Thursday, December 13, 2012

No Less Sad

How is it that today I can be wearing jeans with paint spots on them, not from the room I painted in our new home- but from three homes ago- our last apartment in Brooklyn- the bedroom that was painted grey like the rest of the apartment, but I painted an ocean blue.  The room that I painted in those jeans while a few days pregnant without knowing it.  The room I later came home to after my baby shower and found you had rearranged and put together Audrey's co-sleeper while I was gone.  The room we left as we walked out of our building and down Ridge Boulevard to get you sushi and cheer you up because you confessed you were sad that you weren't at the shower.  And then as we crossed the street, I stepped on uneven pavement and fell, 8 months pregnant, skinning my knee like I hadn't since I was a child.

How is it I can be wearing these jeans today?  Today while I scrape off the morning frost from my car.  Today while I take Audrey to school, take her to a play date and chit chat with other moms, while I set up a white pressed paper winter village under the Christmas tree and bake banana muffins with her for her holiday celebration at school tomorrow.  Today in a different apartment in which you do not exist.  On this coming Monday, we would have celebrated your 36th birthday.

I still hear you in my mind all the time- telling me that angel in the store for the top of the tree is tacky, rolling your eyes at me as Audrey sings the 106.7 light FM song and the 24 hour Christmas music starts while I drive.  I shrug my shoulders at no one as if to say, "Sorry...this is it."  Mostly it's teasing, the thing Oates says in her memoir that the widow misses most.  This is mostly it.  Sometimes, I almost laugh out loud because it's so funny the way you're teasing me...while I'm here alone now.  I suppose you taught me how to laugh at myself.

With our tree up, I've been thinking of Christmas' past.  The first one we spent together- the way we exchanged gifts at midnight in my parents' living room facing each other while sitting Indian style on the sofa-  with the tree lit- the strong scent of balsam as you handed me a box from Tiffany's.   The first one as a married couple in our first place in Brooklyn- the little artificial tree I bought that year and the ornaments from Target, poinsettias on either side of the fireplace, and Christmas cards strung around the doorframe to our bedroom.  Or perhaps that was the second or third Christmas- I do not remember.

But despite wearing these jeans today, and the checkered scarf you bought me in Europe on the first tour that you said you ended up wearing most of that leg of the tour because you were so cold- and despite wearing my wedding ring, and laying your cell phone on the night stand beside my bed at night- you slip away.

"Do not think of it, do not think of it..." I tell myself when, every now and then, the manner of your death horrifies me.  I am learning how to live with you gone, but I can not deal with the way you went- how alone you were.

Yesterday, in the afternoon while resting after a busy morning of cooping at Audrey's school- I sat up in the middle of our bed for the very first time.  It felt so strange not being relegated to "my side" on the right.  Audrey came running in and hugged me and I felt like I was on my death bed sitting up in the middle like that under the covers.

I remember a friend telling me "You guys are gonna have a lot to catch up on," sometime after you died.  She is a devout Christian and I suppose thought it was a bold but hopeful thing to say.  It replays in my mind though, quite often.  I had the hunch then, and understand now, that it doesn't ring true.  You become further and further away each day.  Even if you are your mom tells me, "Don't worry...he's there, waiting..."  how will we "catch up?"  Even the hope of heaven does not seem to make up for all that we have lost.  We have lost who we were together, then.  Before all this.  While I could keep a running list of things to tell you when you got home when you were away for three weeks- (Audrey found the parrot at Trader Joe's and got a red lollipop, we went to the senior center to put on a little stroller forth of July parade for the residents, Audrey's been role playing with her dolls in the stroller for the first time- wait 'til you see it!)  I cannot keep a running list of decades of change.  Even then, after three weeks apart in the same dimension- there was a palpable distance between us when you returned.  It took some adjusting.

I tell another widow friend that I'm afraid I'm forgetting you, and she says it's not so much the man - her husband- they're forgetting- as much as "forgetting daily life, day to day stuff, with him."  Sadly, neither the bonds of love nor the chains of grief seem strong enough to keep that kind of forgetting from make a heavenly reunion a time for "catching up."  "Never has anything in our lives together so divided us..." writes Oates as in her mind, she pleads with her husband's dead body to "wake up!"

I am busier now...the pace quickens.

"One thought occupies me night and day... She is dead — She is dead! All day I am weary and sad," wrote Longfellow after his first wife died.  This has been my life for the past 29 months.  So much so that it is always slightly funny if someone mentions you and then adds, "I don't want to bring anything up that might be hard..."  But now this weariness- this thought- has settled into my bones and being.  Whether I think about it or not, there it is and will be.  One day while driving I realize that I always refer to you - see there I go- as "you" here when I write.  I cannot bring myself to  refer to you by name.  Then you leave me.  Then you are gone in a different way with just that one word.  You.  "Hey you..." we often began correspondence.   

But you...the true you- not the you in my head that follows me around...are far away now even as I sit in my paint splattered jeans from three homes ago- on our bed with our sleeping daughter beside me.  Yesterday as I'm putting Audrey to sleep and praying for her to have "sweet dreams," suddenly the feeling that you and I used to sometimes say things like, "Meet me at the fountain at Central Park," or "I'll be waiting under the Poet's Walk," before we closed our eyes and went to sleep.  This seems so sentimental and is such a vague memory that for a moment I doubt we ever did this, but it has the noxious taste of nostalgia and it is true- we did do this- my often intense, but always passionate marriage to you actually contained sweet moments like this.  

At some point your questions change from why, where, whatthe-ck? (that actually stays)- to how- how will I go will I pick myself up and do this now?  Because a hopeful reunion, as it turns out- makes the parting no less sad.  

"What, Lucy!  You're not crying? With Aslan ahead, and all of us here?" 

"Don't try to stop me, Peter," said Lucy.  "I am sure Aslan would not.  I am sure it is not wrong to mourn for Narnia.  Think of all that lies dead and frozen behind that door." 

Friday, December 7, 2012

This is December

One of the effects of a move is leaving behind your mail.  You still received mail at our old apartment- not much- a stray card or two from our old dentist in NYC- you were due for a visit.  A large postcard asking if you had hearing loss.   In the past few weeks I was surprised to find there are still a few people sending you things here at our new address.  The 20% off entire purchase- not the ubiquitous 20% off a single purchase - Bed Bath and Beyond coupon you get when you move came addressed to you.  A furniture store welcomed you to your new home and neighborhood.

I am tired lately like the kind of tired/discomfort you feel while traveling after living out of a suitcase for a few days too long.  Packing, unpacking, in a makeshift home.  I am incomplete lately like the moon partially full- when my eyes play tricks on me and I can still see the rest of the circle outlined in the darkness.

Audrey had a traumatic experience at the dentist for her cleaning a few weeks ago.  Apparently, it was all my own fault.  I tried to scare her into brushing by telling her the tale of a preschool mate of hers who had to go to the hospital and be put under to get her cavities filled.  "I"m pretty sure she must have heard about somebody at school..." the dentist offered as Audrey, who has been to the dentist for cleanings four times already without any issues or even nervousness, writhed in my arms.  Hmmm...I thought- maybe the story I told her?  Whoops.  I had no one to blame but myself when, after one completely unsuccessful appointment of screaming, fruitless bribery and rationalizing back in the waiting room, and the receptionist's "Maybe it's just not a good day..." we went back a few days later and we did OK until she saw the chair again.  After more screaming and writhing, the dentist, a very patient and kind Korean woman- looked at me and said it again, "Maybe today's just not a good day."  "But this is the second time- I really want her to get her teeth cleaned," I said.   "What about if Daddy takes her- would that help- maybe Daddy?" she asked hopefully.  "Who?" I replied.  "Daddy?"  "He died."  "Oh I'm so sorry..."

I keep replaying this chaotic scene in my head for some reason- mostly the part when it gets quiet and I say, "Who?"  I heard what she said.  I comprehended it, but I replied, "Who?"

Meanwhile, I play the radio station that plays non-stop Christmas songs loudly in the car while we drive to and from Audrey's preschool every morning.  I sing along.  "I don't mind the holidays; it's a welcome distraction and something good I can offer my daughter," I tell a pastor and an elderly woman freshly widowed in a seminar they have one morning at the church that houses Audrey's preschool entitled, "Surviving the Holidays."  I attend because I usually need something to do for the couple of hours Audrey's in school and because- it's an event that is geared towards me- instead of all the happy families all of the other publicized events are for- a little reprieve from the mask I must wear while chit chatting with other preschool moms, "Oh- I just got rid of a chunk of the baby gear- it felt sooo good..." the mothers of three say as we wait in the hall one day.  I think about how difficult it was for me to part with any of Audrey's baby gear and nod my head slowly.

