Wednesday, December 29, 2010

To the Bottom

The thoughts and pain are really pooling around me now so I will try to dump them out in no particular order. 

Today it's raining here and with Audrey still running a fever and definitely not herself, we have just been hanging around the house all day.  I also feel like I may have a fever. 

Funny how the pampering of the body didn't help the emotional pain, but when the body is ill, it does seem to make it all worse.

I keep thinking what did you eat that day, did you not sleep enough, did you get so warm when you walked to the lake taking the photos that I now look at on your phone.  I look back from the ones I've taken since then, watching Audrey get smaller and talk less.  I am amazed to hear my own voice sounding energetic in those early days, "Oh, look at Audrey dancing in her tutu!" I say on the video I took on your phone a few weeks after your death.

I scroll back amazed and saddened at how much Audrey has changed already since your death.

But then I freeze when that shadow of a tree over pavement- the last photo you ever took, stares back at me.

"Why? Why?" I ask.

Because the  more the mysticism dies down, the more this isn't dramatic or surreal, but very, very real.  The more commonplace, mundane things I remember that we shared, the less this is about the "cellist who reportedly drowns" and you...you my love.

Sometimes I think if you had died some other way, I would be more at peace- though I know that's not true.  In the very beginning, I wanted the autopsy to reveal nothing so I could believe your death was mysterious and appointed.  Then for a brief time, I wanted to hear that you'd had a heart attack because then maybe you had a heart condition that you would've died from anyway- then maybe your death wouldn't have been so damn preventable.

When our flight got canceled I heard a lot of "Things happen for a reason," from those around me, regarding the flight.

I don't know if I can buy any of this anymore- does that make sense?  Before this, I lived my life very much according to that philosophy- but that philosophy- and that's what it is- really has nothing to do with God- is very small.  It looks to find the reason usually- in that very formulaic way- oh this happened because Audrey had a fever so this way she gets to rest a few more days.  But the strands are endless- the way the millions of lives and circumstances can possibly weave together infinite really. 

This is too small.

The other option is to believe nothing happens for a reason or is planned.  The blizzard happened due to weather patterns that can be explained by science.  Airplanes don't fly well in blizzards so our flight was canceled.  Might there be some benefits...yes.  Might there have been some if we went home...probably. 

The third option though, I suppose, is to believe that yes, things are happening for a greater purpose, but we are just way too small to understand anything while we're here.  This is the one that feels like such a cop out to me.

If the afterlife is so great, I keep thinking, then why did Christ raise Lazarus from the dead? 

What is precious about this life if when it is taken abruptly without warning, all is well for that loved one?  Yet that is what people wish me to believe? 

If God is not a cruel god, but is working our pain for our own good, what kind of a God would create creatures that require such excruciating correction, but oh yes, that's right- it's all our fault- for eating the fruit of course.

Nothing sounds believable right now.

I am tired of puzzling over all of this as if I could arrive at some comforting answer.  I've been searching for meaning in your tragic death pretty much since the very first day, but there is none.  I know, I know, again, so arrogant of me to assume that because I can't find any meaning, there is none that a much higher power could understand.  But in some ways, that reasoning is like a bungee cord that just keeps me dangling, almost touching the bottom, but not quite before pinching me back up again.  All this dangling is wearing me out.

I want to touch the bottom.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Displaced

Now there is the feeling of double displacement.  At home, I am always trying to figure out where I am and what's happened.  But at least I can look around and have that strange sense of being in a place that was formerly where we lived together.  Now I am stranded in another state with relatives I haven't seen in years and a toddler who doesn't nap or sleep well away from home.  Since there is no environment to connect it to here, the pain seems to well up around me in puddles now.

The mystical shock strips away more and more each day.  Instead of foggy, saturated air to wade through, there is nothing but a crumbling stone wall- reality- you-
you-
are dead.

It feels like another impasse, because there is no way around it.  Must I make a home here at this wall for myself and our daughter?  Should I plant shrubs and flowers at the stone wall?  That is what a tombstone is I suppose. 

You and I were so different that I truly am missing 1/2 of my knowledge and traits I've become accustomed to as your wife.  I have no sense of direction- you did.  I don't know much about pop culture and can't remember what movies I have or have not seen.  You reminded me, laughing.  I don't have much common sense and would often get stuck on something really simple while you could come and flick some switch or turn something around and say "Really?  You really didn't know that?" 

I can liken it to the old see saws they had in playgrounds when we were kids.  With one person on each end, it is balanced- back and forth.  But if one person were to suddenly jump off without warning - and that happened to me as a child-  you will hit the ground with such force on that metal base...your tail bone will feel the shock.  This is what it is like- a hard hit- no warning- no balance. 

Sometimes I wish to be angry with you.  I even want to say the dreaded "I told you so," which yes, is highly inappropriate here.  But why did you have to travel without your family? Why couldn't you have told your swimming partner that you didn't feel quite right- that you were too cold?  It's not your fault Dan.  I can't truly blame you for one second.  So why then do I keep coming back there I wondered?  Because it gives me something- it gives me the only frayed connection I have back to you- and for a moment- I feel like the old me, angry or nagging or disappointed, but at least I am engaged with you.  It is familiar and I hope for a reply or some kind of defense. 

But there is
silence.

Won't you come and speak up?  Won't you answer me with some wise words of defense?  Won't you come, I plead.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Stranded Until New Year's Eve

So there's the blizzard in the Northeast and after an unsuccessful trip to the airport here in Phoenix, we're back at my aunt's with a rebooked flight on Friday- that's right Friday.

Traveling with a toddler for six nights has taken its toll, and Audrey herself woke up with a fever this morning, so yeah- it'd be nice to be home and back in our own routine...as monotonous as that sometimes is.  And I feel terrible for my aunt to have us unexpectedly for another entire week.  But...other than that- I don't really mind very much.  What does it matter?  I never understand why people get so flustered.  And, I especially hate it when people seem surprised that humanity doesn't have it all down yet.  People seem shocked that the airlines aren't functioning perfectly due to a blizzard, or that they don't have things updated online.  Where do people think we're living?  If you've been alive any amount of time, why do these kind of things surprise you?  But yet, you always see those people on the news being interviewed- the ones stranded in the airport saying, "We've been here for three hours.  I mean, c'mon.  It's ridiculous...ridiculous!" 

It's a change of plans- yes.  It was a bit stressful this morning- sure. 

But I have a very different benchmark with which to measure things now. 

When you receive a phone call mid-morning telling you your 33 year old husband is dead- you lose any illusion of control.  And a change of plans?  Before July 6th, I planned on welcoming my husband home, getting pregnant, purchasing our first home, putting a little t-shirt on Audrey that said "Big Sister," and growing old with my sweet husband.  In an instant, I was a widow, single mother, living in a one bedroom with an only child, with no plans for any future besides trying to survive. 

A cancelled plane flight is quite small no? 

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Great pain

I can't bear it. I can't grasp it. Everyone leaves. We clean up. My parents, uncle, and brother watch football. Audrey sleeps thanks to my aunts help. But I come here to bed by 8:30 because it is too quiet, still, painful for me to just sit. I see you there as you should be but Im told you died.

I lay in bed in the dark using the light of your/my phone to look at your face on a picture. What I've craved the past two days at this busy family function was the simple way you'd come up to me after we'd both been in our own conversations, and put your arm around my back or shoulder. It feels both like yesterday that I had that, accepted it so casually as if it belonged to me, but also as though I never had it at all...perhaps I dreamt the feel of your hands around me like that. I miss you so...with great, great wordless pain.

Merry Christmas

I haven't had a lot of access to a computer, and not being able to write and process has made me so aware of how vital the writing is to my grieving.  The thoughts go around in my  head and if I don't neatly spill them out, I feel cluttered and confused - heavier than  usual. 

So...I kept a litte file of those thoughts, and now will happily spill them while I have a moment.  We're at my aunt's now- Audrey is freshly bathed and ready to tear into her presents under the tree when my cousins and their children arrive later this afternoon.

Checking in- checking in to our "casita" at the resort, was something I hadn't anticipated.  Sure, you take the trip to make a buffer for your first holiday without your loved one- everyone recommends it.  But then you're really hitting another milestone at the same time as the holiday- traveling or even, vacationing- though I'd hardly call this that- for the first time without you Dan. 

When my parents and brother headed into their own rooms that first night, I was shocked that Audrey and I would be sleeping in this large room, with king sized bed overflowing with pillows...
by ourselves. 

It's not that I can't do this- I have before.  It's that this is our new life...this is how it will always be - because we have lost you.

