Sunday, May 29, 2011

May 31, 1999 According to Him

We exchanged a couple of emails and finally met on Memorial Day.  Boy it was hot that day!

Before I get to our meeting, I should say this: I thought or assumed she was Korean until she had emailed me.  Alyssa didn't tell me anything about her being white.

So not expecting much, we met.  She came all the way from Jersey to Columbia U on time, and I was 5 minutes late.

Turns out, I have seen her before.  She sang at KCPC for the Thanksgiving Youth Rally.  I remember saying to myself, "Wow, that girl can sing!"

We first had lunch at the law school.  We bought sandwiches from Hamilton's which is famous for its NYPD subs but they were out of it, so we ate some chicken sandwich drenched in mayo.  It wasn't that bad, but wasn't good either.  Then we looked for somewhere to practice.  First, tried the chapel, but it was closed, so went to the MUDD (science) building) and found a room.

NOw this is the part where I started having feelings for her.  She takes out three friggin thick folders.  So I'm like, "OK, she's brought praise song books."  Well NO! They were folders full of her original tunes. There had to be at least 50 pages in each.  That means she wrote 150 or more!  She really put me to shame.  Her consistency and passion for music, heart to serve God through the gift of music was the thing that touched me the most.  After five minutes into our jam session, I was in love with her.

May 31st 1999 According to Her

That morning I decided on a whim to go to the mall before heading into the city to meet you- I wanted to buy a new outfit- and I'm not sure why.  But I did.  It was nothing fancy- light green short overalls from Old Navy and a periwinkle t-shirt with stripes that brought out my eyes.

I took the bus near my parents' home into the city.  I was eating an apple I remember, and a bit of the apple color got on a headband I wore- made of small pearls.  It stained.   I found my way to the train you told me to take uptown- the 1-9 it was called then.  I don't think there's a 9 anymore.  When I got out, I accidentally went to the gates of Barnard rather than Columbia and waited a while.  Then I realized my mistake, and headed over to Columbia.  I am always early- so I waited a while I guess.  At one point, I saw an Asian man- heavy, dorky, with glasses, who looked like he was looking around.  Sorry to say, I darted away afraid that might be you.  When I told you later, we joked about how superficial that was of me.  But then I headed back to the bench I was waiting on when he walked away.  For some reason, I looked up at a patch of sky and cloud, and said to myself or God or whatever, "Whatever this relationship brings, please let it bring glory to you."  Those are the exact words.  I had no reason to believe it would bring anything since we'd never met and this wasn't supposed to be a "date."

Then, you were walking towards me with a guitar on your back, t-shirt and shorts, saying my name: "Julia?"

You weren't expecting me to be white, it turned out.  And it also turned out you had seen me once before- the Thanksgiving before when I'd been asked to share a few of my songs at a large Korean youth gathering in Northern Virginia.  You had been there.  You told me you'd said to one of your friends, "She can sing."  And then you looked at me and said, "I can't believe I'm here with you."

You raved about a sandwich called NYPD at Hamilton's deli nearby.  When we got there, they were out.  I decided on a chicken salad sandwich called "The Clinton."  You got the same.  I remember looking around the freezer for the drink I felt like having and wound up with a Very Fine pink grapefruit juice.  You insisted on paying since I'd come all the way into the city.  Then you led me to the law school where there was a lounge that we could eat at.  You ran into your older brother's roommate there and introduced me.  I waited to see if you'd pray for the food and you prayed by yourself.

Then we headed to an empty room you knew in the physics building.  You got out your guitar and I got out the books of songs I'd written and brought.  We took turns playing our songs for each other.  Now I know how humble it was of you to introduce your music skills with the guitar- you could play but not the way you played piano and cello.  At one point you had to go to the bathroom and as you turned to go, I watched the way you walked away- dragging your feet slightly like a little boy.  I would say- I loved you then.  Right then.

Then we headed out to play our music in the chapel- which we found was locked.  You said it never was.  So, then we headed to another rehearsal area you knew- all of the piano rooms were locked- but there was one upright piano outside the rooms by itself in a corner.  We sat there.  You played and sang with me- we sang a few worship songs.

After that, you asked me if I'd seen the new Star Wars movie and I said no.  I wondered if you were asking me out but you said it was just that all of your friends had already seen it and you really wanted to see it.  I said OK.  I was enjoying our time together.  You suggested we go back to your brother's apartment to drop off the guitar and get sweaters or long sleeve shirts because the movie theaters were always so cold.  You were always prone to being cold...always prone to being cold.

So, you grabbed me something and something for yourself.  Inside the apartment I phoned my mom to tell her I'd be staying a bit later.  She sounded curious "Do you want to?"  "Yes, I do." I remember answering.

The movie was sold out.  We said our goodbyes- and you led me to the nearest subway stairs.  I turned around to watch you walk away.

I carried with me in my bag half of that grapefruit juice bottle and when I finished it on the bus ride home decided to keep the empty bottle.  "One day I'm going to tell my kids that this was the first thing their dad ever bought me."  This is what I thought.  I lay on my bed at home listening to the demo of your songs you had given me.  It would be another month before I would see you again.

Back in 1999, it was a record high on Memorial Day.  Tomorrow is supposed to be in the 90's.  Our sponsored child in Honduras- the one we chose because he was born on the day we met- will turn twelve years old.

Twelve years.


This holiday weekend snuck up on me.  I didn't realize the double effect it would have of being a "holiday" weekend and also the anniversary of the day we met.

It's not like "the holidays" that everyone warns you about.  But I've found it to be much worse- because it's not the kind of holiday where you get together with relatives you don't really want to see, but just a long weekend break- the entrance of summer- the kind of holiday you spend with friends and your immediate family and the kind that you enjoy.  I didn't realize the sense of incompleteness I would feel starting yesterday.  I didn't realize how if you were here, our weekend plans would be complete- even if the three of us just hung out around the apartment- but without you here- it felt like Audrey and I were supposed to do something, go out, be somewhere.  I finally let go of that notion and decided it was OK if we weren't joining in the barbecues and holidays (though we did attend one today).

