Saturday, July 6, 2013

Speed of Light

On the eve of your death I am watching town fireworks the day after the fourth of July.

I am overwhelmed by the crowd of families around us on blankets with glo-sticks and cotton candy as we wait for darkness in the still, hot, summer air.  There is a Korean family next to us on a blanket- the little girls are calling their dad, "Appa," thanking him for the ice cream he has brought back from down the street.  If you were here, I would be relaxed instead of feeling on the verge of a panic attack.  You would've gotten Audrey her ice cream and a water for me.  I would be excited- like all of these other families.  Instead, I am isolated, always watching others' lives.

The past week has been draining.  I realized later- that one week ago, last Saturday, the day I had a panic attack and went to the ER for a cat scan, convinced I was dying of a brain aneurysm, was the date of the last day that I saw you.  The day you left for the trip.  The day we said our casual goodbye.  The day you came back in while I was pulling myself together in the kitchen before feeding our baby lunch- hearing the door unlock once more- "I guess I won't need these keys...I'll just leave them here."  "Bye..."

Every night this week I've been panicking about the anniversary of your death.  It is the first year I made no plans with other people.  It is the first year I am in a new home- one you never lived in.  Simultaneously, our daughter started kindercamp this week- a camp for all the kids in town entering kindergarten in the fall.  It's been a tough adjustment for me- leaving her at this new school where I drop her at the door and don't have any real idea what's going on for a few hours.  Our 21 month old- for that is when it feels she was last ours- is almost five years old Dan.  She is heading for kindergarten.

So, every day this week I've dropped her off, spent some time crying at home, and desperately tried to find the "right thing to do" for this year's anniversary.  Maybe go away for a night- someplace quaint and reflective- I thought.  But no matter how much I researched- nothing felt right.  And the days passed.

So here we are.  We will spend the day simply- Audrey and I.

The fireworks were loud and if one looked up, they truly appeared to be falling on us- rays of falling light dissolving just before they touch us.  Tears fall down my face at their beauty and light and fallenness.   It's Audrey's first time seeing fireworks- besides the NYC ones we could see in the distance from our old balcony.  The ones she watched with me on that balmy night calling out "Bue!  Bue!"  because she wanted more blue.  And I told you via email and you wrote back, "I'm glad Audrey liked the fireworks- Appa wishes he could've been there with her."  Something like that.

"We used to call our apartment, "The apartment," she says as I am pushing her in her stroller up the hill to the fireworks this evening.  "Now we call it the old apartment."

"That's right," I say.

Is this how you measure time?   Is this how you measure three years.  "The" apartment becomes the old apartment.  But what does it really mean?  This human unit of measurement...change?  It has felt irrelevant to me since you left us.  I have seen it, not as a spiral or a climbing line, but a flat plain- one in which I see the past, present and future all laid out in space together.

The movie theater where we saw our first movie together.  It's been replaced by a strip mall.  The kids shoe store where we bought her her first sneakers together- has gone out of business.   So has the luggage store where I bought the first suitcase for you for your tour.

They replaced the booths at Whole Foods with small tables and there is a tall counter with cafe stools looking out the windows at the Hudson.  The pizza place that you liked with the extra large slices is changing ownership and name from Pizza Gallery to Frankies or something.  The Barnes and Nobles closed and is now a Michael's craft store.

I'm a member now of a lot of strange groups on Facebook with names like "Hope for Widows," and "Gone without Goodbye."  I carry Xanax in my purse, but I still let the toothpaste clog by not closing it all the way.

The Office had its last season this past spring.  Arrested Development had another season of episodes released on Netflix.  I thought it was a bit of a train wreck, and lost some of the natural wit it had before.   Oh, there was another Lord of the Rings movie, released sometime around your birthday. I thought about going.

The floral flannel pajamas that you got me for my last Christmas present have lost most of the flannel now- the fuzzy part- but they're very soft.  The mole on my right leg above my knee is gone- I had to have it biopsied and taken off.  I have a lot more grey hair.  Tonight at the fireworks Audrey is hanging on me, and I say, "Stop, I'm an old lady," and she says, "No, you're not!"  "You're right, I'm a young woman," I respond.  "Well, you are 37," she says.  "Soon you'll be 40!"

Patti Griffin has a new album out.  I might like to get it.  Travis has a new one too I think.  A little while after you died, Fran released a solo album and dedicated it to you.  Cool right?  I still don't do a great job hand washing dishes.  I see what you mean now that it is me that puts away the dry dishes and discovers dried stuff still stuck on.

