Sunday, October 31, 2010

A New Hobby

Opening up my email inbox just isn't the same anymore.

Every day I see the newsletter from the "Drowning Support Network" and the Daily "GriefShare" email.

Today's email was entitled: "A Remedy for Loneliness: Develop a Hobby or Skill."

This utterly depressed me and made me laugh at the same time.

This must be geared towards older, retired widows.  I am fairly busy caring for one super active toddler,  trying to sort through all the paperwork that trails behind a death, and figure out how and where we'll live.  But yeah, in my spare time, I'll take up knitting or learn Italian.

It has been a searing few days.  I needed desperately to be alone today so friends took Audrey to Sunday school for me.   She was thrilled and seems to love going there with them.  I don't think I've been alone for this long in months.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ode

You couldn't pronounce Casper - (the friendly ghost) as a small child- and you called him "caspital."  You dressed up as Caspital for Halloween.

You never learned how to write in cursive.

You were born in Illinois and had cornfields in your backyard.

When you were little, making up songs in your head was a game for you- you'd try to write a tune before the traffic light changed or before the next kid up kicked the kickball.

You had a size 11 "bladefoot" as you called it.  Your outer toes all seemed to curve inward.  You said it was the kind of foot runners had and that it helped them go faster.  You hated running.

You loved the movies "Rudy" and "Shawshank Redemption."  They are two of the movies that made you cry.  You were always rooting for the underdog.

You always left the little plastic cover on the screen of your cell phones until it finally ripped off to protect the phone.  You got mad if I said, "Hey why don't you just take this off?"   It's still on your iPhone I'm using now.

You called me a "smarty pant" instead of smarty "pants."  I thought that was funny.

You started a club called the "Push-up Club" in college just because any new club on campus got a free pizza.

When you were little, you were jealous of your older brother's new wooden desk, so you carved his name on it in giant letters.

After you were attacked and stabbed on the subway a few years ago, I came into the hospital the next morning to find you sitting up in bed reading a Bible your brother had left you.  "I figure if I'm going to thank God for having mercy on my life, I might as well do it properly," you said.

When we went to a library or bookstore, I could always find you looking at the Japanese comic books.  Your grandfather had given you a collection of comics called Treasure Island when you first went to Korea.  Those comics and soccer were the ways you connected with him before you learned Korean.

You hated the flavor of sesame (a staple in Korean food), and wouldn't eat a roll with sesame seeds or poppy seeds.

In 2001, you insisted on taking a trip to see the first apartment you lived in Illinois by yourself.  I had to loan you money and I was angry because it was right after September 11th but you said it was something you had to do.  You visited your old elementary school and church too.  The people living in your old apartment, were going to call the police when you knocked on the door.  There is a picture of the father yelling at you from the door.

You hated what you called "angry eyebrows" on women who had them plucked or waxed.  When I started getting mine threaded at one point you said, "Just don't get those 'angry eyebrows' ...I hate those."

You always joked telling me you wished you'd chosen to play the piccolo when carrying around your large cello.

You always had extra napkins in your pockets or bag- I think 'cause they were free you always took them.

You switched from the violin to the cello because a friend of your moms came to your parents' house and told you to stand up straighter and then you decided you'd just rather sit down and play an instrument.

You had synesthesia.  Music notes were colors in your mind.

You were better at puzzles and Scrabble than me, and amazing at LEGOS.

You seemed to always smell pot everywhere we went.  "I smell pot," you'd tell me.

You also always thought a lot of unattractive women were men dressed as women and you'd tell me, "See that woman.  That's a man."  I always felt so bad for those women.

When your dad sent you to buy him cigarettes in Korea as a kid, you'd smoke one or two on the walk back home.  You were around nine I think.

You prided yourself on having soft, clean skin because you rubbed all of the "ddeh" (dead skin) off in the shower with the pads of your fingers.

You hated when people say, "Excuse me," because you said it really means, "Get the hell out of my way."  You forbid me to say that in our house.

You liked your bagels toasted and whole milk in your coffee.

You proclaimed that little girl from the Welch's Grape Juice commercial wasn't cute at all.

You loathed Kramer on Seinfeld and Dwight on The Office- the annoying characters that are always screwing everything up.

You said Morgan Freeman was the narrator way too often and we'd always joke about that.

You wanted to name our child MacGyver.

You grew up going to garage sales and still loved flea markets and thrift stores where you found the best deals.

You always covered your ears if we were outside and an ambulance or fire engine passed by...something people who go to Berklee School of Music do.

You told your mom you applied to Julliard and got rejected, but you never did apply- you didn't want to do classical music.

And when you got up from the bed, there was always a few coins that fell from your pocket.
The nickel or dime that I'd find later and think of you.

Surprised

The question is not why is there suffering, but why are we surprised by it?  Why do we not expect it?

Are we programmed to believe in a world without it?

This question seems to get more at Truth than the self-pitying, "Why?" or "Why me?"

Liberation

Grief, 
is liberating.

I can liken it to when you're in labor and naked and don't care who sees you anymore.  I have no self-consciousness.  I can look people straight in the eye and talk about life and death.  I have no need to impress others or try to show them how well I'm doing or how "together" I am.  And I no longer strive for those things...to have it "together" in the worldly sense has lost its allure entirely.  The book, "Lament for a Son" by Nicholas Wolterstorff, puts this extremely well: 

"The passion is cooled, the striving quieted, the longing stilled.  My attachment is loosened.  No longer do I set my heart on them.  I can do without them.  They don't matter.  Instead of rowing, I float.  The joy that comes my way I savor.  But the seeking, the clutching, the aiming is gone.  I don't suppose anyone on the outside notices.  I go through the paces.  What the world gives, I will accept.  But what it promises, I no longer reach for."

People have always told me I looked younger than I am and I think in general, I've lived a fairly sheltered life.  I was always the person people thought just looked nice...the kind of person who, if I walk by one of those people on the street trying to get donations or get a petition signed- they might skip a few people but they'll always stop me.  And when someone banged into me on the street, it was always me saying, "Sorry!" even if it wasn't my fault at all.  But now I feel as though I've shed that identity a bit.  I am not sheltered anymore.  I walk down the street slowly, comfortably.

I do not have fear in the same way I did before.  My worst fear has already happened.  I know what it feels like now...I do not fear death.  No, I do not.

No worldly inconvenience will surprise me.  Traffic...a long line at the grocery store, my heat not working, cigar smoke from our neighbor upstairs- all life's little irritants- no longer irritate me.  I once heard a sermon years ago in which the speaker asked why it was usually all of those very small things- inconveniences - that made people the most upset and angry?  Really, he said, it's because our highest goal is to be comfortable.  I am not comfortable- that is not my highest goal.  

When you are having labor contractions, you don't even give a thought to who is there and the fact that they are seeing you completely naked.  Those searing pains that rise and fall like waves- don't allow for any other thoughts.  

The pain frees you.  The work must be done.


Family Photograph

Yesterday I took Audrey to a photography studio to get her picture taken.  I figured she's newly two still and I didn't have any great photos.  I thought it would be fun, and I thought I would feel strong- a grieving mother who takes her child for photos.  I also wanted to get in a few of the shots myself- perhaps to assert that yes, this is our family now- but we are still that- a family.

It was more tiring than I thought- changing her wardrobe for a few different looks in between and trying to give her some sustenance to stay happy- cookies and lemonade that I had brought.  I felt like the people who fix up the race car when it pulls in- changing the wheels or whatever they do really quickly...or the people who freshen up boxers in the middle of a fight when they come to the corner of the ring.  I decided that both of these are great analogies for mothering in general.  Because really we're always nourishing and nurturing to send them back out in the end.  That's our job.

One thing I wasn't prepared for was just this: on the drive to the studio, I passed by the funeral home we used for your funeral.  I have never gone there, though you have now.  Your brothers went to deliver your suit and select the casket so I didn't even know where it was.  The funeral director came to my home to talk to me and the services were all held at a different church- thank God- I hate funeral homes.  But as I drove down this main road- there on the side was that name I've come to loathe- the name of the funeral director.  I thought about how many times we must have driven down this road together...the Korean fried chicken place we liked just a bit further down, the string instrument shop nearby where you recently got your cello appraised.

I'm sure we never even noticed this funeral home was there.

Perspective.

Taking Care of You

I told you not to crack your knuckles- your joints would be bad when you got older and you wouldn't be able to play cello or piano.  "Stop cracking your knuckles!" I'd say.

I told you to wear ear plugs when you played with a full band in small venues like Arlene's Grocery.  "You're a musician- you don't want to lose your hearing!"

I told you not to get a tattoo because it would look silly when you were an old man.  "Think about a wrinkly tattoo on an eighty year old man," I said.  "Plus, it's dangerous."

I warned you about crossing the busy street in front of our apartment, or jaywalking in the city- which you did so gracefully.

I heard on the news about someone falling through one of those metal grates on the city sidewalks and warned you about that.  "Please step over those!"

I told you to walk quickly under the scaffolding in the city after there were a few incidents of scaffolding and cranes collapsing.

I think I literally prayed sometimes while you were lifting our huge window air conditioner out of our old apartment.  I didn't want you to drop it and I didn't want it to fall on you.

"Please just ignore them, don't start anything," I'd implore you when you thought men on crowded subways were picking fights with you.

