Monday, November 29, 2010

Feast in Paradise

A friend from college chatted with me online the other day- someone I hadn't really spoken to in many years- I think he only met you twice.

He wanted to tell me what had remained with him for the past nine or ten years since the first time he met you-  that the first time he saw me with you- we were all waiting together for you to arrive from somewhere- probably work- and when you arrived, my friend said- "You were happy in a way I'd never seen you before- and I remember thinking- 'Julia was never like this in college.' "

I cry as I type back, "Thanks for telling me..."  Yes, I was so very excited each time I met you.

Today while we were at a shopping area, Audrey spotted one of those ride-on toys that you need to insert the coins in.  I let her ride on it twice- once before we shopped, and once after.  It was fifty cents a ride, but she seemed so happy, and it delighted me to see her turning the little steering wheel and looking very proud.  I feel like other moms are always telling their kids they can't ride on those, but I'm not sure why.

Audrey's been talking about you so much Dan.  She sits in your chair at the kitchen table and tells me, "I'm going to sit in Appa's chair to remember him."  She shares her water cup with you and her food.  She tells your photo, "We love you and we miss you appa," just as I have in the past.  Sometimes when I am sad, I see her just staring at your photo as if she knows why it's so quiet.  I fear that she's starting to notice it's just not as fun around here anymore.  I feel like we're both waiting for you to come in smiling and do a silly dance for us.  It's quiet.  Every night before we eat she says the prayer- it's the cutest thing you've ever seen.  "Dear God, tank you faw ow food.  Aaaaaaaaaa men."  Then I sing, "Be present at our table Lord, be here and everywhere adored, thy children bless and grant that we
may feast in paradise with thee."  I have never meant any words more than I mean those last words each night when I sing them softly with my eyes closed.  It's like with every nightly meal, I'm getting one meal closer to that feast I eagerly hope for.

I was remembering today how you talked and read stories to Audrey in a Scottish accent all the time.  And how you loved that show "Sunday Morning" that mostly retired men watch.  And how you often ended up shifting from foot to foot doing a little dance while washing the dishes because you had to go pee.  "Just go to the bathroom!" I'd say.  Then you'd shut the water off, wipe your hands on your shirt and run.

I don't want to pick out your headstone.  I don't want to see it in stone.  And I'm wondering if I have to put my own name and birth date on there...probably?  I'm sitll torn about the place we buried you...and wondering if I ever move us- could I take the stone with me?  It's expensive.  Does every 34 year old mother ask these questions?

Other battles are won and lost.  Last week I felt like popping a bottle of champagne when I officially got Audrey enrolled in the state health care program after about three months of applications, denials, grievance letters, and phone calls.  And all of this when she's been eligible all along.  They just make it so hard.  But then today I heard I am still getting charged the $3,000 for the helicopter rescue.

Probably for the first time, I am feeling angry with you.  I know it's a natural part of the grieving process, and I hope you do too.  I haven't felt this at all yet because I felt nothing but your loss and sorrow for our loss and horror at what you experienced.  But now I think about how I trusted you and asked you to take care of yourself.  It feels like a typical argument and I want to nag you and say, "Now you've really done it Dan," but there's no response.  I know it's not your fault - I know you never would've left us on purpose- ever.  So please bear with me.  (I think I subconsciously hope, you'll somehow appear to defend yourself if you see me getting angry).

And I think of your famous quote- you were always telling me when you messed up, "My intentions were good."  We laughed and said we'd engrave it on your tombstone one day, jokingly.  So I think of that...and can't possibly be angry.

I thought today about communication- about how key that is in a marriage and how we mostly sucked at it...but we managed and tried.  So after eleven years of working at communicating with you- I'm cut off- you're not here to continue the conversation.  You're not here to listen to my thoughts or worries or concerns.  I can't ask you what happened or hear your side of this very sad story.  There is zero communication going on here- and I wonder why I still seek it somehow.  I start to despair because I am aching for your response and think that if you existed- even somewhere- you'd not ignore me.  So you must not.

I realize earlier today that as needy as I have been the past four months- constantly taking and receiving- I miss giving- I miss caring for you.  We'd probably both agree that I mothered you too much but it was just my nature to want to care for you and watch over you.  And now, even though I am a full-time mother to Audrey, I am feeling the void of having someone to encourage and someone to tell to wear a hat or dry your hair before you leave the house.  I think my nagging drove both of us crazy- but it was one of the ways I showed my love.  Now I water your cello, collect photos and memories, and do everything in my power to ensure that maybe, your daughter will have at least one true memory of you.  And I write.  This is how I love you now.

Twelve or fifteen times a day everything stops and I realize what this is all about and that I'm awake and conscious- and yes, this is my life- the one I had, except that you died.  I did not know that this was possible- I must have- we all know about death- but I did not know that this was possible.  Which makes me feel that as much as I feel I'm in a dream now- I must have also been under some kind of spell in my previous life as well- to not understand or comprehend the real possibility of death at a young age for either one of us.  Now I comprehend - but it's not that I'm in my old life with this comprehension and therefore fearful...there is no fear.  I comprehend.

I keep thinking about the last time we skyped- a day before you died.  My counselor had told me a story of how her daughter- right before she died, noticed things that had been changed in the house- her senior picture moved- and asked her mom not to forget her.  I have been stuck on one little detail.  I remember after you left for the tour, I hung up a piece of fabric over the "hole" in Audrey's nook- there had been curtains there before but I wanted something that could block out the sunlight.  And when we skyped, even though you were fully focused on her- pushing the new stroller I'd just gotten her- I remember you taking note of that change.  You looked puzzled and asked me about it.  That wasn't really like you to notice something like that and I wondered if you didn't like it or just thought I was crazy for always changing things around.  Either is possible, but now every time I make another change, I think of that- and wonder if it was a part of your soul's preparation for all of the changes that will be made now that you're gone.

You'd think these past months I have been missing you..."You must miss him so much..." everyone says.  But really I've been in shock and trying nightly to process it- the phone call, the body, the funeral, the fact that you're not here.  But now it springs up...I simply and profoundly
miss you.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

2 am Looking at Photos

Is there anything that can mitigate the freshness of the pain?

I am tired of writing because I have nothing else to say.  It's the same thing.  I try to say it over and over again because words fail me every time.

It's like I'm in a haze and a few times a day, I awaken to realize what's going on.  Then I slip back into the haze and function appearing rather normal except for tears that fall silently and intermittently throughout the day.  I wonder how long the haze lasts or if the haze just becomes my life and I get used to it.

I think the holidays are sad like every other day, but I've discovered the days immediately following are worse.  They are the quiet days- the days when you make no busy plans- the days when you make pancakes at home with your family, run errands, watch movies.

I spent a large part of last night- until probably 2 am, working on one of the "memorial projects."  I went through all of our photos on a hard drive from when Audrey was born and took out every photo of the two of you together.  I plan on putting eighty of them in a little red leather album Audrey received for her first birthday with a heart etched on the front so that she can look through them herself.  I decided to print them all though- there are 199 decent ones I found, and put them in her "box" of things from you so she can have as much information as possible when she's older.

As I went through the photos last night- the ones of you smiling holding our newborn, reading to her at four months, holding her on your shoulders last October at a pumpkin patch- I was lost in the haze for the most part- it was completely unreal to me that I did this because you are dead and these photos are all that Audrey will know of you.  At one point, I even felt that sense of "Oh, as soon as I get these done, there'll be more to organize" that I always feel with technology and photos- but then I remembered, "No, these are the only ones.  There will be no more."

I mostly knew which months and dates to look in because I remember the spans of time when you were gone this past year, but surprisingly, you were still so active in Audrey's life- it makes me wonder how you did it.  You were working, touring, and yet there you are playing with play dough, coloring Easter eggs with her, and at the shoe store buying her first pair of shoes.  You were truly an amazing father to her.  I cry at the thought of all you would've been for her.

You are so affectionate in the photos- kissing her in many, always hugging her or holding her- I wonder if she feels what I feel- the enormous sense of withdrawal of being touched and loved in this physical way by you.  She must.

I see photos of you at the shore last summer holding her, her feet dangling in front of the bathing suit that you died in.  I didn't ever think you would die in a bathing suit.  I just never thought this.

As it got later and later- 12:30 am, 1 am. and I got closer and closer to July of 2010, I could feel tension building as I looked through the photos- only a few more months...I have never put together a photo album before with such finality.  There will be no more new pictures of Daniel Cho.  I can't believe this.

Today has been a very long day.  In the morning we went to Barnes and Noble and Pathmark, and then Audrey refused to nap, so the day just continued- puzzles, markers, snack time, dinner time, bath time.  It was long.

At one point, I sat at our kitchen table drinking tea, watching her play at her own little "kitchen table."  It was delightful.  She poured her dolls (in the opposite chair) tea, pouring milk from the creamer pitcher, and then opened the little play sugar bowl, picked up a spoon and put a few spoons of sugar in the little plastic blue cup and stirred.  "Here ya go," she said to the doll, looking very pleased with herself.  Tears streamed down my face that you are not here to witness all of these small, significant moments.  You never knew her this way.