Your brother got married.  Mine's engaged.  Dov and Charles had baby boys and named them Daniel.  Alice had a fourth.  Mercy had a third and so did my friend Sam.   Your old bandmate got married.  He asked me for some music of yours to play while guests were being seated or something.  Of your two close remaining bachelor friends one got married last month, and the other is engaged.  I've been invited to all of these weddings, but couldn't bring myself to attend one yet.

I still have your bottle of hot sauce in the fridge.

Audrey's gotten a first, second, and third hair cut.  We sprinkled the hair from the first on your grave.  She's also been to the dentist numerous times.  The last time the hygienist showed me one of her bottom front teeth that is ever so slightly loose.

Our bank got rid of deposit slips all together.  I do the drive through now like a pro.  We've changed churches three times.  We live in a different house.  In a different town.  Did they have the iPad when you were alive?  Audrey's quite proficient at games on my parents' Kindle.   I broke down and finally bought a TV after we moved.

The next World Cup is just one year away.

I used to enjoy the sound of a ringing phone.  Now I do not.

This is how I measure time.  Before.  After.  How long.

But this past week I feel as though I've gone somewhere else for a while and returned.  A distant star and in some sci-fi Twilight zone kind of way, I've been away just long enough that when I return - the light years it took me to travel back have stolen time from me.  I am not 34 anymore.  I'm 37.  I live in the suburbs- our 21 month old is almost 5 years old.  I feel the same, but everything else has aged.

I keep this word and its definition open in a window on my iphone all the time.  Antipodal: related to or situated on the opposite side or sides of the earth.

The fireworks are beautiful and seem fitting for the eve of your death.  They are powerful and the sound is a bit faster to reach me than the light.  Because I hold my ears, the sound is muted and the lights become visualizations of our love and grief.

The light takes time to travel in our vast universe.  As a result, we are often looking at the past- the sun eight minutes ago, the dim red dwarf four years ago, the light from the edge of our universe-14 billion years ago- almost three times longer than our planet has existed.

How do I measure time- this time- three years.  The years were spread out like playing cards the day I heard the words, "Dan is dead."  They have already been there.  I reach them now.  That is all.  The rawness of my pain for our family is now a chronic inflammation that I've accepted just as the aged or infirmed often do.

I sit beside Audrey in her bed in the dark as she tries to get to sleep after staying up so late past her bedtime tonight.  "Can you tell me any stories about appa when he was a little boy?" she asks me.  I tell her about the few stories I know and she reminds me, "Remember how you said he climbed up to the kitchen cabinets and ate sugar out of the sugar bowl with a spoon?  Did he really do that?"  "Oh yeah, he did.  I forgot about that."  She laughs a good, long laugh.  Then she hums the tune to a song I've been singing/writing for a few months.  "What are the words to that song anyway?" she asks. "I don't know, I haven't really written them.  Maybe tonight or tomorrow night for Appa's memorial I will finish it since it's for him."

"Maybe he can hear it like some secret kind of message," she says.  "Maybe."

This sitting in the dark with our daughter, I realize, is a much holier way to remember you this year than any I could have planned, I will remind myself to stop trying so hard to plan things and let them happen organically.

It is three years now.  Just after midnight.  It is different.  It is the same.  I have had three years to process your death, but I still don't understand or believe it, especially when I hear myself say it out loud to others.

When Audrey was an infant in "the old apartment," people with babies who were 18 months wanted the two to play together and it seemed so outrageous to me.  The 18 month olds seemed like giants to me.   My baby was 7 months old.  But there wasn't even a year difference and in no time, they seemed to be proper playmates.  It was similar when you died, and I met widows who were three, four years "out," as we say.  These women were light years away from me, to use an appropriate cliche just this once.  Light years.

The funny thing about measuring the distance to the edge of the universe is that by the time you figure it out, the universe will already have expanded a great deal making your number untrue.

It is three years though.  I am mostly tired.  I still say, "My husband died a couple of years ago," because it doesn't feel like old news to me.  Friends tell me they "still" think of you- which tells me that the time passing for them has felt a different amount.  And as for God, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years, like a day."  (2 Peter 3.8)  This would probably sound about right to most of the widows I know.