And attending a part of the "festivities"- that was equally hard.  At first, I had expectations (which I usually don't have anymore)- that it would be so much fun to go to a barbecue with friends.  Then, immediately- once there- I realized we were missing someone and that our hosts knew it too.  Upon making small talk with the guests I didn't know, I wonder if someone has told them- if they know- no one asks me where my husband is- probably.

The hosts are old friends - both Dan and I knew.  They have a 14 month old baby and are pregnant again- the guy is Korean and the girl is caucasian.  They have a new home with a back porch and a sandbox and turn the sprinkler on for the kids.  Another old friend of ours who I haven't seen in years is there- I am sad when I see this Irish man because it is you who were better friends with him and would've been catching up with him here.   What I feel is "helpless"- helpless to offer him what I feel he should receive- a hug and hello from you.  It's only me here.

The barbecue is relaxed and lovely but I find myself so low on energy.  I see there a life that I might have had.  And I also notice two things: I am used to attending events alone now- already- less than a year.  I am used to being a woman and her little girl.  This saddens me.  On the other hand, I still hear you beside me like a phantom- laughing at certain things- making small talk about soccer and Guinness with another Irish guy there that we don't know.  Another friend - also a Korean man who doesn't have kids of his own yet- is playing with Audrey in the sandbox and she looks delighted- suddenly I can hear in my mind your voice playing with her- the things you might have said, the creative ideas you might have come up with.  The host chases his 14 month old boy around while dribbling a basketball- I see you there too.

I am home now.  I am tired.  I miss you Dan.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Pay Attention

On one of the widow forums on FB that I get, the founder poses questions and widows leave their answers in the comments.  Today's was about what kinds of dreams you've had about your spouse and if you have a favorite.

I thought this answer, from one woman, was beautiful:

For months, I dreamed every night, just before sunrise, that I'd hear him getting ready in the morning. Showering, brushing teeth, shaving, opening drawers.....just typical sounds of early morning. Sounds I never paid much attention to, until they were gone.

I wish it wasn't like this, the not paying attention to what you have while you have it- but it is.  

Pay attention.

Twelve Years Ago

It was this day 12 years ago.  We, introduced by a mutual friend because of a common pursuit of music, had spoken once on the phone earlier that week when you called me.  When the phone rang, strangely, I had been on my knees, praying.  We spoke of some mutual friends we had and said we should get together to see if we might collaborate musically.  Then I impulsively called you on the Saturday morning of Memorial Day weekend to ask if you were doing anything on Monday.  I was surprised you weren't since it seemed most people had plans.

So on this day 12 years ago, we set the date and time where we would meet for the first time.  I wrote it down on a small piece of paper in my Bible along with your phone number.  Daniel Cho  116th and Broadway.   We would meet right at the main gates of Columbia near where you were living at the time.  You would bring a guitar.  

After we spoke, I didn't think about it much.  In truth, I had another young guy coming over that day - a friend from college who was interested in me for quite a few years, but I just didn't feel the same way. He was always making impromptu visits to my parent's house even though he lived in another state.  That night we went out to dinner in the city and he asked me to go up to the Empire State building with him, but I was saving that experience for "the one," so I politely declined and said I had to get home.

Somehow, I was already hoping that "one" was you.

If a Tree Falls in the Forest...

She sleeps.  It's quiet except for the noise of cars from my window on the busy street I live on.

It's been a long day of glitter glue and moon sand, a trip to Target to stave off the feelings of total incapacitation and grief of the morning, singing songs with tears while my daughter isn't looking, and now I sit in bed and watch a video of you playing around this time last year at a festival in Nashville.  I see you smile when you're introduced and cry quietly like a child.  Then I write about it here because there is no one to see me here and because sometimes grief feels a lot like that old question about whether or not a tree falling in the forest is heard if no one is there to hear it.

It feels like this kind of pain deserves a presence.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

I'll Take Infinity

I'm sitting in Starbucks before my counseling session.

So far this morning, I made necklaces of rainbow colored pasta we dyed yesterday with Audrey after breakfast, took the ferry to Manhattan, closed our joint bank account, and called the monument company regarding the sketch of our headstone.  It's 11:09 am.  I sigh very loudly and long'ly.

As I walked to the ferry, I thought about how so much of grieving is reviewing- reviewing the days before, leading up to, of, and after your death.  So much of it is walking around the same places thinking, we were here then, that day, you went there, you didn't come back alive.  It feels like what you do when you lose something small, like your keys, wallet, a letter or bill.  You retrace your steps.  I'm usually pretty good at that.  I had it here, then the phone rang, so I came over there...and here it is!

Not so this time around.

Even while I sleep, my subconscious mind is reviewing and trying to get to that ending- there he is.  But it can't.  Last night I dreamt again of being together with you.  As always our complete reunion is always just out of my reach.  But in one part of this dream, we sat at Whole Foods with Audrey and two old ladies behind us commented, "What a beautiful family!"  That's when I thought to myself in the dream- "You don't know, he's actually dead- it's actually a horrible tragic family."  In the dream, I'm also fairly certain you were holding a baby- while Audrey sat next to me.  We were complete.

At the bank, I sign the last form to close our joint account and look at the banker with tears in my eyes, "Have a great day..." she says as she walks back to her desk in heels and a black suit.  As I walk outside, I feel I almost need to sit down on the edge of a building to stop and cry.  But I walk slowly on.  Here at Starbucks, I call the monument company and speak loudly over the jazzy music playing in here.  I ask about the edges of the stone- I can't tell on the sketch if they're rough as I requested.  I find out the back is polished just because we had the polished border.  I didn't know this- "It looks better that way," Marie tells me.   I ask about the punctuation- turns out they put two commas in the verse, "Be not afraid, only believe,"  It should be a period after believe.  End of sentence.  We also go over the punctuation for the dates of your life.  "Yes, that's a period, " she says, and then "Oh he was so young! I just realized."
"Yes, he was.  He was my husband," I reply.

