Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Another Daniel

Today when I opened up the email account I have for this blog I found an email from "Daniel."  It's funny because even when your friend Dan sometimes write me, I always think for a moment, it could be you.  I am always eager to believe in some kind of loop hole and the thought goes through my mind so quickly "I knew you'd find a way to reach me- I knew it."  And that's over in about one second.

Except when I opened up this email, it was from Daniel Cho.  A true loophole?

No.

But interesting nonetheless.  If you have a Korean name, there are usually always quite a few other people with the same exact name.  And so this Daniel Cho had come to know you because of your shared name only via the Internet.  Even without ever seeing your charming smile or experiencing your loyal friendship, this man came to respect and admire you.  And when he learned you had died, he wrote to me:

Hi, I just wanted to express my sadness in your husbands passing. I did not know him personally but your husband and I share the same name; Daniel Cho. I did read about him years ago when I was searching my own name on Google, just to see if there were any information on the internet about me. My initial search showed information about your husband and I read about him and his accomplishments in life. I remember thinking, 'this other Daniel Cho is really up to great things in life' and I could not help comparing his life to mine. Often people online have mistaken him as me and someone did post a comment on one of social media account that he really enjoyed my music. I did tell him that I was a different Daniel Cho and not your husband.

Anyways, the more I read about him the more I came to admire him, and that was that. But just today I did a search of my own name again and I read about the passing of your husband. I found myself feeling deep sadness and I just had to write to you and express my condolences. I love what you are doing to keep his memory alive for your daughter's sake. I too have a daughter and your story really made me think about what my daughter might have to go through if I passed.

Thank you and please accept my condolences.

Daniel Cho



I write Daniel Cho back and tell him that I share his admiration of you and that I have a lot to learn from you as I figure out my new life now.  Your determination, focus, and refusal to live a mediocre life.  


The funny thing is, a few years back you and I were also googling our names just for fun together and I bet you came upon this man as well.  I guess this is how mysticism and human connection functions in modernity...via Google.  He was so right about one thing- that "other Daniel Cho [was] really up to great things in life."   Great, great things.  

Monday, November 28, 2011

Dark

It is dark so early now.  It adds to the intense malaise I feel in the afternoons.  It's on these afternoons when I really think about what's going on and the lighting adds to the nightmare effect.  I move very slowly as I heat the pot of boiling water for our soba noodles.

I can't stand it.  A thought that comes into my head so often I'd call it my theme.  I can't stand it.

Later I get back on your computer to send one of your brothers a song he had asked for.  While I'm on, Audrey asks to see her baby videos.  So we watch a few.  I can always tell before a word is spoken, when you are the one holding the camera- by the angle you film at and especially if it's silent.  You would get annoyed if I'd come in and start blabbing away while you had been taking an artistic film of our daughter.   We hear your voice talking to her and she tells me she remembers you.  I miss your voice so very much.  "I hate my voice," you used to say.  "I love it!"  and vice versa.  What is it that makes the sound of your beloved's voice so, so sweet?

Today I am finalizing the draft of my will with the lawyer while Audrey's in preschool.  The thought of leaving Audrey makes me sick so I skim the draft quickly.   It's also the reason why it's taken me so long to complete it.

The first year, you are getting through each season, each holiday, each milestone.  It is shocking, raw, intense.   Around now, I have a new clarity about the permanence of your disappearance.  It's not just "getting through" anymore.  There is all of life.   July 23rd, the day you were to come home to us, is not coming.  I can't stand it.

Divine Orchestration


In the late 1980's, I was one of those girls who loved the New Kids on the Block.  I know, I'm ashamed.  But it was true.  My room was plastered with posters of them.  My favorite was Joey McIntyre, otherwise known as Joey Joe.  On my list of life goals was 1) marry Joey followed by a bunch of other stuff like combine my passions by becoming the first female president, redecorating the white house, and singing at my own inauguration.

After about age 13, I took down all those posters and hopefully, my goals started to change a little bit.

So, imagine my surprise when my husband tells me he and his band got a gig touring and opening up for Joe McIntyre, who was making a comeback as a solo artist singing this Frank Sinatra style in a three piece suit and hat.  The same girls, apparently, were buying tickets and going to those concerts- my husband told me from the road.

And then, I was one of them- at BB Kings in the middle of Times Square.  I came straight from work and reapplied my lipstick too.  Except I was there for you.  You played both cello and keys in your set and looked very handsome.  I was very proud.

And then you said you'd take me to meet my very own teen idol. And you went in his dressing room and found him asleep, and woke him.  We took this picture.  I hung around after the show standing by the lines of girls getting autographs from Joe while you packed up your equipment and introduced me to the guys from Joe's band.  One did magic tricks and you really liked him.  Another one had asked me to take photos of him to email so he could show his wife which I did.  Joey Joe saw me standing around still waiting after all the girls were gone and I even got another "Take care" and "Nice meeting you," or something like that.

Afterwards, you and I headed back to our apartment in Brooklyn, and even though he was married with child(ren?) you told me you thought he liked me.  That was just you- thinking that everyone would find me as attractive or pretty as you did.  It was laughable but oh so sweet and I miss it.

Back when this happened, I believed in God and divine orchestration in a very different way.  I thought it was sweet of God to let my then husband introduce me to the man I'd dreamed of marrying as a young girl.  I thought maybe God had a sense of humor.  I thought everything was fitting together.  Who knows, maybe it was.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

After Every Milestone

Another holiday down.

Up next- your birthday.  Usually the time when you're catching up to me- but not this time.

If you had lived, I would've bought you an old-fashioned metronome for your birthday or Christmas.  This was already written down on a list of random ideas when you died.  You told me you liked the way they looked.  I had already been looking around on ebay and etsy for one.  I miss buying you things.  I miss having new ideas to write down.  I have no new ideas.

I have a few more entries to write here and then, I am done.  It's not because I am done grieving but because I realize I never will be.   It is not because I am done puzzling over your death, but because I accept I will forever be puzzling over your death.  I will never make any sense of it...any progress in understanding what happened on July 6, 2010.

