Monday, February 28, 2011

Filing Jointly

I've just itemized your expenses from 2010 in the template given to me by the accountant.  Going through the receipts yet again.  It's one of the most draining things I've done in a while.  Seeing that you gave the extra penny to get back even change on such and such a date broke my already broken heart.  I am thoroughly exhausted and saddened- and...wide awake at 12:30 am.

But it is done.  This is the last time I will file "Married filing jointly."

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


At first it was raw, sharp, and unabated.

Now it is numb and full and deep.  

I have felt like isolating lately.  I realize my phone never rings anymore.  I can't think of receiving a single phone call after Audrey sleeps in months maybe- unless I previously "scheduled" it with a friend.  I mention this to the widows last night at my second dinner- "They all think you're better," one woman answers.  I don't know if I agree with this, but I know that life is just full for people at this age.  Still, I found myself telling the counselor last week, "I don't know why, I just keep thinking of the word "sacrifice," like I know people have pitched in to help me, but has anyone "sacrificed" anything?  Has anyone done anything that was even inconvenient for them?"  Who knows, maybe they have.  On the opposite side, I am tired of feeling so needy and burdensome. Oddly enough, while I was having this thought initially, "Has anyone sacrificed for me in my suffering?"   in the waiting area of the counselor's office, a large painting of a beaten Christ carrying the cross looked back at me.  

It's too painful to live with the parallel lives for too long- side by side- the one that should be happening and you can still imagine in some other dimension- and this one- the sad one that feels like someone else's life or like a film.

So, today I had this image in my mind of a person with each foot on a different little row boat as they drift in opposite directions.  It looks like a comedy routine, but that's, I think, a fair depiction.   You can't stay in the split position forever- at some point, you choose a boat and the two boats drift away from each other.  

Audrey's been talking about you a little bit more again...yesterday she "wrote" me an invitation on a little slip of paper and said that it was from appa inviting me someplace.  I eagerly asked where, and she just replied, "Somewhere else..."  Today she said it again and her response was different, "Trader Joe's."  She also talks about my birthday party a lot- she's imagining a party for me I think like her she goes on and on about the cake and balloons we'll have.  I asked her yesterday who was going to buy the balloons for me and she replied, "Appa."  

I don't know why I do it- I still keep imagining what it would be like if you came home right Audrey would still remember you and how happy she would be.  More than anything- even my own happiness- I would love to witness the look of joy and surprise on her face.  I was always so excited the days you returned from a month-long tour- after the first European tour in 2009, I took Audrey outside to meet you...her diaper leaked and she peed all over me out of excitement when we saw you.  I was excited too- did I let on Dan?   Another time she was just waking from a nap and you'd come in the apartment quietly.  I didn't want her to be too caught off guard by you being home suddenly while she had slept so I went in to her room first by myself and played with her for a bit.  You were so anxious to come in...and then I said, "Audrey...guess who's here?"  And she looked immediately inquisitive and excited.  Oh that was wonderful when you walked in the room and we were all together again.

Today in the mail I received a third request from the nonprofit "helicopter rescue" telling me if I don't pay $3000 they'll take legal action.  I just don't understand this because the police authorized the "rescue" and they didn't even find you.  It makes me sick to my stomach and disgusts me that a nonprofit would send a new widow a bill like this...

It is very hard to mother and function when the weight of grief and all of its complications are weighing on you- how do you get the mail with your two year old, open this bill- a reminder of the worst day of your life and financial worry, and then tell your daughter she's singing really beautifully?  How do you keep all of this while mothering?  Where do you put it away?  Every day there seem to contain so many of these heavy things- like my life is just a very fragile thread and strung on it are all of these heavy beads...the bill, the tax receipts, concerns about your grave.  Everything has this double connotation with the weight on it- even giving Audrey a bath where she "practices swimming" and tells me she loves summer because she loves swimming makes me sick.  And then these are just the things related to your death- there are also all of the questions surrounding the future which approach me more boldly now- where will we live, what will I do for work? In short, what's going to happen to us?  Tomorrow is my last "free" counseling session, so it feels like everything's slipping away...

This afternoon, I think because I received that bill and felt everything spinning out of control, I started to clean out Audrey's closet which has been out of control for a long time now with giant Ziploc bags of her clothes from each different age: 0-3 months - the teeny tiny ones, 12-18 months- the bags are labeled with a black Sharpie.  Well, I hadn't thought I'd be strong enough to attempt this for a long time, but I started to put things in a box to give away.  And maybe tomorrow I'll sort through all of the bags and just keep my favorite clothes.  I used to be someone who would declutter so easily, but things are different now.  I thought we were having another child...I thought I'd have more time for "babies" and would be using these clothes again.  I say goodbye to that child...and I say goodbye to you again.  I fold up the tiny blue and pink striped hat with the pom pom from the hospital and think of you.  I find the brown checkered pants you brought back on your last trip to Asia that you thought would fit Audrey but was actually size 4 months- I had put it away and told you we'd save it for the next child- and I really, truly thought we would.  I even thought it was a sign.  I put her pacifiers - a bag of different kinds I'd tried but she'd refused all of- into the giveaway box, and the bottles we barely used, and my breast pump. I remember how hard it was to wean Audrey, but I kept telling myself, I'll get to do this one more time at least.  It is hard to sort through these things.  They are from a little more than two years ago- and a lifetime away...Audrey's life - and now yours. 

At dinner tonight, she was singing her favorite song, "Mary Had a Little Lamb," but she's been getting really creative changing songs around and making up her own.  I actually think the last two verses of Mary Had a Little Lamb are very deep..."Why does the lamb love Mary so, the eager children cry?"  "Well, Mary loves the lamb you know, the teacher did reply."  But this time Audrey sang it this way, "Why does the lamb love Appa God?  Appa God?  Appa God?  Why does the lamb love Appa God?"  

The feeling comes...not sharp anymore...but deep- like nausea and like a poisonous gas that's making it's way into my lungs.  This is too much, I think.  This is too much sadness...but this is my life.  This is real.  The tears stream down my face while she continues singing and I try to hope and believe that the Lamb does love you so Dan...and that you are safe somewhere
because of His

Monday, February 21, 2011

Thank You Cards

Other than a few addresses I'm waiting for from your brothers, the thank you cards are complete.

There were just over 200 that I sent out.  I used a direct mail company and created a postcard with a photo of Audrey on the front and back.   I knew I'd never get to sitting and writing out cards and that what I had to say was basically the same for everyone.

I signed the card "Hope and Love, Julia and Audrey" referencing the "faith, hope and love" in the Bible, but I've skipped to the hope and love.

I know I didn't need to send thank you's...if anyone would be unhappy with me for not sending one, they certainly wouldn't be someone I'd want to keep in my circle anyway.   Although it's always nice to receive a thank you, giving, real giving is never about the thank's best in fact, when it's unanimous.  To love without return...this is the hardest thing to do.

Some friends told me not to worry.  Another young widow told me she never did and just had to let go of others' expectations of her.

Going through the stacks of cards and then the excel sheet of those who gave online was a necessary part of my process.   It was both painful and comforting to see the characters of our life through the cards and donations.

I wrote the thank you's because I knew you'd be happy to have all of your friends see that photo of Audrey.  I wrote them because anything attached to you- and this is one of the few administrative things, must be done well, with beauty and grace.  I sent them to honor a way I was not prepared to do, but is important just the same.  I sent them so that just for a few minutes- maybe out of nowhere for those who receive them seven months after your death, people would be thinking of Daniel Cho again.  I took my time writing them in batches over the past few months hunting down addresses I didn't have-- figuring I'd do it after the holiday so they wouldn't get mixed in with those cards-  and this left me thinking that all together for the past few months, people all over the country and world were thinking of you as they received them.

Another item on my to-do list- the one that is carrying me through this hole of a year- done.

