Monthly Archives: December 2013

At Midnight

Last New Year’s Eve, in a quiet hospital hallway, the doctor told me our time was running out. There were no more chemo options, no surgery options – simply no more options. I swallowed my panic, wiped tears from my eyes, fought the highway in an icy snowstorm, and brought Kevin home to ring in a new year marked with uncertainty.

The doctor was right. Our time was short. Just a few months left to be together, to eat pizza and watch movies and sing “Don’t Stop Believin’” loudly in the car.

It’s been eight and a half months since Kevin died. And it’s New Year’s Eve and, once again, I’m facing a new year with uncertainty. I’ve felt a sadness lately, so heavy that my soul struggles under the weight of it, a storm of grief raining hard, bruising the fragile petals of hope that were trying to grow. It’s a sadness more aching than the sharp loss my heart felt in April, when in one moment I had everything and in the next…everything I knew was gone. Tick. He’s here, holding my hand. Tock. He slipped away.

I’m forlorn because when midnight comes tonight, my last year with Kevin will be gone. We ran out of time. This is the last year that we lived and made memories and dreamed of our future. This is the last year I was married to the one my soul loves, the last year he called me Baby Doll, the last year we smiled indulgently at our little Bear on her birthday. It doesn’t feel like a fresh start; it feels like another loss.

This has been the hardest year of my life, but I’m not ready to let it go.

My beautiful girl, she’s looking forward to 2014. She is totally fascinated that the smallest movement of the second hand on the clock, that one small tick at midnight, sets a whole new year in motion. Tick. It’s 2013. Tock. It’s a new year. She knows how much life can change in a second, but she’s still full of plans and hopes and dreams and that’s exactly right. She should be. She calls herself the “Accomplish-Maker” and for good reason – she can make things happen. She smiles…and the day is happy. She imagines…and the world is a better place. She sees a whole new year full of possibilities and aims to fill every blank space on her calendar with joy. She wants to celebrate and eat chocolate-covered strawberries and dance at midnight. She wants to stay up all night and watch movies and wear a battered, silver, tinsel-trimmed party hat because Daddy got it for her a few New Year’s Eves ago.

I watch her make plans and write lists and glow with energy and excitement and even though I’m not ready for it, and I don’t know what will happen in 2014, I know one thing:

There will be love and joy and hope.

My girl is full of it and she willingly shares it with me every day. She knows I am sad and grieving, but she helps me laugh and heal and I squeeze her close until hope fills our hug. I think she feels it a little, too – a hesitation about this odd, uncharted place, this new year we’re going to when the clocks chime midnight. Our grief and sadness at losing Kevin, our favorite guy in the whole world, will not dissipate with a new year. But also, our memories will not evaporate and our love for him will not vanish just because the calendar changed. Time cannot take that away. I’m reluctant to leave 2013, but I know Kevin will always be with me, no matter what year it is. He’s in me, and he’s most definitely in our girl. And she and I – well, together, we’ll hold hands, and our broken hearts, and we will fill the blank spaces of our new year with time together, with crazy adventures and quiet afternoons and we will remember Daddy and giggle and cry and make sure he’s along for the ride.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

A Christmas Carol

We finished a literature unit on Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and of course it made me reflect on my own Christmases past, the one we’ll be celebrating in just one day, and all the Christmases of the future. So much to feel when my heart isn’t up to the task, so I’m taking this week off to just BE with my Bear. I wish all of you a joyous Christmas season and ask just one thing: just BE with those you love, because being with your friends and family and making memories — those are moments you will never regret.

Let it Snow

“Mama! Come quick! It snowed last night!”

The high pitch of her excited chatter reverberated down the hallway, stirring me from sleep. I pulled the pillow over my head, but the pull of her delight was too much. I sighed, fixed a smile on my face, and shuffled to the classroom, where she stood, nose pressed to the window, watching the barely-risen sun sparkle across the snow-covered backyard.

