Saturday, January 28, 2012

Stonewall

I've read a lot of relationship books.  Ours was not an easy one, though I am certain we would've endured and even flourished had you lived.

In general, during arguments, men tend to stonewall.  They shut down, don't talk, need a break.  Women, in general, but this was true for us, want to talk about the issue at hand until they feel that, the problem isn't necessarily solved, but they are reconnected with their spouse.

These different ways of dealing with conflict can really be trying...one person is pushing to keep talking, discussing, working it out.  This is her way of loving.  The other is trying not to lose his temper, needing a break from the intensity of the discussion, shutting down and leaving the room or even the apartment.  This is also, his way of loving.  But the more she pushes, the more he shuts down.

Your death while abroad, away from me, on another continent, with so many things unresolved- not even two years after a rough and sudden move, a new baby, and a job change for you that took you away from us for a month at a time- we didn't get any time to settle back into ourselves as a couple- go on date nights, (oh how jealous I am of the people on FB now who are "out on a date night with the hubs!"), talk more, watch favorite shows together, share chores or tuck our daughter in together- your death, because of all of this- is the ultimate stonewall.

I want to cry and push and make you listen to me, but it is worse than any stonewall because there's no angry face walking away or slamming door or turning on your side in our bed without saying goodnight.  There is nothing.  You can not hear me.  It is all over.  The pushing and stonewalling and connecting and loving.  This is a very, very hard thing to accept.

Family

The other day, maybe while I'm pouring cereal, I have the random memory of eating my Cheerios...carefully.  Small children, I don't think, can really separate things that are alive and things that aren't.  And I was fairly certain that the Cheerios that stuck together while floating in my milk at the end of the bowl, were not just accidentally grouped together- they were families.  If one in the group slipped off my spoon, I'd be sure to get him back on with his family before they all took the journey into my mouth.  Do other people do this?  I'm pretty sure they do.

The Cheerio families are not an adequate metaphor for how it feels to be a part of a broken family.  The constant gnawing that something- someone is missing from your unit.  They are not an adequate metaphor for how it feels to look forward to Audrey's preschool coffee social- a chance to sit around with other moms who understand mothering and drink much needed caffeine while the kids are in class one morning- but then find your loss smacking you in the face yet again while everyone talks about their silly husbands or their second or current pregnancies.  I chime in as if those are not painful memories- my own pregnancy, birth, "Oh, my husband was like that too...he'd always get the wrong stuff at the store so he'd call to check because I was so neurotic."  At one point when we're discussing how consuming children without siblings can be, one mother from Audrey's class, who must not know- I've never told her- laughs and tells me I better get started on the second baby.  I just answer that it's not really the first thing on my mind right now and it's awkward because a few mothers do know- but the one who said it laughs as if I've made a joke again.  I leave the mothers for a bit to go watch Audrey in her dance class from the gym window- and to gather myself...wipe the stray tears I barely notice are there anymore because they are so much a part of my daily face.

And the Cheerio metaphor doesn't come close to the feeling of having various realtors come through your apartment with clients because your landlord is selling your place and you have no idea yet where you're going to go...the place where you moved as a family when your child was five months old- where she took her first steps, where you slow danced to kids' music with your husband in the living room and made him fresh waffles with heart shaped strawberries for his last Father's Day a couple of weeks before he died.  It doesn't come close to the feeling when these strangers meandering through my home tell me my daughter is cute or they like how I decorated the little nook that is her "room."  It doesn't convey at all the heartsinking that happens when the Korean realtor, seeing our family photos, tells me, "Oh, you have a very handsome husband," and I answer, "Thanks, he was," as they smile not hearing the past tense and head out the door waving to Audrey who has just changed into her fairy outfit and is wondering why the "guests" are leaving.

The heartsinking is the best term- when the pain that's always there dips just a little lower than you thought possible- kind of like the pain I feel when Audrey has a wistful, shy look on her face watching another little girl play with her dad- or when she looks up at me one night before bed telling me she's so scared of the dark...I tell her we're the only people in this apartment and she tells me you're here.  Then I tell her you're not because you died.  And she tells me, "But we'll always be stuck together- we'll always be a family- " probably something I've told her at some point though I don't recognize it offhand.  Then she tells me she wishes you would come to our apartment and call her name, "I wish appa would come to our apartment building and call me Audrey."

Heartsinking.  Pulverizing.