Neurons and Synapses

A friend whom I've come to know through this blog emailed me this the other day.  (Thank you, Anne) It's from "The Brain in Love" by Daniel G. Amen, MD:

"What happens in the brain when you lose someone you love? Why do we hurt, long, even obsess about the other person? When we love someone, they come to live in the emotional or limbic centers of our brains. He or she actually occupies nerve-cell pathways and physically lives in the neurons and synapses of the brain. When we lose someone, either through death, divorce, moves, or breakups, our brain starts to get confused and disoriented. Since the person lives in the neuronal connections, we expect to see her, hear her, feel her, and touch her. When we cannot hold her or talk to her as we usually do, the brain centers where she lives becomes inflamed looking for her. Overactivity in the limbic brain has been associated with depression and low serotonin levels, which is why we have trouble sleeping, feel obsessed, lose our appetites, want to isolate ourselves, and lose the joy we have about life. A deficit in endorphins, which modulate pain and pleasure pathways in the brain, also occurs, which may be responsible for the physical pain we feel..."

So that's what it is, my Dan Cho nerve-cell pathways are inflamed.  

In all seriousness though, what interests me about this kind of passage is the interplay between science and souls.  I have to wonder, is this all that's happening?  Can these intense feelings- pain that I never knew was possible- be reduced to a scientific explanation about the neurons and limbic areas of my brain?  (Isn't it insane that we have to "study" ourselves and these bodies we inhabit?  Wouldn't one know one's own body if it was really one's own?) The grief books I don't really read are primarily about the more clinical aspects of grieving- so it's a process- something that can be studied.  What I will go through can be charted and explained.  But that is so contrary to the experience of being here- in this.  

So does this pain 
begin in my brain?  
And did you end when your brain lost oxygen and your body broke down in that awful water.  
Is that glob of gray really responsible for all of this?  

Don't Be Fooled

I may seem accustomed to the words, "My husband passed away..."  "Her father died," though I still usually follow it with "a few months ago," instead of seven months ago.

The other night I finally listened to the last voicemail messages you had left me- on my old cell phone- the ones a friend with a recording studio helped me to capture on disc before I shut down that service.

I was afraid to hear your voice say goodbye to me again.  I braced myself.

I slid the disc into the computer and listened to the messages..."Hey Jul, it's me...I'm at the airport, about to- we're getting ready to get on the plane- just wanted to you're doin...k...I love you...bye."  "Hey Jul it's Dan, just wanted to see how you're doin and how Audrey's doin...k bye- love you."

I record the "just wanted to you're doing...k...I love you...bye" into the teddy bear I bought for myself.  I squeeze it a lot to hear you say those words to me...that goodbye that we didn't get to say.

I keep the tears at bay pretty much all day now, but usually something sets it off by late afternoon.  It's not uncommon for Audrey to come find me in my room in a daze with tears on my face.  I wipe them away and respond to her questions and singing as normally as I can.  "What do you have there!?" "Sure, I'll come see what you built!"  It is a breath-taking dichotomy.

But once she's asleep- I sit in disbelief again- staring at your chair.  Understanding and not understanding at all- simultaneously.

That was then, this is now.  I can't escape this reality- this dimension.  I'm trapped.  So I have no choice but to go on...and hope is the only accompaniment that will make it even feasible.

I had to tell another old friend/coworker of yours today that you were dead.  I saw a message from her on your FB account and replied, "Daniel, my husband, tragically passed away in July.  Feel free to email me as I don't really check this anymore."  And she did, and she was in disbelief.

There is some kind of eery excitement I feel when I break the news like this.  Because I think, there is and was someone, and there are probably others- for whom you still exist in the world.

I imagine that for most people, busy with daily life- there is an assumption that I must be quite accustomed to those words, "My husband died," by now- or that I must be getting the hang of this thing...but even if I seem calm, or even if I'm sending out sympathy thank you's or busy choosing a preschool for my daughter- don't be fooled.  I am not accustomed.  I can't comprehend that I will never see your face again...because it's buried under the ground.  I am not accustomed.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


I think I am giving up.

Giving up at least, on trying to "get" this.

I remember my therapist telling me in one of our first meetings that some of what I experience in the intense time of grief...I will get to keep.  She told me that she, for example, had felt an intimacy and closeness with God beginning in her own grief at the loss of her child, and that this intimacy- has never left her.

For me, it's this larger view of reality.  It's mystical, unsettling, and quite overwhelming to peek through the veil each day and see beyond the visible- even just a tiny bit.  Sometimes I think I hold on to it as a way of holding on to you, but then at other times I'd be happy to let it go- happy to be immersed again in mundane details of life and see just that smaller reality of daily living.  This is what happens after most tragedies.  9/11 broke through the veil for a time- but eventually everyone got lost again in the visible, invincible.  And I know that for most of our friends- they're back to that reality too by now.  But that does not happen for me.  At least so far.  I can't seem to un-see what your death has shown me.  Each day is just about being on a spinning ball of matter in infinite black space...not about what I'll have for breakfast or what the weather will be.  It's a hard reality to bear- and I wonder how long it will last.  I'm afraid lately, it will be one of those things -
that I will
get to

How Much Happens in the First Two Years of Life!

I had a lovely visit today from a special friend.  We met this couple, D and T- at our childbirth class, which I believe lasted something around six weeks- twice a week- it began I believe, the end of July- 2008.  Two years later, two years away from sitting in a circle of chairs learning breathing are gone.

The childbirth class: Dan willingly signed on to all the classes I signed us up for- just about every one the hospital offered.  Often he'd be working late and I'd bring something for him to eat when he arrived.  Boston Market one time I remember.  "You have some too..." he said as he tried to eat quickly while we sat in the circle of pregnant couples listening to the doula who taught there describe the birthing process.  Then we'd get up and practice some of the techniques we were learning as if we were in labor.  We'd head out into the hall and I'd sit on the birthing ball while you massaged my neck or back and told me I was doing a great job.  It was nothing like real labor...nothing.  Sometimes afterwards, I'd have to take the train back to Brooklyn alone, because you would have to go back to the office and work- even at 9 pm.  I hated those times.

At the last class we watched a corny movie showing various women giving birth- all to a soundtrack with heavy drums and with the words, "I am opening up in sweet surrender to my beautiful baby..." We laughed singing that song later at home.

Anyway, we somehow bonded with one couple more than any others.  They radiated intelligence and warmth- she had a PhD in English- something I'd always toyed with.   Dan had just gotten his first gig playing with Regina at a concert in Williamsburg which they wanted to attend, but it ended up pouring that night.  I stood behind the stage eight months pregnant taking photos of you under multi-colored lanterns, but the violinist you'd gotten had big pink hair that kept getting in my way.  Myself and D. went to lunch in Brooklyn a few days before she gave birth.  We were both scheduled to use the same birthing center but both wound up missing the option by hours as we both delivered slightly more than seven days past our due date.  When we met for that lunch, I remember how funny it was that we both had a bag with us and it contained the same thing: a crib mattress cover.  We were on the exact same nesting schedule.

After she gave birth- about a week earlier than me- I remember receiving her announcement email to the rest of the class at a time when I was starting to get really anxious to give birth.  "At the end of it all, will be your baby," she wrote.  I cried reading those words.  They knew they were to have a girl, while we thought we were having a boy but hadn't wanted to find out.

Well, we both had little girls, and we were excited to introduce them, but instead we were forced out of our apartment by the bed bug infestation and it was never to be.  Dan ran into D. one time on Madison Avenue, but that was pretty much the extent of our contact once the girls were born.

Though everything I remember from the first few days/weeks after the phone call of your death is in shards - I do remember D. calling me in tears, telling me that her husband wasn't sure she should call, but that she just had to...I was grateful.

And I remember her face at the wake and funeral, and I think even the burial though I can't be sure.

They have since left Brooklyn as well and bought a home in Westchester and are expecting their second child- a boy.  With sensitivity, she told me to expect this over email before our play date today.