Then I ask about the diamond accents they placed on the sides of C H O to lengthen it- I remember Al saying it'd look too short on the stone.  I don't really think it would- it's our name.  But I ask her what other symbols they have to offer- I know you wouldn't like those diamonds - neither do I really.  She says leaves, rose, infinity symbol.  I go with infinity.

I'll need to see a revised sketch.

While I'm sitting here, I hear back from the pastor I've asked to lead the memorial at the cemetery.  He will do it.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Guest of Honor

I have been overwhelmed- too overwhelmed to write much here that would be coherent.

Audrey and I both have colds.

I found out a few weeks ago my landlord whom Dan and I subletted our apartment from is selling it.  We'd have to move by the end of the summer- so close to the one year anniversary which I am quite sure will be incapacitating for me.  I got the email from him while Audrey and I were in Whole Foods eating lunch one day and tears ran down my face as I continued talking and laughing with her after reading the email on my phone.  Not because I'm averse to moving in itself- though it is stressful, especially with a toddler at your heels.  More so because of the emotional issues tied in here.  This place is the context Audrey has for her memories with Dan.  She sits in his chair in the kitchen and says, "I'm gonna sit on Appa's chair to remember him."  Even if I bring the same table and chairs somewhere else, I don't know which side would be his necessarily.  She also climbs up into the chair at his desk where he worked on music and smiles.  She still remembers looking out the windows waving at him below when he came home from work.  The other emotion is for me- leaving our last home together- packing up his clothes- still in our shared dresser.  I try to look on the positive side- maybe Audrey can get a nice, real room.  Maybe we can have a pet- you can't in our building.  Maybe it'll be great.  Maybe this is the push forward I need. Yeah.   Still- there's something about not having the choice myself- being forced to let a realtor come in and look around our apartment- that feels grim.  Then there's the fact that I'm not sure where to go or if we can afford much in this area- but again, I'm loathe to move somewhere totally different.  I need the routine and comfort of familiar places right now.  Audrey is signed up for preschool nearby and I've already placed a large deposit there and am happy with the choice- so that also limits us.

I'm starting to put together a memorial for July 6, 2011.  I can't grasp it yet.  People have been telling me I'll be reliving those early days, but the truth is, I relive them every single day.  I think about it that often- the phone call, where I stood, the way the voice on the line sounded as he spoke the words- the screaming I heard coming out of my mouth while my soul hid and Audrey stood watching.  I think about it a lot.  What will this year be like?

This time last year we were taking Audrey on her first airplane ride together as a family.  We were accompanying Dan to a concert in Chicago and staying with some cousins of his.  If I allow myself, I can pretend I am in that time period now- getting ready for my first plane ride with a baby, borrowing an umbrella stroller from another mom, finding out about airplane regulations, getting is all so vivid.

One of our last days there, you walked to a nearby pub in the neighborhood where your cousins have built a beautiful house- but the neighborhood is one of those that is "up and coming."  You went to take out burgers for our lunch- I waited in the large house with Audrey staring out the windows.  Would you believe that I was afraid for you?  That I thought something might happen or that you might...even die?  I waited anxiously and called you a number of times when it took a while but you didn't answer.  You had been attacked years earlier in the subway so maybe that's why I worried- I don't know.  Then I heard the door unlock and you appeared with a burger and sandwich.  We ate them and you commented on how good yours was.

That is what I can't get over.  If it's normal for every wife to worry that her husband might die at any moment, on any given day?  Because I did.  When your mom came in from Korea for Audrey's one year birthday party, you were going to drive to JFK to pick her up, but I convinced you maybe you should just take public transportation- which you did- to your mom's dismay.  I wasn't sure you knew the way and the airport drive seemed intimidating to me for someone who had lived in the city most of his life.   When you finally got home that night,  I stood up here watching your mom lecture you outside on the street at 11 pm.  When she came in she was miserable and I apologized saying you should've driven.  But the truth was, I was afraid you might die.  But how could I say that?  I envisioned it all in the short moment when I said, "Maybe you should just take the bus," I envisioned getting a call- the night before Audrey's dohl party - that something horrible had happened.  I couldn't let it happen.

But it did.  Just ten months later.

All of this makes my brain sputter when I try to comprehend it.  And since only I have all of these experiences and thoughts that I carry inside- it is extremely isolating.

I remember when I began this blog, just a week after burying my husband, I literally thought- I am going to implode with pain if I don't do something- what can I do?

But the past few days, I just feel like I am crumbling and there's not much writing can do for that.

I have started to plan July 6th.  A short service at your grave in the morning- a dinner/gathering- some music- in the evening in the city.  I gather up any energy I have left to try to pull all that together- to get to do something again for you- to be your wife again- to please you and make you happy- as if you'll arrive as the guest of honor- but you won't.  You won't.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Mail

After a birthday party today, I was pretty worn out by late afternoon.

In the mail today, an envelope from an old coworker of yours.

Inside, a notebook another coworker found when she was cleaning out her desk.  It was yours.

In it are a few notes regarding your work.  And a few doodles.

I cry as I run my fingers over the indentations of the ink of the little people you drew.  Audrey is beside me saying "It's OK mommy, it's OK."  I'm so sorry she has to see me like this sometimes.  I wasn't expecting this in the mail.  I wasn't prepared.

And then, my new checks come.  Last week I went in to the bank to remove your name from our account.  I hadn't been able to do that yet.  To make it even more difficult, the bank required I close our account and open a completely new one.  So goodbye to our old account number- and...shared checks.

I opened the checks and was surprised by the smaller looking name and address in the upper left hand corner- just mine.  This is happening.  This is really happening.  It's just me now.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Photos cont.