"That is truly, truly tragic," the mother of the girl in Audrey's class says on Thanksgiving as she cuts the remaining turkey meat off the bird.  In the kitchen, before dessert- she has sensitively asked me how my husband died.  We've had a few playdates, but I honestly didn't even remember whether I'd told her or not.  After I tell her, this is all she can keep saying.  And I think the last few days- yes, that is what this is: tragic.  I can't find any definition that really captures what the word means to me - it's so much more than sorrowful.  The word tragic is more about the fact that it could have been prevented and yet this sense that there was nothing one could do to stop the dreadful path from unraveling.  In that way it is so different from an aged person passing away, or even a death by disease.  Tragic.  Accidental.  Never supposed to happen, but somehow ingrained and foreshadowed in the characters and setting.

But now what- what comes after every milestone?  Alternations of rawness and numbness?  Your clothes are packed, but I still see them in the closet instead of mine, and the sense of relief I got when I first put them away- is over.  I want to see them back there where they belong- next to mine.  The wedding ring is back on- but with the promise ring instead of the engagement ring which just felt too sparkly. The tiredness and difficulty in smiling that I have by late afternoon reminds me of how I felt when you were just away on the tours.  I just had a really hard time smiling- even with Audrey.  The sadness of knowing you were on another continent sat with me all day, while I played with our baby.  For she was a baby, back then.  Lately I contemplate lying to myself that this is where you are- just a continent or two away- so that I can go on living- the way I did while you were away- with at least the expectation that you were happy, doing what you loved- and would come back to us.  I just had to be patient.

After every milestone, the tragic loss isn't any less raw.  It is just further away.  I am more different than the woman you (or I) knew each day.  I have a harder time imagining what you are like at almost 35 years old.  A harder time imagining you interacting with a daughter as you never knew her.  I keep losing you.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Second Thanksgiving



I can't sleep.  I stay up late.  Until 1 or 2 am.  I stare at your chair and your desk.  The bus tickets you left for me on top of the extra napkins you always carried around in your pockets on one speaker.  "You can use these to go into the city."  A baseball hat, your glasses, belt, and wallet on top of your other speaker.

The widow dinner group I had attended a few times is emailing about getting together and hiring a psychic to do a private reading for them at one of their homes.

The psychoanalyst at Audrey's school stops me one day as I'm leaving the playground with another mom after dropping Audrey off.  "Can I talk to you for a second?"  The other mom runs away.  "How are you?"  "Oh you know, doing the best I can.  Ask me in ten years...haha." (See my joke.)  He looks at me seriously and says that he's concerned and it shouldn't take that long.  He is caring and I like him but later this bothers me.  I know a lot of widowed people at this point- and he is not one of them, and yes, it can take that long.  "It's just that you've suffered loss upon loss," he tells me.  Thanks.

I take Audrey to a "Princess Ball" where I imagine you would've danced with her on the little dance floor surrounding by the motley crew of women dressed up as the Disney princesses.  Instead, I dance with her- to Girls Just Want to Have Fun- spinning her around and rolling her in and out on my arm the way you did to me when we danced just for fun in our apartment, a long time ago.

Audrey has entered a new and terrible phase.  She has tantrums for the first time.  She gets overtired and doesn't know what she wants screaming for me to help her with something and then pushing me away.  She is conflicted.  It is a draining time for us.  Most everything from taking a bath to brushing teeth, going to bed- has become a battle.  I wonder how you would've handled it or what you would've said to me if you were here.

I correspond with a friend who was a pastor at an old church of ours who lost his wife at 32 from cancer.  We hadn't spoken since her funeral.  He is the one I mention in one of my early posts about what not to say to people.  "She was really great," is what I had said as we stood near her open casket, Dan by my side.  He tells me that he went for walks from about midnight  until 3 am for almost a year just crying and thinking.  And that one night he had a breakthrough and God told him he could handle whatever anger he had so he opened up his mouth and uttered every profanity.  He is remarried with children now and lives in Bolivia.  He tells me to close my computer and give it a try.  "I hate you,"  is all that comes out...quietly.

A friend's husband volunteers to come have a "date" with Audrey.  He takes her for Korean food and helps her learn how to use her scooter.  It is the first time she's had alone time with a man since you died.  He tells me it must have been hard for me, but it wasn't.  I am just sad that it is so luxurious for her to have an afternoon like that.

A friend of yours comes over to help me with the music files on your computer.  I want to make sure I save them well.  There were a few that I had been unable to open.  He opens them.  One is a song of mine you had laid down cello tracks for.  I had never heard this.  Another is a nursery rhyme you loved to sing to Audrey to your own tune.  Turns out you created a whole instrumental to the song you made up.  You never got to play it for us.

After he organizes the files and converts some of the Logic files to mp3s we sit and talk theology.  He's the liberal, cynical Christian and he admits that none of us really know what happens after death.  I am not comforted by our conversation.

Later that night I sit and cry and keen.  I am crushed.  It is debilitating.  I wonder if it also has to do with Thanksgiving.

A day before Thanksgiving Audrey's school has a "Thanksgiving Celebration."  For the first time ever, I watch her parade into a chapel with her class and sing a few songs.  Parents are taking photos feverishly and my eyes well up with tears.  It's quite possible I might have done this anyway, but I can't believe you're missing all of this.  And how much is still ahead.  This is just a taste...just a taste.

I plan Thanksgiving.  I will host, I decide, ordering a turkey from Whole Foods.  Last year I was on the run during the holidays.  "Don't stay home; do something different," people tell you.  So, I did.  Last year we went to the Macy's Parade.  Got up at 4:30 am and got a spot right in the front.  Then we ate an early dinner out at a restaurant.  Standing in front of giant Snoopy and Hello Kitty balloons on Central Park West without you was devastating.  Picking one of three "Thanksgiving meals" at a restaurant was depressing.  This year I'm tired of running.  I invite my parents and then when I hear another couple from Audrey's school has no family here and no plans, I invite them and their daughter, from Audrey's class- as well.  So what if I have a one bedroom apartment.