So, our little girls had a tea party today and we each got to meet them for the first time.  Amidst picking up toys and making lunches, we talked about all that has happened in the two years since we sat in a childbirth class together at St. Lukes in Manhattan. I was struck and touched by how well she had read you Dan- only from those classes.  And so I wanted to know if she'd written a letter/email for the memorial I'm eventually putting together for Audrey.  Turns out she had...and it is beautiful.  And here it is:

July 13, 2010

Dear Audrey,
How much happens in the first two years of life! The magical years that your father was with you, thinking of you even when he was away. Working away from home to be the kind of person who inspires you, and perhaps, to be successful in ways that would be a comfort to you. 
The devastating effect of his sudden departure on you and your mother would, we imagine, break his heart. But we also imagine that he would have wanted for you to grow up to pursue passions, develop talents. All of this entails risk, although only very rarely misfortune of the magnitude that your family now suffers.
We imagine your father asking your mother all about you. Gazing at photos of you from hours ago, from the day you were born, from last month. And as we knew him: delightedly sharing with D. in a chance meeting on Madison Avenue a video of you. For your father, two years was a lifetime: yours.
We intuit these things not because we are parents of a girl born only days before you, in the same hospital, but because we knew Dan. The only man in our birthing class who seemed already fully a father, so enamored and engaged and transformed was he by your burgeoning presence. His talking to you in her belly, your mother let on happily, was beginning to interfere with her rest.
In the last weeks of pregnancy, Julia was your home: a thoughtful and beautiful place, like the spaces about which she lovingly blogged. Your father admired openly your mother’s strength and wisdom, apparent before tragedy had altered her life. He would be proud but not surprised by the powerful clarity that has broken from her like lightening or sunlight in the dark days since his death. 
Going forward we imagine your mother’s arms as walls supporting you, her sound mind the roof above your head, the memories of your father as doors to all that you will accomplish and create (yes! you will form letters, you will fall in love).
You, Audrey, have been, for your parents, a view to the intimate, a portal to the infinite. You are the window that your mother will crack when tragedy weighs on her so heavily that she gasps for air, into which she will gaze to see your father. Every day you provide the vitality and light that your father bequeathed to you.
With love and deep sympathy,

Afternoon Evening

From late afternoon until evening I can barely function lately- just real low energy.  It doesn't help that I was always a low-energy person.

It helps that the person I eat dinner with was wearing reindeer antlers and a large tutu.

I love you Audrey.

Holding Up

I like kimchi a lot more than I used to.  Ate a whole bowl yesterday with some duk mandoo gook I took out from a local mandoo place.  I even enjoyed the smell and purposely inhaled deeply a few times.

I have a really hard time using explanation marks in my writing now.  Like even when I leave someone a Facebook message wishing them a happy birthday amidst lots of other excited, "Hope it's a great day!"'s mine is just "happy birthday."

I think a lot about how much I've already changed since you died and how, should you walk in the door right now, we'd have to become reacquainted in a whole new way.  I don't know why I waste my time thinking about this.

I think also about the days and hours before I would receive that phone call.   Though I haven't asked "God, how could you let my husband drown?" a whole lot, I do find myself wondering quite often, "God, how could you watch me those days and hours before, knowing what was ahead for could you watch?"

Another new friend who lost her boyfriend tells me how frightening she's finding the spring-like weather we had last week.  I concur.  It was horrible.

I usually dread the winter and wait all year long for the spring...I've always found it intoxicating.  And I thought for most of this time, I'd find it that way still...hopeful- Easter, flowers, and green leaves.  But I was wrong.  This is the first year I've enjoyed the winter.  All of the snow was a good excuse to stay inside and eased the was a buffer from the world outside.  The exuberance of spring will be less welcome.  It mostly means seasons are truly passing and the one year anniversary is approaching.  I hear from most women that the second year, after all the "firsts" have been accounted for-
is far worse.

I received a brief and kind note from an old friend yesterday saying she prays for me and Audrey and that she trusts God is comforting me and holding me up.  I want to tell those who haven't gone through this- "No,  I have felt no comfort.  There has been nothing supernatural when I sit alone each night and turn off the light when I'm finally too tired to stay awake and I have no tears left.  I have felt abandonment, not 'God with us.'"

But then maybe I have no choice but to acknowledge the "holding up part."  I remember telling you that if anything ever happened to you, "I would just die."  But here I am.

On Remarriage

I am not interested.

It's one of the paradoxes of grief that you can't imagine being alone the rest of your life, but you also can not imagine being with anyone else.

How do you go from waiting for your soulmate patiently- swearing faithfulness, fighting through the most difficult times, to thinking about marrying someone else?

And yet this is what is usually expected of a young widow.  I hear from others in the "club" that they are told, "You're young- you'll marry again..." or "When are you taking off your ring?"  My favorite response to that from a fellow widow, "When I feel like I'm not married anymore."

Everyone wants to "fix" this.  No one wants to know, truly know, the pain that I know.  I understand this.

I made up rules in my head, to which one of your friends told me online it sounded almost funny: "...probably wear my ring for three years..."  He asks me something like if I would ever think about settling for Audrey's sake or for security...I tell him I'd feel sorry for the guy.  It wouldn't be fair.

I laughed with another young widow over the list of qualifications I'd come up with if it was even possible to consider another man:

a) Must have known Dan because Dan was so unique and will always be so important in my life
b) Must be a widower- to understand the depth of the pain one experiences- anyone who has not been through some kind of trauma/loss seems kind of shallow after this.
c) Must be a lot younger so that I don't have to suffer through this kind of loss again...once in a lifetime is enough for me, thanks.

See? It's all quite ridiculous.

Another paradox- I'd love for Audrey to have a father-figure in her life- but can't imagine that figure not being you.  That thought only brings me pain.

We had that conversation- you and I, lying in bed one night- I think the same time we talked about burials and bagpipes..."I'd want you to remarry..." we both said.  But we didn't know you'd die at 33.

Who then, could possibly follow you?

You asked me all the time as I pleaded that we could start trying for a second child, "How could we love another child as much as Audrey?  Isn't she enough?"   I told you we had more love- but children are different than husbands.  Getting pregnant again after a miscarriage really did help me heal.

Your loss- will not "heal."

Do I say all this as a defense mechanism because I am an aging single mother and chances are no one will be interested in me anyway?  Maybe in part.

I won't make any vows.  I'm at seven months.

I read a quote by Betty White on some widow group on FB the other day- her husband apparently died fairly young and she never remarried, "When you married the best, who cares about the rest..."  Succinctly said.

I will say this:

I think I know now why our relationship was always so passionate- in good and bad times...

so many kisses and tears in eleven years...

it had to last a lifetime...

and I believe it will.

I love you Dan Cho.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Sad Stage

I began a new ritual a few weeks ago.  On Friday nights both Audrey and I get to take a bubble bath.  We take them separately but we both use the California Baby "Overtired and Cranky" bubbles.

I take a glass of wine with me to mine.  So grateful for some friends who a few weeks ago came over to cook me a gourmet dinner and brought a few bottles of red wine for me- smaller bottles so that I wouldn't have a hard time finishing them myself.  I nearly cried when the friend explained the reason for the small bottles...both out of gratitude for the extreme thoughtfulness and also out of pain that we will share no more bottles of wine...everything must be sized "for one" now instead of two.

I usually read for a while in my bath and then I start to talk to you without thinking.  Tonight I asked you if you what point did you know you were dying and "this is it..." "Did you know?" I ask, scooping up bubbles onto the bottom of my grandmother's pink wine glasses.

This week I received a call from your older brother about the complete autopsy report which has finally come in.  When he called and asked if now was a good time to talk, I happened to be standing in the exact same spot in the kitchen as when I got the phone call declaring your absence from the world.  "Yeah...I can talk," I said and quickly moved to another room.

I won't go into details in this private matter, but it's enough to say there is still no peace.

The counselor tells me yesterday I am in the "sad" stage now.   Because of course, none of this has been sad before...(I'm just being sarcastic- I know what she means, respect her, and agree with her).  The depressed part and that it's a time to rest and recuperate because my body and mind have been through so much.  We determine together that I've probably been overdoing it just a bit- jumping back into life for the most part, but feeling completely immobilized by 5 pm every day.  I tell her about the new sense of profound aloneness and she suggests that's probably the reason I busied myself with Audrey's Valentine party.  Probably.

I miss talking to you at night Dan.  It's hard to go through a day with a toddler and have no real adult conversation on a normal day- but especially when you're processing all that I am.  I miss our talking at night- and even our silence, as we both did our own thing - in the same room together.

