Thursday, May 31, 2012

Cumulous: One

"There is nothing we can do with suffering except to suffer it," says C.S. Lewis.  When it comes down to it- yes.  This is how it is.  It is seeing the reflection of the top of your cello case in the frame of the wedding picture over our bed where our daughter lies sleeping- and believing it is your head for a moment.  It is getting up day after day, sometimes walking very slowly by late afternoon, but getting up rather than lying down.  It is regrouping, night after night after a day of appearing "normal:" after making decisions big and small- what should we have for breakfast, lunch, dinner, where should we move to, playing pretend princess and store and doctor, chatting with mothers, until by nightfall, the pain is cumulous and you can barely move around your small apartment.

My therapist, who I've started seeing regularly again, tells me I'm probably not allowing myself to feel the emotions anymore after I tell her that it's strange lately how sensitive I seem to small things.  I've always cried easily- you made fun of the way I'd be sobbing after an emotional preview in the movie theater- but lately it seems too much.  I see a young man in army fatigues and tears well up.  I read a children's book to Audrey about a little girl who is adopted and, to my embarrassment, cannot make it through the book without blowing my nose and laughing, "Mommy's crying because it's such a sweet story...hahah."  I whimper without sound while Audrey and I watch "The Sound of Music." My emotion needs a release, my therapist says, so I should sit by myself and just feel what I feel since I'm not comfortable sharing it in public.  "It won't take long - maybe even just a few minutes a day," she tells me. I confess, it is hard to sit with this.  But I do.  Hoping it will help me to continue to function like a "normal person."  Let it out.  This is real, I tell myself yet again- another time.  It rushes back to me then like a movie in slow rewind, or the force of a wave when it's on its way down after that slow rolling motion.  You have died.  This is real.  Curse at the pin hole in the kitchen wall where you itinerary was- yet again- another time.  Try to remember the way the apartment looked before you died- the way Audrey was at twenty one months.  Try to remember you.  Try to remember who I was then- sometimes who she was alludes me completely.  Trying to put us all back there, I realize, would be like trying to dress Audrey in her clothes from 21 months, at now, almost four years old.  Silly.  Uncomfortable.  Fruitless.

At night, also, I am a forager.  Searching still for anything that might feed this seemingly insatiable appetite for a greater reality, higher truth, add basic meaning to the human predicament.  I watch videos of a woman missionary in Mozambique, read articles on near-death experiences- a woman Dr. who drowned while in Chile has a new book out, a friend sends me the link to a speaker she recently heard at a writing conference- a neurosurgeon who also has a book out about his near-death experience.  Videos about religious conversions and books on heaven.

My therapist reiterates that this is not a loss one gets over, but a continual loss that travels alongside me in life.   It will carry on into the life we were sharing that I now live alone.  Into every achievement and milestone that our daughter has with only me in the audience.  I feel it when another preschool mom asks me if I plan on "growing my family" last week, or when the checkout girl at Whole Foods asks Audrey if she has any brothers or sisters and then winks and tells me she's ready for one, or when Audrey whines that she wishes she had a sister and let's pretend that I'm her twin sister today.

In the beginning you see, you play the role of the widow.   But it's not that you get to leave this role behind- but that you do not "play" it anymore.  You are.  You have become.  I'm not saying this is your sole identity- but that in the beginning it is completely artificial and now it is not.

Mostly I am numb- to the flavor of food, holidays, days of the week, and the weather.  But there are certain things heightened- my emotion over injustice or the poor, the unloved, orphans, and the elderly. And also - my ability to know beauty.  Beautiful words that I highlight in books, my daughter's closed eyelids and long, dark eyelashes at night while she sleeps, a ballet or a well-tended garden.

My creative writing teacher from high school, with whom I still keep in touch with, sends me a belated birthday card and ends with this, "I wish there was a magic formula to erase your pain and grief...but I don't think there is one.  What I do wish for have one beautiful moment each day."