I sit up in our bed at 1:39 am wearing your socks.  I read poems about gratitude.  I recall one Thanksgiving at my mom's the sleeve of your shirt caught on fire on a candle as you reached to pass someone something.  It was forever singed after that.

I shop for three days at three stores.  I make the cranberry chutney I made at your last Thanksgiving.  I make the stringbeans the way you did, with soy sauce and sugar til they are shriveled.  I buy persimmons and freeze them the way your dad does, Asian pears, and your (and my) favorite beer: Boddingtons.

I am in charge of bringing coffee and drinks to Audrey's school party so we're up early at Dunkin Donuts and then to school earlier than I'd planned.  So we sit in the car in the school parking lot and I play her the songs that are now mp3's on my phone.  She still knows the words to the nursery rhyme. I try to explain that you'd created that music for her before she left, but I don't think she gets the concept of music production and recording.

Yesterday I set the table with flower arrangements and candles, napkins tied with twine and this poem by Robert Herrick:

Here, a little child I stand,
Heaving up my either hand:
Cold as paddocks though they be,
Here I lift them up to Thee,
For a benison to fall
On our meat, and on us all. Amen.

Audrey dances around singing about Thanksgiving parties as I dust all of the framed photos of you.  I tell her that I'm missing you.   "It's...it's hard to be thankful for someone when they died," she replies.

Actually- I think, it's quite the opposite.  Sometimes it's really hard to be thankful when they're alive.  And then after, it's just really, really hard.

The day is busy; I do feel thankful.  I think of your singed shirt, toast you with a beer, and let the loss of you fill me up like the fragrance of the thanksgiving meal in my small apartment.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Stuck

I'm back in the anger phase, but I'd hardly call them phases.  It's just that now I feel angry again.

When I feel most angry, it usually has to do with the fact that Audrey has no father now.

why why why why why why why.

Today I watched her class and another at the playground before the end of school and noticed a father was cooping for the other class.  The kids looked excited because it's usually moms that coop.  I instantly pictured you doing this.  Even if you'd had a day job, you would've taken a day off to do it- of this I am certain.  You would've gotten to know all the kids and you would've talked trash about the bully in her class.  I know which children you would've found particularly endearing as well.  I see Audrey proudly smiling at you on the playground.

Then the illusion disappears.  This will never be.  I know I'm not supposed to think about the could'ves or should'ves. I know.  But sometimes you can't help it.  And even though the further time takes you away, the less close you are to what could've been...it still feels possible.

Tonight we measured Audrey on her growth chart and when I got it out, we stopped to look through a few other special tokens in the box where it's kept.  There are a few drawings you did- there is a hat you bought her, and a few other gifts you got her.  There are even three I haven't given her yet- that you'd gotten in May of 2010 - just shortly before you'd die.  There is a little flute recorder, and colored pencils, and a mobile (even though she wasn't a baby you thought this one was cute...) and a candle with a metal carousel around it that moves when the candle is lit.  I put these aside before she can see them.  I imagine as she regrieves at older ages, it might be nice for her to get something "new" from you.  But she seems enthralled with the other items, including a little jewelry bag you'd gotten from Korea.  She grabs it and goes to her current jewelry box, taking out every last thing, and placing it in the bag.  "I wish Appa could see me from heaven," she says.  "I think he can," she adds.  "I bet he can," I say.  I do not know because I do not know if there is a heaven or if he is in it or if they can see us.  None of that...is known.

But those moments, like today as I sit in the car watching that dad on the playground...I imagine how feasible my "should've" really is.  Just a slight alteration of your path that day- just ever so slight- and the course of our entire lives would be different.  Such a small, small margin got you there on that day...sometimes it is easier to believe it was meticulously planned than randomly accidental.  Sometimes I think that Steven Hawking's multiverse theory applies to our lives and that somewhere in another universe, that other life we would've had- is still going on.  I'm just stuck in the wrong universe.

Poem

i haven't been with you in july
since two thousand and nine
you left on the thirtieth of june.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Unraveling

It is sixteen months.  It is very, very quiet now.  I am pretty sure I am lucky that the emails/correspondence/visits lasted for as long as they did.  I remember now how the grief counselor told me to ask myself why God would be giving me this quiet time and what can I gain from it at this point on my journey.

I'm sure the more time passes, the more others breathe a sigh of relief that we're traveling away from the horror of your death, and therefore, I must be doing better.  It defies words to try to explain how little I have been able to process your death, even in all of these months so far.  It is obvious to me now that it will take many, many more.  I stop rushing.  I stop running.  I let it come over me- the pain- the reality.   Any griever can tell you how the death of a loved one warps time in such strange ways.  It's almost as though the initial grief is time thrown upon you- you can envision your entire future life without that person in an instant.  I have envisioned my daughter at 21 months- walking down her wedding aisle as a young woman.  At the same time that you're seeing your whole future - you're seeing your whole past- the life review they call it in near-death experience literature.  Only you're still alive.

This compression of time happens in the early days and then, I think, the grieving process means you are slowly unraveling time back to its proper place- past and future.  You cannot possibly continue living with it all at once this way.

I have already had a few days where I have thought- wow- in another eight months it will be two years.  And that sounds ludicrous.  I am still waiting to hear from you.  Still waiting on your return.

While Audrey is at preschool today I go to the Dr. for my yearly gynecological visit- the first time since you've died.  Pregnant women everywhere.  A crazy old lady crocheting a cream colored blanket "for my king sized bed" in the waiting room asking everyone if it was their first and if they're finding out what they're having.  Then all the questions from the nurse and the doctor.  I have to tell them.  The nurse, probably feeling she's found just the right words, "Have a beautiful year OK?," as she exits and I go to put on the gown behind the little curtain.

It's another task done.  Taking care of myself.  Another long day.

A good friend put it this way:  The days are long, but the years are short.  In some ways, I'm kind of counting on that.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Sundown

"We have seen the faces of those we know best so variously, from so many angles, in so many lights, with so many expressions- waking, sleeping, laughing, crying, eating, talking, thinking- that all the impressions crowd into our memory together and cancel out into a mere blur."
C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

The first time I spoke to my old therapist on the phone after you'd died,  I told him my fear of Audrey forgetting you, and he answered back with that therapist smugness in his voice: And you'll forget him too right?