The hardest day for me though, I told the pastor and the elderly woman, is your upcoming birthday.  This December is different than previous ones.  For Christmas, we are staying home.  The first two years we've gone away - to Arizona, to Disneyland.  This year, I felt I wanted Audrey to wake up in her own house and find presents under her own tree rather than open them on a hotel bed.  I was also just too tired to think about traveling.  For your birthday the first year- during the day I sat in bed eating Christmas cookies- but later, I'd put together a dinner of your friends in K-town.  Afterwards we toasted you at an Irish pub.  Last year, I attempted to do the same thing, but no one could make it but two people so Audrey and I spent the day walking the aisles of Target and eating Thai food at a newer restaurant in our old neighborhood. I had ordered all of our favorites- the ones you and I always ordered and shared- and to my dismay, it was way too much food for myself and a three-year old.  This year- I already understand that this is a day for me alone now.  We will visit the cemetery with flowers.  I won't plan anything strenuous.   I break down in tears telling the pastor and the older woman how at this point, I don't hear from many people and how the dynamics of all my friendships changed- how all of my "friends" are so busy with their large, young, families.  The pastor hands me a few napkins and tells me that whether they know it on a conscious level or not, to my friends- I am living their worst nightmare- which might make it hard for them.   "It is a nightmare," I answer.  "My own worst nightmare."

I decide to host a cookie decorating/Charlie Brown Christmas watching party for Audrey and all the girls in her preschool class.  It's something else I can offer her when I feel I fall so short in other ways as a competent mother and person.  A distraction for me as I order miniature rolling pins to attach the invitations to.  One of the moms emails and tells me that she and her husband have a holiday party to attend that night, but if it's earlier, she can drop by with her daughter.  "-- and I have a holiday party to attend together..." This sentence is so full of luxury to me.  I miss going out as a couple- to dinner- sitting across from one another- making eye contact, talking, laughing, sharing food.  To the movie theater- I have not been once since you died...sharing popcorn, your laughter while I weep at sappy previews, your wide eyes as you watch the screen, holding hands- we held hands.  To a party with other adults- paying attention to what I wear, hearing you tell me I look pretty, having a drink without worrying about driving home...coming home together.

Sometimes I think that my "scholarly" approach to grief- the reading, writing, thinking- has all been one brave attempt to avoid missing the simple beauty of your companionship.  In that way, when I have heard other widows talking about how hard the holidays are, or how one simply posted, "I miss being the most important person to someone," or when another preschool mom I run into at Starbucks tells me she's running out to get her husband's boss a Christmas gift- I can pretend to myself that I don't miss those things- that the holidays aren't any harder than the normal days, (which is mostly true still) or that I don't miss being the most important person, or even the wifely duties I used to do like buying your co-workers Christmas gifts.  No- I am concerned with the larger questions, universal suffering, the purpose of humanity on earth, the afterlife.  And I am, I can't deny that the realm your death thrust me into feels like such a different place that I am full of questions about these things.  Or that you grieve who you are, and I've always been more concerned with these things.  But don't be foolish, I tell myself lately, those little things shared- when our eyes met at something sweet our daughter did, a shared meal of panang curry and pad see ew, the tender squeeze of your hand at a suspenseful moment in a darkened movie theater, the coming home, debriefing on the party, and sleeping side by side...are as significant as these larger intellectual questions of philosophy and theology and where you are right now at this moment while I type (the answer to which truly changes everything doesn't it?).   This morning, on the drive to school, Audrey tells me she can still see all of the dolls, her "daughters," she left eating at our dining table eating- "because I have a telescope at my back."  What if those sweet moments of companionship I feel so deprived of now are actually part of the answer to the questions I carry like some kind of cosmic vagabond- my own telescope at my back.  But to put it simply, I miss you very, very much.

Audrey and I attend the small town tree lighting down the street in the misting rain tonight.  She has hot chocolate, the Girl Scouts lead us in some incredibly off-key carols that you and I would've chuckled at together, and Santa arrives on a fire truck and gives out candy canes.   On the short walk home, I push her stroller and feel your striking absence.  At home, an old acquaintance from our church in Brooklyn that I don't really remember but who recently messaged me, has sent me photos he'd taken of you at our old church- playing in the band- and later at Audrey's baptism.  Evidence of what was- there you are.  I study your face and features in a photo I've never seen before- the fear of forgetting is always there.  Before falling asleep, Audrey is hugging me and telling me, "I just really love you so much mom..."  I hug her back and say, "We're a special family you and me."  "And appa..." she adds.  "I just miss him every day," she continues.  "I know, me too..."  "I think that's the way it'll always be- I'll just miss him every day until I die," she says.  "Yup, me too.  But in the meantime, appa wants us to live and be happy...we have to live with all our strength (a phrase I borrow from a K-drama- hey, it works.)  "Oh ok..." she assents begrudgingly with a sigh.  This is December- the third since you have died.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanks to the Human Heart

"Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears."

Ode on Intimations of Immortality - Wordsworth

Too deep for tears.  And so the words also fail me.

Another friend of yours- the second in two weeks- writes me that he has had his second child- a son- and named him Daniel.

I had no expectation of extra sadness at Thanksgiving, as I don't for Christmas.  But I was surprised to find it there.  The vacancy- the emptiness staring me down.  It isn't traditions that we shared that I miss- it is I suppose, the same thing that makes so many people depressed during the holidays- that overwhelming sense of nostalgia inherent in the celebrations.

You grow more and more distant lately.  It is over two years, and the time is passed when I can imagine you coming home.  The time has passed when I could imagine the scenario of introducing you to our daughter.  I wouldn't be surprised if she's talking by the time you come home; you're going to miss a lot.  The time has passed when I could say, "It feels like I saw him yesterday."  It does not.

Today we see the Nutcracker ballet at Lincoln Center.  First we eat in a restaurant at the Time Warner Center- a place we spent many days while I was pregnant- my doctor being just a block over.  While we wait for my aunt and uncle to arrive, I look down the escalator to the Whole Foods there...where I often came before or after drs appointments during that time period.  I try to comprehend how joyful my life was then without my fully realizing it.  How unencumbered by this tired pain.  As it often happens, I see myself four years ago heading down the escalator in ignorance.  I see us shopping for my "birth snacks" something I didn't ending up needing at all since I was too busy screaming in pain for my 26 hours of labor to feel like noshing on the organic cookies or ice pops we got that were ready to be pulled out from under the dresser in a giant basket at a moment's notice.  I practiced this action- I recall now- the sliding out of the basket of birthing snacks.  How absurd.

The ballet is the awe-inspiring combination of beauty with all that hidden brutality that bears it up.  I want to steal away some of its joy and beauty in my pockets and keep it for a sorrowful day.  For brief moments, while the snowflakes dance, and the sugar plum fairy performs amazing feats of grace and elegance up girded by phenomenal strength- I believe again.

I read of a widow who remarried but never referred to her lost husband as her "first husband" or her "late husband," (dear God, let me never utter these words), but as her "young husband."  This you are to me now.  Getting younger it feels with each passing day...even in the photographs- as I continue on. As I age and live here without you- my young husband.

Friday, November 9, 2012


Today I am depleted.

The week rounded out with two tantrums- one at the dentist on the day of the Nor'easter (we left the office without having her teeth cleaned after two hours there) - the other, today while I was driving.

Each night this week I've dreamt of you.  Last night I am calling you on the phone trying to make amends- another estrangement dream.  Even though there is all the tension of the many fights we used to have- there is also the passion and the immediate forgiveness as soon as I call you.  Beneath the narrative in all of these dreams is always this running inner-dialogue with myself: "Of course we'll always be together..of course we always get back together.  We could never stay apart."  Just like all those times we broke up during our five years of dating...I always knew it wasn't for good.

And yet now.

At night I cry myself to sleep but not the way they do in the movies.  The tears fall as if there's something caught in my eye, or as if the result of a wintry sting.  They just slowly fall- I wipe one- another falls- with no real connection to any thoughts I am having.  They just come.  Sometimes I am watching something or writing an email and I notice them on my cheeks.

I find myself yesterday going through my old laptop, old hard drives, and old cameras that I have not organized in almost three years.  After the beautiful album I made for Audrey's first year of life- there were no more.  On our old camera are still the last round of shots we took before including the last photo taken of you and I- just our shadows.

Looking through photo after photo of before and after- I understand in a new way how the date of your death changed all of time and life for me.  I instantly on that very day saw into the future with horror- "Audrey will turn two soon, and then three, and four.  This will keep going without you- with you dead."  There it all was.  I saw her- me, now.  And it's as if now- I cast a long glance back to that girl- and give a slow nod- the one she somehow already received then- "Yes, yes, this is how it is.  You will come along this way."  Everything even now though- is from that moment in time rather than my own birth, or coming of age, or college years, or even when we met or married.  Everything is Audrey at 21 months, me at 34, all of this future like an uninvited guest glimpsed through a foggy peep hole.

