Thursday, September 30, 2010

Universal Suffering

In the past if I've been depressed, someone- sometimes Dan- tries to tell me other people have it much worse than I do- "think of third-world countries or people with no homes who are starving"- they tell me.  Now, when I was feeling depressed or blue - this idea never helped at all.  Why would it make me feel better to know that the pain and crap I'm feeling is even worse for others.  Do I gain peace or contentment from others' troubles.  No, I would instantly feel worse and more overwhelmed.

But not now.  If I think of those things now, I feel better.  Not because I am glad to know others are sharing in my suffering or have it even worse than me- but because in this way I don't have to ask, "Why me?"  I do not take it personally- but instead have open eyes to the fact that this is a world full of sorrow. I am not being dark when I say this- it's simply the truth.  In this country, we are comfortable.  In large part, it's the advertising world that teaches us to strive for this convenient, yet often elusive life.  You know the one- it's in the Crate and Barrel catalogs- that's why you think if you buy those new margarita glasses and guacamole bowl, your life will look like the one in the photo.  But really, you buy things for your "imaginary life" most of the time.  Because when you take it home, you're still in your own regular old kitchen and you're just not finding the time to throw a "fiesta" with six of your closest couple friends.

In this age, in our culture- the striving to be comfortable, to have it now, fast, new, better- has shrouded the sorrow that earlier ages knew of firsthand on a daily basis.  In our culture- I believe instead- the repression of that truth spills out in anxiety- the anxiety that attacks so many people.  It's a quiet, sleepless anxiety asking us why we're not happy or why we're not living up to those standards of "togetherness",  masking the deeper fears that bad things might happen.  It's a nameless anxiety because we really don't know what all this is about or have the depth to ask those hard questions.

But go back a few centuries and those people- they knew that sorrow was a very real part of our world.  Women died in childbirth, people died in their own beds in your home all the time, there was disease and war.  Death was not pornographic back then as it is now- (I am using some of a Tim Keller sermon to draw from here).  Death was real and unavoidable.  They were not obsessed with trying to stay youthful and people did not die in sterile hospital beds only to be whisked away to a mortuary and be "made-up."

So now it helps for me to go back there and remember sorrow as an integral part of our world and our existence.  It just is.

Once I am able to universalize sorrow and suffering and see it for what it is- a huge gash on the body of the human race- then I do not sit and wonder why this happened to me- I wonder instead why it happens to all of us- and then...ironically because it seems a much bigger, more unanswerable question than "why me?"- somehow this question feels like a step in the right direction.  When I ask "why?" for all of us- then, the bitterness is leaving and the truth is beckoning.

So much for my mental break from all this processing...

Locked Box

There is no one who can give me any answers.  No one.  I feel like I sit at the computer sometimes waiting for a magic email or message to tell me what's going on or give me some answers.  But really, no pastor, friend, book, or even counselor can say something to make this make sense or take any of the pain away.  It's a locked box.  

Speaking of counselor, mine told me today if I'm feeling mentally exhausted from all my thinking/processing/questioning, to take a break.  So i may do that for at least a day.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Two

I realize today it is three months since I've seen Daniel in person.  He left here on Tuesday, June 29th.  This is way too long...
and it is only three months.

It feels like the questions never end and the grief is so layered and complex, but then I realized this evening somewhere in between feeding A. her dinner and cleaning up that really, it always comes down to two options.

For example, he's either still aware and in some other realm, or in the ground- a physical being who is gone forever.  We either have a soul that outlasts our body, or we don't- we're just physical beings.  There is a divine creator- or there isn't.  My husband knows he died on July 6th or he doesn't.

When I put all the questions into this format- either this or that- it seems so black and white.  I think that comforts me - amidst all the mystery- there are many questions that only have two possible answers.  Which one will I choose?  I've got a 50/50 chance.

Slideshow

I made a short slideshow for the benefit concert Monday night.


First I had recorded that song I wrote for Dan's 30th birthday to encourage him about his music career, but in the end, I decided to go with a composition written and produced and played by him.  I wanted to point to him another time, in another way.  I wanted more people to hear what he worked on.  It was written for a small indie film about a year ago.  I remember him working on it and watching the film together.  I had very high hopes for him as a film composer.  He loved films.  A few years ago I bought him tickets to a John Williams concert at Lincoln Center.  Stephen Spielberg was there and they lowered a screen and played scenes from all of the movies Williams scored along with the live orchestra conducted by Williams.  It was a great night.


This is the link to the slideshow I used: here.




But I had also put it together with the first song that I recorded last week so I could compare them before deciding.  A good friend of Dan's has a production studio and was kind enough to donate his time so I could do this.  I'm very grateful- as hard as it was being in a studio singing again- it felt right to record this song.  We were in a huge time crunch to do it before the benefit so I'd love to work on it more some day, but my only regret is that Dan's playing will never be on it.  He so wanted me to record this song, but I just never got around to it.  It wasn't a priority for me, being a new mom, and trying to take care of the practical things while he focused on music.  Now I'm sorry that I didn't see its importance.  Making music together was a true gift we had.  But for the most part, I left it wrapped up and didn't bother to tear it open even if things got messy.  So here is that version: 



Physicality

In the kitchen- putting away leftovers from Audrey's lunch before- thinking about how everything I touch in there marks our union- it's all stuff from our wedding registry.  The plates, the utensils, the mugs and glasses.

I put away the macaroni and cheese and broccoli in a pyrex that I used to pack your lunches in when you worked in the city at your day job.  I hated packing lunches, but at least tried to do it most of the time.  Sometimes I even included a cute note.  The first year of our marriage I made you Korean soup for your birthday to take to work and rice crispie treats- one of your favorites- to share with the office.  I spelled out "Happy Birthday Dan" with them.

You'd tell me everyone at work said what I made looked really good and that I was a good cook all the time.  I really am not, but thank you.

I was so sad this afternoon that I never have to make you another lunch again.

Audrey is napping now.


Thinking for a few minutes now of your left cheekbone- the light colored freckles there.  We fall in love in bodies.  No Manichean or Gnostic beliefs will do.  

I think of your uneven sideburns you trimmed yourself and think how can this really be?  How can you really be dead when you had sideburns and freckles and a face?  

Job

"I cannot eat for sighing; my groans pour out like water.  What I always feared has happened to me.  What I dreaded has come to be."

Job 3. 24

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tighter

It's the kind of weather - windy and rainy with splotches of sunlight-where you look up at the sky and see the clouds moving so quickly.

It's been a really rough afternoon- Audrey fell asleep in the car on her way back from the play group so that was her nap- so no nap here.  I'm feeling lethargic and laying down a lot.  Audrey comes to me saying, "Wake up mommy...wake up."  

Looked up at the clouds and was surprised to see once they moved- the sun- looking white and round like the moon.  I looked right at it.  Saw the hawk up there too.

A friend called and has come over to bathe Audrey which I am so glad for.  While she reads to Audrey on the floor next to me before bedtime, I lay on the bed listening in that spoonable position- craving your body to spoon mine the way we sometimes did.  And sometimes you'd put your arm around me before we slept after I'd ask you to hold me..."tighter...tighter" I'd say.

More Absence

It's funny how people keep telling me they felt your presence last night throughout the concert- in the music, the stories, the words spoken.

All I felt


was your absence.

Testament

There's still a buzz going on on Facebook about Dan's concert last night.  But please no one else tell me I must feel wonderful about what an impact he had.  Of course, it is a testament to Dan more than anything- more than any amount of work people put into it or the artists who played- it speaks of him.  But I don't feel wonderful.  If he was 80 when he died and this tribute was played for him, I would still be a grieving widow, and it would still be hard.  But he was 33.  We had been married six years and have a daughter- nothing is wonderful about it.

Awareness

Consistently the hardest thought for me is that Dan doesn't know he died- he doesn't have any idea what happened on July 6th or the surreal world I've been enduring ever since.

But then I realized what I'm really fearing when I say that is that in death, you lose all awareness- you are annihilated as many people believe.  If this is true, it is not like sleep and would not be peaceful.  It is nothing like sleep because in sleep we are sometimes even more aware than when we are awake.  Things from our unconscious mind are revealed to us that are kept hidden while we're awake.

But it's interesting that the fear in my mind isn't just, "Is he just dead and that's it?"  but "Does he know he died?"  It feels like this particular concern or way of phrasing it means something- I think it means that the idea that our awareness could extend past death is a familiar one.  It's a firm option inside of us.  It isn't placed there by religious institutions or books.  I can tell you- because I am here in this grief- it is just there. Is he aware you want to know...not did he die...but is he aware that he died?

And in that way, maybe sleep is a foreshadowing of death- when we examine both as they really are.  For in sleep we are not simply resting peacefully...we are given an opportunity for a higher awareness.  I feel that more than ever now each night as I close my eyes...I feel hopeful of some discovery in spirit while I rest my physical body.

Obviously, Dan is dead.  His body that I loved is rotting under the ground.  But does he know?  Does he know what's happening?  This is an entirely different question and the one that comes so naturally to me.

Does he know?

Two Dans

There is the Dan I heard about last night.  The Dan that all of the musicians knew.  He is wonderfully talented, humble, and giving.

Everyone loved him.

Then there is Dan.  The one who would be laying next to me right now in bed- the one whose empty desk I am looking at right now.   The Dan who would've played with Audrey this morning when we woke up so that I could sleep a little bit more.  The Dan who is part of "us."