And I wonder briefly as I sit there- uploading the photos so I can print them- what will I do when all of these "projects" are done- they will probably take me through the first year...but then what...

I feel angry that you considered me so fearful- but yet there is clearly much to fear.  Every time you left, I worried.  "Call me- I'm worried about a smaller plane," I emailed you two days before you died when you were taking a private plane to Italy for a concert.  I became hardened.  They say when you have a child it's like your heart walking around outside of your body- but it was that way with you as well.  So, I had to let you go.  I tried to be strong.  Sitting around my parent's dining table while visiting the weekend of July 4th, I remember my dad saying something about dangerous winds and airplanes, and I felt annoyed at the suggestion of danger when I was doing my best to believe you'd be safe.  "Thanks," I said sarcastically.  "She doesn't want to think about that," my mom said.

I go back to negotiations and denial a lot.  I think if I had really loved you, I would've researched each destination on your tour to find out the potential dangers.  I would've read that drowning in the lakes of Switzerland is the second leading cause of death for young men there.  I would've told you, "Dan, I read that those lakes are dangerous- please don't go swimming there."

Or maybe I just could've called you that morning and delayed your meeting and swim.  If you had gone by yourself, I know you never would've ventured out that far- in eleven years of knowing you and traveling with you, you've not once gone into a body of water that you couldn't touch the bottom of.  I know you would've waded in a bit and decided it was too cold.  You would've come out and taken more photos.  Instead, I have the final photographs you took on your iPhone.  They are beautiful and peaceful and haunting.

The negotiations make me realize again how incomprehensible and dark is our path here on earth.  There are far too many factors in each of our lives to have any idea all of the dangers we escape each day or all of the mercies that are poured out on us.   Suppose you hadn't drowned on July 6th- who knows what the future would've held?  Would we have been grateful?  Probably not, because this path of sight wouldn't be opened to us.  The idea that we have any amount of control at all over our lives is an illusion.

This kind of thinking leaves me feeling incredibly small and ignorant.  "Looking through a glass darkly," I surely am.

While I'm bathing Audrey tonight I think about how there are positive attributes to the grief- things that are pressed out and expelled...like being able to enjoy very, very simple things and moments.  Going for a short walk to the marina next door with Audrey and getting a cup of coffee at Dunkin Donuts is a huge accomplishment and my day is full.  I need nothing else.  It's not that contentment in any way overrides the abiding sorrow; it's just that all of the striving is gone.

So, I think about how if positive, even beautiful things are expressed from the grieving process- maybe these things are like a trail that lead to the most beautiful transformation that you have undergone.  Maybe when you left, they leaked through from that other realm from which I feel so shut out.  The image in my mind is a puddle of car grease on black asphalt streets with those rainbows in it.  Would something that is only pure ugliness and despair leave behind remnants of beauty?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Many Layers

I wish I could funnel these feelings into words somehow but I just don't think I can.  I am frustrated with the lack of visibility or tangibility of this immense pain.

I've been feeling nauseous a lot, and too tired to do a lot.  The sight of your clothes is becoming more and more painful.  I open your sock drawer and stare in disbelief at all of the neat little bundles of socks.  I smell your clothes- even though they've been washed because somehow everything in your drawers still smell like you.  I open up the little baggie with your hair and run my fingers along it.  You don't know, I feel lately, that I'm holding your lock of hair- that you died in Switzerland.  That is what I'm inclined to believe the last few days.  And it carries with it...great despair.

There are just so many layers to grief...it is not just one thing- a person dying.

It is:

the trauma of the day you received the call...of making funeral arrangements for your 33 year old husband, visiting cemeteries, and seeing his shell of a body- searching for those favorite characteristics but not finding them there anymore.

the physical shock and the coming out of the shock.

explaining to a two year old that her father has died and she will never see him again- then watching for signs of her subsequent grieving process and repeating over and over again, "yes, appa died."

missing your best friend and confidant through all of the above.

grieving in Dan's place...wondering if he has awareness or had awareness he was dying...grieving for the loss he suffered of his life- the loss of watching his daughter grow up, the loss of coming home to us on July 23rd.

the horror- grieving for the haunting way you died Dan.  Imagining often your last moments and thoughts...I sometimes think you thought, "Julia is going to be so pissed," but mostly I think you fought and probably cried out to God.

the loss of myself.  the person i was before this.  she is gone.  maybe this is not an entirely bad thing, but still quite unsettling to not recognize yourself.

the loss of leisure- no more date nights with you, or  movies, or hanging out with friends while you watch Aurey.  My life consists of caring for Audrey, and sitting alone each night here in my room, either doing freelance work or the work of grieving- reading, writing, keening.

the loss of our past together...the memories we shared- the life we had begun to build.

the loss of the future- future children, future life experiences and growth in our marriage and family.

the loss of goodbye.  there was no preparation dan.  you said you'd call me tomorrow and the next call I got you were dead.  There were many things unresolved,  many things left unsaid.

the loss of my "other half," I wish there was a better, less overused way to say that, but I haven't thought of one yet.  I feel your absence- the lack of balance- I worry that I just can't be a whole parental unit to Audrey because there is so much I don't know.  There is also so much in life that I will miss without you- knowing what's going on in pop culture, music, movies, sports.  I fear from now on I will know none of that.

the loss of touch.

the horror- I grieve every moment but the horror that it's about "you" still only leaks out here and there- and still every time it does- there is a moment of sheer horror that this hazy dream I've been walking around in is reality and you, Dan Cho- you died.  That's when I speak it aloud daily to try to understand it, "You died."  There are also usually expletives involved.

This morning Audrey brought me my guitar and over the classical radio station I had playing in the kitchen, I played a song I wrote for you almost exactly eleven years ago- Thanksgiving 1999.  She also brought me all of the photo albums I've put in her reach and we looked through a few.  I cried seeing us so alive together at 22 and 23 in an album full of photos from our dating years.  There we are- we have no idea what lies ahead.  No idea.

Audrey danced around the couch laughing while I played that song,
"I Don't Have the Words:"

V1.
I'm supposed to be the one who writes
the endless pages that I send you,
and I've been known to sum up pretty well
the thoughts behind my emotions.

but just yesterday, I didn't have a thing to say
but I search you with my eyes as if the silence speaking words...

Chorus: I try hard to explain it, funny I don't have the words.
I would try to explain it, funny I don't have, baby I don't have the words.

V2.
We've exchanged a lot of tender things
in smiles and stares something lingers
I call you up but I don't say a thing,
as if you know what I'm thinking.

I say I'll write it down,
write a song that I can sing
but I'm always getting stuck here.
By the time I reach the chorus I get lost...

What I felt then newly in love- and what I feel now- is largely invisible to the world- and largely inexpressible in human language.  People tell me they're amazed at how strong I am, but that's just because it's invisible- the pain.  

Love and pain, I think,  are like invisible ink that only shows up on the parchment of the soul.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Homesick on Thanksgiving

Dear Daniel,
I've survived my first official, dreadful "holiday" without you.  I guess I've actually made it through our anniversary, engagement anniversary, and Audrey's birthday as well.

Everyone tells you how sad the holidays will be and suggests now is the time to go on medication, but so far I find them just as sad as every other day.  The difference is there is pressure to be "happy" and "thankful" and "celebrate."  But even this pressure doesn't bother me much.  The pain is already at the bottom, so there's really nothing that can make it deeper.

You weren't much of a Thanksgiving guy- neither of us really like the food very much.

I decided sitting at a table with Audrey and my parents without you would be far too depressing, so in the end we did something I would have avoided like the plague any other year- we went to the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade.  Can you believe I did that Dan?  You and I both would've run from the crowds of tourists.  But yeah, I figured the distraction would be better than sitting around feeling sad, and I think I was right...though getting up at 5 am (especially after Audrey had me up from 3-5) was exhausting.

I walked to the car in the early morning dark to put in the bags and pick up Audrey and my parents at my building.  You know how usually when you're up early and it's dark you feel strange and kind of surreal?  I didn't feel that.  I think it's because my life feels surreal 100% of the time now.  Every day and hour and moment has the quality of being out in the early morning dark walking around...feeling like you're not supposed to be out yet at that hour- and feeling cold and even the landscape of trees and dim sky showing the earth to be so planet-like rather than the light showcasing the cars, buildings, and all the other things we put here.

We got a good spot on 73rd Street by 6:30 am and had to entertain Audrey for a couple of hours before it started.  She did well and at one point said, "This is the best parade."

There is a primitive quality to a parade - watching humans marching, dancing, walking on stilts or dressed up like clowns- that made me think about the strange creature we are...and how even in our post-modern age- we are the same as we were hundreds of years ago.

It was strange how I could be in this cheerful atmosphere full of people (and mostly friendly ones since they were tourists and not New Yorkers) and in my mind at moments just hear ringing silence and your resounding absence.

I can deal with your absence Dan- I really can.  But it's when I think "He's buried..." that I feel the sharpness and the enormity of the pain.  Then I wonder if  you see me.  I wonder if you're sorry and sad, or proud.  Sometimes I am hopeless and believe you are truly gone with your body.  Other times, I hold in my mind the vision I have of you greeting me as I pull onto the shore from a ship like you did last summer on June 26th.