I am expecting your parents in a few days from Korea for the second time since your death.  I wonder if your mother and I will cry again when we see each other.

A good friend of yours writes me today from England and tells me that his wife has just had a boy this afternoon.  They decided to name him Daniel in remembrance of you (and because it's a "bloody good name," according to him).  He hopes it doesn't upset me.   I am honored.  I feel it deeply.  It's another excerpt from a novel or a film- but it's about us.  Someone has named their child after you because you died.  That is why.  I hear you, alive, saying jokingly like you often did to expecting couples, "Dan's a good name..."

I read in another NDE book by a woman Dr. an interesting fact about how a study proved that cursing actually lessens the amount of physical pain you feel if, for example, you stub your toe.  I finally understand why I have not stopped cursing since you died when I'm alone- something I never did before.  It's a lot like that sharp, jabbing physical pain and like I'm saying, "lessen...lessen...please, please lessen..."

In another memoir I just finished by Diane Ackerman on her husband's stroke and resulting aphasia - I learned that the afternoon hours for people with aphasia are the most difficult - they are drained from the mental exercise it takes to find the right words by then and cannot make much more progress.  They call it sundowning.  

I feel this too.  In late afternoon, at two years and four months, now 36 years old standing on the other side of the peep hole to the future.

This sundowning.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


 A melange of joyful, ash-tinged, ironic moments.

Audrey watching a children's program where the day's message is that we don't have to fear when our parents drop us off at school because they'll come back later to get us.  The repeating tune to accompany the message sings, "Grow-oh nups...come back!"  I watch Audrey carefully as she watches wondering if it even occurs to her.  "Mommy always comes back to get you at preschool right?"  I ask her.  Looking content and satisfied she shakes her head yes.  The cheery refrain is only ironic to me.  (Except when your dad drowns in Switzerland)- I think.  But she- she doesn't remember standing in the hall saying goodbye- doesn't recall you telling her that you'd be back in a few weeks.   I'm glad she won't carry this with her.  I'm afraid I do.

The move brought something both sought after and feared: continuity.

You- me, us, Audrey- this really happened to those people.  Most of the time, I am able to speak about my life because I feel no real connection to the tragic string as mine- ours.  The sorting through, moving of belongings, new home and sense of homelessness - has finally changed that.

More saying goodbye.

A friend's husband comes over after dinner to take Audrey out for ice cream.  I peer out the curtains to see him carrying her to the car and hear her little voice faintly chatting away.  Deep sobs.  I will never see you carry her like this.  She is limited to a few hours every few months with this kind of attention.  All she is missing out on.  All you have missed.  I don't visit those thoughts often.

After he leaves, she spends almost 30 minutes drawing a picture of the three of us...he is in yellow, with a large jack-o lantern-eque smile.  We are in brown and green.

I dream a few weeks ago that I need to sing a certain song in front of an audience, but cannot remember the words.  It is a song I heard playing on the radio at Duane Reade a week or so after you died and felt you were speaking to me.   Last night I dream I am holding you- hugging you- trying to explain how much I love you and how I don't want you to go.  You don't seem to know about our impending separation.   Audrey wakes up yesterday at 6 am crying and upset because she dreamt I got married, "I don't want you to get married...I want it to be just us like I'm used to!" she cries out.  I assure her I have no such plans.

Restless sleep.

The effects of the hurricane are still apparent where we live- long gas lines, people without power strewn about in Starbucks - one guy carrying an entire printer in yesterday morning.  Though I am incredibly grateful that our home was virtually unaffected and sorrowful for those who lost so much- the hurricane brought others into the surreal realm I inhabit.  The feeling of pushing through every day because you have no choice- the discomfort-...the fear that Lewis says grief feels so much like.  It felt like I had company for a few days.

I think about how the early days and even year or so of grieving a sudden loss are kind of like being in the eye of a hurricane.  While you're aware that the wreckage and tumult is all around you, while rogue waves toss and saturate the space you huddle in-  you feel enclosed, protected from daily life concerns- finances, relationships, social graces.   In some ways, you feel untouchable.  But just as they warn not to go outside to examine the damage during the eye of a storm lest you be caught up in the eyewall just beyond it-  the eyewall comes in grief too.  In fact, it's just the beginning.

Sunday, November 4, 2012


Who thought death would look like autumn.  I found these words of yours in a songwriting journal right after you died- as I hunted through them for hours looking for some clue as to what had happened- picking one or two for your funeral program.  Now this line plays in my mind as I drive around this past month and try to explain the chemistry of fall colors to our daughter in terms she can understand.  "It's called photosynthesis..."  "But the sun is further away from us now so...they can't make the chlorophyll...something like that."  

I realize this move has pushed us both forward- whether I was ready or not- and with the different place I find myself in, is a need for new and different outlets.  This space for word keeping, this blog, doesn't feel like the life support it once did.  I decide that even though there is no closure in loss- I will round out my thoughts here, pull the plug, because there can be lessons learned, final words, summations- in writing- if only in writing.

For a month or so now, my old outlets have not been functioning.  Until the move I had a daily inner dialogue that wrote these pages effortlessly.  Before the move, I cried nightly- sitting in our bed- where it had been when we last slept there as husband and wife- watching the door handle, performing a mental check to make sure I could still envision you coming in quietly, smiling a tired smile at me, lifting your eyebrows just so, shrugging your shoulders while I got up to greet you with a hug.

The move has pushed all of that away.  In its place weeks of packing, unpacking, the start of a new school year for Audrey.  No time for crying at night, no script in my head as I go about my long daily to-do list to get us settled in a new place.

And with no outlets, I found myself experiencing something new and unwelcome: panic attacks.  After the first one, a trip to the doctor revealed nothing wrong with my heart, though I was sure I was dying.  Though meds were prescribed, I've found that once I knew nothing was wrong physically - I've been able to tame the attacks on my own when they come- which they still do- by surrendering to them.  What that means is that right before I start to lose it, I lean towards the emotion- and wind up crying instead.  The anxiety and physical symptoms subside.

Still- I realize the other helpful thing will be to find new outlets.  A new and different blog perhaps.  Yoga or ballet.  A job.  Something for myself- just me- though I don't know yet what that will be or look like.

The move has been tumultuous- how could it not be when any move basically entails looking through everything you own, all of life's possessions you've collected- most of which tell the story of our life together.  There are many things I needed an outlet for during the move, but I really had none because packing up everything you own and unpacking it someplace new- not to mention painting a couple of rooms-  is just too consuming of your energy- both physical and mental.

I did not get to write about how I found the last gift from you- the one you told me about on the phone from Europe after I found the Newman's Own mint oreos tucked up in the cabinet.  "There's more..." you'd said.  It was for our anniversary- the day you would miss for the second year in a row- so you'd hidden a couple of things.  At first, after you died, after our anniversary passed- the day after your burial- I searched through drawers looking...for what you had left.  Then I gave up, and forgot.  And then, after a long night of packing up the kitchen with the help of a friend- I went to survey the empty cabinets after she left- the ones Audrey had so much fun climbing into with a flashlight on those final days in our home.  I  opened them up, pleased with their emptiness, surrounded by boxes, tired.  And then my eye caught something...and I reached up, and pulled out chocolate truffles left there by your hand two years before...a surprise.  Instantly, I knew who had placed them there.  Immediately-I wished I had not picked them up- and disturbed the place you had last placed them.  I wondered why Michele- my friend- and I had not found it while we packed every other single thing in that cabinet.  "There is something to you finding that right now at this time," my grief counselor tells me as I describe the scene to her.  "What could it be telling you...maybe...he is saving something for you?"

For that night, I had no outlet, only to wake up the next morning and go stare in disbelief at the little package of truffles now on my kitchen counter- expiration date- 2010.  It is all I can do to pack it carefully and place it back in my new cabinet.  What to do with it.

And what could I do when I took down off its nail, that very last framed photo in our living room- the one of us giving Audrey a kiss on her first birthday- the one where she is squashed in the middle of our own embrace.  Michele held me for a moment while I cried, but not knowing her that well and feeling grateful for her time-  I quickly went back to packing- "It's OK...I'm OK."

And what to do the next morning after the movers came and took everything out when the friend who had come to help me asked as we walked out the door for the last time, "Do you want to take a moment?"  ", I'm fine.  I've taken enough moments in there..."  But what to do.

And it is all I can do to keep the vietnamese hot sauce you purchased and place it in the new fridge- at least for now.  And it is all I can do to thank the friend of yours who comes to carry away your life dream- the music production equipment that was such a point of contention for us for so long...he tells me how honored he is that I chose him and we agree that it can not be sold- that is must be given to someone who needs it- who will make good use of it...what do I do with the image of our child hugging your computer and saying quietly, "Goodbye Appa's computer..."  "You'll never get that back together," said your friend who helped me move the computer into my car...never get it back together.  I already knew this.