I propped up the photos I brought of you on a little desk so that we could see them. 

I took a breath and did all of the things necessary to get us both ready for bed.  Audrey went back and forth between the hotel's pack and play and the giant bed with me about ten times before she requested to sleep "over there" back in the crib and finally, exhausted, fell asleep. 

But before she did that, she cuddled with me and commented, "I wish appa was in this hotel room."  "I do too, I do too," I replied. 

I visited the well-known spa there two days- once for a moisturizing wrap- and a second day for a pedicure and massage.  It really sounds like I'm living in luxury right?  Walking around the beautifully landscaped paths of pebbles and cacti and fountains on the resort, I felt I could escape more into role playing than I can in...New Jersey.  I tried to become "the young widow at a resort to heal her soul by getting treatments at the spa." 

It didn't work.

No amount of luxury or money can be thrown at this "problem."  This was good to confirm, although I already knew it.

Another thing that was good to confirm.  There does seem to be a distinct difference between body and soul.  While my body was slathered with oils and lotions and massaged, my pain felt absolutely no different.  Tears dropped off the tip of my nose while I lay face down with my head cradled in the massage table.  I could hear the thighs of the overweight girl doing my first treatment rubbing together and at one point, she dropped something loud and tin sounding into the sink.  "Sorry!" she whispered.

"That's OK," I smiled. 

It's almost as if we're aiming for some kind of Eden in these places- everyone walking around in their robes but looking kind of uncertain what to do.  We fall short. 

The other woman who did my massage was chatty while we got ready asking me about the holidays so I ended up telling her why I was here and that I might start crying during the massage.  She was thrilled to tell me about a book she heard about on NPR that morning that she thought was meant for me.  "Now I know why I heard that, because I was going to meet you."  She had clear eyes and short greying hair and oozed a New Agey kind of "I am working with the world- I am full of peace- see?" aura.  Still, I didn't mind her and she did stop talking once she started the massage.  When she led me back to the "quiet room" when it was done, she looked me in the eye and said "I wish you peace in the New Year." 

Peace- that word gets thrown around a hell of a lot.

So I am moisturized (supposedly though I feel dry and itchy again), massaged, and the cracks in my feet have been filed (almost) away.  But here's what I found.  Before your death I felt I was a body carrying around a soul.  Now, I am a soul lugging around a body.  There is a huge difference between the two.

"You should pamper yourself," everyone kept telling me.  "You deserve it and you have to take care of yourself."  This is true.  I stepped on the hotel scale and found I've lost 20 pounds since you died. 

But what I found is that pampering the outside was like cleaning a window on the wrong side and the dirt and dried water drops just stay there no matter how much you spray down that window.  It felt like that. 

So, now we've left the resort.  Audrey had a great time and they even had Mrs. Claus come to the lobby one afternoon  and do face painting, magic tricks, and tell stories.  Who knew she could do all that?  Audrey loved it. 

Last night was spent at my cousin's two houses down.  She had about eighty people.  Many of my Aunt's family who I haven't seen in many years since they moved out here from Long Island came over to say hello to me.  They looked sympathetic and brave.  Some of them had structured questions like "When did you get here?  When are you leaving?"  That's probably what I would've done with a new widow.  Many of them told me Audrey was beautiful.  There isn't a lot of diversity around her so I think she stuck out. 

I thought Dan about what you would've thought of all this- how Audrey's been spending all this time with my family while yours is in Korea.  Sometimes it feels like she is becoming more mine- and less yours because you're not here.  I don't want this.  She will always be yours.  It's almost like I've been dropped back off into my life before you- esp. seeing people I hadn't seen in years.  But it's like trying to squeeze Audrey back into her first pair of shoes- they don't fit. 

But all in all, I think you would've really liked the way Audrey is spending her holiday.  They hired a Santa to come and Audrey was quite excited to see him- her first real Santa.  That is one of the most painful things about this holiday- it is the first year that Audrey is actually aware of Christmas and enjoying it the way children do.  Last year she was only fifteen months.  I thought of you missing this.  How can there be a God?  That is when this question comes up the most for me.

A few of the quieter moments during the party, I was able to envision you there.  I saw you making conversation with lots of people, while also eating a lot of the food.  I saw you with a beer in your hand giving me a nod the way you did by moving your chin up slightly from across the room.  Without thinking, I did this nod myself. 

Then at one point, I went outside to get a drink and through the window could see Audrey playing with a toy she'd received with my mom.  The sound of course was muted through the window but I watched the scene and imagined that maybe...just maybe you were seeing something like this from where you are. 

Today is Christmas, 2010, I tell myself.  It is the first Christmas that I haven't spent with you since 1998.  We usually exchanged our gifts at midnight on Christmas eve- a tradition we started the first Christmas we had together.  I don't believe that you are dead.  More and more I find I tell myself that you are on a long trip and I must endure- the way I did when you were truly traveling.  (You see, I know). 

I know that no one here is feeling your absence the way that I do.  For them, it's Christmas, they're busy, cooking, eating, watching kids rip open presents, and all that.  I feel your absence Dan.  Every moment.  But I am just finding less moments to tell you because of all of the busyness and the lack of our routine at home.  After Audrey's bath this morning, I let her run down the hall naked to find my mom to dress her.  I get into the shower and tell you, "Merry Christmas, Dan."  I clutch the shower walls and call out for you.  Then I get out, get dressed, come here to write.  Then I will go back to the main room of the house and the place of the festivities and watch Audrey open gifts and smile and eat and talk to cousins I haven't seen in years.  Don't let it fool you.

Today is Christmas, 2010.  Merry Christmas Haewan.  I miss you very, very much.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Flowering cacti

On the car ride to the airport yesterday, I thought of how you had made this same trip- your last alive in the US.  Your cab came late- you must have been worried- probably texting the band/crew from the back seat of your cab. 

At the airport, I thought of you too...what a good traveler you were.  You and I had routines when we traveled- taking turns going to the restroom while the other one watched the luggage...you would go and get us something to eat and a coffee to share. 

On the airplane, I thought about how this is probably the 2nd time I've flown without you in eleven years.  The only other time being for a "girls' weekend" in Michigan about five years ago. 

I listen as the stewardess performs the usual safety routine- "Locate your nearest emergency exit row."  I think about how I would always do this as a precaution and you would roll your eyes, disdaining all of the fear in me.  Was I wrong to be fearful?  Was I wrong Dan? 

I disregard the safety information completely today- for you- Dan.  And also because I realize everything is completely out of my control- at least all of the big things.  I control the very small- choosing a snack to bring, what book I might read on the plane- whether or not to recline my seat.  Small. 

My mother flips through the "Skymall" magazine...you know, that in flight magazine with all the strange gadgets.  You used to like to look through there and what you would do- you would draw little bubbles from the people and write funny quotes- guessing what they might be saying.  This would annoy me but they were...funny.  I wonder now who the next passenger was who might have flipped through your magazine- the lucky recipients of your humor. 

I play with one of Audrey's travel toys- writing over and over again on the magnetic screen, "Sah rang hae yo" in Korean characters as we take off.  I love you.

I was tired, but didn't sleep.  I was up until about 3:30 am the night before packing and wrapping presents. 

I've been looking forward to this trip thinking it'd be such a nice distraction for the grief.  Arizona- cacti, desert, red earth- so different from the Northeast and the little bedroom where I do most of my grief work. 

But no, we arrive amidst the flowering cacti, and I find- everything is the same.  I've taken it all with me.  The grief, sorrow, and sadness.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Eclipse

Dear Dan,

It doesn't feel right that I'm packing for a trip without you.

But nothing has felt "right" for a while now huh?  I'm still waiting to wake up.

How can I put into words what it feels like to be sad every moment but then at the same time have moments of revelation over and over again when I realize why I am so sad with a sharpness that goes right through me.

You were here.  I know you were.

I am reading a classic book (on the side of my other reading) called "When Bad Things Happen to Good People" by Rabbi Kushner.  Not "why" he points out, but "when" because it will happen.  Some interesting perspectives on suffering.  For example, he believes that it's possible that we're still on Friday afternoon in terms of God's creation of the earth and that all of the tragedies are because God isn't finished with putting order into chaos.  Overall, though, I find his thoughts very depressing.  He doesn't believe God is in control of everything but that the natural laws God put into place govern things.

I don't want to believe in a God that is so weak as to stand by and watch his own creation and be incapable of changing things.  I would rather believe in an omnipotent God who actually took you away from me- for an actual reason that is on another plane of understanding- than believe in a God who is sad with me because he can't do anything about tragedies.