I read an article about Asian-americans being more prone to diabetes because of the American diet being so different from theirs.   "We have to be careful- I'm mixing brown rice in with the white rice," I proclaimed.

"We have to start doing more cardio," I'd say.  "I exercise every day!" you'd say proudly referring to your pushups you'd do at night on our bedroom floor.  "No, for your heart...we have to do more exercise."

The last words I spoke to you on July 5th, 2010:

Take care of yourself.  


I love you Dan.

Clarifications

A grieving person is not depressed, though it looks similar.

Fresh air, exercise, chicken soup, or going for a massage, though appreciated and "healthy" will not help to lift it.  It is not lift-able.

A grieving person needs kindness and needs to learn to be kind to him or herself.  This is something I've not been good at most of my life, but I am learning now.

There will be no wise words spoken, though I was wishing there were, that will alleviate the grief- so the best a friend can do is sit with you and cry.  They may offer hope.  The counselor asked me today what was comforting to me- what I expected of people.  I told her a friend who came in the early days and sat with tears in her eyes listening to me saying only "What a loss..." was something I found comforting.

Some have tried to offer these "words of comfort."  Something like this: "You're lucky to have even met someone and had the chance to love like that."

I recently found these handwritten words in a sympathy card from someone whom never married.  I have decided that people who say these particular words have never truly loved.  Because when you truly love someone, it is not a comfort to think that you lost, BUT you loved.  You loved AND lost.

Beautiful and Vital

Today at counseling, the counselor tells me the loss of a spouse- "especially at your age" is the worst kind of grief - according to the books- worse than the loss of a child even- because the relationship has so much shaped who you are- you lose so much of yourself as well.

I tell her how often you told me I was pretty- how you encouraged me- how consistent, steadfast, and unconditional your love even when things were tough- which they often were.  I tell her I didn't know I could love this much until now.

"Would you say you loved him more than you've ever loved anyone?" she asks.

"Yes."

On the way home, I think about all of the practical and "responsible" things I was always nagging you about.  A lot of widows complain about the responsibilities they must take on for the first time- taking care of banking for the first time- fixing things around the house.  These things I have been taking care of for a long time, so this is not my experience.

You told me I looked pretty in the morning, told me it would all work out and we'd be OK, made me smile at just the thought of you, let me tickle you, made me laugh at myself and my high-strung ways, played me music I hadn't heard, and urged me- just write- start writing...you're a great writer.

So it turns out what you brought to me and our relationship- to our home and family- though not necessarily the most practical in worldly terms-

was absolutely beautiful and
vital.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Refrigerator Buzz

Rainbows were apparently abounding over Brooklyn and Manhattan today, but I didn't see any of them.  And of course, it was raining all afternoon and then the sun broke out, hence the rainbows.  And that's pretty much a good estimation of how I'm feeling this week.

It's like in the early days when I sat with your family telling them that you were like Enoch or Elijah and that God had just taken you and left us your body to find.  They all nodded in agreement.

But then later, I read that dying in the lakes of Switzerland is the second highest cause of death for young men who live there.

After the mysticism leaves, logic and science and reason are waiting to prove themselves.

My thoughts have been varied and hard to wrap up into neat little posts- or stages of grief even.  They are all taking their turns at the forefront throughout the course of one single day.   I think about how tainted is my past- and how the future I imagined has evaporated with just one swim.

I negotiate- perhaps if I had been a better wife.  Perhaps if I been a worse wife and forbid you to go.  Perhaps if you see how strong I am being- you will be so proud- or perhaps if you see me yelling at your daughter while I am grieving and mothering a toddler and losing my patience- maybe that would be enough to raise you from the grave.  Most of this is on the subconscious level most of the time.

I feel like time travel might be possible.  Like I might be able to tell the me in the past about this and she might be able to call you at your hotel.  I imagine the scene as though it's in a movie.  "Dan...I have to tell you something.  Can you hear me?"  Maybe there'd be static or a bad connection at this point.  "You can't go swimming today in Lake Geneva.  You're going to die.  Don't ask me how I know, I just do.  Listen to me- whatever you do- don't even go near the water, OK?"  You would sound confused and puzzled and tell me I worry too much and I'm too fearful and it's a beautiful lake- "You should see it," you'd say.

I feel anger and I look for someone or something to blame.  Isn't that what we do?  In modern society- it seems we're all taught to blame our parents for all our deepest issues and problems even into adulthood- enter therapy.  But who can I blame now?

Who can be placed up on the stand to be questioned?  God?  You?  The self-absorbed man who swam out deeper than I know you would've and then went on by himself when you said you were cold and turning back?  Can I blame the people who told me, "Oh, no, you've got to let him live out his dreams.  It's hard but you have to support him" and let him travel around the world by himself while you stay at home with a toddler.

I sit at the kitchen table in the quiet, listening to the hum of the refrigerator which for some reason has sounded louder than it used to ever since you died, unbearably loud.  Audrey is in her crib tossing around the way toddlers do as they try to find sleep.

I sit and stare at the photograph of you next to her when she was a newborn.  I try to remember what it felt like to have you come in the apartment so casually.  To hear you turn the lock of the door, to see you come in the kitchen, throw something out in the garbage, or get a glass of water.  I try to understand how it was so casual and so expected then, so taken for granted.

And I think about how I still can hear the sound of each door lock turning as you came home in all three of our apartments we lived in together.  I can hear your footsteps going up the creaky steps of the old brownstone, the door shutting with a bang in Bay Ridge, and see our bedroom knob turning here so quietly so you didn't wake up Audrey across the hall.  I was always waiting, always worrying, always grateful to hear those sounds.   I don't hear them anymore and what's worse- I don't have any expectation of hearing them.

I turn off the kitchen light and head into our room, my room, for the night.  You are never coming home.

With Me

Debilitating.

Sinking in- more and more each day.

You have died.

You- who was with me when I fell in love, who was with me when I dated, when I got engaged, when I got married, on my honeymoon, when I first saw my child's heartbeat, in the birthing room...you were with me.

"You have your wonderful memories"- people say.

But the memories too are cut off, truncated, not whole- and so much less beautiful than they used to be when we shared them.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Equation

Amazing to me today how grief like this saturates not only your whole perception of reality on a larger scale, but every single detail throughout your day...I went to run a few errands this morning while someone watched Audrey and there was nothing I did not see or touch that didn't make me think of us.  

Grief is so powerful it invades time and breaks barriers.  It reaches back into my past of beautiful memories and taints them with its haunting foreshadowing- as everything written or said takes on a double meaning.  It reaches into the future- to years from now when this is the past...and further...to my own end here when I will wonder what or who awaits me- if anything.  I still envision one scene in my mind- it is me coming back on that ship- you waving me in...I hope secretly that God will be kind and let that be my own personal experience when my time comes...even if I'm old and have forgotten it completely...I think he will for some reason.  

There must be some equation here, I think today.

The amount of grief I feel is equal to the amount of love I had and have. 

The death was the factor that caused the grief and accentuated in some ways the love...taught me and showed me what was already there but I didn't always see.  

So it's something like this: love plus death= grief.   No, but then if the grief is equal to the love- then this doesn't work.  This seems silly but I am really working on this.  Maybe it's more like love=grief=death?  And if they are all equivalent- then there is hope that one will not overshadow the other?  

I have never been good at math.

"For love is as strong as death, its ardor unyielding as the grave.  It burns like blazing fire like a mighty flame.  Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away."  Song of Songs 8.6-7

Monday, October 25, 2010

Not a Trial

Someone well meaning whom I respect a lot but don't know that well, came over today with lunch for us.  She shared a lot about her own recent trials which include financial worries, chronic pain, caring for quite a few children, and general depression perhaps brought on by all of the above.  She shared about how God had comforted her through other people, through a prophetic vision, and how I might want to take walks while listening to worship music.  That had helped her.

Even though this friend has such a gentle spirit and shared with the best intentions, as she spoke, I felt nothing but anger inside.  And I thought- wow, I must really be pissed at God- even though I didn't think I was.

And I basically told her, "Look, I've been depressed, I've had chronic pain, but this is different.  My husband is dead.  In the Bible it says there's a time for mourning- and that's what this is.  I don't expect to feel "better" for a long, long time, and this sadness will never completely go away."  Something like that.  I hope I didn't offend her, but maybe I'm not even willing to receive comfort yet.  Maybe it's there, but I just don't want it yet.  But mostly, what I want is not God- but Dan.  I'm sure God's love would be a comfort and I'm sure his strength can get me through some hard times- but what I want is Dan.  Am I like a two-year old- like my daughter- having a tantrum?  Maybe a little bit.  She doesn't forget- even distraction doesn't work as well anymore and if I tell her, "You can hang upside down first thing in the morning, not now - it's bedtime," you can bet she'll remember the second I enter her room tomorrow.

Another friend who chatted with me last night asked me if I had hope- so I've been thinking a lot about that.  What does that mean to ask me right now if I have any hope?  Hope of what?  Of experiencing joy again in this life?  Of not feeling this sorrow and soreness of spirit each day?  Of seeing my husband ever again?  The light for that last one is not yet snuffed out, but I'd say that's the only hope that really interests me.  Because of time, I'm pretty certain I'll go on and live my life as well as I can for as long as I can so I don't know if I really need "hope" for that.  So what would it mean for me to have hope right now?  The only hope I'm interested in is the one that suggests what we see is not all there is.