I keep this card on my kitchen table and remind myself- one beautiful moment each day.  I think I can do this.

Suffer it.  Release.  Regroup.  Forage.  One beautiful moment each day.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

Memorial Day.
A Monday.
Hot, humid.

Thirteen years ago.
We met.

You are 22.  I am 23.

"Hey, I'm Dan."

Looking forward to meeting again.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day 2012

My fourth Mother's Day- second without you.   On the Widowed Parent group on Facebook, someone writes, "Teeny children don't have money.  And so dads have a great deal to do with Mother's day going off without a hitch."  True.  Three year olds can't really do breakfast in bed yet either.  But mine helped me pick out pretty new earrings from Anthropologie yesterday, wrapped them with an excess of tape- tied a ribbon herself and woke me up at 7 am running in with her present.  I acted surprised.  This is how it is, and I'm fine with it.  At least this year she got the significance of the holiday.

On reflecting, I am mostly grateful for the gift of my child.  I think so much about how quickly this whole childhood thing goes.  Since time exploded into something less than linear once you died- it's like I already see her grown at the same time that I stroke her three year old hair.  I think about how in raising and loving a child, your goal is to raise them to leave you- from the day the cord is literally cut- the one that flowed my sustenance into the tiny creature with the fluttering heartbeat, to the first roll, crawl, step- to the day when you suddenly realize you can't remember the last time you carried her in your arms and you're not sure if you could anymore.  All of this means, things are going well- according to the plan- a pretty bittersweet one if you ask me- esp. so since the growing away will one day leave me by myself- just one- not the two that are typically left.

Since you left, I've felt the tremendous weight of caring for her alone.  She became more your child in a strange way without you here because I am always conscious that she is composed of bits of you.  I am always hearing your voice quietly in my head telling me if I should do something differently- "Don't leave those balloons out- what if she gets it tied around her neck!"  "I don't think you should tickle her so much- even though she's laughing- I don't think she likes it."  "Stop singing Broadway style- don't let her get her nails painted that bright color- it's tacky..." and on and on.  Mostly what I hear are the critiques- but sometimes I see a smile from you when she and I are interacting the way we do- laughing together or going down the slide together at the playground on a pretty day- sometimes I feel your approval.  (All of this- of course, in my own mind.)  She is my daughter, but I can't help feeling like a guardian much of the time- entrusted by you to care for the little girl you adored more than anyone else.

All along on this journey I've seen so many comparisons between childbirth/raising a child- and grieving but sometimes the analogy diverges.  Interestingly enough, while I'm trying desperately to find myself in these ashes- my goal as a mother- isn't to help her find herself- but not to lose herself and if she does, to help her find her way back to the sensitive, dancing, rhyming girl she is in her essence.  So the most important thing I do is try to pay attention.

Since you died, I've heard or read the phrase, "I trust you're receiving God's comfort," or something similar many times.  But the all encompassing surreal hasn't left much space for the supernatural.   For some reason, maybe I was looking for a pat on the back?- I recently recalled an email sent to me a few weeks after you died by a friend of ours who'd come over the second day with another friend to help plan your funeral.  I searched for it in my gmail account and read it for the first time since then.  I recall with an eery clarity the afternoon she is referring to and I think it may be one of the most poignant moments that I live, but I also think, looking back- although it was plainly one of the most unnatural moments- it may also have been one of the most supernatural.

Today I was thinking of the other young widows I know- the women who in the most unnatural of circumstances, have loved their children with supernatural love.  We often say grief is greedy- and it is- for a really long time, it's hard to think of anything or anyone else- but there is one exception- and that is your child.  It's the heartbreaking beauty, the hope, the one more way that love is stronger than death.

Happy Mother's Day.

