Wednesday, February 29, 2012


It's a rainy, raw day.  Someone I correspond with tells me he's prayed for us when he thought of us the last "couple of years."  This is the second time in a month or so I've heard this phrase- it's appalling to me.

In the afternoon, after school and a playdate at a friend's, we look at another apartment for rent.  On the way back inside, your daughter splashes in all of the puddles in her rain boots- like a photograph, or a movie.  Inside, I put a video on for her, go to hang my coat up in the closet, and notice yours hanging there.  I packed up all of your clothes- but not your coats.  I take it out.  I put it on.  The black, wool Calvin Klein coat I picked out for you in 2008 because your old down one kept losing feathers.  I tried it on myself like this in the store so that I could estimate your size and make sure it was a good fit.  Your gloves, brown fleece ones, are in the pockets.  I put those on too.  I sit on the floor in front of outdated mirrored closet doors, wrap myself up in this coat and cry.

I miss you so very much.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Notes from a Cell with Flowers

Your death really feels like a prison sentence.  The bars are the years and the crossing over- the barbed wire.  Upon the slamming of those doors for the first time, one fights and struggles and wrestles trying to get them back open- trying to get back to freedom and the world you knew.  Then, once resigned, you decorate.  You hang up a photo of something pretty, buy a plant, and drink a good cup of coffee.  You move in for good and get settled.  You're still imprisoned so it all seems a little silly, but you do it anyway.

Then after a long while, there are those little flashes that echo the world you used to live in, and it breaks your heart.  Hate to mix analogies, but this I have a different one for.  It's like when you're riding in an airplane.  Once you're up in the air, you don't really have a sense of much of anything including these three things:  1)how high up you are - 25,000 feet.  2) How heavy the object you're in is: 735,000 lbs  or 3) how fast you're going- approximately 500 mph.  But hit just a little bit of turbulence, and at least for me, I am suddenly super aware of what I'm trying to block out the rest of the flight.  I feel the speed first...then the weight- and finally, the height.  But I can't get off- there's nothing that can be done on my part but wait until it stops- until that little light chimes and goes off and I'm "free to move about the cabin."

Been having a lot of those moments lately- now that I am not constantly aware of the imprisonment.  And secondary losses are getting in there running into those moms pushing infants, or picking up pajamas for the pajama charity collection at Audrey's school and walking by all of those little baby clothes.  It was easier to push those secondary losses aside reasoning that they had never been anyway and because the primary one was too overwhelming to leave any room.  But there they are.  And at first I held onto this hope that Audrey had supernatural memory power and would remember you- then when I realized you were just bits of memory but that she has no real memory of you living with us anymore- I tried to rationalize this as well thinking it was a relief from the burden of trying to help her remember- imagining this meant she wouldn't be in pain.  But then after we visit the cemetery on Sunday she asks me to put on some videos of her as a baby with appa's voice.  I am so drained I can't bear it, but she's insistent so we watch some.  Then she picks up the bear where I have recorded his last voicemail message to me and squeezes it.  "We're kinda having an appa day," she says..."and it's kinda sad."  And one day I hear her telling a friend she slept over someone's house all by herself and her "mommy and daddy didn't come...I mean, my mommy didn't come."  Yesterday she tells me she asked to hug the class dad cooping and told him he was the best class dad ever.  And today she is at her art table when I hear her saying "Appa appa..." but when I stop what I'm doing in the kitchen and come over she says she said something bad and she can't tell me.  When I ask if that's what she said, she says yes and gives a shy smile.  I just hug her and tell her I love her.  At dinner she says "I promise I'll never ever say that again," which confuses me so I tell her she can say it whenever she wants and there's nothing wrong with it.

And lately I feel as though I'm throwing endless things into a vacuum or black hole- trying to fill the void in her life- activities, purchases, crafts for God's sake, other families, outings, and on and on.  Because more and more I get how much she really is missing out on.  If you were here, you'd be watching sports, kicking a soccer ball around with her.  You'd be building the amazing Lego structures you bragged about for years to me.  You'd be playing the piano and sitting her next to you- teaching her scales and notes.  You could (not sure if you would on this one), be teaching her Korean.  So it's hard not to feel our child could be athletic, a champion Lego builder, piano-playing Bilingual girl if only you were here. With just me- she is reading a lot, very artistic (also from you) and becoming OCD like I am- her imaginary friend Kendra asked for a little dustpan for her imaginary birthday party because "Kendra loves cleaning and awganizing."  She's terribly afraid of the dark and monsters and every night is a battle lately- and I often wonder- "Would she feel as terrified if her father 1) hadn't suddenly died and 2) was still here, putting her to bed along with me?  Questions that aren't really worth asking; there are no answers.

I agree with another widow who posts in her blog about time being so hard to get now- about her old life with him seeming like a complete dream if it were not for her two twin daughters.   Losing your spouse at this age is the closest thing to dying yourself and getting a second chance.  It's like you hold your previous life, not inside of yourself, but outside of's like you're this towering giant holding the earth as you knew it then like a small ball in the palm of your hand.  I've had a little case of the widow crazies the past few days too...I imagine time: past, present, and future happening simultaneously- I think because this feels so wrong- I imagine the past is still going on and see all of the clues there that knew the future because this too was already going on- already there.  It's comforting and draining to view reality this way.  I also imagine sometimes that a stranger is actually you...stepping in for a moment to watch over us.  If I see a penny, I pick it up just to look at the year and see if it's symbolic at all- if it's not, I throw it back down.