Because I am not just a woman who lost her husband in the world.  This is not a trial.  I wish words could do justice to say what a completely different reality I am in now- what a strange perception I have.  But they fail me here. All here feels so very temporary now- like a dream and like deja vu- that feeling you get when you recognize the scene or actions as if you've already dreamt it or done it in the past- but for me now- it is reverse deja vu.  I anticipate recognizing something that lies ahead.  I will know it then.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Church

Today was the third Sunday I visited a church service.  A good friend and her family had invited us again to theirs.  They picked us up and drove us there- and Audrey seems to really enjoy the Sunday school class- she has no problem going by herself.

I thought I'd appreciate the more liturgical, traditional service at this Presbyterian church, but it turns out the Upper West Side culture of it is not quite suitable either.  It feels like everyone there is just so comfortable and kind of proud of themselves too- for their Sunday routine of church and muffins and coffee afterwards.  It also feels like there's a certain polite face you must wear.  What would these people do if I started crying and sobbing during one of the hymns while the classically trained singer is standing up there with a smile on her face?

When we walked in, I noticed right away the music for today centered around a cellist.  He looked skinny and boring to me.  I pictured you up there instead- so comfortable-looking with that cello resting on your knees...giving me that quick smile with your teeth pressed together.  I could see you there- envision you instead of the boring guy with the button down shirt and tapered pants.  He seemed like he was accentuating the finger movements too to appear more "musical"- you never did that- you made it look effortless instead.

I walked behind my friend's husband and another friend from college we ran into- two Korean men- so I guess the person seating people in the pews assumed I wasn't with them.  "Are you a single?" she practically grabbed me and asked.  "No, I'm with them." I answered sharply.

After a few opening hymns and prayers, I had to excuse myself.  I was crying and trying to hold it in, and I think I could've if I really tried, but I didn't feel like it.  If I do, it'll just come out later and probably be worse.  I was going to go to the restroom but instead found myself heading outside, crossing the street and overlooking Central Park.  I leaned on the concrete wall there covered in bird shit, eyeing the park we both loved.  "This can't be.  This can't be happening."  I cried.  It felt safer to cry with passerby's, tourists, and a few derelicts on the benches nearby than it did in a church service- that can't be good.  I realized how much I missed your affection and comfort.  It feels like nothing will comfort me but you yourself.  I silently prayed that someone, preferably a man, would just give me a hug today.  I sat on a bench for a few minutes thinking maybe God would send someone right then...even a stranger who would say, "Hey, you look sad.  Can I give you a hug?"  But no one did.  So I headed back inside.

Strangely now, this qualifies as a nice day.  We went to a bookstore afterwards and then to lunch.  Then my friend's husband helped me put together the dining table I got from IKEA.  I noticed that I am not the only one craving the comfort of a man- Audrey wouldn't stop saying her Uncle's name, running to him, looking for him, smiling as she watched him play with his own daughters throughout the day.  I would walk away so that she wouldn't be distracted by me and watch her from afar- the look on her face...I worry about her.  I worry about this void and how she will fill it in a healthy way.

Tonight she insisted we open "Appa's cello" and so I did.  I took out the cello and sat and we both played it a little bit with the bow.  She said, "looks like appa!"  excitedly, and I said, "Yes, we do...we look like Appa."

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Watering the Cello

I opened your cello for the first time since you died.  It's been lying there in the corner like a body where you left it.  I used to think of it as your mistress sometimes, because of its shape and because you were always carrying it around everywhere and it occupied such an important part of your life.  A few times in the midst of fighting, you told me you were going to destroy it to make me happy.  I had to hold you back because you would get that angry you might've done it.  You also tried to sell it a few times though I always thought you should just keep it.  It has a good sound.

So, I opened it just now- had a lot of trouble with all of the latches.  I moved things too quickly perhaps, not taking the time to realize it was your hands that last closed it, and your hands that last placed the bow in its place and the little red handkerchief that you used to clean the bow I think.  It's amazing how little I know about the cello though I watched you carry that case around for eleven years.  I remember when you forgot it once and I volunteered to bring it to your subway stop by your work because I was at home.  You were so worried that I was going to somehow forget it on the train.  You warned me that it had almost happened to you a few times.  You were also just worried about me carrying it.  But I did.  And I remember the strange new identity that immediately came with it.  It's hard to miss, so I felt that instantly I was the girl with the cello- a cellist.  You were so relieved to see me with the cello, and so grateful that time.

I played a few notes and took out the bow and tried to play a little bit with the cello still lying there in the case.  It sounded like death.  I placed my fingers on the strings and moved the bow.  No good.  But still the sound of this particular cello is yours.  I can recognize it compared to other instruments so it was still nice to hear.  I tried to find the dampit that I bought you last Christmas and had some trouble locating it- but then I found it.  I'd seen you so many times take that snake-like thing, but not really known what you were doing with it.  Now I had to do it.  I took it to the sink and wet it, squeezed it out a bit and placed in back in the cello.  I had a little trouble closing the latches again.  It's October and the heat's been on a lot so I'm not sure how often I'm supposed to do this- but it keeps it from warping.

I've also learned from one of your musician friends that I need to make sure your cello is played to maintain it well.  Maybe once a month I think he said.  I've gotta figure this one out soon because it's already been a while now.

Audrey has said it's her cello now, but I wonder- will she really play and take lessons?  I'd never want her to feel she has to step into your shoes in any way.  How long will I keep watering your cello and how long will I keep it?  Really it feels like I'm just keeping it for you...like house sitting, watering plants, feeding the cat...waiting for the owner to return.

Black Cat, Purple Lights, Separation

Tonight before her bath, since I had to take out the trash and get the mail anyway, Audrey and I decided to go for a quick walk around outside and look for her the moon- which she's been enchanted with for about a year now.  On our way down the little path in the dark in our complex, a black cat crossed in front of our path.  I've never been superstitious, but now this type of thing means even less to me.

We couldn't find the moon because it was cloudy, but we walked down to the water.  As I walked I relived yet again the morning before the phone call- my walk down the steps in my wet bathing suit with Audrey- how strange it still is that I was teaching your daughter to swim while your body lay in the water.  I take some comfort that we were in the water together- maybe we were even drawn there together.  It is the closest I can get since you were so very far away.

Even though there was no moon, we discovered the lights on the George Washington Bridge were purple tonight- which I have now read is to support gay youth, but it also happens to be Audrey's favorite color so it was kind of special.  It was a perfect temperature for a walk tonight.

On Thursday the counselor tells me that I've got to start working through some of the anger- probably by writing here.  I will do that soon.  I've held back, but anger comes out in spurts at innocent people when it's held in, so I know it's time to address some of the anger that comes with all of this.

Yesterday a next door neighbor, maybe in her late 70's, early 80's, stopped and sat on the bench outside where I was blowing bubbles with Audrey.  She asked me how I was doing and kept repeating, "It's very hard." I knew she was a widow but she shared a little bit more with me how her husband was fifty and died suddenly and she had two or three older kids - I forget- and hadn't worked in twenty years.  She said she eventually wound up as a travel agent and got to travel a lot.  I asked her if she ever remarried and she said no- "There was one fellow I could've been with, but then I found out he had lymphoma and I said, 'No way- I'm outta here.' "

This sounds harsh- but I understand what she means- I can't imagine doing this more than once in a lifetime.

She kept emphasizing how I would go on, "You go on...you go on."  But I asked her if she ever forgot, and she said, "You never forget.  Never."

Then I told her that I had hope-  hope of seeing my husband one day again...in heaven.  I don't think she heard the last part or maybe she just didn't understand what I was saying, but she paused and then said, "Unfortunately, that never comes to pass...but you go on."

I wondered how people could live without hope.  How anyone could say that final of a goodbye.  I can not- despite my doubts and questions.

My brother-in-law visited us last weekend- mostly to visit the cemetery plot before he leaves the country on business, but also to see Audrey and I.  I talked a lot about my questions, and said at one point that I just can't understand, how it could be that great of a separation, that God who is God, can't throw me something from that next world- some sign, something to grasp onto.  "But that's exactly it," your brother said.  "It is that great of a separation."

Come All You Floods

Migraine for two days now.   I wonder- is it because the grief was "lighter" all week- is this how the tears I keep manifest themselves?  But along with the migraines, the tears returned last night.  I keep wondering how many tears it is possible to shed...

And I keep thinking- not so much about the migraines, "I can't stand this anymore."


“Come all you floods, you clouds, you rains,
Dwell in my eyes! My grief has need
Of all the watery things that nature can produce!
Let every vein suck up a river to supply my eyes,
My weary, weeping eyes, too dry for me,
Unless they get new conduits, fresh supplies,
And with my state agree.”
George Herbert

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The People Who Stay

You read it over and over on other widow blogs or forums- this kind of tragedy changes and defines the relationships in your life.  

The people you would've expected to be there- are largely absent.  The people from the periphery somehow step into the center of things.  Some relationships will slip away entirely.  Maybe the person can't handle it- or maybe you can't handle them- they're too draining and you have to preserve your energy now more than ever. 

I have found all of this to be surprisingly true.  Besides my parents and a couple of closer friends, the people I talk to on a regular basis are mostly people I didn't even know before your death Dan.  I think about this sometimes, how surprised you'd be.  People who just stepped in and watched Audrey while I attended your wake and funeral, or benefit concert.  People who arranged counseling for me, brought me food, take Audrey out.  