He is lovely.

Over

Dear Dan,
So now the memorial concert is over.  And I come home.  I am happy to be home in my bed- happy to be here writing, thinking of you.

It was harder than I thought.  When I first got there, once I got to the reserved seat up in the balcony, I couldn't stop crying.

I felt at any moment you'd come by like you always did at gigs, drinking a water or beer or soda, put your hand on my shoulder.

I feel the shock every time someone says something about you being gone- or I see the date of your birth and death together.  Every time it is a shock.  And then it is a shock that I'm just sitting there when it seems like I should be screaming.

I saw a few couples embracing or leaning on each other during the concert and thought how dare they?  Why should anyone get to do that kind of thing anymore.

I looked at the other bands and members and all of the people there and thought, "Why do all of these people get to be alive?  A lot of them have lived much more reckless lives than you did?"

Mostly I thought of you and our little girl at home sleeping.

I didn't have to see too many people which was good.  The few people I would've wanted to see, I did somehow get to see.  Our old pastor came over from the other side of the balcony and just hugged me for a long time.

It was a long night and I am tired.  I thought about music- and how transcendent and spiritual it had been for me- and you I think- before this.  Tonight- though beautiful, music seemed a poor imitation of something much greater- an echo of something profound but just man's feeble attempts to reach it.  Rather than divine, it seemed full of earth.

I thought about your hand again and how much I miss holding it- how at a concert like this, you would've reached for my hand a few times.  This must be what withdrawal feels like I thought- when people stop taking medication or doing drugs.  This hunger and longing and emptiness.

One friend who I said hi to told me she felt your presence so strongly tonight.  "Really?" I asked, "I don't."  Because I don't.  I ask for signs and demand of God to just throw me something, but nothing.

Before I left tonight, I just sat and asked God if you are there if he could just let you see a little bit even of this show tonight...in your honor.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Preparation

There is no way to prepare for this evening.

It is an evening for Dan.

I will be there to represent you Dan.  I will be so proud as I always have been since that very first show I attended- do you remember it?  It was July 3rd, 1999 at CB's Gallery.  Alisa met me at Port Authority in front of the Hudson News stand downstairs and she and I took the subway down to Bleeker and Bowery.  I remember she had a little subway map in her wallet because she was a relatively new New Yorker living in Queens.

I still remember exactly what it felt like and looked like as I walked in- it was as if it was in slow motion.  I walked down the little dark aisle in front of the bar and then there you were...I saw you playing- we were a bit late.  I recognized something in your face...we'd only met once at this point about a month before and I'd forgotten exactly what you looked like.  But I remember being so surprised...what is it about his face that I recognize?  Something much deeper than the fact that I'd met him a month before.  Something else.

Alisa and I sat at a small table by the wall.  After you finished, I remember you going to talk to a group of your friends and then seeing me, "You came..." you said.  And you gave me a hug which surprised me.  I could tell already that you had a big fan base, but you still made me feel special for coming.

Then a big group of us- Alisa and I, and your college friends, went to a little cafe around the corner.  You ordered Boston Cheesecake - I think you said because you liked Boston you'd get that which I found cute.  "I like Boston- I think I'll get the Boston cheesecake!"  You offered us some...so polite.  Alisa and I shared an iced cappucino or iced coffee.  When we left, I remember Alisa went to the bathroom downstairs and your group of friends had started walking down the street, "Hey guys, let's all wait for Alisa," you said.  Then you walked Alisa and I to our subway stop and told us to get to Queens (where I was spending the night with her) safely.  I remember feeling bad that you had to carry the cello because it looked so heavy.  It is the same cello that sits in the corner of my bedroom right now.  There it is.

Alisa's apartment was hot.  I slept in a borrowed pair of her pajama shorts that were too petite for me.  We shared a twin bed that night so maybe that was part of the reason...but I couldn't sleep at all.  For maybe the first time, I wasn't trying to conjure up some romantic feeling for a cute guy- but instead something had grabbed hold of me.  I was surprised by it.  Why was it keeping me up?

The next morning we attended the same church that you did and there you were running around playing with all the little kids.  I thought it was cute.  Then we all went out for Thai food.  I didn't get to sit at your table and thought the people I sat with were boring.  I remember making small talk but being frustrated that you were at the other table.  We shook hands goodbye.  It was the beginning of an eleven year romance- that goes on even now.

Did God know then?  Was he happy to see his daughter- me - falling in love with this brilliant and kind man?  Was he sad because he already knew what was going to happen?  Christians are always saying things that give God those kinds of human emotions- "God is sad too," they tell me.  But I'm thinking emotions come in certain time brackets for humans.  What would a being feel if he was all-knowing and could see past, present and future at the same time?  I don't think it would be happiness or sadness- but fullness...a fullness we have never known.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Where Are You?

My heart broke a few times tonight.  The other week when we went to IKEA with my parents, Audrey played a little game if I was walking ahead of them or my dad was saying in the cutest little voice, "Where are you Momma?"  or "Where are yoo Grampa?"

Tonight at dinner out of nowhere, she started saying, "Where are yoo Appa?"

Then after dinner, I gave her a few puzzles you'd gotten her in Korea this past spring.  They were a bit too advanced when you left even, but now she's good at them so I told her you'd gotten them on the last trip. "Thank you Appa," she said.  "I love you Appa."

I am so sorry Audrey...I'm sorry because I may have been wrong in thinking that you were grieving since this happened.  You knew something was wrong- and you sensed my own sorrow, but yours will be a slow grief- drawn out over your childhood and even adult years as you realize what has happened.  It's already happening when you see another child with his or her father or when we read books about a family.  I don't know whether to skip those books and avoid hanging out with families or not.  It's hard to know what to do but I think it best to continue normally...and just acknowledge our loss if and when it comes up.

Still, I am so sorry for you.  My heart grieves for your loss...one I have never known- the loss of your father- and you had an amazing one.

Fractured Life

Under the knife again tonight- no anesthesia.  It is an overwhelming thing to hold in this kind of grief while tucking in your toddler, saying prayers, singing a lullaby- kissing her- and closing the door to head into your own room and experience sheer torture.

I am shocked really at how new this idea is to me this weekend.  I'm thinking it's because the concert reminds me of the funeral...whatever the cause, if there is any, I feel back at the beginning.

The grief burrows into every crevice and hides so that I only catch glimpses and the horror can strike again and again- never giving me time to get used to it.

I am finishing up the slideshows- looking at all of the photos of you as a child and a boy and a young man.  I love that child, boy, young man, and the Dan I met.  One of the little gifts I made you when we fell in love- we were both incessantly making each other things- was a photo of you and I as little children.  We are both about four or five.  I spliced you into a shot of myself one Easter at my grandmother's house outside in the yard- putting you in my brother's place with some glue.  I framed it in a small frame.  I don't think it's gross to say I loved that little boy.  So I've been thinking, if I could love the you that existed long before I knew you- maybe I can continue to love the you that I don't know exists?

And I've been thinking about the depth of this grief and wondering how it could possibly be anything other than spiritual and holy?  If you know this grief, you can no longer think that we are just animals running strictly by biology.  You can not.  It doesn't mean that Christianity or any given religion is true, but it certainly means that there is something- something else.  This pain stemming from love goes far beyond biology or brain chemistry- far, far beyond.  It is something coming from another world.


I think about how if you had not died, I would have had one continuous life- with many seasons and parts, but one life- one whole life.  

Now my life is fractured in half.  There is the life I lead before I knew this kind of sorrow and the life I will lead hereafter.  It feels a heavy burden to live two lives in one lifetime.

Before the Concert

My hand is hungry for yours.  I try to feel what it felt like...my hand in yours.  I seemed to know from that first time we shook hands goodbye on July 4, 1999 at a Thai restaurant with a group of people after church that something about that felt so right.  And then there was that time walking down 42nd Street to Port Authority after we'd been dating for maybe a month and I tripped and you helped me up.  We kept holding hands for a block after that.  It was the first time.

I remember a close friend in college telling us that her parents' church had played a game with some of the older couples and blindfolded all of the wives and had each one guess by touch alone which pair of hands were her husband's.  I'm not sure what the application was, but I always thought I would certainly know yours.  Soft but strong...beautiful.

The counselor tells me I should do some preparation- maybe write- as a way to process before the concert tomorrow so it's less painful when I'm there.

It feels like this concert/memorial should be taking place a year after Dan's death, but it's not even three months.  I feel like most of the people there will have a year's worth of distance, but for me it is fresh.  I can't smile yet at memories or photos.  I am not there yet.  I can't really listen to any music either- Dan's music, music we listened to together, music he played with other bands- it goes right to my wound.  But tomorrow night I'll sit and listen to artist after artist pay tribute to you.

I realized the other day that it has been a long time since I saw you perform, and in the past two years, I probably only saw you twice...once at the Beacon and once at Radio City.  I almost didn't make it to Radio City this past fall because I needed a babysitter but my parents were out of town.  In the end, I asked you if it mattered, and in your quiet way, I could tell it did.  So, I ended up driving Audrey and myself into the city and dropping Audrey off at a friend's apartment.  You and I slept over there later that night.  I didn't have it in me to put on any special outfit- just wore my regular "mom clothes," pants, a long tan sweater you'd picked out for me, and a cranberry colored shirt.  Still, I touched up my make-up and combed my hair, and put on my red leather coat you liked so much and my friend told me I looked great.  It was exciting to go since I haven't been out much since Audrey was born.  I was still nursing and had nursed Audrey to sleep right before I left.  It felt strange and exhilarating to be walking around Manhattan alone.