Photos cont.

Saying Goodbye

Did you ever notice when you look at a photo of someone you know well, if you know the context a little bit- the people they were with- you can tell who took it?  When I got the photos on Dan's iPhone back from overseas, I could tell who (which of the friends/bandmates on tour) had taken each photo of him by the way he was smiling and looking at the camera.

And so...I too look a certain way in all of the photos you took of me over the years.  I can tell you're behind the lens by the way I look at the camera.  I can also tell because you took photos of me as if I was artwork. You were always telling me you had to take a photo of me just then or in that light.  So in many of the photos, I'm not posing or even looking at the camera- but I can still see myself through your unique view.

I realize that the girl behind that lens is now dead and gone.  The reality is we must say goodbye to who we were in order to become who we will now be.  She can never reappear- the one you alone saw and knew- the lens itself is gone.  So, I decided to search through for some of those photos (not because I'm vain- it goes against my instinct to post photos of myself) to remember her one more time how you saw her and in turn, shaped her.  I will miss her.  Thank you for seeing her the way you did.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


It's been difficult.  A little bit like in the early days- pretty debilitating.  I feel the year pressing in.  I feel the days ahead when I can no longer go through the days on a parallel spiral just one spot from "last year" when we did this or that together.  When I can no longer say my husband just died or died this past July.  Starting in August, I can't say this past July.  

It has been acute.  If you've seen a baby hurt themselves and then seen that moment or two before you hear an audible cry- when you see their face in that expression of pain and screaming but it is mute- you have to wait a moment before you actually hear the accompanying sounds- this is what I've felt like.  In the mute part of that scenario when you know, you just know it's bad.

So this is sorrow.   So this is sorrow.  Those words have been echoing in my mind a lot.  When I was in complete shock and started posting about your death on Facebook of all places (a place I'd never posted or followed before), that was one of the very first things I posted.  

The archetype is a trial, perseverance, and overcoming.  Cinderella is treated horribly, gets to go to the ball, has one final challenge of getting a chance to prove she was the beautiful girl, and then...she does.  She tries on the slipper- and lives happily ever after.  That's a fairy tale- and one which my 2-1/2 year old strangely seems to know already in her heart- but even modern tales are much the same.  That is the narrative I've spoken of before and what causes all of the questions in this anti-narrative- which I will define as a tragedy.  

We had the reverse: magic and wonder and love- challenges...worse challenges.  And then death.  It defies the archetype.  It raises questions.  It doesn't matter to me that my story isn't over- yours is.   

In a similar way, I realize, all prayers I've prayed have always been about hoping and waiting.  Hoping the sick person will be healed- waiting for you to get the opportunities in music I was praying for with tears.  I felt this surge of that kind of prayer like getting dressed for battle rising up in me when I heard the violinist's voice on the phone and knew immediately you were incapacitated in some way and something was very wrong.  I would've been praying and fasting, waiting and hoping and crying out.  But before I put on the armor, I knew.  I was asked if I was driving.  I was told to sit down.  I knew.   The anti-narrative began.  I don't know what to pray when I hear the most permanent words of my life.  "Dan is dead. "  

Am I supposed to pray for myself?  I am not worried about myself.  I am breathing.  I am alive.  People ask me how they can pray.  I have no answer to that.  

You were the one who kept our toothpaste tube clean.  I am the one who squeezed it from the wrong place and didn't close it all the way until it got all goopy and hard to close.  After you died, I refused to let it get clogged.  I would take over the duty.  The toothpaste is clogged.  It is spilling over into the clear glass cup it sits in along with your toothbrush.  

I've been spending a lot of time envying those who got to say goodbye to their dying loved one.  Isn't that sad?  I know, I know, you're not supposed to compare sudden death and drawn out deaths.  Each death is unique.  I've read it all.  But you know what?  Saying goodbye, I'm sorry, I love a gift I wish I had gotten.  I consider it a true luxury.


The other day I google your nickname.  I hadn't done this before.  If I google your name all I see are notices of your death as "Regina Spektor's cellist."  But I was surprised by some of the things that came up with your nickname.  Reviews at Citysearch that made me smile- one about your favorite sandwich at a place we liked in Park Slope which you declare, "THE GREATEST SANDWICH IN THE WORLD"- another thumbs down for a Thai place where you begin, "if a thai place can't do basic pad thai, there's a problem. it's like a sushi place not being able to make a decent spicy tuna roll, or halal stand that makes bad shish kabab."

I find also one single twitter entry (I guess you gave it your best shot) where you were putting together our new bed frame and couldn't find the IKEA directions.  I don't think I was here when you put it together- never knew this.  Hmmm.

I find comments on soccer sites, a few comments on the site I write for defending me from snarky readers being snarky about my posts.

I find a review on Yahoo for a movie called "TaeGukGi: The Brotherhood of War (2004)"  You say it is very, very good.  Is this the one we watched at your parent's house I wonder?  The very bloody one about two brothers who end up fighting on opposite sides during the Korean war?  If you were here, I'd ask you that. 

I also find you have registered on Etsy and have a list of favorites.  This surprises me, but the last gift you got me was a necklace from Etsy last Mother's Day so I guess you'd done some browsing beforehand.  I see you have several pieces of jewelry you'd picked out for me.  I can understand why you chose them.  There are small rose studs- you always called me your rose (with thorns included), there is a ring with a small vintage clock on it- it's called the "Paris clock ring."  There is also a ring with a tiny tea cup on it.  These are all things you would've chosen for me.

Finally, there are clear glass pendants with vintage dictionary paper encased in the glass.  One is an old-fashioned photo of a bicycle, and the others are all just words from the dictionary.  I read them with great interest.  This find is one of the only bits of "new" information from you I have gotten in a while.  Old but new to me.  Something more...something after you can't give anymore.  Something you thought about me...

I am nowhere near thinking you are sending me a message from the afterlife anymore- but I will gladly listen to what you had to say while you were alive...hear your perspective on things again.  