Trying to measure time is like looking through the glass darkly- at the dark night sky to the universe beyond.  I cannot trust our standard of measurement.  Because it's late, and I am tired and not fit for writing, I will end here.  If much of what I've written makes no sense to you, it's not because I'm deeper or more profound- I'm exhausted and it probably doesn't make sense- though I would've liked to pretend it's the former.  In closing... "these three remain: faith, hope, and love.  But the greatest of these is love."  1cor 13  Forget about the years.  Somehow, love makes it through the wormhole, a song breaks through the boundaries "like a secret kind of message", and a little girl laughs at a father she has no memory of, in the dark.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Father's Day 2013

This is the third time.  It is brutal.

I haven't felt it helpful or complex enough to say, "It's not fair; it's just not fair," in the past three years.  But on this day, I think those words a lot.

Unless your young child has lost a parent, you cannot imagine the kind of searing, puncturing pain one feels.  It goes a level or two deeper than your own pain.  You are helpless.  You cannot provide what they desire, all that was lost.  Some widows online today salute the women who they say are doing both jobs- mother and father.  I don't see it this way.  I can only be Audrey's mother.  She is missing her dad.  There is no way I can fill that gap- all of the many things you were going to do with her...I cannot teach her Korean, or piano, or tune her ukelele or build something amazing with Legos, or kick around the soccer ball, or explain how the World Cup works, or do any of the things that you would do because you are you and real, living people do surprising things we can never predict.

I am only her mother.  And I am the keeper of the stories she asks to hear over and over again- how she pooped all over the first time while you were changing her diaper in the middle of the night, the first song you wrote about peanut butter and jelly as a little boy, the way we met and if you were silly.  I am the messenger, "I know your dad would've been so proud of you on your preschool graduation.  I know he is right now, somehow."  "I know your dad thinks you're so pretty in your ballet costume, I just know it."  The answerer of questions, "Would appa like this game?"  "Would appa have laughed while I did this?"  "Would appa have liked me in my ballet recital?"  Or this one, "Did appa love me?"  many times, including today after leaving the cemetery- which she did not want to leave today.

I throw words into the gaping hole..."What do you think?  Of course he loved you!"  My voice is ridiculously enthusiastic.  "He ADORED you!  He was totally crazy for you- coo koo for you!  There was no one he loved were like a gift to him!"

This is my paltry offering today.  And it is- so, very paltry.  What words in the human language can one really genuinely use to depict someone's love for someone else?  The exact way he gazed at her in the delivery room?  The way I caught him taking photo after photo of himself holding you in front of every mirror in our apartment, smiling this tired, goofy smile.  The worried look on his face as you dug into the icing on your cupcake at your one year old birthday party.

In the very beginning- oh so long ago- I worried so much about your pain- reading book after book on children and grieving.  Though too complex for both our minds- yours and mine- you experienced his loss in a very real way.  It was evident when they returned his suitcase and you searched for him happily in the apartment, saying, "Appa???  Appa??"  Or when weeks later, you started talking and saying what he did while he lifted you in the air on his legs.  Or reenacting a game he played with you on your first airplane ride by yourself quietly.  But I was told, in the books, by my counselor, about regrieving: "She will regrieve the loss with every stage of development."  I assumed I would be so much stronger by this regrieving.  But I am not.

The memories you had of him faded away.  It's hard to ascertain if you have even one single direct memory.  "But just because I can't remember him, doesn't mean I don't miss him," you tell me one day.

I have always wanted, partly through these words, to be the keeper for you Audrey - to record the stories and memories and somehow gift to you your father as best as I could.  But words utterly fail- to recreate any semblance of the actual person.  And you have forgotten.  So, I convinced myself this entire past year- after we moved and your memory seemed to dissipate more rapidly- I tell myself, this is OK- as long as you just know two things- he was a great man, and he loved you greatly.  I even came across a photo he took of you opening your first Easter basket.  In some of the eggs he had decided to write special notes to you.  And there it is, in his own handwriting, for you to see.  And I pray this before we leave this morning- that the knowledge of his love would not be a source of sadness for you, but a source of strength.

The simple answer to your question that rings in my ears all day today is, "Yes."  But it is not enough.

"I will miss him forever..." you say as you sit in my arms on the dirt of his grave this morning.  "Forever..." you repeat.

These moments are the purest expelled pain that I have ever known.

It's a lonely job being this keeper.  I carry the knowledge of what two other people are missing for them.  She doesn't know just how much she is are mostly a flat character to her though I try so hard to make you round.  Do you know all that you're missing - watching your daughter grow up each day, month, and year?  I don't know if you do- so I carry that too.  