I felt special going to the ticket booth to give them my name.  It was always fun being on the guest list.  I think I had missed a little bit of the opening band because I had to get Audrey to sleep, but I found my seat which ended up being next to the violinist's parents and wife.  We chatted and his mother told me that I had to support you.  She asked me how old Audrey was and when I told her, "Wow, she's still really little.  That's hard."  "But you have to support him."  "I know how it is," she said leaning over away from her husband, "I had a Japanese husband who didn't help at all.  It can be hard, but this is what he has to do and you will be his support."  I was in tears when she spoke this to me because it'd been so difficult since I had Audrey and you started traveling.  But I think the tears came also because I knew that she was right.  I saw you come on stage and tune your cello.  I wondered if you could see out into the audience at all and see me.  You couldn't.

While I sat there, I was intermittently texting Mercy who was watching Audrey.  I'd only left her a couple of times so I was nervous.  "I'm not usually a texter," (and I wasn't- didn't even have a plan) I told the girl next to me- one of the sound technician's wives.  "You're allowed- you're a mom!" she said.  In one text I would be checking on Audrey, "Can you make sure her face doesn't go in the bumper?  We don't have it so she's not used to it."  My friend sarcastically replied, "Yes, I'll make sure she doesn't suffocate."  I smiled.  In another I expressed the bittersweet emotions I felt sitting alone watching Dan living his dream.  "Crying I miss Dan and the floodgates are opening- just heard from someone else he's going to Europe again in a few weeks." That kept happening the past year.  Someone else would know before I did that you were traveling and it would just hurt so much to find out from someone else before you and I had discussed it.  We were partners, but it felt like you were starting to make plans without me.

After the show, the last one I attended, there was quite a wait for the VIP pass people to get into the after-party.  We were herded around Radio City for a bit, but I realized I didn't have the right pass.  I told you I'd wait in front of the party entrance downstairs.  I waited.  I can see you coming down the stairs, smiling at me.  Because we hadn't been out in a long time like that, it was special- like the old days.  You had an all-access pass for me and we went inside.  I think I just drank water and you had a beer maybe.  You introduced me to the band and friends.  I was so proud of you Dan.  Did you know that?  But what's even more amazing is the pride that you introduced me with.  Thank you for that.  I wanted so badly to make you appear even better.  So I did my best to be graceful and supportive.

Afterwards, we came back to my friend's place on the Upper West Side.  She was still up and had an air mattress set up for us on the living room floor with the baby monitor next to it.  We were exhausted, but I think we talked for a bit while we lay there about the evening.

The next week I sent a small mass email to all of the people I knew who had prayed for you all of these years.  We had been part of a few churches and you career was always the prayer request from both of us.  I told them that I had watched you play at Radio City with tears in my eyes the entire time, thinking of all of the years of prayers and supplications to please let you do this.  And then there you were.  I thanked these people for their prayers, but also, I was just so proud- I wanted everyone to know about my husband.  I don't think I cc'd you on the email, but hopefully I told you later.  I don't recall.

I imagine tomorrow night might feel similar at first- getting ready- leaving Audrey with a friend.  I will feel pride again because I'll be the one sitting in the audience- the who you chose and loved.  But I will feel sorrow- because you are gone.  I will not be seeing you play tomorrow night but I'll still be proud.  I will be sad when it is over, and there are no more memorials planned for you.  I will be sad when I come home to bed alone and it is late, and I am tired.

My moments of profound missing will be your memorial.
I will be
your
living
memorial.

Playing Along

Leafing through pictures of my whole adult life...please someone tell me this isn't real.  It's like I live as though I'm in a dream or playing some part, but every now and then I wake up.  I realize I AM awake.  I realize everyone else I know is either playing along, or it's true and this is real life.  Only it doesn't feel like any life I've ever known before.  It's not my life with sorrow interjected.  It's a different world entirely.  I have been transported.

No Numbness

It was a restless night with Audrey up a couple of hours after I went to sleep.

It was probably a mistake on my part thinking I could contribute a slideshow to the benefit concert.  I thought since I did so much for the funeral, one slideshow would be easy- but I don't have the luxury of being in a state of shock- the numbness that brought- right now.  Those early days I moved through everything with a sharpness and clarity because I don't think I could really feel anything.  Now I feel it.  I'm working on a slideshow that feels like it should be fulfilling and exciting because it's honor of you and has some lovely photos- but then it's not fulfilling.  It's empty and painful.

I guess I thought it would add a personal touch- a face- your face- to the concert and wanted to do that for you.  I think about what you would like every second- "Would you like this picture?"  Sometimes I can hear you saying, "Oh, not that one."

I am angry with you.  How could you leave me like this?

1:15 AM

I wish crying was still cathartic, but it is not.

Someone asked me if I ever, for just one moment, forget.  No, I never do.

Tonight your death has been fresh and brand new.  Like the first day.

Someone asked me if I'm looking forward to the benefit concert Monday night.  I am not.  I am grateful, but I am not looking forward to it.  It will be a difficult night for me.  I usually attend concerts with you, or to see you play.  All of the artists you've played with will be playing- but not you.  This will be hard to understand.

How many years have I sat in the back of dark clubs listening and waiting for your quick smile in my direction.

This will be the last concert I attend for you Dan.

But in the years ahead, I think if I'm folding laundry, or sitting at an office job, or driving Audrey to school- whatever I'm doing- I'll be there- on Bleeker or Ludlow- sitting in the back right-hand corner, on the black cafe chair- sipping a soda or a glass of wine, watching you play.

Friday, September 24, 2010

God and with God

I'm not sure at all what to make of this, but when someone this close to you dies, God sort of disappears and the person who died takes his place for a while.  What do I mean by this?  Well, suddenly if it is true, heaven becomes less abstract and mushy- not just about basking in the Creator's love in a completely abstract and unknown way- but instead it becomes about reuniting with your love.

Dan suddenly seems omniscient- I'm not sure if that's reserved for God alone, but at least his reality would be so much greater than mine- that he certainly knows more than me- he's gone past this world- into the invisible and unknown.

I guess this is why so many people, even non-believers, start to think of their lost one as an angel watching over them.  I don't believe this is exactly the case, but I do feel like since you're there in that realm with God, maybe you can put in a good word for us or something?

So I'm just wondering when heaven and spiritual things will be primarily about God again or if I will ever really "love" him like I used to think I did- because now there is someone else there with him whom I already love fiercely and have seen in the flesh- who has fathered a child with me.  Can you compete with this God?  And yet you are my only hope of seeing that one I love again.  It is all very twisted and confusing.  But I guess if Dan was a man before, he is not God suddenly now.  He is with God.  I hope with time they both fall back into their rightful positions.

Sorry About That

We had my cousin come by this morning with coffee and huge bags of hand-me-down clothes for Audrey.  Audrey especially loved trying on all of the shoes.  It was a good way to pass the morning.

For lunch I made A. and myself grilled cheese sandwiches.  I thought about cutting them into puzzle type shapes the way you did, but decided against it.  Audrey talked about you a lot at lunch today.  She said, "Appa died."  and then "Picture appa!" because I think she gets that we just have the photos now.  Then she looked at your picture on the kitchen table and said, "Thank you Appa!"  I asked her what she was thanking you for and she thought for a moment, "Cookie!"  You even got fed a little bit of her grilled cheese.

She said she was going to get "bigger and bigger" and "look like mommy."  Then she said she was going to go on a "honey mooon!"  and she pointed to her finger and said she'd get a "ring!"  I told her to find a good man and she said, "marry mommy!"  and then "marry Appa!"  I told her that would be very nice.

Unfortunately, A. didn't sleep at all today.  I'm not sure why but maybe she just wasn't tired out enough since we stayed in this morning.  It made for a long day so after an hour or so of trying to get her to nap unsuccessfully, I decided we'd go shopping.  I wanted to find something suitable to wear to the benefit on Monday.  Also, I felt like getting out.  It was my first time driving since July 4th.  It surprised me though how it didn't really feel strange- once I adjusted my mirrors- it was just driving again.

We looked around in a few stores and I bought a pair of jeans in the Gap.  I've had the same pair for ...let's see- four years.  So, I treated myself.  Then I tried on a few things in Anthropologie.  Audrey was getting cranky by then so I kept feeding her snacks.  But still she was getting a little loopy in the dressing room, putting my shirt over her head and just being silly...but that kind of overtired toddler silly that could turn into a meltdown at any moment.

In every store I went to, I felt like telling everyone that I was a new widow shopping for a dress for my husband's memorial concert.  You know how women get- kinda crazy pushing their way through the sale racks.  Dan used to hate that, and I'd tell him- "See, this is why I hate shopping."  But I wanted to tell those women- I'm not just doing some frivolous shopping here OK?  This is important.  Get out of my way.

I gave myself free reign over the dresses at Anthropologie- a luxury I know, but I told myself that since it was for your concert, I should look nice- for you- so I should just find something nice.  Even with that justification, I found a hard time finding anything.  I kept imagining what you would say to everything I saw..."hmmm...kinda tacky," you'd say, or "hmmm...it's too much no?"  I wanted it to be something you would've said, "That's really cool.  I think that's one of my favorite things on you."  Even though you said I looked good in everything, at the same time you were pretty picky.

