, and I think it is wisely said.  But still- it is a loss I must grieve.

Tonight after Audrey was in her crib, and I went to say goodnight to Dan and kiss his photo- I told him that despite all of that, "It was a wonderful love story, Dan.  We had a wonderful love story."

The counselor told me that I would find healing for these losses and become whole again in many ways through the grief.  That is such an ironic and extraordinary thing to me, but I am already finding it true.

As I surrender to the crucible, I find healing- not from this grief or the loss of Dan- but from all the other crap in my life.   It's burnt up like ash in a furnace.  It will be interesting to see what is left.

Oh How He Loved You

I have thought of a few more things I remember your dad being super protective of Audrey- and before I forget them- I just wanted to write them down for you.  When you are thirteen or twenty or thirty even- they may sound silly because they're all ways of protecting a one-year old, but I think you'll get the idea, and maybe together we can imagine how they would've translated to your older years.

You and I went for a walk to Whole Foods after your nap today.  We walked by the river first and sat for a while.  We saw a helium balloon that must have escaped its owner and watched it floating higher and higher up into the clouds until we couldn't see it anymore.  I thought maybe that was from your dad.  I am always looking for signs now.

We treated ourselves at Whole Foods to a decaf cafe-au-lait for me, and chocolate milk for you- also gummy bunnies and raspberries and blueberries for you.  While I was paying for these things, I was thinking about how it's hard when you're suffering this kind of loss and want to splurge on comfort things but you also find you suddenly have no income.  I'm not too worried though for some reason.

On the walk back, I was pushing the stroller towards the river, and I remembered how your dad was very concerned that I might lose my grip and you'd go rolling into the water- or rolling down a hill.  He wanted me to buy a strap that attached the stroller handle to my wrist just incase.

Later in the kitchen, I remembered how he didn't even want you in the kitchen while I was cooking.  And he didn't even want you in your high chair if I was frying anything up.  He was so afraid you might get spattered with hot grease even though you weren't close to the stove.  He installed a safety gate in between the kitchen and living area, but we wound up always keeping it open because you got too upset if it was closed.

As I put your pajamas on tonight, I carefully pulled your fingers through the snug-fitting shirt sleeves.  I remember I was just tugging on them when he scolded me, "Um, not a good idea.  Sometimes she has a finger bent backwards in there, and if you just tug you're going to break it."  Well, he had a point so I am more careful now, pulling each finger out of the sleeve.

For the first day this week, it wasn't raining, and was in fact a beautiful day.  When I asked you what color the sky was this morning, you said "boo!"  and then you said, "new?  boo?"  "Yes, it's a new blue," I said.  I liked that.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

On Death

So, I am leaning into hope these days.  But right alongside my hope- the one of Dan being alive and well- there is a voice that whispers- he is simply gone- he drowned.

And that got me thinking about death and how difficult it is to believe that Dan, or anyone who has died, is still somewhere- despite the strong desire to believe it and the very real suspicion that he is.

And I think what it comes down to is knowledge and facts.  Because we humans know the medical "cause" of death- what it was exactly that stopped the body from functioning- we believe the person to be truly gone.  There was a cause- a reason.  We understand what that was.  In Dan's case, his lungs filled up with water- eventually it entered his bloodstream, he became brain dead and experienced cardiac arrest.  Because we know these facts- it is very difficult to believe he is alive.

Let's just say that some people, rather than dying from an obvious cause- just left their bodies as empty shells- and disappeared- no accidents, no drowning, no disease to speak of or blame.  There was no known cause or reason for their death.  If that were the case, it would seem much easier to wonder if their spirits had gone to some other realm or place.

So, maybe what I need to do is push the facts aside for now.  Just because something could be true- does not mean that it is.  This is a standard train of thought that you learn in any college philosophy class.  Just because people may believe in God for the wrong reasons, does not negate the fact that He could still be there.  Just because I know what caused Dan's body to stop working, does not mean there is no possibility for eternal life.

Today I finally received a Fed Ex package I've been waiting for.  I have not opened it yet.  It is the last package I was expecting from Switzerland.  In the envelope are sealed copies of Dan's death certificate.  So, it is official now.   It has been a difficult day.