Lately, I realize I've gone back to doing a lot of the things I couldn't- like regular cleaning of our apartment- and taking better care of my teeth.  But every time I'm doing one of these things- like wiping down the bathroom floor on my hands and knees while Audrey's in the bath- I imagine you finding out you died and saying, "Jul, you're still cleaning the bathroom floor like this after I died?"  "You're still flossing every night even though I died?"

The most heartbreaking moment of my day today was seeing some woman's list of favorites on her blog- including a spray that gets the wrinkles out of your clothes so you don't have to iron.  It brings back a memory- so particular to you and I that it crushes.  When we were first married, living in Park Slope, for some reason, I think because you thought it was a good deal, you ordered a case of those bottles- probably from a page you used to frequent back then.  You were really excited when it arrived- I wasn't.  Where would I store these twelve or more big bottles of stuff?  And it was chemicals, not good for us to breath in or put on our clothes.  I would happily iron your clothes, I told you- even though my post-ironing ended up more wrinkled than the before.  Eventually, I threw all of those out, or gave them away or something- when we moved.  I can picture your disappointed face as you ask if you can keep one or two.  The chemicals wouldn't have killed you.

I tell a friend that I'm really tired of this level of pain and she tells me to take a break.  That sounds good to me.  At some point, the further away it gets, it takes more energy to live in the past than in the painful present without him.  If you're gonna make it, you know you've got to let go- get back to taping up pictures (mine are the smiling stick figure fairies Audrey is drawing constantly now), try to make the clear tape stick on the rough cinderblock walls.

Sunday, February 26, 2012


It occurs to me today that most of the people I talk to on at least a semi-regular basis, were not people I even knew before you died.  Of course, the friends I had before are still there, as is my family.  But these are some of my new friends Dan, and I'd like to introduce you to them.

First, there are a few moms at Audrey's school I talk to regularly about stuff.  They call or email if we're not there and one offers to come over with a bottle of wine any time.  I am thankful for their presence in my life.

Another group are actually people I didn't know, but you did: your friends.  We pretty much had our own friends- couple friends were rarer because we already had very lasting friendships with people when we met.  I haven't talked to your friends consistently but when I do, they are always helpful.  I chat with one online the other day about whether I should bid on the house or not.  After we go over all of the logistics, he tells me to go for it.  I trust him and I know you would too- that helps.  There's another friend of yours who doesn't even live on this continent but has consistently been there as a source of encouragement and just "I can't believe this is real either," email conversations- as well as keeping me abreast on your favorite soccer (football) team and how they're fairing this year.  Another one of your friends chats with me for a long time one night sharing a little bit about his own difficult childhood and how he told himself he would overcome and be even better than kids with normal circumstances and he did.  I've kept this thought in the forefront of my mind for a few weeks now.  Another one of your friends was responsible for this blog getting onto the NY Times- and for my getting an hour and a half of one on one time with Tim Keller.  I'm sure it's not been easy for any of them to reach out to me since I wasn't close to any of them before you died.  But they've done well, and I feel you'd be proud of them and grateful...I sense the loyalty and strength of your friendships.

There is the friend I've mentioned before- the woman who is part of a couple we knew at our old church in Brooklyn; you were friendly with her husband.  I really don't believe I'd ever spoken to her, but she continues to write me almost daily, read my blog, and knows my daily/weekly schedule which is a comfort in itself.

The day that I bid on the house, I found that the first person I was texting about it was a young woman whom I've never met.  This young woman found my blog and contacted me to tell me how much it meant to her and how it helped her understand her own mother- who was also widowed when she was a baby.  We kept in touch and one night while I was craving adult conversation, she happened to message me and ask if I wanted to talk.  We spoke on the phone about her own upbringing- her mother's arranged marriage- their move to South Africa and purchase of a home.  I can still hear in her exact voice- "And we were very happy."  I believe this phone conversation was the very beginning of my being able to envision a future for us.  She also shared with me the prayers she and her mother pray each morning before they go to their separate jobs and the prayer they pray at night.  She texts me all the time- sometimes when I am right in the middle of crying in a parking lot and tells me she is so sorry I'm alone there crying.  And so, she was the first person I felt like texting this news to.  She tells me I'll find the perfect house and that she and her mother pray for us daily.

There are the other young widows.  One I was matched up with through a site, another who found me on the blog.  They are the most nourishing correspondences I've had in many ways.  They know the pain...they are also trying their best.  They encourage me and help me feel less isolated.  There is also the one whose late husband was your Bible study leader in college...who knew you.  We chat online late at night and she always helps me sort things out.  I had spoken with her on the phone right after you died- even though I'd never met her...and I will never forget seeing her before me in the receiving line smiling and embracing me and just knowing it was her.  I won't forget asking her if she would sit with me at the funeral when she came down from Boston and her telling me she was there to help me any way she could.  I like to imagine you and her husband are together- it helps.

Then there is the dear friend who drove me to the cemetery today- really the first person to ever volunteer this to me since you died...happily.  You met her at our current church but we barely knew her or her family when you died.  I had asked her some questions about the stroller she used (we have children the same age but hers is the third child), and then we had one really nice conversation over play dough or arts and crafts while the kids were in sunday school one week- you were in church- I think it was your last time.  I remember thinking and probably telling you, "I think I could be friends with her- she's so nice and easy to talk to."  And then after you died, there she appeared...chatting with me daily online, coming over to take Audrey out on walks with her own son, limping while pulling them around in a cart even though she has a very bad ankle.  She is the one who brought me her favorite steamer to try out in the kitchen.  She also watched Audrey the night of your benefit concert...sitting in my bedroom, telling me I looked pretty right before I left.