There is someone who messages me EVERY SINGLE DAY- at least once- and reads my blog and has even read grief books so she can relate to me and point things out to me that she reads.  She is someone I had never had a real conversation with before this, but is now volunteering to pay for a class for Audrey and knows our weekly schedule by heart.  For a while I took it for granted- oh, just another message from "her".  No one else writes me anymore," and basically felt sorry for myself.   But you know what, I am so grateful for these messages.  They are a constant reminder that I'm not totally alone- a reminder of faithfulness and steadfastness.  

Because it has gotten remarkably quiet lately.  I wonder, do people think I'm fine?  Are they just back to their busy lives?  Was I a novelty to some?  But I too have been feeling the need to spend more time alone reflecting and take back some sense at least, of control over my life.  So admittedly I have pushed some away as I enter this new phase.  But emails, phone calls, messages- I still would welcome after Audrey's asleep in her crib at night and I'm alone for another night.  

The widower I know who lost his wife and two children at once- (actually someone the above person also put me in touch with!)- told me this a few months ago when we talked- and even at that time I was worried about the time I face now- the quiet time, "Some people will stay...I had an older woman who brought me soup every week without fail for a year or more..."  

They are not the people you might think, but I think he's right- some people will stay.  What a gift.  What a treasure.  Thank you.

Han

Han: a collective feeling of lament, suffering and loss.  That's the best definition I can come up with.

It has no translation in the English language.

I thought I could sense this han in you Daniel- this collective consciousness of a small, but strong war-torn country that has suffered and lost so much.  It was built into you, despite the way you appeared to others on the outside.  I saw...

There is no translation, but maybe I feel something like this now...and will feel it twenty years from now even more.

I found a collection of poems by Pak Chaesam that I purchased a few years ago as I've been unpacking books that were stored away for the past two years.  It's translated in English next to the original Korean, and I'm sure it loses much, but here is the poem entitled "Han"

Han


Something like the persimmon tree?
Ripening in the sad evening glow,
the tree where the fruits of my heart's love
ripen.


With room to spread in the next world only,
still it looms behind the one I was thinking of,
falling down from above her head.


It may yet become the fruit
of her overwhelming grief
that she wished to plant
in the yard of her house.
Or would she understand
if I said it was all my sorrow,
all my hope from a previous life,
the color of that fruit?
Or did that person too
live in sorrow through this world?
That I do not know, I do not know.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Brown Fleece Gloves

Was thinking today that one could go with the argument that the reason we mourn as deeply as we do for those who die is because there is something completely unnatural about death- and therefore, it must be an "intruder" as Tim Keller and many others call it.  But you could also go with the argument, that we mourn the loss of life so deeply because that is all there is- this life- thereby making it so very valuable.  It could be both- as my counselor often says, "This is all we know..." so of course I think Dan would be much happier here raising his daughter.  This is all I know.

We had no plans so we ran a few errands- which usually means spending some money which isn't really good, but I'm finding lately I enjoy shopping- just throw it in the cart- it feels a little healing to buy things for Audrey especially.  But she really needed pajamas- hers were for 18 months I think so we went to Old Navy and got her a few pairs- also got her some socks and I even bought myself a sweatshirt and some long sleeve t's.

I stopped and cried for a few moments by the wall hanging of fleece gloves.  Last winter I had no gloves or hat.  I didn't really care, but I'm sure I also complained that I was cold.  One day you came home with a hat and gloves for me from the Gap after work.  "They were on sale, and you need it."  It was a red wool cable-knit hat which at first I didn't like, but ended up suiting me really well.  You were always good at picking things out for me- better than I am.  The gloves were brown fleece.  I lost one eventually at the dumpling place in the next town.  I didn't bother going back because I had Audrey with me and was exhausted that day.  I hope I still have the hat- I think I must.  I told you that I was going to buy myself a nice hat and scarf and gloves and why did you get me those random ones?  I had a black down coat and a red hat and brown gloves now.  But you replied something sweet and innocent like, "You were cold.  I don't want you to be cold.  Just wear them."

I hate that you were so cold when you died.

"I hope it is warm in heaven," you wrote in a journal.  I hope so too Dan.

Audrey's in her crib talking to herself now- I'm sorry that she caught me crying on the couch before in the dark.  She was picking out her bedtime books and I was saying my goodnight to you but it's amazing really how the crying keeps coming at the thought of you.  She gave me a smile at first because she thought I was hiding or doing something silly.  Her face changed when she saw me...just now I heard her say, "Appa got weawy hurt."  I wish I hadn't used those particular words- I hate hearing her say them.

At dinner I thought about the first time I saw you and hummed the chorus of a song I wrote later that day or at least that week- I forget...

"But there you are with your smile and guitar
and it doesn't take long for the fall
your hand in mine and I finally know
I was waiting for someone after all.
I don't believe they'll be anyone else...
I don't believe they'll be anyone...
cause every day I keep losing myself
in the smile and the fall,
I thank God for it all."

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Mishaps and Adventures

For the most part, my best memories of Dan and I are all the things that didn't work out, the mishaps, and mistakes, the plans gone awry, or the spontaneous, unplanned stops along the way.

After I gave birth to Audrey, I had to go on some heart medication to slow my heart rate down- mostly the doctors and the cardiologist agreed it was anxiety-related, even though I personally didn't feel very anxious to begin with- except for the fact that I had to visit the cardiologist with a nine day old infant I was trying to nurse.  At any rate, when I went back to my OB, a Korean-american woman with a very wry sense of humor.  She asked me how things were going and I told her that now we'd discovered we had bed bugs and were living with my parents.  "What?  Bed bugs?  Well, some of my best times were living in Korea with my whole family in two rooms eating eggs and tofu.  You'll see...those are some of the best times."  I didn't think she was right at the time, at least about my particular situation.  I had been so looking forward to taking my newborn home to the place I'd prepared for her- instead she was sleeping in a borrowed pack and play in my brother's childhood room and Dan and I didn't even get to sleep in the same room for the most part.

But these are the times we remember.  It has been like this really from the first with you Dan.  I met you in the city at Columbia and the chapel we'd planned on using to share our songs was locked.  We found a room in the Physics building.  The sandwich that you recommended to me at the place you took me was all out that day, and the movie you suggested we see afterwards, was sold out.

Our magical moment under the American elms of Poets Walk, purpled by the summer setting sun, was largely spontaneous, not planned.  We took the park on the way back to the bus terminal and the surprise of it when we turned the corner was what made it memorable.

One of my favorite New Years Eves was when we met with some friends downtown for Malaysian food and then on our way uptown at about 11 pm decided spontaneously to hop off the train and see if we could see the ball drop at Times Square.  Well, we were herded around block after block- nowhere near the ball- until finally we wound up at the south end of Central Park- standing on some rocks within the huge crowd.  We could barely make out the scene in Times Square, but we could see the fireworks.  We kissed at midnight and held each other tight- and I just had a feeling- without any words- this would be the year we were going to get engaged.

As I walked down the aisle to the traditional wedding march, the friend who I'd asked to play played a few horrendous notes.  A cousin of my dads interrupted our first moment as husband and wife in a side room of the church- "Oh there you two are!" Your friend who was mc'ing the reception made a crude joke during the cake cutting which I only caught on video.   These are the things we laughed about afterwards and for years.

It so happened that our first apartment wouldn't be ready until two weeks after we got back from our honeymoon, but fortuitously a student in my grad school class asked if I would dog sit and live in her home for those exact two weeks.  Well, maybe it was the second day when you had let the two giant black poodles out in the backyard that one of them- Dolly- who you called Jolly- didn't return.  I heard you calling and calling from the bedroom...so I came down to the kitchen.  "Did you use the emergency whistle thing?"  There was some clicking device that the woman had told us would work if nothing else did.  It was dark out.  You clicked away and Dolly didn't return.  Finally...in she came...and then I experienced the smell of a skunk up close- it's quite different from the wafting scent you smell when you drive by.  Dolly had been sprayed.  We tried to get her in the bath tub but the other dog went crazy.  We googled solutions to the smell.  Luckily we had another week and a half until the family returned for the smell to dissipate from the kitchen.  "Remember Dolly?"  I'd say in the past six years..."You mean Jolly?" you'd say.

In our first apartment, we had no furniture for a while.  I had been so busy planning the wedding all year, I'd given very little thought to the matter of furnishing our house until we were actually there.  So slowly we got our furniture, but in the meantime, we sat on the living room floor and ate dinner- later we advanced to sitting on two chairs with a cardboard box as our makeshift table.  It didn't matter- we were newly weds.

Remember when we visited Korea- I got sick but your mom made me sing at your parents church?  Remember at the large family gathering how you were carrying over a large Asian table of plates and food to the kitchen and dropped it all?  It was loud and messy...it was funny.  We laughed every time we brought it up.

Remember how Audrey's first or second night home you opened up her diaper and her poop exploded all over our room- I mean it flew everywhere- "Whoooaahhh!" you said.

I am a planner and a control freak.  I wanted to create perfect moments and outings and traditions.  But now I see with new clarity...it is not the plans we made, not the "perfect," but the imperfect, flawed, mishaps and adventures of daily living - that I remember most often.

I miss those.