When I saw you just two days after Dan went to God, I didn't know what I had hoped to see, do..I just wanted to help. You were so clear minded even as you cried, so expressive of how you wanted to not get this wrong - honoring Dan and remembering him. You shared details, a vision for what you wanted and what you knew he wanted.  And you talked beautifully about how you want to make sure Audrey remembers all of this, remembers her dad.  I sat listening, taking note, but most of all, i sat in awe of your will to face this grief head on.  Then, when Audrey woke up from her nap, I saw your face shift from grief to strength as you went to get her from her room.  In that moment, your determination as a mom, your love for Audrey overpowered any other thought, any other truth.  And when she came to sit with us, I saw you push away your sorrow to give Audrey your smile, your attention, your affection. And I thought, please God let my love for xxxxx and xxxxx be as powerful as this.  To push away my own need, and put them first even at my greatest personal pain.   In that, I was inspired to love my children greater than myself.  

Friday, May 11, 2012


The sadness overtakes me in small moments.

Yesterday I reach behind my closet door for a sweatjacket hanging there and see your backpack on top of the bins of your clothes.  I reach in the side pocket because I see something there through the netting and take out a bottle cap.  I hold it and imagine you placing it there after opening up a drink in an airport or plane or bus days before dying.

Wednesday Audrey's teacher tells me that she overheard Audrey telling the other coop parent that she was half Korean and that her mom wasn't Korean but her dad was and that he died in Switzerland.  She tells me that it's so healthy that Audrey's able to articulate all of that.  I am sad.

Today I pick up a few things at Trader Joe's and the cashier asks me what I have planned for the weekend, "Are you going to get pampered?"  "Oh, no - no, not really," I say.  In earlier months I might have answered back that my husband had died.  Now I am less tolerant of the awkwardness that ensues and more willing to play along.

Today I am at another family's house for dinner and Audrey is outside with the children of their family and their dad trying to fly a kite.  I see their father at one point, just take his hand and brush the hair out of her face and I have to turn around and swallow hard to compose myself.  That is all it takes.

Tonight I'm looking online for restaurants where I can go with my own mother for lunch Sunday and come across one with the same name as one we used to like in Park Slope- Al di la.  Except in your usual fashion, to be funny, you'd purposely mix up the syllables every time you said.  I'm sad I can't remember how- in fact I'd forgotten the restaurant completely until I saw that name tonight.  I quickly write it down "memory- ..." That's how I usually write them because I'm not sure if they'll ever return.

Tonight I have a phone conversation with an old friend visiting the city whom I haven't spoken with in maybe eight years since she moved out of the city.  She attended church with us and was in our "group" back then.  After she got married and moved, she had a child with multiple problems.  She knows heartache and painful love.   I break down crying on the phone with her, something I never do with friends who see me on a day to day basis.  But still, I quickly compose myself.  On the tip of my tongue the entire time she's talking is the one thing I want to say when I speak to someone who knew us together and who I haven't spoken to since he died: "Remember Dan?"

I am tired.  I put Audrey to bed after hearing her once again tell me she's scared to go to sleep because she has a recurring dream that I die.

Grieving your death is like the worst kind of homesickness.  That icky feeling you get when you're in someone else's home or a hotel room you don't know and uncomfortable in your gut- and everything is different, textures, smells, the temperature of the air.

Audrey has a book out from the library right now about sleeping over grandmas.  The little girl is so excited, but as it gets darker and nighttime comes, she starts to miss home.  In college I was in a choir that toured around the country during spring break and after we performed, people we didn't know, would graciously host us for the night.  We'd get paired up with friends, but I can still remember how uncomfortable I felt, driving to someone else's home in the dark in another state, being shown to my room and bed.  I'd go to sleep with that feeling in my gut.  But in the morning, things always felt better. They served us breakfast, we showered, and packed up to leave, always leaving behind a handwritten thank you note.

Homesick.  Longing for home- for familiar, for the way your hand felt in mine the very first time we shook hands.  The way your face looked the second time I saw you- familiar.  That's what I remember being most struck by- what is it about his face, I thought?  It looks like I know that face.  But I don't.