What to do when, on the night before her four year old birthday party- Audrey actively grieves for you for    two     hours.  It begins with her caressing that same photo I'd taken down that is still sitting on a desk at that time...going to get her own camera to take close-up photos of your face, all while saying, "I miss appa...I miss my dad a lot."  And then continuing to hug various objects that remind her of you...Going over to her bin of instruments- "Appa liked music and instruments a lot, so I'm going to hug this ukelele as a simple sign of love for him..." and on and on...culminating with "I wish my dad could come to my 4 year old birthday party tomorrow- but since he can't, I'm gonna hug all of these party decorations as a simple sign of my love for him."

And then...her speaking into the air, looking up, "Appa?"  "He's not answering me," beside me in bed before she fell asleep...listening to her pray that she might have a dream with you in it...tears streaming down my own face..."Goodnight honey..."

And silent, all of this has been stifling and sad.  With these words- I wish I could carve away the sad and make something beautiful- but chip away as I may- I know by now- you have to work with what you've got.  The sad is part of the sculpture and always will be.  But lest it overwhelm it entirely- I need to keep molding, keep creating, keep kneading in the hope even as my restless sleep brings disturbing dreams and scenarios that surprise me with their creative yet obvious symbolism- even as I feverishly read the latest books on NDE's,  even as I find myself in a place that does not feel like home- a place that you have never laid eyes on or set foot in- and even tonight- as I recall something that once made us laugh, and have a brief amnestic urge to go and share it with you so that we can laugh once more together- even still after two years.

What can I do with it all...what can I keep...I will keep the moment when, packing up, I told Michele that those three bamboo shoots were special to me- I had chosen three when we moved in there- one for each of us...then she seemed confused and asked me, "There are four in there aren't there?"  And this was the first time I noticed a brand new shoot- a fourth stalk of bamboo that had sprung up completely unnoticed by me.  And it speaks to me of new life- not in the cliche way everyone wants to believe for me- but deeper still.  "He is saving something for you..."  And it echoes for me the story of the three men in the fiery furnace for their faith...the three men who remained untouched and unharmed and therefore caused the king who had thrown them in there to exclaim, "Look!  I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods."  I take four shoots with me to our new "home."

I keep the small note I find from you - written randomly no doubt in the old dimension- when sorting through my old Bible before placing it on the built-in shelves here along with other books.  In big messy letters,  "I LOVE YOU!!!"  I place it where I can see it on the shelf.  You love me.

Last night Audrey tells me she thinks you can see us....and she waves upward without saying a word...I join her...and imagine your point of view through a small hole in the atmosphere- or like looking through the wrong end of a telescope-  your two "lovely ladies," waving at the dining room ceiling- distant, small, and wordless.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Do It Again Tomorrow

I am continually in awe of how time keeps progressing before my eyes like one of those time-lapse videos.  I wonder to myself often if something in your death changed the very substance of time itself for only me.

Even so the loss- still jarring and inconceivable- really does not retreat.  I find on a day when I send Audrey to sleep over my parents- in the rare case that I actually have a few hours to myself- even though I'm busy shopping for the things for our new home- all of it surfaces- replays again and again still.  I am driving to IKEA and I am remembering the feeling of sitting in a black limo behind a hearse with your photo staring back at me.  The utter aloneness I felt as I sat there with your family- silently- the pure "wrongness" that screamed inside of me while I sat motionless, silent.

In IKEA- I am remembering somehow different trips there when we last moved together- and around each corner- there is the spot where we chose our desks- "I really want you to get a nice one so you can write..." you say as I push my cart around that one.  And there is the register where I ordered the chaise in the linen color because they were out of the gray- while you pushed Audrey around in the stroller.  There you are walking towards me, dragging your feet- holding your cup of coffee in the restaurant.  I sip my own with tear-filled eyes while I sit alone at a large table for 8 in the restaurant- eyeing families everywhere- thinking about how magical it must be to have your complete unit- wondering if any of them understand how lucky they are- and then continue on with my to-do list for the new house.

I think a lot about whether or not our relationship is also dead in its entirety.  This is because I feel something in me still trying to connect with you.  It's because I often sense your hands on my shoulders when I've had enough- and it's because I sometimes laugh about these inside jokes we share- new ones- not old ones from when you were alive.  It all makes me sound kind of crazy, I realize- but in reading a book about an anthropologist's objective study of the evangelical's relationship with God- (that happens to focus on the same movement/branch of Christianity Dan and I were involved with for years) it seems the "relationship with God" that evangelicals talk about so much- the words spoken by God in their minds- are not so different from the narrower- yet expanding relationship I often experience with you.

Two friends send me the same info on a new book coming out in a week or so written by a neurosurgeon about his own near death experience.  It even made it to the cover of Newsweek this week.  I read Christopher Hitchens' last book and notes before his death entitled just "Mortality."  He referred to his final days as living dyingly.  I relate to this phrase at first, but decide I will not live like this.

Sometimes I'm disgusted at the way my own crisis of faith following your death- though I'm not even sure that is the right term- can appear so superficial and childish from an outsider's viewpoint.  As if I knew suffering existed before and believed in a benevolent God- but after it struck me- I became angry like a teenager having a tantrum.  Actually, it's more like Lewis says- you don't know how strong a cord is when you use it to tie a present- but when you're hanging from a precipice- then you find out how  strong you think that cord is.  And also though, I realize- it's because of the fact- that until one has suffered - it is possible to not believe suffering exists even though you are aware of it on a conscious level.  I have always been extremely sensitive and empathetic- feeling others' pain deeply even when I myself really did not know the depths of it and thought I did- but I also think, now, looking back- I subscribed to a philosophy of Solipsism.  Sometimes I would sit and literally think really hard and realize in this moment of pure isolation- that my entire world - life itself- has been in my mind- and maybe the whole world is in my mind.  Once I even articulated to myself that maybe  I could reconcile the intense suffering in the world by other people with a good God by believing that not all people were real- or as real and that perhaps some had been "planted" by God to teach the rest of us things.  I knew this strange breed of Solipsism was incredibly egoistic- but I guess I was desperate to explain away some of the pain.

Now, not only do I find I'm doubtful of the cord's ability to hold as I dangle here- but I know that suffering is real because I know you were real.  I still feel as if the existence of the external world is unresolvable- as is my internal world- but I am less alone- less trapped by my own consciousness- my own reality.  As I have said before- the existence of this immense invisible pain I had never tasted before gives me great hope in other things immense and invisible.

"Mothering and making a home- it all takes so much energy..." a good friend who was widowed at around my age many years ago writes to me.  It does- and I suppose that's partly the reason for this strange pairing of a trip to IKEA with the realities of the universe.  One simply has to believe in something in order to keep expending so much energy - in making yet another home- in mothering a child lately prone to tantrums - amidst this seemingly domestic themes- why buy a new heart-shaped doormat, hang up a coat rack, why hold this screaming child calmly instead of screaming back- amidst all this- one is always staving off existentialism- always wrestling with the liturgy of what writer Kathleen Norris calls, "The Quotidian Mysteries," and why it's worth getting up to do again tomorrow.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Winding

From day one, it's full of contradictions- and the move has been no different.

A widow friend warns me that it might feel after we move, as if you disappeared or never existed, because our new life will no longer have a place for you.  Audrey asks if we can call one of our new dining chairs "Appa's chair," and I agree to it.  For most meals, one of her dolls joins us in that chair.

But it is, in many ways, a disappearance.  Everything is changed: environment, routines.  I haven't gotten to hang up photographs yet either, so that doesn't help.  This is a place you have never been.

And then, after a few weeks of "settling," I realize everything, our life, situation, is exactly the same.  I still sit in bed in disbelief each night- I still stare at our daughter's closed eyelashes- so much like yours- while she sleeps.  Time- the first environment- is still the same- fast and slow simultaneously- uncomfortable.

The pace of life quickens now- with school routines for Audrey, an impending job search for me, but I am still not, and will not be, one of those busy, purposeful looking people running to and fro.  That, I think, I have forever stepped away from.  Still- your absence- and your presence- surprises me more when I have less time to dwell on it now and I think often of this quote from a young girl in "A History of Love,"

Every year, the memories I have of my father become more faint, unclear, and distant.  Once they were vivid and true, then they became like photographs, and now they are more like photographs of photographs. 

The night before her fourth birthday party, Audrey started to talk about you- wishing you could attend her party.  She sat by a photograph of the three of us I have yet to hang up, caressing your face.  She told me she missed you very much and was very sad- then she ran to get her camera, and took photographs of your photograph.  They are blurred- but clear- and close-up.