I Do Not Know

Someone I barely know but had a lengthy conversation with the other day about grief and loss, told me that she believes admitting we don't know the answers is the bravest and must humble thing we can do in the face of this.  I had been telling her that, to me, to say it's all just a big mystery seems like a total cop out.  But in the end, that's really what even the best theologians tell us.

To admit that I don't know and never will...

The other night I listened to yet another Keller sermon.  In this one he stated that if you believe in a God that is big enough to have stopped the natural disaster or car accident or drowning...then it follows logically that you have to also believe that he might have reasons that you couldn't possibly understand.

This is a true statement.

I don't really struggle with bitterness or anger towards God.  A friend was telling me on the phone the other night that the older she gets the more there are just two answers to everything and I agree.  No, I am not angry with God.  He either is, or he isn't.  Interestingly enough, he called himself simply, "I AM."

Will Everything Be Returned?

I hear it said a lot that in heaven and particularly on the new heavens and new earth that come only after Christ returns, everything that was lost will be returned and restored.   Is is just, like Dostoevsky says, that whatever is revealed will be so great- that all of these earthly sorrows will seem so meager?  How I found myself wondering this afternoon- would everything lost be restored?

Because the truth is, what I would like is for Dan to come home on July 23rd, 2010.  I would like him to greet his not yet two-year-old daughter with joy.  I would like him to see her say her first words and sentences and sing her first songs.  I would like to take her on the carousel in Bryant Park for her second birthday as we had planned.  And I can only imagine there will be many more moments I will want restored that are still ahead of Audrey and I.

Now I suppose since eternity is just that, we'd have plenty of time to reenact but in a fuller, whole way, the last 50 years of my life...but...will that be how it's done I wonder?  Or will Dan and I be reunited with Audrey when she is an old woman?  Because I want Dan to see her as a child.  That and that alone seems like restoration to me.  I know these thoughts are too high for me, and I will never know the answers until I cross the threshold myself, but I think about them...I think about them.

Makeshift Houses

I love design and decorating- I have ever since I laid parquet floors in my dollhouse kitchen.  And every home we've had- I've worked really hard- a little too hard arguably, to make it both functional, beautiful, and homey.

But then somehow I'd always feel disappointed- there'd always be a new list of things to "buy" to complete the vision I had.  But the list never ended.  I never felt done or satisfied.  But mostly, each of our homes felt "makeshift."  This was the best word I could use to describe them.  The little apartment on the fourth floor of the brownstone in Brooklyn, charming though it was, had no real door separating our space from the owner of the house- it was over 100 years old, the tile in the center of the bathroom floor was missing, there was a strange little sliding door in between the bedroom door and living room, and a pantry in the kitchen with just boards on the floor.  I tried to work with all this- putting a large bath mat on the floor, seeing that loud creaking sliding door as quaint, and covering up the pantry floor with another utility rug, but still - it felt forced.  Not to mention the giant water bugs (ie. roaches) and mice we dealt with.  I felt it most when we visited some other friends' new condos in Virginia and admired their new wood floors, newly painted walls, and stainless steel kitchens.  It was similar thing in Bay Ridge.  We had no closet in our bedroom- it was in the entryway by the door.  So we'd have to go there to get our clothes in the morning.  The floor was slanted in our bedroom, and I could hear our upstairs neighbor take a piss and flush.  Here there were similar things.  The popcorn ceilings from the 80's when this building was built, not exactly going with my modern decor, the sliding glass doors to the balcony that also serve as our only windows- all on one wall- and requiring all of the strength in my body to open, and the dark kitchen with a strange lamp the owner hung too low.

All of these things can be easily chalked up to old NYC apartments, bad aesthetics, or just poor taste, but after all of my efforts to make each of these places a "real" home, even though they were only temporary, I realized that they would always be "makeshift houses."  I even started to write a song by the same title last year at some point.  I can't put my finger on it, but these "places" can only do so much for the home-longing in my heart.

I read Audrey her new favorite book before her nap, Corduroy- a favorite of mine when I was growing up- and when Lisa brings the little teddy bear home from the department store and shows him her room for the first time he says, "This must be home...I know I've always wanted a home!"

All I am doing here is dusting off the department store shelf where I wait to be purchased, and taken home to someplace familiar.  I'm a vagabond in a makeshift house.

Plastic Bags

When we last moved, we lost pretty much everything we owned, but books, photograph albums, some CD's and movies, we packed in giant Ziploc bags.  When we moved to our new apartment, I didn't want to open them for another 18 months- the life span of a dormant bed bug- even though I'd even had a specially trained dog come in and sniff each bag.

So, it's especially odd to be unpacking those now- I haven't seen the contents since I packed them away when Audrey was only a couple of months old and we had already been living with my parents for a couple of months.  We spent two weekends in the old apartment, feverishly throwing stuff out and throwing some stuff in these bags.  They sat in storage until we found our current apartment a few months later.  Then they were stacked in the entry way closet.  I never even opened those doors.  But now, since we're staying a bit longer, it just felt right to fully unpack.  But that hasn't meant it's been easy- today I unpacked the rest of the closet.  In one bag I found your "daddy phone," the empty toilet paper roll you used to use to talk to Audrey while she was still in my belly.  I will put it in a special box with other memories to show her when she's older.  I'm really glad I saved it somehow amidst all of that chaos.

I also found the first gift you ever gave me- a chalkboard.  You thought it was cute and unique.  It's a small back chalkboard with a little shelf and you got it at a little store in Koreatown.  I had saved the cute Korean wrapping paper for years, but I remember a couple of years ago deciding I could let that go- I kind of wish I had it now.  I still remember seeing you walking off the bus holding a shopping bag with the present and trying to pretend I didn't see it when we greeted one another on the overpass above the high way.

I am thinking now as I sit here- Audrey quietly talking to herself in her crib- that little chalkboard on the foot of my bed...how that chalkboard lasted for eleven years now, but you are gone.  Whenever I buy stuff, I always think about how one day it'll be broken or in a landfill- that is really for certain.  But now I am thinking how in some ways, it's easier to "keep" these things than to keep a human being.  Had the chalkboard been in Lake Geneva for a few hours, it probably would've come out OK after it dried.  Yes, the human body also has amazing inherent capabilities for healing and regrowth even- but ultimately- how very fragile we are.  That is because we are containers of something much more precious and fragile than any piece of wood or plastic or slate...life.  How different we are from any other physical "object."  We breathe, we beat, we reason, we love.  

Trauma

It's over three months now and a strange thing is happening- I'm starting to relive the trauma of those very early days starting with July 6th.  I think it's because much of the shock and fog is dissipating- though the world still feels completely changed and utterly surreal- and I am reflecting on the sheer trauma of receiving a phone call like that.

When I stand in the kitchen where I picked up my cell phone off of the counter, I hear the words, "Hi Julia, this is K.  Can you talk?  Are you driving? "  "What the fuck happened..." was the very first thing I said.  And I just kept repeating it as he asked me if I could sit down.

I hate to leave our home behind and want to reinforce memories of Audrey, but these memories, I would like to leave behind just a little.  Not walk that path ever again from the kitchen to the couch where I sat down and screamed, "I'm a widow at 34! We were going to have another baby? What am I going to tell the little girl standing here looking at me right now!"  That memory I would like to leave- but I'm afraid it's emblazoned in my psyche like it was burnt on wood by the sun through a magnifying glass.

I've also recalled the sound of the deep sobs of your mother when your parents called me after your brother told them.  "Julia..." she sobbed.  It was a horrific thing to hear your mother sob like that.  And that is mostly what we both did- sob, before hanging up the phone.

Most of those early days though, area  blur of people coming in and out- sleeping over.  I am amazed now at the mental clarity and sharpness I had or was given the very day you died.  The vision that I had for the funeral- to have photos, flowers, a memorial book for Audrey created- the foresight- how was I thinking of those things?  I knew ESPN should write a memorial to you- that would please you...it felt like I did that a few days after you died, but I recently discovered my email to your editor at Soccernet, at around 5 am the morning after you died.  I was up that entire night- unable to sleep at all, and decided to go ahead and start getting things done.  I wanted it published before the funeral so it also could be framed for all to see.  I wanted so badly to honor you in every way I knew how.  But the sharpness of my thinking is somewhat mysterious to me.

I think often also, of the walk up the church aisle to see your body, of your brother telling me just at the beginning, "Brace  yourself."  Of the your mother in front of me, also supported on either side, as we both staggered up with loud moans and cries.  "Peace, peace," were the strange words that came out of my mouth as I comforted her once I saw the body- "He is not here."  I was surprised myself to hear those words and it was almost as if they came from someone else.  "Peace, peace.  He is well."

Lock of Hair

I've thought about washing your lock of hair- it's a large one- for about a week now.  I went so far as to take it out of the bag, put two of Audrey's ponytail holders around the middle so it doesn't come apart, and sit it on top of the bag by our bathroom sink.

I see it every time I brush my teeth or go in the bathroom...sometimes I touch it.  It's lost the strong odor it had when I first took it out of the little velvet bag handed to me discreetly by the funeral director.  I thought that odor was the smell of embalming at first- then the smell of the lake water where you died, then later decided it was the smell of your body- which had been through so much.  Your funeral was not until ten days after you had died.  I am glad the smell is gone.  I think also, that just by leaving your hair in the bathroom, some of the stiffness has come out and it's softened a bit from the humidity during showers.  I'm glad of this too.