At the same time, Dan, I am tired of my search for meaning in your death.  There is no meaning- only loss.

Tonight there is a lunar eclipse. Our shadow falls over the full moon.  It's happening right now but I just can't see it from my window.

I will try to have fun- with Audrey tomorrow Dan...on her second plane ride.  I am sure her and I will both be thinking of the little game you played with her on her first plane ride to Chicago back in May.  She recalls it and moves her fingers the way you moved yours all the time still.  I will remember how I would grip your hand tightly during take-offs and you would roll your eyes at me.  I will remember how you'd be asleep within a few minutes and I'd be left watching you, reading, looking out the window, excited, nervous.  Remember when I woke you up to show you the unearthly icy mountains of Alaska on our way to Korea?  Remember when we told the stewardess on the way back that it was our six month anniversary and she brought us a bottle of champagne?  Remember when we sat in the plane on our way to Nashville for our first wedding anniversary and the old man behind us was whistling a hymn and we said it was too "Christianese" for us in the South.  Remember how we'd watch different movies sometimes on the planes- you an action movie- and I a cheesy romantic comedy?  Remember how we'd order Coke: "Coke please," you'd say.  Remember remember remember...all of that ingrained in me - and all of those remembers...that was with
you.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Line Between Heaven and Earth

The grief as I near six months is like a vice.  It tightens.

I've also been feeling nauseous after every meal I eat, and this seems to be getting worse.  A friend says maybe it's acid reflux.  Maybe.

I took Audrey to a birthday party yesterday afternoon.  I always go imagining it will be fun, and it is...for a while.  And then, I become very aware, by the kind words spoken to me, that I am different- and that I have suffered a tremendous loss.  There were a few dads there yesterday, and I saw the mother throwing the party whisper some direction into her husband's ear, and later call to him to get the party favors.  I remembered how I used to do that, how I used to have that nonchalant closeness with someone...you.

It was pretty much over anyway when I became very anxious to leave...and as soon as we were outside in the dark, cold night, I let the tears come....slowly carrying Audrey to our car parked down the street.  It was dark enough already that I could cry without her noticing.  As I buckled her into her seat, tears silently streaming down my face:"Did you have fun?"  I try to steady my voice.

A few days ago I had to use your library card to take out some books for Audrey.  My parents had accidentally taken my keys with my own library card.  And last week I was on your computer downloading a few Christmas songs and used your itunes account.  I want to believe I can keep you alive if I use these things in your place.  It feels like I'm tricking someone- the library, Apple, - not myself.

Cause I can't.  I know that.

A friend sent you a postcard in the mail saying that they miss you.  I hung it in our kitchen.

A few other friends left you messages on FB on your birthday asking you if God is real.  That is what I'd like to know too.

A widower you and I knew from our old church called me last week.  I'd thought of him numerous times because after his young wife died of cancer leaving him with three young boys, I'd kind of avoid him in church, just not knowing what to say.  I baby sat his kids once, gave him Lewis' "A Grief Observed," and you and I visited him once after he had hernia surgery- but I mostly felt uncomfortable after his wife died.  Everyone in the church had been praying for her healing.  Some people were still praying at her funeral which we attended on September 10, 2001- one day before 9/11, hoping she'd rise up from her coffin.  You had taken me to visit her in the hospital when we were first dating.  You brought your cello because she enjoyed it, but then realized it was too loud to play in a hospital.  You later played at her memorial service.  She used to like a song that you and I recorded together called "Arms of My King."

Anyway, he called and I cried and also apologized for being so absent and ignorant during his own time of darkness.  He said there was no need to apologize.  He told me it's very hard, but that "Papa," as he refers to God with his Puerto Rican accent, is a good papa and he'll take care of me.  He told me that for many months he too heard silence, but then he began to have visions of heaven, and dreams in which he saw his wife "and the love and relationship was exactly the same," he says.  "Some people thought I was crazy," he adds.  I do not.

He also told me this: "Julia, the line between heaven and earth...it's very thin...very thin."

Your Birthday

Your birthday was incapacitating.

In the morning I tried to do my normal routine- getting Audrey fed, dressed, cleaning up the kitchen.  I opened up the fridge and a plate with leftovers fell out, shattering everywhere.  I sat on the floor among the shards and cried for you.  For your loss of another year.  It is inconceivable to me that you died at 33 years old and then of course, I always see if from your own perspective and feel your shock for you.

I planned on visiting another preschool and taking Audrey to her music class, but she didn't seem to feel like going either.  I found she had climbed into her crib with the small album I made for her of photos of the two of you.  She hadn't picked it up once yet from the spot where I showed her I would leave it, but there she was by herself looking through all of the photos quietly and showing her stuffed "a -mimals."  At one point she said excitedly flipping, "Mommy, I can't stop!"

I asked her if she wanted to go to music class and she said, "No...I wanna stay ooome."  So we did.  I had told her it was your birthday and I think she was feeling similar to the way I was.

We ate Christmas cookies in bed and watched a video/documentary on animals that I'd taken out from the library.  It was good to see all of the creatures that the earth is populated with- again, it makes me doubt that a place that teems with such extraordinary life is all meaningless and accidental.

Audrey sang her best "happy birthday" to appa and cut a slice of her wooden cake, holding it up to our wedding picture over our bed, to feed you.

A friend I haven't seen in a while called and asked if she could bring lunch over.   I spoke through tears- "Yes...please.  It's harder than I thought today."  She has a new four month old baby and came with Korean food for Audrey and I.

The evening was better.  I met with nine of your friends in Koreatown at a fabulous kalbi place chosen by one of your good friends.  You and I had never eaten there which made it easier for me.  You would've loved it.  It was loud and kind of crazy but I ate a lot and had an OB beer in your honor.

I really wanted to pay for everyone who came out...you always loved to treat people.  I remember being really surprised when we took a fairly new friend of mine and her husband out for Korean in Bay Ridge a few years ago and you insisted on treating them.  We didn't know them very well and we didn't have a lot of money at the time- I think I had recently been laid off.  But that was just how you were.  So...I told your friends I wanted to treat, but they refused.  I told them again, I really want to, in tears, but they were adamant that I should not pay for everyone.   It's funny, money seems so small to me these days.  I figure more can always be made somehow.  So unlike the gift of life and the curse of death.  So human this paper money.

We toasted you one more time, "To Dan, we love you and we miss you," I said, holding back more tears.   Then I gave out the calendars I made of your photos of Brooklyn to everyone who attended and they were impressed with your eye and creativity.  I miss your creative spirit very badly.

I was really happy with how everyone was talking with each other- when most of the people there knew you from different social circles.  Another friend wrote me an email after the night was over telling me that he wasn't surprised by it since any friend of Dan's was probably a really good person.

I thought a few of us might go grab a Guinness at an Irish pub afterwards, but in the end, everyone joined.  We got a pretty private table upstairs in the back.  I had one Guinness, and then another.  Without any formal invitation or organization, we all shared stories of you.  There were smiles...and tears.  A couple of your friends really wanted to know what happened, so I told them what I knew and showed them the last few photos you took in your iPhone (now mine).  We were silent for a moment.

I went to the restroom and spoke to my reflection: "I'm drinking a f---ing Guinness Dan."  I had to tell you.  I smiled at myself.

I guess this is a part of what they call "integrating the lost loved one," taking on some of their traits and characteristics as a part of yourself.   I think that's supposed to be kind of beautiful and healing.  I hate it.  I don't want to integrate you or absorb you into myself.  I like you otherly, surprising, and wholly yourself.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

and we love you always.

Thinking of you today, December 17, 2010, your birthday...

and every day.


genuine...

"Your dad was one of the best people I’ve known. There aren’t a lot of people like him—with his humility, generosity, friendliness, quiet strength, and un-pretended and unpretentious devotion to Jesus—though I wish there were. He was such a Christian, living out really well  and without fanfare what a disciple of Jesus is and does. You should be totally proud that he’s your dad. 

And as special as so many people thought and knew he was, he was constantly humble and treated others as special. Especially you and your mom—he loved you both so much. When you meet him, in some time to come, you will be so psyched, Audrey, that he’s your dad."

truly humble...

"This Dan Cho however, was a one of a kind. He played the cello… professionally! He loved soccer… even during the years that didn’t have the World Cup! He was a rockstar… and humble too. He was a great combo of such crazy oxymorons. All in all, Dan was a genuine quality guy. If you knew him for years or even just a few weeks, Dan could leave such a lasting impression on you with his warm heart and quirky humor."

inspiring...