The character continues:

But sometimes, at rare moments, a memory of him will return to me with such suddenness and clarity that all feeling I've pushed down for years springs out like a jack-in-the-box.  At these moments, I wonder if this is the way it feels to be my mother."  

Yes, yes- it does.  A jack-in-the box- but many, many times a day.  Each day, a rhythm of the slow, mechanical winding- and then the jump....the slow winding again...the jump.  The more full our days, the less moments for the jump- but the winding- the tension- the music- is always there.  It does not quiet.

The fear of losing you, forgetting, dissipates.  Certain things are changeless.

Longfellow, The Cross of Snow

In the long, sleepless watches of the night,
A gentle face--the face of one long dead--
Looks at me from the wall, where round its head 
The night-lamp casts a halo of pale light.
Here in this room she died, and soul more white
Never through martyrdom of fire was led
To its repose; nor can in books be read
The legend of a life more benedight.
There is a mountain in the distant West
That, sun-defying, in its deep ravines
Displays a cross of snow upon its side.
Such is the cross I wear upon my breast
These eighteen years, through all the changing scenes
And seasons, changeless since the day she died.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


I realize it's been almost a month since I've written here.  It's not because there haven't been a torrent of emotions as I packed, moved, and started to unpack and settle in to a new place.  It's because it's been exhausting.  The amount of energy it took to pack over 60 boxes, unpack them, paint Audrey's room pink, and plan her birthday party this Saturday has left me spent.

But people keep asking me if I'm settling in and asking me if I like my new place.  Mostly I think after two weeks, the key word is unsettling.  I don't adjust well to change to begin with- I don't like my new grocery store and I can't get the front burner on my stove to light.  None of my cooking has tasted good here.  I locked myself out of the house last Saturday, and there seem to be an inordinate amount of spiders in this house.  In our old building, I saw two bugs in three years.  (That frightened me a little bit too since I wondered what kind of exterminating they must be doing regularly)  But this seems to be the spider house.  At least they're not fast.  And I'm getting used to killing them- once with Audrey's Cinderella glass slipper that happened to be in my hand as I was putting it away.  "Oh no!  Not with Cinderella's slipper!" she cried out.

The routines that anchored me the last two years are no longer there.  We have to find new ones- it's unsettling- like a world without gravity.

The real adjusting though- has to do with us moving on without you- the forced march forward.  The concrete slab.  You are not coming back.  Not for my whole life.  That is the wordless thing just beneath the surface of all of the "How are you settling in?"  and "Can't wait to see your place!"  That is me sitting in my car in my old Whole Foods parking lot today, crying "This is really it.  There is no going back."  (No, not to Whole Foods- to my old life!  To the world with Dan Cho in it.)

Before you died, I was a stay at home mom- but somehow right after- I was unemployed.  There was a shift.  Likewise, with this move- before it felt like we still had a home- and now it feels like we're homeless or vagabonds even though we've unpacked into a perfectly cozy first floor of a two family home with beautiful hardwood floors, bead board walls in the bathrooms and even a built in bookshelf.  The true unsettling- is with the world itself.   I live in a world now where a perfectly healthy 33 year old , just on the cusp of a lifelong dream- can drown.   I knew suffering and horrible things existed beforehand, but I actually liked to believed that other saying- that a God wouldn't give you more than you could handle- and that the people I saw losing an infant son, or a parent in a sudden car crash- were stronger than me- "I could never endure that," I'd think- "So it won't happen to me."   Now it's a world where every horrid vision I have-  could come true.  It's a world where what people tell me, "Things have a way of working out" and "Don't worry- you'll be fine."  are weightless now as well- lacking gravity.  It's a world where I do not feel at home.   But- we go on.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Tender Things

Today I started packing- and it felt...surprisingly- nice.  I was at that point before you move where I knew I had a move out date, but it still felt completely unreal that I was actually going to pack up everything I own in the next week and move.  To see a few boxes helps.  The amount of "stuff" that needs to go in boxes is a bit overwhelming, but I think the start of the packing also reminded me- packing for a move really is such a small thing- on the scale where you've buried your husband and listened to your daughter scream out for him at 3 am.  Quite small to pack belongings in boxes and seal them with packing tape.  I will do a little each day.

I had planned on meticulously cleaning each room and then taking photos of our apartment as it was before dismantling everything, but I never got around to it.  I think about taking the photos today and realize I don't even feel the need I thought I would.  This place is quickly becoming just an apartment- and one we lived in longer without you than with you.  You are certainly not a condo built in the 80's with popcorn ceilings and old wall to wall carpeting.  Still- I do take some photos- just incase I regret it later.

A young widow friend who already made her own move a long time ago tells me to rip it off quickly- like a band aid.  This sounds good- it feels like it's dragging now.

I go through some files in my file cabinet- planning on purging what I no longer need, but finding out quickly that the weight of all that paper and living is too much to bear sorting through right now.  I sift through just a few folders- one that has all of the information for this apartment so I can leave any of it for the new owner.  In it I find all these yellow slips we had to fill out for maintenance requests, and I'm  caught off guard to find so many of them in your handwriting.  Already I find, I don't remember a time when there was someone else who did these things.   I put a few of these in the recycle pile, and then I take them out of the pile and put them back in the file folder.  "Bath tub drain is clogged."  "Toilet keeps running."  "New filter for heater."  All in your neat printing- you told me you never learned cursive- but you were so proud of your printing- always joking that you should write the thank you notes or the sign for our stoop sale.  "I have better handwriting than you."

I think a lot lately about how methodical I am when it comes to this move and everything else.  Everything is done thoroughly.  Closure is important.  When I leave jobs, I write notes and make presents for favorite co-workers.  When I close my freshman college dorm room for the last time, I take a photograph in my mind of the door knob.  Before I get married, I write letters to my parents and my new in-laws.  Is it any wonder that it is taking me a while to work through your leaving- when I must do it with no warning and alone- without you here?  It is almost comical how mismatched this tragedy is to my personality- almost.  

The thought, "My husband is turning over in his grave," comes into my head sometimes lately, and I can't believe this is a valid phrase for me in my life talking about you- a 33 year old.  (You are still 33- that is so strange and inconceivable- how much more so when I'm fifty) It happens when Audrey tells me she wants to be a Broadway star, (you disliked Broadway) or when she's eating bread with too much butter or too many sweets.  I shrug my shoulders at your imaginary disdain.

I have strange dreams.  Last week that you and I are forced to live in this dream-like tenement slum.  The dream is in shades of grey.  I keep asking you how we might get back to our old life- the one in the regular city where we weren't in rags - the one in color.

I am invited to a new offshoot group on Facebook specifically for those who have lost people to sudden deaths.  I join.  I usually don't do much on any of the groups I'm in, but in this group- everyone is introducing themselves- sharing their story.  I read a bunch of them and share mine.  Did you know that people die from electrocution on their jobs?  Or from getting hit by an Amtrak train he didn't see coming while crossing in his car?  They do.  I don't know these people and I wish I didn't know these people, and yet we're on this same plane.  I do feel less alone reading the posts- how can my old friends possibly relate to what life is like now?

Since you've died I'm pretty sure every one of my close friends has been pregnant again.  In the past month, I've heard two new announcements.  It is hard, to put it simply.  Hard not to ask why others get to choose how many children they'd like- or why some seem to be "blessed," and given gift after gift.  It is hard to see families growing while mine was cut off and we lost a member and will not have any new ones.  It seems unfair.  I wish them congratulations with an exclamation point.

Still- I come up with a logic that helps me sidestep self-pity- at least in large or permanent doses.  It is irritating to me when people complain about very small things or trials now.  I remind myself though, that there are, have been, and will be, many people in our world that suffer much worse atrocities than I have, and if I indulge in self-pity- I am disrespecting them and their suffering.  It's just not right.  So, I tell myself, I will not do this.

Today I decide to get rid of some of the dozens of IKEA frames that held your photos at the display at your funeral.  I don't want them.   I take out the photos though and stare at one of them.  You appear to me the way a woman does when you're slightly surprised by her appearance but can't quite figure out what is different- when she usually wears make-up and then isn't.  I wonder if this is how it will slowly happen.

"He is gone.  He is not coming back," I tell myself quietly tonight while the sun is setting and Audrey dances to a band in the marina next door while wearing a princess gown she has named her "dancing gown" for the evening.  If I keep telling myself that - will I finally understand that this is not a test- that you are not witnessing how valiantly I brave forward, only to surprise me and tell me I've handled it all very well.   "He is gone."  I am left with the slips of paper in your handwriting- the running toilet- the clogged bath tub drain...and your signature.  Trying to get things fixed for us.  This is what we keep.  These are the most tender things.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Resignation.  This is the word that plods in my head the past three or four days as I try to help Audrey recover from fever and her first ear infection, and as we head down to the beach with my parents for a few nights.  I am anxious and uneasy because she isn't fully recovered.  Things happen, go wrong- not everything "will be fine," in my worldview anymore.  A sick child causes more anxiety than she should.  "The apparent inadequacy of the precipitating event," : Didion quotes Karl Menninger's "Man Against Himself," and the way people can overreact to something seemingly ordinary- something assigned an "exaggerated value."  I'm fairly certain my shaky world view will hold much "apparent inadequacy" and much "exaggerated value" throughout my life.