At first, I remember feeling cautious.  You called everyone your friend pretty quickly- I was and am much more slow to use the term.  "You mean, acquaintance?"  I'd often say to you.  I wondered why this woman I didn't really know was taking such an interest.  Many widows can tell you there is a certain strange breed of person who is drawn to tragedy for some reason and I was afraid she might be one of those...but she has proven otherwise.  After I bought an antique armoire that was delivered broken- she pretended to be me and harassed the store owner, calling them over and over again about the issue because I just could not handle it.  She volunteered to come with me for my MRI and told the technician to be nicer to me after I flipped out inside there.  She watched me lay there crying unable to try again, helped me schedule another appointment and took me to lunch at a cafe afterwards.  She loves our daughter, and most importantly, she is probably the only person who ever calls me on the phone to check in on me.

So she was the one with us on this cold, windy day.  It was nice to have company and not have to make that drive myself with Audrey, and it was nice to have a witness to the pain this visit always brings.  She brought me coffee.  I saw her crying and trying to hold it together while Audrey and I laid out four bouquets of flowers...while Audrey drank her hot chocolate kneeling in front of your headstone, smiling.  And without being asked, she grabbed my phone and took this photo while we sang a hymn:

"Be still, my soul; the hour is hastening on/ When we shall be forever with the Lord,/ When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,/ Sorrow forgot, love's purest joys restored./ Be still, my soul; when change and tears are past,/ All safe and blessed we shall meet at last." 

Friday, February 24, 2012


There's a lull in our busyness in the past few days and I'm planning on visiting the cemetery.  The pain is raw again.  New and fresh.  When will this ever go away?  People with good intentions sometimes tell me it should be getting better by now...but that is just because they haven't had to walk this journey.  It must be easier for them to believe that.  It's different, but not better.  Death, like new life, is not easily processed by the human mind or soul.

I tell a friend last night on the phone that although I've tried so hard to stay away from the "Why me?" question because it seems superficial and egocentric- knowing how much suffering goes on in the rest of the world- why not me?  But I can't deny the feelings...when I see others with an abundance of life- pregnant women, or large families, I just wonder why some would be handed this abundance and richness of life- while I received death and the richness of this grieving process.  The fact is many people will never know a tragedy like this in their whole life.  I know that I also have so much to be thankful for.  I am not a widow in a third world country.  I have a beautiful daughter whom I cherish and who has kept me getting up each morning since you died.  I have loving parents who have been there to help me with anything I might need.  We are eating well and living well in general.  Still, there is that feeling- that the lives of others yesterday when I run into two women from the mom's group I hung around with before he died...when we all had one child.  They are both coming out of the grocery store while I am standing by my car waiting for Audrey to wake up from her nap.  They are both pushing infants, their second children, in strollers.  They've just gotten a pedicure together.  "Hey, how are you!"  We make small talk about house hunting and moving out of the area.  I meet their new babies, peeking in at them, "Oh, so cute...congratulations," while I focus on sounding genuine instead of heartbroken.  It is crushing and awkward and horrible.  And I ask myself, not that I want anyone else to suffer, but why not them?  Why are they getting it?  But I am not.  It is very, very tough to not take this personally after a while, after it settles in.

But even this feeling, this questioning, suggests an innate belief that the world should be fair or just and that there is someone who would control whether or not I would have that second child and loving husband.  By nature, you can't take something personally in an impersonal, meaningless world; a tale told by an idiot doesn't license that kind of criticism.

The "we" is also hard.  This is the "we" that all couples use to refer to themselves as one unit.  "Oh, we loved that movie!"  or "We're not going to get a real tree this year."  I still use that we sometimes when I'm referring to my previous life which is still the larger portion of my life at this point so I kinda can't help it.  "Oh, we used to do that," or "Oh, we never liked that."  We.  It carries a certain protection and safety of "I'm part of something bigger- there's someone else that agrees with me."  The we sounds smug to me now, and eerily unsafe.  You think you are "we," it seems to say, but trust me- you will not be we forever.  You are two distinct beings- one day you will be just one again.   I- that is a lonelier word.  It stands alone.

The whole topic of remarriage still irritates me.  From day one, it seems to be right there, ready to fix everything- at least that's what people want to believe.  If someone loses a child, or a sibling, or a parent- no one suggests that they get another one.  It isn't assumed it can be made better.  But this is the same.  There is no future union that will ever mend my heart.  I notice a few widow bloggers are in relationships now- they read my site and I theirs.  I am happy for them because they seem happy- and because I know how hard this road is...but I cannot imagine this for myself.  Another young widow friend tells me it's impossible to imagine until you are there.  Part of me feels it's a cop out of dealing with the pain, the aloneness- part of me thinks it's a powerful affirmation of life and love to say, "I will do this again- I will love and invest and trust and be vulnerable to the most painful loss I've ever known."  I am not there yet I suppose, nor does it matter if I am.