I never had another session with him.  His words have echoed in my mind ever since.  Because, although his timing was way off, it is true.  You can not store a human being in a memory.  You also cannot choose what or when you remember something.  There's a rich storehouse in there, but it's not in alphabetical or sequential order and a lot of it remains dormant, hidden.

The other day Audrey and I see a bee and I tell her about bee stings and how I've never been stung.  I start to tell her that you had, but then I realize, I really don't remember if you'd ever, in your life, been stung.  The thought that I don't know and can't ask you, is debilitating.  Bees were always a point of contention for us because I'd been shown by example to run like hell while you'd remain still and calm.  You got so annoyed with me for that.

It's like Lewis says, I can still see all different parts of you in my mind's eye- the freckles on your left cheekbone, your earlobe, your eyelashes, but it's harder to imagine your stature when you walk in the room, and I'm pretty sure I'm not getting it all right anymore.  If I see you in a video or a photo, nothing is surprising.  It feels like you could still walk in the door...but more and more when I try to imagine that- I'm not sure how you look- whether your hair is long or short- whether you actually look older.  I'm older now.

"Today I had to meet a man I haven't seen for ten years.  And all that time I had thought I was remembering him well- how he looked and spoke and the sort of things he said.  The first five minutes of the real man shattered the image completely," writes Lewis.  And then he admits that is already happening with his memory of his late wife:

"Slowly, quietly, like snow-flakes- like the small flakes that come when it is going to snow all night- little flakes of me, my impressions, my selections, are settling down on the image of her.  The real shape will be quite hidden in the end...The rough, sharp, cleansing tang of her otherness is gone."

Two days ago I checked your email which I rarely do anymore.  Just incase...just incase someone who doesn't know what happened writes you.  And someone had.  I love imagining that for at least one person, you have been alive all this time.  A friend from Berklee was asking so casually if you were still in the NYC area because they needed cello tracks for a certain TV network.  I respond from your email and mistakenly (I think I've done this before), cc myself so the friend can respond if he wishes with the usual condolence.  Then in my inbox when I return to my own email- your name and my stopped heart beat for a moment.

In her book, Elizabeth Edwards talks about how, even though her eldest son had died, she still felt the need to parent him.  "You don't, I discovered, leave the need to parent the child just because the child has left you."  As your wife I didn't parent you, though part of being a wife is being motherly in some ways...so I'm not sure what the word would be for me- but I've felt this need too- to continue being your wife in some way- watching over you the way a wife does.  Making you look good- taking care of the little things.  So, I check your email and respond.  I renew your domain name online.  I create memorial projects for myself including a photo book of your music tours- something I'd been planning to surprise you with.  I remind others of you and speak of you with them.  The eleven years of looking out for you did not disappear on July 6th.

Audrey is afraid of being alone at night lately.  Terrified, in fact- even with her light on, to be left alone in her bed at night.  She's never had any separation anxiety issues- but I realize that even though she'll never put up a fight when I leave her with someone or took her to her first day of preschool, it doesn't mean she's not feeling things.  She articulates it differently- like when we drove home from her first day and she told me the teacher had read a story at story time about a little girl whose mom died.  And she articulates it at night.

I think I am like this too now, at this stage.  I go about the day.  I'm sure I appear mostly normal to the other mothers at preschool or the people at church or the grocery store or the library.  But by sundown, like Audrey- I can't hold it together much longer.

Tonight while I sit with her until she falls asleep, tears keep coming out of my eyes because that's what it feels like- different from crying- just tears crawling out on their own- as I think about simple memories of being together- putting her to bed together, going out to a cafe on her eighteen month birthday, getting in the car and driving to church on a Sunday morning, bathing her while you finish washing the dishes, sitting around talking after she's asleep.  I know now what a treasure those moments were, but do I think that even by reading my revelation others whose loved ones are still alive will get it?  No.  It's impossible- you may think you do, but you don't.  That seems so very unfair.

But I wonder to myself most, what we spoke of, what were our conversations?  On some random night or morning or afternoon?  Never have I longed to be myself- that girl married to Daniel Cho, sixteen months ago or more of course, than I do now.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Close Call

A mom in our neighborhood got hit by a car while crossing the street a little over a week ago.  Thankfully, she broke her leg and had a few stitches on her head, but was for the most part- OK.  She has two beautiful daughters, both who've attended the library program with us for a long time now, and the older one is in Audrey's ballet class as well.

When her husband recounted what happened to me last Saturday at ballet while us parents lean into the glass door to see what's going on (usually Audrey's going around hugging everyone), he told me how she'd been looking down as she crossed our busy road to get out quarters for the bus and the car hadn't seen her.  How she felt the hit and then just felt like she was in the air for a long time, thinking, "This is going to hurt when I land."  Probably to add lightness to what could possibly have been a very grave situation, he tells me she was more upset about her new jeans and coat that they cut off and destroyed in the ER.  While I'm sure they were really shaken up, as I offered my babysitting services or other help, I felt the relief of what it feels like to have a close call.  It is the mending, recovery time that comes after something scary- something that could have had permanent repercussions, but didn't.   It's the whoah, that was scary- that was close- but everything's OK now- as it should be...the trial- the safe retrieval and recovery, possibly lessons learned.

The other day I watched one of those TED video talks (Dan loved them) done by a man who survived the plane crash landing into the Hudson a couple of years ago.  It's a short talk in which he describes the thoughts that went on in his head when he heard the words from the pilot, "Brace for Impact."  What he says isn't really surprising or revelatory- he learned what was most important to him was being a father and the most painful thought to him was missing out on his kids' lives.  There were a couple of other points, but they were even more obvious.  I wonder if you thought that same thing, if you knew it was the end for you.  If you were conscious at all, I know you thought of our daughter.  But mostly, I think while the audience gives him a standing ovation that this too is more one of relief than epiphany.  Thanks to a very skillful pilot, everyone was alright.  He was OK and didn't die in the end.  He can now take with him on his journey a greater appreciation for what's important in life.