Going on "vacation" is jarring as well- especially on the first day- the apparent inadequacy of a three hour drive to the Atlantic Ocean for three nights.  Even though it's been two years, it's only what- the third or fourth vacation without you?  It feels strange- and I feel about thirteen sitting in the back seat of my parent's car with Audrey.  Except I'm not- I'm 36 and her mother.  The other member of our family unit- is gone.

When we arrive and sit outside the lobby on the deck waiting for our room to be ready, a friend phones and I walk down to the boardwalk and begin to cry telling here where I am and how much I miss my husband.  I tell her how I miss the ease with which you traveled- the huge comfort that you were to me- someone who does not adapt well- a homebody.  She listens and concurs.  She does not see the apparent inadequacy- quite the opposite.  She is an old friend of ours- and a new friend to me- all at the same time.   It is cathartic to have even that fifteen minutes to vent before beginning "the vacation."

The trying as well.  The constant talk of swimming and bathing suits and splashing.  But it's the ocean, I tell myself.  And it is.  Before it I am small- this is a comfort.  The word in my mind then is not to do with its size or scope but for some reason, its mercy.  Magnanimous.

Three days of "swimming" in her floaties, collecting broken shells on the sand, ice cream, funnel cake, rides, and her first round of mini-golf.  You are absent every moment.  I think of you- playing mini-golf with us.  I hear you- teasing my seriousness.  Snapshots of our last few beach vacations play without request in my mind.  Audrey under an umbrella with a runny nose at 11 months.  You in the bathing suit you would die in.  Turks and Caicos - I am proudly pregnant.  We marvel at the warm, clear water, and take long walks at sunset.  We get food poisoning and try not to get the conch shell you found on the first day mixed up with the one they placed for decoration in our hotel room.  "What if they think we're stealing theirs when they see this in our bag?" you worry jokingly.

Awaiting me back at home today are flattened moving boxes leaning up against hallway walls- waiting to be filled.  I am tired and have a sore/scratchy throat from the hotel air conditioning.

Resignation- hieratic motion forward.  A far more accurate word, I believe, than acceptance.

It isn't at all a new "normal" as they say- (one of my least favorite phrases)- it's the new "abnormal."  But it's your life nonetheless.  It's the surreal quality everyone in NYC experienced on September 11th, but that slowly receded as they went back to daily life and the "Missing" signs and "Never Forget" signs were taken down.  Except for those who had lost loved ones.  And for them- and for me- the surreal film never recedes.

The other common sentiment- "Imagine what he would want for you, say to you" is also well- intentioned, but impossible to actually imagine since my world- one in which he drowned in a lake in Europe- is so completely foreign to him.  It never was information he was privy to.  I am living it out the best I can by myself- in the end, mostly grateful only one of us had to bear the knowledge in this way.

"Mom- that day you met appa- when you were looking for a husband- were you so happy you found him?"  she asks one day randomly.  "Yes- yes, I was."

"I wish you could marry appa again..."
"Me too."

I think about writing here a lot and many words.  Words and phrases pass through my mind that I imagine setting down but they're always long gone by the time I'd have the energy and the thought is overwhelming.  Tonight- I attempt because there has been so much and it's so packed in- like the wet sand Audrey filled her bucket with, but I feel I fail to articulate even a grain of it.  And I have a headache.  So I won't try anymore tonight.  "In three words I can sum up everything I learned about life:," says Robert Frost, "it goes on."

Saturday, August 4, 2012

What I Leave Behind

I'll leave behind the constant view out our windows- the one you said looked like the scene of an Indie movie while the opening credits were playing.  I'll leave behind the scene of Audrey's first crawl, first steps, jump, and many attempts at skipping.

I'll leave behind our mutual complaints of the cigar smoke and noise from the upstairs neighbor- the security guard who works here and was chosen to come verify that there really was a smell of smoke because of the insane management of our building - who came and said he did not smell anything.  The one you loathed thereafter and was referred to simply as "no frickin' sense of smell..." by us when we drove into the complex and he sat in the little booth.  I still do this when I see him.

I leave behind the day of our move here - when the heat didn't work and we had to leave with our five month old daughter and go back to sleep at my parents' house one more night.

The first night we slept on our new IKEA mattress on the floor.

I leave behind the spot we last slept together - wedding photo framed above the bed in the brown frame you chose for the photo you enhanced - the one your friend took of us on the church steps, kissing while friends and family blow little bubbles around us- you made it sepia and blurred the people around us, keeping only us in focus.

I'll leave behind the spots where I took the photos of Audrey every month in the same dress until her first year birthday- and the bedroom I stayed up in until 2 am for a week making dozens of tissue paper pom poms for that party so that when you came home from traveling the night before you thought I was crazy.  I leave behind our first real Christmas tree- our only Christmas morning alone as a family.   The floor where you played "Charlie Brown's Christmas" music on your keyboard and a 15 month old Audrey danced and called your name softly as she did then, "Ba," and placed her hand on your shoulder.  An Easter morning egg hunt with those little slips of paper you drew pictures on and wrote sweet notes for her inside a few of the eggs.  You carrying in my breakfast on Mother's Day.  Us sitting together as a family around our kitchen table having homemade waffles with heart-shaped strawberries on your last Father's Day.

I'll leave behind the place where you laid down and lifted Audrey on your legs and flew her back and forth- and the space where you tossed her up in the air so that in the photos both of you are just a joyful blur.

I leave behind the chair and the spot that Audrey and I still refer to at the kitchen table as "Appa's chair."  I leave behind your desk- which I am quite doubtful I will have put back together mostly for lack of space, but also because...   I leave behind the chair you picked out to go with it which Audrey and I also still refer to as Appa's chair- the one that had one of your shirts hanging around it when you died that still smelled strongly of you and is now in a sealed bag in the closet.  The one you sat in nightly when you were home looking for work, contacting music industry people- scratching your head, bouncing your knee.  The desk that is now dusty, and the chair where I sat crying those wretched sounds the day after- listening to your music and roaming through your computer as if I could find you there.

I leave behind the pencil marks you made when you installed the safety locks in the bathroom, the toilet seats you installed, the kitchen sink you stood in front of washing our dishes, the bathroom mirror we stood in front of flossing or brushing our teeth looking at the other's reflection.  The one where one night I said I wanted to have a little space in there and you said, "You can't wait until I leave..."  The mirror in which I wrote "Audrey and mommy love Appa" on it after my shower, to which you left a reply the next time you showered, "Appa loves Audrey and mommy."

I leave behind the sound of the bus brakes bringing you home- the possibility of seeing you step off of the bus.  I leave behind Audrey in her blue and red sundress and white flower clip as we waited to greet you that night only weeks before- and you were so happy and said you felt so lucky to get off the bus and be greeted by both of us.

I also leave behind the bus stop going the other direction across the street- the one I'd strain to see you walk away to on the mornings when you worked- the one I strained to see you and your cello standing inside the small shelter in- sometimes while we still spoke on our cell phones saying just one more thing.

I'll leave behind the farewell toast at the party I threw you in May of 2010 and the toast I recently made at the two year memorial with friends here,  "We love you and we miss you...cheers."

I'll leave behind the sound of the doorknob to our bedroom turning as you came in at 11 or 12 midnight...trying to be as quiet as possible and not wake Audrey.  I'll leave behind the image I have of you with backpack on back, releasing a great big sigh after a long day of work- to which I jumped out of bed and embraced you saying only "tough day."

I will leave behind the spot where we argued and I spoke the words, "Let's resolve this when you get back."  And the spot where we last said goodbye- did we embrace?  The spot by the door where I told Audrey you'd be back soon.  The spot I walked away from in tears moments later.  The spot where you returned to put your keys back in the drawer of the entryway table moments later, "I won't need these." I didn't even see you- only heard your voice.  The spot where I rolled in your suitcase- afterwards.  Where I opened the envelope that came in the mail with your wallet, phone, wedding band.

And I Will Leave Behind the steps to the counter where my cell phone was.  The wet bathing suit.  The spot where I first screamed.   The shower where I collapsed and keened so that I thought my body could not withstand the force.  The hole from the tack that held your tour schedule- the one we'd looked at that morning and counted the days together until you'd be back.  I leave all of this behind.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

On My Knees

Yesterday was a darker day than most, but the thought of writing about it- trying to capture the complex  kind of darkness- is overwhelming.  Words will fail...words will fail- the stream of consciousness speed of light kind of pain says over and over as I try to capture it.