I wanted to feel this lock of hair and remember what your hair felt like.  It was always such a point of tension for us actually.  I loved how boyish you looked with short hair- which was how you looked when we first met.  You wanted to grow your hair long and put it half-way up, "like a sumo-wrestler" you said.  Right before Audrey was born, you let it grow and grow- and finally we donated it to Locks of Love because I begged you to cut it.  I hate how tightly it was pulled back in a ponytail and thought your hairline started to look like it was receding.  I'd always told you on the list I'd made in college (something Christian girls do- very silly actually) of the qualities I'd wanted in my husband, "not bald" had been on there.  Well, be careful what you wish for girls- he was not bald at all- he had tons of hair- thick black hair which somehow, even though it was constantly falling out- just kept growing and getting thicker.  I was constantly complaining that it was all over the bathroom floor.  "You'll be happy when I leave," you'd say this past year before going away when I complained about it.  I am so sorry for this.  And now I search for them- hoping to find a stray one in our room on the floor- which I have yet to vacuum.

I also asked for a husband who was a musician- which I also got - and which also became a major point of tension for us.  He was not just "musical," he was a musician- striving to do this for a living.  I think I had just been asking for some guy who played the guitar and sang- but as usual, I got more than I bargained for- a genius who was determined to do what he knew how to do best.

Well, I don't think I'll be washing the lock of hair.

I'm afraid that too much of it will wash away, down the drain or the feel of it as a lock will be ruined and it'll just be a bunch of loose hairs by the time I'm finished.  I want it to smell fresh and clean- I want to redeem some of what happened to you- but it's like the grief itself.  I hate it, but I hang on to it.  The counselor says, "It's all you have left."

Notes to Self on the Dangers of Grief

In the beginning, my grief was pure- there was room for nothing else.

As I navigate this brutal path, I find that it is not barren, but fertile with many things- both good or evil.

Bitterness- I've written before of Tim Keller saying grind hope into your grief, and you'll become wise.  The alternative really is bitterness- and a much more pervasive breed than I'm accustomed to- I can tell that much already.  It's one that hijacks your thoughts and perception until everything and everyone is a reason to be bitter, sarcastic, envious.  It is, in a way, wisdom misdirected.  Because my perception is correct- those people really don't know how good they have it; that woman is complaining about being pregnant?  Children are a blessing and she wanted them so please don't let me hear you complain you're so sick of being pregnant even if it's true; and Christians- you're asking me for specific prayer requests- it is too late for those- why would God help me find my lost keys but let my husband drown?

Hidden in the quiet rage of bitterness is profound wisdom and perception not given to those who are not grieving.  It must be protected from the rage - from this propensity to let everyone know how much this sucks and how much they don't get it or how much they lack understanding.  This understanding, should, instead by portioned out as a gift when necessary...for building up others, not presenting my own case.

Identity- I lost a huge part of my identity, but it can not be found in Audrey alone- as a mother.  I have to be more than that- more than what I do.  That is too much pressure for her and I do not want to either 1) smother her or 2) force her to grow up too fast and be my "friend."

Self-pity- I did not see this quality rear its head until very recently- until now, it didn't feel as though I could pity myself- I was drenched in sorrow, and appropriately so.  But these days, I strongly resist people thinking I'm "better."  And it's true- I'm not, nor will I ever be- in those terms though my therapist does talk about grief "recovery."  I guess it's similar to the way once you're an alcoholic you always are- you're just in a constant state of recovery- you're sober for this many years.

But what I sense is that it is possible to feel pity for myself now.  And from that pity stems the bitterness and anger.  So, there is room for acknowledgment of the tragedy, and there is room for "sipping" from the cup of grief, as Catherine Marshall describes it, but there is no room for self-pity.  To dwell there, I can see already, will be dangerous and costly.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Slowing Down

My thoughts have been slowing down a bit.

I think because I've been keeping busier.  This weekend we attended a birthday party in the city and went pumpkin picking yesterday with some friends.

I also attended a friend's church yesterday and Audrey went to the nursery program all by herself for the first time.  The teacher said she didn't ask for me once which made me very proud.  She had a good time.  Meanwhile, I was in the service, checking the "buzzer" they gave me incase she did get upset every few moments to make sure I didn't miss it vibrating.  I listened to the service without really participating.  I had no profound thoughts and experienced no supernatural comfort.  But it was still nice that this hope exists.  If I imagine a world without it, it is truly bleak.

I did think, if this is all true...we are the created.  I am the created.  Somehow this one thought brought a certain measure of peace.

Starting to get overwhelmed by financial paperwork.  I think because I've been trying to keep us so busy, I haven't had a chance to attend to those things.  Received a second notice for a $3,000 bill for helicopter rescue from Switzerland...and today received a denial letter from the state health insurance for Audrey and I.  They insist we have no health insurance for three months before they'll put us on.  But going without health insurance- even though it's more than I can afford- also seems like a really bad idea...especially when there's no guarantee they'll take you then.  So silly.  Still- I know all of these things are largely inconsequential- in light of death- they are still small.  I'll try to let them go and watch how they play out.

It is unreal still...even still.  I can go through the day imagining you gone- that one's easy.  I did it for half of the year last year- for 30 days at a time.  I kept busy.  And I can do that now.  It's because you are dead and no longer in the world.  That is why it is hard to go on- not because it is actually hard to go on. Does that make sense?

Yesterday at lunch, a little friend of Audrey's was asked if she wanted to sit on her daddy's lap.  "Audrey's appa died," said Audrey quietly...but I heard her.

Last night I dreamt of you.  I simply saw you standing there and said, "Oh, it's you.  You're here..." And you put out your hand silently and I put mine in yours.  I have been day dreaming about this a lot lately- the feeling of my hand in yours.  Sometimes at night in between reading or typing on the bed, I put my arm down to the side and extend it, opening my hand as if you're lying next to me.

I found my house keys yesterday.  After all that.  I just let it go for a few days and didn't worry about them.  Then yesterday I reached into my purse to get my spare to open the door and instead pulled out my keys.  They had been in some secret compartment of my purse all along.  I felt relieved...and silly.

We rode the elevator up to our floor earlier today with two elderly men.  They both were in awe of Audrey and commented on how cute she was.  When we got out, I heard the older one tell the other one, "So innocent at that age...they don't know what's coming."  I walked down the hall to our apartment following Audrey's joyful, life-filled steps,
and the words just echoed in my ears.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Laughter

I wish I'd taken a video of Audrey giggling tonight at dinner.  But I was pretty sure as soon as I got the video camera she'd stop.

We were singing Old MacDonald Had a Farm- one of her new favorites and I was joking saying he had a penguin.  Then she out of nowhere, said "a penguin buries carrots."  So I said, "What?"  And she just kept repeating it and laughing hysterically at how funny she was.

Tonight after she was in her crib for a while- I heard her giggle on the monitor and I had a feeling she was thinking of that.  Then she giggled again.  Then she said it, "Penguin buries carrots," and laughed some more.  I loved imagining her thoughts right before drifting off to sleep.

But it was one of those moments where I had no one to turn to- and not just anyone, but really just you- and smile and laugh and marvel at our little girl together.  I just looked up at the ceiling and shook my head as if to say, how can you be missing this?

My First Time Grocery Shopping and Lost Keys

Listening to Audrey talk to herself in her crib before she naps- hopefully.  "Audrey appa died," she just said.

She has started referring to you as "Audrey appa" instead of just "appa."  I'm not sure why.  It makes me sadder- if that's possible.  It sounds removed from you.  Instead of "dad," you're now "Audrey's dad."  But also, it sounds at the same time more personal to her in that she recognizes not everyone's appa died, just hers.

The counselor tells me it's really a "gift," (ha) that she is so smart and aware because that means she actually is grieving and some of that work is beginning- rather than all of it having to come later as she develops.

It's been a long morning.  Since our play date was cancelled due to the other two babies having colds, we had an open morning, but since we were running low on groceries, I thought it'd be fun to take Audrey grocery shopping and give us an outing.  The last time I took her to Trader Joe's was on July 4th, two days before you died.  I looked through their flyer yesterday and there was a ton of appealing frozen items.  I feel relieved to see that if I need to, we can live on Trader Joe's frozen food.

While we sat at breakfast though, I leafed through my recipe book to try to remember what I used to make in this season.  It was difficult.  All of the recipes I'd always picked out and tried were always connected to you Dan- things that you liked.  The book itself was being carefully put together with the intention of feeding a family of four hopefully for many years.  It was all a bit contrived yes, because domesticity doesn't come as naturally to me as I'd like to think, but I was trying.  We were to have pancakes on Saturday mornings, lots of good soups including some Korean ones I'd mastered in the winter, and lots of fresh, light meals in the summer- with basil and tomatoes and other seasonal things.  I had divided my recipe book by season.

For such a svelte guy, you could really eat a huge amount of food.  So I had to learn to cook a lot.  Often it was a source of arguments because I'd spend hours cooking a meal, and you'd eat very quickly, ask for seconds, and be done.  There'd be no leftovers.  It became a real point of tension at one point and I realized that especially in Korean culture but really I think in all cultures, food really is love- and I was being stingy.  I felt overwhelmed at the task of coming up with new meals every day or wanted to have leftovers to pack for your lunch.  In the last year, you didn't eat quite as much.  You said you just couldn't eat the same way anymore.  I felt like it was my fault and would beg you to eat seconds.  "I know you can't be full- please, I made a lot!"