And in all this sadness, you just keep going, because there is no other alternative.  I make an appointment with my grief counselor.  I touch the charm around my neck that reads, "HOPE."  I tickle my daughter until she laughs that hearty, impish laugh.  I stop with her to watch butterflies on flowers and hear her say, "Aren't they boo ti ful?"

I think of the words I heard from him in my mind, not "Be happy!" but "Live well."  And often when I open one of my dresser drawers, I lift one of the letters he sent that is sitting there and read the line on top of the page, "I hope whenever you get this letter, everyday is a good, lovely day."  I will try- I will try.

Later that day, the day Audrey was telling the other parent at school her father died, that parent emailed me about Korean classes (she is Korean and I had once inquired about these).  She explained that Audrey was singing a song, "God is so good," in Korean while making me my Mother's Day card.  She asked Audrey if she knew Korean and that set off the conversation.  I am surprised because I sing that to Audrey in my best Korean at night but she never sings it in front of me.

For some reason, I wonder to myself what that mother (someone I don't really know) thought of Audrey singing those words in Korean taught to her by her caucasian mother- and then finding out for the first time of Audrey's father's tragic death.  I find it heartbreakingly beautiful.  And I decide part of living well is just that- it will always be heartbreaking- but there is this strange paradox of heartbreak and beauty coexisting.  I'm not even sure though, that this is something I can strive for out of my own will or strength.  Rather, it's something found and discovered and felt- and that discovery- of beauty in pain- gives birth to hope.  And hope makes it a little easier to pull up the covers in a bed that's not yours, and turn off the light in a strange place that is not your home, and wait for the morning.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A New Story

Today I heard back from the childhood friend's sister who grew up with you in Taegu.  She shared a story with me- part of it (the MacGyver part) I'd heard, but the other one was new to me.  New.  It's you through and through.  It leaves me amazed at how the essence of a person- even living on a different continent, speaking a different language, years later- is the same.

It also brings me the aching-longing-incredible pain of your absence and loss.  I want to share this story with you and ask you about it.  "Do you remember that?  Tell me about it."


One of the stories that really stick out in my mind is when their junior high shool class had to take an IQ test. Each child was given a scantron sheet to use and fill in. Since it was a timed test, the teachers were very stressed and so were the kids. Everyone wanted a high score since having a high IQ equated  to being "smart". 

Well, imagine the shock when hae hwan turned in his scantron, with comic characters drawn into the bubbles instead of answers! He got into a lot of trouble that day but still managed to score off the charts. You know very well  he was a genius right? His older brother may have been a genius in science and the technology but hae hwan was a whole different genius. He played the macgyver theme song after hearing it once on the TV on my piano perfectly. We just stood there with our mouths wide open in awe.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


The further one climbs up up out of the valley, the more suddenly, treacherously, one plummets with one misstep, after the sun has set and it is harder to see and one is alone with her thoughts.

Today while driving Audrey to school, I thought about vacations.  I was trying to figure out what our vacations will look like.  So far we've gone on a few trips- three with my parents and one to a friend's in Maine - just Audrey and I.  I suppose right now while she's young it's easiest to stay with friends or family, and it's not that we have the extra income to plan anything extravagant, but I suddenly miss the notion, the ability to plan a vacation with someone my own age- my best friend.  We hadn't gotten to travel that much yet together, but I enjoyed planning the trips- picking the hotels in Montreal and Quebec, sitting on the floor in bookstores in NYC together in the travel section taking notes on the places we wanted to see in Paris, arriving at the airport so early for our trip to Korea and telling you how excited I was and then later landing in the stupor of jet lag, noticing an orange glow to the land at night as we drove on a bus to Seoul, hearing your mother's voice on the phone, "Welcome to Korea."