Do I write about going through my dresser in attempt to purge and organize before I pack and move- something I'd always previously enjoyed and found therapeutic?  How this time, I find I've left enough of your clothes to make it hard for me to get up after sorting through one drawer- just enough, I realize- for a weekend trip- a few of your favorite soccer jerseys, your favorite basketball shorts that you slept in or wore around the house- the very same ones you wore when I drove to Staten Island to pick you up our fourth time meeting -for a youth ralley in Maryland- July 17th, 1999- five years to the day until we would get married.   A few pairs of your socks I have been wearing since they fit and most of mine have holes.  A pair of boxer shorts with hearts on them that I got you for Valentine's Day while we were still dating...and that you refused to throw out for that same reason even though they are quite tattered.  Your sock drawer also has in it two pens- one from Google and one from Commerce bank- free pens you picked up probably at work.  It has a converter for your cell phone for Australia and New Zealand- your tour destination before your last.  And it is littered with foreign coins- Euros and Korean Won mostly.  And also the lock of your hair I had the funeral director cut off for me- now in a Ziploc bag.  And the velvet pouch he put it in which I happily put in the discard pile.

Besides your clothes- there are mine.  These too are saturated with memories.  The outfit I went out to buy the morning that we met- that I could never bear to part with.  The complete Indian outfit you bought me for my first birthday with you just because you saw it at some street fair and "thought you'd look cute in it."  There is the brown cashmere sweater you bought me in a thrift store across the street from the boutique where I got my wedding dress on 9th street in the village. There are the pajamas you bought me in Sweden and the free t-shirts I sleep in.  There are nursing bras that I was still wearing when you died- having just weaned Audrey a couple of weeks beforehand.  There are the many pretty nightgowns I received at my wedding shower including the one I chose for myself for our wedding night.  Audrey tells me it is very pretty.  There is so so much in those drawers.  So many more items - each with a background and recollection.  I smell your clothes and can't believe how they still smell like you - especially the part around the neck.  All the while Audrey is occupying herself by collecting your foreign coins in another little pouch I give her.  "I'll start a collection!" she says.

In my top drawer also, is my old cell phone.  The phone I had then when I received the call- that was sitting on the kitchen counter as I ran to it...I decide to charge it.

Later, I turn it on and find a video of Audrey as a baby swinging in her swing that you put on there along with the words, "Audrey LOVES Mommy!!!"  Three exclamations- I notice.  Just an example of the sweet things I took for granted in the "before."  And then I scroll through the photos that are stored there- random ones because back then I didn't use my phone as my main camera like I do now- a picture of me in glasses I was thinking of buying- so I could show you- a picture of shoes I saw for you in a shoe store on the upper west side and wanted you to see so I could buy them for you.  Remember when I used to have someone else to shop for?  There are a few photos of Audrey so infant-like- I barely recognize her as ours at first.  In the text message tab is the true story- there are texts from the night of Audrey's birth that I had treasured, "It's a girl- her name is Audrey," I had sent out to friends... and their replies.  And then there are the everyday ones - a few from me to you or you to me- though neither of us had texting plans back then- "Hey- I'm outside the door- let me know when it's safe to come in..." from you when you were home from work but afraid to wake up Audrey whose room was close to the doorway.  "I miss you- thinking of you," from me while you were traveling for a weekend. "Hey- just got here..." from you when you arrived at your destinations.  And then...the after texts- from friends and people mostly trying to coordinate help "after."  One friend quotes the verse from Zephaniah, "The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save.  He will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing..."   Another long-time friend who lives in another part of the country writes the day after your funeral, "I heard you were eloquent and graceful on Friday..."  Eloquent and graceful...the part of the widow.   I thought I would drop this phone off in the collection box for recycled phones at Whole Foods- I thought it would be simple- and a relief- another step forward- but nothing is simple- I had forgotten about all of this...

It's a heavy, humid, cloud-filled day, but it doesn't actually rain until late afternoon.  We have no plans and so I'd started this project- purging one dresser- something I would've easily done in my old life- along with an entire room including closets- in one afternoon.  Now I sit on the floor afraid I can't move from that position while Audrey beckons me that the "show" is starting- an imaginative world she creates with about 100 paper dolls she's carefully cut out and spreads out all over our living room floor.

Didion talks in "Blue Nights" about her promise to herself to "maintain momentum" early on in her own grief process.  I realize that I too have had an unvoiced, but similar promise- I've acted on it whenever I refused to miss a shower, or leave dishes in the sink even after one meal, or spend an entire day inside.  Didion then talks about the loss of her own momentum manifested in ill health/shingles, and the feeling one night that she is afraid to stand up and get out of her chair at the theater I believe...

I fear the loss of my own momentum lately.  I doubt my competence as a mother a lot more than I did in the early days...months...the whole first year.  Audrey's at least able to entertain herself for longer now so I find myself devouring books each day while she works at her "art studio," or even while we eat a meal together.  Words- any decent words that can articulate this kind of pain are like rungs in this very painful ladder I walk  I am more tired than I've ever felt in my life and decide to make a doctor's appointment.  I even try exercise and taking more vitamins.  I feel like I need some kind of IV to keep me awake each morning, afternoon and evening.

In another devotional on grieving, I read that grief can also be described as "the loss of courage."  The courage to do the most mundane of things- get out of bed, get up off the floor after sorting through the items in your dresser- the one with the phantom drawers that are still yours and not mine no matter what I put in them.

Lewis had equated it with fear.  And there is more fear now.  Fear of being separated from my daughter, fear of looking at my bank account, opening up the mail, picking up a ringing phone.

Even though it's still raining by five o' clock, Audrey and I decide to take a walk across the street to the Japanese place and get udon noodles. Before we do, I take off my wedding rings and leave them on the entry way table- even though I always wear them- today I don't feel married at all.  I am too sad- and too alone- and missing you too much.  Audrey wears her rain boots and splashes as we go.  As we sit across from each other at the small square table - the only people in the restaurant- it seems like she could be thirteen rather than three- which I also feel bad about.  But then she decides to play waitress and places my napkin on my lap for me as the waitress had just done for her- and then collects our empty dishes and hands them out again-  "Just one more time..." a few times.  "Thank you, waitress..."

After our udon, Audrey and I splash back home and she pretends that we are able to splash into a puddle and into another world- a current favorite.  We have to pretend once we jump in that everything is different- our apartment building, our apartment- we've never seen any of it before.  "What is this whole new world?" she says.  I am wishing it was.

It's been a week of brokenness- more than usual.

A friend of ours relays some news to me- her one year old son has just been diagnosed with Down Syndrome.  They are heartbroken, and I am in tears when I read her email in a shopping mall with Audrey.  She's already been through so much in her life...I can't help but ask, "Why her?"  I can't help but feel for some- life is easier...more is given.  She quotes a famous Christian speaker in her email who says that "shattered dreams are the prelude to joy.  Always."

"But will it be enough to fill the brokenness?  I have a hard time believing so..." my friend writes in response to the quotation.  I do too...I do too.

A new friend and the mother of one of Audrey's playmates, tells me she's awaiting the results of a second biopsy, but that she has to pull herself together and be a good mother tomorrow.   I email to check up on her, "I don't want to be a bother- but how are you?"

And my mind goes to the families of the victims in Colorado have probably just finished funerals and are probably still in shock...the family of a six year old girl for God's sake- but that for the most part- I haven't heard anything about anymore- the Olympics have taken over in the media.

So much brokenness..."and will it be enough?"

Grief is also, according to the same devotional, "a gradual unfolding of life's secrets.  Secrets that surprise us.  Secrets that horrify us.  Secrets that make us shake our heads and wonder, How could I have lived so long and not known this?" 

It is one terrible secret really.  And all along you realize that the people around you probably see you as weak and fragile- sad.  Little do they know all of the secrets you hold...all of the revelation that comes so much so that they appear to be asleep to you.

I find myself more lately- on my knees- not because I start out in prayer- not that kind of "on my knees," but really- it's a position you just wind up in when you're desperate and sad and low.  Another widow friend, I remember, has written it often in our correspondence, "it brings me to my knees..."  And I wonder lately- did people consciously kneel in prayer as an act of reverence- or did they start out kneeling in this desperate, sad, low, posture, and wind up praying to their Creator?

By the end of the day, I am almost there...I am relieved- it has been a dark, existential hole of a day- but
Audrey's been having a hard time sleeping again, and before bed, she cries after I explain to her that God made night and day- and night is for resting-  through her tears-  "I wish the world could be my way...and never be night time and always be morning."  I am silent.  I have no response.  I have no words.

Monday, July 23, 2012


Today is the day you were to come home.
It was up on the wall.
It was a Friday.
Two years ago.