"I was fortunate to see another side of Dan, having worked with him 4+ years at MediaVest, in a role that couldn’t be further from his on stage presence.  Art vs the science of digital ad trafficking, creativity vs process, on stage adulations vs. behind the scenes in an often thankless role.  And yet the same commitment to excellence, the same dedication to his craft and to supporting everyone around him played out on our stage everyday.  
Dan always put the spotlight on everyone else, praising their work and making sure their voice was heard.  His daily “hey, yeah, how are you doing?” always accompanied by a warm smile was the best greeting of the morning – and usually the evening, as Dan worked tirelessly to make sure we met our deadlines.  Even after he left MediaVest to pursue his dream, he would stop by to check up on us – not to regale us with stories of the tour, but to see how he could help."

and beautiful...

"Dan Cho was a beautiful man who often arrived in the lives of others by way of his incredible musical talent but within seconds of his honest handshake or a glimpse of his cheeky smile, a friendship would begin that transcended the song and became more about the heart...

In this life people often refer to 'best' friends as those who are closest to them, those they have known the longest or have the most in common with, but Dan was simply the 'best' kind of friend no matter the distance or difference. He listened, he never let you down, he made you laugh and he never asked for anything in return. He never meant anybody any harm. He is the benchmark for new and old friends, and the friend I hope I can be to others."

You were surprising...

"Dan was like a box of little surprises. He had so many layers to him. His genuine warmth, spirit and that beautiful smile is what struck me first. But then as I got to know him more hidden treasures appeared. That cheeky sense of humour and his ability to laugh at himself was endearing. His passion for sport and his comical writing ability in his blogs and posts that brightened up peoples days!  He was so kind, caring and humble."

You changed us...

"Dan was the most genuine, humble, and kind person I have ever met.  I first met him at church (St. John’s KUMC) and right away sensed the amount of humility he had, despite all the talent God has given him.  He never cared for being “cool” and didn’t have a mean bone in his body.  During fellowship time, he would make it a point to go and talk to those who were standing by themselves or looked uncomfortable.  He really was that genuinely good, and a pure, kind hearted man."

for just a short while...

"Dan was a wonderfully talented musician, of course, but he was even greater than that in his everyday life. He was incredibly sweet, with an especially gentle, kind manner. He was unbelievably patient, and he was a great friend and listener. Dan (“Mucho Macho”) was creative and fun, yet he did it in a way that was always considerate of others. I’ll miss his “Rawr!” and his kind smile. Audrey, your father was full of love, and I’ll say it again because it’s so true—there never has been anyone sweeter than him."

to each of us...

"I remember him being earnest, almost awkward. I would later come to understand that his earnestness was partly what made him so endearing. And his awkwardness was really a kind of rare innocence."

You were a gift...

Seriously, if there was anyone on this earth who didn’t get along with Dan then that person had some issues.  He was an endearing soul who was humble, gracious, caring, soft and had a surprisingly witty and wonderful sense of humor.  The more time we spent together the more I learned that Dan was a true gift in my life.

You won't be forgotten...

and another one:

every time he played i felt the glory of God and the pleasure of God - and to think that now he will be able to play in the most awesome of bands in heaven for the most important audience of all.

...Because we miss you

Another letter from a friend of yours:


all in all, dan had contagious optimism that all is possible.  he pursued his career dream and lived it to the fullest, by being a musician. how many of us can say that we've even scratched the surface of pursuing our dream job and seized the day? almost none of us, as most of us have compromised our dreams for immediate satisfaction. with dan, he was committed...and i hope we can celebrate his passion for living life to the fullest.

we all think big while growing up as children, hoping to become an astronaut, president, or rockstar. but as we get older, we compromise our dreams and shutter them away and acquiesce to the realities of life. as for dan, he never stopped thinking big and i believe that's how he was able to accomplish some of his achievements in life, such as performing with coldplay and blogging for ESPN. he was a dreamer who followed through on his dreams.

For You Dan

This memorial letter was just one sentence:


I cannot express how much Dan's life reminds me of what a Joyful life should be in Christ.

Feeding the Parking Meter

Another memorial letter excerpt: 

I remember back when we were freshman in college, and I visited him at Berklee. He had a small, cramped dorm room, and he refused to let me sleep on the floor, and made me take his bed. In the wee hours of the morning, without my knowledge, he got up twice to feed the parking meter while I slept, so my car wouldn't get ticketed -- just one small example of his generosity and friendship, which I'm sure you know quite well.

An Amazing Contradiction

OK- so I changed my mind.  I am looking through just a few memorial words people had sent me that I had out on my desktop- not going through all the emails.

This one I had pasted and so I don't know who wrote it, but I remember it really spoke to me about who Dan was.


Dan is an amazing contradiction..
brilliant but humble
ambitious but sensitive to others
fearless but God-fearing

Picnicking

I had been trying to read Annie Dillard a few months before you died.  Just now on my desktop I found these are the quotes I chose to write down from those the two books I got through:

"Who are we to demand explanations of God?  (And what monsters of perfection should we be if we did not?) We forget ourselves, picnicking, we forget where we are.  THere is no such thing as a freak accident.  "God is at home," says Master Eckhart, "We are in the far country."  
We are most deeply asleep at the switch when we fancy we control any switches at all.  We sleep to time's hurdy-gurdy; we wake, if we ever wake, to the silence of God.  And then, when we wake to the deep shores of light uncreated, then when the dazzling dark breaks over the far slopes of time, then it's time to toss things, like our reason, and our will; then it's time to break our necks for home. "

Annie Dillard- Holy the Firm

"Cruelty is a mystery, and the waste of pain.  But if we describe a world to compass these things, a world that is a long, brute game, then we bump against another mystery; the inrush of power and light, the canary that sings on the skull.  Unless all ages and races of men have been deluded by the same mass hypnotist (who?), there seems to be such a thing as beauty, a grace wholly gratuitous."

Annie Dillard- Pilgrim at Tinker Creek



breaking my neck for home...

Already Your Birthday

This is a black night.

Around dinner time I started thinking of your parents and brothers waking up in Korea, on your birthday.  What they must be feeling and thinking.  So it's already your birthday.

Last night a friend told me I'm doing a great job grieving and she's proud of me- "You get an A."  It was an inside joke between us because we've both been slaves to being the "good girl" our whole lives.  It makes me think, yes- I am trying to grieve perfectly.  I am trying to get an A plus in the grief class.  I give up.  It is all disarray.

I was planning on going through all of the memorial letters- hundreds- I received for a book I will make Audrey- but I was telling the friend how down I feel this week and how I dread looking through them.  I looked at some of them briefly, crying, in the earlier days when they were emailed to me by the coordinator, but have not looked at them since.  She told me to let it go.  So, I have decided I will do that.  I will not force myself to read those the night before your birthday.  That will be for another time.

On December 17, 1976, you were born a tiny baby with a whole life in front of you.  It has only turned out to be 33 years.  I am sad for the baby that let out his first cry in the hospital room.  I am sad for the infant girl who was was eight months old living in New Jersey at the time...your future wife...me.

In your own words- in a journal from 1999- right after we met- you tell your own story with your unique humor and innocence.

"I was born in the Doctors Memorial Hospital in Carbondale, IL (Turns out a famous Korean American violinist was born in the same hospital. (David Kim?  Lee?  forget)  Anyways, I was born there in 1976 Dec.  I don't remember much but I bet I was having a ball being kissed and lifted by all the young ladies...Uh, now that I think about it, they're 40 now...sick..."

The Problem with Atheism

No, I haven't felt much like writing this week.  Just logging into the account I have here makes me feel sick, so I've been avoiding it.

Tomorrow is your birthday honey.

I am sad that Audrey never got to celebrate a birthday with you.  The first year she was not even three months old and already sleeping when you got home from work, and last year you were away on the first European tour- ironically you celebrated your 33rd birthday last year in Switzerland- the same place you would die a little more than six months later.  This year she is actually really into birthdays- it would have been so joyful to hear her sing to you.  Even this morning she found the leftover party hats from her birthday, asked me to put one on, and sang a rousing rendition of "Happy birthday to mommy" to me.  I can't help but smile to see her singing with her whole body to me when it's not even near my birthday and I don a pointed purple paper party hat while sitting up in bed.

I told her we could light a candle and sing to you anyway.

I am very sad.

Birthday feels the most difficult so far.  Father's Day will be the second most difficult I'm sure.  New Years' will be no picnic.  But birthday...birthday means a celebration of life- your existence...your past and your future.  Your vacant birthday tomorrow means that you are not here anymore- our past is broken by the foreshadowing I see it with now, and you have no future- at least here on earth.  This is the first year since I was 23 I don't get to wish you a happy birthday Dan.  But can I still celebrate you?  I think that's fair.  I will meet with seven or eight of your closest friends in Koreatown tomorrow night for a simple dinner.  It's a little early to be telling stories and laughing, but maybe we can share some memories and raise a glass to you- quietly in a loud restaurant.

