Saturday, June 23, 2012

Inexorable

Saturdays are the worst- I tell the concierge earlier.  It is such a long day for some reason...a family day.  Audrey and I go to Target where we run into the elderly Chinese widow from across the hall.  I suppose Target is what people like us do on a Saturday.  If I'd known our common destination, I would've given her a ride so she didn't have to take the bus.  After Target, we busy ourselves with the little projects I come up with - she is decorating an "I'm Bored" box with stickers and drawings- inside are photos of her playing with every possible toy/activity we have that I've just developed in Target.  Then we go outside so she ride her tricycle around the building.  We run into another family headed out to congratulate someone on a new baby.  Then another family- loading up their car, leaves a small doll behind in front of the building- I run after them with it and hand it to the grateful father.  So many families- busy doing family things.  I feel a strange sort of shame and embarrassment walking around the building by ourselves.

It's a shame that I'm in the middle of making a huge decision right now- buying a home- because I can't seem to focus on anything else besides the fact that I haven't you seen you in almost two years.

My stare is vacant throughout the day.  My eyes tear quickly.   It's the death march leading up to that one day.

I hate to assign the day that much meaning- I hate to honor it and prefer to honor you and the life you lived- but it approaches- and I can't help that it is physically, strongly felt as if my cells are chatting about it.

Since I'm starting to get that this approach will be just as difficult as last year- only this year I have a lot less support- I'm trying to remember the things I did last year- the preparations I made for the survival mode I knew I'd be in: buying a big stack of paper plates, some quick frozen meals, basically being extra kind to myself, and planning on the low-energy that accompanies these weeks and days.  This year though, I'm in the middle of buying my first home, and working through a "summer fun" bucket list with Audrey.  How to balance all of this.

My body is forcing me to slow down at least.  If I try to ignore it, I'm plagued by migraines and chronic pain.

Last year I planned a memorial service with a program I had printed up, sent out a tasteful invitation, made lists of plans with friends, and released balloons.  I even planned a lunch afterwards at a restaurant, and another event in the evening in the city at an Irish pub you used to play at.  This year I have no idea how I did that, and I feel no direction, no sense of what should be done.  What I do understand, as one widow friend put it, is that this grief is ours alone.  We are the ones whose lives are irrevocably altered.  So I don't see a crowd of people this year- and if I did, I'm not even sure who they'd be.  This tragedy has greatly altered my friendships and the people I share my life with are mostly a few people I didn't know before you died.

For now, everything in me is slowly shutting down in sadness and self-preservation, like stocking up on groceries, and boarding up the windows before a bad storm except without the nervous busyness of all that.  It's just the quiet anticipation that comes after.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Sometimes You Come Undone

Sometimes you write with hope and strength because you know that makes everyone feel better and provides a much more satisfying read, but also because... you are hopeful.

Sometimes you lay down a blanket on a cemetery plot and picnic and surprise yourself with virtually tear-free eyes for the bulk of that time.

Sometimes you believe it's because you must be getting stronger, or at least getting better at this whole thing.  When all of life's cruelty stares you down, you hold your gaze.  "Game on...I'm ready!" you say in a crazy voice as your daughter asks what you're talking about.  You're not sure.

But then sometimes you are blindsided.  You check your rearview mirror, your side mirrors, but you smoothly change lanes- right into another speeding vehicle...and crash.  There's always that blind spot.  It's where sorrow hides out now.

Because sometimes, even though you know you shouldn't, you imagine again just for a second what you might have been doing if things had been "otherwise."  You might have been one of "them"- the families posting pics of family vacations, new babies, siblings posing together in cute outfits, or happy anniversary wishes for your spouse.  What your family might have looked like.  What indescribable pain you would've been spared...without even knowing you had veered so close- "only as one escaping through the flames..."

And you sometimes, let yourself imagine for a few moments, what it would be like if he walked into the apartment, into the room right now.  How you would make the most lovely and tearful introductions between him and his daughter- a different person really than she was back then.  How even amidst his foreignness to her, she would know what a joyful event it was- her innocence might be restored...the landscape of life a little more beautiful and good to her- a little less fragile and dangerous.  How would you look at her, with such awe, pride, you are crying now...she is shy, but she understands.   You hold her- all is forgotten...all of the pain, all of these days, weeks, months.  years.  Maybe that is how it will be one day.   "We're not in heaven now," she says to me the other day out of nowhere.  "Nope, we're not."