When she turned at my footsteps, I smiled for real because the joy on her face…well, magic.

“Can we just watch it, Mama? It’s so pretty!”

She’s like her Daddy in this. He loved snow. Loved it. When he spotted the first flakes in the sky, so tiny you could barely make them out, his face lit with a smile that glowed from deep within him. “Baby Doll, it’s snowing!” he’d boom, gleefully making his way to the kitchen. “Do we have any hot chocolate?”

To Kevin, snow meant Slow down, take a break, just watch and let it be. I envied him that perspective, because to me, snow is work. Shoveling the driveway and the sidewalk. Skating across the icy street to the mailbox. Dragging the trash dumpster to the curb, bumping across criss-crossed tire tracks, frozen slippery ice trails to the street. And the cold. Oh, I hate the cold. The bite of wind, the string of freezing rain. To his mind, life slowed down in the snow. To mine, it got more complicated.

He listened to me worry about electricity going off, or wonder if I could make it to the store one more time, then patted the arm of his recliner, “C’mon, Baby Doll, just sit here for a second.” He gazed out the window, watching the flakes grow larger and spin faster, more crazily to the ground. “Beautiful, isn’t it?”

And that was the day. Sitting by the picture window in the front room, curled up in the recliner, cozy in his Cowboys Snuggie, sipping hot chocolate and watching the snow. As if it were a grand production God was putting on just for him and he didn’t want to miss one minute. There was something so pure about his delight in those frozen crystals. Magic.

She has it, too. That watchfulness. That certainty that God is creating something beautiful just for her to enjoy. That instinct to stop. Just stop everything and enjoy and marvel and gaze with joy at the glittering wonderland before her.

I need it. Whatever mysterious genetic enchantment allows them this peace, this stillness, this just be-ing.

Be.

Still.

It’s Christmas and it’s harder than I thought it would be. Part of me needs to close my eyes and hide in my room until it’s done. Kevin’s not here to watch me put together toys, handing me the wrong screwdriver for the parts. He’s not lounging on the bed, watching me deliberate over the packages stashed in our closet. Christmas? Birthday? He’d ponder and point and I’d agree and sort. Cookies? Candy? Santa visits? Elf on the Shelf? I can’t summon any genuine emotion for these things, but our little Bear can. And does. These traditions are important to her, especially now. Everything connects us to Kevin, to her Daddy Bear. Keeping Christmas is keeping Kevin, so when she asks if we can still eat cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning, I answer, Yes, of course. We’re not doing half of what we usually do, and I feel both numb and guilty about it, but even that fraction of the yuletide list feels too hard right now.

Then it snowed last week and she asked me that simple question: “Can we just watch it, Mama?”

Yes.

Yes, my aching heart cried out. Yes, teach me how to do that. Teach me how to sit and watch and wonder. Teach me how to set aside the complicated and embrace the simple. Teach me how to find the magic in the beautifully unique snowflakes that float gently from heaven. Teach me how to be still when it feels like my world fell apart and the heavy, sharp pieces are still crashing down, breaking me and burying me in grief, and my every instinct is to run and hide.

Teach me the secret you and Daddy share. Teach me how to be, little Bear. Life really hurts right now and I just want to be.

I knelt at the window beside her and we watched the snow drift down. The ground was already white with glittering sparkles and more came down and time slowed down and the world outside felt God-filled, with peace and hope. She sighed, was still, beside me.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?”

I was still and I heard him.

And I answered, Yes.

Yes.

Yes, it is.

And yes, my love, we were.

And yes, she is.

And yes, life will be. With our Bear and our God, life will be beautiful again. Peace will drift down and cradle the brokenness and hope will sparkle and joy will glow.

Let it snow.

A Place Called Home

Kevin proposed to me on Christmas Eve, so that’s been on my mind a lot lately, as Christmas dances ever nearer. Beary is delighted, beside herself with visions of sugarplums, and I’m just trying to hold on through the whirl. Trying to keep Christmas in my heart, but the heart-pieces left are shattered and not big enough to hold all the joy that the season should bring.