I keep in my heart that night we arrived in Nashville on our one year wedding anniversary and were so upset that we missed the reservation you made at a nicer restaurant only to remember that it was an hour earlier there and we would make it.  How different Nashville felt from the grime of NYC, even while we were still on the airplane and the man behind us was whistling a hymn a little too loudly.  How small and empty the airport appeared and how friendly everyone was.  I will keep in my heart how much fried chicken we ate and how we sat in some touristy restaurant watching a group of young girls dance below to "This One's for the Girls," while we ate our fried chicken.  How we'd planned on trying to perform at the Blue Bird for open mic night but I chickened out- how much you loved the music at that little dive and how there was a little boy around ten who seemed to be getting drunk beside us and how disturbed we were- how all of the bars and clubs still allowed people to smoke and how unbearable that was.

I keep in my heart the way it poured when we first got to Paris and headed out to see the Eiffel Tower- how we bought crepes and hurried under a news stand along with others while it thundered and lightening- and then it stopped and we walked and took photos in front of the tower.  I keep in my heart our favorite section- the Latin Quarter- the little doorways and stone walkways we followed.  The walk we took all the way from Sacre Coeur to the Arco de Triunfo because you assured me "It's a walking distance," and my feet were blistered and red in the new Naot sandals I'd bought for the trip because they were called "Paris."

I keep in my heart our arrival to the resort on our honeymoon.  Checking in as Mr. and Mrs. for the first time and being handed a glass of champagne while eying my wedding and engagement rings proudly.  The way I guessed every meal you would order from the menu in each of the restaurants in the resort...the way you insisted since it was all-inclusive you didn't have to tip the waiters, but that one time, you reached out your hand to shake one of their hands and say "Thank you" and it was so awkward because he thought you were tipping him.  Ordering in food to our room - the best chicken tortilla soup I'd ever had.  The way you did water aerobics with me in the pool led by that energetic little guy.  The way you insisted on using the gym there because it was included in the price.  The sunburn I got that you kept warning me about but I didn't see while I was outside- only when I came in and saw myself in the mirrored elevator did I quietly gasp.  The floats that we floated on together in the large pool, under the little bridge, enjoying our honeymoon.  The way we walked down the beach and you collected a few shells which I have now sitting in my living room.

I keep in my heart our arrival in Turks and Caicos for our "babymoon" and the sound of the island music greeting us in the airport- the sunset walk we took, taking photographs of our feet in the sand.  The expensive food and the way we ordered an extra meal at lunch and ate it later for our dinner- the food poisoning you got and the first time I saw a show called "John and Kate Plus Eight" and you watched for about a minute and said "They're going to get a divorce.  Listen to the way she's speaking to him."  Remember how we got the NY Times each day and I became obsessed with the crossword puzzle.  Remember how I needed you though for so many of the answers- sports, pop culture.  We did it together.

I will miss traveling with you Dan- you were such a good traveler.  I will miss even car trips and the way we drove each other crazy.  I'll miss the photo you snapped of me with your phone many years ago while I was taking a bite of your burger at a fast food restaurant rest stop.  A rather unbecoming photo that you loved to show me afterwards- and one that I sought revenge for by snapping one of you asleep at some point with your mouth wide open.  Where are those photos- probably on old cell phones we don't have anymore.

I see advertisements lately for family friendly resorts that look nice and how I wish we could all go together Dan.

There is a lot of rocking back and forth during this entry.

I was writing an email back to someone when the wave hit earlier.  A woman who grew up with you in Taegu wrote me an email at my blog address.  She wanted to reach out and maybe share some of your childhood stories living there because you were good friends with her younger brother.  I am touched and happy to hear memories, and then, as I'm writing her back about the little you did tell me about those years- I am reminded of late night talks  - often right before we fell asleep- in the dark- you would start to reminisce and tell me about your childhood- such a different childhood than mine.  And as I remember this- I can't put into words what a loss I feel- that I didn't pay better attention- that without this woman or another person- your childhood memories are lost to me.  This is how it is- the closeness going away- little by little- the irony that the one person you've been closer to than anyone in your life- shared a level of understanding and intimacy with unlike any other- becomes in the end- an enigma.  And i am heartbroken then, because I see not just your absence as a person in my life- but the absence of your childhood and stories and life story all at once.  Gone.  Then I want to call out like I did the second day, "Come back- please come back... " Instead, I cry and rock and write.