I am always alone.  But removed.  Hearing her sweet voice and surprised to hear mine always answering, in a calm tone, with seemingly wise words.  When she can't fall asleep at night and tells me that when she looks through the album it makes her miss him so much and wish he could play with her, and maybe she can have another dream with him in it like the one she had almost 2 years ago- when he was going to read to her, but disappeared.  The one where he told her, "I promise I'll be back."  Close your eyes, who knows- maybe you will.  Go to sleep now.  Tonight I am asking is there any keeper of these stories?  Of these words and moments?  Because, I think, they are just too painful to bear alone.  

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Compassion Versus Pity

Even though someone grieving sudden loss is in such great shock- it's amazing how, at least for me, everything from even those first days- is so crystal clear.  And in the last 2-1/2 years, I have often reflected on the comfort I have received from others, as well as the things that weren't so comforting (which are not worth dwelling on).  

I will always remember a friend, with tears streaming down her face- as I played some of your music in my bedroom a week or so afterwards- saying, "What a loss...what a loss..."  

I remember a newer friend (and a military wife), from our church at that time, visiting me with her small child, and after some pretty normal introductions, her eyes meeting mine and saying, "I'm sorry Julia..." holding me and crying.  I remember the exact intonation of her voice.

I remember another acquaintance from that church approaching me at IKEA at a playgroup months afterwards.  "I never got to tell you personally- I'm so sorry for your loss."  She looked me right in the eye and said that.  It taught me it is never too late to say those words, and if you haven't- even it's years afterwards- it is more appropriate than not saying anything.  It will not "reignite" sadness.  I promise.  

I think about a friend from college I hadn't seen in years, the guy who was the "funny guy" in our college fellowship,  at the funeral - and at some point, I was walking- very, very slowly as I hadn't eaten in days- to the restroom downstairs from where the service had been held.  He came up to me and asked me if I wanted him to carry me.  Because he was always so funny, it seemed like he was joking and I chuckled, "No... it's OK."  But he repeated his offer and was serious.  I declined, but I often think of this.  "Do you want me to carry you?"  

Of course there are so many others who comforted me in many ways with words or actions or both- old friends and new friends, my parents of course.  I'm getting dangerously close to sounding like I'm accepting an Academy Award, but I think it's worth saying- what we do and say, matters.  It makes a difference.  People are changed by our words and actions.  They remember.  I remember.  

It is helpful to think of in terms of compassion versus pity- two very different things.  The griever, if at all discerning- can always tell the difference.

Writer Matt Litton: "While pity shows a lack of respect for other human beings, compassion has its roots in a deep respect for others.  Pity is an emotion; compassion is a connection.  Compassion sees the other as equal.  Compassion happens when we care for another person enough to make his or her problems our own."  

True compassion, I realize now, is rare.  Compassion- with suffering.  Suffering with.

Henri Nowen puts it like this: 

"Let us not underestimate how hard it is to be compassionate.  Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to places where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken.  But this is not our spontaneous response to suffering.  What we desire most is to do away with suffering by fleeing from it or finding a quick cure for it.

Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish.  Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears.  Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless.  Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human."  

Some people will tell you time will heal.  Many will try to find some way to relate and empathize by telling you stories of their own trials- even though they often have nothing to do with yours.  Others will emphasize how strong you are- because they don't want to believe you're just like them, and this could happen to them- and then they'd have to be "strong."  Those who get it, follow Nowen's cue above- they cry with us, sit silently with us, shake their heads in confusion with us; they walk beside us and maybe even offer to carry us.

How to Help a Grieving Friend or Acquaintance

Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this adversity that had come upon him, they came each one from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite; and they made an appointment together to come to sympathize with him and comfort him.12When they lifted up their eyes at a distance and did not recognize him, they raised their voices and wept. And each of them tore his robe and they threw dust over their heads toward the sky.13Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great.
Job 2:11-13

As a part of my closing thoughts, I wanted to include a list of things anyone can do to help someone who has suffered a tragic loss.  So many people asked me what they could do for others they knew in similar situations, and I emailed one friend this list and she suggested I publish it here.  I must preface it by saying everyone grieves differently, and people at different stages in the grief process would need help in different ways- but I think this is still a good starting point.  This was again, taken from an email I wrote a friend just off the top of my head.  I hope it might be useful to anyone who still reads this blog and wants to be of comfort to others.  No one who is grieving should expect all of the below from any one person or friend.  But in true humility- will accept any help offered at all and get what she/he needs from various sources.  What follows is the list from my email.