All day today, I stare at Audrey and feel like the cliche, "melting my heart" is close to what I feel.  I see more of you in her all the time - when she looks me in the eye- there you are.  This life, just like death, is impossible to process and fully comprehend.  Biology doesn't cut it.  The same way that I'd realized if you walked in here alive, it'd be a miracle- and that in fact, it was a miracle when you were alive to begin with...I realize that now about all people.  Each one, individually sustained, breath encapsulated in this walking flesh- no cords or batteries - just the swinging pendulum of the truly miraculous.  My daughter is miraculous.  I am a miracle.  My parents are miracles.  There is something to this- I know it.  Even as we are so very fragile and truly "mere phantoms as we go to and fro" - even as I see each person in the cafe we ate at yesterday, comfortably sipping lattes or biting into paninis - in caskets matter which wrinkle cream they use or how much they exercise or drink green smoothies...even as I see the phantomness- I see- the miraculous.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


Yesterday morning I was putting away the homemade yellow play dough with black sparkles we'd just made and played with when I saw the email that your tissue sample had arrived safely at the lab in the US. All of the people who had played a role were incredibly happy.  I cried and quickly hid my tears while Audrey came in to show me a picture she'd just drawn of a tap dancer.  "Oh wow, I love it!" I cried because it was more unfinished business and I cried because every piece of you is now in this country where it belongs.  Home.

A few minutes later, I got a call from my realtor telling me there were two bids already in for the house I had seen a second time yesterday- did I want to bid?  I have never bid on a home before and hadn't planned on doing it this day, but I had to decide quickly.  I decided to bid on the home- trembling.

Another email- this time from my landlord asking me if I was going to stay here longer as he hasn't been able to sell it yet.

And then another- this time from a close friend telling me tactfully that she is surprisingly pregnant again and she hopes it doesn't make me sad.  It does, but I will come around by the afternoon.

In the midst of talking on the phone, Audrey needs my help on the toilet- she didn't quite make it.

This all happened within an hour.  I do as my grandfather used to say, I roll with the punches.  Life is certainly easier this way.  But before I drive to the realtor's to sign the contract with my bid, I sit and cry- no sob- staring at your desk.

Buying a home is not the exciting, rewarding thing I always thought it would be.  It is the first major change since you died.  It is a purchase made with death money.  And it is something we should be doing together.  Instead, I take the plunge, still unemployed, alone with a child- hoping we can somehow fill up a house and make it feel like a family lives there- and make it feel like home.  It is nerve-wrecking to think about what I've just done- but I've done my research and given this a lot of thought- and... surely purchasing a home, despite the expense and implications, is not more difficult than purchasing the burial plot for your husband and yourself.  Perspective.

On the drive to the realtor's office Audrey tells me she's never been to an office.  I tell her the story of how she visited her dad's office when she was just a baby- how he was so proud of her and how we visited every floor so he could show you off to everyone he knew.  "He was so proud of you!"  I wonder sometimes- what kind of person is forming in Audrey's mind as her father.  No matter how many details or attributes or stories I tell her, that person is not you- but a substitute for you.  Words describing a person can never come close, I realize lately, to the person in their fullness, in their presence.  I am sad that this is the best I can do for you- for her.  Words.

By the time we get to the realtor office, another bid has already been accepted.  The real estate market is alive and well in this area and things priced right go pretty quickly.  Still, the realtor says I should give it a shot.  I sign contracts while Audrey colors beside me in a red skirt with hearts talking to me the entire time...the whole process is so distracted and nonchalant, you'd think I was signing a receipt at the grocery store rather than a legal contract for thousands of dollars.  It's funny.

I am partly relieved I will most likely not get the house (I did not) and partly disappointed- it was a very lovely home and ready to move into.

We are home.  We spot a yellow and white daffodil in an island off the parking lot just starting to open an inch or so above the ground.   Spring, though, despite the flower, will not come early for me.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Forward...then Backward

It's forward and then backward.

Numbness and then rawness.

Putting it away because it is too fierce.  Putting it down.  Keeping busy.  Then late at night in a quiet room- picking it back up again.  Trying to comprehend.

We take the 2 mylar heart shaped balloons outside on Sunday morning to release them by the river of the city you loved and the city Audrey described as we landed over it in an airplane: "It's our favorite New York City!"   But it's windy and before we get to a good spot, Audrey releases one of the balloons and it gets stuck in a nearby tree.  Do not tell your child you are sending the balloons to heaven (which is a horrible cliche I know, but it is a somewhat true symbol nonetheless), if it's windy and there are trees around.  We release the other balloon while I promise an upset Audrey I'll buy another balloon.  Then while she's in the car,  I decide to climb up and get the other one, praying the wind will blow the ribbon towards me so I can reach it.  I do.  Tears are wiped and we release the second balloon.  I find the whole episode humorous- the way all of these things are...dark, real, and a little bit sweet like the tears of a small child for something unimportant like, "I wanted to push the elevator button!" or "I wanted to put my own shoes on!"

A couple of months ago, a strange thing happens.  The teasing I'd talked about- that Joyce Carol Oates says is one of the greatest losses- returned.  I hear you all the time in my mind, making fun of me when I use old-fashioned vocabulary words no one uses or do something silly...and I smile along.  I'm not sure I want to accept this- but I do see how the "integration" in clinical terms, puts the pain inside of you...which although quite weighty- is easier to bear than the pain outside of you- the one you hold in your hand and stare at each night from your bed- his empty desk...wallet, glasses.

What do you look like?  Am I forgetting?  There is a constant check of these things going on.  Unlike the early days where memories were constantly brought to mind so I could quickly write them down in a notebook lest they never reappear- these days it's mostly very subtle gestures of yours- that probably only I know.  I see your quick nod to the waiter as you push the little tray with credit card towards him. I see your nod to me in the rearview mirror as you sit with Audrey in the backseat- followed by a short sniff.  I put your socks on and see the exact way you balanced as your own foot slipped inside.  I see your knee bouncing up and down as you look for jobs at your computer, scratching your head from time to time.  I see you up on stage playing the keyboard with fingers moving so effortlessly over the keys, expressionless face- maybe even bored.  I see your knees as you hold the cello between them, and your fingernails as they lay across the bow.  Many more of these also- they come to me throughout the day...sometimes surprisingly.