I decided to buy one dress but may return it.  Then as I was heading to the car, I decided we should just eat at Panera.  I'm tired of eating reheated leftovers at our small and lonely kitchen table each night.  I got A. mac and cheese and shared some of the chicken from my sandwich.  We came here a lot together- so that was hard.  Logistically, it's so much nicer to have a third person.  I'd get the booth while you wait for the order to come up.  I left Audrey sitting in the booth while I went to get the food, not taking my eyes off her...but still.  I wished you were there.   I was tired by now so everything started to feel dream-like.  I put your phone up to my ear and listened to the voice note of you interviewing that Korean soccer player.  When you answer the phone and say "Hello?" in my ear, I can almost believe we're having a conversation.  Everything else in Panera was surreal.  Again I had the visions.  I could see you coming back from the coffee cart sipping your coffee, walking your slow walk, smiling at Audrey.  I could see it so clearly.  Maybe I overdid it.  I was wondering how I'd actually get up from the booth, get us in the car and get home at times.

I guess I did, and when we got home, Audrey was clearly tired.  She was asleep by eight after a few bedtime stories which is rare these days...now I'm feeling the quiet.  The weekend is still the worst.  No one is online- I'm sitting in our messy room with no TV, typing and trying to figure out what I'll do for the next couple of hours.  I feel a panic and sense of helplessness similar to that feeling I had right after the phone call when I ran around our apartment in a wet swimsuit trying to figure out what to do- calling people and leaving messages, running downstairs with audrey to my neighbors and knocking for a while, throwing off that wet swimsuit and putting on some clothes...

I miss the richness of our conversations at night.  Or even the richness of a quiet room where we both sat doing our own thing...but together.  Remember how you'd interrupt me sometimes if I was working and I'd get so annoyed, but then I'd constantly interrupt you to tell you something or show you something?  Sorry about that.

Strong

After my busy day, last night was rough.  I found out my babysitter for Monday night fell through, and something about that set everything else off and just left me feeling overwhelmed.

I told a fellow widow friend that I must have been in strong widow mode and now I was breaking down.  She told me that being strong means facing and feeling the pain and sorrow.  This is true.  Being strong does not mean going out on errands or play dates as if all is well, planning a party for my daughter, or busying myself with projects- though all of those things take strength.  Being strong happens when I'm alone, sitting in our bed, comprehending the fact that you are gone.  Being strong happens when I wake up feeling sick with grief, but I get up anyway.  Being strong happens not when when I put on a fake smile or "strong" appearance in front of others, but when I let them see me weep...

Matchbooks

A day or so before A's birthday this past week, I went to get out some matches and place them near her candles so everything was ready.  But then I realized every book in our small collection now has very special meaning- so...I asked my mom to bring over some matches.

REPUBLIC: This is the Asian fusion place we went to a lot when you worked at the Barnes and Noble corporate office in Union Square temping many years ago.  It was very early in our dating life and in my experience of NYC too.  I found the loud restaurant with heavy wooden benches and green noodle dishes glamourous.  I came to meet you on a day off for me and you took me to lunch there.

PIPA: This is a tapas place you took me to for our second Valentine's Day around 18th Street.  It's decor is lush and romantic- red velvets and flowers.  You got a wonderful table in the corner and we enjoyed our tapas thoroughly, though I know the small portions weren't filling enough for you.  You gave me a beautiful candle that I still have- it's clear gel with red roses inside.  I think I gave you a big bag with practical odds and ends- including vitamins.  You hadn't been taking good care of yourself at that time I think.  So...there I was even then...trying to take care of you.

CAFE LALO: This is from when I lived on 83rd Street one summer.  We went there with guests who were visiting, and also by ourselves to share a fruit tart and coffee if we had nothing else to do.  That's the cafe where Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks meet in You've Got Mail.  I liked that movie a lot.  You always said Jane Austen was my favorite author- even though it's not true- I do love Mr. Darcy.

WEDDING: There's one from your friend Mark's wedding in 2003.  I don't think I attended that wedding.  I can't remember if it's because it was small or there was some reason I couldn't go.  I think it's the latter and remember feeling bad about it.

UNION SQUARE CAFE: When we got married, the students in my graduate program collected money and gave us a gift card to this restaurant.  I think we saved it for about a year.  We enjoyed it but it was a bit snooty for our taste, and we talked about how whenever we drop a couple hundred bucks on a meal (which for us is rare), we're always a bit disappointed.

SOOSUNG HOTEL: This is a pack of matches from Daegu- your hometown in Korea.  I'm not sure where this came from actually.  On your last trip to Korea in April I know you didn't go there, so I'm thinking it's from our trip there in February of 2005.


I am sad that we won't have any occasions or events to collect matches together.  Our eleven years together now feels so long when I find things like this.  It didn't feel this way before.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bargaining

This is one of the "stages of grief."  It happens not on a conscious level for me, but I start to think that maybe you'll come back if you see how I'm changing.  I'm less whiny-  more brave I think.

The counselor told me if you saw me now you wouldn't see me as the fearful person I've been for so long.  You'd be so proud of me.

Your shirt barely smells now.

But I listen to your voice notes on your iPhone- it's like I've been oxygen-starved and then when I hear your voice my muscles relax and I can breathe again.

Recording

I think I've been in "strong widow" mode for A's birthday and now for this benefit concert coming up...and starting to wonder when I'll fall apart and how badly.

I feel the pain constantly, but sometimes if i'm busy- I forget the permanence for a bit.

I want to ask someone again, "Did this really, truly happen?"  I am still waiting to wake up- it all feels that surreal and dream-like to me still.

I went to a friend's recording studio to record a song for you tonight Dan- hopefully it can be played during a slideshow at the benefit.  It was my first time in the studio for eight or nine years- since we made that CD all those years ago.  I was so overly sensitive then- presenting my songs in the studio and for the CD made me feel so vulnerable.  That made it so hard to make something good - I was just wounded too easily.  Too prideful really but it masked itself as insecurity or self-deprecation.  I was satisfied in those days to do one or two takes of a vocal track just so I didn't have to keep trying.  If it was "good enough," i was done even though it could've been so much better.  That bothered you very much.  "I know you can sing that better," you'd say.

Tonight I recorded the song I wrote for you for your 30th birthday.  It's one of the last songs I've written and you liked it very much.  You wanted me to record it.  So now I did.

Being in the studio was a bit scary.  It was hot and holy in the box and I felt very unprofessional in such a professional setting.  But I saw your notes there on the music stand- from the last session you did in this same studio- and I thought of you- I thought of your confidence and I tried to be that way tonight.  I wanted to ask the engineer- "It's horrible right? I never should've done this," but then I thought about you- your certainty about yourself and your playing- and I was silent- giving it my best.

I was willing to sing it as many times as necessary and tried to be uninhibited but that was still hard for me.  We recorded in chunks- verse, chorus, last chorus.  Paul said he has enough to work with after an hour or so.  I came out of the booth and listened in the full speakers.

And now that my busy day is done, it is extremely quiet here.  I almost felt at the session that I'd be coming home to tell you about it.  But I hope you know.

This is all I can do now...reinvest you through my life in the world.  It will be interesting to see what that looks like and sad too.  So far I've been writing every day and have recorded your favorite song of mine.  I can't live out your dreams necessarily, but I can live out all of the dreams you had for me that I just wasn't doing before.

This life is unrecognizable still.  I am still very much outside of myself watching.  Audrey has something kind of odd she does.  She sometimes talks about herself in the third person and says this particular phrase, "little girl named Audrey," just while she's playing or going for a walk.  My mom suggested maybe she's making up a story.  That is what all of this feels like.  It's a story- not about me, but about a "woman named Julia."

This is Our City

It has been a very long day.

After the library, playground, and lunch, my dad drove me to the city for my counseling session while my mom watched Audrey.

Traffic was light and we got there early, so I went to the bank to drop off a few checks from the sympathy cards I've received.  The bank teller smiled at me and asked if I'd just gotten married.  I told her "No, actually my husband just died."  "What?" she asked genuinely surprised.  "Oh, I'm so sorry."

She asked me how.  "He drowned," I heard myself say in that insane way because it sounds insane.  I told her a little bit more.  "Did they have to get the body over here?" she asked.  "Yes." "I have a two year old daughter," I said- now in tears.  I was a bit taken aback by her questions, but then she told me, "I lost my husband when my son was seven.  Now he's in his twenties and married."  Now it was OK that she'd asked.  She understood.

It's strange how sorrow pervades the world and is everywhere but we don't notice it until it pervades our world.  A friend compared this to when you learn a new vocabulary word and start hearing it everywhere all of the sudden.

Before I left the teller, she told me it's very hard and she's been there, and I asked her, "How did you do it?"  She told me she had a lot of support from three sisters, friends and family, and "my faith," she said.  "I have faith," I heard myself tell her.

After I left the bank, I had a few blocks to walk and some time to kill.  I found myself just standing on a street corner staring as the walk sign changed back and forth to don't walk several times.  This is our city.  This is where we met, fell in love, got engaged.  I see us on every corner.  I used to live on 56th Street not too far from here- we walked up 57th all the time when I lived there.  Our dentist is down the street on 6th Avenue.  Your old building when you first worked at CBS is all the way down 57th on the west side.  That's where we met on September 11th, 2001.  I see us at the diner on this street on one of our first dates.  I see us at Columbus Circle before an interview I had.  I see us coming up the subway stairs by Carnegie Hall, and eating at the cafe.  There we are in Lee's Art Shop picking up the pages for my daily planner when I was pregnant.  And there we are late one night stopping at the drugstore on the corner to get bottles of water.

