Monday, August 29, 2011

Eleven Years

Today a new and terrible thought occurred to me- seems that always happens in this "predicament."  I realized that in just nine years, Audrey will have known me longer than you did.  And that if we both live to when we're "supposed to," she may know me for nearly fifty more years than you did.  Since you and I conceived her together and were together before she was even conceived- this is a very unnatural, strange thought.  "I missed you before I came out of your belly," Audrey tells me today while she's looking through albums of us long before she was born.  "I missed you too," I say.

Even though we were only together for eleven years, I went from a young girl fresh out of college to a young wife and mother who had worked three or four different jobs, gone back to graduate school, and moved five or six times.  One day I was struck by how much technology alone changed while we were together.

When I went to meet you on that very first day, I used a token to take the 1-9 train up to Columbia at 116th Street.  There are no more tokens.  There is no more 9 train.

When we met, I was using a four track to record my songs.  I considered it a luxurious purchase.  It used cassette tapes.

Shortly after we met, I bought my first cell phone down the street from my first job.  It was a big, square clunky thing and I couldn't hear people very well on it, but I felt "cool" walking on the city streets and picking it up when it rang.

When we met, I used a search engine for the grant work I did at the time, called "metacrawler."  Does that even exist anymore? Ah, it does.  Metacrawl it.  Doesn't have the same ring.

We wrote three or four emails to each other every day from our office jobs.  We both had hotmail accounts.

Sending ecards was a novelty.

We started chatting on aol instant messenger from our respective cubes.  It was your first time.  I can still remember your excitement, "This is so cool!  (Smiley face.)" A year after this excitement, I'd find myself with severe carpal tunnel syndrome.

It'd be years until we heard the word "blogging" and then it was xanga, on which you acquired quite an audience.

Nobody bought Mac computers.

Times Square was still grimy and had a ton of porn stores surrounding port authority instead of the large chain stores and restaurants that are there today.

The Twin Towers still stood.  We took photos of ourselves at the base with our faces and the towers rising up above us.   I bought a pair of earrings with you in one of the retail shops under the towers for a wedding I was attending.  Earrings I have long since lost.


This writing lately is like taking something out of a hot oven with no potholders.  If I leave it in, it will burn, but while I take it out, I get burned.  So, I do it as quickly as possible and cry out as it drops onto the table.

Lately there is the feeling that I am slipping.  I need something solid to hold onto.  Something fixed.  I've been thinking of how ballerinas learn how to spot.  I remember learning this technique when I took ballet as a child.  When doing a turn or pirouette, you will obviously get dizzy, and you may lose your balance.  But if you choose a spot on the wall ahead of you and keep your gaze fixed on that spot, returning to it each time your head whips around, you will not get dizzy- you will remain balanced.

I have not found my spot yet, though I am hoping it will be God.

What I do instead now is soak myself in ritual and routine.  With Audrey starting preschool soon, our schedule will be changing a bit.  I've typed up a routine for each day of the week with every detail of our day, from drinking a glass of water for me at each meal, to fifteen minutes of quiet play for her while I clean up the kitchen each night (do dishes, wipe counters, vacuum floor).  It's sick really, but then it's all I've got right now to hold on to.

I read about a painter and poet named Mary Jane Q Cross who had to relearn the painting craft after she was struck with permanent tremors on her right side.  Her career ended abruptly until she relearned how to paint with both of her fingers as well as prosthetic devices she invented.  In her own words, she felt like "a live dead artist."

Yes, yes, I get this.  Every widow does I think.

And then in the Oliver Sacks book, "The Mind's Eye," each chapter tells the story of someone who lost a vital sense but also had to adapt and find a new way to navigate the world.  In the first chapter, an accomplished pianist named Lilian who, one day, just could not make sense of the music notes before her.  It turned out she had a neurological disorder called agnosia in which she basically could see everything, but recognize nothing.  Yes, I thought, yes, this is exactly how it is.  When cards of objects were flashed at her, for example, she could sometimes tell if something was living or non-living but not identify it.  She could recognize things by color or shape but not name.

So, she adapted.  And this is how:

Though Lilian could scarcely recognize anything in the kitchen visually, she had organized it in such a way that mistakes, rarely, if ever, occurred, utilizing a sort of informal classification system instead of a direct perceptual gnosis.  Things were categorized not by meaning but by color, by size and shape, by position, by context, by association, somewhat as an illiterate person might arrange the books in a library.  Everything had its place, and she had memorized this.

This description, of a true neurological disorder, is the closest I have found since entering this world, to the disorder of the widow.  To see everything- but recognize nothing.

So, I've been going about things, trying to adapt as this woman did.  Because like the disorder, there is no cure for widowhood.  I write out routines, morning routines- up at 6:30, make bed, potty (for Audrey), get dressed- choose from preselected outfits for the week, eat breakfast- choose from list on refrigerator; afternoon- craft time, snack time, tea time; evening routine- dinner, bath (bubble baths on Fridays), storytime at seven, sip of water, one story in bed, two songs (Jesus Loves Me and Amazing Grace).

If losing a spouse is anything, it is disorienting, dizzying even.  And widow brain means you do things like chop up a bunch of strawberries for your daughter, and then head to the garbage with the cutting board and throw them all out.  Then look around for them so you can give them to her.  It means leaving the electric burner on sometimes after you take off what's cooking until you feel heat rising from it.  It means searching for your keys every single time you come back home- even though they're always in your purse, and getting out of the shower and realizing you haven't washed yourself.

I've never had a great sense of direction.  I keep thinking lately, of how when NYC was still quite new to me, I'd often be standing on a busy corner, on my cell phone, as you asked me to look around and tell you what I saw.  "I see...a Wendy's and that building with the slanty curve."  Then you'd tell me where I was and what train to take if I needed to.  Thank you for that.

But you're gone now.