Audrey and I watched some old videos tonight of when she was a "teeny tiny baby" and it was genuinely strange to see you in some of them and hear your voice.  It doesn't feel like you could be dead when I see them.  I can understand that you are absent- that I will have to live this day alone- and then I can do that again tomorrow- but I can't understand the very concept of death.

It was a mild day yesterday while I was in the city and I found my feet taking me towards Central Park.  I thought, "Am I really going to go there?" referring to our favorite spot there- the one where we "knew" and the one on our wedding invitation- the one we visited right before I gave birth to Audrey as a final trip there together before our new family member arrived- the old American Elms create a beautiful archway there...but in the, I decided in light of what we'd just talked about in my counseling session, it would just be too much, physically and emotionally- so I would just take the bus back to the ferry.  It will come- another time...there will be a lot more warmer weather- and a lot more places to walk- "grief walk," I start to call it in my mind.

Then I was sitting in the bus watching all of the people walking around, filling up this city...and I couldn't help but think how very much we live our lives in complete and total denial that we will one day die.  People walking with such confidence and in such a hurry- talking on cell phones with such self-entitlement and permanence.

If, I thought, we were all thrown into a big room and told that one by one we'd be killed by a firing squad or hung or guillotined at some point in the next five or ten years, but for certain- wouldn't our reaction be so different than how we live here?  I'm not proposing that we live a morbid life focused solely on death, but it brought me comfort to think what denial we live in and that yes, though my love has gone ahead...we all are going just as certainly.

And here - in this world- we have the element of total surprise too- no one really knows how it will happen- just that it will.

No one gets out of here alive.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Doing the Taxes

Doing taxes always sucks, but this year it really sucks- and I'm not even doing them.  I read about other widows having breakdowns when they receive the W2's in the mail.  But because you were self-employed, I've been getting a ton of 1099's and W2's so I just threw them in a pile- didn't affect me too much.

But this part- gathering everything together in preparation to give it all to an accountant tomorrow- is hurting.  A lot.

I opened up a big file folder you bought to try to stay organized when you started to do music full-time.  Mostly it has receipts and a few smaller envelopes with more receipts, but there are also some plane tickets, two hotel keys from Australia, some passes for the venues you were playing with, and a photo you bought from a Nature Preserve of you holding a koala.  Audrey was really enchanted with that photo when we saw it online while you were in Australia.  As I open it up now, I start to moan quietly seeing your face- it's so refreshing to see you there...but then I say sarcastically, "I'm so glad you got to hold a fucking koala bear."  It's just so hard to separate the traveling and the touring from your death.  Rationally, I know it was one incident that killed you- but still, they seem to go hand in hand.

I sift through the receipts to make sure they're really business -related and put them in a pile.  I think I'll add them up another night and email the accountant the total for business expenses.  I can tell gathering the stuff is all I can handle right now.  It's taking all of my strength.

Then I remember seeing some white business sized envelopes in your backpack with your handwriting on them when I sorted through it in tears back in July: "Transportation,"  "Food," "Tax stuff," you wrote on them in blue ink.  I kept harping on you that if you were going to do this music thing, you better do it right and keep your receipts so we can treat it like a real business and list all of the expenses.  Yeah, you were trying.  You were listening to me.

So, I had to open up your back pack- the one that I bought you at TJ Max thinking you might need something like that right before your first European tour in 2009.  It's the one that was sent back in a box from Switzerland and still has all of your belongings in it as you left them: sheets with music notes and songs, a Ziploc bag with toiletries- razors, a toothbrush, a couple of professional head shots of you in black and white.  I find the envelopes, take them out, and put them in a pile.

It's painful looking at receipts because they're so detailed.  They tell me where you were on March 14, 2010- what kind of coffee you ordered at Starbucks, when you met your old co-worker for Thai food in midtown, and that your server at a bar in Nashville for the festival was Darla.  (OK, I'm making that up because I don't feel like looking through them again for the sake of detailed writing).

The pile includes the last few receipts from your time here...a trip to Whole Foods two days before you left- it has the ingredients for the last meal I ever cooked you on it: Tilapia, tomatoes, cucumbers (in a lime marinade), with a corn and tomato pasta salad on the side.  You were angry with me that night because of an argument we'd had while getting on Route 4 to go to the park that afternoon.  I asked you to please enjoy this meal because I made it special since it was your last meal with us as a family.  It was.  It really was.

Then there's the receipt from Balthazaar Bakery from the next day- the morning of the day you took a cab and left, one from Pizza Gallery, a few from Whole Foods, Duane Reade where you went to get travel stuff before your trips, Barnes and Noble, the bagel place down the street, and one from Chipotle that says  on top "Life is burritoful."

These little pieces of slippery paper with faded ink feel like bricks in my hands...they are so heavy tonight.

This proves it.  You were really here.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Straight Towards the Sun

This morning I asked Audrey if she wanted to color you a Valentine heart.  The therapist had mentioned that although I am doing a lot of memorial projects for her, it would also help her to do her own...both now and later when she's older and I can show her how she grieved- even at this young age.  So I took a photo of her coloring a paper heart.  She's also into writing letters and leaving them in the play mailbox I gave out at her Valentine party so I asked if she wanted to include a letter.  She scribbled and told me it read, "Dear appa, I want you to come play with me.  Written by Audrey."

Then we tied it to a heart shaped balloon leftover from the party and I grabbed it on our way out to the parking lot and the car for a play group.  I know it's cheesy and she might take it literally- but I told her we were sending that balloon to you.  "Not that appa lives in the sky..." I feebly tried to explain.

"Let go..." I told her.

We watched the heart shaped balloon sale up so quickly into the sky even though it's a few days old.  It headed straight towards the much so that we couldn't follow it with our eyes- it was too bright.

Now because you're further and more cut off from me, the little things I remember are shocking in how they bring me back to my old life.  They cause a ripple in my brain, an excitement...not just "Oh yeah, I remember that time..." but "Yes!  I recall that life..."

Tonight while bathing Audrey I was saying something that included the word brain when a little tune popped into my head I certainly haven't thought of since before you died.  These are the most powerful- music, scents.  They have no intermediary to pass through- the way thoughts go to words and to understanding.  Instead they go straight to the core.

Anyway, this is rather silly, but it was this song to a cartoon called "Pinky and the Brain."  If you were here I'd have first asked you, "What is this tune I'm humming?" because I couldn't remember at first...then it came back to me.  I think you had been watching that on Hulu or something and I'd never heard of it.  You told me about it and then I couldn't get that theme song out of my head.  So we both went around for a week or so going, "Pinky and the brain...pinky and the brain."

Having that silly melody back in my head...the way it transported me back to my old life- eight or nine months ago- but a lifetime ago- before I was a widow- when I was just a wife and mother just starting was almost unbearable.  Because these memories now are so jarring...they bring the continuity - "Yes, that was my life...that was the same me...only I was with you.  I wish I could explain it better in words, but I really cannot.  It is something that is mostly felt and very mysterious.

That balloon this morning headed straight towards the river...and high up into the sun Dan.  It's surreal how you too are getting so far away now...sailing away- out of my reach forever.  When we came back from the play date to our parking lot where'd we'd released the balloon, Audrey looked up in the sky for the balloon asking me, "I wonder where our balloon went?"

"Far, far away..." I tell her.  Far, far away.

Second Valentine's Day

In 2001, I filled my own small red spiral notebook with things that I loved about you.  I typed them up into little poems that I printed out on the computer and then pasted in.  They're pretty corny, don't always rhyme, and have a lot of inside jokes but I have to add them to the word keeping just the same. (though I also edited out a few)   We were 23 and 24 years old.  Things were a lot different back then, but I'm also struck by how much you were the same as you were when you died almost ten years later.

I'm not sure if I showed it that well in the last year or so, but I adored you and adore you still.

"Dear Daniel...I wanted to let you know all the good and beautiful things I see in you- some are funny, some are amazing, and of course, the list isn't complete...just wanted you to know how much I see in you."