  • Write her a letter/card about how you'd like to be there for her and how you are thinking about her and wanting to help in any way. Receiving mail is always so nice.  The letter you first sent to me, for example, made me cry/was touching, but also uplifted me to know people were still thinking of us.
  • Offer babysitting if you can- (if that's practical for each of you)
  • If she's in the latter stages- invite her and her twins over for lunch or dinner on a Sunday (or other day- weekends are nice since families usually do family things on weekends and it can be very quiet and hard to think of things to do alone)- set a date- though- I hate when people tell me they want to have us over and then keep saying how busy they are and pushing it back.  And canceling is the worst.  everything in a widow's life is so delicately balanced- that's the last thing she needs.  Make sure your husband is there if he can be- it's nice for the kids who've lost their parent to be around a male figure and I hate feeling like friends tell their husbands to go so I don't feel sad/awkward.  I'd rather be around an intact family- not just women all the time.  In the earlier stages, I much preferred people coming to see me, rather than invites to their homes.  I actually received many invitations, but had little energy to attend these.  Meet people in the early stages of grief where they are.  Don't make them come to you- unless perhaps you will pick them up and drop them off at home.
  • Give her a gift card to a grocery store.  (not sure how her finances are- but this can be very helpful if she wasn't working esp)
  • Give her a gift card to a hair salon to get her hair cut and volunteer babysitting so she can actually go do it.  It's really annoying to widows when people keep telling them to take time for themselves when there is none.
  • Volunteer to go over her house with a bottle of wine or some goodies after her twins are asleep one night just to chat- night time is lonely and the time she used to catch up with her husband probably.  People grieving, esp. in the earlier stages, really need to retell the story again and again to process it.  Be someone who can sit and listen quietly in those early days, without needing to interject about yourself, pass judgement, or give advice.
  • Volunteer to help her with phone calls/errands related to the death paperwork- sometimes that can be so very hard (going to the DMV to change the car title,etc)  Or just anything else that is overwhelming her.  
  • If there are any other death-related things she hasn't done yet- buy a headstone, etc.  You could ask if she needs company on those kinds of errands.  It doesn't matter if you don't know her that well- sometimes that might be easier for her than someone she's close to.  
  • Offer to drive her to the cemetery- no one really offers that- but if he's buried- sometimes it's hard to go alone or drive because you're so upset. 
  • Make her a meal or buy something pre-made from Whole Foods type place.  Having the energy to make meals daily is one of the most difficult tasks for me...esp. earlier on.
  • Get a fun toy for the twins- it lifts a mom's spirit to see her child happy.
  • Send her a book or two.  A few books I found really helpful: CS Lewis: A Grief Observed   Grace Disguised by Jerry Sitter   Lament for a Son,  On Grief and Grieving, On Death and Dying.  You could tell her another widow you know recommended them so she doesn't feel you're just throwing books at her if you either recommend them or ship them to her from amazon.    
  • Finally- share your own life- highs and lows.  In the very early stages, someone suffering traumatic loss can't really think of anything but that loss and pain- and does not want to hear about anyone else's problems.  *But- later on, it gets extremely tiring always feeling like you're receiving or like people feel or you feel you have nothing to offer others.  Actually, and I believe this is very important-  the widow has a valuable perspective and a lot of wisdom won the hard way, and she'll feel useful if she can use it.
  • I think those are all things I would really appreciate or did appreciate- but every person grieves differently so of course I can't say for sure that these are exactly what she'd want.  It also depends on how far out she is.  If she's still in the early months- the gifts, gift cards, meals are nice.  A little later on, someone to talk to is nicer.  And throughout, better than gifts, things dropped off, etc. is always time spent with people- since it's such a lonely, isolating road.  

Closing Thoughts

One of the moments that stands out in my mind with great clarity took place about a week after your funeral.  A good friend had come from California to stay with me for a few days, and we ended up cleaning a little bit.  She, good friend that she is, cleaned my bathroom, while I felt dusting and vacuuming might be therapeutic since it usually is for me.  As I watched the vacuum going back and forth, I kept thinking, "Dan died.  I was always afraid he might, and now it happened.  And that's that.  I have to accept it and move forward."  I told my friend about my thinking afterwards, and she just looked at me, kind of worried, "You're in shock, Julia.  You're still in shock."  And though the pain also came with a rawness and sharpness that could not be reasoned away like my "vacuum thoughts," I have now come to realize- that mostly I've been vacuuming for about two years.  Pushing forward because it was true and I had to.  Underneath the surviving hum of the vacuum, the methodical movement back and forth- the overwhelming emotions: confusion, sadness, despair, longing, and even hope.