How do I fix our family?  I cannot.  I can not pretend you are still here.  I can honor the life you lived.  But I cannot hold a place here for your return.  I realize that even as I look at rentals and possible homes for us to move to- that thought that I've heard others in grief books talk about arises- "What if we move and he comes back and we're not there?"  It's absurd because I really do get by now the circumstances of my life and yours.  But still- that thought is there- we will be gone- what if?

What to do, what to do.

Buy matching pajamas for my daughter, her doll, and myself.
Buy matching mugs from Anthropologie with our initials.
Tirelessly put a unicorn puppet on my hand named unicorny complete with Julia Child-like voice because he's quite funny and she loves him and he's become a part of our
family.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

From Where You Are

It's a typical morning for me.

I wake up next to a head of black hair- but it's not yours.  It's your daughter's.  She's been terrified of sleeping alone lately and every night is a battle.  Because she has such a hard time going to sleep, she sleeps late and I have to wake her up for preschool.  "Wake up honey."  Even without remembering them specifically, I know I've been dreaming of you and of us all night long.  I am tired from it and it leaves a bitter taste behind.

Quick breakfast, getting hair, teeth brushed.  In the car.  In the school parking lot, a friend of Audrey's runs to her and gives her a hug, unfortunately knocking her down on the wet pavement.  Her pants are soaked through.  Inside the school room, I go to get her spare pants and change them.  Before I leave, she insists I talk to her teacher about her fear of fairy tales.  I do and her teacher tells me that she knows what it's in reference to specifically and that some of the kids play "monster" and Audrey bursts into tears.  I tell Audrey they won't be playing that today, give her a kiss, and head out.

Today I head to the local Starbucks since I only have a couple of hours before she's through and we don't live that close by.  I bring my computer, my notebook with all of my to-do lists and a big binder of ideas for things to do with Audrey.  I keep my coat on.  It's drafty at my table by the window.

My emails consist of writing back and forth to the realtor who is helping me find a home.  Emailing my parents to see if they can babysit.  Emailing between a medical center here and my contact at the US Embassy in Switzerland- still a year and a half later and a ton of back and forth and obtaining letters and certificates and faxes,  trying to secure your "tissue" that they've held there for further genetic testing.  Still wondering what the f--k happened and doing so at the recommendation of the pediatric cardiologist Audrey saw at her pediatrician's recommendation to rule out any genetic heart defect- since- we really don't know what happened to you my sweet husband.

After that putting up a few things on Craigs List that I've finally taken proper photos of.  Audrey's old crib mattress- her stroller - her booster seat.  These haven't been used for a while and are leaning up on walls in my room or in a stuffed closet in our one bedroom apartment.  In the posting, "used by one child for about two years."  One child.  I take a long look at the photo of the stroller- the stroller I can see you pushing Audrey in- see us walking together along the river path...back when we were just a young family.

Three listings done on Craigs List- I have a lot more to do.

My parking meter will run out in a few minutes- time to go get our daughter.

Life feels hard and every thing I do infused with this sadness and tragedy.  I miss you tremendously.  Mostly, I miss you simply being alive- but I realize lately- I really miss your love and support as well- in this, what I hope is the most challenging time of my life.  If you can, send me some help from where you are.   I love you.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Grief You're a Lot Like Crazy

Grief  you're a lot like crazy.  You are.
I am house hunting now and can not look at a house with the number six- the day you died- in the address. I look for sevens or seventeens- your birthday, our anniversary - not just in house addresses- but the minutes left on the parking meter I pull into, the defrosting time left on the microwave clock when it beeps, the time that an email was sent.

I smell a burning smell in our kitchen and repeatedly check toaster, burners are off.  I still smell it.  The oven.  How could I forget the oven and the potato I was cooking in there? Sliced sweet potato chips turning black.

When I fly on the airplane, I no longer worry about dying in a crash.  I worry about there being no remains of mine to lay beside you in our shared grave...the one place I am certain I will join you.

Grief you are the worst kind of nostalgia imaginable.  You are.
When I reach in the cabinet I wonder if we bought this can of beans or this bottle of herbs when you were alive. Every day feels like a party room after a party, my living room right after we take the tree town, littered with those dried out needles from already last year.  Every place I go to screams Nostalgia- the last time we sat in that coffee shop, your favorite chips in the chip aisle, our first movie in that movie theater I drive by and which is no longer a movie theater.