Afterwards, we ate at a restaurant.  I couldn't eat much because I was so tired.

Then my parents played with Audrey here while I napped for a bit.

It was a long day.  I thought about just one year ago when I got up and made cranberry chutney and we went to my parent's house.  I brought the little apron Audrey had so she could help with the cooking and snapped a photo of her looking at the large turkey with a bit of trepidation.  You played with her in the living room, and certainly there was the sound of football- and probably some soccer too if there was any to be found, coming from the TV.

I got some nice emails and text messages from friends who were missing you today too and thinking of us.  I am especially thankful for one of your friends who fills me in on how your favorite soccer team is doing in each email.  I don't know if I can quite understand it, but it feels good to still be connected to you in this way.

Before putting Audrey to bed, I spent a little longer time than usual sitting in front of one of your photos while she watched a video.  I cried and told you how much I miss you and how unreal this is.  I asked God to somehow get you this message if you can't hear me yourself.  I tried to see in the photos the life I had before and connect it to this one as I always do- but I just can't.  They are still two very separate lives that just don't reach each other.  One has to feel like a dream and it's usually the old one now because this keeps continuing.

Sometimes it hits my brain very suddenly what all this is about and how this is my actual life now and you're dead...and I literally have to hold myself back from screaming loudly.  Like just now.  Our little girl is peacefully sleeping so I stop myself.

Dan- I want to know, do you know all these things?  Apart from time- will I be there with you soon?  I look at my time left here and it feels dreadfully long.  It's not just that I am sad and want to die so I can be with you.  It's that your death has revealed a completely different reality to me.  In this reality, this place feels even less like home than it did before.  In fact, I know it is not home.  So I not only long for you- but I am just generally homesick.  Very homesick.

In the city today, we parked across the street from an apartment I lived in for a summer years ago.  We walked past an empty lot where they hold flea markets we used to go to.  You got your famous "safari jacket" (that's what the vendor called it) there.  I laughed when I found him telling you how good it looked on you, but you wore it well for many years now.  I walk past so many places that we knew together.  I walk right past them.

And I realize that though I recognize so many things here- nothing is familiar anymore.  That is how this dream-like life is now.  I recognize everything- my apartment, your clothes, our dishes from our wedding registry, your cello in the corner, but nothing...

nothing is familiar anymore.

I miss you and I'm thinking of you every moment yubo.

Your wife always-
Jul

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

You Have it All

Today feels unbearable.  No profound thoughts or grapplings with life and death or the afterlife.

I go to Target to stock up on paper towels, toilet paper, and that sort of thing.  I'm also working on a dress up station for Audrey for Christmas so needed a long mirror and some play stuff.  I walk around and see a bunch of other moms...two I know who probably saw me but didn't want to say hi.  That's OK- I didn't really either.

But I watched them- one carrying her new baby in a baby carrier, while her toddler straggled behind her- just like that commercial for Walmart.  And I thought- "Wow, you have everything.  You  have it all."  I had that too once.  I wondered if they knew how untouched they were.  I wondered if I had done something terribly wrong.  It's no surprise people ask Jesus when they encounter the blind man- "Did this man or his parents sin?"  It just seems like someone has to be responsible.  And in our society- there is always someone to blame.  So, I wonder- why was I selected for this?

It's harder lately not to feel self-pity and ask the why me question.  Because in reality, though we all encounter suffering of some kind, hundreds and thousands of people will never have to endure this in their lifetime.   I read somewhere that widows in my age bracket make up .6% of the widow population.  So as much as looking at suffering as universal helps me, sometimes I can't help but feel isolated and picked on.

Audrey continues to amaze me with her ability to remember things about you.  In the past two days she showed me a play dough tool you used often, a hair clip that you put in her hair, and how you taught her to color holding two crayons at once.  Last night she asked to sleep with one of your T-shirts and I asked her which one and she remembered and requested the Paul Frank one with the cow.  She hasn't seen it in probably five months.  I also realized two days ago that although it feels like the worst kind of torture to hear your child say things like "Appa died," and although the juxtaposition of toddlerhood and mourning is a strange one- the amount of joy she brings me each day is still so much greater than the extra pain.  I am grateful to have this little girl running around my apartment giddy and jumping, singing and dancing all day.

It's already quiet - that pre-holiday quiet when everyone's busy traveling or finishing up their work to get where they have to go...I have no agenda.  Thanksgiving doesn't feel like it should be a very emotional holiday for me, but this quiet...and maybe just the month that I'm up to- is searing.

I think I'm simply feeling discouraged.  But the thing is- there's such a huge void because you were my encourager.  I want to talk to you and tell you how hard it is lately, but I can't.  My thoughts go a little bit more towards the future lately, and I am overwhelmed at my responsibility as a single mother.  I grieve the loss of my other child- and worry about Audrey as an only child.  The other day I even googled "famous only children" to convince myself that she'd be just fine and try to put a positive spin on it.  As I realize how much light her toddlerhood brings me, I flash forward sometimes and worry about our home and our family when she's thirteen or sixteen.  What will we be like?  And then sometimes I flash forward to Audrey going off to college, caring for my parents by myself as they age, and even to losing them...and I realize I will be completely alone.  It's too far to jump ahead, and I wish I hadn't because the thought alone brought me to tears.

Many times throughout today, I've cried quietly while Audrey didn't seem to notice.  The last time was just before her bedtime.  We were talking about you and I told her, "Appa was mommy's best friend."  By then she was jumping up and down on the bed crazily while holding my hands, so I don't think she saw the tears streaming down my face.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Wordkeeping: Why I Write Here

That's what I like to call writing...wordkeeping.  I guess it's a made-up word.

But it's more descriptive of what I've been doing here...keeping and collecting all of the words we wrote to each other.  Because we were both writers, I have so many words.  I have hundreds of emails, chats, letters, cards, and handwritten books...I scan through all of these like reading through a stack of books for a thesis.  I choose the parts that I think fit into this bizarre story I find myself puzzling over obsessively...your sudden death at 33 years old.

Words are powerful- I always told you.  And they are.  If God could create the world with a word- and we are truly made in his image- if all that's true- then surely our words also have creation power in them. They have been my materials for walking into the valley of the shadow of death...a light unto my path- as it says...though dim and flickering.

But why, I've been asking myself since the day I created this blog- did I choose to keep my words in a public blog when I could just as easily have written privately in a journal?  I haven't had a satisifying answer until recently, but now I think I do.

I started the writing here out of sheer despair.  I felt like the pain had nowhere to go and I might implode.  So I banged on the keys and threw that pain onto the white space.  It reminded me of morning sickness and how you feel at least a little bit better after you throw up.   But then again the throwing up isn't pleasant either.  When I was sick for the first seventeen weeks of my pregnancy, I threw up so hard and so many times that blood vessels burst under my eyes and I was afraid my teeth would rot from the constant acid.  At times, the wordkeeping has felt like that.

I never really intended the writing to be primarily for Audrey (though I chose to use her name in the title just because I think it's lovely), but I do hope it is something she will find valuable.

So the writing was born out of despair, and then took a shape of its own.  In the beginning, I constantly had ideas of things I had to get down with a certain urgency.  They came faster than I could write or remember them.  Then, other times, I started to write with absolutely nothing in mind and the process led me.  These were often the most valuable to me.  I've always been one to focus on end results, but in the process, in the act of creating...that is where one senses something greater than the sum of the parts... something additional.  A friend said the same thing to me of Dan's playing the other day...that when he played it was more than just Dan playing...there was that something extra, something spiritual.  This is true.

I have no agenda- I write quickly because it hurts.  I proofread little and reread even less.

But I find a natural pattern emerged in these grief writings...alternating between memories of our love stories I wanted to keep, journal-like entries where I just needed to write about my hours or day to feel some location in time, and lastly - entries about the process of grieving itself as I navigate it clumsily and often kicking and screaming.

I write in numerous other journals as well- mostly collections of memories that are too private to share...but I think though, I created the blog and made it public for a few reasons.  First, you always wanted me to start a blog so I would write more- and I just wasn't the type.  Creating a blog was a way of honoring your wishes and keeping you alive by doing something that was more like you than me- or maybe the me you saw I could be.  "I'm writing a blog Dan," I sometimes tell you out loud.

Second, it filled our close friends and family in on how I was doing so there was less, "How are you?" and more, "I read about --- that sounded hard."  It was a relief to feel understood- at least as well as words could articulate- and not have to keep repeating myself.

Third, it was a way for me to just feel less alone.  Grieving is innately the loneliest thing you will ever do...especially if it's a spouse.  Though I speak to Dan's family every week, they aren't nearby.  Even if you lose a child, like my counselor did, she tells me that she at least went to support groups with her husband, and had him to grieve with.  I sit alone here every night...so the wordkeeping became my means of connecting with others and stepping out of this grand isolation.