I see everything.  Recognize nothing.  A "live dead" woman.  Looking to find a reliable hope that I can use to spot as I spin around each day.  Until then, I try to create my own informal classification system.  So that I can stay alive, and even thrive.  So that I can navigate my way home.

What is Left

I wonder how long I'll dream of you nightly.  The other night you shook your head at me and told me that my taste in music was slipping.  So you.

The truth is I can't really listen to music anymore.  Or watch movies.  Or even eat a good meal and thoroughly enjoy it.  These were your things, and our things.  We met because of music.  We fought because of it.  You died while you were away from me doing it.  You were full of pop culture knowledge. We thoroughly critiqued each movie that we saw afterwards but I had a very bad memory in that I never remembered which movies I had already seen.  You were in charge of telling me, "You already saw that...don't you remember?"  I never enjoyed food, truly, until we were together.  We introduced different kinds of foods to each other.  We ordered as a duo- choosing things we both wanted to try so we could try them both.  You'd never order something I didn't like also even though I'd sometimes insist, "No, please just order it!" Eating felt celebratory together.  Now it just feels kind of gross and lonely.

Thus, I've found the only options left to me, are the things that I did by myself and that were thoroughly mine.  Like decorating, homemaking, making to-do list after to-do list.  Writing I suppose, like this, which is always a solitary occupation.

I remember how frustrated I would get when you were alive, especially when we were first married, that you didn't take an interest in some of those more domestic subjects.  Then one day I had an epiphany.  I pictured you actually taking an interest in those things, in a humorous way.  Coming to me with ripped out pages from catalogs to tell me what new throw rug you thought would like nice in the entryway, or if you nagged me about leaving the sponge full of water (wait, you did do that- you were after all, the dishwasher), or telling me to spray the shower spray every day like I told you to.  I laughed at this image and later shared it with you.  I kept it with me whenever I became frustrated again, and I would think, I would not want him to be like that, so it's OK.

So, those are the things I am left with, and they aren't much, and they aren't that satisfying, and mostly- they're not really "fun."  Sometimes I wonder if I'll ever have that  Watching my daughter have fun is good, but not the same.

I am missing sharing those things with you very much lately.  I am envious of a couple walking hand in hand by the river, sitting across from each other in a restaurant, or even in the car next to me while we're stopped at a light.  I look in the car for just a moment and sense the casual ease,  the unspoken companionship, and the feeling that things will always be the way they are.  I know better.


"The Widow's Handbook"

'Of the widow's countless death-duties there is really just one that matters: on the first anniversary of her husband's death the widow should think I kept myself alive.'

This is the only thing on the last  page found behind the epilogue of the memoir by Joyce Carol Oates, "A Widow's Story."  Haven't started it yet.  (Yes, when I read a book I read all of the cover copy first, and then, the last page.  Not all the time, but usually.)

I have kept myself alive.  Plus a little girl who was 21 months old and is now almost three.  I know other women who are keeping three, four, or even five people alive in the midst of this.  Here's to them.
As my husband liked to sign his emails,

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Story Retold

This is the story.

You were on tour with a well-known singer.  It was your second time in Europe.  You had gone in 2009.  The day before you left, I made sure you had your teeth cleaned, we went to the park with Audrey- she rode the carousel.  We rode the train together and took a family photo.  Our last one.  We ate BLT's I'd made that morning at Whole Foods.  You and I fought on the way back about something that'd happened on the drive there.  Something about driving- always a source of tension.  Because I was afraid one of us might die.  After a longer fight at home, I told you we'd resolve it when you got back.  When you got back.

The next morning, we went to a bakery we heard was good.  You got something called monkey bread.  You gathered your stuff and we said goodbye.  Did we hug?  Tightly?  I don't remember.  I don't think so. "I can't take this anymore...I don't want a long, sad goodbye," I said.  You said goodbye to Audrey, "Bye Auuudrey!" Did you hold her tight?  Did you kiss her softly?  And close your eyes for just a moment.  Your long eyelashes pointing straight down.  We closed the door.  To you and your suitcase, the one I bought you, backpack on your back, the one I chose carefully.  I cried.  Wiped my eyes and went to get our lunch ready.

The sound of the door opening.  "I figure I'll leave my house keys here.  I won't need them."  No, you won't.  You didn't.   "OK, bye...have a good trip."

I had a list of the schedule pinned up on the kitchen wall.  I looked at it every day counting down the days with Audrey until the day I received the most atrocious phone call of my life and ripped it down and threw it in the trash.

To this day, I don't know what happened to you.  I know from the guy you had swam out to meet that you repeatedly said you were cold.  I wish he hadn't left you to go in by yourself.  I wish you hadn't swam out there in the first place to where he was.  I know you were just being obliging.  Sometimes that bothered me, how you wanted to please others.  How you were willing to go along.  But you usually knew when to assert yourself and you did.  You said you were going back while this guy went further.  You never got back to the shore.  What happened Dan?  What happened?

I got the worst news of my life, I called your family to tell them and hear the worst sobbing I've ever heard.  I, at 34 years old, planned your wake, and your funeral.  I visited three cemeteries.  I bought my own plot.  I went through countless albums and journals trying to pick the most special things for the program.  I contacted every musician I know you respected and asked them to play at your funeral.  I ordered a black dress that fell below the knee with three-quarter sleeves.

Can you believe it?

You're dead.

Here's the really big news.  This was all over a year ago.  Audrey is now almost three years old.  The other day she got a big box of hand me down clothes from a friend- her favorite item- a little leotard with a tutu and ballet slippers.  When she put it on, I choked up before I could realize why- I couldn't believe you were missing it and in my head the words, "You know who would have REALLY liked this?"  You would've Dan.  You would've been in tears I think actually.  Because that's how sensitive you were- mostly when it came to your daughter.