Who knew looking through my recipes could be so emotionally draining, but oh, there's the borscht recipe I got from the Russian family I was a nanny for that you loved at first, and then I made a few too many times.  There's the recipe from my mom for zucchini bread which you said your mom used to make too and you absolutely loved because it wasn't too sweet.  There's the recipe for soon doo boo chigae with my notes from each time I made it and made slight adjustments until it tasted just right.  You were so proud I learned how to make that and would always brag about it to your mom.

So, after a quick visit from a friend, we headed out to Trader Joes.  It was relatively uneventful.  I filled the three bags I brought because I have to carry them myself now- and then I dropped them off at the building lobby before parking the car and walking back with Audrey.

That's when I started to look for my keys to the apartment.  Nowhere- not in my purse, or my coat pocket.  I have never lost my keys- ever.

I got the spare from the concierge and went upstairs with Audrey and the groceries to put away the perishable stuff.  Then...all the way back to the car and back to Trader Joe's because I didn't find them in the car.  I didn't really get a chance to look around Trader Joe's as much as I should've because a woman who worked there looked for me and volunteered to come help look in my car- in hindsight- that was really nice of her.  We looked and couldn't find them.  Then I told her, maybe as an excuse because I seemed so frazzled and disorganized, that I'd just lost my husband- I think I said a couple of months ago- even though it's a few- I feel like I'll always be saying that because I don't want it to get that far away and I don't feel any different than I did and don't want people to assume I'm "better".

She said she was so sorry and asked me how he died.  I feel like if I said he had cancer or in a car accident people would continue, "Oh, I'm so sorry," but when I tell them- they literally gasp every time.  She took my phone number incase the keys turned up and before she walked away and I strapped Audrey back in the car, she looked at me and said, "You know, a lot of times the worst things end of being for the best, at least in my life," and she walked away.  I'm not sure how I was supposed to take that.  Did she mean the lost keys?  Or my husband?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Here are My Random Thoughts

for lack of better title.

I hate how "the holidays" are a dreadful thing now.  For most people that means it's time for family and friends a break from their jobs...people are in a good mood...for me now it's this foreboding thing that others who have suffered severe grief and tragedy tell me to "prepare" for.  My counselor tells me that might be the time I want to think about medication- because no, I haven't gone on it yet.  It's coming up and I'm feeling a bit of anxiety trying to put some plans in place.  I think it best if we travel somewhere different...but nothing has solidified in my mind yet.

Today I was thinking about how this week was "better" because we had a plan and a routine for each day. Monday we checked out a new play space, Tuesday went to IKEA with the church play group, Wed. an outing with grandma and grandpa- apple picking- today the library and playground.  The further I go along in this process, the more routine becomes crucial.  If I was working, we'd have more structure inherently because I'd have to get up at the same time, take Audrey somewhere, come home at the same time, etc.  But as a stay-at-home mom- which I guess I still am- at least for now- there's no structure imposed upon you- you have to create the structure.  This was apparent to me even before this happened.  So, lately I've been thinking of a meal plan- that is set, and even picking out both of our outfits for the next day the night before- so that's all set.  Not because I want to be militaristic, but just because I'm in survival mode and that seems easier than winging it every day.

Those thoughts led me to think of the Captain in The Sound of Music.  He was a widower no?  And probably more than the fact that he was a Captain, his family was run the way it was to survive.

I don't plan on getting a whistle or teaching Audrey that goodnight song...but still.

I realize today, yet again, how much I'm a "works" person and how hard that makes it for me to get the concept of GRACE.  When we got the bed bugs, I remember saying outloud as we gathered our few belongings from the apartment- "but I worked SO hard..."  And today I found myself thinking about Dan that way too..."but he worked so hard these past few years- and then to die?"  It's as if I believe hard work is the answer- when I know it's not.  I sound utterly foolish to hold up my meager works as a sacrifice.

I also thought today about how in this writing, I keep being driven towards hope.  No matter where I start out, the process of writing drives me there.  I don't want to be phony or disingenuous.  I don't have an agenda with my words to come out sounding hopeful- but many times, they do.  So I was thinking about how God is called "The Word."  and how with only his spoken words- he created the world. Perhaps there is a creative force in art and words that pushes towards redemption.

At counseling after I described some of the issues I'm currently working through, my counselor said, "That's the most painful part," and I wanted to tell her that she's told me that about every week for different things.  I'm wondering when I get to the less painful part?  She also looked at me and said, "just raw pain" when I was telling her something else- and I wanted to say, "thanks."  A lot of moments in there just ripe for sarcasm and bitterness - but I resisted the urge because overall- don't get me wrong, she is helpful and understanding and has wisdom in her eyes.  I think it's just the pain- it seems ridiculous at this point.

In traffic on the West Side Highway on the ride home I remembered another silly little thing- but those are the most precious now certainly.  How once we discovered we both used to see little faces in things when we were little- like ceilings or walls or little wooden knots.  We were surprised I think that we both saw them.  I liked to imagine us as little children-living on different continents- years away from meeting each other- noticing the features of a face on some inanimate space or object.  How changed our perception must be now.  But possibly, I can catch a glimpse of what you see- like "looking through a glass darkly?"

While we were driving home, we passed one of those little memorials on the side of the road where there must have been an accident and family members have posted a little cross on a sign post or stake.  There were flowers and a teddy bear pinned to this one.  I wondered who died right there- and if it was a child or if the teddy bear was left by a child for a grownup.  I always used to hate those- they made me uncomfortable I think.  But in this new perception- those are everywhere...they are invisible but they are everywhere where there has been tragedy or suffering...

They litter the earth- these little memorials of dried flowers and ribbons and candles blown out- reminders of lives lived and lost.

In Step

Today I had a memory that I haven't thought of in a very long time.  It was July of 1999.  I was dropping you off after our car ride to Virginia- it was only our third time meeting- nothing had happened between us yet.

You lived in Staten Island at the time because you thought it was exotic when you first moved to NYC- ha.

We were walking down some small steps to the area in the complex where your apartment was, and with each step we were in sync- we stepped with the same feet at the same time- quickly- exactly.  There was a rhythm to it...and we both noticed.  We laughed about I think- but nothing more.   I knew then.

And then in your apartment, I remember we were so tired, but you said you wanted to play me this song-  a Phil Collins song from the Tarzan soundtrack before I drove home to NJ.  I remember we sat on opposite walls and put our heads back and closed our eyes because we were so tired from the long drive.  I think I know your eyes were closed because I peeked, and I think you were probably actually falling asleep because you could fall asleep anywhere if you were tired.  Me, I was listening to the song and the lyrics- and wondering if they meant something- if it was a sign- you playing that song for me.  Later, when we were "dating," you put it on a mix tape for me- so I guess it's one of "our songs."  It's a beautiful song.  Thank you Dan for playing it for me that night before I drove home.

Come stop your crying, it'll be alright
Just take my hand, hold it tight


I will protect you from all around you.
I will be here don't you cry


For one so small, you seem so strong
my arms will hold you keep you safe and warm
This bond between us can't be broken
I will be here, don't you cry...


'Cause you'll be in my heart, yes, you'll be in my heart
from this day on, now and forevermore
You'll be in my heart, no matter what they say
You'll be in my heart always.

He Was Not Alone

One of the most difficult aspects of this has been imagining you dying alone in the water thousands of miles away from me and those you loved.  Alone.

And while I prefer to think you just lost consciousness and there was no struggle- I made the mistake last night of asking a Dr. friend what would've happened if you had hypothermia.  I had to cut him off because it was too much to bear.

Today I talked about this with my counselor and how I could not really move on from feeling so, so sorry for you that you had to go through that- and she told me that after their daughter passed at 18 in a car accident, her husband had a dream in which Jesus Himself was carrying her away gently from the wreckage.  It brought them great comfort.  "We don't know," she told me, "what happened then...we weren't there...but if God is love, then He woudn't have forsaken or left Dan alone because He loves him- he may have just enveloped him in the most loving, beautiful way."

I liked the thought and sat with tears in my eyes- but then couldn't help sarcastically replying, "so he lovingly comforted him while watching him drown...great."

But this is comforting.  Because according to the Christian faith there is only one person who has to die completely alone- without any help or comfort from God- and that was Christ- Eli Eli Lema Sabachthani- something like that- "My God, my God- why have you forsaken me" he cried out.

I remember in the early days, I was sitting on the bed crying to a friend about how I just couldn't even begin to imagine what Dan went through- and she looked at me with very strong eyes, a clear voice, and slow- pronounced words and said- "Dan was not alone...he was not alone."

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

What If

It is easy to focus on all of the what ifs surrounding your death.  One could go mad, as a cousin of yours tells me.  It's madness when he thinks this way, he says.   I thought I would pass by that portion of grieving where one blames oneself for the death- after all, you were in another country- traveling- doing your music thing.  How could I be to blame?  But in the complex web of what ifs, I still manage to find reasons -they range from what if you hadn't married me- how different would your life have been and would you have still been alive? to- what if I'd called you that morning and talked for a long time on the phone at the hotel and you didn't get a chance to meet up with Dave.  It was him who swam out further than you ever would have on your own initiative.  What if I had just somehow intercepted that meeting?  What if I had forbid you to continue touring?  What if I had gotten pregnant a few months before and asked you not to go?  What if you'd broken your ankle, a measly thing, on the first week of the tour?  I could write thousands of pages on all of the what ifs within this complex web of days of our lives.