Then, when a post was picked up by the NY Times, my audience suddenly expanded, and I felt even more unsure of why I wanted an audience at all for this most dark and vulnerable time of my life.  But after receiving hundreds of emails explaining how the writing was touching others and even giving them a new perception of their own lives, I felt a strange comfort.  Paradoxically, grief is both utterly personal, and utterly universal...maybe that's why it needs to be shared.

But also, if I am honest with myself, though many told me how brave it was of me to plunge into this grief and share it with others so openly...the writing also provides a distance I often need.  The words at least feel composed while the pain feels like the sound an old cassette tape made when it was spinning out of control and all that tape was getting twisted and knotted.  Remember that sound?  The intellectual arguments and grappling lifted me momentarily from the pure, primal cold ache in the center of my chest.

But recently, I read the most convincing reason- the one I didn't really get until now- of why I (and many other widows) start blogs.  It's from Dr. Ross's "On Grief and Grieving" in a section subtitled "The Story."

"While you try to comprehend and make sense of something incomprehensible and your heart feels the pain of loss, your mind lags behind, trying to integrate something new into your psyche.  It is something that moved too fast for your mind to understand."

and

"Telling your story often and in detail is primal to the grieving process.  You must get it out.  Grief must be witnessed...You are the detective, searching out things to help you understand how to put the puzzle together.  In telling the story, you open up your confusion as you cover terrain that needs exploring."

Something that especially interested me in this section was the idea that a listener (or reader) may have a missing piece to your puzzle.  I found this to be true when someone I barely knew was reading the blog and was able to share valuable information with me regarding possible causes of Dan's death- the unknowns of which are by far the most haunting thing his family and I have had to deal with.

Dr. Ross continues, "Our stories contain an enormous amount of pain, sometimes too much for one person to handle.  In sharing our story, we dissipate the pain little by little, giving a small drop to those we meet to disperse it along the way."

She ends the section by saying that someone telling the story over and over is trying to figure something out and that listeners have the opportunity to be the "witness and even the guide."  That there is a great "invitation for dual exploration that we often miss in the midst of grief."

I'm not sure why, but today felt like an organic time to note how grateful I am for my kind readers,
those I know,
and those I do not,
who listen to what is really the same story
over and over again,
who are sharing the pain
and being my witness
in the wordkeeping.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Photographs

You look flatter, less life-like and 3D lately in the photographs I have everywhere around the apartment.  I pick them up and stare closely because I'm surprised by this recent change.

You are a photograph.

A friend suggests to me the other day, "Maybe heaven or the afterlife isn't a place, but a whole other dimension, like going from two dimensional to three..."  And it is as strange a concept as three dimensional would be to one who'd only experienced two, she says.

"We have a picture of Appa!" Audrey says a lot now before she goes to talk to your picture.

Groaning

The two happiest times in my life, besides the early days when we first met, were the year of our engagement, and the year I was pregnant with Audrey.

Those two years were filled with expectation and planning for the arrival of something so precious and so monumental.  They involved waiting and count downs and careful preparation.  Finding the dress, the right white satin shoes, finding the layered veil and trying it on with tears in my eyes in front of my bedroom mirror.  Imagining...envisioning...and anticipating.   Seeing the heartbeat, feeling and watching those rolling little kicks in my abdomen, and watching you lift an empty baby bear suit up and down mouthing "hi" silently as you did...wondering all along if we were having a boy or a girl, but choosing to wait for the surprise.

As I was driving home from Audrey's art class yesterday, I must've been thinking about how many years I could have to wait to see you Dan- if it's all true.  I thought that maybe I could view the rest of my life as one long engagement, one long pregnancy...and live a life of pure anticipation.

But then I realized no, that analogy doesn't quite work.  This certainly doesn't feel like being engaged or pregnant- and I don't have that glow or happiness I had then.  Actually, I'm further along that that.  Because what it does feel like, is labor...hard, hard work...sweating, pacing, screaming, trying to find any position that would lessen the pain...but it just keeps coming...stronger...stronger.

Stronger.

"We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time."  Romans 8.22

Acknowledgment

In the beginning, it is just a ridiculous notion to even think about putting away any of your things.  I read in a lot of the books on grieving children that some parents do actually do this and it affects the children in a negative way.  They put away the photos and clothes to forget.  This was unimaginable to me.

But now...a few months into this thing, I am starting to see.

It is becoming too painful to see your shirt hanging over your chair every night in front of me while I lay here.  Too painful to see your shoes at the door every day when I take mine off or put them on.  Too painful to open a drawer and see the boxers with the hearts that I gave you for Valentine's Day eight or nine years ago.

I keep a lot of your things around for Audrey's benefit which is tricky.  I don't want her to think that you're coming back, but since she has no understanding of the permanence of death anyway, it doesn't really matter what I do.  So I keep them there so that she can stay connected to some of her memories of you.  

I also thought moving from our apartment- the last home we lived in together- would be horrifying, and I still think it will be very, very difficult...but I also can see the benefit of being in a new environment at some point in the future - down the road a bit of course when I figure things out.

Does all of this mean I'm tasting the acceptance stage?  I don't think that's the appropriate word, "acceptance," because it's not that I'd ever accept your death, but accept that this is my reality now.  They are slightly different and very different things.

I tell my friend on the phone that I have a huge list of what I call "memorial projects" on my giant to-do list, and that the further I get with those, the more I will feel able to put some of the other things away.  They are things like making a small photo album for Audrey of photos of just you and her- getting her a teddy bear with a voice recording of you using the audio from one of the old videos I have (I'll probably get one too), one day having a quilt made of your t-shirts, buying acid-free boxes to store all of the gifts you got each of us, putting together the memorial book with letters from friends and family, and a few other projects.   As I accomplish these, you will become less the "missing" Dan that I ache for- who used to occupy the shirt that hangs on your chair now, and more the "loved and cherished" Dan that I have memorialized in these ways.

If not quite acceptance, it does feel like...acknowledgment- that you are not returning.  I can not have you back...but I will keep you.  I will hold you in these ways.

Dust

This past week, on Wednesday- I cleaned our bedroom for the first time since you died.  The notion of vacuuming up your skin cells and hair had been too much for me.  But it was time.  I choked on the visible grey dust as I cleaned.

I cleaned it well and took my time doing each small section while my parents watched Audrey in the other room.

When I got to your desk, I stopped for a few minutes.

I remember the day you left, you straightened up the things on your desk and you took a wet paper towel and wiped it down.  You dusted which was a rarity for you.  On top of one of your speakers you left a book of Korean poems your father had recently been published in and on the other speaker, a little pile of brown paper napkins, and two bus tickets to the city that you put down there and told me, "Hey, I'll leave these tickets here so you can use them."  They expired about a week after you died so I never did.

But for months now that desk has been covered with all of the albums and letters and notes I went through in preparation for the funeral.

So, I took everything off and organized it into neat little shopping bags to go through again at a later time.  I dusted.

I also moved the matching lamp that was on your night stand to a bookshelf in the center of the room.  Because I don't really walk on your side of the bed or room anymore, I wasn't turning that light on and the room felt dark.  So, I moved it.

The lack of symmetry when I view our bed from the door is striking now.

Losing Faith

We all go around walking in faith each day, whether we think we're religious or spiritual or whatever the hell you're comfortable calling it.

We cross the street in faith that the car stopped at the light or crossing won't decide to run us down.

We take an airplane ride in faith that we'll arrive safely at our destination.

We eat a piece of food in faith that it won't block our airways and we won't choke to death.

We close our eyes in faith that we'll wake up again the next morning.

This was my thinking before you died.  I'd even written it down as an idea for a writing piece.

But now I see it differently.

It really isn't in faith that we do any of these things...it's more like studies and predictions.  We grow up doing these things and time after time, we see that all goes well.  That is our evidence.  And every time we get into a car or ride a plane and arrive safely, we store up more security...but false security really.  Because just because you've taken 100 flights on a plane safely, doesn't really have anything to do with the one plane you're on today.

Wait, I forgot where I was going with this- I think what I realized is that the faith we have, the faith that I had before this happened, that hopefully nothing would happen to Dan while he was traveling...that he would be safe and return to us, was faith in the visible- faith in the things seen before.  So, I guess what I am saying...is that if I lose my faith- it's faith in the visible I'm losing...which was never really as scientific as it seemed.  Faith in the invisible- that is still safe- untouched- because by it's very nature- it is unprovable.  And maybe once that false faith in the visible steps down, there is finally a place for real, true faith- "the substance of things hoped for...the evidence of things not seen."  Hebrews 11.1

Making the Rice

One night this past week I cooked rice in our rice cooker- for the first time since you died, and I think you were the last one to actually make the rice in there.  It still had the residue around the air hole that rice cookers get...I guess we hadn't cleaned it.

I remember when you had your family's old rice cooker in your old apartment, and then we used it for the first five years of our marriage- the cream colored one with the floral band going around it.  When we first got married and moved in together, I was surprised to find you hadn't ever cleaned it.  It was disgusting- filled with hardened rice from the past few years.