In the beginning, I had to keep talking aloud telling you, as I paced around our small apartment glaring at your clothes, your computer, "You died."  Now it carries a different weight, "You died...over a year ago.  Audrey's almost three."  She was 21 months then.  Remember how little she was?  I wish you could've seen her jump for the first time with me, or sing her first song, or tell me she loves me.  I wish I didn't have to feel so sad at each of these milestones.  Having a child, I'm finding, is bittersweet in itself.  Loving someone who is constantly changing into someone else right before your eyes.  But knowing that you're missing it all...and there is no going back- it literally makes me sick.

Why am I telling you all this, you might ask?  Because this is what I do to heal, I'm told- I tell the story over and over again.  And I do- I tell it to strangers and to friends.  But I'm starting to fear I'll never be done telling it, because the one person I shared everything with, the one person I most have to tell this spectacularly tragic tale to

Monday, August 22, 2011

Dust and Glory

More beauty, and truth (are these always companions in some way?) this time in words:

"This is my dilemma... I am dust and ashes, frail and wayward, a set of predetermined behavioural responses ... riddled with fears, beset with needs... the quintessence of dust and unto dust I shall return... But there is something else in me... Dust I may be, but troubled dust, dust that dreams, dust that has strange premonitions of transfiguration, of a glory in store, a destiny prepared, an inheritance that will one day be my own...So my life is stretched out in a painful dialectic between ashes and glory, between weakness and transfiguration.  I am a riddle to myself, an exasperating enigma...this strange duality of dust and glory."

Bishop Richard Holloway

July 3, 2010 3 Days Before...

I remember having this small epiphany about my faith in God sometime before you died, but only recently did I discover I had articulated it to you just three days before your tragic death.

It seems foreboding and hopeful at once:

In an email to you July 3, 2010:

"I keep thinking about my belief in God and how I thought believing would bring me safety and security and now that I see it doesn't- wondering what it's about to believe at all then?  and if not, then what is the meaning of all this madness?"

Sunday, August 21, 2011


I am looking for beauty everywhere.

These are the discarded old petals off our flowers on the balcony.

Thought I might just post findings like this from time to time.  I am stuck and need to change things up.

Friday, August 19, 2011


Today should have been exciting and good.  Audrey's preschool class had a playgroup at someone's house.  It was our first time meeting the other little children that will be in her class.  Instead, it was quite terrible really.

I guess I will soon become accustomed to it- anticipating that I will feel sad and awkward when gathered with other moms instead of excited and "one of them," as I mistakenly keep thinking I will.

The playdate was supposed to be at a park actually- one that I have not been to since the last time with you and Audrey at about 19 months- maybe a month or so before...I wound up sitting chatting with a mom by the sandbox about nursing while you followed Audrey around having such a good time.  It was moved to someone's house because of the rain we had, but it was a few blocks from the park, so I still had to drive by.  I drove slowly in disbelief that there it was- exactly the same.

Young mothers who don't know each other mostly wind up talking about pregnancy, second pregnancies, and parenting in general.  Three or four moms had little siblings along with their child and a few were pregnant.  "Does Audrey have any siblings?" I got asked while they were discussing when to have the second.  "No."  Then she follows up with something about how it's good to space it out to the other moms.

And then during small talk with another mom, when I'm talking about where I've lived before here, is it odd or untruthful when I say, "We lived in Brooklyn" and "we moved here almost three years ago?"  because it feels like I'm creating this picture of my present life that isn't congruent.  "Where do you guys live now?" they ask.  I know they mean my family- Audrey's father and myself.  But I answer for just Audrey and myself.

It is all I can do while Audrey plays in the sandbox, eats her snack, and later discovers Barbie dolls for the first time in their basement- to not cry.  By the time we leave, I am absolutely drained from holding a lump in my throat and moving my cheeks upward into what I hoped looked like a smile.  You always told me I wasn't good at hiding how I felt about others and I should work on that.  I kept thinking about that, and I did my best for Audrey's sake not to appear the "unfriendly" or "unhappy" mom.  

The car ride home lets me cry a little bit while Audrey is buckled in in the back seat.

I realize while I'm driving that I have been living in grief for the last thirteen months or so, but now I am grieving in life...actually living out all of the future pain and emptiness I knew was awaiting me the second I heard the words that you were gone.

By the time we arrive home, I am more composed.  I want to scream and curse over the unfairness of it all, but instead, I make her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and sing the song she likes that her dad made up when he was just a little boy.  "Peanut butter and jelly- put it in my belly...yum yum yum yum yum yum...Oh, ham."  She sings along.  Sometimes though, I wonder how long I can keep this up- this huge discrepancy between what I feel like doing and what I do.  Sometimes it seems like something in my brain or body might eventually snap.

Later in the day, Audrey accompanied me to my physical therapy consultation for the herniated disc/sciatica that's been causing me such pain and the office just happened to be in the gym of a big complex that also does catering and hosts weddings.  One that we drove to and priced when we were shopping around for our own wedding.

I leave there heading back to the car past the doors that actually look familiar still.  I can picture you speaking Korean to the woman who showed us around and gave us the pricing (it was a Korean catering place) and both of us looking around at the ballroom together.  I can remember and feel the excitement of that season of my life so clearly.

And  Back in that same parking lot, thirty-five year old widow walking our almost three year old daughter to the car.

The juxtaposition of time and places and memories and moving is maddening.

The Comfort in my Low Estate

I am lately finding comfort in the thousands of species of animals.  At a visit to the zoo yesterday, we marveled at the long snout and bushy tail of the anteater, the ancient stillness of the alligator, and the majesty of an elk's antlers.  While I understand evolution and even how it can fit into an intelligent design, I find it very hard to believe all of these wondrous species (not just a few) had to evolve.

I am lately finding comfort in primitive peoples.  Seeing photos of people who live a very different life than I do.  People who paint their faces and live in tribes in particular.  You might think these images would be disheartening to my wish- that we are truly different from animals and created in the image of God himself, that instead I would fixate on our intellect, accomplishments, and artistry- which I think I have at points in these writings, but sometimes our sophistication is just a distraction from the truth- our primitiveness- it reminds me...we are creatures.