I am in disbelief every day, but I also think as I near the six month mark- a new reality is hitting me- it is cold and takes my breath away.

Audrey is grieving in a different stage as well- I can tell.  She is talking to your picture constantly - "invoking you into the present" a healthy thing, the counselor says.  She also drew a picture of you and colored you black.  The counselor tells me that as I suspect, "Yes, this is very significant."  Black is the color of grief and anger, she says.

For a few days, Audrey insisted that all of her favorite stuffed animals be taken out of her crib saying, "I don't like you anymore," to each of them.  She kept just my t-shirt and yours.  The counselor says she still wants comfort and security.  Little by little over the last week, she's tossed them back into the crib herself.  I am glad to hear her talking to them again at night while falling asleep.  "Santa Claus is coming to my hooouse Hello Kitty!" she says.

The other day I tried to decide on atheism.  (Now doesn't that sound silly- as if I could sit here and make a decision)  It seems easier than trying to believe- not just because of this loss- this tragedy- but because of the way it's caused me to view the world with all of its brokenness.  Many say that is exactly what makes them believe- they tell me, "Doesn't it just make you believe there's more?  Because it's such a nightmare?"

Another young widow points out to me that from her vantage point (her husband died a slow death from illness), she could actually see the separation between soul and body taking place, and she found herself instinctively, no longer talking to the body that lay in the hospital- but into the air.

Another dear friend visits me one night this week- after I blogged about someone coming over to sit and cry with me, she emailed right away and volunteered.  Anyway when she visited, she pointed out that one life has been lost, but she believes my life is just as precious and she doesn't want to see mine lost as well.  She wants me to take care of myself.

This seems to be an ongoing theme- self- care.  Something the counselor also mentioned last week.  Being kind to myself.  A skill I've certainly never had.  The counselor even tells me to go shopping.  Another friend I speak to weekly on the phone brainstorms with me last night about ways I can do this.  I tell her on my giant to-do list I have "get teeth cleaned" and "take vitamins" under self.  "Oh, that sounds like lots of fun, Julia," she replies sarcastically.  She suggests a glass of wine, a bath, and a good book in bed.

Though none of these things ease the pain- I suppose they can't hurt.  Maybe they will temporarily distract.  I don't know why I've always been one to avoid distraction from the task at hand or help in a painful time.  When I get a headache, I don't want to take aspirin.  No, I had to try to do natural childbirth.  And no, I don't want a TV or any other comfort.  No antidepressants for me thank you.  Am I punishing myself?  I'm not sure.

Your death becomes more real to me when I hear others talk about it- maybe that's another reason it's helpful to keep talking to friends who help me process.  I don't really talk to my own parents about it much, but when I do hear them say something about it, I think, "Wow, Dan actually died."  It reminds me of when I first reached them on 9/11.  I spoke to my dad from my old cube at Random House in Times Square and he was choked up on the phone.  I hadn't realized at that time- I think it was before both towers fell, how bad this was or what it meant.  But when I heard him, I knew.  It's like that now when I talk to others about you Dan.  I speak aloud here, and I write and write, but when I hear it from someone else's mouth- I understand it as a concept outside of myself and my own mind that has actually occurred.

The problem with atheism is this.  It feels very dark.  Duh.  It provides absolutely no standard for good or evil so therefore, even your death can't be called good or bad.  Professor Siittser, the man who lost his wife, daughter, and mother at once, puts it this way:

"If there were no God, there appears to be no ultimate reason why we should feel one way or the other, since emotions like grief or happiness have no grounding in a greater, objective reality outside the self.  In an atheistic worldview, it becomes all but impossible to establish the absoluteness of truth and falsehood, or good and evil, or right and wrong...It is the fact that we identify something as bad that makes me want to ask, "Where did we get the idea of good or bad in the first place?"

My friend says the fact that I view atheism as dark means that I've known something else.  Yes, of course I have.  And that other young widow last night while chatting late online says, "So if you get to the end and decide on that, that's how you're going to live your life?"  Something like that.  And you see, that's the problem.  What I decide- or where the process leads me, certainly won't determine where you are Dan, but it will determine my life and in large part, Audrey's childhood.  How can I possibly raise her to believe in a meaningless world with random acts of tragedy like yours that can't even necessarily be termed evil without any absoluteness of good or evil in the first place?  In an email you wrote to me not too long before you death- maybe a week or so before, you wrote that you wanted Audrey to believe in beauty.

I do too...I do too.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Jumbled Thoughts in Words

It feels dark like winter's dusk which feels darker than dusk in summer.

This week feels like limping down the church aisle to see your body lying there.  I stood outside of the church with your mom waiting for your brothers and father to look at you first.  But I caught a glimpse of you lying there from outside.  I trembled.  I was hoping you would look like you- only sleeping- this is not death.  You did not- not at all.

But this week- heading towards your birthday- your 34th birthday- feels like the walk down that aisle that followed...being supported on both sides by friends...crying out...

Maybe this is the holidays that everyone talks about...but it is dark.

I have a real tree up which Audrey loves.  So different just one year ago when I decorated it.  I am playing the same Christmas music I played then, only I remember feeling joy while I got the tree ready with Audrey last year while you were away.  I remember feeling happiness and excitement at our first real tree- and our first Christmas in our own home as a family of three.  This year it is as the rest of life is now- robotic with a forced smile.  Checking off the list for the sake of my child.

Yesterday when I went to download some of the Christmas music from your computer I found a mix you had made for Audrey called "Audrey Kitchen Table Mix"- for her little MP3 player we kept there for her.  I listened to a few of the songs.  I listened for what you heard when you chose them.  I listened in your chair where you sat.

Most of the time the question in my mind that I want to ask others is, "Is this real?  Am I awake?  Is this really happening?"  And sometimes now when I'm alone I say it to myself, "This is really happening!" in  a terrified voice.

I just don't know what to do with my worst fear happening.  I just don't get what life is like after that.  You worry about it, you fear it, but in a way you think if you worry- it won't happen.  You think it's the "worst" so you'll be able to handle the other trials that do happen.  But this...in a way I never could have expected- I'm not sure what to do with.

There is so much less mystery now- five months into this.  So much less protection around me.  It is not you- Regina Spektor's cellist- who "reportedly drowns in Lake Geneva."  It is just..."you"  dancho...mucho macho...haewan...haey...hey you...you.  You died.

"I didn't get to say goodbye...i didn't get to say goodbye...i didn't get to say goodbye..." I repeat as I look into my own eyes in the bathroom mirror last night before brushing my teeth.  It turns into a song...my eyes are bloodshot and different.  I don't know who I'm looking at.

I see you each night beside me flossing your teeth.  This is what you see when your spouse dies...moments like this...common moments.

And all the time now, I see not just you- but I see all three of us.  When I take the ferry into the city on Mondays- I look to the walking path from our building back on the shore- and I see all three of us- walking...we're pushing Audrey in the stroller.  I see it so clearly...my family.  Maybe we're really there...maybe time is just in our minds.  Time is just change- nothing more.  Change is breaking down/mortality.  A friend forwarded me an interesting article on time- and a new study that shows just that- it may not exist.  It hurt my brain to read it, but it was hopeful.  There is definitely something strange about time isn't there?  something offputting...not beautiful.  It's like we try to capture life in photo albums and videos because it's constantly slipping out of our fingers.  From the moment we're born we are dying aren't we?

Audrey woke up at 6 am this morning screaming about her play kitchen utensils- must have been dreaming- but I couldn't fall back asleep afterwards- and for the first time- I saw your dead body.  I had completely blocked it out and even if I tried to picture it, I just saw you alive sleeping.  But I caught just a glimpse- so it must be in my brain somewhere.  I hope I don't catch it again.

I created a photo calendar of photos you took of Brooklyn for your birthday and linked to it on Facebook  so others could order one of they wanted to.  You were such a good photographer.  We both enjoyed taking photos- even with our cheap camera- we were always handing it back and forth to take photos and then when we saw them arguing over who took the good ones.  "Oh you took this one," I'd say jokingly if it wasn't good.  But actually you were great.  So I put this together as a way to remember you each month- as a way to carry just a part of you into 2011 with me.  You never thought you wouldn't be here - did you?  You never thought this.  You wouldn't imagine it Dan.  You just couldn't believe it.