It is strange to me that this city is still here- in existence- when you are gone.  You were that much a part of it for me.

I stood outside the hotel where my counselor's office is for a while, and I could see you so clearly- walking down the street- tilting your head and smiling.  I look for you everywhere lately.  I think it must be something in the body or mind- something chemical that can't comprehend why you're not seeing that person anymore.  "Where is he?" it asks...

New Sight

It doesn't seem fair at all that I am living this nightmare and still have to have actual nightmares while I'm sleeping about alternate scenarios or ways you might have died.  Last night/early this morning I dreamt that you were for some reason sentenced to death by lethal injection. Friends and family had all gathered to watch for some reason, but I could not.  There was a final goodbye between you and I.  One that we didn't have in real life.

I got up when Audrey cried out and brought some of her toys into the bathroom so I could shower while she played.  I thought as I quickly washed my hair, "This is me loving you now," getting up every morning, breathing, going on for our daughter- and for me- because you loved me too.

I have changed Audrey, gotten her dressed, fed us both, and we will walk to the library class soon.  I stretched her arms out this morning above her head and remembered how you used to stretch her almost every morning when you were home.  Just as I thought of that, she remembered too..."Appa..." she said.

It is also not fair how it takes a person's death for you to realize certain things- about the relationship, about yourself, about the other person.  I can liken it to when you see your child growing from infant to toddler to young child every day- so you just don't notice the changes as much.  Other people you haven't seen in a few weeks or a month exclaim, "Oh wow- look how long her hair got!" or "She got so much taller!"  But no matter how hard you try, you won't see it that way.  From time to time you might look at old photos or videos in disbelief, "She sounded like that?  I don't remember that."  Time affords a distance and perspective that you simply can not conjure up in the present no matter your efforts.

And now death- the great chasm, has afforded me that rich and horrid perspective.  I see things about you Dan, that I never noticed before.  I see how we changed and grew over eleven years of trials and celebrations.  It's like when you get an eye exam and the Dr. keeps changing lenses to get closer to your prescription..."Is this better...or...this?"  And you tell him which image is clearer..."Um...the second one."  But in this case- the cosmic death lens is one which you've never seen before- through which you see accuracy and color and depth you never knew existed.  You sit with perfect vision, in awe- neck stretched out, chin resting on vinyl cushion, no longer straining-
alone.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

More Than That

My life was very, very small before you died.  I wanted a home- very badly.   You know that.

I wanted another child.

I wanted to be comfortable.

I wanted to have it "together."

That seems, now, not unimportant or invalid, but simply-

small.

I do not think I want less now, but more.

Not a bigger house, or more money...not to have it any more "together,"

but more...more.

Continuing

I just went through your wallet again.  It felt especially strange when I got to your driver's license which says, "organ donor" and when I got to your bank card.  Those are two things you would need and still have if you were just in hiding somewhere so this must be true.

I also found another fortune from a fortune cookie tucked in there that I've never seen: "Others find your charm irresistible."  This is certainly true.  You were charming.

I have what are called "phantom kicks" in my belly lately at night- it feels exactly the way Audrey's little kicks did and if I'm busy typing or doing something, I assume there is a baby in there without thinking.  When I was pregnant with A. I slept on my left side only because there's some artery that makes it dangerous to sleep on your back or right side once you're big.  It became such a habit that I still sleep only on my left side all night.  My arm often falls asleep and my ribs sometimes hurt.  I used to tell you about that.  You'd tell me just to sleep on my back.  You always thought that was the best way to sleep, but then you'd snore and I'd be waking you up all night asking you to roll over to your side.

The afternoon passed rather uneventfully- we had a genuine tea party with brownie bites and milk...Audrey got a few more packages in the mail.  She played with her new Legos while I put together a storage box from IKEA so we were both building stuff on the living room floor for a while.

After dinner we went outside to see if we could see Jupiter and it was also a full moon.  It was so cloudy we couldn't see either as we walked towards the Hudson, but then I saw a tiny spot of light, and then just as we got to the river, the moon appeared from beneath the clouds.  It was full and had a reddish glow.  Jupiter wasn't visible tonight and Audrey was a bit disappointed, but it was a warm night and we stood outside for a while.  "I love you Dan," I said out loud because I felt so aware of being on this strange planet and could see for a moment the camera panning out, way out, until I became just a speck on the continent.  Is that how you see me?

I wish I could remember how it was before- who I was.  Everything is just so unrecognizable.  The quiet horror keeps creeping up on me.  Just when I feel I might be getting used to the idea, I am stunned, winded, shook awake to this reality.  You have drowned.  This is insane.  Of all the asinine things I worried about happening to you- this is how you go?  And this is the end for us?  Just like that.

On the path back to our building, there are short hedges on the sides.  Last winter or fall I discovered at the base of one of these, there is a little heart.  Natural or carved I'm not certain but I tend to err towards the belief that it's natural.  I showed it to you remember Dan?  You liked it too.  Audrey was looking for it the past few days so we had to stop and see it again tonight.  It's visible in the colder seasons, but at the beginning of the summer the landscapers had covered it over with mulch.  The other day, I brushed that aside with my foot.  The heart's been under there all summer.

Tuesday Morning

I feel OK.  When I feel OK it is because I feel proud I am doing this, but also because I've forgotten how very permanent your absence is for a little while.  I don't know how long it will take for that to sink in.  I will never see you again.

Every time I have a little time alone in the apartment like I did this morning...I get a few things done all the while talking aloud- telling you that you died- with curse words included.  This has become my routine.  It helps somehow.

I think about all of the plans we had and how simple it seems for you to just have come home.  I remember talking a lot to a friend who is a military wife when you were first traveling because she understood the dynamics- especially of the adjusting period every time you came back.  I thought and said then, "Well, at least I'm lucky that he's just touring as a musician and not a soldier.  I don't have to have that fear every day of receiving that phone call or someone coming to the door."

Audrey and I continue to "remember Appa" for a bit each morning at breakfast.  There is a picture of you and her framed on the table, and she says, "I love you Appa," to the picture - her own idea.  I wish you had heard her say those precious words- you never did.

She was only speaking a few two syllable words before you left- how suddenly and subtly that has changed- I often forget as she and I are talking in basic conversations that you never had this form of communication with her.  I am sorry for that- I know you would've loved it.  I can only imagine the silly conversations you and Audrey would've had.

This morning while I did breakfast dishes, we were talking about going apple and pumpkin picking.  She said, "Appa come apple pick ing!"  I turned and looked at her, and she knew.  She just asks sometimes to see if it's possible at all I think or if anything has changed.  I sat by her and told her, "No, Appa can't come remember?"  Lately if I tell her you died, she says, "Mama die?"  or "Audrey die?"  I'm sure she can't process what this means at all- especially because she has no details.  This morning I told her, "His body stopped working- he got hurt while he was traveling."  This is something the books on children grieving say to tell small children.   "Au drey bah dee top wo king?"  she asked.

I asked her if she missed you, and she said "ye" which means yes.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Consolidation

Was thinking today how when you get married you consolidate your stuff.  We had two of everything at first I remember because I was 28 and you were 27.  Two stereos, two computers.  We consolidated.   One.

Now that you're gone, I have two of everything again.  Two toothbrushes, two cases with contact lenses- one labeled "Dan's" and one labeled "Julia's," two desks and chairs,  two file cabinets, two sets of house keys.  Two.

Few Words

Oh, how I miss my husband, with sighs and moans, I miss him.

Progress

I felt like I was making progress.   As I was cleaning up for Audrey's party on Sunday, I rather nonchalantly picked up the bag with our swimming things that I'd dropped on the entryway table on July 6th when we came inside and I heard the phone ring.  It's been sitting there untouched ever since, but on Sunday- I saw myself pick it up and put it away in the closet.  Still has A's swimsuit, swimming diaper, some bubbles, and a half drank bottled water of mine.  But...I put it away.  It was her birthday- a celebration of her life.  It seemed the right time.

Then this morning while Audrey was at her play group, I put our furniture back where it belongs and organized some of her new things.  I created a new play area for her including a reading nook with her PB Kids chair, a special rug from Anthropologie, her little bookshelf, and a new picture rail from IKEA that I installed to house a few more forward-facing books.  I also installed a shelf above her new play kitchen which she still absolutely loves.  I moved the table with the tea set adjacent to the kitchen.  All in all, I was very proud of what I did and admired my work.  I put away the rest of A's gifts for the upcoming colder months.

I am hesitant to make any changes like this in the apartment because I'm afraid it will speed up Audrey's amnesia and she'll forget Dan quicker...without noticing.  But at the same time, I can't keep things set up for a baby forever- she's a full-fledged toddler now and I wanted her to have this play area- especially because she doesn't have her own room.

While Audrey was gone, I also contacted the company that makes the headstones for the cemetery.  I shouldn't have been surprised at the cost, but I was.  The cemetery requires that it be a double stone- for both of us, since I bought the two adjacent plots.  I am coming Dan- one day I am coming...

Random Thoughts

It does not seem fair that you were taken right after so many life changes- we hadn't had a chance to have fun together in a long time...