And sometimes you google his name and read the death announcements you read on all of those online news sites, and you find yourself clicking on that memorial video some fan made and you see him playing the cello- all at once familiar and new.  And you can't believe it.  And you ask him, "What the f--- Dan?  What the f---?"

And you cry.  And you are overwhelmed by the force of it- like the final pangs of labor when it's time to push.  You are overwhelmed by all of life ahead of you- by all of the decisions to be made, all of the tasks to be accomplished, all of the nights alone ahead.  Sometimes, after so much "progress" and so much pushing, at least for one night, while you have a few moments, you come undone.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Father's Day


It's odd being on the flip side of a literal holiday celebrating something you are mourning the loss of.

It was strange to wake up with that feeling in the pit of my stomach, when I realized others were running into their dad's room with presents and maybe heading to church where they'd make him a cute craft.  As a consolation, I tell Audrey that some people have dads that are alive, but they're not good dads, but she had a great dad.  Poor, poor consolation really.

We skip church, pick up croissants, hot chocolate for Audrey, a latte for me, cookies you liked, and white roses chosen by her- and head for a picnic at the cemetery.  When she first started coming with me, I brought her hot chocolate to make it more "fun."  Now it's become a tradition- and even in late June- this was her request.  It is fitting, I think to myself- something so bizarre- hot chocolate in June.  Gone at 33.

I've been so busy with my endeavor to secure a house for us, unlike last year- I've barely had time to prepare this year.  It just came.  I felt it more a couple of weeks ago when I got that punch in the stomach when Audrey had made the preschool "Father's Day" craft for her grandpa.  That was fine to give her something to do at that time, but I feel strongly that it's not "Grandpa Day," but "Father's Day," and she has/had one awesome father.  So I prefer to remember him and honor him in whatever way we can this day.

She wore her Korean soccer shirt you got her.  It is probably the last year it'll fit her.  She wore it last Father's day as well- her first time at the cemetery.  I always give her a choice if she wants to do things or not, and she readily agreed to wearing the T-shirt because it was from you- I know this because she usually makes quite a fuss about wearing pink and dressing "fancy."  Actually, she did add a crown to her ensemble in the end.

Another widow friend and I share a mutual, joking? disdain for those "family" stickers people put up on the back windshield of their cars.  The other day though, we saw one and Audrey commented asking about "the sticker on the back of that car?"  I explained it to her and she said that she wanted us to get one.  "Yeah?  Who would be on it?  You and me?"  I ask, just curious.  "You, me, and appa," she replied- "because we'll always be a family."

This year was very different than last year, despite the similar feeling of dread.  Only a few people emailed me or texted me to say that they were thinking of us.  I am now an old pro about driving to the cemetery so I didn't have the same anxiety I did last year when it was my first time going alone.  I also didn't burst into tears the second we got there.  I laid out a blanket.  Picked up the old flowers from last month and threw them in the nearby garbage bin.   I unpacked our croissants and we enjoyed them along with a favorite cookie of yours.  I sang a worship song you liked, and shared a few memories of you.  I told Audrey how we were kind of up on a hill like in the Sound of Music- a real hit around our house right now- and we sang together, "The hills are alive...with the sound of music..."  It was... strange.  Audrey laid out each of the white roses like a small fence with the buds pointing forwards in front of your stone.  It looked beautiful.  Then, before we left, we said it together, "Happy Father's Day appa."  Then- for the first time today- I cried.  Then quickly dried my tears on the way back to the car, and we got in, chewing cinnamon gum- her current favorite- for the drive home.  When we walked back into our apartment building, a few teenage girls were seeing off another couple in an SUV outside, "Happy Father's Day!" one of them yelled.  "That father's alive..." Audrey said in her regular volume voice as we all got in the elevator together.

At home we watched a few videos you took of her so we could hear your voice, again at her request..."He called me Audrey!"  she said.  The rest of the afternoon we played, danced (I really need to close my curtains) painted, and watched some Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales.  Then we went out to eat with my dad at a Korean bbq place.  I figured we might've gone there if you were here, and wanted to eat one of your favorite foods.  Audrey loved the galbi.  Everything I ordered was good.  I missed having you beside me to do the ordering though, and I still find it so hard to enjoy a meal you would've loved while knowing you're not getting to eat it.

The whole thing is still so absurd to me; sometimes I think that's the only reason I appear/feel stronger- because I am just getting used to the role, not that I really get this at all.