Every recent announcement of others getting engaged, married, pregnant, reminds me of our lost life- our holding hands by the Brooklyn Bridge at South Street seaport, my hair blowing in that photo of us on the Staten Island ferry, our phone calls to our parents, "We're engaged!"  Sitting in the limo right after we are married watching our friends and family surrounding the church.  "We're married." "Did you see that?" you say after I missed our daughter's heartbeat at our first doctor's visit.  "No, I missed it."  "It was amazing."  "I'm pretty sure it's a boy, but if it's a girl, how about the name Audrey?"  "I like it."

And you are...the nostalgia of a future yet to be and a future: could. have. been.

Grief you are the purest homesickness.
You have me always waiting, always expecting, turning my head to an empty doorway each night.
You keep me always searching, always unsettled, always a vagabond, carrying with me these boxes of homemade cards and letters, stacks of sympathy cards, photographs, and other remnants.
You leave me like a kid locked out of her own house.  Sitting on the brick steps on a cold day until I -am- numb.

And grief, you are nothing if you are not LONGING.
Frederick Buechner, in a book I'm reading, tells me the word longing comes from the root of the word long as in length in space or time, but "also the word belong, so that in its full richness to long suggests to yearn for a long time for something that is a long way off and something that we feel we belong to and that belongs to us."

Grief.  You are.

Publication

I guess someone at Mamapedia stumbled across my blog and asked if they could publish my New Years post.   As a result, I received quite a few emails from other young widows thanking me for articulating their own pain as well.  It's amazing how, even though I am in the same situation as they are, when I receive their emails, hear their stories, and especially when they include photos, I cry because I am so, so sorry for their loss- as if I don't get at all that I am one of them.

To know that my efforts in writing here is in any way helping other women is a good feeling if there can be good found here.  I always carry with me the words of a friend from our Brooklyn church in the early weeks- the woman who had battled cancer and brought me the first good tasting thing I'd had since you died- and told me, "There will never be anything redemptive about Dan's death, but there may be about your grief process."  

One of my favorite things to do as a young child, since maybe the second grade, was to write letters- to anyone I could.  I wrote my teachers letters.  I wrote to the kids I met from Connecticut and Canada on our summers in Cape Cod.  I kept my correspondences neatly tied up in ribbons for many years.  I kept journals as well...from about age ten I wrote nightly.  They are in a large file box in my closet now- and you can see them change from small pink books with gold edges and little locks to larger journals and notepads of varying designs as I too grew.  I wrote melodramatic poetry as a teenager, and in college, I found that writing papers brought me extreme enjoyment which I realized was not the case with everyone.  When I returned to graduate school for creative writing, mostly to get out of a job at Random House that I loathed...my teacher and the head of the nonfiction program wrote in my first evaluation "she has a writerly personality."  I found that surprising and wasn't sure what kind of a personality was a writerly one, but recall thinking, "Maybe I am a writer?"  

Well, you always thought I was.  Recently I found a back and forth email between us of one of your interviews with a soccer player that you got published on ESPN.  You had sent me your questions and interview for editing and I had sent it back with all of my corrections typed in red ink.  There was quite a bit (I guess it was the English teacher in me- I had taught at a private school in the city for a year and college writing classes in Brooklyn for a year) and I can remember you telling me how you weren't going to send me anything anymore.  I was only trying to help.  But when I pulled it up recently, perhaps it was a bit of overkill.  I'm sorry for that.  As you would say so often, my intentions really were good.

Well, it saddens me love, but it is only since the time of your death, that I knew I was a writer...published or not- whether I'm brave enough to call it what I do for a living or not, it's who I am and always will be the way I feel most comfortable "being."  

With your death, came a strange authority I could not write with previously.  And...so I thought, also came the responsibility to try to articulate this ineffable grief- this madness that happens when someone you love so much, disappears from the earth.

But how to describe the nausea and sighing in those early days?  The sickness you sleep with and wake up to.  The way the sky is larger and time becomes a stage with scenery changing around you while you stand still.  

And how, how do you articulate what it is like to explain to your child that her father is never coming home, to hear a child as young as two tell people her father died- "he died."  Or hear her, at age three, point to a cemetery you drive by and say, "Is that appa's cemetery?" excitedly.  