Every day now is the day you don't come home.
But this date will always be marked and felt to be lived in the umbra.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


I always had an affinity for the number eight.  When I was two or three in dance classes in a young teacher's garage I believe- she would often have us guess a number and in that way auction off her old jewelry.  The day I guessed the number eight, I won and received for my prize - a little sterling ring with a horse head filled with brown and blue turquoise.

I still remember practicing the number eight in my basement and drawing one circle on top of another.  It was my older brother who corrected me explaining that it wasn't as simple as two circles, and demonstrating how to cross the curving lines.

Sideways, infinity.  I've always liked the number eight.

Today I went into the city for grief counseling.  On this, our eight year wedding anniversary.  The thoughts in my head felt like I was writing poems all day long.

I thought about how even though our marriage is not legally acknowledged once you died, it sure feels like we've been married the last two years- otherwise what was with all of the paperwork I did, all of the copies of your paperwork, repetition of your social security code, all of the tears, and all of the work of grief.

I want to sit at the Starbucks across the street before my appointment and read Didion's latest memoir about the death of her daughter, "Blue Nights," and take notes for my appointment, but a man in his fifties, I always see around there- who it turns out is the medic for a huge building they've been building across the street for the last two years, sees me waiting for a seat and asks me to sit down.  I end up getting a whole lesson on how buildings are built- complete with photos from his iPad, which is fascinating, I'll admit.  At some point, though, after showing me photos of his son, he asks if I have kids, if I'm married...I am wearing both of my rings...I briefly explain- and add that today is my anniversary.  After telling me of his divorce, he adds that at least I liked my husband..."I treasured him," I answer.

When I get off the ferry afterwards at home, I sit and write for a bit at the end of the pier.  I look at Riverside Church back across the Hudson- where you were baptized when we were in our early twenties.  I remember how I played the guitar and led worship, how I was wearing a scratchy brown tunic from J-crew that you got for me for Valentine's Day.  But I cannot remember the date, (thought I've searched through journals hoping for a mention unsuccessfully) and I cannot remember the Scripture passage you quoted before you were dunked...for some reason I feel if I could remember these things - they would be like missing pieces to this grand puzzle and I could get closer to making sense of it all.

Grant's Tomb is beside Riverside and since you lived down the street on 125th, I remember us taking a walk up there, going inside, looking down at the caskets below glass in the center of the dome.  I remember meditating on the fact that there really were two people who had lived there- a couple...below.  How they would never have guessed that they'd be there, and that we- Daniel Cho and Julia Pirritano (at that time) would be peering over a glass encasement at their tomb.

Tonight I think, as my parents and Audrey and I share a pizza, about what I might have been doing if you were alive- would we have gone out to dinner together?  Probably- but that's the problem with death- there's no way of really knowing any of that.

After Audrey's asleep- I decide to exercise for the first time in a long time, followed by a glass or two of wine- which I need when I finally decide to watch our wedding video.  Remember I had suggested we do that as a yearly tradition?  You weren't into it so I think we did it the first year. Last year Audrey and I watched it together.  This year I was sure I couldn't do it and didn't want to...then a friend of yours I never speak to happened to send me an instant message saying he was remembering how you sang to me and I sang to you at our reception with such clarity and how it had made it so special and unique.  With that- I dug up the video and told him I had to go cry it out and watch it after all.

And I discovered something as I sat watching...shaking a little bit...

our videographer was terrible.


And I'm sorry about that.  It's all shaky and moving around quickly and the highlight part at the end to our favorite song, "Flowers in the Window" by Travis- is literally a compilation of the most awkward interactions at the entire wedding.

Still- it was a good reminder of the fact that it was real and flawed and no fairy tale...but it was real.
It was real when you sang to me...and I sang to you- looking each other straight in the eye.  When we danced our poor dance to a song that we'd known we would dance to for five years...when I awkwardly bowed in Korean dress for the tea ceremony, the orchids in tall glasses of water that were the centerpieces that my mother's friend thought were misplaced and therefore turned them upside down when she got there a little early, your brother's toast in which he revealed he kind of hated you while growing up as we all smiled nervously waiting for the punchline.

I am disturbed by the words of our pastor in the ceremony- would we promise...etc etc. as long "as we both shall live?"  Shouldn't it have been "as long as your spouse lives?"  But not really- because like I said earlier- I feel we've made it through eight years- somehow- even though so separated- I hope I still honor and cherish and love you.

I think of how even though two years might seem to some like a long time- it has not been two years of anniversaries- this is only the third day of that.  The third day.  And the first one doesn't count because it was the day after your burial and so I wasn't there.

I think of Didion's take on memories as I painfully go through the video- quickly- fast-forwarding- but just enough to taste the day- the memory.

"In theory these mementos serve to bring back the moment," she writes, "In fact they serve only to make clear how inadequately I appreciated the moment when it was here.
How inadequately I appreciated the moment when it was here is something else I could never afford to see."

I think on my wedding I was probably more appreciative than most of the ordinary days she's talking about here...but I still don't think we can ever be as appreciate or aware- as we are afterwards.  This may be the most brutal aspect of our existence.

and later on towards the end of the memoir she writes again on the topic of memories,

" 'You have your wonderful memories,' people said later, as if memories were solace.  Memories are not.  Memories are by definition of times past, things gone.  Memories are the Westlake uniforms in the closet, the faded and cracked photographs, the invitations to the weddings of people who are no longer married, the mass cards from the funerals of the people whose faces you no longer remember.  Memories are what you no longer want to remember."

For my next book, I need to start reading something cheerier.

While I also have petitioned against the whole "You have your wonderful memories," tidbit people like to say for some reason- and while I agree- they are really no solace...when I remember our wedding tonight- I remember how much I was loved by the sweetest man I had met- and even though I've lost that- it is almost enough to have been loved that way- even for a little while.  Almost enough.

Monday, July 16, 2012

That Was Beautiful

"She's kept her love for him as alive as the summer they first met.  In order to do this, she's turned life away."

"To paint a leaf, you have to sacrifice the whole landscape.  It might seem like you're limiting yourself at first, but after a while you realize that having a quarter-of-an-inch of something you have a better chance of holding on to a certain feeling of the universe than if you pretended to be doing the whole sky."

from "The History of Love" by Nicole Krauss

I've been thinking about these sentences since I read them.  It's not that I think I have or will turn "life away."  Having a child you love really makes it impossible to do so.  But I can't let go of the purity of the summer we met, or the first year of dating, or the proposal, or engagement year- or any of the ordinary days in between.  If you ask me, being in love is underrated- not the opposite.  It was different from the movie romances, but better.  It is hard to let that go, and it is worth protecting.

I also recently finished a book called "Heaven is Here," about a Mormon woman, Stephanie Nielson, mother of four (now five) who was in a terrible plane crash with her husband and burned over 80% of her body.  She lived, and went through the painful recovery process and has been an inspiration to many.  After I read the book, I googled her blog and found a video of her through google showing another mom around her home and describing some of the challenges she has now doing some of the simple things for her children, that other mothers take for granted.  At one point, she points at a family photo taken before the accident, and the other mom comments on how beautiful she was before she suffered the burns that transformed her face.  Stephanie says, looking at the photo, and I paraphrase, "That was beautiful, and this is beautiful too..." pointing to her current life.

I think this is a way of looking at any kind of loss that I've been trying to grasp onto myself.  If I don't keep looking at what I've lost, then what I have still looks beautiful.  It requires holding them kind of separately and taking them each for what they're worth- then and now.  It's when I compare us to others, or when I remember how it felt to have someone help carry up the grocery bags, or tease me, or brush their teeth beside me, or admire my daughter with me, or say softly "good night to you," as I turn out the light- that I feel how empty and full of loss "this" is.

But then Stephanie continues while they look at the photo and she comments, "I had all of this in my life...and I still have all of this in my life," pointing to all of the members of her family.

And I don't.  And I won't.  And that makes saying, "This is beautiful too..." a lot harder.

Today was the day that I buried you.

Tomorrow would have been our eight year wedding anniversary- 13 years of being together.

I'll be thinking about the day you proposed to me and that little note that you taped with scotch tape to the back of the ring box.  How it represented so well the child-like quality of our friendship and love.

I'll be thinking about the anniversary jar sitting on my dresser that I created a few years back to put loose change in and then use that money on our anniversary to go out to eat dinner- you joked that we could probably get a cup of coffee...

and of course I'll be thinking about the magic of that day- waking up in the morning in my childhood room, going to pick up the orchids for my hair, forgetting my veil, waiting outside the sanctuary- and walking up to you- even with the wrong notes my friend played in the wedding march on the piano- a moment I had dreamed about for five long years of dating.  I'll be thinking of how happy we were as we checked into the W in NYC as husband and wife that night before heading down to Mexico...and the little note you wrote on the W hotel stationary with the little cut out "W":