Someone who hasn't gone through a tragic, sudden loss- might not be able to understand that shock could last for two years- but it can, and it did.  And now- I wake from this hypnopompic state- and mostly what I feel - is fear.  Mostly, I feel doubt.  Mostly, I feel incompetent.   I ask myself whether perhaps the protective grief bubble of shock I've been living in - that was and is, I admit, difficult to emerge from- is the comfort of God that everyone talks about.  Because since your death I've gone through many difficult moments, made many tough decisions, and experienced gut-wrenching pain, but I've never worried about finances, or getting a job, or where we would live, or even if we'd be OK.  And that is not because I had plenty of money, or was continually surrounded by people helping me.  Since almost the beginning, I've heard a voice saying, "You'll be OK.  You and Audrey will be just fine."  And I have rested in this.  I still feel frustration when I see well-wishers telling people like the parents of the Newtown shooting victims that they're praying that they "may be comforted by God's holy comfort."  Mostly because I know that they will have to suffer the pain no matter what prayers are offered.  They will suffer it and feel it every day and every moment for a long, long time.  But- I also wonder- as I move further from you and gain the perspective of time- if some of the shock isn't shock, but a mystical covering of protection, the way you would hold and shield your child from the cold winds- pressed against or under your coat- muffling the sounds and adding a barrier of warmth.

I shared with a friend about a week ago that I'm disappointed in myself- in what I've accomplished the past two years.  In a way I was likening it to May 2007 when I got laid off from my publishing job with a package- full pay/benefits through the summer.  I felt like that time was a gift to be used to the fullest and this one felt similar in a strange way.  My friend reminds me that I have been working hard, very hard.  Thank God for friends like this.  I realize she is right- I have not been on sabbatical from life.  This has hardly been a hiatus.

Now, the energy that I've hopefully put into the work of grieving- needs to go to the work of living.  There are a few more thoughts I need to put down.   I would like to at least pretend that in some way, I can "wrap things up."  I know this is impossible in my real life, but in words...or wordlessness- just maybe.  My writing here is starting to feel like Christmas decorations that have been left hanging far too long into January or the long-running sitcom that added a small child to the family in the 80's or more crass, sexual jokes today.  My words are tired.  They have served their purpose and played their role. I know I have claimed to be rounding the bend of this blog before.  It is a slow process...much like another I went through with many false starts.

The words that come into my mind when I think about ending my writing here are the beginning words of an essay I was writing shortly before you died.  "I am loathe to lose this trick."  I was writing about giving up nursing, weaning Audrey.  She was eighteen months old by then, and down to about one feeding before bed.  Only a mother who has nursed for eighteen months multiple times a day will understand the preciousness of this bond.  Audrey wouldn't take a bottle so these feedings from birth were always mine.  Often, she would fall asleep after eating- her sweaty head resting so comfortably on my breast as if it were a favorite stuffed animal.  Sometimes, when she was older, she would have a little gas while feeding and our eyes would meet and we would laugh and laugh together.  Often, she would use her other hand to embrace me and scratch my back gently.  I nursed her as an infant through the night on and off- often not knowing when I opened my eyes if she was beside me in her bed or on top of me still. I nursed her right before she got her shots at the doctor to dull the pain and bring an extra measure of comfort.  I nursed her at her first birthday party- her dohl- after she fell on her head and got her first big bruise so that I could ice it without her fussing.  I nursed her to sleep when she was sick, and when she was younger- the first thing in the morning- you would get her and bring her to me.  It was your job in the earlier days to burp her afterwards- remember?

When you died- I had just finally weaned her a month or so before.  She too had a difficult time separating from me in this way, and it was you who had to help us by having milk ready shortly before bed time and putting her to sleep for a few nights until she got the hang of it.  I couldn't have done it without you.  I had shed tears numerous "last times," before it truly was the last- staring into her eyes, telling myself that I would at least have the chance to do it again- have this miraculous bond with another child.   But that was not to be.

The milk was still present (it remains for up to a year afterwards) in July of 2010 and kept letting down as a part of the way my body was malfunctioning and expressing its grief.  Everything in me seemed to want to expel the horror of the "news."  Just get it out.  Make it not so.  Reject it.  The pins and needles one feels before feeding, I would feel many times a day as I keened.