How do you articulate the instantaneous dissolution of your marriage without your consent?  How can you convey the utter sense of wrongness and artificiality when you check off the widow box or write "deceased" next to your daughter's father's name on her preschool application?  

How can you possibly articulate what it feels like to pack away your young husband's clothes: socks, t-shirts, favorite soccer jerseys, or to tape a fingernail you find on a small piece of paper or to hold a lock, no a chunk, of his hair packed in a plastic baggie, packed by the funeral director at your request, for just a moment every time you open your sock drawer.  

I used to think it was the responsibility of the writer to articulate these things.  That is not possible.  It's a bit like loving a spouse who has been buried for a year and a half.  There is no response, no hope of a magical appearance, but that doesn't mean you stop loving him.   Trying to construct some sort of narrative or brief on the wordless pain and reality of this kind of loss is just as fruitless, but as it turns out, the obligation of the writer is not to achieve it, but...simply to try.  Sometimes, that is enough.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Trying to Make it Stay


There is something in the human spirit- and I'm not sure what it is yet- knowledge of some truth about an end to all of this that will see justice and things made right, or maybe it's just survival of the fittest- evolution's way of keeping us alive even when we feel dead inside- but there is something in us that wants to affirm the goodness and beauty and value of life, even in the midst of our darkest tribulation.

I've seen myself attempting this throughout the past eighteen months- like hanging up a piece of loose clothing on a wire hanger that keeps sliding down.  You keep trying to make it stay.

I've gone to buy a bowl of chicken soup for a homeless man on a frigid day in New York City near my counseling. I signed up to bring a meal to a family with a little toddler with leukemia.  I respond to every email I receive from others who have known loss, trying to encourage them, even though I feel nothing but despair most nights.  I've sent care packages to two widows I became closer to.  Candles and tea and soothing things.  I buy fresh flowers and take photos of beautiful things.  I even take those flyers people hand out on city streets with a small smile just so they can feel they got rid of another one and have a moment of satisfaction.  And the most life-affirming thing I do, I get up each day and try to create a beautiful childhood for my daughter, as well as prepare her for her future.  I don't pretend to succeed each day, but I give it my best shot.

For Christmas, I wanted to send a beautiful young widow I met through this blog something special- because it was her third Christmas since her husband was killed on Christmas day in Iraq right after attending mass.  He was a surgeon.  They have three beautiful young children.  He was supposed to come home.  But he didn't.  She and I share the refrain: "You died, you actually died" spoken loudly or sometimes softly.  I felt the approach of her own "anniversary" the entire month of December as Audrey excitedly ran to her Advent calendar each morning.  After some searching around, I chose a small gift handmade by an Etsy artisan.  At first I accidentally put my own address as the shipping address so I confirmed that it was actually the address of my friend.  Then, I wanted the artist to know who it was going to so I explained just a little bit of the story in our online transaction- the story that you see, must be told again and again to any captive audience.  I stated only in parenthesis (I am also) - a young widow, but she wrote back inquiring about how my husband had died and if he was in the military, so I replied with...you guessed it, the story.  I didn't hear back and thought perhaps it was too much information.

I had ordered the gift after her Christmas deadline which was fine.  I somehow still trust that things have a way of arriving at the right time.  On the day of New Years' Eve, while waiting outside Audrey's ballet class in the morning, I checked my email on my phone and found my friend had received the gift.  She was grateful, but I know there is no gift that can lessen the feelings of loss at all.  Still, there are things that must be done- despite this and because of it.  This is the stubborn, life-affirming quality we humans possess.

But later that day, when Audrey and I went to get our mail, I noticed our package light was on.  I figured it was left on by mistake from the previous day when Audrey received a package from her grandparents in Korea.  But it wasn't.  When I received the package from our building concierge, I noticed the return address was from the Etsy seller right away.  "Oh no, I thought, she accidentally did send the package to me!"  But then I remembered that I'd already heard from my friend upon her receipt of her own package.  This train of thought happened as quickly as it did on the day of the phone call, when I thought, "Why is he calling me?  Dan must be incapacitated.  Why is he asking if I'm driving.  This is really bad."  and then "Dan is dead."

As quickly as that, but in a much nicer spirit, I realized that she must have sent me the same present.  On the elevator upstairs, I choked up and Audrey asked me if the package was for her- most are.  "No honey, this one's for me."  I hid it away until just about twelve midnight, long after our eight pm toast.  And then I opened it...alone, in our room on the cusp of another long year in a long lifetime without you.