Morning Thoughts

Even though two of the friends on the "schedule" for today had to cancel, I was lucky that another friend wound up coming over with her son for a play date with Audrey.  It helped the long morning on another rainy day to go much faster.  

Meanwhile, so many thoughts were floating around my  head this morning.  Last night was one of my lowest points since all this began, and I was chatting online with Sarah- (one of my new widow friends), telling her how it's becoming so much more real now- "Yes, this is about that time," she wrote.  

It's amazing to me how I have done nothing but the work of grieving for the past 50 days and then it feels as though I'm right at the very beginning again.  The horror is fresh- the loss is new- and again, I can't believe all of this is about- you.

I remembered something random about Dan or us I really wanted to jot down in the other journal I'm keeping of stuff like that, but I later forgot.  I remember it was something really sweet or meaningful so I'm upset now.  I hope it resurfaces again at some point.  

I was thinking about how it's really time to move Audrey to a booster seat- but how I hate to make changes like these.  A part of me worries, that the more I change, the more likely she will forget Dan.  But I can not stop Audrey from growing and changing so I'm trying to think of the things I can keep consistent/steady while all of those other changes happen.  I had decided to renew our lease for six months here- then leaning towards a year- and now sometimes I think that moving also- would start Audrey on a new chapter of her life, and neither she nor I would have any associations with Dan in the new place.  So sometimes I think about staying for a while.  I guess I'll know when the time is right.

I took a shower and tried to remove some of the "deh"- Korean for dead skin- on my arms with my thumb.  Koreans are really into body scrubs that get rid of all that dead skin, and they use little wash cloths to help with the exfoliation, but Dan swore the best way was with his thumb and fingers.  He took really long showers because he was getting it all off and claimed that was the reason for his perfect, smooth skin.  He really did have beautiful skin and I hope Audrey gets it.  Sometimes he would come in the shower and help me get my own "deh" off.  He would seem really proud because so much was coming off.  And he would lecture me a bit on how I needed to do this myself more often.  

While in the shower, I also thought about water.  I can never view water in quite the same way obviously.  Before this, I thought water quite a beautiful thing.  Now it is a potential killer.  I thought about how babies love to splash in the water, but can drown in one or two inches.  I thought about crystal clear oceans and destructive tsunamis.  

Later, we ate lunch.  I peeled some pieces of orange for Audrey, careful not to give her the pithy parts.  I thought about how I want to do that for her in life- remove the bitter parts.  I don't want her to face a life marked or defined by sorrow as some who lose a parent do.  My friend Ann told me last night she is praying for Audrey each day and when she does, she rejects those notions and prays she'll have a truly abundant life.  I too have started praying for Audrey- the first real prayers I've uttered since.  Dan's loss can not be replaced, but I am believing a life marked with sorrow can also be beautiful.  

I did a load of laundry and as I went to put Audrey's sheet back on her bed, I heard the rattle of the first bunny she'd ever gotten when she was a baby.  It reminded me of another sweet way her dad was looking out for her.  He was convinced the sound of the rattle as she moved around during the night was disturbing her.  "I really think it's too loud," he insisted.  So, I took it out.  A few weeks ago she found it in her bin of stuffed animals and wanted it back.  

I injured myself twice this morning.  First a large splinter of wood from our dish rack went under my thumbnail and caused me to scream.  Currently, I'm icing my nose with Audrey's little pink cat ice pack because while I was pulling her clean sheet tightly over her crib mattress- I pulled really hard and actually punched myself in the nose- and I was wearing glasses.  I screamed again.  Dan might have laughed.  But I thought about how small these injuries are, but how they really hurt.  I thought about what it felt like to die the way Dan did and if it hurt.  

I wrote a song for a friend after her mom was killed instantly in a car crash a couple of years ago.  I was pregnant with Audrey and read the email from my friend while sitting on my couch in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.  I was crying immediately when I read the words "killed instantly," and Dan, who was getting ready for work, came out to find me in that state.  "What happened?" he was worried.  And I told him.