Monday, May 7, 2012


The words come less easily now.  The loss saturates me to my bones.  It's harder to eye it objectively.  I have the same kinds of clumps of thoughts throughout the day, but at the end of it- I can't string them together into anything other than this flat sadness.  I imagine it is a sign of pressing forward- the pulse of my chaotic early mourning - flat-lining.

I am frustrated at my inability to comprehend your disappearance.  I stand at your grave yesterday, fumbling with my words as I usually do while our daughter sips hot chocolate.  "Incomprehensible," I say.   We leave pink Gerber Daisies chosen by your daughter and white hydrangeas from me.  We pick a few weeds and Audrey sprinkles them back down on the grass, "I'm making it really pwetty."

I turned 36 last week.  I loathe the number because it includes the 6.  The day of your death.  Otherwise, my birthday passes painlessly.  Much more painlessly than yours does.  I think a lot about past birthdays with you.  But mostly, my expectations are low and because of that- there is more gratitude than anything else. Remember my high expectations?  How I drove you crazy- of course you do.  I am different now, I find.  I wish you could know me.  Any day where someone I love doesn't die a tragic death is an OK day with me.  Every day is a gift to spend with my daughter.  I wish I had the physical energy to match that knowledge.  But at least in my thoughts: "Wow, this is amazing- we are here, alive, together- we can do whatever we want- take a walk, go out to eat, go to a ballet, sit and eat a snack while watching The Sound of Music."  I wish I'd had this sense when you were here.  I wish I'd known.  I'm a year older.  I am leaving you behind at 33.  It is so strange to age away from you.  But I am.  And maybe closer to you at the same time.

Mother's Day is next.  I am sad I had only one of those with you- you carrying breakfast to me in bed- me, changing from my pajama shirt into a white shirt and then getting back in bed for the "First Mother's Day" photo I wanted you to take for her album.  There is, of course, all of the heartbreak of watching your child grow up without you.  I feel, a whole hemisphere is missing from her life.  Especially because we were such opposites in so many ways- I feel so inadequate to fill in the gaps- and of course, I can not. I hear you often in my mind, telling me to stop singing Broadway style to her (you loathed Broadway musicals), or rolling your eyes when I'm teaching her large vocabulary words.  It makes me smile.  But not only is it torture to see her without you, but I think, it's nice to have your mothering witnessed by someone- and who better than the father of your child.  You never really saw me like this- a mother of a 3-1/2 year old.  You never saw us together the way we are- the way we giggle over something funny or dance together.  (I twirl her just the way you twirled me)  I know Mother's Day is just another Hallmark holiday and our daughter tells me she loves me about 50 times a day now- but I will miss your part.  I will miss your praise and acknowledgement that I'm doing this OK.

Today I sit in the car when I go to pick Audrey up from preschool, watching her out on the playground.  I speak to you.  "Hey that's her, that's our daughter.  She's so pretty isn't she?  See how long her hair got?  Yup- that's her.  Don't worry- I teach her that having a pretty heart is more important though- and she does- have a really pretty heart.  She's sensitive and cares about others.  She says she wants to travel around the world and bring food and stuff in a helicopter to give out to people who don't have any.  She's so smart Dan, and so creative- always pretending and imagining..."