You always call me on the phone
when you're hanging out with friends
and when i'm by myself at home
your "checking in" never ends.

You get along with people of all kinds
different classes, races, different minds.

You bring me flowers after work
If I'm sick or my boss is a jerk
You even pick out a happy color
When my day couldn't get any duller.

You work hard to make a living
But you're generous and giving.

You always pray for me
When we struggle or when I'm sad
Your cries to God on my behalf
lift the weight and make me glad.

You have a way of being gentle
it's perfect when i'm being mental.

Sometimes I think you're a history buff
You really know a lot of stuff.

You have a lot of energy
I think it comes from Coke
But generally you tend to be
quick with a smile or a joke.

The sound of your voice
is my favorite noise
I don't think I've found 
a more beautiful sound.

You have a stable mind
And it's steady pretty much all the time.

You never watch dumb TV
you wouldn't waste your time
I guess you're not like me
watching "Friends" every night.

I like your taste in music 
ANd hope you never lose it,
It must be so refined
To be so much like mine!

Your joyful spirit
makes me want to be near it.

Your teeth are so straight
ANd I don't think they're yellow
Your smile is great
my retainer wearing fellow.

You trust in God with all your heart
I think that makes you more than smart.
Reminding me to do the same.
Always praying in His name.

You persevere when things get tough
In your work, music, and in our love.

You tell me over and over
And make sure that I hear it
You like me for my spirit
And not just my appearance.

WIth your sense of direction you always know
Which subway car to be in and which way to go.

Your skin is so clear
You'd never have to fear
ugly pimples like I do
And you use biore on your nose too.

Your creativity is one of a kind
Surprising me all of the time.

You work very hard and late
Whether you're a temp or a perm
I think your work ethic is great.

You sing me night time lullabies
That bring sweet tears to my eyes.

You know so many facts
about the culture of our day
It sometimes astounds me
And I don't know what to say.

You are sensitive to me
You know what I need.
A listening ear
Or just for you to be near.

You bring stuffed animals to life
You make them dance and sing
Kipper, Apeman, and Lion King.

If we hang up late at night
You always call back if things weren't right.

You honor your father and mother
you are an excellent son
I wish I was as good of a daughter
my respect you have won.

You say sorry and thank you more than you should
But I wouldn't change that even if I could.

Your congressman smile
drives me so wild.

You don't have to chatter
about worthless things
The stuff you say matters
Your lyrics I can sing

You always surprise me
with gifts that you buy me
An exotic Indian dress
I never could have guessed

You have faith like a child
You are tender and mild.

You're a man who fears God
and you honor him too.
By the life that you lead
and the things that you do.

I think you must be very smart
To pick up things as fast as you do
To put together every part
Of my trampoline until you were through.

You sure do have a grateful heart
I hardly know just where to start
But you bless me with your thankful thoughts
IT's something I definitely need to be taught.

I love the way you ask me
..."how are you?"
every time we talk or write
what a selfless thing to do.

I have to agree with the rest
You are one humble guy
and not just in music
but every respect

Your analogies are the best
I always get so blessed.

I didn't think I'd ever like feet
But I think your bladefoot's kinda neat

Hospitality is a gift of yours
You always pass the test 
You demonstrate your servant's heart
In waiting on all of your guests.

Conan, VH1, and Les Mis too
You take me to cool places
Like Central Park and to the zoo.

You can write picture perfect songs for me
But on my birthday you had to plead
to get a room to play
at the University.

When I get discouraged
You're so quick to encourage
You always know what to say
Make me feel better when we pray.

Always complimentary
Telling me I'm pretty
There's no better man
than my boyfriend Dan.

When I babble on and on
you listen to me just as long.

Your speeches and your writing
leave me without words.
I think you're the most romantic speaker
I have ever heard.

You wear the same pants day after day
You tell me they're clean, what more can I say?

Always dishing out my food
When we're out or at home.
It puts me in a happy mood
Makes me feel that I'm your own.

Always willing to apologize
Even when I'm wrong
I think that's one quality
That makes you really strong.

Affectionate and sweet
Cuddling is a treat.

You're thrifty but not cheap
Your rent is really steep
But somehow you always manage
to take me out
for dinner or a little treat

Basketball is a favorite sport 
You know every move on the court
In fantasy you rule
I think it's really cool.

You always take me to the bus
And wave as I get on
You're never in a rush
Or happy that I'm gone.

When it's freezing out you hold me close
You pretend that you're macho and bold
But if the truth be told
It's really because you're so cold.

When a normal man might go insane
You hardly ever do complain
You always try to be content
You know the proper time to vent.

You look both sharp and smart
Dressed up in your clothes from Kmart.

Silly and goofy
that's how you are
But I have to tell you
That I like it so far.

Your writing is like a children's book
Simple and always beautifully put.

You're a crazy sports fan
Yelling in the stadium
It's embarrassing...
but kinda fun.

You pick up every baby
It's just the cutest thing to see
In them you see God's glory
thank you for showing me.

You can cook pretty well
And you volunteer too
As far as I can tell
that's all a good man's supposed to do.

You can appreciate nature
Which is really important to me
It helps us know our creator
observing together quietly

You are faithful, it's so true
in love and basketball
by never giving up on me
by rooting for the losing team.

It's hard to stay mad
or get really sad
my smile is hard to disguise
looking into your puppy dog eyes.

i love you so much...julia

First Valentine's Day

For our first Valentine's Day you made me a book.  It's in a large spiral with a sturdy front and back.  You usually used a lot office supplies from the temp jobs you had back then to make me these.  So it has that signature quality of office supplies, as well as your child-like tone that I fell in love with throughout.

On the front is a white office label that says in your print (you never learned how to write cursive) "For Julia "The Best" Pirritano.  From "Mucho Macho" Dan Cho."

On every page is something different- a drawing by you, stickers, photographs of you as a little boy or in college, photos of us, bus schedules and other reminders of our first dates.  But your theme, as you state on the pages you labeled "Introduction" was "Why should Daniel H. Cho be your Valentine? WHY?"

A few excerpts (because I know you wouldn't feel comfortable with me sharing all of it- after all it was eleven years ago and you've changed quite a bit):

On a page with a photo of us in Central Park- "Before our first visit to the beautiful Central Park, I never liked the city.  Before, I only saw the dark streets, dirty subways, rude people...the negative things of NYC.  Now that I think about it, I hated this place with a passion.  But all it took was an unplanned visit to CP with you.  You possess this ability to make things around you beautiful.  CP that day soon turned into a magical place...Trees never looked so pretty like that, the violet sky caused by the sunset looked like a Monet painting, and the green fountain water was somehow nice to look at.  Thanks to you."

On another page that begins, "The book officially starts now!  Not too long ago, in my Christmas book for you, I wrote mostly about you.  About how awesome and great you are.  About how intelligent, gentle and kind, devoted, funny, cool, beautiful, amazing and intoxicating you really are.  Yaw, that was a pretty good book.  I could write a book about you everyday...the length of War and Peace.  Yay.  But enough about you...hahaha...In this book I want to talk about myself.  Yay.  Actually, I want to explain why I should be your and forever...hopefully...this way you'll get to know me better.  I want to write the reason I think I'm the "Man of your life," possibly.  I think I'm a pretty good guy and have a lot to offer.  So, this Valentine's day is gonna be all about me.  Hahaha.

In the pages that follow, you go on to say you're a friend to animals, have lots of friends, and you're a smooth talker.  For the smooth talker quality you included a white index card with "notes" from a phone conversation we'd recently had back then- as if you'd been using it to talk to me.  The subject matter on the notecard actually made me smile just now..."Yeah, Julia...I agree.  Most kids are cute and adorable.  But that kid from the Welch's juice commercial is annoying as heck!"  We actually had a conversation like that.  You couldn't stand that little girl.

The book goes on to tell me you're good at directions, take me to cool places, and write songs for me.  All true.

A photo of us on the Staten Island ferry when we had just started holding hands.  "It's been fun and amazing, are truly amazing.  You make me happy and strong at the same time.  No one else has done this to me before.  Thank you for the incredible journey and I'm looking forward to more."