So, yeah, this week I made the rice to go with some frozen dish someone had brought us a while back that I defrosted.  It was painful, taking out the bowl, pouring in the rice from the bag that I remember you picked out the last time we went food shopping, rinsing it off twice, and filling it with water until it rose just above my knuckles.  After we ate, I cleaned it and put it away in the cabinet.  I usually keep it out, but I'm thinking of getting a smaller size since I just don't need that large of a rice cooker anymore without you.

In grief, food becomes kind of like it is for someone with an eating disorder.  An eating disorder is hard because a person has to eat...you can't just abstain completely the way you can from another addiction like alcohol or cigarettes- you have to change the relationship but keep it.  In grief, at least in mine, food triggers feelings and memories so sharply, and yet, I can't stay away from it.  It's food.

We both loved food- not fancy food- but simple, good, and usually cheap, food.

I think of our first meal together- the sandwiches at Hamilton's deli up by Columbia.  Then there was the Boston Cheesecake you ordered the next time I saw you- the first time I saw you play cello at CB's gallery on July 3rd, 1999.  There was our road trip to Maryland on the 17th of July when we stopped at Fudrucker's for lunch on the way back.  I ordered a Caesar salad and it came in this huge green plastic seashell plate that you made fun of.  I was embarrassed I remembered.  You sipped a large Coke and offered me a sip.  I remember thinking then, our third time meeting, that it felt like we were a couple somehow already.  There was the bourbon chicken you ordered at the mall telling me how good it was on July 31st when we went down to the shore to hear a concert with friends- our first date?  The first time you came to NJ to visit me we ate lunch at an Winberrie's in Ridgewood- the same town we'd later get married in.  Here's where we both took out our handwritten notes and talked about whether we should start dating- this was after we'd met four times.  We said that we'd wait, but then we really didn't.
That night we went out to "East," a Japanese place I knew in Teaneck where we took off our shoes and sat on the floor.  I couldn't eat.

When you lived Tiemann place before we got married, you'd cook for me a lot on late Sunday afternoons.  After church we'd take a nap on your bed- and then you'd make me something simple like spaghetti with meat sauce or fried mandoo with rice.  One time you tried to surprise me with something special and I remember it was bagels with salad on top for dinner.  I was...um, surprised.  You knew I loved bagels.  It was sweet.   Other nights, we'd go to the pizza place around the corner and get a Chicken Parm sandwich.  It was around four bucks and big enough for the two of us to share so we thought it was a great deal.  Our favorite restaurant up in that neighborhood was a small Italian place called Pistichi's that had a woman singing Brazilian music most nights we went.  We ordered the parpadelle ragu...wide, fresh pasta noodles with meat sauce.  Your favorite bar was also around the corner from there- Toast.  You made friends with a lot people in there and you loved to have a few beers and watch sports in there so we'd go there sometimes too.

While we were dating, I tried to cook Korean for you.  I rolled kim bop myself and made bulgogi and mandoo.  After we got married, I got a bit better.  I made soon doo boo chigae in the winter and mee yook gook soup on your birthday.

I also introduced you to things.  Before meeting me, you'd only tried a few kinds of cheeses- Koreans don't really eat a lot of dairy, but I introduced you to my favorites, havarti, gouda, and brie.  I also introduced you to penne a la vodka, which became your go-to Italian pasta dish.

Remember we got to take home tons of samples from the caterer for before our wedding and try it out?  We sat in my parent's kitchen eating the beef with wasabi cream sauce we ended up getting and chilean sea bass?  I have a photograph of it.  Of course on our wedding, neither of us got to eat much of anything, but they packed it up for us, and we took it out at the W hotel the next day and ate it.  You did get to try some of the passed hour dourves though and raved about the duck pancake, which I had somehow missed.  Last year you were away for our five year anniversary, but I tried to contact that caterer and ask her to fix us the same food we'd had, or not had, on our wedding night...but I never heard back from her and I guess didn't follow up.  I thought I might get to do it another year.

On our honeymoon, we thoroughly enjoyed the food.  It was our first stay at an all-inclusive resort and this one wasn't cheap.  It had five different restaurants with different food- a hibachi restaurant, Italian restaurant, seafood restaurant outside by the water, traditional restaurant, and I forget the last one.  We loved the fact that we didn't have to worry about paying.  This is when I started trying to guess what you would order each night or afternoon including your appetizer, meal, and dessert, and 99% of the time, I was right.  You said something like, "I'm so predictable."  I tried out my Spanish on the waiters, "Si, you estudio por nueve anos, pero se me olvido mucho."  Then they'd tell me, no I was pretty good.  At the pool or by the ocean, we ordered pina coladas and ate the guacamole and chips they put out every day.

As soon as we got back from our honeymoon, I remember being so excited to cook for you every night. We were dog sitting those poodles in Connecticut until our apartment was ready so I'd try to get dinner ready, walk to the train station to meet you, and then we'd come back to the house and eat.  I remember the moment we'd see each other...we were newlyweds- even after five years of dating.  We were so happy then.  One night I made salmon burgers and spinach and left our two plates up on the counter.  When we got home I was confused because I saw the plates but the food wasn't there.  I was sure I'd put it there.  It turns out the dog had licked those plates so clean you couldn't even tell there was food there.  And they were still exactly where they'd been up on the counter.  I told you it didn't look that great anyway and we ate something else.

Food...there were the things we enjoyed together- ice cream sandwiches, the popcorn I'd make in the pot and bring to the theater for us, the #9 sandwich at Press 195, and grandma pizza in Brooklyn.  There was the pad see yoo at "Song," the cheap thai place on Fifth avenue, and the vietnamese sandwiches on the lower east side.  There was that Japanese place on St. Marks where we had a champagne toast to our new engagement with James and Shelly.  There was the party that we brought those natural cheetos you loved to and discovered when paired with Boddington's beer, it was a divine combination.  It was our favorite snack ever since but those natural Cheetos were sometimes hard to find, so I always had an eye out for them.  I still feel like I should get them for you now if I see them.  There was that Italian place on 7th in Park slope that we slipped into one really cold winter night, and just had the best meal.  It was dim inside and we ate pasta and drank red wine, and finished it off with a shared tiramisu.

"Food for the stomach and the stomach for food," it says somewhere in Proverbs I think, but really food is much more than just necessary nourishment.  It means fellowship and communion and makes every gathering and event more enjoyable.  In your culture, it very much meant love.  "Muga, muga..."  Eat, eat...your mom would say when we gathered at her house.  And by the time we cleaned up, she was ready to start cooking the next meal again.

There are dynamics in eating and sharing and cooking that I miss greatly and still need to adjust to.

It is so hard now...leafing through cookbooks I created with recipes I tore out for us to enjoy together- things I thought you'd like.  I'm not sure yet how to cook just for myself and Audrey.  You could eat a lot, so I became accustomed to cooking a lot.  That was something we used to argue about.  I'd spend more than an hour making something and then you'd have eaten it all in five minutes.   There were never leftovers.

There were never leftovers when we ate out together either which was nice and I'm finding to be a bit of a problem now.  I eat smaller meals throughout the day, so in restaurants (or at home really), I'd always have something left of my plate.  That's where you'd come in.

And then there's the sharing of dishes.  I haven't gone out much since you died, but the few times I did, I missed this greatly.  "Wait, if you're going to get that, I'll get the fish."  We always got two things we'd both like so that we could share.  You were always cutting off pieces of your meal and resting them on the edge of my plate before I'd even had a bit of my own.  "So good right?" you'd say.

Yes, it was so good.  It was all so good.

"Let him lead me to the banquet table, and let his banner over me be love."
Song of Songs 2.4

Remember That?

My past is not shared with anyone anymore.

That's why the memories are so painful.  Yes, I have memories- and I write them all down in another private journal- all of the funny stories, hidden jokes, and just random moments we shared alone together.   I write them down so that one day, far in the future, I might smile and find comfort in them.  But I write them for then, before they slip into the dark recesses of my brain, not for now.

Today I thought of one, where once again- it wasn't a beautiful, perfect memory, but a trying time that is so much more endearing to me now because of that.  We were looking for an apartment- which we did for years in order to get out of a difficult living situation in Brooklyn, but couldn't find anything in our very low budget.  We looked at one that I'd been really hopeful about by the description in Carroll Gardens, but it turned out to be another dump.  It had snowed the night before, so we trudged down the street back towards the subway on the snowy sidewalks, I in front of you.  I was almost in tears because I was so disappointed, and just then, some kid someone had hired to clean off their front stoop, was shoveling away without looking at all to see if anyone was on the sidewalk and just threw a giant mound of heavy, wet snow, right onto my head.  I was winded and surprised by it, almost knocked down.  You were furious, yelling at the kid as I tried to tell you he didn't do it on purpose.  "Still, he should look where he's going...are you OK?"  I just began to cry...but then we laughed because it was ridiculous...and it seemed like God had a great sense of humor that just when I was feeling so much self-pity, walking my sad walk down the street, I would have snow shoveled onto my head.  Remember that?  "Remember that?"  That's what I would say if you were here.

But you're not.

And no one else does.

Memories with your spouse are not like memories you share with anyone else.  They aren't yours as individuals- they are yours as one entity.  They aren't mine and his, they were "ours."  Those memories when recalled together were like an embrace...or interlocking fingers.  Now they are just my arms, and my fingers.