She's silly and she reminds me a lot of you every day with her expressions.  I'm not sure, but she may have my sense of rhythm instead of yours- sorry.  But she loves ballet dancing and singing and art.  She's independent and not a follower.  She's affectionate, always hugging me and the other kids at school.  She tells me helpful things like when I'm saying to my GPS, "Why is this thing telling me to go that way?" and she tells me, "Well, you could just go the way you know then mommy."  She loves dressing up and pretending to be a princess or a fairy, and lately- a bride.  She tells me she's going to marry me- just the way I remember you said you would tell your mom when you were a little boy.  She loves mango sorbet- just like you.  She's really eager to learn Korean and travel- lately she talks about going to India all the time.  I wish you could see her, meet her.

In the beginning I found it nothing but irritating when well-meaning souls kept telling me how lucky I was to have her- lucky?  Have you ever told your not yet two year old a word she had no framework for- "Appa died, honey...he's not coming back from his trip this time."  Have you listened to her scream out in the middle of the night a year later, "I wanna play with appa now!!" tears streaming down her face after a dream about him.  Not to mention never, after the tremendous shock of your loss, getting to just stay in bed for a few days crying- but up every morning all day caring for a small child.

Of course, I have always loved her deeply but only now- do I have that sense of gratitude or having her in the midst of your loss.  I feel like before you left, you gave me the most wonderful gift I will probably ever receive.  The daughter I'd always wanted.  Thank you for that.

The elderly Chinese widow across the hall who we see sometimes or have over for tea left me a single yellow rose at my door the other day.  She left a post-it saying "To dear Julia- Happy Mother's Day," and when I caught her taking out her trash earlier and thanked her, she said "To me, you are a very special mother and I have you here, in my heart," pointing to her heart.

I wish you could see me.  I am different.  I am sad.  But I am thankful.  I am trying.

I am thankful to be mothering through my grief because there is nothing more life-affirming that you can do than raise a child in this world.  There is nothing that requires more out of you- nothing so steeped in this world- literally cleaning up waste, feeding bodily fluids.   Unless you just block it out- you must understand what it is all for- why you are doing it.  If you are mothering, at least on some level, you must believe in something other-worldy, something eternal- that compels you- to pour so much of yourself into another human life regardless of reciprocation here in the land of the dying.  You must believe in more than mere evolution and survival of your DNA to do it- that will not be enough to get past the science and practice it as an art.  The gift of motherhood is the renewal of the sanctity of the overused word, love.  It is the understanding of something apart from this world - yet holding it all together- something sacred, something stronger than death.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


The other night, the grief is hitting me.  Now that I have left the safety of the bubble- there is the contrast- the "hitting you," and it crushes.  That is why, I think- it is so hard to leave behind the safety of that incessant awareness and pain.  The valley is already the bottom- it has no peaks or dips or surprises.  If you dare to leave- you'll have drops that are difficult to recover from.

So, on this night, I decide to look at the young widows board which I looked at in the early days and around the one year anniversary.  It is fascinating really- to see the shared emotions many of us feel in our incredible isolation.  Someone has started a thread about the dream where they are being rejected by their spouse.  Everyone chimes in with their own version.  This dream is terrible and I have different versions of it almost nightly.  We are trying to get together- but always something has come between us- an argument- another person- you are not the same.  You are slightly altered in your affection for me- and I can feel it.  I wake up crying with the taste of it all morning.

And then a couple of the threads make me laugh.  In one a woman says she just can't seem to put her finger on what's going on lately- why she feels the way she does.  This is the "One year and beyond" category of the message board mind you.  Another widow answers back, "I can, my husband died." etc.  I laugh out loud.

And possibly the funniest thread in that dark sort of way is one in which a woman says how sad she was to file her taxes this year as a single instead of as a qualifying widow for the first time...but that her accountant said this about it, "Well, now you are single and footloose and fancy-free!"  By the end of the thread, everyone seemed to agree it was just plain funny.

The more I hear myself say the words, tell this story- the less I seem to own it and the more it seems to be only that- a story.  An absurd one.  A mother from Audrey's preschool asks me how my husband died during the intermission of  a Cinderella ballet I took Audrey to last weekend and I tell her and it is ridiculous.  Absurd.  I cannot grasp it.