The last page has an envelope pasted on it and inside it asks the question, "So sweet you, my favorite person...will you be my Valentine?

The back of the book has one more photo of us sitting at the fountain at Lincoln Center at night.  Underneath it you wrote:

Julia & Dan
...Friends Forever...
...Best Friends Forever..."

I can still remember I couldn't contain myself and had to show my mom this book you made me when I got home that night.  I think she said something like, "Wow, he really likes you..."

Thank you Daniel...for loving me.  If Valentine's Day has been difficult it's because for many years I wanted someone to love me the way you did...

And you loved me very, very well.

So I was loved...and now I am not.  Different kinds of love...but not that kind.

and what is it to be loved? I always said Dostoevsky put it best, "To love is to see someone as they're intended to be."  Thank you for seeing that me...I will try to become her more and more each day...

to honor you.

Because you are my "best friend forever", and as you put it: "the man of my life."

Monday, February 14, 2011


It's been busy.  Audrey's Valentine Party was a lot of fun for her, and then this morning we hosted a play group for a heart-shaped french toast brunch.  All together we've had about 20 little ones in our one bedroom apartment in the past twenty four hours.

Valentine's Day.

You never cared for it- said it was commercial and you didn't need a holiday to say you loved me.  Hated how the flower prices were jacked up.

But you bought me flowers anyway...and took me out to eat somewhere nice.

Of course, in the early, dating years- you went all out.  We went to some of the most romantic restaurants in NYC.  I would tell you, "Please don't spend this much on a dinner again!"  We would sit staring into each other's eyes and exchange our gifts.  In the beginning they were usually handmade.  We couldn't stop making each other things remember?  Love leads to creation.

I didn't really see this holiday coming.  Or maybe I did- on an unconscious level- and so I planned a couple parties with way too many decorations and way too much food.  (I have a whole chocolate cake in the fridge, cupcakes, m&m's and a giant heart-shaped chocolate chip cookie we baked).

I'm glad you didn't like this holiday.  It helps a little now...but just a little.

I don't remember what we did last year, and that makes me sad.  I wish we hadn't stopped celebrating.  I think it was just an adjustment period of having a new baby and the move...and then you being away all the time...and I know we would've gotten through it and started celebrating again...but still, I wish...

we had.

So, I moved through the day, but there were moments.  When I gave Audrey a small present and told her that usually you gave her a present on Valentine's Day but that I was taking over for you.

I hate when people call their husband "my hubby" now.  (Or maybe I always did?)

Couples seem very smug to me.

We say "my" husband/wife, as if we own them.  We do not.

You used to play that song "I'll Follow You Into the Dark" by Death Cab for Cutie and put it on a mix for me.  I can remember listening to it in our living room here and feeling sad long before you died.

"Love of mine, some day you will die,
but I'll be close behind
I'll follow you into the dark.

No blinding light or tunnels to gates of white
just our hands clasped so tight
waiting for the hint of a spark...

if there's no one beside you when your soul embarks...I'll follow you into the dark."

No.  This is not how it is.

In this...we go alone.

And I can feel that now- as I've turned a sharp corner...I am here now on this journey- you are not.  It's like for seven months now someone's been tearing two pieces of paper that were glued together for years...tearing, ripping.

And now it's complete.  And now I'm looking at my piece of paper...shredded, with a few holes, thin spots where I can see through it, and remnants...just remnants of the other piece.

Happy Valentine's Day Daniel Cho.  I miss you very much.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Following the Crumbs

In the city today for counseling.  I'm one of "those" sitting at Starbucks with my laptop.

Grieving, I'm thinking, is a lot like art.  Like my previous post on finding the notes or discovering the art- versus actual creation...the grief journey feels already mapped out- I just follow the trail of I write, I try to make those invisible crumbs visible.

So I've had some kind of allergic reaction- I think to the antibiotics I was taking for the sinus infection.  I've been covered in pretty brutal hives the past three days- finally some physical sign of inner turmoil- even if it wasn't brought on by something psychosomatic.  Job too was covered in itchy sores after he lost his wealth and family...

I was thinking on the bus ride here...about why we try to make sense of this.  My grief email of the day was talking about how I have to stop trying to find answers and make sense of it and just look at God.  It said not ask whether or not God is, but WHO he is.  I felt irritated by that.  I worry that if I just go on faith believing, of course I'll end up thinking it's true.  But couldn't that be like a placebo think you're taking a healing pill, so you feel better?  I'd prefer to know it's real before I start to fall for that.  Pride I guess.

But why do we even try to make sense of it, I ask myself?  It clearly isn't something to be made sense of.  He tragically drowned and no one really knows why or how.  I will never know in this lifetime.  What is there to make sense of?  What is it in us that hungers for that?

And how foolish I realize lately to believe my own intellect or even that of those much smarter than me that I read in books- could truly make a case for anything here.  Is my intellect higher than my physicality?  If my body is clearly subject to infirmity and decay, isn't my brain and mind just as fallible? Of course it is...

And then one last thought before getting off the bus and coming here...just like I've written in the past that I can't ask about the tragedies without thinking about all of the mercies- how many other times we were a similar way- instead of just puzzling over the death...and the mystery that it is...I must first puzzle over the life...that he, I, and you are even here...why?

If I want to puzzle over the death, I must be fair and first,

The Widow Group

So, strangely, just when I was thinking- "Maybe I'd like to find a group of other widows," a friend of a friend emailed me (she later told me she had heard my story back in the summer but felt prompted now), telling me about her widow group that meets every other week for dinner.  She didn't think it'd work for me since it's in a town not too close to mine, but it turns out it's where I grew up and my parents live, so it works out nicely for me to leave Audrey with them while I go and we can both sleep over their house afterwards.

The group was apparently started by a few 9/11 widows and it grew quite a bit- I think there's about 30 women who get emailed, but about 10-15 come to the dinner every other week at a Greek restaurant that's pretty empty on a Tuesday night and now knows them.

Some of the women had emailed me when I responded to the group email saying I was new and would be attending.  They told me it was a healing place and that I'd even have fun.  I had high expectations for the be around other young women who knew the feeling.  It felt like I was on my way to take a deep sigh and feel some kind of relief...a break from the incredible isolation that is grief. 

I also felt that anxiousness I always feel before I have to tell the story of your death to new people as I drove there.

The women arrived one by one and greeted each other casually with hugs and kisses.  I felt I was in a movie about female bonding/sisterhood- Steel Magnolias came to mind.  Each woman seemed a character and I could even see the camera angles as the camera rested on each of them as they spoke- unsteady, raw angles.  If I knew anything about creating a movie, I would make this group of women into art...because that is how they appear to me.

The restaurant doesn't serve alcohol but each woman arrives with a bottle of wine to share.  The conversation is natural- weaving in and out between the whole group and smaller conversations between two or three.  "Wait were you the birds?"  someone says at some point.  "I'm butterflies," answers another.  I find myself excitedly saying, "I'm butterflies too!"  There's no need to explain what we're talking about here.  I enjoy that moment, even though maybe it makes us all seem on the same crazy page and could it diminish the specialness of our "signs" if we find out multiple people experience them?  It could also augment the truth in them.  Everyone is at slightly different places- some almost ten years out- like the 9/11 widow sitting next to me who is already preparing for the ten year anniversary this coming September.  It seems a couple of them are dating.  One lost her husband to illness about a week after you died Dan.  I look around to see who is still wearing their wedding ring- a couple, but not many.

My mutual friend- who I also met for the first time, introduced me to everyone as they came.  "This is Julia."  "Hi Julia.  Glad you came."  When I was telling my "story" to a few women, she also suggested everyone hear it at I told the story...the horrid story to the circle of women listening empathetically.

I tell them how I am struggling with a lot of guilt because our last year together had been filled with so much tension- you traveling, me at home with a new baby- strained finances, etc.