2008- Audrey was born after 26 hours of labor.  I had to be admitted to the ER for seven hours the day I was leaving the hospital because of shortness of breath.   Even though they couldn't find anything, I had to see a cardiologist that week- we took Audrey with us in a cab at only nine days old- and he prescribed something to slow down my heart rate.

A couple of days later, we discovered our entire Brooklyn apartment building was infested with bed bugs.  That first night we stayed up all night watching Audrey to protect her.  Then we moved to the hallway and tried to sleep on the floor there with Audrey in her car seat.   After that night, we moved in with my parents temporarily while they exterminated, but after three unsuccessful attempts, we decided to get out of our apartment for good and left behind everything we owned- all of our furniture, etc.  We went back two weekends with a van we rented and did laundry- the only way to kill them- and packed albums and personal things in giant ziploc bags to place in storage until eighteen months had passed (bed bugs can live up to eighteen months without food).  It was a nightmare and the hardest time of our entire life.  We basically moved in to my parents' tiny house with a few clothes and that's it.  Audrey slept in a borrowed pack and play.  We left behind the new crib and organic mattress I'd prepared for her along with everything else.  We ended up living there for five months.

Finally, we found a one bedroom apartment and tried to start over.  A few months later, you got the opportunity to tour and thus began your year- the last year of your life- of travels around the world.

Audrey was still just about nine months when you left, so I was busy being a new mom- still up at night a lot, and still trying to figure out all that stuff.

We just didn't get much time to be together the last couple of years.  And now this: it doesn't seem fair.

Was also tortured again today about the cemetery I chose for you- having so many regrets and it's just agony because nothing can be done now.  I try to tell myself that you were so easy-going- you'd tell me not to worry.

I know I dream about you every night- I have those vague recollections when I wake up, but no specifics.  I just know the dreams are not pleasant.

I hate how you are starting to feel separate from me...not one.  You feel far away.  Further away.

I feel like I've been blindfolded and then dropped off in some strange part of the world.  I can't find my way back home no matter how hard I try.  Was thinking today how I don't know where to go from here. I'm kind of stuck in this one bedroom apartment.  We were looking to buy a home, but that certainly doesn't make sense now.  The only reason I'm in this particular town is because they had large enough commuter buses for you to carry your cello on- that is why I live here.  But now you're gone, and all the sucky parts about it- the parts that I'd complain about and you'd say, "Don't worry- we're moving in a few months," are still here.  There is still the super loud town siren for fires/emergencies that sounds like an air raid is happening in the building; there is still the cigar smoke that seeps through our vent from the upstairs neighbor nightly, and there is still the fact that Audrey doesn't have her own room but a "nook" in the living area which leaves me trapped in my bedroom whenever she's sleeping.

So, I don't get it now.  Where am I supposed to live?  Before the next logical step was buy a home- have another baby.  I guess I just have to reason some kind of logical step here.

Every moment, every hour, every day- takes me further from holding your hand, looking into your eyes...and more and more into unchartered, foreign territory.  There are no directions, no compass, and nothing looks familiar.

Now

OK- I'd really like to see my husband now please.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Two Years

It's two years today since I saw your face for the first time Audrey.  It was 8:22 pm on a Saturday night, September 20th.  My labor had started the Friday before at around 6 pm.  26 hours of long, hard labor.  A random stranger congratulated me as I was being wheeled out of the delivery room with you in my arms.  It was by far the proudest moment of my life.  

And your dad...it was the happiest time of his life.  You introduced a new smile to his repertoire.  It was the one just for you.

Once you were born, your dad would often say to me, "Isn't she the best?  Isn't she just...amazing?"  We'd be out to dinner- the few times we got a chance to- just the two of us, and he would inevitably start saying something like this.  He simply adored you.

Today was quieter than yesterday but still quite full.

When you woke up I had your play kitchen covered in a sheet in the living room.  You were so cute trying to uncover it and wound up with your whole body under the sheet examining the kitchen.  I had to take it off.  You were dancing around saying, "lit ul kichen!"  Then you and I got out the tea set you received yesterday and had our first mother/daughter tea party at your little table and chairs.

Then we met up with your play group at the playground since that's one of your favorite places.  On the walk there- a beautiful butterfly.  We brought mini cupcakes to share.  There were a few moms there that I hadn't seen yet...and it was a bit awkward.  I felt as though everyone scattered away from me in the beginning and it was hard.  I am the one no one knows what to say to.  But Audrey enjoyed herself, and later one of the moms told me her husband, who is a pediatric dentist, wanted to offer his services to Audrey for free.  Tears came right away.

I was thinking earlier today how I might not cry for a long time, but whenever someone does something loving and humbling to me- the tears come so quickly.  I think the love of others brings out this strange mixture of sadness, humility, and gratitude that keeps you from getting bitter.  It is very painful and very important to be loved while you are grieving.

After Audrey's nap, my friend and neighbor who lives below us decided to invite some of the moms from this morning for an impromptu party for A.  We brought our party hats from yesterday and Audrey got balloons and another round of "Happy Birthday" which elicited screams of "Caaayyke!  Eat Caaaayyke!"

Then she got to open up a few more presents at home that I'd stashed away from friends.  And then "pizza pie!" at her request with grandma and grandpa at a local restaurant.

After we ate, we got to see the moon across the river over Manhattan- and then we looked for Jupiter, which I'd heard would be visible tonight with the naked eye.  And we saw it low in the sky in the east with a slightly red glow around it.  I like that there was something special astronomically on your birthday Audrey.

I am very, very tired now.  I will download some of the photos I took so that I can send them to my in-laws because I know it'll make them very happy to see what a great birthday you had.

I kneeled beside you before you went to bed and took a moment to remember your dad.  I thanked him for giving you to me.  I told you that even though he couldn't be here, "Appa loves you soooo much," and that I'd have to give you hugs and kisses for him and I kissed your neck, and you giggled.  I thought about how you are his- again it struck me as a new concept- I just always think of you as Audrey...but to think that you have his blood and my blood running through your little veins is miraculous to me.  I thought about love and how if love is giving with no expectation of return- I can certainly continue to love your dad.  He used to always tell me he would die for me...and I know it was true.  I then used to say, "But will you live for me?"  That is all I can do now...I can love you with my life.  I just have to figure out what that means practically.  I know the past few days it meant planning a special birthday celebration for our daughter.  And as time moves on, I will let that be my guide- loving you with my life.  I will still love you.  It will be different and there will be no expectation of any return- but perhaps it will be truer- purer love than before.

I wondered today if there will be babies or children in heaven or on the new earth if we are immortal?  What age will everyone be?  Will women give birth or was all of that just a part of the Fall?  If there is no more aging, will everyone be the same age?  What of people that died at different ages?  Babies and children die- old people die.  If a baby dies and goes to heaven, does he remain a baby in heaven, does he grow up, or does he become a perfect age?

Thank you Dan for giving me Audrey.  I know it was scary taking on all of that responsibility, especially when you had goals you were still trying to achieve.  I can remember taking a walk with your mom and she asked when I was going to have a baby.  I told her that I really wanted to but you weren't ready and I didn't want to force you.  "Oh no, you have to force him,"  she said immediately and nonchalantly.  I remember that made me laugh.  I know I put the pressure on, but she is definitely worth it no?  So thank you again for my beautiful girl, and for helping me bring her into the world two years ago today.  I couldn't have done it without you by my side.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

After the Party

Just awoken from her nap...
I think the birthday party was a success.  Though it had a slow start- the birthday girl was still napping when our first guests arrived- things picked up nicely and I hope a good time was had by all.  Audrey enjoyed the musician who came and a whole bunch of toddlers paraded with tambourines in a circle through my kitchen and living room.  Audrey's blueberry cake- dropped off by someone I hardly know who said she knew of a good one- was beautiful.  As soon as we sang happy birthday, Audrey was right there waiting for her piece yelling a boisterous, "Caaaayke!"

I've been up since five am when I woke up this morning and couldn't sleep worrying that I'd buried you in the wrong place.  I've been going all day- decorating, changing diapers, feeding, and preparing.  I was happy to see Audrey have fun at her party, but I am just a shell of a person right now.  I smile, but I am not happy.  Everything is over I feel...everything is over.

Today I wore the blue shirt you brought me back from Japan and the lotus earrings you bought me from that little store on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope when we lived there.  It hit me in sudden moments throughout the party if I was still - I feel without thinking- the sadness.  Sorrow is like a new strand in the braid of our family- it wraps around us all- weaving back and forth- and so it is always there.

I am used to being alone with Audrey after this past year, but now the "would've life" runs alongside me all the time.  Today you would've been filming Audrey with your iPhone like crazy as she danced around in hot pink tutu and crown.  You would've been clapping your hands in that way you did with your fingers spread out- barely making a sound as I always pointed out.  You would've been making small talk with the other parents in your charming way.  You would've been telling them, "I love this guy," or "She's so cute," about their own kids.  The three of us would've blown out Audrey's candles together.  I think I would've wished for a little brother or sister for Audrey.  After the guests had left, you would've helped me clean up and done any dishes while I sat down and rested.  "Did you drink any water?" you would've said to me when I told you how tired and weak I felt.  You would've tuned the wooden ukulele that Audrey got from my parents, and then you would've sat playing a few little tunes for Audrey- singing in a sweet and cute voice.  I feel absolutely certain of this.

