Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanks to the Human Heart

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

Ode on Intimations of Immortality - Wordsworth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 9, 2012


Today I am depleted.

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

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

And yet now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This sundowning.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


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

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

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

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

More saying goodbye.

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

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

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

Restless sleep.

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

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

Sunday, November 4, 2012


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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