We had an experience like this- you were attacked and stabbed in the subway.  I received a phone call that night too- but it was different- it was your voice telling me you'd been stabbed and that you were at the hospital.  I had let out a horrifying scream and seen myself hunched over, crying in the mirror.  The two cats at the apartment where I was staying jumped on my furniture and cried as if they knew something very wrong had happened.   We spent a night in the ER together- I watched your heart on a monitor.  In it you saw a little stick figure beating a drum.  I saw it too after you mentioned it.  We clinked the liquid you had to drink before the cat scan.  "Cheers," we said.  I watched you walk to the restroom in your bright green hospital gown- thinking how much I loved you.  The stab wound had been 1/2" from your heart or other vital organs...but you were...OK.  I wrote then too-  later writing an essay in grad school about the experience as a part of my thesis.  But as I say, you were OK.  You came home to your apartment to friends and Playstation 2 from your officemates.  Then you came to my parents' house where I lived at the time where  you slept on my childhood twin bed, and  I planted myself on the floor next to you.  It was a close call- I didn't want to leave your side.  We got engaged later that year.

Close calls seem like they'd give you some insight into what it'd be like to not be so lucky- to not get the "Everything's OK," - the recovery time.  The sigh of relief.  But trust me, from someone who's experienced both- they do not.

A close call cannot and will not teach you just how tenuous the strand that holds us to the earth- that holds you to your current world.

In the close call, there is hope and a future to love better, live out those lessons learned.  There is a fullness- lists of things you will do better, appreciate more, things you don't think matter anymore, things you won't put off another day.  If you've had a close call, do not try to empathize with someone who has actually lost- it will sound hollow.

When the real deal happens, there are just the permanent words, "Dan is dead," that hit you like granite.  There is no worrying or praying or hoping.  There is no time of recovery and telling friends and family, "Yeah, it was scary..."  There is no lesson learned by you, the survivor, that you wouldn't trade in an instant for ignorance.  There is emptiness- nothingness- annihilation.

There is no one to mend or nurse or promise to love better.

Life is like a blackboard.  We write on it the things we are, the things we do.  We fill it up, sometimes erasing what we have grown out of.  ...And it seems, when we step back from it as we grow up, that our blackboard is as filled as it could be: I was a mother, a wife, a lawyer, and a soccer coach and a Goodwill volunteer.  Write those down.  Go to sports cards shows with Wade or doll shows with Cate? Write those.  Mark down going with the family to watch the Tar Heels.  There is my book club, and there's the PTA fundraising.  Decorating the beach house.  Sewing a Halloween costume.  But there is always a corner into which some new friend, some new dream can be tucked.  There was always room to add one more thing to the board.  In the spring of 1996, my board was crammed full, and I had chalk in my hand.


And then Wade died.


In an instant, all of my blackboard was erased.  And for the longest time, the blackboard stood empty. 


Elizabeth Edwards, "Resilience"

Wedding Video

This morning I watched my wedding video.  Somehow it must have come up with Audrey, and I, yes I, suggested watching it if she'd like.  So, after breakfast, at the kitchen table, on my laptop- we watched me getting out of a white limo, smiling...we watched her dad standing at the altar- waiting anxiously.  And there I was walking down the aisle, so slowly- so nervously.  And being handed off by a tearful father.  

I don't think Audrey noticed how much I cried while I pointed these things out, "See, there's mommy- I look like a princess right?"

We watched the whole thing- she wouldn't even let me fast forward the long first dance we had, or your brother's long toast.  There is so much talk throughout about our life together.  The pastor praying over us for this fruitful, new union and home we were starting.  Your brother's toast.  The Korean tea ceremony afterwards where I dressed in my hambuk and your parents tossed dried fruit into the scarf we held out to represent blessing and future offspring.  Everyone, I realize, seemed to expect that this was just the beginning of something that was to last our whole life on earth.  It did- your whole life was just a lot shorter than anyone had imagined.  The day after I buried you would've been our six year anniversary.

Those five little words seem small amidst the flowers and candle-lighting, hors d'oeuvres  and wine and dancing and cake cutting and guest signing "We wish you a wonderful life together"  "What a great couple," "May God bless your life together..."   They're in the shadow though, in the background beneath the dance music and glasses clinking together- this, the most joyful day of your life, but intrinsic in that joy is verily the prelude, should you be the one left behind first, to the most painful moments of your life.

"Til death do us part."

Something is over.  In the deepest levels of my existence something is finished, done.  My life is divided into before and after.  A friend of ours whose husband died young said it meant for her that her youth was over.  My youth was already over.  But I know what she meant.  Something is over.
...
Sorrow is no longer the islands but the sea.


Prof Nicholas Wolterstorff, "Lament for a Son"

Monday, November 7, 2011

Lifting

Catching me off guard, some of the mystical quality I've been living in for the past sixteen months is lifting.  It's dreadful - like eyes adjusting to the sun after living in solitary confinement for months.   You get used to the dark.  The sunlight's excruciating.

There is the tiniest taste of continuity between this life and that one- the one before.  There is anger and the immense desire for time travel and negotiations of all sorts are revisited.  There is the sense that all I've been doing here is rambling in the hopes that it would grant me some kind of authority which in truth I don't possess.

Maybe it's the fact that I'm actively facing the future now...that I am looking for a place to live, thinking about how I'll support us, and hearing my daughter sit coloring in the other room and say to herself aloud, "I don't remember my appa because he died."

The idea that something redemptive could come from my grieving process seems foolish all of the sudden.  Hope falls flat.  You are dead, not away or traveling.  This is it.  I sit here, wearing your socks and your t-shirt...asking your photo to tell me what happened on that day- "What happened Dan?"  Shouldn't I, your wife, at least know how and why you died?  I don't want to write anymore or think about a future without you tonight.  I don't want to read any more books or take any more notes.  I am exhausted.  I am not sure I can take another step forward, so I think I will rest here for a while.