The past month or so I've accidentally called Audrey "yubo," an old-fashioned term for husband/wife in Korean kind of like "honey," that I used to call you.  It was so odd as soon as it left my mouth- why was it reappearing now?   And oh how I have missed it.

Sometimes I suddenly get a glimpse into how little others can grasp what this feels like- and then I feel incredibly isolated.  The proper wording is "I can't even begin to imagine what that feels like, " but some get it wrong and say they can imagine how hard it is.  The only comforting thing for me, is recognizing how invisible and unknown this pain was for me also before this- how theoretical it all was.  If something this huge was completely invisible and unknown to me- what else might there be that is largely theoretical and unknown- and yet just as real once touched upon- like this sorrow.

I visit rentals with a realtor and houses with another.  Venturing into suburbia without you is sad.  I remember some old commercial with a couple lying in bed listening to rain and the woman saying, "Do you hear that?  That's rain on our roof!"  I thought we would get there.  Instead I look at houses alone, wondering what on earth I'm doing, trying desperately to grab hold of some kind of vision for Audrey and I- for our new life.

I turn down houses, apartments, that are very nice- not perfect, but nice.  "I'm not sure why- it's really nice, but it just isn't right," I say.  But it reminds me of when I visited cemeteries- how every one felt so wrong.  I couldn't imagine that the man I'd spoken to a few days ago was going to be there so I was not satisfied with any of them.  Denial.  Perhaps my house hunt has a bit of that in it.

Today was the day your remaining tissue/blood sample was being shipped from Switzerland for testing.  The people I've been working with have done a great job organizing but I am nervous.  The whole operation seems so precarious- and not one that any of the Dr's arranging it had done before.  I read in the email exchanges about stores selling dry ice and the forms that need to be filled out and I worry.

I go to my dentist for a cleaning- one of the last places we went together as a family the day before you left because I insisted you get your teeth cleaned- take care of them.  I am relieved, so relieved, to find that the office has moved across the hall- a different room.  I don't have to walk over to the little table and open the drawer quietly to see if the coloring supplies Audrey had played with that day while we waited for you are still there.  It is a totally different office.

The hygienist asks me how you died and I tell her.  It comes out so matter of factly now.  The realtor asks me too later while we drive from one suburban town to another.  The words come out quickly.

But later on it returns to me heavily- that story I told so bluntly with little feeling...with disbelief really- acting out the role of my life.

At a child's birthday party the other day, I suddenly realize for myself for the first time that thing everyone tells you- how strong you are.  I don't really know the moms there and it's all boys at the party except for Audrey so we play together and I think about how none of them knows our situation and yet we appear just the same- we make conversation, Audrey sings a rousing rendition of happy birthday, we smile and participate.  I listen to them talk about their daily lives, kid classes, errands, mom stuff, and think, "I do all of this by myself," and feel, for the first time I think, proud.

Audrey brings up the dream she had about you last August again at breakfast and then lunch.  She tells me a new detail that I don't remember her telling me before- that in the dream when you said "I promise I'll come back and visit you again," you shook her hand.  You shook on it.  You made a deal.  I ask her why she thinks you left in the dream and she tells me maybe you missed God.  That is sweet to hear her say, but there is the heartsink that comes when she says, "And then I went to play with him, and he just...(she pauses) disappeared," looking at my questioningly.  Heartsink.

I sit in church services in Sundays in the back row listening to sermons that sound like self-help magazine articles.  How to get your finances in order, how to take more joy in your work, how to take better care of your body or be emotionally healthy.  When all I really want to know is is this all really true?  Are we really created beings by a God of this universe who is watching us and going to come back- is my dead husband really with him?  This is what I'm interested in.  Why do churches reduce all of the mystery to self-help and get so bogged down in the regular details of living just like everyone else?  
I am disappointed.

I keep busy the past week or so because that always seems to end better.   I take Audrey to see a play in the city and meet friends for cupcakes afterwards.  "How are you?"  "Oh we're fine, you know.  Nothing new."  And I laugh with the other moms at the dizzying indoor kids arcade and I smile at neighbors who tell me how cute Audrey is.  And then I am tired.  And then I crave comfort.   I drink coffee with condensed milk and wrap myself up in your old Brooklyn hoodie.

Another widow on a Facebook group posts a lovely photo of her two children using their arms to make a  heart-shape in the ocean in Hawaii on the anniversary of her husband's death...sunlight behind them.  I think about how we keep trying to make beautiful things out of this mess.  I take photos and I write words and I decorate.  I play sonatas while I cook sometimes as if the soundtrack could make this into an artistic film.  This too though, grows tiring.  All of it does- the writing, the smiling, the "We're fine..." the searching, the staring, the wondering, the houses where you'll never live with us, the empty desk, the heart-shaped balloon nestled in the branches.  Backward, forward, strong, weak, hopeful, and just really, really sad.  It's a little bit of everything.  

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day

I'm glad once again this year that you weren't big on Valentine's Day...that's not to say that I don't have special memories- especially when we were dating- of dinners out in trendy restaurants in NYC, special pieces of jewelry, and my favorite: homemade booklets and cards from you.  I do...I my timeless mind- those are all still going on...