And now that she's in bed mumbling hopefully happy thoughts- holding both of her stuffed elephant's hands- because she always wants to hold mine- it's a new thing that seems to work- now that she's in bed- you and I would be sighing- "Ah..." We would decompress together and talk about the day and the party.  Isn't that one of the wonderful things about having a partner?  After an event, party, occasion- that  time when you come back home and get into your comfortable clothes, have a glass of water and just talk.  Maybe we would've watched a movie on our computer before bed.  I think we would've.  Maybe we would've been too tired.  Oh, you would've put her new play kitchen together and I would've watched from the side wondering if you were doing it right.

But since that parallel life does not exist except in my thoughts- what my evening will actually look like will be me sitting here at the computer, crying a bit as I write, straightening up the things from Audrey's bath, and putting away the stories we just read.  It will be quiet and then I will drag the box out of the closet and start to put together the play kitchen by myself.  I know she'll love it.

I miss you Dan.  I know you miss us too.  I am doing my best.  The sorrow is heavy-it's like my clothes are made of lead.  I cannot stand up for very long.  I guess I'll just have to get stronger.

Birthday Party

Audrey is hopefully napping soon (though not yet!)...and her party is ready to go.  There is a music mix of fun songs, a whole bunch of purple balloons, lots of food, cupcakes, gummy bunnies and rainbow colored bunting strung all around the living room.  Thanks to the help of a dear friend, we moved almost all of the toys and stuff out of the living room just leaving a few of the prettier wooden toys and pushed the couch back leaving a big open space.  Then I'll roll out a huge roll of paper on the floor and set out rainbow colored crayons in pink cups.  Childhood things have such an innate beauty to them.  How lucky as a parent to have them in my life again.

I have been busy.  My friend and her toddler were here since Friday- the party is today.  Tomorrow will be Audrey's actual 2 year birthday.  It will be quiet.  Why is it always like that?  The funeral on the 16th...a quiet day on the day after- our wedding anniversary.  Or is that how it should be?  A time for reflection and acknowledging your absence.

This party seems like something the old me would have done- except that we were planning on just going to the carousel in Bryant Park and brunch afterwards at the Bryant Park Grill- just the three of us this year- you, me, and Audrey.  I am so sad that vision will not happen.

And even thought this party feels like the old me - the decorations and stress of it all- I don't recognize a thing going on...because I keep remembering...

you are dead.  You will not be here today.  You are missing her birthday Dan.  I know you'd be so upset.  This is really happening- I think in the back of my mind- you are truly gone because if this were a joke, if you were in hiding, surely Audrey's second birthday would mean the end of all that, and out you would come saying the way you did, "Hiiiii Auuuudrey!  Appa loves you so much!"

I should take a nap myself before the guests and toddlers arrive- but I am probably too wired- feeling too many things.

It feels like you've been gone a very long time- but then it also feels like yesterday that I saw you.  This paradox sounds trite and overused but it is completely true.   How can that be?  I thought it had been three months since your burial but then realized it has only been two. Two months is a very short time, I think.  How am I functioning at all?  How have I managed to pull together a birthday party at my home?  I think it's because I still don't get it.  It scares me because I wonder what is coming next?  There will surely be a breakdown.  Many widows tell me it's at six months.  But there is nothing to do but forge ahead.  Today I will play Ella Fitzgerald's Jazz for Kids loudly and serve blueberry cake.  Tomorrow I will think of the birth of our daughter and that defining moment for both of us.  I will celebrate and I will mourn.  There is a time for everything, they say- a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.  I wish it was that simple- but sometimes, like today- they coalesce.  This is life in a beautiful, fallen world.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Dirt Was Dry

There is dirt under my finger nails from your grave site.  I am glad.

I went there today for the first time since we buried you- the day before our six year wedding anniversary.

I didn't think I'd want to go to your grave for maybe six months.  I kept telling myself early on that you weren't there- I wanted to go to the places that had meaning to us- not some cemetery that we had never been to, among strangers.  I wanted to remember you alive- not dead.  I wanted to speak to you whenever I felt like it- not just at the place where your body resides.

But...then I felt this desire...to go where your body lies.

Maybe it's because it's Audrey's 2nd birthday in two days.  Tomorrow I will throw her little party.  Eight toddlers will play, color, and dance to music.  I've already hung the rainbow bunting and bought the gummy bunnies she loves.  I wish you could be there.

Today I bought three colors of miniature roses for the flowers at her birthday party: yellow, light pink, and a rust color.  I realized at the last moment you're supposed to bring flowers to a cemetery so I took some of each color out of her birthday bouquet and brought them to you.  We will have them here- and you will have them there.

I had asked one of your best friends- whom I feel comfortable with and I know is grieving your loss also- to drive me there.  Maybe one of the reasons I didn't want to go is because I don't know how to get there.  It's not that far, but it's not an area I'm familiar with.  The highways to get there intimidate me.  I have started second guessing my decision very much.  I think of the other two cemeteries I visited- which were much more convenient location-wise and I wonder why I didn't just go with those.  I wish I had.  But then I think about the amount of shock I was in at the time, and I try to be gracious with myself.  I made the best decision I knew how to.  I did what I thought you would like best- not what was convenient for me.  I thought you would like the view of the NYC skyline since you'd lived there longer than anyplace else.  I hope you are not unhappy with my decision.

My counselor said yesterday that the fact that I had the idea to go means I'm ready to go.  I told her that although I know you're not there- it is the place where your body is- and I loved your body- and you in your body.  That is the only way I knew you.  I am so very sad that it is there...under the dirt that is under my fingernails now.  But I felt I needed to pay you that respect as your wife and go and be with that body- shell or not, to be resurrected on the last day or not.

I put Audrey down for her nap at 1:30 and a friend staying with me this weekend put her toddler down.  She would stay with them while I went.  James came to pick me up at 1:45 pm.   We talked comfortably as he drove- I don't remember what about.

I had decided before I left that I had to do something- some kind of ritual.  So, I cut a small piece of my hair and a small piece of Audrey's and put them in a sealed small envelope.  I wrote a message on the front and back.  First, I wrote one sentence on the back without thinking, "I am with you always."  I realized only afterwards the Biblical connotation because this is also what Jesus said, "I am with you always- even until the end of the age."  That comforts me.  On the front something like, "I miss you so much and think of you every moment.  I am so very sad and so sorry that this happened..." I sealed it with tape, folded it in four, and stuck it in my front jean pocket.

Neither James nor I was certain where the plot was, but we found it right away, and I was surprised at how I recognized everything so well- even though it's been two months since I was there and I had been in such shock then-functioning but not there.  But somehow I knew I'd know it.  I felt the emotion rising up as we sat in the car for a moment.  I thought we'd go together first and then I'd have some alone time, but once we got there I found the emotion overwhelming and heard James tell me he'd leave me alone.     The skyline was visible today clearly from the hill.  I was glad of that.

I knelt down on my knees, with my right palm on the dirt sobbing for a long time.

I don't remember exactly what I said- that I loved you and that we missed you so much.  That you were the best and I was so thankful for you.  That I couldn't believe that this had really happened.  "I'm here at your grave- can you believe it?"

And then for a while I repeated in a trance-like chant, "You are the one my heart loves, you are the one my heart loves."  It soothed me to hear these words come out of my mouth without my thinking.

The dirt was dry.

Then I laid down the small towel I'd wrapped the roses in- they had thorns.  You had that fortune -"Every rose has it's thorn," and you said I was your rose, and I certainly had thorns.  I think of Milton's Paradise Lost in which roses did not have thorns at all until the Fall...and I think of the crown of thorns that Christ adorned as a symbol of that.

I laid down the towel as a place to rest my head and I lay face down on top of your plot.  It still needs a stone because I have not gotten to that yet, and there was no grass yet- I wonder if I'm responsible for planting that or not.  I'll have to call and find out.  I pictured you below me.  I wanted to embrace you.  I cried and heard myself sobbing- it was unrecognizable to me.  Like everything else in my life now.

Then I set about my tasks- digging up a little spot- very little so as not to disturb you though I know there's the vault and all that around your casket too...I used a tiny stick...and placed our envelope of hair there...I covered it back up and patted it down, adding some extra dirt on top.  I'm sure it'll end up uncovered, maybe fly away...

Then I placed one yellow rose that had fallen off in the center of the plot, and separated the other stems and colors and placed them around in a circle.  It reminded me of the bluebells I'd placed in a circle around my gerbil's little grave in my backyard as a little girl.

I decided if I left something of us there, I should also ttake something of this place home so I took a small rock and a little bit of the crumbling dirt and placed it in the paper-towel I'd also brought the flowers in.  I made it into a little cup and covered it with the towel.  Then I took the stick and tried to write something in the ground.  But the ground was too dry.  The letters wouldn't take.  I tried in various spots.

Then on the top, I just wrote it out anyway, even though you couldn't see the forms of the letters.  "Mommy and Audrey love Dan Cho."

I hope you got my message.

I look now at the dirt under my fingernails and I am glad I was near you today.  I see the chunk of hair missing from a group of strands and also I am glad to see some truncation- some remembrance of the unevenness, the missingness, the lack of balance and symmetry.

I spoke a few more words standing up before I left.  I looked around and stared at the skyline.  I went back to the car.

On the way home, I saw six butterflies, one at a time, fly across the highway in front of us as if they were being blown by the wind but still fluttering.  James said he'd given up on signs.