Hidden

"Then perhaps there is a third kind of loss - the loss that comes when you notice the limits of your knowledge of God, when you feel bereft of guidance, when you feel the loss of God's saving power or of God's grace.  This feeling of loss is really a way of noting, and mourning, God's hiddenness."   
Lauren F. Winner "Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis"


Hiddenness rather than absence.  Perhaps.  Less lonely and terrifying for the would-be-believer.  More frustrating.


I stop Audrey before our meal to say a simple prayer of thanks, "Dear God, thank you for our food."  I've been at a loss as to what thank God for since your death...since I'm not supposed to hold him accountable for negative events- I wasn't sure how to continue for positive ones.  (Holding God accountable sounds quite ridiculous though, doesn't it?) But for whatever reason, I feel it important to teach Audrey thankfulness.

I did not grow up praying before meals.  It had never even occurred to me.  When I was a first year in college at the University of Virginia, sitting in the first year cafeteria, I saw another student, stop before his tray of cutlery and plate of food, and bow his head silently.  I thought it was the most beautiful thing I'd seen.  I wasn't in the "Christian" culture yet, the one where everyone does this and it means a lot less.

After I say the short prayer with Audrey, she answers back a short while into our meal, "God doesn't say anything."

"What?"

"He doesn't say anything."

More theology with a three year old.  I think about how I could answer that the Bible is supposed to be the inspired Word of God and when we read it, he can speak to us through it.  But this is confusing to even me, so I decide against it.

All I can say is, "No, you're right...he doesn't does he?"

The Old Order

And even if I don't return to doubting this new reality, I will refuse to make peace with your death- and with death itself.  Your death will remain an absurdity.

As Professor Nicholas Wolterstorff, whom I've quoted before and who lost a young son writes- anyone wishing you can make peace with the death is wishing fruitlessly.  And why should we?  

"We cannot live at peace with death," he writes.  "When the writer of Revelation spoke of the coming of the day of shalom, he did not say that on that day we would live at peace with death.  He said that on that day, 'There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things have passed away.'  

I shall try to keep the wound from healing, in recognition of our living still in the old order of things.  I shall try to keep it from healing, in solidarity with those who sit beside me on humanity's mourning bench." 

And so the challenge is, to acknowledge the new reality, while at the same time warring with the enemy that took you.    Putting down those arms will not happen as long as I'm honest with myself and don't run from the pain, but with it on the rest of life's journey.   To forget the pain would be to forget you, despite what people want to believe about being able to let go of all the horridness and just smile happily at frozen photographs.  Instead, to live like a calm, waiting, warrior.  

You see, what I realized recently, is that no matter what I do to push forward in the physical world, I will as much make peace with death as an amputee makes peace with a lost limb, the overused analogy in grief circles.  You don't accept...you adapt.  That leg is never coming back.  "It's the neverness that is so painful," writes Wolterstorff.  

The amputee will feel the "phantom pains" in the lost limb.  We will envision the Twin Towers as they stood in our mind's eye- just as the blue laser beams that memorialize them yearly reach up to the heavens...and I find, even though your clothes are packed away in bins and each drawer in this dresser is mine now- I will still open it up and know it is yours- I am still just tossing around my disheveled clothes in your drawer.


I quoted 1 Corinthians 15 in the tribute I got up and spoke at your funeral.  I've thought about that quotation quite a bit since then.  I had inserted it quite intentionally right before my last sentence, the one where I told you I would see you again, even though it stuck out and didn't quite fit with the flow of the short tribute I'd written.  (which can be found in one of my July 2010 posts I believe.)  Why didn't I take it out?  I often ask myself- it didn't fit.   And the sting, the sting was everywhere- it permeated the church where I stood speaking a few steps above your casket.  Was I being untruthful in my words- something I strive against?  I have asked myself.  But they are not untruthful, I see now.  They represent, as our old pastor used to say often, the living we do here in the "near...but not yet" of the kingdom.  Speaking those words on the most horrifying public speaking engagement of my life- I see now-was the calm warrior in me quietly dressing for battle.

"Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?"

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The One Before

A couple of weeks ago, I picked up the Elizabeth Edwards book entitled "Resilience."  She would know about this- having lost a young son, grieved unfaithfulness in her marriage, and finally battled breast cancer until her death last December.

As seems the case lately- and I'm not sure if this is because these books are choosing me or because grief is just so self-centered, but already just a few chapters in, I am nourished by metaphors that articulate my own place.

She grew up in Japan because her father was in the military and she speaks of the wounded soldiers in the hospital during the Vietnam War:

"they all talked about the same thing: going home.  Even if they knew they would be headed back to combat, all they wanted to talk about was home.  And the home they talked about was the home they left- left when they had two legs, left without shrapnel scars across their chest and neck, left before the images of war that would scar the places where the doctors couldn't reach.  That's the home they craved.  The one before."

Now, I would never compare myself or my situation to that of a Vietnam veteran; though they both dig deep into the nerves of our humanity- war and grief seem two different things to me.  And yet they both hinge upon loss and this craving for home- the one before- certainly fits.

She goes on to tell the story of the closing of a Maytag plant in Iowa and how many of the the workers who lost not only their jobs, but the center of their community and lives for decades, symbolically took off their work boots and left them at the plant, neatly standing side by side, walking to their cars in their socks.

Elizabeth writes,
"The longer a Maytager sat pining for what he had lost, the more lost he became.  Sometimes we have to give ourselves space to grieve what we have lost: a person, a way of life, a dream.  But at some point we have to stand up and say, this is my new life and in this life I need a new job."

I know that she is right.  I have never believed in longing for the past.   I have often quoted Ecclesiastes 7.10 "Do not say, 'Why were the old days better than these?' For it is not wise to ask such questions."  That verse quelled some of my longing over time periods in my life- like when I graduated college and left most of my close friends in Virginia and returned jobless to my parents' house in New Jersey.  It was so much easier to say then- in my early twenties, single, just starting out.