But I feel like people thought today was a difficult day for me.  I know it is for many widows and again, that's not to say I didn't feel piercings of the intense nostalgia of grief, remembrances, or wish a few times that we could go out to dinner together, or that you'd choose the prettiest flowers for me and later complain about how "all the prices are jacked up for this day," and mostly wish I could just... hold your hand.  Mostly, I tried not to indulge in these wishes- they can not happen.

But overall, I felt triumphant today.  It had more joy spots than usual.  I might even enjoy Valentine's Day more than I used to.  Because it's not about a commercial, romantic ideal, and there are no expectations.  For me now, it's about the pretty aesthetic that accompanies it and all of the different ways I can make it special for our daughter.  I think perhaps the Hallmark holiday suits childhood much better than adulthood.  I cooped at Audrey's school today Dan- and I made heart shaped waffles, strawberries, and baked tortillas for their snack.  I made photo cards of her for the kids' mailboxes.  I decorated the door of her room with strings of hanging shiny purple hearts, and bought heart-shaped donuts for our snack this afternoon.   A few days ago, I even mailed a package to a single friend- I wrapped up my favorite French soap, bath crystals, and heart-shaped chocolates in pink and red wrapping paper tied up with twine and with little slips of brown grocery bag, I wrote the words "faith," "hope" and "love" on each package.

You were here and present though.  We did not forget you for a moment.   We spoke of you often.  I bought two helium heart-shaped balloons yesterday- to "send up to you" as we did last year.  Probably the hardest part- is taking over your tradition of buying her a Valentine's gift.  You came up with that yourself, and I thought it was just so sweet.  I loved the gifts you chose when she was four months old and when she was 17 months old.  You only got to do it twice huh.  Still, it felt solidified in my mind as something you were going to always do.  I gave her a book and a little fashion press with fabric and she loved both.  I made sure to tell her that this was your tradition and remind her of the things you'd given her in the past- her stuffed dog, her Hello Kitty book, and told her that I was just taking over for you and that you would want her to have this.

I think a lot today about why I feel so light.  I think I may have felt more sadness and misery before I had you...when I was still waiting and hoping there would be someone out there to love me and for me to love and not even knowing love itself, but just the theoretical, commercial ideal I saw in movies or read about in Austen novels.  But now I know there is, and there was, and I feel your love even now.   Still, there is the moment when I wonder if I'm numb and fooling myself.  The moment when I sit in my spot on the kitchen floor and literally squeeze my head trying to wrap my mind around the fact that you are not just disappeared, but dead and buried.  This is one I still don't get and it literally hurts like a muscle lifting weight when I try to.  I give up.  The weight slams down.  I make another Valentine for Audrey's spot at the dinner table.

A tough day?  It was a regular day of heartbroken living with spots of brightness.  The day we met, that's a tough day.  Our anniversary- another difficult 24 hours.  Father's Day- very, very painful.  Your birthday- probably the most difficult day of the year besides your death day.

I think today is about being a couple, having someone, and the notion of romantic love.  It is not about us, our love story, and it doesn't come close to the mundane magic moments that we had.  Each day though, I share an apartment with a living, breathing reminder of our love.  Each cordate, broken, ordinary day.

But interestingly enough, something else happened a few days ago that has pushed me to a slightly different daughter and I were heading out the door- and she was, as usual, dressed in princess attire including crown.  She always says hello to the concierge I'm friendly with as she prances towards the door.  He also happens to have lost his first wife while in his thirties- followed by their infant son.  What he said to me as I was heading out the door has been ringing in my ears ever since.  He said something to me that I did not think I would ever hear again.  And when he said it, at first I almost questioned him: "What do you mean?" But then I knew exactly what he meant, and instead replied, "I know..."

What did he say?

"You're very lucky."

Last Week

Last week was a shitty week...that is truly the best word I can come up with to articulate it.  Not so much grief-related- just life-related.  But of course, harder.

For different reasons every day, I wound up crying in my parked car a lot.

Audrey had a temper tantrum when we got to school one morning, screaming, foaming at the mouth, irrational kind of tantrum and even though I eventually got her up to her room, the teacher sent us home.

One morning I was on the phone opening up a Fed Ex account to try to get your blood sample over from Switzerland.  The man I spoke to was telling me I probably wouldn't have to pay any government taxes because, "It's not worth anything."

Another morning the management of a rental I was supposed to look at calls and cancels because of my income level.

One afternoon I took Audrey to get her hair cut and wound up knowing the wife of the salon owner.   I wasn't sure if she knew that you died, but she later said she did- "That was a few years ago?" and followed up with a quick, "But you're OK now?"  

"It feels like yesterday to me," I answer.  "OK?  No, I wouldn't say OK," I reply.

Sunday, February 5, 2012


Unexpectedly tough day- which is always worse than the days that are expectedly so.

It's been lonely lately- I think for both of us.  Audrey's imaginary friends who faded to the background after she started preschool are prominent again.  Her ballet class and yoga class ended and we've lost our rhythm for a bit.  It's funny- similarly to how I've felt about God- not angry just questioning his existence- I question friendships a lot lately- not because I'm angry but because I'm not sure who they are anymore or if I had all the great friends I thought I did in the first place.  My circle definitely feels like it has shrunk since you died.  It's hard to tell whether it's partly because I'm a mom now since that was still new, or because we had also moved fairly recently from the city.  But it certainly seems like when you were alive we had a full schedule with different things, gatherings, events going on all the time.  Now we don't.  Maybe other families want to guard their own family time or maybe they think we'll feel sad being amongst another family- but it's hard coming up with things for us to do each and every day when it's just the two of us.  Your absence is so present all the time. Even for Audrey...for whom I wonder what that must feel like- the absence of someone, something- a father- that you aren't used to having anymore or can't remember- but you still feel.  A vague absence probably- felt mostly when she sees other fathers interacting with their children or when I bring you up.  This morning she talks at breakfast about that vivid dream she had of you again...only this time it meshes with an identical new dream she tells me where Cinderella is the one who is in the playroom waiting to read with her, but when she comes in, she disappears.  She stops talking and just stares at me after this word...disappears.  Heartsink.  I remember so clearly the sound of her screams that night when I found her, "I wanna play with appa NOW!" One of my lowest moments since all this began.