It's refreshing.

Each pendant has a single word.  The ones you chose are:

anyway  (I think this was either 1) the first one you saw before you saw better word choices- or an inside joke having to do with a Korean drama we were watching at the time).




hot mama


hotsy totsy









I Missed You...

A memory came back to me the other day and I've been pondering it in my heart.

It was in Korea when we went for the lunar New Year the year after we were married.  It was a rough trip for me (and you).  I was the new daughter in law, and not accustomed to the culture there.  I brought my hanbok- traditional Korean dress, and had to change into it a few times to bow to the many relatives I met in Seoul and then Daegu.  Your mom informed me on a Wednesday or Thursday that she'd told their church I would be singing on Sunday.  It was February and very cold, and I caught a horrible cold and cough and was up many nights coughing and even throwing up.   We traveled to the small village where your father grew up and there again, I bowed in a room of old women sitting on the floor squinting at me.  

Finally, I remember there was a moment after church that Sunday- where yes, I'd gotten up in front of a huge congregation and sang while you accompanied me on piano- my face on a giant screen- when your mom said they'd give us a few minutes alone and we could rest- they had some things to do at church in the afternoon. 

I think almost as soon as their apartment door closed, we stood in the middle of the room embracing very, very tightly and taking a deep, unified breath.

"I missed you," you whispered.  "I missed you so much."  

Planet of the Apes

I ask a friend the other night on the phone, "You've seen "Planet of the Apes right?"

"Yeah, yeah..."

"Remember that eery moment at the end where they find the crown of the Statue of Liberty and realize that they've been on earth all along?  This is how it feels when I catch glimpses of where I am now. "


The same place- my home.  I catch them when I recall a very mundane memory or details of you or our life together or when I find a physical object of yours.  All remnants of the past.  Things that don't seem to belong here in a world it feels like I traveled to on July 6th.  What is that doing here? I almost think.  It's an eery, earthy moment, when I realize I am in the same place-
in a very,
different time.


The tulips look tired, I notice last week as I walked to the ferry from my building.  The petals faded and curled on the ground- only the black and yellow of the stamen and pistol remain at the tip of the tall, crude stems.   I notice the trees are actually green.  It's as if I didn't expect summer would actually come.

I walk down the pier to the ferry where we had pushed Audrey in her stroller last summer.  I am just two months from where- when- you died and in returning to this place it is the same as when you return to a place as an adult that you had frequented as a child.  Everything appears smaller- less magical.  The way the presents under my Christmas tree did that one year all of the sudden.  The way the kiddy train ride at the park near my house was when I took you there back while we were dating.  I had remembered a dark, cavernous tunnel... but it was just a tiny kiddy train that went through one small fabricated tunnel and you laughed.  It is like that now- here.  Like a set or stage once the actors and actresses have gone.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Life Insurance

Yesterday a nurse came to my apartment to take a blood sample, weight me, measure me, copy down a bunch of stuff from my driver's license.  She was a very sweet middle-aged woman named Elaine.  We'd spoken over the phone setting up the appointment and she seemed a bit frazzled but kind.

I debated about telling her why the appointment was emotional for me before she arrived.  But I knew I might break down.  Once she arrived and we headed into the kitchen, I found myself telling her.   She had short, curly hair, kind eyes, and was wearing a nurse's uniform with little flowers on it. As it turns out, she hears sad stories like this all of the time in her profession.  Still, she was shocked and asked a lot of questions.  She told me that you never know because sometimes there could have been some reason why it had to be this way.  I give her credit for saying that to me.  She also said that I would find the strength.  Meanwhile Audrey got out her new doctor kit and quietly showed Elaine her instruments.

Elaine  has a fifteen year old daughter and looked me right in the eye and said sarcastically, "it's fun..."  She assured me Audrey would be my savior and "your shopping buddy."

I let Audrey watch as Elaine took my blood and my blood pressure.  Audrey stood beside me and got out her own blood pressure gauge.

The visit was over in fifteen minutes and was surprisingly pleasant.   Elaine told me I looked like I was in my 20's and that Audrey was a "little Einstein" and should be tested and receive a full scholarship to a nearby private school.  She was extremely enthusiastic about this part, and at one point, told me I should "drown her" in different kinds of stimulation, etc.  As soon as she said "drown her," she stopped, put her head in her hands and turned red, apologizing.  I laughed quite a bit and told her that I now had a very dark sense of humor and it was quite alright.  

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


I imagine grief like an old-fashioned corset that one can't wait to break free of.

Or like the REM sleep paralysis one experiences when she is sleeping and dreaming a terrible vision but can't move her body or open her eyes to stop it- though she tries with all of the strength in her.

It is still common that I have a vision of something so mundane- like you clipping your finger nails over a magazine (your usual practice), or your cello swinging on your arm, or your clothes in the hamper- that I experience your death completely afresh.  I gasp and words come out of my mouth aloud, "Oh my God."  

It is still common that I stop what I'm doing in the evening and look towards our door, concentrating my energy on the knob.  I stand for a moment.  It seems completely possibly that you could indeed open it.  ...   
"OK, Audrey, time for your bath."  I turn away.  

I count through the months of the year the other day to see how many months I am actually free of the "holidays" and "anniversaries" that everyone says are so painful.  And I find they are- the days leading up, the days afterwards, and the day itself.  I find only October and March are void of any huge dates besides the date of your death.  That's a lot of holidays and anniversaries.  It's an onslaught really.  I'm right in the thick of the tail end right now- made it through our anniversary, Audrey's birthday, your birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years', Valentine's Day, my 35th birthday, Mother's Day.  There are three huge dates left: Memorial Day- the day we met- 1999, Father's Day, and the year anniversary of your death.  It approaches.  So soon.  While I am still processing the phone call and all that it means.   In between all of these days, I am always speaking into the air, "I love you..."  As I walk behind Audrey's stroller to the park, after she's asleep and I sit on the kitchen floor in the dim evening light with my head in my hands, or while I lay on my bed watching old episodes of "Arrested Development"- a show we enjoyed watching together and laughing sometimes- yes, even laughing.  "I love you..."  "Sah rahng hae."  