What happened next made my first meeting "worth it" for me, even if I originally had doubts because I was the youngest women there- and most were talking about their seventeen-year-old children.  The women seemed to all chime in, with great love, to tell me that they all had the same feelings, but that this didn't define my relationship.  One placed her hand firmly on my back.  Another said that no real relationship would be void of guilt if one person died.  A few shared their own stories of the last moments they had with their spouses.  One said she gave a nicer goodbye to her dog than her  husband when he dropped her off at the bus for work.  She'd also yelled at him earlier when he asked if she wanted ketchup or mustard on her sandwich.  "When have I ever had ketchup on a sandwich?"  Another ironically said something like, "I could do this on my own," while preparing something.

These are the marks of any real relationship- the mundane details of living life together.  We just didn't know that they would hold such an elevated status in our relationship- being the last time we ever saw our spouse.  If you, and they, hadn't died, who would remember snapping over ketchup or mustard?  Who would remember a random comment about doing it on my own- it would have no double meaning as it does now.  And would I remember when you asked me the day before you left if I would always stand by you...that you needed to know this-after a dispute about driving- and I said, we'd resolve it when you get back.  Would we remember?

I never will know.  That alternate life of how it's "supposed to be" runs parallel still beside me in some other dimension...but not are dead here.

Sitting at the round table, pushing around my a salad of Feta and Greek Olives- I was also overcome by the amount of pain sitting at that table- and as cliche as it sounds- by the strength, by the honesty.  That the fact that each of these women was continuing the journey...

"What you had with him was a closed book- no one can change it or touch it..." says one woman to me..."but that book is closed."

I take comfort in what she says about no one touching it, but choose to believe in a hope that as my former boss wrote me in the early days- "Dan is not just a part of your past, he's a part of your future."  I don't speak of faith because all of the women have their own perspectives on this.  My friend of a friend,  however, does.  She chimes in at some point, "If this is all there is, then what has happened to us is truly tragic and nothing more...but light of eternity, this is just a minute."  The women look at her with searching eyes, some nodding their heads.

One women gives out a date for an "activity."  They're going to go dancing at a dance studio in a nearby town.  The women all take out their planners or Blackberries.

About two hours later, we're all getting our things together and saying goodbye.  I'm anxious get back to my parents' home to put Audrey to bed.

It's cold out- I run to the car, get in, and start driving home.

Then, without consideration, I find myself crying and screaming.  "I don't want this.  I don't want to be in this group or have these friends.  I just want you back!!!  Please come back!  I don't want this life!"

I can barely see through my tear-filled eyes as I go up the steep hill towards my parent's house.

I pull in the driveway, wipe my eyes and survey my reddened nose in the rearview mirror.  Then I head inside to make up bedtime stories and sing my little girl to sleep.

Monday, February 7, 2011


I have thought recently about throwing a glass on the kitchen floor to hear it shatter.  This might be a closer representation of pain than the tap tap tapping of my computer keys.

I have thought recently that you did not "die" but "were killed."  I think I've come across this distinction because one might die when one expires, at an old age.  You were taken...killed.

I have had recently, an anxiety dream I which I was backstage trying to remember the words and chords to the songs I was about to get up and sing for some reason among your musician peers.  I couldn't remember a word or a song, and worse, my guitar was completely out of tune, and try as I might, I couldn't do much about it.  I was thinking...if only you were always tuned my guitar.  If only you were here...

I have thought recently that living, going through the motions of life while grieving, is kind of like hearing that ringing in your ears that you sometimes tune into and wonder if anyone else can hear...all the time.

Last night I found Audrey in our room looking at the photo from your casket which I had newly placed on your night stand.  She was quietly saying, "There's appa's eyes, and there's appa's hair, and there's appa's cheeks, and there's appa's mouth...and there's appa's nose..."

When I opened up your cello to water it yesterday, I found one of the strings was broken.


The beauty in creating is not in the newness, but in the finding- the familiar.   If you have written something, or painted something, or even taught something- you know what I mean.

When I wrote a song, I knew it when I found it.  Ah...there it is.  If the words carved out the melody I was searching for, I usually thought it was already a song I'd heard somewhere else at first.

Because I recognized it.

It was like that with your face.

Einstein once said that Mozart's music "was so pure it seemed to have been ever-present in the universe, waiting to be discovered by the master."  He believed the same of physics, that beyond observations and theory lay the music of the spheres- which he wrote, revealed a "pre-established harmony" exhibiting stunning symmetries.  The laws of nature, such as those of relativity theory, were waiting to be plucked out of the cosmos by someone with a sympathetic ear."  

I didn't write down the source of the above, but I wrote it in my quote collection many years ago.  Not because I'm comparing my song-writing to Mozart!  But because this concept speaks hope to me.

I wrote about it in an essay included in my grad school thesis: "It feels like I’m searching for something that is already there and when I hit upon it, when I find that chord, it’s not that I create something altogether new, but it’s more like I have found what I was looking for, something familiar and yet nothing plagiarized.  I usually have to ask myself, ‘Have I heard that before?’ but when I realize I haven’t, it’s euphoric, because I recognize it nonetheless.  I feel like those notes are out there somewhere and I’ve found them and connected with something much greater than myself.  I want to play it over and over again, as soon as I wake up in the morning and right before I go to bed at night. 

I suppose it's that connection with the "something much greater" that gives me hope now.  If I am participating in a creation that is laid out in a way so organized that we can "find things"- patterns and laws...then possibly that is because there is a Creator who truly made something out of nothing.

Writer V.S. Naipaul says this, "I follow a thread till I find something I was looking for.  When I find it, I stop."

Yes, this is exactly it.

Vladimir Nabokov writes, "The pages are still blank, but there is the miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible."

Yes- in the finer moments of creation- one can sense this- it's all there already.

The act of creating was a huge part of our relationship wasn't it?  From the very first day when we met to play each other our songs and see if we might work together musically in the future.  So, I go back to the creating.

To the finding.

We wouldn't be able to hear it with our ears, but did you know that there's a black hole 250 million light years away playing a B flat note?  I read and article back in 2003 in the NY Times detailing this phenomenon and forwarded it from my cube to you at yours.

So, when I find myself literally searching to see your face and imagining the relief and recognition I will feel if only I could see you walking towards me on the city street, I think of these things.  Of finding notes that are already placed.  I take comfort in my place as explorer and discoverer, not creator.  In an infinite universe of dark space, there's nothing I can do but sail on in my very small and battered ship hoping to discover the music...and the beauty...squinting at a narrow strip in the distance that just might be land.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Lunar New Year

Today was difficult.

Before going to Audrey's library class, I realized I had to chip away at about 2 inches of frozen ice on the back and front windshield of the car- and I'd forgotten my gloves.  Then I couldn't find a parking spot on the steep, hilly area where the library is.  Finally found something that was close enough to a spot and took a chance.

A mom I don't know well but who's in my circle practically exploded when I walked into the storytime room: "So I'm pregnant!"  I've never gotten the feeling that she knows I just lost my husband.  Earlier this year she was asking me what we were up to for the holidays in a very nonchalant way as if "we" included you.

Anyway, I think I started out with, "Oh that's great" and then finished with "Good for you."

I zoned out during some of the cheery children's songs we sing thinking how remarkably similar the feeling of finding out others are pregnant is to finding my name wasn't on the list after cheerleading tryouts in the eighth grade.  A friend told me before I'd had a chance to go see "the list," just shaking her head silently when I ask her "Did you see my name?"

It's funny I think how hearing something affirmative for someone else right now means mostly, "No, not you," to me.   "They get it.  You don't."

The librarian who does the story time reads a book called "Daddy Mountain" all about a child climbing up their daddy.   I start to feel sick.  I wonder if Audrey is feeling the loss and worry about her.  After he finishes a very enthusiastic read of the book, I see him roll his eyes as if he realizes.  He actually came to your funeral.  You had visited the program a few times with Audrey and he knew you.  After class, he tells me, "I read a book...I wasn't thinking..."  "It's alright," I tell him.

Two mothers from the class that are in our old play group but I hadn't gotten the chance to know very well invited me to lunch at a new Korean tofu place.  I love soon doo boo chigae so I accepted.  Plus it was the lunar New Year and I wanted to do something to celebrate that.

We head back out in the icy street and I feel like I need to just sit in the car and cry for a while, but instead I follow one mom to the restaurant in the next town.