I try to fill our days.  It's tiring taking a three year old to weekend family events by yourself.  After church today we go out to a Korean restaurant- the same one where we all ate lunch after your one year memorial.  I try to get Audrey's soondooboo to cool down, but it takes forever.  We sit on the same side of the large booth they placed us in and I stare at the empty other side of the booth.  The next booth behind that is a family of three- mother, little girl, father.   I give Audrey some crayons and finish up my own soondooboo so we can go.  When we get up, the waitress from your memorial lunch we had in a room there recognizes me.  I'd told her it was your memorial because I wanted to pay for it but sneaky people were trying to intercept the bill.  "'s you," she says.  "Your are you doing?"  And unfortunately that's all it takes sometimes.  I can't really speak and my eyes are full and overflowing and then I answer, "The best I can, she's getting so big right?" pointing to Audrey. She gives me a hug and we leave.

Later I realize it's the Superbowl and think of parties we attended and which team you would be rooting for.  I tell Audrey we're having a Superbowl party and put it on on our tiny TV while we have a spaghetti and meatball picnic at our small Korean table on the living room floor.  I think of how I'd always predict which team was going to win, mostly in basketball, and tell you I could tell because of the "energy" but you kind of believed me- that was funny.  I realize later that tomorrow is the sixth of the month.  Ah- maybe that's why today was so hard.  I do laundry and find that I've left a tissue in the wash.  You always hated that and reprimanded me for not checking carefully enough or for keeping tissues up my sleeves (something my third grade teacher told us was a good idea and it stuck).  Little wet, white pieces of tissue stuck on all the clothes as I throw them into the dryer...and I miss you so.  "Yup- I left a tissue in Dan," I say.

Yesterday Audrey and I were decorating a cardboard fairy house we made and in going through some art supplies, I thought some felt squares might be useful.  I open up a Ziploc full of a rainbow of colored felt squares.  And then I see them- the leftover squares from shapes that you'd cut out for the felt board I was so into around the time you died.  It was one of my projects that had great vision, but my end result didn't work out.  Nonetheless, since you were much more artistic than me, I had asked you to cut out some shapes for the board.  You did.  An airplane.  A bird.  A sun or moon.  A few other things I am forgetting.  Those felt pieces I'm pretty sure I'd put away earlier on in a special place with things for Audrey...but these leftover scraps- these pieces, I'd forgotten.

These hurt more.  I couldn't believe how much they hurt.  There were the marks where you'd cut along with scissors.  Where you removed your work and gave it to our baby.  Remnants, scraps, a picture of this great absence- both vague and sharp- on rainbow colored felt.

Friday, February 3, 2012


There is an emotion that came to me new with motherhood.   It's not just happiness or joy you feel as you marvel at this human being before you that began as a cell in your womb.  It's not quite pride because it doesn't necessarily accompany any grand accomplishment or milestone.  It comes suddenly in moments and leaps into your heart until it is painfully full.  It is difficult to define and yet I try to tell her often.  "I am delighted with you."  Delight.

Delight, however filling, is inherently in need of at least one other spectator to be complete.  It's like when I watched Audrey suddenly get up on the little stage at Barnes and Noble and sing and "tap dance" to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in front of a crowd of people.  Delight.  But then also- looking around to see who could share this moment with me.  And it's like when she says something after which I ask, "What did you say?"  Like when I asked her once what she was getting- thinking she was doing something she wasn't supposed to and she answered, "Stickers!" and then rolling her eyes slightly, "Oh for God's sake..."  I had to reenact it later hoping someone would catch how delightful it was.  Or when I ask rhetorically at dinner one night..."What is God up to Audrey?" and she answers, "I think he's takin' a rest because he's tired after all that...creating and every-ting..."  Ah.  No one here.  I will write it down in the quaint book for quotes such as this given to me by a friend.  I will write it down though it will never be exactly as it was in that moment.

The last moment of shared delight in our daughter that we had was shortly before you left us.  The three of us were reading bedtime stories on our bed and Audrey hadn't said many, if any, two syllable words yet.  Then while reading about the color purple, she did it..."Po pul"  and at the exact same moment, we turned to each other with a jolt and wide eyes.  It was a moment I hope I always remember.  There have though, been so many more moments that begged for this common reaction since you left, and instead I get the heartsink.  "You would love this," I think.  And it doesn't seem fair at all that I get to see it and you don't.

There is another D word that I also never felt fully until motherhood.  It's what we both felt when a crazy lady in a Mexican restaurant where we were having lunch, Audrey asleep in her stroller, told us to please "remove your child from here- I don't like children."  It's what I felt recently when a little girl in Audrey's class started punching her in the stomach out of nowhere while they were in line to wash their hands the day I was cooping at her school.  It's also what I feel when there's a show or story that focuses on a daughter's relationship with her father and I watch Audrey's eyes so carefully.