And then what?  It starts over again.  Another year- but a quieter one when most will assume I'm now "well," because "time heals."  

A photo of you comes up on my computer earlier.  "One day you're going to look very young to me," I tell you. 

"Like a boy."  

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Mother's Day 2011

From my first Mother's Day- 2009- before you'd started touring.  Last year you were away on Mother's Day.

Thank you Dan- for making my dream of motherhood come true.  For that, I am forever grateful.

It is bittersweet now certainly,
but still
each time I am brushing Audrey's hair away from her face with my fingers,
or tickling her in the same spots where you were so ticklish while she giggles,
or lifting her up on my legs the way you used to, I am whispering "Thank you..."

Do you hear me?

Strangers Here

A perfect stranger came over today with her two year old for a play date.

She had found my blog through the NY Times article published back in August.  At some point much later, she wrote me an email and shared her own stories of grief.  A few years ago, she lost two infants in a row at around six weeks.  The second was on life support for another six weeks.  She also lost her own father at eighteen.

She came over with two beautiful books for Audrey, scones, the best cookies I've ever had from a bakery in her neighborhood, and a journal and bag for me.  We walked to Whole Foods with our girls and ate lunch together.  She insisted on treating.  On the walk there we saw four goslings sitting on the side of the path, guarded by their parents.

I felt truly humbled that someone I don't even know would treat me in this manner.  I was partly afraid the whole time that I would disappoint her- that the me in person would not match the quality of the writing that had drawn her, but it was as if we had been friends for quite a while rather than meeting for the first time.

On the walk back, I saw my first butterfly of the season- a small one that seemed to dance around the four of us for some time.  I've long since given up on "signs" and symbols in that way- it reminds me of 1 cor 13 "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me."   

Because these kinds of things are hard to substantiate as spiritual "signs", I'm pretty much done with these.  But at the same time, there is something beautiful and symbolic - if not supernatural- about the butterfly. 

And then just as we got back to the parking lot and she was to head home for her daughter's nap, it began to drizzle.  And as I walked inside, the drops got larger.   

I thought about my question of whether or not we are just physical beings- or whether there is some part of us- a soul- that lasts.  Of course, I'd thought about this for many years before you died, but it is quite a different question now even though the phrasing appears the same.  It seems that the kind of sharing in grief and the human experience I was able to have with this woman simply doesn't make sense if we are just physical beings.  

So, for the afternoon at least- I felt hopeful.  I shared one of the cookies she brought with Audrey and we sat outside while she painted designs on the balcony floor with water and a fat paintbrush.  Our guest and I exchanged emails later with thank you's and decided that you just might be teaching her two children how to play the cello where you are.


It seems now, like all of my tears each time we said goodbye and you left to tour for a few weeks-
were just a foretaste of what was to come.

You and I have been looking at life's events together for so long, it is so strange to go through this one- without you.  I sometimes imagine this is happening to someone else so that I can imagine what you and I would have said about it together- how we would've gotten through.

Except it's us it's happening to.  But separately- not together.  On opposite sides now.

I haven't missed your "help" per say yet, because I was pretty accustomed to taking care of things myself- around the house, with Audrey, bills, stuff like that.

But tonight I do.  I miss you carrying up the groceries and parking the car while I came up with Audrey.  I miss you bringing in the water pitcher at night, and washing the dishes.  But mostly, I miss your comforting, reassuring presence to me.  Your quiet leadership that let me know which way to go so many times.  I miss the way you'd tell me how nice I look on a day when I was feeling the worst.  I miss hearing you tell me I'm a good cook and Audrey, "Aren't we lucky mommy's such a good cook!"  I miss your smile or the crinkle of your nose across a crowded room to let me know what you were thinking without words.  I miss hearing you read to Audrey in a Scottish accent.  I miss how you'd go grocery shopping and call me a seventeen times to ask me a question about my list.  "Yes?" I'd say when I answered.  I desperately miss your massages- the ones that healed my neck, my carpal tunnel and torn hip joint.  Remember when one therapist would literally pull on my left leg from the foot to alleviate the pressure at my hip and you tried it at home and I screamed?

I realize that although I have understood the permanence of this from day one, I can feel my soul is in a state of waiting all the time now.  I wonder if that means I really don't get the permanence of your death- or maybe it means- there will be a day I will see you again.  Like my tears each time you left were a foretaste of this great separation...the anticipation planted in me now
is a foretaste of a far-off reunion.

I miss you deeply.

Thursday, May 5, 2011


Your cello case still stands in the corner of our bedroom.  Covered in the stickers you put on it over the many years it traveled with you from gig to gig.

But it is empty now.

A musician friend of yours from college drove me into Julliard today so that the curator of instruments there could take a look at it and see if he could use it for their loan program.  I would loan it to them for a set amount of time.  In return, I don't have to worry about keeping it humidified, the broken string, the warping that happens if it's not played.

There is a photo of you in one of your albums, standing outside Julliard, giving the middle finger.  You went to Berklee and thought of Julliard as snooty and classical.  You lied and told your mother you applied there.  You never wanted to do classical.

So, with that in mind- I have slightly mixed feelings about loaning your cello there, but it seems to be the best and safest option.

After we park in a garage, your friend carries the cello for me.  I try to move behind him for a second and squint so I don't actually see him- just the cello being carried- so I can feel what it felt like just one more time to walk beside you.  The three of us walked together so many late nights in Manhattan or Brooklyn- in the subway tunnels, you changing that cello from one side to the other so you could hold my hand.  The three of us, you- me, and the cello.

But I can't imagine it's you- not even for a second.  The way you walked gives everything away.  I can't even pretend.