If you'd like your own charm, Stephanie's shop is here.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Here I Am

There's a reason I haven't been finding the time to write here- and it's not because I feel like I've wrapped things up.  It's because I can't stand the pain anymore.  It's like I reached the exact point in my labor with Audrey when, in the tub laboring on hands and knees, I literally thought- "I could drown myself and make this pain stop."  It was then I let out such a scream with the next contraction that the nurse came running in and said,"Was that her?"  It was then I told you I was ready for the epidural.  "Are you sure?" you said.  "I'm sure."

I'm sure.  I'm prone to avoid numbing painful things.  Instead I usually ruminate over them.  Sometimes it's unhealthy. With you it's been healthy grieving- grieving is not ruminating.  But sometimes I wish to get through one day without those moments of horror and realization that bring me to my knees.  To shut out the realization and memories of a previous life and just proceed through the day.  I still don't understand the whole, "You can keep the love and memories but lose some of the pain," concept.  That seems like telling me I can feel the contractions while I'm numb from the waist down.  I can't feel them anymore.  I'm cold and shivering.  The doula says I'm having double contractions on the monitor now.  I ask for another blanket.   You are at my side.

There's no doula, no nurse here.  No one.  And no outward representation of this inner pain beyond description.

I wish that you were sitting with me here tonight.  I am hungering for a conversation with you.  I want to tell you how sick Audrey's been the last two days.  How I've been cleaning up poop all day and how upset she is that her diarrhea smells so bad.  I want to tell you also how she burst into tears while the kids on Barney acted out Little Red Riding Hood as soon as she saw the boy dressed as the wolf.  She tells me later over and over again that she thinks fairy tales are scary and that when there's an evil character, "in my heart, I feel lonely."  She is so perceptive Dan, so in tune with anything sinister in this world.  That trait may be difficult for her in the future...it is for me.  I think it was for you as well.

Decisions.  I want to tell you that I'm feeling stressed about moving and finding a place...that I'm not sure what to do.  You promised you'd help us find a place.  Yet here I am doing it alone.  I think a lot about how decision-making is so difficult now.  Before your career at least sort of guided us- to certain music cities, or even where we are now because the commuter buses were wide enough for your cello.  It is also difficult in the same way that it was right after 9/11.  I heard all of the stories about how someone was late to work that day because they had to drop off their kid- and lived.  Or how they went in early for a meeting- and died.  In the weeks right after that shocking reality- I was nervous every time I went to take the bus back to Jersey from my job in Times Square.  I had to go through the Lincoln Tunnel.  I would think to myself - should I take this next bus or wait?  What if I am too early.  What if I'm too late.  It's kind of like that now because I wonder how many small decisions you and I made that led to your death.  I question everything.  I think there is also some PTSD just by receiving that phone call.  My grief counselor tells me I see life now through the lens of loss.  I imagine future losses and try to calmly plan my life around them.   She asks me how I made decisions in the past.  I tell her that I am methodical- I do all of my research.  But I also trust my instinct.  When I look at an apartment, I trust what I feel.  I can live here, I think.  I envision.  But also- every previous move I've made- I've had you with me to agree.  Our mutual agreement on an apartment was usually our sign.

When things get really bad I usually wind up back on the young widows board I looked at in those early weeks and again at the one year anniversary.  Now I'm in the "one year and beyond" category of the forum.  It comforts me to see the recent discussion about the second year being harder in many ways.  Not the raw, searing pain- though that is ever-present- but the reality of your life without them...the sudden planning a whole new life from scratch thing.  Where will you live.  What will you do to earn a living.  Your child has grown and changed and is starting to understand how it is just as she's starting to forget you Dan.  As I'm taking down the Christmas tree the other day, I tell her to watch out because when I unscrew the base, the tree is heavy and may fall out of my reach.  I'm not sure I can hold it.  She replies quickly that this wouldn't happen "if my dad was here."  We rarely use the word dad, but there you have it.   That great big if we'll both feel all of our lives.

If you were here tonight, you'd be sad and make a sad face with your lip downturned when I told you about how sick Audrey was.  You might almost cry.  At least when she was younger, when you were here and alive, it brought you to tears to see her in any kind of pain.  When I told you about the house/apartment hunt, you'd tell me not to worry- "We'll find something."

But you are not here tonight.
And here I am.