My faith wanes.

This week I also plan on going through the hundreds of memorial letters I received ( I requested them to create a book for Audrey) around the time of your death.  I will choose a compilation of the most beautiful things people said about you and post it on your birthday.

You see, I can't stop loving you.  It's like when we first fell in love and both of us had this unbelievable, relentless amount of energy to create things for each other.  I have that now...again.

It is lonely.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Baby Shower Questions July 2008

I can't believe in July of 2008, you were answering these questions about our baby to be...and by July of 2010- you were dead.  A friend who had helped ask you these questions (which were read as a surprise to me at the shower) just emailed this to me.  More weeping for me...thanks Abbie- I guess.


QUESTIONS FOR DAN


1.  What excites you most about becoming a dad?

being able to hold the baby in my arms


2.  What do you think will be Julia's strengths as a mom?

way too many.  she is very wise, and always stands for what is right.  she'll teach honesty and integrity, to do what is right always, and how to be polite and good.  she'll always be loving


3.  What do you look forward to as a parent?

when the baby becomes MVP of the 2022 world cup (i'll take the superbowl or the oscars/grammys/espys) and thanks us on the podium.

ok, kidding....

i look forward to seeing & learning the world through the baby's eyes.


4.  What will you be in charge of, task-wise?  (ex: diapers, laundry?)

i will play with the baby.  and that's it.

ok, kidding.

i will change the diapers as long as they are not cloth diapers.


5.  What do you think will be your strengths as a dad?

i think i'll be fun and amusing to the kid, that i would make him/her happy easily.
  


6.  What do you look forward to teaching Baby Cho?

how to play soccer, piano, and build legos


7.  If you could tell Baby Cho something right now, what would it be?

that he/she is & will be loved no matter what


8.  Do you think Baby Cho is a boy or a girl?

i don't care either way.   if i say one gender, and turns out to be the other, he/she won't like it.


9.  If you could dedicate a popular song to Baby Cho right now, what
would it be?

not too many people know this song, but 'my eyes' by travis
'beautiful day' by u2
'born in the usa' by springsteen?


10.  Is there anything you'd like to tell Julia right now?

she will be the world's best mom, and she can still continue to be the world's best wife if she wants to. 

Playing Cello in My Dreams

It feels like there should be an end to such brutality- but there's not.

I am so jealous of everyone on Facebook who posts about a cold that they can't shake, or a bad commute into work, their favorite sports team losing, or their kids tiring them out.  Sure, no one posts about heavy topics on there really- so one of those same people might be going through some really difficult stuff.  I don't know that they aren't.  But I'm still jealous when I read those.  This is self-pity talking I think and I have to watch out.  But the"why me" question I thought I wouldn't ask a few months ago, appears in my head a lot more often now.

I notice too that friends who invite me to spend time with them, do so when their husbands are away or working.  I remember that- wanting to spend time with your husband if he's there.  And then if he was out or away, that was the perfect time to catch up with girlfriends.

I can remember when we were first dating, I just didn't really want to be with my girl friends anymore.  And if I was, I was counting down the hours until I could be with you again.  Right from the beginning, you were my absolute favorite person to be with Dan.

And I can remember sitting around a conference room at Random House before a meeting and people discussing their favorite actors.  My boss at the time asked me who I liked, and I, 24 years old, replied quite matter of factly, "Oh, I think my boyfriend's the cutest guy in the world."  And I meant it.  I felt so lucky to be yours.

I can't believe you're not coming back.  I can't get it through my head.  It feels like I'm waiting to see you still in the back of my mind.  I keep pushing through...pushing...

Today while she was trying to nap, though unsuccessfully in the end, I heard Audrey say, "I wish you'd come back from your trip Appa."   and then "Are you in heaven with God?"

I want to fix things for her- heal her heart...make it better- the way you do as a mother.  "Mommy stick it togetha with scotch tape!" she often says if something breaks or rips.

Last night you were in my dream- as I imagine you are most nights- nothing supernatural- just a dream with you in it.  I acted very aloof in the dream, as if I didn't want you to think I had been worried and devastated, but your death wasn't even mentioned.  You came in our bedroom and then I asked you to play the cello- it hasn't been played in over five months now and I know it's supposed to be played to stay in good condition so this is probably on my mind.

In the dream I saw you playing so clearly.  I saw your fingers...and I heard your music.  And it was absolutely stirring.  Maybe I am too hasty to say it was nothing supernatural.  I heard you playing cello in my sleep.

Last week I remember at least two friends quoting the same verse to me- the one in the Bible where the guy goes, "I believe...help my unbelief."

This week I do not believe.

It is despair, horror, pure sorrow.

Help my unbelief.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Chaotic and Quiet

Yesterday the counselor gave me some ideas for art therapy for Audrey.  She said that since she seems so advanced in terms of her understanding and grieving that maybe I can help her to have a means of expression, besides just the other projects I've been doing myself.  She suggested little play animals or figures that could potentially be a family to see how she plays with them, or even simply asking her to color a picture of appa.  The things I have I can then keep for her to see when she's older how she dealt with this.

Sitting nodding my head and taking some notes on the ideas, I felt the shock and utter sadness that this is about my daughter and that she has to start at this place at only two years old.  And I am always aware also- that she is not the only child who has lost a parent.  Think of all the children- all the orphans.

After counseling, I was out on 34th Street waiting for the bus when an ambulance came by.  I deliberately covered my ears with my fingers as you always would.  And when I did, there was an eery moment- the people everywhere, crossing the street, seemed to pick up their pace.  I saw all of the movement of the city but with my fingers on my ears it was all muted.  The cold wind was blowing through my hair and there was beauty in the contrast of the chaotic and quiet I experienced.  I thought I felt you there too.

Today we were busy checking out preschools and attending a holiday concert at a local play space after her nap.  At the concert, I was surrounded by moms of toddlers, many with pregnant bellies, looking the way moms do- chasing after toddlers.  I ran into one mom whom I'd met at a birthday party last year.  She had a little girl Audrey's age at that time, and today I saw she had a new baby boy.  "Hey, how've you been?"  she asked.  "Oh, OK."

In the middle of the boisterous singing and shaking of instruments, I felt overwhelmed with sadness.  This is how it happens.  I think, "This is really true- I will never see you again.  This has really happened."

Tonight Audrey begged to sleep in my bed again.  After I explained that I'd be right across the hall, not far away, she said, "Mommy's not going to diiiieee.  Mommy's not going to leave..."

"No, I'm not," I said.  I explained that Appa didn't have a choice, but had an accident, and that we'll always be a family and he loved her very much.  She went to her little Hello Kitty doll and took out our family photo and spoke to you, "We love you and we miss you appa."

"Yes, we do.  We do."  I said.  Then I began to cry.  What had been building all day perhaps.

"Mommy's kai 'in"

"Yes, mommy's crying.  Sometimes it's OK to cry for a little bit if we're sad."


In my room, I remember little details- things in my life that happened back then- things that I thought had meaning and significance.

When we were engaged, I went to a wedding fair at the venue where we were to have our reception.  There was food, and stands set up with photographers, florists, etc.  There was also a raffle for a trip to the Bahamas.  I remember telling my mom that I wanted to stay until the end incase I won that raffle- I don't think I'd gone on a vacation in years at that point and it sounded really good.  Like a child, I remember thinking/praying, "God, if you really love me, you'll give me this vacation."  Ha.

Well, lo and behold in a large ballroom full of people, I won that vacation raffle.  And when I opened up the envelope with all of the information, inside was a heart-shaped lollipop that said "I love you."

A few weeks before you left for the tour, we went to Chicago as a family.  On our way back home, all of the flights to NYC were either delayed or canceled...except ours.  I wasn't sure what I would've done with Audrey if we had to wait around or stay at a hotel another night- though now in retrospect, we would've simply managed.  But I thought it quite fortuitous as we watched all of the flights change to "cancelled" on the blue television screen, that ours was "on time."

There are many more of these small and large occurrences that signified meaning and care to me throughout my life.  Christians are always saying how much God cares about the details in our lives, but then when something like this happens, it feels like it kind of overrides that stuff...would God give me a trip to the Bahamas and let my husband die?  Would he keep my flight from being cancelled and let my daughter grow up without her father?

I'm not willing to totally negate the meaning of those smaller experiences yet, but I have to say that they seem ridiculous to me right now, and I do think religious people should be very careful about how nonchalantly they guess at God's involvement in their lives and the world when they really do not know.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Five

It is five months.

I ride the ferry into my counseling session and think about how the two wordless times in my life- falling in love with you- and this time- have also been the most word-filled.  I say I have no words, there are no words...and I write and I write.