We Sleep With Your Coat

I just haven't felt like writing lately.  I have a million painful, inarticulate thoughts throughout the day but the idea of translating them into the English language is overwhelming me lately.

But I will try...I will force it for a bit tonight because I know I've gotta keep walking through this thing.  I've been distracting myself with my crazy old personality- making giant to-do lists taped to the wall, making more lists of preschools to research and visit, Christmas gifts to buy, things to attend to related to the death .  I have those labeled simply under "death," (things like buying our gravestone which I've yet to do, and dealing with paperwork) and when I mention it to a good friend the other day she thinks I've marked my own death on my to-do list.  "You don't have to do that one honey, it'll happen," she says.

So I've been shying away from the pureness of the grief I think because I just don't think I could stand it another minute.  In the four months, I haven't had one distraction really- no TV in our home to watch, just quiet in our bedroom each night as I sat and cried, or wrote or read or tried to process in some other way.  But even though I try to escape in my to-do lists and projects, the grief is always there...like a massive iceberg just below the surface waiting for the right words or memories to hit before it makes itself fully known.

This morning Audrey held your wedding ring on the chain I wear around my neck and said, "Appa wore this every day..."  It was another occasion for me to make the crying face and feel the crying without making a sound or shedding a tear.  It's kind of like when your toddler bumps her head and you're not sure if she's hurt or not because she doesn't make a sound for the first few seconds...but it's there- it's about to erupt- it's the silent cry that escalates into the scream.  Except mine doesn't get to escalate or resolve.

She's been having a lot of trouble sleeping.  Didn't nap yesterday, was up a lot last night begging me to sing different songs and stay in her room at two am, and then became the most overtired I've ever seen her this afternoon before her nap.  But tonight she went down without a problem- after one thing.

Yesterday after she wouldn't nap, I brought her into my room where I'd been trying to nap myself and she saw that I'd been sleeping with your coat over me like a blanket.  So, tonight after I sang all the songs and tucked her in, on my way out her door, she asked me for your coat..."Sleep with Appa's coat!"

So, I laid it over her (despite the fact that it's pretty heavy and not that soft), and she was content to let me leave.  Then I saw her on the monitor, get out from under the coat, and lay it down and curl up on top of it, hugging it.  That is how she's sleeping now.  And just now as I wrote that sentence, I literally heard her say, "I sleep with Appa's coat to remember appa."  Those are her words, nothing I said to her.

Oh, I wish grief was something you went through and as you did, it was like packing a suitcase with clothes- folding them up, putting them neatly away, and zip, zip, zipping it up.  But it's more like stretching out clothes that are too small for you, or swimming in clothes that are too big for you, getting accustomed to them, and wearing them like a unique uniform for every day of the rest of your life.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Gifts

I've been thinking a lot about all of the gifts and presents we gave each other.  You always thought my love language was gifts, but really it was quality time- which made this past year especially difficult.  Your love language was words of affirmation which I think is one reason why our emotional marriage worked.

The first gift you ever gave me was the little chalkboard you carried over on the bus that first weekend you stayed over at my childhood home.

The second gift you gave me was the stuffed lion from FAO Schwartz with the little note which I read on the dim bus back to Jersey excitedly that said you were praying for me every day.  He is sitting her next to me on the bed.

My first Christmas gift from you was one of my favorites- the silver bird necklace from Tiffany's because you said you were my "bird."  We began the tradition in 1999, our first Christmas, of exchanging gifts at around midnight when everyone else was asleep in my house.  I loved this tradition.  Last year was the first year we didn't do this and I'm not sure why.  I think because you'd just gotten back from the tour a few days before and we had to wrap our gifts or we thought maybe it'd be nice to let Audrey see us exchange gifts.  So, for our last Christmas, you got me clothes from your tour in Europe- but mostly it was from H&M which I thought was funny.  There was a pair of silver leaf earrings too that you decided not to give me at the last minute.  You said in Sweden hanging in some flea market they looked really pretty but now you thought they looked cheap so you'd sell them on Ebay, but I told you I wanted to keep them.  I am glad I did.  You also got me two pairs of pajamas because I'd been saying how I was tired of sleeping in the free T-shirts you got from your old office job and sweats.  I wear these pajamas every night.

For my first birthday with you as my boyfriend, you got me the famous Pakistani outfit.  You took me to Bryant Park Grill (also the last place we ate together), and just as I was about to open it, you told me, "I don't know why I got this for you- it's an Indian outfit."  "Haha," I said, "You're funny."  But no, it really was a complete Pakistani (not Indian) outfit.  You'd seen it at a street fair and just "thought you'd look pretty it," you said.  You said that a lot to me.  At first I was pretty disappointed, but I remember later that night we went to the Marriot in Times Square and had ice cream in the lounge and I went and changed into the outfit and sat in the middle of the busy hotel in the baggy white and patterned pants and long shirt and scarf with bells on- literally.

For my 30th birthday you bought me beautiful silver leaf earrings with a tiny flower of pearl attached.  For my 32nd you bought me beautiful pewter colored lotus stud earrings- both of these were from boutiques in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

One birthday you laminated a card you drew that was called "Julia Day."  "This card entitles you to one day with Dan doing anything you like" and in fine print things like, "not to exceed $250," and "expires exactly one year from today."

For many birthdays including my 30th and this past one- my 34th, you wrote me beautiful songs and in a completely endearing way- sat at the piano and sang them to me late at night in your best voice, looking up at me in between while trying to remember the lyrics- something you struggled with.

On our wedding day, you gave me an English soccer jersey.

When you came back from Korea in January of 2000, you brought me a ton of gifts.  We had missed each other so much.  We met in the city and wound up downtown at a coffehouse called "Kavehaus."  It was a frigid, windy day, and so we sat in there for hours.  Slowly you gave me one gift after another.  They were cute and silly gifts - some of them- nothing expensive- a piece of ginseng root floating in water, cute little Korean business card holders, lots of Korean stationary saying things like, "now is the time this love arrives sweet blossom."  But you gave me each one with such a sense of delight in watching me open them.  That day is still the coldest I ever remember being, and inside that coffeehouse just off the cobblestone streets, I felt so safe and warm.  I treasure that memory ten years later.

I always wanted to learn to play the piano and wound up taking lessons one year during my grad school for writing.  One year, I suggested maybe you could pick out a keyboard for me for Christmas.  I remember picking you up at the bus and you carrying this giant box and saying something like, "I guess this year is no surprise."  I did my best, but you wound up using that keyboard most of the time, carrying it to gig after gig.  Audrey bangs around on it now all the time, trying to play the way you did for her.  She calls it "appa's piano."

You bought me clothes a lot even though I'd tell you often that it was harder to buy women clothes so just don't worry about it.  You bought me a large dark grey wool cape one year.  I felt like I was wearing a giant blanket when I wore it, but I did.  You bought me a whole wardrobe from JCrew online one year because you used to be obsessed with this website called Slickdeals.net and found a bunch of coupons on there.  "Slickdeals- I'm telling you." you used to say.  While they weren't things I necessarily would've picked out for myself, I loved that you got them for me and wore them all for many years.  You knew I didn't go shopping often for myself, so you were always trying to treat me in that way.

One Christmas while we were still dating, I was surprised to open up a box and find a little ring- made of a red and white striped plastic straw.  It was a straw made into a star.  I wasn't thrilled at first, because like many times, I just didn't know where you were coming from...but in reality, you always had some very thoughtful, meaningful reason behind everything you did.  You explained to me that someone had made one of those back in college, and you thought it was the coolest thing...so you'd struggled and worked at learning how to make it and when you finally did- you decided you would give it to "the" girl one day when you met her.  This is my favorite ring second only to my wedding ring.

There are many more gifts- pieces of jewelry, and stacks and stacks of homemade little books, cards, and other contraptions you worked on for hours...sometimes you'd come over and tell me "I need another  hour," and disappear into my room to work on your "gift."  You made me lovely books where you tell me something else you love about me on every page, or some other reason why you were so great and I should be your valentine.  I have them all and will always treasure them.  These days it is still very painful looking at them.  People like to say, "Oh, but that's so wonderful that you have those."  But it's not, not now, not yet.  It's painful because it feels like all of that has been taken from me too.  "When she died, I felt that I had lost my most important link to the past, as if whole chapters of my life story had been suddenly torn out," writes Jerry Sittser.   Yes, that is why it is so difficult to see remnants of this past life right now.

I was going to detail what I could remember about all of the gifts I've given to you but it's getting late and I am drained.

I have to thank you for all of the beautiful things you've given me over the years Daniel.  You were always trying so hard and always so happy to see a gift well-received.  I, on the other hand, was not a great receiver of gifts all the time.  Not because I didn't appreciate them, but because I have a hard time receiving in general.  At your funeral, I spoke and a few of the things I covered I've now read are the most important things to say when someone dies unexpectedly...things like forgive me, thank you, and i love you.  So, here again, because we didn't get any final words- I want to thank you for loving me in this way and leaving me with these precious reminders..esp. the cards and homemade things.  You might not have known how excited I was to receive them- and how I read them over and over again.  And how I will.