Right after he left for work, these words fell into my head for a very simple song.  Later I asked Dan to play the piano and record it for me very simply at our house.  We did.  It was the last recording we have ever made together.  It's called "Comfort You" and I tried to attach it here but eventually gave up.  Interestingly enough, a few months later when a friend told me her childhood friend's husband had suddenly died, I sent my friend this song.  This woman is Sarah- whom I mentioned above and whom I talk with all the time now.  

What's interesting to me now is that how I referenced water in the lyrics- I described it as clear and mysterious and I asked for:

"Comfort, invisible, wordless,
let it be like water, it's clear and mysterious.
Like the light as the sun's going down on us...
comfort, comfort you now."  

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


This is a tough one to write.

I keep thinking about how excited I would feel to meet you- right up to the end really.  But in the beginning it was so intense.  The very first time you took the bus to Jersey, I remember I stood on the overpass over the highway waiting for you.  I was pacing back and forth, looking myself over, straining to see down the highway if the bus was coming, and straining to see when you would get off.  When I finally saw you, you were carrying a shopping bag with a wrapped present, which I pretended not to notice.  It was maybe our fourth time meeting- but we had said that we were going to "have a talk."  And later that evening- we did.  We sat at a duck pond and told each other our stories.  We ate lunch at a restaurant nearby during which we both pulled out little sheets of paper with notes that we'd written.  I remember that you had written, "Dan's plan- not necessarily God's plan" next to your 5 year plan.  After that talk, we said we'd wait a while to start dating- take things slow, but I think we both knew we were dating from that point on.

And every time I came to pick you up at that bus stop, it was the same.  I would always look my best, and I would usually go to the overpass and look for you there.  Sometimes I would arrive later than you and see you coming over the overpass and down the stairs.  You would have the biggest smile on your face, and lower your head down just a bit as if you were peeking at me behind the windshield of my car.  I could not keep from smiling.  Then you'd open the car door and say, "It's so good to see you." It was ridiculous really how crazy we were about each other.

If we were meeting an another location- on a corner in the city or one of our favorite spots in the first year or so- the Marriot in Times Square- you would often play the same joke of pretending not to see me and walk by me with a giant smile on your face.  But then you'd turn around, our hands would clasp, or we'd hug, and I was instantly high.

And it was the same when I would take the bus into the city to meet you.  I'd sit on the bus touching up my makeup, literally heart pounding the entire way to the city. I could not get there fast enough, and my anticipation would build as we neared the Lincoln Tunnel until I finally saw the little line in the middle of the tunnel on the yellow tiles with the words on either side: NEW JERSEY...NEW YORK.  And then I'd get off the bus and then, there you were- smiling and waiting to take my hand.

You lived in Staten Island at the time, and later you lived in Harlem, but you were always there at my bus gate in Port Authority waiting for me, and you always took me back there at the end of a day or evening, waiting to be sure I was on that bus.  It was routine for five years, and not an easy one.  Often we were running down the tunnel from the 1-9 train to Port Authority- up that smelly little hill, past the crazy religious signs, and the old man playing the Chinese violin (which you always said was just the worst sounding instrument).  We were usually running because sometimes the bus only came every hour and somehow we'd always wind up almost missing it.  Sometimes we did.  Usually I'd make it on, sometimes with you running upstairs to hold the bus while I bought my ticket, and when I was finally on the dark bus alone, my legs would ache from running.

On the 25th of this past June, I came into the city to meet you for one last time- for dinner before seeing Abbie's play.  And it was...the same.  I came down the escalator- and there you were. We smiled.  You took my hand and we navigated through the rush hour crowd.  I commented on how I couldn't believe I'd ever done this routine for so many years- I was so out of practice now.  But the feeling of seeing you- had not changed.  Not at all.

I have broken down numerous times while writing this post because these moments of meeting played such a special role in our love story.  I am weeping now.  I have lost so much more than just the Dan you were when you left, or the future we had together.  I have lost all of our years and memories we shared together.  I've been thinking about those moments of anticipation, and thinking about how the rest of my life will be one long ride to the Lincoln Tunnel.  But for now, there's no more anticipation for me.  I am not waiting for your call, for your email, for a letter.   There's no one to look out the window for towards the end of the day.  The bus stops in front of our building- people get out- and I close the curtains.  It is a loneliness I have never known before in my life.