Similarly, I am comforted by my place- a very small one- in history.  I am comforted by black and white photos of dapper men in hats waiting on soup lines during the Great Depression, and by Shakespearean sonnets on death, and even the dinosaurs my daughter plays with.  It hasn't always been this way- this modern, I am reminded, and yet, the most basic troubles of humanity- death the foremost- have always been with us and run a common thread through the centuries and even millions of years.

The smaller I am, the more mysterious, and somehow, the more certain.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Bogan and Dickinson

It's just horrible getting home from an event and not having anyone to talk to about it.  Audrey and I went to a concert of one of her favorite singers tonight.  She danced, sang along, and got her photo taken with Kimmy Schwimmy.   I was somewhat surprised by all of the fathers there- I am mostly used to weekday playdates/classes where fathers are not present.  I suppose at some point I'll get used to this.

The other day as I took apart her crib, I tried to calculate how many occasions there might be in her life where I'll have to take on a typically "fatherly" duty or task.  Taking apart her crib and setting up her big girl bed.  Check.  I guess there's playing soccer- building with legos- two things you said you were going to do with her when you were interviewed for my baby shower.  And I suppose it all culminates with that walk down the aisle.  But I guess I'll find out the rest as I go along.

She is into hiding things lately Dan, which makes me think of a paper I wrote on the poet Louis Bogan in college when I studied American women poets.  She wrote about hiding things as a child just for the gift of finding them later on.  It is cute to watch her run off with something.  And it stirs something in me too when I have asked her where something is and then later, I stumble upon it in some strange place.   I sit down on the couch, sometimes there's a lump- a stuffed dog, under the cushion;  a puzzle piece under my sheet; a whole cup of butterfly and heart shaped sequins from her craft box tossed into the plastic bag her new big girl mattress was standing up in in the hallway for a few weeks.

I've been feeling a bit stuck lately.  I realize the "first year" had something that what follows does not. It was contained.  It was "the first year," a countdown of days and holidays and anniversaries until that great and dreadful anniversary came again.

What lies afterwards is just open space.  The rest of your life.  Without.  There are not as many "death-related" chores or paperwork.  There is life.   My "previous life," before this, appears now before me all the time like a time-lapse video.  Flashes of mundane moments and close-ups of your face and body.

Strangely, I feel more comfortable lately in open space- outside.  It feels like being indoors is just not large enough for the pain- as if it's a physical object.  When I walk outside, there is room.  I feel it can spread to the skies.

But another odd thing- nature doesn't look huge to me anymore.  I feel like it's supposed to inspire me, or remind me of the majesty of creation, but everything actually looks really small these days.  Even the NYC skyline looked like a miniature diorama the other day while we walked along the river.  Like something from the opening credits of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood.  I had to look back twice to be sure it really appeared that small.  The only thing of majesty is the endless universe beyond this small planet.

And this interchange, this swapping of big and small realities, reminds me of another american woman poet, Dickinson, on whom I wrote my college thesis.  In #352, she writes:

Perhaps I asked too large --
I take -- no less than skies -- 
For earths, grow thick as
Berries, in my native town --

My Basket holds-- just -- Firmaments --
Those -- dangle easy-- on my arm,
But smaller bundles --  Cram.

I realize lately that even though I had a strong faith and trusted God with my life, I never entrusted you to him.  "Please take care of him," I ask now.  That was my job for quite a while.  Taking care of you.  In the end I didn't get to do that at all.  I packed your vitamins and gave you a coupon for the taxi to the airport.  But I was not there when you needed me most.  I was not there to suggest you not go out that far, or to keep my eyes on you if you did.  I was not there to hold your hand while the life had just freshly left.  I am sad lately that the first time I saw your body was ten whole days later.

It's silly really, but lately I also think a lot about how we would connect if there is an afterlife- if I live for fifty more years and do see you at the end of this bizarre journey- I try to understand how we would connect.  We have been greatly separated.  I am changed from the girl you knew before all of this.  You, would be too.  So I try to understand if there is a part of us- even in eternity- that would remain the same.  That would be, of course, the soul.  I think about my "self" as a child and whether or not there is a piece of me that is the same now.  Is that piece more than just a compilation of memories in the brain?  Will I still be "me" when I leave here and will you still be you?   I recall a moment - when I was very young, I lay on my bed and placed my feet on the wall for some reason- taking a photograph of my little feet there, and saying to myself simply, "Here I am- remember this moment."  And I do remember it, and it was as if I was attempting to send myself a message in the future- though I'm not sure what it was.   "Here I am," is what I said.

I think though, what this thought process is all about in terms of grieving-
is the letting go.

It's about wondering, if I go on and subject myself to change and experience- (which in actuality, I cannot avoid anyway though I can go willingly or with burning blistering hands that cling to the doorknob)- will I still know you and you me.  Where will I carry the love with me and will it be safe.  I want to believe there is a special place where it can remain unchanged amidst all of life's other changes.   I suppose that's part of what this "space for wordkeeping" is all about.  Maybe it can be like a hidden pocket for treasured possessions, or reappear like the message I sent myself so many years ago, "Here I am- remember," or maybe it will surprise me in the end- like a gift, like those butterfly and heart shaped rainbow sequins our little girl spills and sprinkles behind a piece of furniture in a dimly lit hallway.

Monday, August 15, 2011


Lately being with people feels more painful than being alone.

Everyday familial scenes, a child saying the word dad or appa, sting.