But this is not a season or a chapter in my life that has been lost.  It is not a job or a time period- but a person...a human being that knew me better than any other, and I him.  With him have gone the way of life, the married status, dreams of other children, a home, and many, many more plans.  Those are painful to let go of, but I would give them up and accept another life if it still included him...even if he was alive but on some other continent, I often think.  It isn't the missing so much as the mystery.  Is it the pure sting of death- or is there still the hope of justice and beauty and mercy?

Ms. Edwards' words are difficult to read- they are not comforting, but more like a push on this forced march.  You cannot go back she says quoting Edna St.Vincent Millay, "How easily could God, if He so willed, set back the world a little turn or two!  Correct its griefs, and bring its joys again!"  But the turn or two is not possible, says Edwards.  

"This is the life we have now, and the only way to find peace, the only way to be resilient when these landmines explode beneath your foundation, is first to accept that there is a new reality.  The life the army wife knew before her husband went to war, the life of the patient before the word 'terminal' was said aloud, the life of the mother who sat reading by her sons bed and not his grave, these lives no longer exist and the more we cling to the hope that these old lives might come back, the more we set ourselves up for unending discontent."

This is a pep talk for those who grieve.  Definitely not one you could hear too early on in the journey because it wouldn't make much sense.  But I seem to be reading it at an appropriate time.  Sixteen months tomorrow.

Yes, there is a new reality.  This I cannot dispute.  Acknowledgement, not acceptance- I still prefer.  I cannot get back my old life, though every cell in my body screams for it, though my unconscious mind dreams it every night, and though there is a small human being made with your DNA growing right before my eyes each day.

Resilience.  I think I and every other widow still breathing has already shown this if they've kept themselves alive, as JCO says in her epitaph.  Unending discontent- this isn't something that I wish for, but it's also not something I fear.  Contentment and peace seem artificial if there is no greater meaning to life.  They become just gaudy accessories on a lifeless mannequin if we live in a universe where children can starve and men can die in war, and you can drown on your day off...just one day, a few hours.  (Why, oh why didn't I call you at your hotel that morning, stall you, talk to you, tell you I love you- I think this every day...) Everything in me screams that these things are not OK- and I'm not sure I can say any of them are unjust without God and meaning and a much larger picture than what I see here.

It's a fairly simple argument, but Tim Keller puts it like this:

"People, we believe, ought not to suffer, be excluded, die of hunger or oppression.  But the evolutionary mechanism of natural selection depends on death, destruction, and violence of the strong against the weak- these things are perfectly natural.  On what basis, then, does the atheist judge the natural world to be horribly wrong, unfair, and unjust? ... If you are sure that this natural world is unjust and filled with evil, you are assuming the reality of some extra-natural (or supernatural) standard by which to make your judgement."

Today, at just a few hours until sixteen months since your tragic death- a death that could have been so easily prevented- I am able to say that this - your death- is my reality.  But it is not all of reality.  I will not consciously hope for our old life to reappear (though I can't help it if I still beg you aloud to come home every now and again, or if I dream it nightly ), but I will hope just the same.  And I cannot just hope in this life, in my own resilience or contentment.  But I will hope in goodness and beauty, and the victory of the underdog.  I will grapple with faith and theology and philosophy and both shake my fist and bow my head at the hidden Creator.   Because, I have finally realized, I have been grieving the loss of not one, but two great loves for the past sixteen months.  I believe tonight (with the very real allowance that this belief may change tomorrow) that your body is buried, but you are elsewhere...and very much alive.  A new friend reminds me in an email, "Maybe not everything makes sense but cling on to what does in your faith.  You have to hold on to these tethers, however frail, because at the end is Dan."

I'm not sure if this hope will one day lead to contentment or endless discontent, but I do think it is the doorway to my own personal resilience.  I am holding fast to these tethers.

Insipid

This is the word running through my head all day today.

I try so hard to make meal time fun for Audrey and I- the special family time I always wanted it to be when I dreamed of a family of four or five at a large wooden farmhouse table and mismatched chairs.  This, I see now, was just that- a dream.

We don our matching aprons this morning and she picks out a french toast recipe from her cookbook.  I make fresh-squeezed orange juice and leave two slices to decorate our plates.  We both have a glass of milk as well.  There are little pumpkins and fall leaves on the center of the table.  Real maple syrup and powdered sugar.  All appears as it should be.

Insipid.

It's the same with lunch when I make a chickpea soup from a recipe in a good friend's handwriting - a recipe we once sat making together in her Brooklyn kitchen in my other life.  We eat it with toasted bread, honey crisp apple slices, and grape juice.  It's my favorite meal of the day because I put extra lemon juice in mine and the grape juice reminds me of the ice pops my mom made from it when I was a child.

Dinner is the worst.  The sun is already down and our kitchen feels dim.  I make whole wheat couscous and salmon.  I am too lazy to chop the broccoli that goes with it.  I always manage to dry out my fish.  One thing I never do anymore is force myself (or Audrey for that matter) to eat anything that didn't turn out well or I just don't feel like eating.  I toss most of the salmon.

My taste for sweets- is still gone.  I don't know if it's depression or another of your traits I'm taking on since you didn't care much for sweets.  I start to think my craving for drinks rather than food isn't just about some symbolic, unquenchable thirst as it is about taste.  I usually drink mostly water...now I crave juice, iced tea, coffee...anything with flavor.

It will be sixteen months tomorrow, but I think I can count on one hand the number of meals that I actually "tasted" and enjoyed.  And I'm pretty sure when I think of each of them, they were eaten with others.   I miss tasting food.  It feels an almost grotesque thing to keep making things and putting them in my mouth but not tasting them.   It helps that there is a little girl waving her fork around like a fairy wand and saying, "You're a good cook mommy" while she eats every last bite.