The Story

The Story by Brandi Carlile- a beautiful song we listened to often that I came across on Dan's iPhone/iPod tonight.  I started to listen to it while Audrey was still awake which wasn't a good idea...

What a beautiful song- I will miss listening to this with you Dan.  Thank you for always pointing me towards such quality music.   You can listen to it here.

All of these lines across my face
Tell you the story of who I am
So many stories of where I've been
And how I got to where I am
But these stories don't mean anything
When you've got no one to tell them to
It's true...I was made for you
I climbed across the mountain tops
Swam all across the ocean blue
I crossed all the lines and I broke all the rules
But baby I broke them all for you
Because even when I was flat broke
You made me feel like a million bucks
You do
I was made for you
You see the smile that's on my mouth
It's hiding the words that don't come out
And all of my friends who think that I'm blessed
They don't know my head is a mess
No, they don't know who I really am
And they don't know what
I've been through like you do
And I was made for you...
All of these lines across my face
Tell you the story of who I am
So many stories of where I've been
And how I got to where I am
But these stories don't mean anything
When you've got no one to tell them to
It's true...I was made for you 

Be Like Children

"The concept of death is complex and will be difficult for young children to understand," I read in a book entitled, "Helping Children Cope with the Loss of a Loved One."

This statement strikes me as true, but almost unnecessary.  It reminds me of when I taught 7th grade English for a year.  I was a new teacher and was thrown into it a couple of weeks before the school year began.  Because of that, I think I overcompensated a little bit by trying to show the kids that I knew what I was doing.  I remember meeting with one little boy's mom at the parent/teacher conference, and she smiled as she told me what he had told her about me.   Joseph said "She seems like she's trying to be strict, but actually she's just nice."  So...he saw through me.

And so it is with the above statement.  I feel like that's the psychologists and professionals trying to approach the overwhelming topic of death with an air of professionalism, authority.  But I think I see through them.

Difficult for young children to understand?- I believe it is difficult for all of us no?  As adults we have a few more tools to work with than the children.  We have intellect- we understand that the body can stop functioning, we understand the basic causes.  We also have had a lot more time to become desensitized, and a lot more busyness to keep us under the illusion- that hey, maybe that day isn't coming.

I am perfectly ready to admit that Dan's death comes to me without precedent in my life as well.  I am confused, lost.  Never has my partner in life disappeared from the planet before.  I imagine I see him all the time; I believe he is still just away and I must push through; I can make no leap from the living Dan I conjure up walking around the apartment or lying in bed with me- to the shell of remains that is buried in a cemetery I don't remember how to get to.

I don't want to push away those child-like sensibilities and say that I get this.  Those sensibilities are quite useful and like children often do- they point us to simple truths we have forgotten.

When I was a small child, I was determined to become a scientist like my father, but not just any scientist.  My secret goal was to create a serum that would cure what seemed to me a cruel disease inflicting the entire human race: death.  It seemed completely conceivable to me and I was certain this cure would be obtained before any of my loved ones passed from this world, including my pet gerbil.  But I was particularly concerned with my parents because they were already a lot older than I was.  I can still remember drawing my mother to my bedside at night, as I buried my warm, tear-stained 8-year-old face in her flannel nightgown because I couldn’t imagine life without her.  She comforted me by telling me it would be a long, long time before mommy and daddy left.  Somehow, this reply failed to satisfy. 

Through a child’s glossy eyes, mortality seems stark and unnatural.  Should a child be convinced of its naturalness?    

During my 20's I spent most of my time trying to figure out what I wanted to do career-wise.  "What am I meant to do?"  "What's my calling?"  These thoughts are the strange luxury of the younger generations.  And so I took the Myers-Briggs and all those other tests where you figure out your personality type and what you're good at; I read many books, and I attended seminars.  And do you know what a lot of those sources told me to do?  They told me to go back to my childhood dreams.  To think about what it was I used to want to do when I was a small child.  Because there I would find a place untouched by worldly concerns/ambitions or pressures.  In childhood's innocence, I could find my answers.