And something else strange, I realize yesterday: it has been a while since I experienced friendship- a get-together with a friend, a chat, outing, even a play date, without feeling that I was on the receiving end of someone's "ministry" to us.  This feels isolating and sad.  I'm not sure if I bring anything to the table anymore.  I feel like I exist in the minds and hearts of most people only as a tragic figure, and a prick to their conscious.  I feel that when they make plans with me they feel relieved and their conscious can rest for a while.  They are trying not to be the ones who disappear back to their own life even though we each must live our own life and this is mine and that is a simple truth.

So, I am scheduled in, and I go.  "Thanks,"  "Thanks," I'm always saying.  It is humbling in a way I'd never known before this.  Then, even if I tell myself beforehand that I will just ask them about their life and listen, there I go still talking about "it."  I feel bad that I can't give them any news of some great progress or change.  Even I am tired of talking about all this.

But the worst part is that the whole time they are with me, they nonchalantly receive text messages, calls, and check their phone to see the time, because there is someone who loves them- someone who is the life they will get back to when they are done here.  And that is OK and that is as it should be.  I had that once too.   I simply ache for it.  For the person who isn't taking a moment out of their life to listen to me, but the person who shares this life with me.  For the person who I am eager to get back to after my own outing with a friend.  Who after we share a meal, will wash the dishes and bring me a glass of water in our bedroom while we talk about our day with those "other people."  For the person who calls me and I answer, "Hey...we're just leaving now.  I'll be home in about five minutes."  Home.


Yesterday I took apart Audrey's crib and put together her new "big girl bed."  I'd bought it at IKEA and the boxes had been sitting in the hallway for a few weeks.  I was waiting until the new bedding I'd so carefully selected came in the mail.  I was waiting until my sciatica wasn't as disabling.  I was fearful of my toddler, who refuses to go to bed nightly, suddenly having the choice to stay in her bed or not.

But mostly, I was dreading taking apart the crib that you put together for her.

I had offers from a few other men to do it for me.  But I knew, for this very reason, I had to do it myself.

Then, without much thought, I decided at around 3 pm yesterday, I would do it.  "Audrey, mommy's going to put together your big girl bed," I say getting out my toolbox.  "Say goodbye to your crib."

But really, it is me who must say goodbye to the crib.  To the baby I had who is now almost three years old.  To the crib because there will not be the "second baby" we were planning on.  To my season of being a new, young mother.   Before I was a widow.

It takes a matter of minutes really to disassemble the crib.  (Assembling the bed took a lot longer and included various profanities and vows of never purchasing another piece of furniture I need to put together.)

Each screw I turn and un-tighten, is one that you tightened and put in.

Tears run down my face.  I do it quickly.  The pieces of birch colored wood fall to the ground one by one.  I stack them neatly against one another in the hallway.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

In the Light of a New Morning

I am awakened to Audrey's cry.  I pick up my phone to check the time: 3 am.  I want ignore it and hope she goes back to sleep.  But then I hear her words, "I want to play with appa NOW!!!!"

Without pause, I get out of bed. (This is just horrible.  I must have done something.  What did I do to deserve this?)  It isn't until the next day that I realize this is truly the first time I have ever heard Audrey scream out for you.  It is different from her routine, "Appa died, " Or "Sarah misses her appa."  My heart breaks then.  On this dark night, it shatters.

Entering her room, I find her standing in her crib opening the small curtain that looks out into the living room screaming those same words over and over, "I want to play with Appa now!"

(What have I done in some past life...what did I do to deserve this kind of pain) I pick her up and try to calm her, carrying her with me back to my bed.  There are tears streaming down her face.  In my bed she calms a little bit but is talkative, "Appa ...disappeared...heaven..."  These are the words I hear at 3:30 am on a Friday night.  (This is the lowest point, I am at my lowest point.) Finally she lays down beside me.  But it seems we both lay there for a long time, eyes open, unable to sleep.  Twenty minutes later, she is sitting straight up again saying those words, "Appa, disappeared, he went to heaven."  "I know," I tell her, "I'm so sorry Audrey- I'm so sorry."

Eventually, we sleep.

In the morning, we wake up, she goes potty, we eat breakfast, the usual thing.  Later while I'm picking out her clothes, I ask her if she remembers her dream about appa.  We talk about her dreams quite often so she has a context for the word.  One night she awoke screaming that she dropped her lollipop, another- she wanted her umbrella-another, she needed ice cream.  These are the dreams of a two year old apparently.  And in the morning, I usually ask her if she remembers and tell her what she was saying.  She laughs about the dream and later we all laugh as we tell grandma and grandpa.  She acknowledges them as dreams and even her imaginary friends she calls, "My imaginary friends."

This morning, she looks pensive for a moment and then as if she suddenly remembers with excitement says, "No, that wasn't a dream!  That was real.  Appa really appeared.  He appeared.  He was alive.  He came to read to me and play with me."

I realize that the previous night when she was saying he appeared, I just assumed she meant disappeared.  Sometimes in the light of a new morning, everything has a slightly different context.  

I am a skeptic these days.  Even in the context of belief and theology, I don't think it'd even make sense for a "visit," but nonetheless, tears stream down my face as she goes on, without any prodding from me.  "He came to read to me and play with me.  He came back from heaven."  She seems delighted.  So when I heard her talking about heaven while I was half asleep she wasn't confirming that he'd gone to heaven but that he'd come back.

3 am is a time of wakefulness in the sleep cycle.  This would explain it.  Her unconscious mind is revealing some of what she's felt and buried there.  This is profoundly sad to me.

And yet...and yet, there is a brightness about the way she speaks of this- not her typical, look around and search for ideas toddler talk, "I need,  I need a tiny sip of water!"  It's not thought out, but just told.  And theology and science aside, no one knows if we live, where we go, or what is possible.  I do know that this sounds like you- I've thought it so many times since you left us, "If he was still anywhere in existence, I don't care how great the separation, he just wouldn't be able to stay away from her."

I am curious.  I ask her if he said anything to her. 