There is not one second Dan that I don't grieve for you.

I am proud of who you were, and proud that you chose me as your wife.
I will love you forever.

And just as I said on the day of your funeral,
I will see you again, my love.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Welcome Home

A short post because I'm tired after doing my freelance work.  It is taking me so much longer now because I just can't seem to focus on smaller things in life.  I want to hurry up and finish so that I can think about you and this...situation... I find myself in.

Audrey and I went across the street this morning to get bagels.  That was always your job.  She wore her fuzzy pajamas and the bright green rain boots you got her- at her request.  I wore the top I slept in with pants and my coat over it.  "Remember appa used to get us the bagels?"  "Now we're going to do it!"  As I walk outside into the cold morning air, I feel like I'm walking in your footsteps and wonder what it felt like to be you...truly.  I wish I had thought about this more when you were alive.  When we're walking back with the mission accomplished, I look up at our window where we would've been waving to you.  That was your view.

I feel nauseous a lot lately.  I think it's just my body's way of responding to the confusion and sadness.

I want to describe to others what this is like but I can't.  The closest I can get is to say it's total transportation- I am someplace else now- and the people I talk to - they're my link back to the old world I grew up in until July 6th.  But the link doesn't work really.  It's like when I was in labor - the worst physical pain of my life- and on my hands and knees on a hospital cart breathing and watching nurses calmly walking around in the triage unit.  I remember thinking about how vastly different their reality was right then than mine and comforting myself with the fact that after this was over, I too would be like they were then- freely walking around- without this painful struggle inside me.  I have no real hope of that now though- the widows I talk to who are much further down the road, give me no sense of that.

So I am transported.  And the other word, I am disoriented.  I see everything that looks familiar- and the biggest of these things is a little girl named Audrey who told me "You're a good singa mommy" today and when she saw the angel ornament blowing the trumpet on the tree in our lobby this afternoon, "dat's funny mommeee!"  I noticed the other day, because she's really into hanging upside down, when I was holding her that way in front of a mirror- she looks like you Dan.  Upside down, it turns out she looks strikingly like you did-  upside down...something about the eyes.  I held her there for a minute while she laughed, staring.  So I've got this little girl, and a cello, and some clothes but I am disoriented.  Playing in my mind all day are memories from the past eleven  years.  They all come back- not just the times right before you left.  In one book I read how life was moving like movie frames- so quickly that you can't see the individual frames, but then it stops- and you just see one frame at a time.

I think to myself today that maybe your death seemed more real in the early days- even though I felt insane using the past tense to speak of you a few days after you'd walked the earth so full of life, reality pointed to something huge.  I mostly sat in my bed in my room while many friends came and went- bringing food, watching Audrey, crying.  But now...now my days proceed almost normally as if you are just away.  I throw myself into creating a healthy routine and joyful childhood for Audrey- we do crafts and bake.  But things are different than when I strived to do those things before.  I spill a whole glass of milk all over the counter and under the microwave, but I don't mind at all.  It can be cleaned up.  Everything can change- except for one thing: death.  Amazing how that changes your perspective on every single thing.

I try to remember what it was like before all of this, but it's like a baby trying to remember what it was like before he was born.

I watered the cello today while Audrey was awake.  She was excited.  She is constantly saying that she's going to take lessons and "play appa's cello."  When I clumsily opened it up, she exclaimed, "I'm very happy!"  Then I watered it and played a few horrible sounding strokes because I have no idea how to play a cello and she said, "Mommy's playing da ceeelo!"  "

"Well, sort of," I say.

While she's in her crib before bed, Audrey takes out the photo of our family from her Hello Kitty doll and talks to you.  I hear her on the monitor and stop what I'm doing.  "Appa diiiiiiiiiiied."  "But mommy's still here.  And Audrey's still here."

So far, the holidays are not frightening me.  I am defiant to this whole rule that they must be dreadful.  I still maintain that every day is that way and because of the plans I've made (traveling), the holidays may actually provide more of a distraction than I've had so far.

But I do keep thinking about December 22nd of last year, because that was the day you came home from the first European tour.

While you were away, I'd gotten our first real Christmas tree and decorated it with simple red bows, and a few red fabric hearts I'd stuffed and sowed together from an old pair of red corduroy pants of mine.   I think there were two real ornaments- one gold heart someone gave us that said, "First Christmas" that has our wedding picture inside, and one plastic Hallmark ornament with Audrey's picture from her first Christmas.

I'd also strung up white lights around the windows, purchased a small wooden nativity set, and bought one of those cinnamon brooms from Trader Joe's.  It smelled quite "cinnamony" in here.  I was playing Charlie Brown's Christmas music and baking roast chicken, with carrots and potatoes in the oven.  I wanted you to come in and feel... ah, home.

It was snowing a lot that night, and I think when you came home, you actually went back out to shovel our parking space a little bit.   But by the time you came in, the apartment smelled strongly of the roasted chicken and veggies in the oven and we all sat down together as a family to eat dinner.

I keep thinking of that homey atmosphere on a snowy day on December 22nd, 2009, and the one thing that seemed to create it-
the expectation of your arrival...
of welcoming you home.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Contentment

Some thoughts in the shower just now...

I've been so fixated on your body beneath the ground lately.  Other widows and friends tell me- "but you didn't love his body, but his soul right?"  And "it looked like a shell so much right? Because it was."

I did love him in his body though- but yes, it was a shell.  But it is still horrifying that it's under the ground.

But I thought to myself in the shower- "Well, he's not suffering."  Whether he's annihilated completely with his body, or in existence and awareness in some other realm- he's not suffering.  I, in fact, am the one suffering.  But then I thought- being annihilated- this does feel like suffering.  Because something in us does want to last...if not suffering because he can not be aware to know all of this- it certainly is a loss for him, the greatest kind of loss.  So, no, he may or may not be aware/alive- but if he is not- that is not something I can make peace with and say those words you often hear when someone dies of a long illness- "At least she's not suffering anymore..."

My questions over whether or not we are more than just physical bodies continue.  I tell a friend, but then it's quite coincidental that when our bodies break down- that's the exact moment our souls depart...I mean, if they just randomly left the body behind one day - it'd make more sense.  But maybe not- or maybe that is what happened to you.  Or maybe it makes sense because if the body- the earthly home of the soul- is no longer useful- the soul has to go someplace?  Christianity is the only religion offering redemption of the body- like Christ rose again in a body- eating food, sleeping, and being touched.  I hope this is true, but I have no way of knowing.  Grieving though, more than anything else I've ever done- asserts that yes- there is a soul.

I've been asking also lately- if the fact that Christianity- which is the religion I know the most about- provides hope-comfort ( a new word I think I just made up)- if not answers, for every question or need I would have regarding your death- does that provide further evidence that it is in fact a man-made religion thought up to do just that?  But then I think...would this be the particular story men would come up with?  A carpenter?  A cross?  And would those who testified to seeing that risen body die for it if it was just a ruse?  Would they be tortured for it.  I don't know any of these answers- but questions are good too.

Alongside the sorrow, I find strangely, contentment.  Again, it's not apart from the suffering or sorrow- but right alongside.

Something like taking a shower and sitting on the bed looking out the window at sun streaming through the clouds feels, amidst sorrow- like contentment.   Most things I do have this feeling to them now.

I feel angry that I couldn't have been this way when you were alive.  But it's not a lesson I could have learned then.  It's not a lesson.  I did my best then as I was with what I knew.

For years I've had this analogy in my mind.  I felt I was living my life like I was sitting on a straight, tall, ladderback chair.  Rigid, straight up and down.  But what I knew I wanted, was to sink into a soft, upholstered, chair with down cushions.  The kind that conforms to your body and you could fall asleep in.

Now I sit in sorrow.
Now I sit in my down chair.

Easter Egg Hunt

Finding a burst of energy today- I think because we are expecting a good friend and her family this afternoon- a sense of expectancy really changes things.

It was a busy morning- we somehow wound up piling up every big blanket Audrey has on her playmat- Korea is big on blankets so we have quiet a few from there from my inlaws.  She enjoyed dancing around on the blankets.  Then, since I'd already braved my out of control closet to get the blankets, I decided to get out our few Christmas decorations.  Audrey enjoyed putting our wooden Nativity set out.  She actually seemed to remember it from last year which I found unbelievable since she was fifteen months old then.