There are so many gifts that were yet to be given.  Our anniversary- the day after I buried you.  I found the card you were working on in your computer...but I wonder what else you had in mind.  You told me you'd hidden little things around the apartment, but it's strange because I've yet to find any of them.  The last time I spoke to you on the phone, I told you I'd found the Newman's Own Mint Oreos (my favorite) hidden behind the tea...you seemed upset that I'd already found it.  I crushed some and made ice cream in the ice cream maker which I served at a play date I hosted the day before I got the phone call.  The last day I remember feeling like myself- the old me.  That ice cream is still in a container in my freezer though I did throw out the extra cookie crumbs that were in a baggie in the fridge.  The cookies in that ice cream are the last gift you ever gave to me.

"There's more..." you said, "just little stuff."

There's more...there's more...I hope there is.  I hope there is more.

You're Already There

It has been far too draining just to even think about articulating the rawness of what I feel lately.

I am awake.  This is really true.  You actually drowned in Switzerland as ridiculous and dramatic as that sounds- this is actually my life.

"Appa, are you in heaven with God?"   "Mommy die?"  "When mommy get weawy old, mommy die."  I loathe having these conversations with my two-year-old.  Why shouldn't she be allowed to be shielded from this alarming reality like every one else her age?

And then other times, she is just so utterly delightful, like this afternoon when she said, (while I was changing her diaper), "Bye bye mommy, I'll be right back."  When I ask her "Where are you going?" she says "Au straaalia mommy."  Of course.

And at those times, often I feel you nearby.  I can't conceive really that if there is an afterlife you would miss any of these moments, but if that afterlife is not in space or time, it is just beyond me how you experience it.  Still, I hope...and I trust.  And sometimes, yes, I feel you near.

In "On Grief and Grieving," there is a story of a dying woman who just couldn't let go...she didn't want to leave her husband.  But finally one night she told him she was ready and it was OK.  When he asked her why, she explained, "He told me you're already there..."  The next night she died.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Death is Not Absence

Death is not absence.

Your death is not your absence.

I don't "miss" you the way I did when  you were away for a month.

My mind knew when you were traveling and away.

My soul knows you are dead and only reveals this to my mind in fragments.

In grief, the original soul, often buried by the demands, concerns, and things of a physical world, is - in a strange way- uncovered and exposed...and also- in command again.

Monday, November 15, 2010

You

Besides the fact that I'm busier- looking into preschools for Audrey and attempting to return to my freelance job, I tell the counselor today that the words are coming less because what I feel now I cannot articulate at all in language.  The language has helped me empty out the outer layers of the grief, but hiding underneath is just pure pain.  For many the loss was about "Dan" or "Dan the cellist," but for me, it is just about "you," as in "you and me," "dan and jul:" what we have been for eleven years to our friends and family.

I think of every major milestone in my adult life- my engagement, graduation from graduate school, wedding day, honeymoon, first ultrasound of my child, and there you are.  And not just the good, but the bad milestones too- the time you were stabbed, the miscarriage, the bed bug disaster.  And not only are you there- but you are the only one there.  We were alone together in all of those moments and now I am just
alone.

And then I find, that it's not just about the milestones at all- not just about the big events or celebrations- but mostly about the mundane and everyday.  This is the furnace of a marriage.  I find you've kept every email we ever exchanged since we got married in your email account.  I have started to read through some of them from 2004 onwards.   We write multiple times a day then because we are both in office jobs we dislike.  "Can you meet me at Target?  I need to pick up some heavier stuff today?"  "Just heat up the leftovers when you get home- then we can go to the gym when I get there."  "I like working out with you."  "Me too."  "Hey, I have a lot of work to do today but just wanted to say hi."

And then there are a lot of encouraging emails from each of us to the other.  We were both so unhappy in our office jobs.  So, we encourage each other- a lot.  I tell you I believe in you and your talent, and I know you'll succeed so to hang in there at this office job.  You tell me I'm doing a good job at my job and that you're proud of me.

Several times a day, I stop what I'm doing and realize it's about "you," all of the insanity and fog I've been in for four months.  The "you" that I fell so in love with, the you in the milestones and in the mundane.  So I strain and try to get back to what we were before.  But it's impossible.

Instead, I sit next to Audrey's crib on the chair singing her lullabies and feeling the incompleteness of our family without you.  I look up at the door to her little nook.  Emptiness, darkness except for the dim light shining out from my bedroom.

A friend who visited a few Saturdays ago asks me, "Aren't you glad that you allowed him to achieve his dream?"  referring to the traveling he did this past year.  It was I who first suggested he quit his day job of five years to take the opportunity.   "That is a tricky question," I say.   I would hate the thought of him dying still working in that cube and not having accomplished anything he'd set out to accomplish.  But he was by no means done with his accomplishing and if he hadn't achieved that, he might still be alive.  But you find all of the what if's get you nowhere quickly.  He might have died some other way- I might have died, anything is possible in the myriad of paths our lives can take- dependent on even the smallest decisions.  There is no way I can protect you now.  I am powerless to change a single moment.

But everywhere I go, I see you.  Cocking your head to one side, smiling.  Pressing your hands against the glass of a coffee shop I'm sitting in and making a sad, silly face.  I strain down busy streets today thinking there is someone familiar, but the walk always gives it away.  Even when I couldn't see any of your features, I could always tell it was you by the way you walked- shifted your legs, dragged your feet just a little.  And I'm to believe those feet are buried?  

I stand in your shoes a couple times a week and look in the mirror as I lift one at the heel the way you would when you stood talking to someone on the phone.  Because the shoes are well-worn, I can pretend I'm looking at you for just one second.

We talk today in counseling about our volatile relationship- the tense year we had, and frankly, the entire eleven years of drama- both good and bad.  "But you loved each other" she says.  "Of course," I can't hesitate.  

I also tell her about Dr. Ross's "On Grief and Grieving" and how it's speaking to me.  "The only thing..." I tell her, "is that she mostly refers to people who were very sick before passing...but Dan was perfectly healthy and his death, preventable."  She tells me this is the most painful part with this kind of shocking death. (doesn't she always seem to be saying this?) There was no "end to suffering," only health and vibrance and opportunity.

She also tells me I am growing - it is a detestable kind of growth.  But I know it is true.  Jerry Sittser, the man who lost three generations- his mother, wife, and daughter, in one accident, in the other book I'm reading, puts it this way: "The soul is elastic, like a balloon.  It can grow larger through suffering."

Yesterday Audrey sat at our dining table saying quietly, "Appa, where are you?  Appa, where are you?" I bit my lip.

I think in my grief process I am moving from the lost past to the lost future.  I have more thoughts this past week about things we were going to do.  We were going to watch the end of that series together- we only watched it together.  "I can not watch it now," I think.  I will wait until we're together.  Audrey points to the map at Hawaii and says she wants to go there.  I think about how your mom was going to give us their timeshare so we could stop there on our way to Korea next time.  You had never been to Hawaii and I was so excited to be there with you.  It is still too unbearable to really think into the future, but it is happening more.  Every now and then I am allowed just a tiny glance into a future- not in this same apartment, not with the same little toddler- but years from now- I am in a different home- my daughter is a girl or a teenager even.  You have been dead for many years.  These glances I quickly turn away from because they are too much for me now.

Sometimes, I still try speaking aloud, talking to you the way I used to- casually, "Hae-y, do you wanna watch this with me?"  "Hey-rough day?"  I want to catch just a glimpse of the old reality- how it used to feel to be the me that was your wife- the old me that vanished on July 6th around noon.  How special it was just to be together after a long day...but that reality is gone...the words that leave my mouth are false and I know it.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Two Years Old

Dear Dan,

I want to tell you a few of the cute things your daughter has been doing the way I would've at night when you came home from work or a gig or even if I just spoke to you on the telephone while you were away.

You last saw her at 20 months.  She is now two plus almost two months.  Her rapid development pushes you further away...so much faster than it would seem if it was just me here.  And I realize that this is only the very, very beginning of all you will miss...her entire life.

She wears a different wardrobe than you saw her in (mostly hand-me downs), but she's still wearing the sneakers we both picked out for her together.  On my to-do list though, along with a winter hat and gloves, is a new pair of winter shoes.

Her hair is so much longer than when you left- it's very pretty.

It feels like she's been doing it forever now, but I realize you never saw her jump- lift her feet off the ground.  When you left she was still doing that pre-jumping thing toddlers do just bending at their knees.

You never heard her speak or say she loves you.  She speaks in full sentences now.  She picks up the photo of you at the kitchen table sometimes and feeds you or gives you a sip of her milk or water.  She also tells you that she loves you.

She loves to sing and has a repertoire of at least ten songs by now.  Mary Had a Little Lamb is still a favorite as is Twinkle Little Star, Rain Rain, Go Away, Old MacDonald, and Jesus Loves Me.  She insists I sing her about four or five songs each night at bedtime.  It used to be one.