Without hesitation, she tells me, "Yes, he said, 'I promise I will come back again.' "   

I do not prod any further.  I won't try to extract questions with answers that I would wish to believe.  I leave it at this.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Cup of Coffee

I'm having one of those moments, right now, at this very moment, where I am absolutely winded with disorientation.  With the fact that you lived here, with me, were my husband and Audrey's father, and our life was "normal," and now it's not and I haven't seen you in a long time and you don't live here and you've been gone for just about a third of Audrey's life.

Two weeks ago I was sitting at church and before the service began, I saw a husband come in and hand his wife a cup of coffee.  Then I watched her so casually receive the cup as he passed it to her, not making eye contact or saying a word to him, placing it down beside her feet, her child between them.  I envied her very, very much.  I have thought about this image for two weeks.  A cup of coffee passed to a woman from her husband, so absolutely lovely in its casualness.

I had this too.

Please women, do not call yourself any form of "widow" when your husband's away or at a conference.  This is not the proper use of the term, and yet people do this on Facebook quite often.  I even heard a Susan Vega song the other day in the car with the refrain: "Call me a widow boys" about her relationship troubles.  No, no no.

Sometimes I open your sock drawer and take out an old watch- a watch you got from McDonald's for a couple of bucks with a meal.  This was like you and you wore it for at least a year straight. Homer Simpson is on the watch eating a burger and says "Mmmm, burgers," when you press the button.  Can I tell you how pissed I am that this watch still works and you're dead?  Still, I press it a few times standing there at the open drawer, "mmm...burgers."

Time doesn't heal, but it blurs.  I realize lately I am having trouble determining before and after.  Did I have that basket of books in her room when he was alive?  I ask myself?  Did we go there or did I have that thought or conversation with him or was this afterwards and with someone else?  It is getting harder to tell.  And that is difficult to take in.  Not healing.  Difficult.

I've been having nerve pain down my left leg for some time now and just wanted to ignore it, but recently it's become quite debilitating and I see it as a wake up call that I need to start taking care of myself more for Audrey's sake.  I'm fairly certain I'll need an MRI.  I had two MRI's a few years back when I tore the hip joint in the same leg.  The first time, I had to ask to be taken out of the tube because I am quite claustrophobic and I accidentally opened my eyes for just one second and saw the round machine wall an inch from my face.  "Please, please, I need to come out," I told the technician.

So, the second time I went to a different facility with a more open MRI, but still I had to go in the tube.  The main difference I think was, you were there.  The technician gave me headphones and I chose the Beatles as my music genre so I didn't hear all the noise the machine makes as much.  But she also gave me glasses or a headband- I can't quite remember which- that had a mirror so I could look into it and see you standing behind the plastic window smiling and waving at me.  I've been thinking about this memory a lot lately.  I've said it before in other posts I think, but it's not the occasions- the birthdays, the anniversaries, that you grip onto when the person's gone from this world- it's the moments like this one- where you're in a dark place, but together just the same.  And then, well, you make it through.

Discovering you're really dead, on the other hand, is more like my first MRI experience.  It's like in order to live, the part of me that knows this must be closed, shut down, for most of the day, but every now and then, I open my eyes, and see that wall right in front of me and realize exactly where I am.

take me out of here.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Not the Standard Protocol

Sometimes I think I should just give up completely trying to connect the old life to this one.  Forcing myself to realize, that not only have I not seen Dan for a long time now, but it's because he's frickin' dead and buried.  A disappearing Dan I can manage, albeit broken-hearted.  A Dan that is no more- I can not bear.

I wonder if it's like when you have an argument or conflict, and you keep rehashing the words said over and over in your mind.  You think of one liners you wish you'd said and replay the newly written scene over and over as well.  Your blood pressure rises.  That, I have always been quite sure- is not healthy or good.  But grief is so set aside from any other life things- it is hard to compare.  I do know that I've heard it is healthy and necessary to tell the story over and over again.  As I wrote quite a few months ago, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross says it often brings you answers or solace through the listeners unexpectedly.  I have found that to be very true.

But I suppose, at some point, even with this otherworldly emotion, you decide it is enough.  I don't mean enough of feeling the sorrow-that is yours to keep-  but processing the physical death- the facts that led you to this dismal moment in time.  Like when I read the signature on the widow board that made me laugh my dark humor laugh, "all grieved out."  But does one have to fully comprehend that your husband drowned over a year ago and is buried and this is not a really long dream to be all grieved out?  Or should I give up on that part as well...the comprehension.

Perhaps comprehending your death is going to take a kind of faith just like the faith it takes to believe your soul is alive and doing just fine.  And maybe in each case,  I need to believe before I can understand.  This  isn't usually the way we do things, but then again nothing about the grieving process follows the standard protocol for life as we once knew it.  A belief that yes, you did die.  No, I won't see you again on this earth.  A belief that you are not lost and when I follow to the "real world," I will indeed see you again.

"I do not seek to understand so that I can believe, but I believe so that I may understand; and what is more, I believe that unless I do believe, I shall not understand."  St. Anselm

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Unsearchable Things

When you experience tragedy, even in all its finality and permanence, the grieving process sets you out on this desperate, insane journey to find clues, look for signs, or discover some piece of truth that, when brought to light, will give you the strength to go on, will extract the thorn in your flesh, somehow produce the pearl without any more pain.  Really- all of this, I think now at 13 months today- is just a way to distract yourself from your bedridden heart.  

In your grief process, if you look and listen, you'll discover essentially-who you are and have always been. I have always been thorough and detailed- a close reader and amalgamator of experiences and writings.  I have always loved and trusted the written word.  So- I've been hammering on these keys for thirteen months trying to get somewhere.  

But also, I discover, I have looked up to people very much in my life.  I have viewed certain people as spiritual mentors- as possessing some secret wisdom or closeness with God that I did not have.  Unconsciously, I now know, I would think, every time I met someone who seemed to have this, "Ah, maybe they'll have some answers for me."  This was before I suffered this tragedy.  I believed in human beings.   Often they disappointed, but sometimes, they did not.  