Now I have my own child.  Like many mothers, eating can be a struggle.  Audrey's a fairly good eater, and one thing I try not to do is force her to eat.  I give her good choices, and I feel if she's hungry - she'll eat.  My approach, I've found, is actually well-supported and I've read that she is actually more in tune with her body's hunger and dietary needs at this age, than she probably ever will be as an adult.  Of course.  She doesn't know anything about dieting or weight gain.  She doesn't label one food "good" and another "bad.  And I've noticed that if she has a cold, she doesn't drink her milk- which is said to add to congestion.  I've even noticed the couple of times she's been constipated, she's asked for fruit or applesauce.

The other thing that is striking about little children is their inability to hide our fallen nature.  In "The Confessions," St. Augustine said something like, if we left two babies alone, they would kill each other.  I have had to teach Audrey to share- her first instinct was to hoard and keep things for herself alone.  In this way we are of course socialized and able to live here on this planet together.  And as adults, we get pretty good at hiding that stuff.  But just a quick look at the evening news and it's obvious that we can not hide it all.  If we want to discover our true nature- both good and bad- time spent with a child- will show you both.

Now these are just a few examples off the top of my head, I'm sure there are many more.  We seem to rely on childhood's innocence as an authority on certain subjects.  The innocence we find there leads us to truths we've lost as we entered a busy world of daily concerns.

So, while I understand that Audrey's mind cannot comprehend her father's new and permanent absence, and while I will help her as she grows to get some kind of hold on it, I hope she never finds she "understands" death or thinks that I do.   I hope that in matters of truth, she will always be
like a little child.

"I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."  Matthew 18.3

Stage 2

It's definitely not that cut and dry- the grieving process isn't something that goes from one stage to the next- it is a spiral you go up and down, repeating the various stages throughout days, weeks, months, and years.  I despise the spiral.

At the tomb of Lazarus are the famous two words, "Jesus wept."

But Tim Keller points out something that is left out of most translations- Jesus also "trembled with rage."

So, both of these, I believe, are a natural and even good response to death.

Who was Jesus angry with?

Though there are easily people I could direct my anger towards- I think Jesus was angry at death itself...an intruder to the plan.  Oh, but modern psych tells me death is a natural part of the life cycle.  Then why does it feel so unnatural?  Why then, does every cell in your body scream that this is wrong- a mistake- cannot and should not be?  Even if Dan had died at 85, I don't think I'd see our separation as natural.  A friend of ours wrote that once he had his daughters, he couldn't imagine that one lifetime was enough to spend with them, and he had to investigate the possibility of an eternal life.

I sat in the lobby after Lisa came to pick Audrey up for the play group.  I stared out the windows at the gray sky and the blowing tree branches.  It looks particularly harsh and uninviting today out there- even though the landscape I see has been manicured and tamed by humans.  I watched the old people that live in our building coming out of the elevator- heading out the door.  They have lived a long life.  Then I envisioned Dan coming towards the doors, carrying our bags of groceries and dragging his feet the way he did.  I see him smiling at me.  I miss him with a holy ache.

Then right in the middle of that longing and sorrow- there it is-
the anger-
it comes.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Sleep, Death's Cousin

"Shake off this downy sleep, death’s counterfeit, and look on death itself."  Shakespeare

Well, I was never able to find what I thought I'd written in some journal somewhere, but maybe it's just something I said to Dan.

He was such a great sleeper- just so adaptable in general- probably because of all of the adapting he had to do growing up- being born in the States, moving to Korea, moving back to the States at 13 again by himself to live with a friend of the family.

I am quite the opposite.  Unless I'm really tired, it'll take me a while to fall asleep.  So on airplane trips, he'd be sleeping away most of the time, and I'd be bored, watching movies or reading by myself- wishing he'd wake up so we could talk or do something together.

It was the same way at night.  I loved that special time when we turned out the lights but would lay in bed talking about small things for a little while.  But quite often, he'd fall asleep pretty quickly.  Sometimes I'd give him a nudge or pretend I thought he was still awake.  That actually made him pretty angry.