Later, this blog- this space became the trick I needed to live.  I breathed through my finger tips here.  It was a tank of oxygen keeping me alive.   I inhaled and exhaled these words- because I knew no other way to survive the intense pain and emotion inside.  I threw them out- the words and sentences.  And now here I am.  For a while now, I have been "loathe to lose this trick," and yet I know, just as with Audrey, I must.  Life is not static but ever-changing.  Just as I became no less a mother to Audrey when I weaned her, I become no less a griever of your loss when I stop writing.  But there is time- there are seasons.  There is, I suppose, also- growth.  

I remember giving myself pep talks when weaning Audrey.  I was her mother- I would still have my intuition.  I would still understand her, still comfort her, still love her.   Mothering, I already knew, was the most all-encompassing creative endeavor I'd ever strived to do, and I would find new tricks.  They were yet unknown to me mostly- but I would find them.  I would find new ways of loving.  But the weaning was, ultimately- the beginning of separation- just like the umbilical cord that bound us together for nine months was severed.  Because, our relationship would evolve and the end goal would always be to send her on her way.  I would nurture her, not to dependence- but to independence.  It was the first love relationship I'd had- where I found myself giving 100%- not to grow closer- but further.  I think this frightened me.  But now I understand- love can grow deeper- even in separation.  This writing- all of these many words- have nurtured me.  My love for you- has only grown deeper.  It turns out separation does not mean static.  The end of my writing here doesn't mean our relationship is ended, but quite the opposite- it means it is dynamic.  Evolving.  Love does, it turns out, bear all things.  It never ends.
But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.  Psalm 131.2

Monday, January 21, 2013


It is January.
It is late.
On these long, sullen
winter days,
I deeply miss your
coming home.

I am diligent in this,
the waking, sleeping, and eating.
In washing dishes and crumbs off countertops, pulling the trash can down to the curb on Mondays.

Nightly alone
after she sleeps,
walking around in slippers
to the sound of the heat going on and then off.
I speak your name with wet hair after my diligent shower
and often I am angry with you
because you seem more real then.

I read the Catholic mystics and the dead poets.
I dog ear the pages
of words I am hopeful will embolden me
before I slip them in the metal slotted box outside the library.

And in mid-afternoon one day
I fall asleep in her little girl bed for just a few moments
and dream that you have returned.
I think it's an intruder coming inside our house
so I call out loudly with trembling voice,
"Who is there?"

I know it is you-
and I am terrified.
Your hair is longer, disheveled,
and you are bending down over your daughter who has already run to you.
I wait for you to lift your head-
our eyes meet, though in dreams they usually do not.
They meet.
"I know...I know..." yours say.

Before I diligently go to bed,
before it gets too late
on this late January night,
I turn off the switch to the lamp post outside.
Always the mournful creak
as the door of the vestibule is shut.

Sunday, January 20, 2013


My silence here began after the shootings in Connecticut.   It felt wrong and disrespectful to write in the wake of their fresh tragedy.  I cried daily trying to imagine the horror the victims and parents experienced- to enter into their pain, surprised again by the breeds of darkness that exist here in this world.  It brings wordlessness.  Amidst all of the finger pointing, the only word that someone posted on FB that felt right to me in those first few days, whether it has any merit or not, was just one: "Maranatha," "O Lord, Come."

The 17th- three days after the shootings- was your birthday.  I planned nothing with others and embraced it as my own.  We picked up flowers and cheesecake to sing Happy Birthday later and drove to the cemetery in the rain.  There was a bitter chill, so we didn't stay long.  I left three bouquets- white roses from your parents, pink carnations from Audrey, and red ones from me.

Audrey and I continued singing Christmas carols into Christmas.  Our first Christmas that we didn't travel somewhere to get away from being at home for Christmas.  It was fine.  We bought a tree and decorated it.  I set up a small paper winter village, arranged tall red winter berries with white hydrangea in an antique enamelware pitcher, and decorated our porch with white lights, wreaths with red bows, and Christmas balls.   I only broke down one time on Christmas Eve just after Audrey had gone to sleep and I gathered all of the presents I had to wrap on the living room floor by the tree.  I told myself it was festive- grabbed a glass of red wine, put on "It's a Wonderful Life" and the tree lights.  There was a package from a friend that had arrived and I opened it up to find a thermos for me and a craft project for Audrey.  The Amazon card for mine said something like,  "I wish Dan could be there with you," and with that, I wept on my knees.  Then, I went back to wrapping.  This is how it is now.  Another young widow, a friend of mine now that you knew from college, gave me the analogy of a suitcase.  Your grief and heartbreak is something you always carry around with you, she told me, but in the early days everything explodes out of it all over the place when you open it.  Later on, it's more contained- you put things back inside quickly and neatly and pull it along.