But now, the list of people I could look up to and hope had some answers, shortened drastically.  I soon came to realize as I questioned many believer friends that they weren't as sure of their faith as they had seemed all along.  I wasn't sure if they were trying to be polite, but very few reassured me that my husband was in heaven with God- in the interim place before the new heavens and new earth.  Perhaps they thought it would seem wrong to tell me that at a tragic, painful time- too Christianese- too small a consolation.  

My old therapist, in one of two sessions I persisted at with him in the first month, when I described how the sky even appeared different and it was a strange surreal world I found myself in, told me the world was exactly the same as it had always been.  He'd always been someone I admired before, but no, the world is not exactly the same.   Later after I explained what a trip to the grocery store was like- how I felt I was carrying this huge secret about me no one could see- he told me, "Yeah, but you don't really want everyone to know, 'Hey, I'm a widow- my husband just died.' " I was silent.  "You do?" he asked.  Yes, yes, I do.

I meet with a well-known pastor to whom I'm able to pose some of my theological/crisis of faith questions- I come away with intellectual surmises, but the realization that counseling widows or reading apologetics can't come close to the suffering as a teacher.

A spiritual mentor from many years before mailed me something when she heard the news almost a year later, which I hoped would be a long letter full of wisdom and instruction.  It was a postcard with a poem that I didn't connect with.  

My current therapist, who has experienced sudden loss, tells me simply, "It's very painful," a lot.  When I tell her, "You'd think God would give me something- some kind of assurance," she just answers with "Yes, you would," in that calm therapist way.  

I used to think pastors knew something I didn't.  Now, the pastor of the church we're attending seems type A and overly concerned with order and structure.  

It's like I have been given X-ray vision and see people as they truly are- weak and unsure of what all of this is about.  It's possible I am projecting- seeing now myself as I have been all of these years.  And I am not as bitter or silly as to blame anyone.  

Even those who have been through it, the ones I am connected with and call up hoping to hear a cheerful, peaceful voice tell me that it gets better- instead sound tired and some even start to cry when they tell me their own story.  

But I can say- after over a year of still holding out the hope that there was someone out there- someone that could tell me how to make this better- there is not.  There is no one that can do this.  

This means accepting silence. 
This means accepting crying by myself at night.
It also means more openly accepting what people can and do have to offer without hoping they have the answers to the universe.  

Strangely- this thought- that there is no one with the answer, is no longer frightening.  It is restful.  

Just as in marriage, your husband can not possibly be everything to you- and if you try to make him this - you both suffer- so not any one single person can bring me the comfort or answers I am seeking.  Instead, I can do what that one pastor suggested- use each bit of wisdom as a foothold on this climb up the mountain.  

This searching for answers has been a necessary delay- not a waste of time.  I haven't been dilly dallying or pulled off the trail following the wrong scent.  

There is simply no one here who has ever died and come back to tell us what the f--- this is all about.  And that- is really what I'm looking for I suppose.   Even the books on near-death experiences and documentaries on out of body experiences leave me feeling flat.  

So I'm back to Jesus- the only one who even possibly did die and come back and possibly offers me communication.  I don't pretend to really get prayer anymore and I don't want to make up answers in my mind, but maybe I am (almost) ready to listen if there are any.  If I am anything- I see in my grieving process- I am methodical.  This seems like the next logical investigation.  I am ready to sit in silence with my eyes closed- waiting for that presence- not a strange New Agey one- not an emotion-based charismatic one- but one that is just that- a presence.  The way another physical person's presence is felt in the room before you, even when your eyes are closed.  

"Call on me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know."  Jeremiah 33.3

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

He'd Want You To Be Happy

I remember in the beginning posting on the widow board, trying to encourage some of the other miserable sounding widows further down the line than I was, "they would want us to be happy."  I was still in shock then.

Now, people still use that line on me sometimes.  But although I know my husband loved me and would never want me to feel this kind of pain and sorrow, he also never experienced a tragedy like I now have.  Therefore, I think it's naive to pretend I know how he would feel or what he would tell me to do.  I do know that he would feel tremendous sorrow if he knew the devastation introduced to our lives.  I imagine he would be crying, like I do nightly- his faith and worldview, shaken to the core, as is mine.  I do not see him telling me to "be happy."  Of course all of this is the Dan I knew here on earth, and if there is an afterlife that he now has knowledge of, I can't really know what that Dan would say because he would be a Dan I have not known.  He would have knowledge and completeness I do not.

"Be happy."  Those are not the two words I hear him telling me anymore.  If happiness was the meaning of life, I'd be in big trouble.  And so would a lot of other people.  But to acknowledge that in a world of suffering, the meaning must somehow be built into the suffering - not away from it- helps.

So, what I have decided on, what I can hear him saying to me, for some reason- in both Korean and English- are two very different words:

Jal ji neh.

Live well.

August 3, 2003

I'm pretty sure I wrote about our engagement last year on this day, but since then I finally was able to hack into Dan's old xanga account and find his own version of it.  He had published it back then, but later saved it to a draft setting.

You have given me every extreme now, I was thinking the other day.  Our wedding day, the most joy-filled, your funeral, the most devastating.  Wake- most horrifying.  Day our little girl was born, most awe-filled.  And our engagement day- the most anticipated and most exciting day of my life.   Four years of dating and singing at every friend's wedding and finally- you asked.  When I read this now, I read how young we still were.  26 and 27 years old.  You had only seven years left to live until the day of your most preventable and ridiculous death.  I am very sad today to find that all of that is over.