I don't need to be happy.  I wrote someone the other day in an email - that happiness is not that profound of an emotion and not the one I'm aiming for.  What I do hope for though, is that life will not always be this insipid.  It doesn't seem in my power or will to simply bring back the flavor.  But I will do my part.  I will keep making meals.  I will keep serving them.  And before we start, I will take Audrey's hand and bow my head and be thankful for this food.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Atmosphere

"It's not true that I'm always thinking of H.  Work and conversation make that impossible.  But the times when I'm not are perhaps my worst.  For then, though I have forgotten the reason, there is spread over everything a vague sense of wrongness, of something amiss.  Like in those dreams where nothing terrible occurs- nothing that would sound even remarkable if you told it at breakfast-time- but the atmosphere, the taste, of the whole thing is deadly.  So with this...."


"This is one of the things I'm afraid of.  The agonies, the mad midnight moments, must, in the course of nature, die away.  But what will follow?  Just this apathy, this dead flatness?  Will there come a time when I no longer ask why the world is like a mean street, because I shall take the squalor as normal? Does grief finally subside into boredom tinged by faint nausea?"  


C.S. Lewis A Grief Observed

I read this book last Christmas, but I kept thinking of this passage today.  This is how life is starting to feel now when I am distracted.  I still wouldn't say I ever "forget," but that I am simply not able to hold the processed, understood, grasped, event in my mind at all times.  So, then when I do- let's say I see a photo of us I keep in the kitchen- it is sharper than ever now.  That is you- that is what all of this is about.  This universe of surreal day to day, get up, go here, take care of this, sit alone each night.  It is then, when I remember exactly what your spine felt like below my feet when you begged me to walk on it and crack your back- or when I remember the feel of your hand in mine- or when I force myself to imagine the look on Audrey's face should you walk in the door right this moment- that the old life spills out like a giant accordion photo card with snapshots of eleven years of life and love.  Until it hits the floor.

I am tired of this now.
I hate that the guaranteed emails in my inbox are from the drowning support network (I really should just unsubscribe from this at this point) and other widows.  That the notifications I get the most on Facebook are all for groups called "Hope for Widows" or "The Widowed Parent."
I hate that we are a broken family but other families feel uncomfortable asking us to join them on a Saturday or Sunday because of that fact.
I hate that every time I tell Audrey something about you- I know I'm in a sense "creating you" for her- and it just doesn't come close to the real you.
I hate the time that is passing right this moment and that you are never coming back.

This pain is with me like a piece of hair on the wet sponge as I wash the dishes tonight.  It gets twisted around my finger and I can't shake it off.  It's disgusting.

Extinct Everyday Phrases

In addition to the private vernacular I mentioned in a previous post- the one of inside jokes and nicknames that vanishes with your beloved, there are just everyday phrases- that you will not be saying again.

I've made mine into a poem of sorts...

I'm kinda tired...can you drive?
Hey- it's me. (on the phone)
Take these away from me- I can't stop eating them...
Don't forget to call your parents.
I'm sending this to your dad for his birthday- do you think he'll like it?
Let's go out to eat.
I'm ovulating next week.
Can you massage my neck- it's killing me.
Hey- can you bring me my razor. (from the shower)
Did you take your lunch I packed?
No, I won't walk on your back.  I feel like I'm going to crush you.
Wake up.  It's late.
Can you bring me a glass of water?
Can you take Audrey for a second?
Call me when you get there.


What time do you think you'll be home?
What time do you think you'll be home?


What time do you think you'll be home.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Ambushed

I remember reading on widow boards that it might not be the holidays or anniversaries you're dreading that get you...you'll have prepared for those emotionally- expecting the pain.  But instead, that the pain would hit you when you least expect it, on the ordinary hum-drum days- at the grocery store, in the car, when a certain song comes on the radio.

But...I haven't had that experience yet, because as I've explained there has been no contrast- no space for grief to sneak up on me or coming and going so that I might feel those "waves" of grief everyone talks about it.  It has abided with me, day and night- even while I slept.  In a sick way- I was protected from those surprise attacks.

But now, with the contrast- come the waves- and I found this week- the sudden pain completely unannounced.

Halloween morning.  I hadn't given a lot of thought to Dan missing seeing Audrey dressed up- maybe because he wasn't home for a single Halloween of her life.  The first he was working until she was asleep.  The second he was away on tour.   By the third, he was dead.  So I guess it's always been just me and her.  Also, we'd been traveling and only gotten back to the snow covered Northeast late Sunday evening so I was tired on Monday morning, got Audrey dressed in her fairy wings, grabbed her orange plastic pumpkin and drove to preschool without much thought.

I knew parents were allowed to stay a few minutes later than usual to take photos of all the three-year olds in their costumes, but I hadn't expected so many dads to come.  Ambushed.  Blindsided.  Women introducing husbands to other women.  "This is my husband..."  "Oh, this is my husband..."  Couples.  Father and Mother smiling at their child.

I took a few pictures of Audrey waving her star wand, hugging a ladybug, and fluttering her best fairy flutter, and found out she didn't need the orange pumpkin for their trick or treating to the few other classrooms.  "Bye!" the couples say to me.  I walk quickly to my car but the tears are already coming.   How strange, I think, that during what is possibly the loneliest moment of my life, I am walking across a snow-covered playground holding a bright orange plastic pumpkin.

Objective Reality

Have you ever seen yourself in one of those video screens hanging in a drugstore or other retail store?  You look up and see a woman walking into the store.  You're surprised.  It's you.  We don't see ourselves from that perspective or angle very often.  From above, a woman, pushing open a door, looking up.  I've always found it strange but now I stop and stare for a moment at that woman and her child entering Duane Reade.  "There I am."

Last week I finished the Hawking book and tried to wrap my mind around the model-dependent realism with which he explains the origin of our universe...where "one can use whichever model is more convenient in the situation under consideration."   In the chapter entitled, "What is Reality?" I find familiarity when he quotes the view of philosopher David Hume, "who wrote that although we have no rational grounds for believing in an objective reality, we also have no choice but to act as if it is true."

This is where I am at: as if observing myself as I go about daily tasks on a small screen from a foreign angle.  Pushing myself forward in a reality that I can not comprehend or believe but have no choice but to act as if it's true.  Everyone else is, and then there is the fact that I have not seen you in almost sixteen months.   So I watch: There I am.  I have no choice.