But I remember thinking about why it bothered me so much when he fell asleep first.  Even though we were sleeping in the same bed, he was quickly in another state.  I thought maybe because sleep is so symbolic and closely related to death- it scared me to be left awake in the dark room, so fully aware, and so totally alone.  Just for once, I wanted to be the one to fall asleep first.

And now here I am.  Alone, left in the dark...wishing, wishing, wishing, I could just tap your shoulder and wake you- no matter how angry you'd get.  I'd do it
if I could.

How I Love You

This was an expression we picked up at some point and said to one another often.  It seemed to express what we felt better than "I love you."

Audrey- I want to tell you how your Appa loved you- in the purest, most adoring way, how he wanted to protect you...

After you were born, he was working very long hours.  So I sent him a lot of emails with photos and videos of you to try to cheer him up throughout the day.  Well, there is nothing like hearing your child laugh for the first time.  I loved your laugh and so I tickled you and caught it on video.

I sent it to your dad at work with this as the subject of the email: "put some laughter into your day."

But rather than just enjoy seeing his baby laugh- he was concerned that you were not enjoying my tickling.  Always looking out for you.

Here was his reply to me:


thanks for sending me that.  she's so cute!!!

but please stop tickling her.  i think she hates it.  she just can't communicate "mommy, please stop!"

but thanks!

Oh, how he loved you.

Please Do Not Rush Me!

It's happening now- I feel the change of seasons coming and realize that although time has stopped for me, this summer will not be an eternal one.  The advertising world pushes us along- back to school started months ago, and their marketing through Christmas is all ready to go.

Yesterday, as our friend drove us to her home for dinner, she commented on how they had noticed the leaves on the trees starting to change colors already.  Her daughter pointed them out- the spots of red and yellow- as we drove down the road.

Then, today, just now before my parents left, I heard my dad, who was looking at a book with Audrey, tell her that soon we'd be able to get a pumpkin.  And then my mom said that we'd also go to the holiday train show at the Botanical Garden.  I had wanted to go last year, but we never got around to it.

I snapped.  "Please, we don't have to think about Christmas yet!  My God!"

I suppose for people in the regular world, seasons and holidays are something to look forward to.  They seem to be, in many ways, what keeps people going.  Especially if you're working in a 9-5 job with no end in sight - it's important to look towards something- a break maybe, a celebration.  It's a large part of the small talk we engage in.  I always found it irritating though in the elevators of corporate buildings when people would say "Oh, this weather- it's so hot!" and then the next season, "Oh, when will this cold end!"  I know they're just making conversation and all, but you'd think they'd be used to the fact that it's hot in summer and cold in winter by now.  The other thing that irritated me was the way everyone said "Happy New Year" as the official "office greeting" until about late February.  OK, so the corporate world wasn't for me.

But I get it, I really do- how the cyclical seasons help us move forward and give us hope for change.

But I don't feel like moving forward right now- forward means alone, forward means further from my living love, forward means forgetting.  It is way too soon and too raw for that.  I prefer to stay here, in my "mystical grieving space," as my therapist called it Friday morning on the phone, for a little while longer.  The only plus I see about the impending change of seasons is something that I read on a widow board.  Another young widow said that she preferred winter these days because it suited her grieving state better- the spring and summer were just too full of life she said.


If you infuse your grief with hope, the way people used to pat salt down into a piece of meat, Tim Keller says, you will become wise.

He also quotes George Herbert:

     A Dialogue-Anthem
Alas, poor Death! Where is thy glory?
Where is thy famous force, thy ancient sting?

Alas, poor mortal, void of story!
Go spell and read how I have killed thy King.

Poor Death! And who was hurt thereby?
Thy curse being laid on Him makes thee accurst.

Let losers talk, yet thou shalt die;
These arms shall crush thee.

Spare not, do thy worst.
I shall be one day better than before;
Thou so much worse, that thou shalt be no more.

George Herbert 


Emily: Does anyone truly realize life while they're living it- every, every minute?
Stage Manager: No.  Saints and poets maybe.  They do some.