We head into the grandiose, newly built lobby of Julliard.  Then I meet the curator.  You would not have liked him.  He wore plaid pants and a checkered tie and striped shirt- all colorful.  He had too much hair and a pointed nose and glasses and pointy shoes too.  He looked at me with a weird smirk asking if the tone was good.  You would've called him a few names.  I leave it with him though...he says he can probably lend it to visiting faculty or the pre-college students- as he makes a note to tell me most students entering school there already have an instrument of that caliber or greater.  OK, fine.  He tells me I can keep the bow- and puts it back in the case- which I will keep.  OK, fine - I'll take the bow.

Still- it is hard to walk away, leaving him there holding your cello.  Extremely hard.  I think of the rich, unearthly sounds you produced with such ease...the look on your face as you played the first time I saw you sitting with it at CB's Gallery on July 3rd, 1999.   The times we led worship in church together and I heard your music rising up behind me as I sang and could barely continue because of the beauty  The way you stood holding it in your tux, singing into a microphone at our wedding...then sitting down to play the instrumental in the middle of the song you wrote for me.  I think of how we fought over all the tension that cello caused in our marriage- "Do you want me to just destroy it?" you asked me more than once.  That cello.  I leave there...

I cry in the hall and as we are led to the second floor so the administrator can make a copy of the appraisal I brought.  I'd asked you to get it appraised last winter because you were traveling a lot.  "I'll just add it to our rental policy," I'd said.  I never even got the chance.  But the appraisal has come in handy.

You left us both- your cello and I.  But tonight your cello case, standing there the way it has for years- is deceptive.  It looks the same.  It's standing.  It's got all the physical embellishments- stickers and scuffs that I recognize- but it's empty.

am much the same

Palest Pink

I visit the cemetery for the third time this morning.  It's a day with sun and wind and large clouds in blue sky.

I stop and pick up the palest of pink-white peonies.  I add in a bouquet of dried purple flowers- the same kind I have on Audrey's play kitchen table.

I take one of the heart shaped notes Audrey has scribbled on and write my own words on the other side, fold it and put it in my purse.   Brief phrases and words like, "we miss you.  please know.  my beloved.  forever."

I am thankful for the friend who drives me while my parents watch Audrey.  She tries to teach me the way there too- which highways to take and which buildings can be my landmarks.  "Do you want to try driving next time we go?" she asks me.

The hill where your body lies seems prettier with the spring weather and I feel peace for the first time since you died about the choice I made.  The NY skyline is clearly visible from there in the distance today.  I am not as emotional as I have been.  I place the peonies down facing towards me, and the purple flowers facing the other way.  I talk to you and to God, and bury our little note.

Like the last time, I feel you there.  I know you're there- but just your body.  Last night I tell a young widow friend whose husband was your Bible study leader back in college- that I plan to take Audrey soon- maybe for Father's Day- but that I wouldn't tell her you're under the ground because she is too young to understand that concept and it might frighten her.  "I'll just tell her it's a place we go to remember him," I say.

"Do you think you could think of it that way also?" she asks.  Not only is she a strong widow, marathon runner, and amazing woman- but she's also getting her Masters in social work and very good at asking just the right questions.

So, instead of thinking of your body- the one I loved and knew, decaying beneath that dry and warm earth, I think of that as just the small remnant you left behind of a beautiful life and spirit that has gone on from here.  It does help.   For truly,

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Nothing New

I get that people who haven't been through this can't "get" it.  I couldn't have before, and that is no one's fault.  I'm glad not too many people do.

But every now and then I'm reminded exactly how much people don't know my yesterday when an acquaintance asks me how I'm doing and I sigh and say "You know, not great," and she looks surprised and says, "Why? What's going on?"

I patiently tell her, "Oh nothing new- you know-the same things."  (ie, You know, my husband tragically dying less than a year ago- still kinda stuck on that one...)

This has happened a few times before.  No harm meant, no harm done- but just...eye opening.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Wedding Dress

On Sunday, while my parents take Audrey to the park, I wander around their home- where we lived together once when Audrey was first born...and look for remnants of our life.  I find a few mix tapes that you made for me up in my old closet.  You designed the covers and wrote the songs in your handwriting.  I am too tired to go get them and copy what you wrote verbatim, but they were things like, "Yay!  You're the best!"  "Hope you enjoy these songs while you're commuting to work."  Very innocent- very child-like...

Then I find myself, in my brother's old room opening the closet to see my wedding dress hung up there.  I took it off the night we were married when I changed into jeans and a white shirt before we went into the city to stay at the W.  I take it out, zip open the cover, and take a look.  I take my own clothes off, unzip the dress, and put it on.  It still fits.  I admire the silk taffeta that had sold me on the dress even when it was a wrinkled, dirty sample, the little embellishments on the sides and waist.  Surprisingly, I feel sad, but pretty again.  I even feel a bit of hope and excitement.  Just something I suppose about putting on a gown like that.  But my excitement is deceitful.  I take it off, hang it up, zip it up, and put it away.

Erasing and Creating

The process of paperwork that follows a death is a painful erasing.  I am told to erase you from my bank account, insurance, car title, 401K.  Your passport was received by me with "expired" stamped over it and holes punched through it along with the paperwork that accompanied your casket and "you" back to the States.

Your social security card is in our little fireproof box where I'd so neatly organized everything- in a little orange envelope labeled "social security cards."  I memorized your number because I needed it for so many of the practical things I'd been in charge of.  I don't even know Audrey's yet.  Your signature on your card is one I'd never known- it's your younger self's attempt at cursive.  On the back of the card it says, "Do not laminate."  Yours is laminated.

To counter all of the erasing I must do, I create.  A glass jewelry box to hold the items you gave me, a teddy bear with your voice in it, and these words...all these words.