And that was my first trip to your grave.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Lamentation Friday

We talked about lamenting today a bit at counseling- how so much of the Bible is filled with major and minor characters lamenting- but how today our society doesn't really have an avenue for this kind of lamentation.  Maybe that's why I found mine here online and so many others do as well.  It is private but potentially public as well.  No one has to look me in the eye to read it.  I can still appear normal when I go on an errand or take a walk with my daughter.  I'm not affirming this, but I guess this is what it is in our day.  I told her a bunch of stuff that had happened to Dan and I the past few years and she said, "That's a lot of loss."  I wasn't sure how to feel when she said that.  We just stared at each other for a bit.

I need to find ways to "comfort" myself or experience God's comfort, according to my counselor.  I'm not sure what that looks like- she just kept saying "whatever that means for you,"  so I guess that's what I need to figure out.  She tells me the comfort will prevent the bitterness that will come otherwise.

I tell her I'm going to try to visit Dan's grave soon- and she tells me that's a big step and she'll be interested to see how that is therapeutic for me and how I write about it afterwards.  I am too, but mostly- I am terrified.

I also told her that I'm afraid some moments when I feel not great but functioning- that I'm in denial, but she didn't think I was.  "I'd say that's probably progress," she said.

Progress.

But if I stop for just a second- the quiet horror is there again.  "This is really happening," I think.  I so want to tell you that it's happening.  I so want to tell the you that is packing up your suitcase, cleaning off your desk, getting ready to go...I want to tell him all about it.  Because he doesn't know.  I know the sorrow and the scar will stay with me forever, but I hope this horror leaves after a year or so, or at least changes to something else without my noticing.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Brave Quest

Perhaps my focus on where Dan is now post-earth and the stuff of Revelation isn't a brave and admirable quest for Truth, but a cowardly avoidance of the only thing I do know- where he is NOT.  Here.  Something for an obsessive personality like mine to obsess over rather than stare the facts in the face: My husband has drowned at the age of 33.  I will never see him again on earth.

How Much We Have Lost

Someone from the church who dropped a meal off for us last night also enclosed a nice handwritten card.  I don't even know most of the people who drop off the food (neither would Dan) and I don't recognize these names, but something they wrote really struck me:

"We will never truly comprehend exactly how much we have lost with Dan's passing, but the world will always be poorer as a result."

Here I have been thinking in my pain I did comprehend how much I've lost, but when I read this I had to rethink it.  No, she is right- I will never comprehend, because that parallel life I see beside me with Dan alive is only in my mind.  I don't really know what the future would have held.  Would we have had another child?  What would he or she have looked like or accomplished?  Would Dan have started getting more of his own music heard ?  Would he have become a famous film scorer like I always thought he should be?  Would he have encouraged me creatively and would I have produced something truly great?  The variations on all of the "woulds" are endless and there are probably thousands that don't even cross my mind because I can only work with the materials I have.

No, we will never comprehend it.

How much we have lost.

Thank You for Our Food

I haven't done it consistently, but I used to pray with Audrey to give thanks for our dinner and tonight I found myself saying it again.  All I say is "Thank you God for our food," and Audrey says the "Amen."

Tonight right after we said that, I told A, "We have to thank God because He gives us everything we have."  As soon as the words left my mouth I felt angry and confused.  I know people are always saying something like, "If we're going to blame God for the bad things, we also have to acknowledge all of the good things He gives us."  Is that how it goes?  Something like that.  But then if we thank Him for the good things, what of the bad things?  In one of the books I read in the early days, the author said that though it sounds harsh, she actually believes God is in charge of those tragic things that happen and can use them for good.  This is not a really popular stance.  Most people, even believers, tell me that of course, God never intended for Dan to die this way at 33.  It wasn't God's plan, but God allowed it.  It was the result of a broken, fallen world.

But then if that's really true, I thought as I ate a piece of the lasagna someone had dropped off, if that's really true then do I really need to thank God for this lasagna?  Because if many things that go on are a result of the fallenness of our world and our own free will- bad choices- then couldn't the good things also be from that?  Couldn't my lasagna just be the result of someone good choosing to bring me food?  And therefore have not much to do with God?  I guess then you could say all goodness comes from God and that God in that person encouraged them or enabled them to do that good deed.

I guess it's a question really of how active in our world we believe God is.  Is he the clock winder many believe he is- did he just wind the clock and stand back?  Everything I believe in would tell me that no, he is very, very active.  Active enough to actually come here in the flesh.  But not active enough to save Dan?

I'm not sure where the hell these thoughts leave me really.  Did God allow Dan to die or did God actually take Dan from me purposely?  In other words, do I thank God for my lasagna or not?

Two Bouquets

Why am I fixated on who will walk Audrey down the aisle?  We've got a few more decades 'til then, but I guess it's something I already said from time to time to you- "One day you'll be walking her down that aisle."  You would say something like, "Oh don't say that!"  You wanted her to stay little and cute forever.

The other day in one of the grieving books I read about a bride who had lost her father at a very young age.  She had two bouquets made up on her wedding day- one that she carried- and one that she laid at her father's grave later that day.  I wept when I read this.

I literally sat here for a while just now pondering this question that is decades away.  Audrey doesn't have a brother- who knows who will be in our lives at that time, I think.  But then I have a thought that seems so simple I can't believe it eluded me.  I will.  Of course.  I will give her away.

Library Today

Audrey's class at the library started back up again this morning.  My parents had been taking her ever since the phone call, but I always liked this time together- picking out a few new books to take home, going to a nearby playground for a little bit right afterwards- so I felt the new session was a good time for me to rejoin the group.  I even rescheduled my counseling appointment so I could do it.

I walk to the library and as I was leaving our building, the Dominican front security guard came out of his little house towards me, "Ms Cho..." he began.  I hadn't really talked to him since your death so I thought he was going to offer his condolences, but it turned out he was asking me for any clothes Audrey doesn't wear anymore.  He said he knows a very poor pregnant woman who just moved to this country and her husband has no job.  Very nice of him to help- he's always been a nice guy.  I told him I'd look and put the word out on the mom boards I'm a part of.  But as I walked away I felt so sad.  I just went through A's clothes yesterday and I have all of her clothes labeled in bags- "newborn" "0-3 months" "6 months" "6-12 months."  They're taking up way too much room in her closet, but I don't think I can let them go just yet.  I'd carefully washed them and packed them all away in anticipation for a second child- which we both hoped would be a girl.  I wondered if Benny, the security guard, asked me thinking I was done having kids now, or just didn't think of that at all.  I smile and tell him I'll get back to him.  I headed on to the library.

In my mind, I think I imagined it would taste like normalcy- sitting in that little library room singing "The Wheels on the Bus," clapping, watching Audrey grab an instrument to play.  I was wrong.  Singing the Barney song, "I love you- you love me, we're a happy family," nearly brought me to tears- as did "You are My Sunshine" at the end while the teacher went around blowing bubbles.  A few Japanese mothers I haven't seen since came and asked me how I was, but I didn't know if they knew or not- so I just said fine.  "It was hot summer,"  one said.

When the teacher began he said, "How was everyone's summer?"  It's strange to me that people had a summer.  I remember planning ours, and then all of that stopped.

I made it through the library program and we headed to the playground.  Another mom I know was there and she came up to me and said, "I'm sorry about your husband."  I don't know her well so I just said thanks.  I know there are no better words- but "I'm sorry about your husband" sounds ridiculous.  I think maybe just "I'm so, so sorry," sounds better.

"If you need anything, let me know," she says.  I don't have her contact info.  "I guess we don't have each other's contact," she realizes too.  "I'll just think really hard about it," I reply bitterly but with a smile.  Then she says another mom we both know sent her my email so she'll email me- we'll get together for a play date.  We never have before, so I wonder why she'd think I suddenly want a new friend now that my husband has died.

On the playground, Audrey is excited, but easily bullied by other little girls.  Two push her.  One mother reprimands her child, another just sits on the bench watching without saying a word.  Usually I try not to do this, but today I had no trouble disciplining someone else's child.  "You don't push," I say strongly glaring at the mother who is also looking at me but obviously not understanding.  I am ready to protect my little girl who is so sweet she just stands there waiting her turn or looking inquisitively at the person who pushed her as if to say, "Why did you do that?  What's wrong with you?"  but in a very gentle, surprised way.  I worry about her in this world.

When I look up at the sky, I see the red-tailed hawk flying right over us for a while.  Then later I looked again and it had gotten cloudy and he was gone.

Going back to a part of my old routine made me think of a summer job I had when I was in college at Bed, Bath and Beyond.  It was right after my first year and I was interning with a Congresswoman but it didn't pay and by the time I thought about work, there wasn't much left, so I took the humbling job of cashier.  It was a dreadful job, but there was a cast of characters there that I would remember for quite some time.  Larry, another cashier, had small glasses and was a bald little man in his fifties.  The managers were called "key holders" and quite revered by all.  "Front end to register five," you would have to say if you needed them to void a purchase with their magical "key" or something.  When I came back- with Dan actually- many years later to buy something there, I was floored to see that Larry was still there- working as a cashier.  Wow- I'd gone to college for a few years, moved back to the NYC area, started a new job, started dating- and this guy was still right here behind the register.  That was how I felt today when I returned to a part of my old routine from just a few months ago.  Wow - I've been to hell (and still there) and these people have still been coming to the library all along?  They're still here.  I have been gone for so, so long.