I took out our stockings- the ones I had specially made by an Etsy seller last year.  I've already written this story- but yeah- you were in Scandinavia on tour and told me seriously that you kept seeing the words "God  Jul" there and that you thought God wanted you to focus more on him and I.  Of course, I told you later- and you found out- that means "Merry Christmas" in Danish.  But I thought it'd be neat to incorporate into our holiday decor and stumbled upon this Etsy shop that makes burlap stockings with the print "God Jul" on them.  I remembered them, so I wasn't shocked to see them- but what surprised me was seeing four of them- I thought I was going to have another child and knew it'd be hard to get a matching one later, so I just got it.  Isn't there a superstition about this?  About not getting baby gifts until you're further along, etc.  Yes, there is.  This must be why my life fell apart.

Anyway, I decided to hang up the three stockings to remember you.  We will always have three in our family- and that doesn't change.  Because you had an accident does not change the fact that you are my  husband- and Audrey's father.

I also hung up the ribbons I hang up our holiday cards on with miniature clothespins by the entryway.  I received our first card yesterday.  But it was funny because Audrey must be in tune with my feelings about the holidays- my love of Easter above all holidays right now- because she was most interested in the plastic Easter eggs and her Easter basket that she found in the "holiday" bin I took down to get out the Christmas decorations.  I think because she remembered the egg hunt we went on last year as a real memory.  In fact, she insisted that we go outside and hide the eggs.

It's one of those bright, cold days here- but we bundled up, carried out her basket filled with pastel colored plastic eggs and I hid them in the landscaping in the back of our building.  I saw our reflection in the glass- me in my long down coat- her in her scarf and hat and coat- holding a large Easter basket- and thought- "Yes, I have truly gone crazy."

It was fun though.

I ran into a Korean neighbor from down the hall who had a baby boy this past year.  We chatted a bit and then he went to get his car- he was pulling it around to pick up his wife and baby.  I saw him waiting there when we went back inside.  Then, when the elevator got up to our floor- there was his wife- who doesn't really speak English- with the baby all bundled up in a dark green snowsuit.  "Hi, wow- he's getting so big," I say.  And then as I turn to walk down the hall- just like that...the pain rises up.

That's how it happens.  And I can barely contain it.

I think about how much I miss that- you getting the car or the packages, while I take Audrey or vice-versa- that sense of team work.  We were complete opposites on so many levels- but when we had to- we got pretty darn good at that.  We had it down for when we'd go out with Audrey in the stroller- "you buckle her in, I'll put the stroller in the trunk."  Soon we didn't have to say anything.

Back inside, we hide the eggs one more time in the apartment before I put them back in the holiday bin and we eat some lunch.

I think about how I feel like acting this role.  It's too exhausting to live it- but act it- I can do.  Coincidentally, I feel like I saw quite a few movies where a spouse dies this past year- "PS I Love You"- that one while you were away- you wouldn't have wanted to watch it.  And together we saw, "The Time Traveler's Wife."  You said it got bad reviews- you were always obsessed over movie reviews- but you were pleasantly surprised.  I cried watching both of these movies.

But they were movies.

The set design makes the grieving widow "work."  I think that's why these days when I'm in the city, I feel I can play this role easier- it feels more like a movie walking down a NYC street than here in NJ where I live in a condo built in the 80's.

There was an interesting point in a Tim Keller sermon I listened to online last night- he was breaking down a verse in which he said, God basically says, "I love you, because I love you."  He gives no reason- because, Keller asserts- if you love someone for  a reason- that reason becomes the basis of your love and their identity.  As romantic and cliche as it sounds, he says, this is the way to truly love.

This comforted me.  For years, I had thought of a conversation I had with a spiritual mentor when I was fresh out of college.  I had just met you Dan and I met with her at a diner and told her all about you.  "What qualities about him do you love?"  she had asked from her side of the booth, squinting her eyes a little bit.

I didn't know.  I could list good things about you- your gentleness, kindness, and many talents- and I think that's what I told her- but behind my words, I was actually thinking- "Oh, no- I'm not sure why I love him?  I just do...maybe that means I'm just physically attracted to him."  I thought of that conversation when we struggled sometimes- that maybe I'd made a mistake- and maybe I hadn't paid enough attention to the "qualities" I wanted in a man.

But no, that conversation from eleven years ago is put to rest now.  I love you Dan, because I love you.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Size Four Engagement Ring

In her crib now, talking to herself- I hear Audrey saying, "He doesn't live in Austraaaalia mahhmmy, he lives in heaven with Gaaaaahhhd."

We had a pretty full day- went to a new music class Audrey started at a play space where she also played for a while.

In the mail, I received the 199 photos I had made of Audrey and Dan since she was born.  I sat looking through them on the floor while she danced around.  I tried to pick eighty for the little leather album I'm making her.

As I slide the photos of Audrey smiling and Dan hugging or kissing her into the clear plastic sleeves, I wonder, when they didn't have photographs- what was it like when someone died?  Was death more real than it is now?  Was it easier to comprehend because there was no visual reminder- the person was literally "gone."  Does technology clutter death in its purest form?  Or was it harder to connect the new reality death brings with the old life because you had no remembrances of it.  At any rate, it certainly must have been different.

From the moment she wakes up, Audrey doesn't stop talking, Dan.  This morning when she woke up, the first words out of her mouth were, "You had a good honeymoon mahhmy."  Wonder where that came from.

At breakfast she points at the continents on the wall map by our table and tells me she's going to drive me to Africa to live there.  At dinner she said, "You're a good cooker mah mmee" Before putting her to sleep, she told me, "Maahmmy, I like your head and your eyes mahhmy."

But also, she runs up to your photo a lot and shows you things she does throughout the day.  I think she really misses that- because while you were still here, I would so often say, "Wow- look at that- go show appa!" or "We'll show appa when he comes home!"

At some point this afternoon, I was in the kitchen and hear her saying, "Can you hear me apppa?  Can you hear me appaaa?" while talking to your photo.  I weep.

Sometimes I hear myself talking about you in the past tense and I still think it sounds absolutely ridiculous.  I think about how when you first have a baby and they ask you her name at the Dr.'s office, something about it feels false too- because you've literally chosen the name and now you're calling this baby by it.

My wedding ring is bothering me lately because of the cold weather and some lost weight, it's very loose and constantly moving around.  Do you remember how many times I got it resized when you gave it to me Dan?  I had emailed you photos of the 30's style ring I wanted before we got engaged- probably years before since we dated for five long years.  You told me you searched through hundreds of photos in the store before choosing mine.  When you gave it to me, it was very big, falling off my finger.  So I took it back to Mrs. Sung- the Korean mother of a friend whom you bought it from on 48th Street in the Diamond District.  She sized it down, but I was disappointed wearing it after picking it up because it still felt too big to me.  "Look?  Isn't it too big?" I'd ask you as I wildly shook my hand so that it would fall off.  So she put a special prong on and then it was too tight.  Again, I went back.  Then she added two little balls on either side.  So it's a size four with those two little balls- I have very small fingers.  Then yet again, I had to bring it back because I held it up to my ear and shook it and could hear a faint jingle- like something was loose...the diamond.

After we got married, you went back to her a few times to buy me special gifts- the last one was a strand of pearls.

I last saw Mrs. Sung at the receiving line at your wake Dan.  I haven't seen her in a few years, but I recognized her immediately and we cried together.

I am very sad.

People are always saying, "Let me know if you need anything, really."  And I smile and say, "OK," but I don't really mean it.  "Um sure- can you come sit and cry with me tomorrow night?  I'm tired of doing it alone."  I am very grateful, but it's not easy feeling so needy.  I feel like such a bother all the time so I try to space out who I call or chat with online.  I know hearing from me is certainly not going to brighten up anyone's day.  But the truth is, it is very lonely- and very hard and I realize the grief is mine alone to carry.  No one can do it for me.  I try to think about what I need- since people keep asking me that- but there's not really an answer.   I realize that the only time people hugged me and cried with me was at the funeral.  I still cry multiple times every single day, but with every passing day it becomes more uncomfortable to cry in front of others.  It feels like they just can't handle it.

I think about suffering- and the randomness of it today.  I think about all of the nasty people who will live to a ripe old age.  I think about how all the grief books point to all the "growth" I can experience and even Elisabeth Kubler-Ross saying that before she died she had to learn a few more things.  I don't think I buy this line of thought- does that mean Dan was done learning?  That he had learned everything he needed to know?  Does that mean because I am still here I have so much more to learn and grow?  And what about the bitter, mean people of the world who will not grow but will just keep living out their days here- treating the rest of us like crap.  That doesn't seem fair at all.

I prefer to stay away from this formulaic reasoning and I prefer to say we just don't know why someone is not here and someone is.

I am tired now...