So, yes it will be maddening to go through the myriads of what ifs that might have prevented your death.

But- what I prefer to do and what one must examine if one is going to even think about the above, is also all of the what ifs in any given situation in our lives when we did or do not die.  What if you hadn't died on this tour and you came back home safely?  We would have been absolutely oblivious to what could have been- this nightmare that now ensues.  And then that line of thinking leads me to: what other scenarios are we oblivious to that we barely escaped?  Did you and I almost die a thousand times already in this lifetime?  Quite possibly.

I heard it said many years ago that yes, this world is full of sorrows and tragedies but that while that isn't really surprising, what is surprising is how much more there should be and isn't.  And this seemed like a very true statement to me, so I remembered it.  If you've experienced even a taste of the evil in the world or that which lies in a human heart, it is actually stunning that the world functions as it does.  And this is what the speaker I heard was getting at- this world would be a WHOLE lot shittier--- if not for the mercies of God.  This is the evidence of the mercy of God- the fact that this world functions as well as it does.  This strikes me as very real, tangible evidence indeed.  I don't think it is a pessimistic view but a realistic view of mankind to say it is actually quite amazing we haven't already blown our whole planet up.  If you've seen tempers flare, greed, lust, pride-even within a small family unit or on a crowded subway train- this is really quite a miracle.  And I think that's exactly what it is: a miracle.  And I think, if I am going to imagine all of the what ifs surrounding this tragedy, I need to also think of all of the what ifs surrounding each day that there was no tragedy.  Balance.  It is only wise to think of both.  And when I do, it leads me right back to that unknown addition- that keeps showing up and making the sum greater than the parts...that seems to be holding everything together.

"He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together."  Colossians 1.17

Mother and Child

It feels horribly wrong to create a child- another human being with someone- and then lose that person.  We created and started a family of our own.  Father, mother, child.  Now it is just mother and child.  And with you died any other children that might have been.  We are incomplete here without you Hae wan- so completely deficient and flawed.

Just One Moment

And then there are times...apart from all the questions and philosophizing and theologizing I do here, apart from the mothering I do- telling my daughter that yes, appa died, but we can still love him and he loves us, apart even from the process of grieving I practice each night in my bed- writing and reading and thinking- staring at your empty desk chair and your place on the bed beside me- set aside from even that- is just a simple, simple, longing for you...simply missing your presence so much- wanting to put my head on your shoulder and feel comforted for just
one moment
in all of this.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Precipice

Someone left a comment about continuity on one of my posts, and that got me thinking.  That is the perfect word to describe what I no longer feel between my life prior to the phone call and afterwards.  And...I think that's why I keep forcing myself to go back and be that other girl- the innocent one- and then find myself here again- to feel the shock of this new reality.

Another new friend who recently lost her boyfriend tells me a similar story- that even reading old emails or correspondence, it just seems so unreal relative to her current reality.

So, I think the work of grieving- and it is the hardest work- is really to try to bridge that gulf somehow- the one that exists between your old and current reality.  The question is, can it be bridged, and if so, how?  It doesn't feel like I'm even on the same plane of reality- but almost like I've been transported in a similar but lesser degree to the way Dan would've been transported to the tangible but invisible world of the afterlife.  So I keep going back and forth- despite my best efforts to get used to this reality- I go back and forth I believe to try to construct some kind of ladder from there to here.  But each time I go, it's as though I leap over a giant precipice and when I look down I see endless falling.  

Our Dresser

On the top of our dresser are reminders of our union.  

The unity candle from our wedding stands up there.  I've moved it from apartment to apartment, place to place, four or five times since we married.  I've dusted it and the little silver stand it rests on.  Everyone seemed to do the unity candle around the time of our wedding- it was on a wedding story- which I watched daily during the time of our engagement, and many of our friends did it at the ceremonies we attended before ours- the ones where we usually sang and played the "special song" together.  I sang and you played at many, many weddings.  It was torture while I was waiting for you to propose for a few years, standing up there, watching the couple light their candle and usually step down from the altar with flowers for the parents of the bride and groom.  But this unity candle- it really means something.  You really do, in a sense, blow out your "self" and become one flame.  So can half of a flame even be blown out, I wonder? How does my flame burn now?  Probably like a dying ember- those last little hot orange flecks on the wick...smoldering.

Also on our dresser- under the mess of "stuff" I have let accumulate there the past few months- is a pretty conch shell from our "babymoon" on this islands of Turks and Caicos.   We had read about all of the conch shells there, and you kept ordering it for your meals just to try something new- you were always an adventurous eater like that- and I told you that I really wanted us to find one and take it home as a souvenir.  I think it was our first evening walk there, you found it.  It was so perfect and just sitting right there that it felt too easy- like someone had planted it there- or someone else had found it and put it back. We took it to our hotel room and since the hotel room had its own conch as a part of the decor we joked that they might think we stole theirs if they saw ours in our suitcase or bag later on when we were packing.

On the dresser is a large photo of our child- at three months.  We went to one of those photo places in the mall; I dressed Audrey up in the cutest skirt and silk blouse from Janie and Jack.  Of course when we arrived, she had a poop explosion and we had to take off the tights altogether.  We weren't thrilled with the photographer- who seemed like she was in high school and only had one trick for getting infants to smile which was making a clicking noise with her tongue.  Audrey was unimpressed.  I managed to get a few smiles out of her before the high school girl said, "I think she's all tired out for today," which she wasn't.  Still, when we came back after lunch we were surprised that we liked a lot of the shots.  You said it was the lighting and the professional cameras that made it so easy for anyone to take good photos. Still, you didn't want to spend a lot of money on those because you liked candid shots- and you liked taking them yourself.  

On the dresser is an old spaghetti jar which I wrapped a pretty piece of paper around and wrote "Anniversary" in script.  It was another one of my "traditions/ideas" that we never got to complete now with this happening.  It's about 1/4 full of change- spare change from our pockets or my purse at the end of a day or week.  I said that whatever we had saved by our anniversary we could use to go out to eat a nice meal as a special treat.  We joked that we'd have enough for a cup of coffee maybe.  

There is also on my dresser my jewelry box, the one I've had since I was a little girl- gold with a portrait of a woman reading in bed on the front.  Inside is mostly jewelry from you.  I always told you that jewelry wasn't important to me as a material item but that behind every bracelet or necklace there was a story.  And now there is...there is the bird necklace from Tiffany you gave me our first Christmas together, the promise rings we bought our first year dating and wore together, the pearl necklace your mom got me right before we got engaged, and many more pieces- with stories.

On top of the jewelry box is the small pair of geese your mom gave us for our wedding- because they mate for life.  

Inside the dresser your clothes still alternate drawers with mine- your socks, underwear, t-shirts, soccer jerseys, jeans, and pants.  How will I ever move them.



Monday, October 11, 2010

One Day Go Heaven

I made a deliberate choice today to start living in the present where I am with what I've got.  I took Audrey to a fun new play space and watched her run around smiling.  That made me happy.  I think what we need is a routine to stick to each day - to know what's up for that day and how we'll get through it.  So I need to work on this.

Two nights ago I had a strong and strange dream.  In it, I found a giant disgusting bug in our bedroom.  I thought it was a huge roach but it also flew.  I caught it, but it was still moving around.  And it was abnormally big- like the size of a small child.   Someone else was there with me...my childhood best friend.  Then, we heard movement coming from the floor on the other side of my bed, and I saw something and thought it was another large roach, but then it took off and was a butterfly...just as large- with a wing span of about four feet.  It was orange and black but with stripes not dots.  Very artificial looking and kind of creepy.  So, I'm not sure what to make of it.  If the butterfly was truly beautiful, I'd have thought it was a good dream.  But both were kind of grotesque in their own way, if for no other reason than their sheer size.  Perhaps I am overwhelmed by death and life?  I don't know.

Audrey's been talking about you a lot more these days Dan.

At dinner in the middle of nowhere, she said, "Appa body stop wokin."  "Appa died."  I look in her eyes and feel so much sadness to watch my baby figure this out step by step.  "Mommy body wouk!"  "Yes, mommy's body works just fine.  Mommy's always going to be here with Audrey," I assure her.

When she does puzzles, which she is very good at, she says, "yook yike appa!"  I had told her a while back you were good at puzzles, and I wonder now if that's why she's so crazy about them lately.  While we were doing some puzzles after dinner, she said, "One day go heaven see appa."  Though it seems confusing, I think she actually gets it- that this won't be anytime soon.  My heart becomes like a stone when I hear these kinds of thoughts.

Again, while she was talking to herself going to sleep in her crib, I heard her on the monitor, "Appa body stop woukin."  Ah.

I realize now that though I knew intellectually that Dan or any one of us for that matter, could die- and even though I feared it all the time...I just didn't know on a real level that this could happen at all.  And I don't think anyone does.  We live under an illusion- a state of denial that tragedy will never strike "our" family.  But it does- and it's out there...and it's real.

My husband is buried.  This long, new dream keeps going on and on.  I was thinking before of an apt analogy.  You know those parts in a horror movie where you can just tell something bad is about to happen because everything seems OK and there's either an old 50's song playing or a child's music box or something?  That's kind of how my life feels all the time - like one of those moments- but stretched out...kind of terrifying but after the fact.