The other day when someone who was coming for a visit was late, I wondered where they were aloud and she said, "Maybe they're stuck in traffic," which was surprising coming out of a two-year-old's mouth.  In the morning she tells me she likes my pajamas.  She tells me her halmonee and halabaji live in "Ko weeeee wa."  Last week while we were having tea (she has a cold), she wanted to clink tea cups and said "Cheers mommy."  You would've loved that.  She ends all of her sentences lately with "Okay."  "We'll read that book okay?"  "Let's go for a walk okay?"  She also says "No mommy!" or "Stop mommy!" quite a lot lately.  She was a beautiful butterfly for Halloween and tells me she wants a blue kangaroo for Christmas.  This had been her request for her birthday too but I was unable to find it.  Lately she asks me, "What's going on mommy?" if we're in a crowded place with lots of other toddlers and it's kind of crazy.  She also says "Goodbye mommy, see you later," a lot while we're both in the apartment.  She still loves reading and her favorite book is Corduroy right now.  She's insanely good at puzzles- like you- and can already do a 40 piece puzzle at two years old by herself.  Her focus amazes me.  I remember you just starting to help her with puzzles the Sunday before you left at church.  It all began there I think.  She loves the ones you gave her from Korea- well, I gave them to her now.  We had put them away 'til she was a bit older.  What else?  She loves putting on her own shoes and is still very independent.  She loves mee yook gook soup and rice and keem- and frozen yogurt- just yogurt I freeze, and gummy bunnies.

Oh, I wish you could see her.  I stare at her sometimes in disbelief- wondering exactly where she came from.  She is so 100% Audrey that it's hard to even see us in her sometimes, but I look for you.  If you were here, I'd show you some recent videos and photos, and I know you'd say, "She's awesome," and you'd be right.  She is utterly delightful.

It Feels Darker

I write less because the writing/getting it out is more painful lately than therapeutic...at least in the present time- though I'm sure it's still getting the work done.

It's dark so early and feels darker so I convince myself that if I up my light bulbs to the max throughout the apartment and invest in a new lamp or two it'll make a difference.  It does not.

I visit my parent's house- the one where I grew up and basically lived until I was married for the first time today since you died.  It's where you slept over almost every weekend for five years of dating, and where we lived together with our newborn for five months.  Although I wish it'd been a more romantic spot, it's where I had my first kiss with you which was also my first kiss.

I drive there with Audrey before going to lunch at my childhood friend's house.  I only stay a short while for this first visit- long enough to drink a cup of coffee while Audrey plays with my parents outside.  I walk around looking at the room you used to sleep in.  I open the drawers and see the sweatpants we kept here that you used to wear.  I discover the CS Lewis book on Love that I had given you one Valentine's Day- it's inscribed inside simply, "Daniel, I love you, Julia"  I take it with me.

Overall, the visit isn't as emotional as I thought it might be.  More than anything, it's disorientating.  I am in my childhood home, but I am not a child.  I am afraid returning there I'll be sucked back to a previous level of maturity and growth, the stage I was at at 23 before I met you.  But...I am not.  I am much older, I have a child.  I am a widow.  Disorientation is the only word I can come up with.

There is a numbness coming over me that I'm conscious of.  I'm not sure what it means, but a friend who lost her mother in a car accident instantly tells me she only realized a year into her grief process that she was numb for months longer than she thought.  So probably I've been numb the entire four months.  I think it comes in spurts to help me handle the pain.  One simply cannot go on feeling so much raw pain for so long.  Depression also is a way the body numbs the nervous system in order to better manage the grief.  This is different from clinical depression.

Yesterday I took about twenty books out from our local library.  I went to get one book I'd reserved and came out with a bag I could hardly carry up to our apartment.  I dumped out my treasures and started to read Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's "On Grief and Grieving."  A few months ago i read her famous, "On Death and Dying," which I found comforting in its scientific approach to life after death.  This book is her last, and was written as she lay in bed dying herself.

It is extremely comforting to read about the stages of grief that a grieving person goes through- and as she clarifies- in no linear fashion.  It's actually very different from what you learn in AP Psychology.  She discusses the way both sorrow and anger are not received well in our society, and yet these are essential to grieving well.  "The more anger you allow, the more feelings you will find underneath.  Don't let anyone diminish the importance of feeling your anger fully.  And don't let anyone criticize your anger, not even you."

This "feeling fully" is my dreadful curriculum though I'd gladly circumvent it if I could.

Depression also is something our society tries to "fix," but as Ross puts it, "The first question to ask yourself is whether the situation you're in is actually depressing.  The loss of a loved one is a very depressing situation, and depression is a normal and appropriate response.  To not experience depression after a loved one dies would be unusual."

And later, "As difficult as it is to endure, depression has elements that can be helpful in grief.  It slows us down and allows us to take real stock of the loss."

So I unhappily succumb to it all, because there is no other way but through.  It is messy and extremely uncomfortable.  It is the darkest, deepest place I've ever been, but it also the most revelatory- something I would still trade for just one more minute- 60 seconds - with you alive.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I Keen Quietly

And the grief is awoken again.

I had a productive afternoon, but then decided to start working on one of what I call "memorial projects."  I want to collect every word you said about Audrey that I have in writing- either in emails, FB picture comments, letters you sent from tour, or emails from before she was born- and create one document for her to see when she's older and read just a little bit of what her father thought of her- his enthusiasm and great, deep love for her.

So, I started out with my FB photos- which you commented on while you were away mostly.

But being on my profile which I rarely am, I started to scroll down- and before I knew it, I was scrolling all the way down to the day I found out you were dead.

That's when the keening and moaning began again.  I keen quietly though because I do not want my daughter to hear her mom moaning in the next room- even if she's just half-awake.  How frightening that would be for her.

I read all of the kind words of support and love from friends.  I am surprised by how many people tell me how strong and graceful I'm being- how inspiring I am- just days or weeks after your death.  Did they believe that I was really me?  The physical and mental shock I experienced was like nothing else I've ever been through in my life.  Even labor came on so much more gently.  This was a ringing phone, words, "Dan is dead.  He drowned swimming in Lake Geneva," and screaming- my wet bathing suit thrown over the shower stall where it still hangs today, me darting around the apartment with a toddler at my heels, trying to figure out who to call or what to do.  

Afterwards I remember telling your brother repeatedly that you had died in Sweden.  I was so confused then.

Another thing that strikes me is that I posted every few minutes throughout the early morning from about 5 am on the next day.  And in one of those posts, I comment on how it gets worse every day I'm further away from you- but this was only the first day.  It must have felt so much longer.  Time became moot at that point.

I read through the posts and people's responses and writings to me, and I cry remembering what it felt like to announce to the world that you were dead...to receive condolence after condolence to the surreal news.

I am thoroughly drained now.  But I've read that when one starts going back over the initial trauma, even though it feels like going backwards, it's actually another step towards healing.  I really hope so.  But I have learned, I have no say in any of this.  I have no choice- I must surrender...

So I keen and I cry quietly on the bed I worked hard to clear off finally today.  And I stop and look up at no one or nothing and say out loud, "This is f--kin insane," because it is.  Mostly I think lately, "This is unfair, it's just so unfair."

I read all the posts on my profile wall until I get to the one on the day that I last saw your face- June 29th.  I rarely posted on FB before this, but I find I posted about you leaving us for the tour again:

"missing my husband who is once again gone for another month on another continent. at least i have someone fun to keep me company. today she said the word "goodbye" for the first time to her appa."



I didn't remember this detail at all, but find it stirring that the first time Audrey said the word goodbye was to you- and truly 
her goodbye.  



Naptime

The grief has been quiet lately...kind of like a napping child that I know will wake up with a scream, cranky and needy, so I try to get things done now while she rests- this grief.

It's harder to express all of the complex thoughts and feelings that go on inside a person who has lost their spouse and best friend - you feel the full range of sorrow, anger, regret, disbelief and shock, denial, and hope.  I am up very late these past couple of weeks trying to process it...playing it over and over in my mind, hoping I might be able to connect the two lives I hold now- in two very separate hands- as if looking from hand to hand.  While the grief is quiet, a part of me feels safe again- I see your things - your shirt hanging over your chair, your socks in your sock drawer, and your cello in the corner- and I feel almost comforted.  You always love the personal items of the one you love.  They represent that person, and seeing them makes me believe you are still in my life.  I'm not sure how long I'll leave everything as it is, but for now it good to keep you here this way.  At some point, it may be too painful.

Words are failing me here lately...at least words in complete sentences.

water the cello
in the corner
run the water
squeeze it out
once a week

file the papers
make the calls
smile sadly at your photo
on the wall

put the food in
my mouth
chew
drink the water
at my bedside
pull the quilt
over my head
shut the light
close my eyes

wash the soap
out of my hair
pull the floss
through my teeth
see your reflection
flossing next
to me.


water the cello
in the corner
run the water
squeeze it out
once a week.

watch the sun
come and go
wait 
to tell you
what i know



listen to
bus breaks
on the street.
sounded like relief
in an old life
i put
under the ground.
dreadful dejavu
something old
repeated
hidden
sacred and
lost.


water the cello
in the corner
run the water
squeeze it out
squeeze it out
dry it off
dry it off
close the case

close the case.