The void- your absence- is gaping.  I can never fill it.  It pains me to think of all she's missing out on here without you- when she's scared of the giant inflatable slides at a child's birthday, I'm imagining how you would've gone up with her and you both would've come down smiling.  When she picks up her ukulele and it's painfully out of tune, all I can really do is smile but I know you would've gone over to tune it right away for her.  I think of that moment on Father's day- your last, when she was literally jumping up and down in the living room and i told you how "she's never like this...she's so happy you're here."  And I watch videos you took, all with your voice...and see her smile in certain way in them, that I realize, I will never see again.

I think I also felt a strange peace though, knowing that you'd be so proud and in awe of Audrey.   What better gift can I present you with than the little girl you never knew- and the little girl she is becoming.  Like the way she says "Awight?" all the time now so seriously when she's trying to tell me something.  "You're the princess in the pink dress, awight mommy?"   Or the way when even I try to say I did something wrong or someone else did, she'll think for a second and then say, "It's nobody's fault."  Or the way if I tell her I really like her dress, she'll add, "We both look pretty..."  Or how sensitive she is- how she started to cry so much last night while watching Toy Story with another little boy at their house when Woody's arm got ripped off.  How afterwards she told me, "I know they're toys, but they're alive, and I just can't stop thinking about it."  Or how when she asked me once what police do and I got to the concept of jail which I very briefly explained, she said, "Let's not say that word ever again.  It's a sad word."   Or how she asked me this morning on the car ride home "What does government do?"  and after I tried my best to explain and added that she could be a president or governor, she answered, "Nah, I'm going to be a cowgirl when I grow up."  How she says to me out of nowhere another day while I'm driving, "I know it's hard for you sometimes mommy," or how she decided one day that she had to dress up exactly like Maria Von Trapp when she first was on her way to the Von Trapp house carrying her guitar, and she did.  Or how when she can't do something right away, she works and works at it until she can...like skipping- the awkward thrust of her legs forward as she calls out, "I'm doing it!"  and I laugh quietly, but she keeps trying until finally- yes, she looks like she's actually skipping!  Oh you would love to see her skip Dan.

All that, and so much more, is what I offer you this year.





Friday, June 8, 2012

No Man

"There's no man in our family," Audrey says to me tonight as she's laying in bed about to fall asleep.  "You mean like Appa?"  I ask.  "Yeah."  "What made you think of that?"  "I don't know- I just thought of it..."

I have to admit, I was a tiny bit grateful that Audrey, though I knew she was grieving in her own way and would re-grieve as she grew, was not old enough to really process what your death meant at the time.  But now...day by day- it's like watching some horrible secret come to light in her mind and heart...and it's quite painful to be the sole spectator to these quiet moments of gross revelation.   When will the day come when I'll have to explain to her that the "special hill" we visit is where your body is buried?  How will that happen, I often wonder.

It's usually at night when she regresses and starts to speak of you.  The other night, she came into the kitchen where I was when she was supposed to be trying to sleep.  She said she wanted to chat, and got up in her chair at the table.  "Remember that dream I had about appa?"  This was almost a year ago.  "Yeah..."  Then she retells the whole dream- how she was so excited to see him and went to get her book and then..."he disappeared..." she trails off looking as if she's about to cry.  Besides that one night when she woke me screaming and crying out for you, that is the strange thing about a toddler's grief process.  I have never seen her cry for you besides that night- though I know the pain is there and here it surfaces.  

The past week or so has been emotionally charged as well as stressful.

Audrey had her preschool "graduation" on Wednesday.   I've been house hunting and finally took a big step and put a bid on a home that I thought would suit us, which it appears is now ours.  I don't have the mental or emotional energy at this point to try to articulate the emotions behind this move and behind this life change, or behind watching our daughter finish her very first year of school by myself except to say-
Oh how I wish you could've been there.

And another first...a Father's Day craft at school.  I didn't see this one coming since school finished well before the "holiday," but her teacher has foresight and had the children bring home the craft on the last day as a part of the bucket of goodies, with helium star balloon attached, that she'd prepared for them.  She looked at my dad who was at the little ceremony and said there was something special in there for him- but I wasn't sure if she was looking at him or me...so I was interested to see what was in the bucket.  It was a bank made for grandpa and a card with Audrey's words to her grandpa written in quotes by the teacher.   Cliches are to be avoided at all costs, they teach you in writing classes- but there is no better way to say it than that it was like a punch in the stomach or gut when I took those things out.  "Were the other kids making these for their dads?" I ask her.  "Yes."

So, this is how it will be.