It is strange living a life each day when you can't really grasp it.  When your life has been, schooling, college, getting married, having a career, having children- it's not that you can grasp the mysteries of being alive or living here- but you feel like you can- it all seems quite orderly.  When something as jarring as this comes along and a major life event feels simply ungraspable- you live tired and always ill at ease- but perhaps more truthfully- more in tune with the predicament that has been there all along.

Some Little Mystery

I have always believed that the things we remember- the small memories that for some reason, stick with us throughout our lives, have significance.  The earliest childhood memories begin with just visuals.  Later they come with narration or thoughts.  But I strongly believed if you put those memories together, possibly in order though I'm not sure- you would create a poem or a collage that would somehow solve the riddle of your life- or at least decode some little mystery about yourself or confirm what you've already discovered.

In graduate school, I attempted a small and precarious piece about my own memories- the ones that stuck- which include the first time I saw myself bleed- stepping on a transparent piece of glass in between my home's screen door and main door while running inside barefoot after running through a lawn sprinkler in the summer...stepping- also barefoot strangely- on a black mat outside the door of the hotel we stayed in every summer while vacationing in Cape Cod and having the sensation for a moment that the mat was ice cold- freezing- and then realizing- it was actually burning hot from the sun and stepping off quickly.  Another one- thinking to myself while I helped stack preschool chairs in the daycare center my mother was working at- just after my fifth birthday- "I'm five now, but I don't feel any different than I did when I was four."

Then there are memories that even without the rest of the lines of the poem, can stand alone as obvious precursors.  The little Asian boy I used to help while again, helping at the Y where my mother worked-when I must have been only three or four myself- because he didn't speak English.  The little Asian baby girl I held while working myself at a daycare in college and standing in a hallway thinking to myself (or maybe saying aloud?) "One day I'm going to have a little girl just like you," years before I had so many Koreans in my life or had ever had the thought I might date or marry an Asian man.  And there is a memory that has come back to me since you died- a visual of a Chagall painting hanging in my parents' bedroom that I probably stared at when I was sick and lying in their bed.   Some of my earliest memories are visual paintings that I must have stared up at while someone lied me down on a couch or bed as an infant... Anyway, this Chagall painting I was sure was a painting of two women...the blonde-haired woman was comforting the taller woman because her beloved had gone over that hill and turned into a goat right after giving her those flowers?  I know it doesn't make much sense- but the point is- I always felt so sad for that woman who lost the one she loved...

Well- I have two of those small, more recent memories with you that I think of quite often now.  One of them is when I was living on West 56th Street one summer and you were coming over.  I was waiting for you with such anxiety- I literally kept looking through the peephole of my apartment door every ten seconds to see if I would see your familiar figure walking up those deep red carpeted stairs.  I remember it because I was almost frantic while I waited though I really couldn't figure out why since it was just an ordinary day.  I think of that now- that frantic feeling- looking for you so hard I could almost imagine you there- but you weren't- the way it is when you're waiting a long time for a bus or train to arrive.

The second more recent memory that is ingrained with me is your last Father's Day here with us.  Audrey was just so full of joy that day and I snapped a few photographs of her in a pretty dress - the one she would wear to your funeral- just jumping up and down (as much as she could then) in our living room with a big smile on her face.  Right before I took the photos, you were walking past and I told you, "She's so happy you're home and we're all together- she's never like this when you're away."  And it was true- she seemed truly delighted to have you as you'd been gone the previous weekend at a musical festival.  I think of that moment now all the time- when she's talking about her imaginary friends or tells me in her little three year old voice, like yesterday, "I'm gonna sit down and look at all these albums so I can remember my dad- what he looked like and stuff like that," and she sits for thirty minutes, making a pile, "Look at my pile!" of our photo albums- turning every page so carefully- so slowly.