The above quote is from "Our Town" and has remained with me since I read the play in my sophomore year of high school.  Emily, from her new position post-death, is able to see that no one is appreciative of the life they live while they are living it.  As a fifteen-year-old girl, I wanted to think that I could accomplish it.  I liked writing poetry- maybe I would be one of the poets the stage manager speaks of?  


In reading through my journals from the time Dan and I were married, I came across quite a few poems I don't remember writing.  Here is one from 2006:


I am
because of this
this unhealth
and illness
saturated sickness
unnameable disease
my sobbing sound
like a baby that is too old now.
wind blows and rattles windows
and your heart sleeps inside like a stone.

My late night vigil
to no avail.
1 AM and until day, until then
then no more dying, no more pain, 
just the end.

My God, I was dramatic.  Because what was this about?  Probably about all the typical things that were on my mind back then.  Struggling to find a career I liked.  The struggles in our marriage as Dan pursued his passion and I felt like I was no longer a priority.  The usual depression/malaise I've always struggled with.  Perhaps I had to create drama because my life just wasn't as interesting as I would've liked.

But as I skimmed through those journals, I was struck- amazed at how incredibly small and inconsequential all that stuff seems now.  It seems quite silly really.  I had it all.  We were  young, living in a great neighborhood.  We had found each other and had a beautiful though tumultuous relationship.  We had talents and gifts we wanted to give to the world.  We just weren't sure how to go about it.  What was the problem?  I think the problem inherent in that poem and in my journal writing is simple- the sin of self-absorption.  Sure a little introspection is healthy, but as Dan usually told me- "You think way too much."

The "Our Town" quote sprung to my mind last night when I was chatting online with a friend.  I was telling her how I am just so jealous now of all the happy families and how reading things people post on Facebook is difficult.  I know Facebook isn't genuine or a full spectrum of someone's life, but it is hard to read about even the simplest things they get to do as families or as husband and wife.  She pointed out that the sad thing is that most of those people don't realize what they have.  This is true and I am sorry for that.

My friend confessed her own guilt in that she'd been frustrated and angry with her husband- who I happen to know is quite an amazing man: "Even though I know it's wrong, I find myself still doing it."  She said it's like what Paul says in Romans: "I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do."  There has never been a truer statement about the human condition.

"The old man versus the new man," I said.  For this is our struggle in this kingdom of "not yet."

And so I don't think Emily's question can be answered in the affirmative at all.  I even wonder at times, if Dan were to come back now from the dead, after five, ten years, would I again start to take him for granted and have regular frustrations like anyone else?  Would I be able to sustain the window that I have right now in his death?  As much as I hate to imagine myself falling that far- perhaps not.  This is very much the sickness of man.

In my journal I found another quote from a book I'd read at my publishing job at the time.  One of the sentences had stayed with me- "The difference between what you know and what you do equals the pain of your experience."  I remember thinking- yes, this explains a lot.  I know what I should be doing, what I want to be doing- I have it all in my head- but I can't quite get there.

But later that day, I met my friend Abbie for dinner- our first dinner together- we were new friends.  We walked down 6th Avenue in Park Slope to a burger place she'd heard about.  As people who are destined to be good friends do, we were already diving into the weightier topics of our lives.  I shared this quote with her, and her response surprised me.  I love her because she never tells me what I want to hear or agrees with me just to keep the conversation going.  She speaks slowly and pensively.

"No, I don't think I agree with that Julia.  That's a very sad way to live.  It leaves no room for grace."

Grace- ah.  The word is like a sigh through which I blow out all of the tense breath I've been holding in without realizing it.  It's the same grace another friend told me she relies on in mothering.  "You do the best you can and pray for grace over the rest of it."  She too had been grieving the instant loss of her mother in a car accident while she mothered two small girls.

So, no, Emily, the answer is no.  No one will be able to truly enjoy this life while living it- "every, every moment" as you say.  It's the struggle of the old and new man- which will not be resolved until the kingdom of the not yet, becomes the kingdom of now.  But for now...there is grace.