Since neither of the women were Korean, I make suggestions for meal choices and explained what certain things were.  I felt a brief excitement that I had discovered a really good find in restaurants and you and I will come back here... only to realize, of course we won't.  You would've liked it.

After lunch, where Audrey mostly squirmed all over the booth, it was a no nap afternoon.

I received in the mail photos of happier days from a cousin of yours...our last trip to Chicago in May.  We are smiling, standing with your relatives outside a Korean restaurant, holding Audrey in a rainbow summer dress.  She is much younger.

Your cousin also included a few photos from years ago when we lived in Park Slope Brooklyn and she and her brother came to visit us.  We took them to Dumbo and took some photos there.  There's a nice one of the two of us by the Brooklyn bridge.  I'm in that red leather trench coat I got at the Chelsea flea market for thirty bucks, the scarf you brought me back from London, and a little green cap, you're in the lightweight coat from Siki you always wore and jeans.  You're wearing your brown plastic glasses which I liked very much on you...the ones you had before your previous ones- that now sit on your desk in the corner- next to your wallet.

I decided Audrey and I would dress up in our traditional Korean dresses- hamboks- and she could bow to me three times and I'd give her money in her little money pouch.  I think that's how the Korean tradition goes.

I hadn't taken out my hambok since I packed it away after wearing it six Februarys ago on our trip to Korea during the lunar New Year.  I had worn it a few times there, bowing to all of your relatives- in both Seoul and Daegu.

I took the two boxes down from the closet with our outfits from our wedding and first opened yours by mistake.  I thought to myself, "Why am I doing this to myself?"  You last wore your hambok on our wedding day.  You complained to me about the pink pants.

I put on my dress, tying the long ribbon in a messy bow because I don't know the proper way to tie it.  Audrey seemed impressed telling me "You're all dressed up mommy!"  I recalled like yesterday quickly getting changed from my wedding gown into this dress before we did the traditional tea ceremony at our wedding reception.  Just like yesterday- I remember reapplying my lipstick even.

I put on Audrey's dress and explain to her my caucasian version of the tradition.  She happily complied by bowing and receiving her cash.  I take a photograph of us in the mirror.

Then we were done and I was relieved to pack up my dress again and store it away in the closet.  It was too painful.  I grieve the loss of a whole culture that had become partly mine.

Audrey is asleep quickly tonight.  I sit here with my tea.

Your cousin wrote a nice note with the photos she sent and says that hopefully the pictures will bring a smile to my face.  It's still too early for that.

Just disbelief and a strong desire to time travel.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Folding up the Quilt

Without planning it, just now I found myself removing the summer quilt I've had on our bed since you left.

Rather than put our winter down duvet on, I had just plopped my college duvet for a twin bed on top of the quilt when it got cooler.

The other side of the bed is usually filled with clothes that need to be folded or put away, books, and other things that fill your space.  I push it to the side each night and stay in my space.

But I guess I couldn't stand it anymore.  I love the feel of a clean white duvet cover and down duvet in the winter.  I wanted Audrey to enjoy coming into my bed like she used to.

I listened to a sermon on the physical bodily resurrection while I did it, subconsciously to give me strength I think.  I packed up our quilt and put it in a giant Ziploc bag.  It's the last thing we slept under together as a couple.  As husband and wife.

I spread out the duvet and began the job of putting the cover on.  But then I noticed a lump in the top and after finding the opening, and reaching all the way up to the seam, I discovered

a white sweat sock of yours.  It must have gotten stuck in there when I last washed this duvet cover.

I remove one of my socks and put yours on for a while.  The heal seam comes up to my ankle bone.  It isn't particularly soft and I wonder if you were comfortable  in them.

I remember buying you those socks.  Those are the ways I loved...buying socks and undershirts when I saw you needed them.

I pull the top of the duvet up to the top corners and the shove in the rest of the puffy down squares.  I put the bottom corners into the bottom corners and then I lift, and shake...vigorously.   It's as if I see the wave of down in slow motion.

"You are not coming back," I say out loud as I lift the bagged quilt up into the closet- the sacred closet where I speak to your clothes that hang there next to mine.   "Keeping the quilt on won't bring you back."  

There is still the matter of the fitted sheet and the pillow cases.  I don't have any others and at the suggestion of a friend have decided not to wash them for now when I do remove them, but just to fold them up.  I need to buy something pretty.  

So, I sleep under something clean now for the first in seven months.  Clean.  No lingering trace of you...except a newly washed sock stuck inside- now removed and placed in your sock drawer.

These are the details of grief that no one truly wants to hear.  Because I can not dramatize or romanticize the inability to change your bedding when your spouse comes home from Europe in a coffin.  

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Tonight is horrible.  The permanence sinks in deeper.

There has not yet been room to think about the future or the reality that faces me- but yesterday after meeting with a financial advisor, I felt it.  He estimated Audrey's college expenses at $400,000 for four years if she goes to a state school.  There were other figures too.  It's not that we ever made a ton of money in our chosen professions, but just that it's just me now.  Just me.

The amount of pain I feel on behalf of Audrey is also unbearable.  She talked about you traveling around the world to buy her presents today.  I felt you morphing into a mythical person she wouldn't remember.  Please God, please let her remember how she loved him and how he loved her.  At least I have that much.

Today she pulled a bunch of your clothes out of the drawer and put them in the laundry basket and climbed in.  I folded them back up, crying, and rested my head on top of the pile in the drawer for a moment.  I hadn't seen these clothes in a long time now.  Still, it is unbelievable.

The intensity of the pain of grief makes it very hard to believe that we are just physical beings experiencing a process that can be explained in clinical terms and stages.

It is ineffable, mind-boggling pain.  It is


A+ in Grief

Yesterday my counselor was surprised at the marked difference between where I was yesterday versus the previous week.  I was experiencing a reprieve from the raw pain and happily accepted it.  In its place, my thoughts were more pragmatic.  "Dan is gone...I have to figure out a way to go on..."  I explained to her two ways in which I saw an evolution in my grieving process.

First, when I'm alone I don't only say, "You died, Dan,"  out loud, but I also say, "I'm sorry- what do you want me to do? I have to go on!"  This is because I'll be experiencing a moment of peace- watching a Korean drama I recently decided to watch and just not crying, and I will feel a pang of guilt- not because I'm not still mourning or I'm "over it", but because I just imagine him seeing me and wondering how I could be sitting watching a Korean drama when he has died!

The second noticeable evolution of my grief is that I've stopped focusing on where Dan is (although I am reading a book on the scientific studies of near-death experiences on the side) and gone back to the original question really- why are we here?  What is all of this about?  This question seems more productive.  Not that I'm getting to an answer- but because that question really includes the prior.

My counselor seemed pleased with my "progress"...of course admitting that it may be one step forward and one back and I may be in a different place again next week.

But then later that day, the rawness came back...


And then now, something new is emerging...I think it's the depression stage.  Not that I've felt cheery since you died, but suddenly I have very little energy and just find myself staring into space while Audrey shows me things saying "uh huh...that's nice." Something I don't usually do.  Getting up from the kitchen table takes an inner pep talks as does getting dressed- which hadn't been a problem yet.  This must come right alongside the acknowledgment.

It's funny because two different friends have told me jokingly that they'd give me an A+ for grieving. I was always so grade-oriented growing up.  With no pressure from my parents that I can remember, I just had to get straight A's.  In college, I was determined to make Phi Beta Kappa.  Nevermind that none of this prepared me for the actual world.  So, I think these friends who know me pretty well were being partly sarcastic because there is no A in grieving really, but partly encouraging me and telling me that I'm doing a good job on this journey- which really- I must walk alone.

I've approached it studiously because we grieve who we are...reading, taking notes before counseling sessions, writing little papers so to speak, and making giant to-do lists that I believe will take me straight through the first year.

I'm not sure I have any thoughts to round out or resolve this post...just that I'm tired...and a bit worn out.  There is no relief like the day after you pull an all-nighter and turn in that twenty page paper.  There is no carefree feeling at the end of exam week.  There is no reward.  When is graduation?  I think Dan has graduated.  Me?  I have a long, long way to go.