I haven't done most of the erasing yet, though I know I "should."  I feel a pressure - from myself- to get most of it done by the one year.  To free up space in my mind for new ideas- less erasing, more creating. But I take my time.  Time to understand this reality- because I had absolutely no preparation.  I must ready myself the idea.  It takes many months to feel ready to remove you from our bank account.  The one I opened in Park Slope right after we got married.  The one I happily deposited all of those wedding gift checks into when we started our life...and the one I tearfully deposited all of the funeral gifts into..."Did you get married?" I was asked by the teller.  No.  Once I did.

Email May 3, 2010

Audrey seems to really miss you.  She talks about you a LOT now...and when we look out the window and she sees a bus she gets very excited and says appa and heads to our front door or points there.  :(  it's kind of heartbreaking.  i think esp. now that she's older and so aware, you shouldn't be gone for such long stretches if we can help it.  i don't know how good it is for her.  but i keep reminding her about the kangaroo and she's excited about that.  

gotta run and do my work and tomorrow is a's dr. appt. at hackensack medical center. 

love to you- julia

Monday, May 2, 2011

This I Cannot Reconcile

The very same thing that brings me the very same thing that prevents me from even coming close to reconciling your early, sudden death.

I look at old videos of her right after you died and see the dramatic difference.  I recall how she was just starting to say two syllable words when you left.  We were reading a book- the three of us- on our bed when she said her first two syllable word (her now favorite color), "pu pul" and we quickly turned and smiled at each other in excitement.  It is so easy for a mother who spends each day, 24 hours a day, with her child, to forget how much her child has changed.  It almost seems as if she was always this way.  But all it takes is a video or photo even, or maybe seeing a friend's younger baby- 20 months- to realize the changes that have taken place in this short time since you've left us.  "She was that young when you died?" I think looking at a friend's baby.  She was a different child.

And this I cannot reconcile.  My counselor had told me to try to incorporate the things you brought to me into my own thought life- she asked me what you would have said to me now, in this situation.  I tell her that you would have been absolutely full of sorrow.

Sometimes I have to remind myself that you only got to be with Audrey for 20 months.  You will miss her entire life.  You never got to hear her say she loved you or sing a song.  You never saw her jump.  Lately the things she does are so beautiful to me, I am tortured by the fact that you are not here for me to share them with.  Only you would feel the awe and delight that I do.  Only you would share the pride and sweetness of watching her grow into a beautiful little girl.  It is very lonely watching this without you Dan.

Today at lunch Audrey is eating sweet potato fries and I start to think, as I often do, about the fact that you have died.  "Appa died," she says- as if my thoughts are visible in the air that hangs between us at that table.  "He can't eat french fries anymore..."  "He died..."

If it was just me here, I think, maybe, I could see the "opportunity for growth" and accept our fate.  But this, I just cannot reconcile.  I don't know what you felt, or knew, and I must carry the weight of all three of us- my sorrow, your tremendous loss of being with your daughter, and our daughter's loss.  Father's Day approaches and I feel it coming...I've felt it for many months.  It will be the toughest day of the year for me.

I think part of the searching for the narrative, for symbolism, part of the puzzling you do in the earlier days, is because you want to believe, that somehow this isn't utterly and plainly WRONG- so you search and read and think and ruminate.  You are looking for meaning in the meaningless- for Truth in the absurd.

It's a shallow, child-like search of desperation.

When you reach the bottom...yes- meaningless- yes, WRONG- yes- absurd-
the learning

Sunday, May 1, 2011

What Would We Do Without You?

Dear Audrey,
"What woooould we dooo without you!"  you say this as I'm getting you out of the car tonight- we went to church and then for an impromptu visit at grandma and grandpa's for lunch, the park, and dinner.  I guess and ask you who told you that and you say, "Grandma and grandpa told me that."

One thing I've been super wary of from the start was leaning on you too much just because you are a child and so naturally full of joy.  I never want you to feel responsible for my happiness or the weight of bringing joy into our home and family again.  You are my child- I am responsible for you.  I want to make you happy- not the other way around.

But that said, when you are much older, there's something I'd like you to know.

You bring me joy- in the midst of so much sorrow.  You make me laugh when I haven't stopped crying in ten months.  You make me love again so the face of such brutal loss.

For you alone I get up in the morning.  For you, I, a grieving woman,  make french toast in heart shapes or hard-boiled eggs in bunny molds.  It's for you that I take walks outside, blow bubbles, or sing silly songs.

You- in your tutu and purple easter hat which you call your "jump roping hat," as you gallop around my living room until you collapse on the floor giggling.  You- climbing on my back and peaking with delight as I ask "Who's on my back?!"

You, who sits reciting and singing nursery rhyme after nursery rhyme by yourself, stand singing into a large plastic microphone and tell me you're going to be a "famous singer up on the stage."

You- who scribbles me "invitations" and leave them for me.  I ask you what it says.  Your reply, "Dear mommy, please come to my celebration.  Dear mommy."

You- upon hearing me say, "Oh my God," who tells me, "He'll help you- God will help you mommy."  You- who miraculously remembers ten months ago the hair clip your dad put in your hair, or the washcloth he used to bathe you and give me just enough hope that you might have one single memory of him- to go on.

There is a great dichotomy between my grief and your toddler-ness, and sometimes it slices me to the core...the sorrow and the joy all messed up together.  I look at your face from across the room today at my parents'- intently- because I see my husband and best friend in your face- in your eyes and in your skin and your hair...and I see you- the product of our love- and I feel the weight of taking care of someone else's child who is no longer here to care for you.   I secretly tell him...

"don't worry...I will love her well...I will love her well..."

Email December 2009

hey you,
i really miss you.  i'm in malmo sweden, and it's still very cold here.  dark, too.  haven't seen the sun in a while.

how are you and miss a?  i really really miss you guys, and can't wait till i get back to hug and kiss and hold you.  you ladies are my love of my life, and i can't imagine a life without you guys...

i hope you're doing ok.  i just wanted to drop a quick email while k's in the shower.

love you.