I wrote supportive comments on a widow blog to a widow asking about suggestions for New Years' Eve, "No, I wouldn't even think of watching the countdown," I wrote quite pleased with my wisdom.  I encouraged this one woman who had no plans and no children or friends to call a friend and do something simple.  New Years Eve I think, happened to coincide with the day she lost her husband.   But then after an early dinner with another family at a Mexican restaurant that provided noisemakers and balloons for young kids, I found myself sitting in bed and trying to find a live streaming page of the countdown on my computer at a few minutes to midnight.  I'm not sure why.  I guess just because I was still awake and it was almost midnight. As they started counting down, crowds in Times Square waving and screaming - all crammed together in this moment of human communion-  I felt overcome and remembered my own advice on the widow blog.  With maybe ten seconds left, I quickly escaped- click- closed the window and went back to the Korean drama I had been watching with my earphones while Audrey slept beside me- the sound of muffled fireworks outside.

Friday, January 11, 2013

September 2009- September 2010

When Audrey turned one, I worked for hours editing down the thousands of photos we'd taken of her since birth and putting them together in a clean, professional looking album I created on Shutterfly.  I planned to do so each year.  But during her second year, everything changed.  Making albums were no longer a priority.  I focused on getting myself out of bed and caring for my almost two year old.  On thank you notes, completing paperwork, and leaving an hour or so a day to cry by myself.

By the time of my move this past September, I had photographs in multiple places- your old computer, multiple hard drives, my old laptop, new laptop, and our old camera.  The idea of sorting through all of the photographs of our last year together from all these different places, making some chronological sense of them, and steadily climbing through until the day that made each day after it "After" ...was overwhelming.  But recently the thought of losing the photos, of Audrey not having a guide for what our life was like then, and of year after year continuing until I could never make another album again because there were just too many photos- weighed on me heavily.  And so, for the last few weeks, I've slowly been sorting, uploading, and creating.

I work on it a little at a time until it becomes unbearable.  I wish that I could say it was mostly therapeutic, but it has been hard.

From a CD labeled, "Pics for Julia," I uploaded the photographs I had asked someone to take at the funeral incase Audrey would ever want to see them.  As I scanned through them quickly- my whole body began to tremble violently.  

As I continue on with the other photos from that year, I glare at the old me: so careless, such arrogance.
I strain to see photos of you- and the album gets longer and longer because I can't leave out that one of you at that particular angle, or the one with your elbow, or that one with that surprised expression you had.

It is difficult to edit a compilation of photos when you feel your actual life and family has already been edited down to the bare bone.

So- it is long.  111 pages.

And as I neared the great chasm...I started to date things in a way I usually don't in photo albums  "6.28.10 Monday"  And then to label certain pages, "Last Family Photo,"  "Reading Bedtime Stories with Appa for the last time."

The work is tender and cruel.  I am almost finished.

I debate about whether or not to include a photo from your funeral.  It was, after all, a divisive part of that year of our lives.  Of her life, whether she knew she was at a funeral or not.   There is one that jumped out at me when I saw it going through that disc, as I trembled.  I place it on one page in between the play date the day before, July 5th, and the day before that, July 4th, when she found Petey the Parrot at Trader Joe's in the bread section and got her red lollipop; and the photos that follow- Audrey lying in the middle of my bed with a sippee cup- all of the paperwork and sympathy cards fanning out on the floor around the bed, Audrey trying on sunglasses at Duane Reade, and Audrey sitting at your desk in your chair, still with the shirt you left there hanging around it.

I place the image on a page all by itself in between these two lives...but very a small square in the center of white.  I have always been slightly irritated when others who have not lost a spouse and been left an only parent tell me how lucky I am to have my daughter.  Of course, I love and adore her, but to hear her scream out for her father in the middle of the night, or be faced with the daily caring for a not yet two year old by myself while I grieved the sudden loss of my best friend- the feeding, bathing, changing diapers, the infinite pressure to somehow still provide what she needs when I myself felt like a shell- I would never have chosen the word "lucky."  

But in this photo- I see and know...that you, my daughter, are the reason I have survived.  Thank you.