People want to believe your memories bring you comfort or happiness or something.  Maybe with other losses, but not with a spouse.  For what is a relationship but a compilation of all shared memories and experiences.  They are the concrete foundation on which future memories will be built.  This you only really find out when the relationship is severed and broken and ended.  The memories then are like the tiniest shards of glass sprinkled on your kitchen floor after you drop your favorite vase.  It's the shards you must watch out for more than the larger pieces even.  You tiptoe around them in your bare feet, those beautiful, sharp shards.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

i was planning to write in today's entry about the time i met chris webber in the building i used to work at, but something came up over the weekend that changed my life forever.  w/ my sincere apologies to mr webber...

so... as some of you may already know, ...after 4-plus long years of dating, julia and i got engaged on sunday, august 3rd 
i'm not a big fan of those corny emails or sites informing the world about their whole proposal event in over-dramatically written cheesy romantic details.  however, since people have been asking me non-stop 'where & how did you do it', 'what was her reaction' type of questions, i decided to just do an entry on the proposal, so that folks don't bug me no more.  i'll try to describe it the best i can
lies after liesi really threw her off good.  actually after this, i realized i could be a pretty good liar or a con artist.  hmm...
lie #1: i first made her believe i was playing music for the evening service at 6pm (which our church started recently) in midtown near grand central
lie #2: while she was on the upperwest side trying to park her car for an hour (she was planning to come to the service, but it's impossible to park in midtown), i called her cell and said i decided not to play for the service, that i'd tell her details later
lie #3: when i met up w/ julia at the s line platform in times sq, i told her the real reason i'm not playing is because i got into a fight w/ siki, the music leader for that service.  i was going to say i threw a chair at him, but i thought that would give it away, so i just said it was an argument

we took the s line shuttle across to the east side and entered grand central...
grand central
by now she was furious at me.  first i immaturely get into a fight, then i irresponsibly decide not to play just because of that silly incident...   she said she was starting to question my character.  we were on a ramp going down to the downstairs concourse to use the bathrooms, when i stopped her to show her a cool feature of grand central called 'the whispering wall'.  (there are 4 corners to the whispering wall.  when you stand in one corner and talk even in the quietest voice, the other person on the opposite diagonal side can hear everything)
me:  (in a quiet voice) hi julia
julia:  hi
me:  can you hear me?
julia:  yeah! can you hear me?
me:  yeah!  isn't this cool?
julia:  yeah!
me:  i love you
julia:  i love you, too
me:  ...will you marry me?
julia:  (shocked and speechless at first) ...naw... naw...  you're not...
i had to ask twice more but i kept getting 'no, no's.  so i walked across to the corner where she was standing, did the one knee drill w/ the ring out and asked her again.  there, trembling and almost crying, julia said yes! and we hugged and kissed.  the cop standing near by clapped for us as we were in each others' arms. 
(why there, you ask?i thought about doing it in central park, but everyone does it there, and couldn't think of anything that creative.  julia has always been fond of grand central.  plus, i like it there too!  let's just say, it's no port authority or penn station.  besides the fact that it's always crowded, she has always been fascinated by the classic architecture of the building, stars on the ceiling, huge glass windows, the light that shines through those windows, chandelier lights... everything about it is elegant.  like julia.  oh, on the way down to the whispering walls, julia even pointed out how cool the chandeliers are, which was a good sign)
celebrationafter we embraced, julia got very dizzy and had to sit down to take this all in.  we sat on the bench in the downstairs concourse for a few minutes till she felt better, then went to celebrate at the w hotel lounge on 49th and lex.  we had our first drinks as an engaged couple as we chilled on the trendy comfy sofas.  (by the way, you have to check out their bathrooms.  they're so cool)  at the 6 o'clock service, they announced our engagement, we were congratulated and got prayed for, several times
so, that's the story of our engagement.  yay-  hope you're happy.  cuz i am

they say attractive women are drawn to crazy phycho men...  muhahahha!!!
funny thing is, since sunday evening, julia's been saying 'hi fiance' a lot.  she's so cute

Monday, August 1, 2011

More of the Same

These writings feel more disjointed.  There are less themes.  More of the same.

When I hear your old bus put on the brakes outside our building, I barely notice it anymore.  I can't even conjure up the excitement I used to feel knowing you'd be on that bus.  Though I saw you do so recently, in a hazy dream the other night.  You're always in my dreams now.  Always sad and always lost to me somehow.

I love that my therapist, who lost her daughter at 18 in a car crash, told me her husband, a pastor, said when he got to heaven he'd have to say, "You're gonna have to step aside Jesus, because I need to see C------."  I feel that way too.  Step aside.

In the car today on her way to swimming lessons, Audrey says to me out of nowhere, "Some other kids don't have daddies that died."  "Yes, that's right," I try to explain briefly that this is very unusual and sad and Appa never thought he'd die but got into an accident.  Later in her bath, the two little wooden people in her wooden sailboat with the rainbow sail are according to her, "a little girl and her daddy."

I see, my beautiful daughter, by the look in your eyes when others play with their dads, that you miss him.  You miss having a father.  It's not fair to you and I hate it.  I hate how all of the t-shirts and pajamas I see for you the other day are for "Daddy's little girl" or some variation of that.  I put the hangers down in a hurry.  I hate the look in your eyes when I read a story that has a dad in it.  I hate that I want to give you everything in the world but can't give you the one thing that you need.

Now that Audrey's so verbal and so much more like a miniature person saying things like, "I'm not a fan of that," or "my pleasure," as she helps me unload groceries, I often find myself wondering where she came from.  And I think, even though I know scientifically, biologically, how she arrived here- there still feels like there's something extra missing.  But where did you come from? I think.  And I wonder why it isn't enough to marvel at the science of it- the tiny fetus developing over nine months in the dim water to the muted sounds of the waiting world.

And it's the same way with your death.  I know rationally what happened to your body and I even saw it ten days later.  I know it's now buried.  But still- I am always left thinking, "But where, oh where did you go Dan?"  

These two, life and death, are not ours to know.

"Where are you?  Where are you?" I ask nightly.