Defend.  I want to protect her and be the one who comes to her defense, but it feels so wrong without you here to defend along with me.  After the punching incident, I imagine what you would have angry you would've been and I imagine you without a doubt, approaching that little girls' father at school, and maybe even Audrey's teacher to make sure it was known how unhappy you were about it.  I did not do those things.  I worry that I won't do as good of a job defending as you might have.  I wish you were here with me.  It hurt to see our little girl take those sudden punches.  I almost cried myself as she cried in my arms and every other little girl in her class came by with empathetic looks and offered her hugs.

Many people love Audrey- her grandparents on both sides certainly do delight in her.  But most of the time, they're not here during those unexpected, "Po pul," moments...and- they're not you- her father.

I think the Holy Trinity- is starting to make a little bit more sense.  To truly delight in or defend one person, you absolutely need- another person.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Previous Life

"Don't worry- I'm going to die first..."  
"Yes...if you died first, I just couldn't go on..."

At least once daily I flash back.  Parts of it are sharp, while others are blurred.  I envision myself floating from room to room.  But one thing I remember is people calling me...brave of them...most seemed to say the same thing: "I just had to hear your voice and tell you how sorry I am..."  And my newly foreign voice would reply, "Thanks...thanks...I just don't know how I'll go on...I just don't know how I'll go on."

And I didn't.  And I don't.  
And this refrain has been in my head again as of late.

I am literally stunned at how fresh the pain is.  The time has taken me away from the painful struggle of thinking it's not too late to change things- during that circle when it seemed a little bit of the present still overlapped what had just happened and we could make it different.  During that circle, I could still see and imagine you doing things with us so your absence was acute.  It's not that your absence isn't acute anymore- it's just that now I can't really envision you playing with Audrey anymore- because she is much older.  She talks.  She jumps, sings, and dances.  She's in school.  One evening I try to imagine you coming in the door and how you would greet her, but instead I find my imagination inserts me literally introducing you to her- telling you, "This is Audrey..." and then going on to explain who she is now...this is the "healing" power of ...time.  

Last night I somehow wind up hacking into your ebay account.  Something I'd been interested in was sold out and I found it on Ebay through a google search.  I'm not familiar with Ebay- but you bought and sold a ton of stuff on there- so I would usually ask you to sell something for me or buy something I saw on the rare occasion.  I decide since I have to figure out how to do this myself without your expert advice (you had some tactic you were very proud of with the timing where you were always the winning bidder), maybe I will still use your user name and account.  In grieving it seems there is always some  dusty corner full of tearful debris.  In your Ebay account I go through the archive of all of the items you bought and sold along with the comments from the people you had transactions with.  In it, I see a picture of our life together- I recognize the CD's, DVD's, soccer jerseys, and a few things I'd given you.  But what I'm most struck by is how much everyone likes you...I'm not familiar with this so maybe people always complement their buyer/seller in their rating, but these seem super nice..."Really nice guy- great transaction."  "Really pleasant over email."  "Really quick, professional, and honest."  "Super nice guy and one of the best people I've dealt with."  Things like that.  I am amazed how even in these comments, I get a sense of your character.  And I am very, very sad.

Today for some reason- I think because I am missing you...another crevice I haven't checked in- I look for emails from you from your old yahoo account in my account.  There are only a few before you switched to gmail.  But there is one to this couple from Germany we met in Mexico on our honeymoon.  We had stayed in touch and I think on your last European tour you were even trying to see them, but it didn't work out.  They also have one daughter now.  When we met, we had both just been married.  We were seated randomly at a big round table outside at our resort our first night there.  It was a magical night...warm, tropical sweet-smelling air, and giant pelicans flying slowly overhead.  You and I couldn't get over them- we thought they looked so much like dinosaurs- prehistoric.  We chatted with this couple and one other couple from the US...but we didn't click with them as well.  Then the next day, while I was laying in my bikini, you were on the defense as a man in sunglasses approached me smiling...neither of us had recognized him at first, but you soon calmed down when we realized it was the man from the German couple we'd met the night before.  We chatted while in the pool and decided to have dinner at one of the outdoor restaurants that night together.  It was breezy that night and we have a photo of the four of us sitting at the table as the sun set looking like...newlyweds.  The couple commented that we didn't seem like Americans, but different- and you took that as a complement.  It was mostly you and the man doing the talking as she didn't speak as much English and you were so good at making conversation with strangers whether it was about sports, beer, or cities in Germany.  After we got back home to our new apartment in Brooklyn, we both exchanged a few emails of the photos we had and that was pretty much it.

I look through photos from that night and think about posting one here, but they're all blurry as well.  You had some cheap camera that had enough memory for about five photos and we took too many or something so they all turned out with horrible resolution.  When we got back and realized that, I was so upset to not have a decent photo from my honeymoon.   All are blurred and grainy like they're from fifty years ago rather than eight.  Appropriate now.

Today I decide I should write this man and tell him that you died.  And I do- I tell the story very briefly- not even sure if he checks that email account from 2004 anymore.  He writes back...they are both saddened about our "fate." He has business in the US and maybe can make a stopover in NYC sometime to see us.  

I don't know why I do these things.  Something in me needs to 1) tell the story, but also 2) lasso a rope to the places and people from my previous life just so that I know it was real and it happened, and simultaneously- revisit each portion of our life together in order to say a proper goodbye... The only other people now who remember my I smiled at dinner and how you wrapped your arm around my waist on the darkening beach while they took our photo- is this couple I barely know living on another continent.  But now they know - and now I know- that they are still there- still alive with their daughter- a picture of what we could have been...and I know, more importantly, that it all really happened- that you existed and we existed and it was wonderful- in another time and place.