I’m managing by keeping our big traditions, but letting others slide. For this year, at least. For my Bear, I have to keep some Christmas, so we decorated our tree and staked down our inflatable yard decorations. We made some candy and hung our stockings. And I sorted through the Christmas movies, trying to decide which ones I could handle this year. So many we enjoyed as a family; so many we wanted to share with our Bear as she got older.

I realized she’d never seen “A Christmas Carol” and it was one Kevin loved; he collected several versions to enjoy. He so much wanted to share it with her, but the timing was never right and now it’s just the two of us to carry on for him. I decided to do it, to watch it with her, and I approached it methodically, thinking that was my best bet for getting through Kevin’s tradition. We planned for it as a lesson, our reading unit for December. We read the book, read a Magic Tree House adventure about Charles Dickens, studied Victorian England, and culminated with the Kelsey Grammer version of the movie, eating popcorn and cuddling in Daddy’s chair.

I was ready for the story to unfold, for the memories of Christmas past and Christmas present and Christmas future — on the screen and in my mind. I steeled myself, determined to keep emotion in check, to see the magic unfold through her eyes.

I forgot about the music. The beautiful songs.

There’s a place called home
I can almost see
With a red front door
And a roaring fire
And a Christmas tree
Yes, a place called home
Full of love and family
And I’m there at the door
Watching you come home to me

Through the years
I’ll recall this day
In your arms
When I finally found my way
To a place called home
And to life with you
You’ll have everything
You could ever want
All I want is you
And a place called home
You and I will always be
In the dark of the night
Let your heart come home to me

Through the years
I’ve recalled this day
In your arms
When I finally found my way
To a place called home
And to life with you
Where the days are long
And the love is strong
And the dreams are true

Just a place called home
You and I will always be
In the dark of the night
Let your heart come home
To me
To the place in my heart
Where you’re always home
With me

I forgot.

Then I remembered.

Because with Kevin, I felt like I’d finally found home. My home, our home, where anything was possible. We searched for each other for so long. And when you find the one who finally fits, well, that’s home and you never want to lose it. We’d finally found our way there. Together. To a place called home.

It’s hard right now, to be in our home but to feel like my real home, my heart, is gone. Not completely, I know, because he left behind a beautiful little girl, the image of him, and she fills this home we created with laughter and joy and energy. I love her so much and I thank God for her every day. She explodes with merriment. Her antics and escapades and imagination fill up the air and swell to the heavens and I know Kevin watches with wonder and delight, chuckling over his Little Bear.

But there is still emptiness in my home, an emptiness in my heart. Everything is different now. And where before I heard the song and sang its lyrics at Christmas because it was our story, our journey to a place called home filled with love and family, now it’s all so different.

Now I hear it and my heart splinters as Old Ebenezer Scrooge’s voice breaks with the realization of all he’s lost.

Now memories of Kevin’s smile and his eyes and his arms rush to fill the hole he left behind, and I whisper through my heartache and tears, “…there’s a place in my heart where you’re always home with me…”

Believe

Her face beamed as she handed me the paper this past January.

“I know Christmas is over, Mama, but I’m getting ready for next year.”

That’s my girl. Just like her Mama, always planning ahead. Making lists, checking things off. I skimmed the list, laughing at her practicality and her whimsy: Sharpies, a whole pack! A wish upon a star! Spinning top!
But then three words silenced me.

Cancer-curing kit!

I raised my head. Gazed at her as she smiled to herself, still chortling and feeling quite clever at preparing a wish list eleven months before necessary.

“Beary? What’s this?” I asked, pointing to the cancer-curing kit.

“Oh, you know, Mama, a kit that I can have to cure Daddy’s cancer. Then he won’t be sick and at the hospital. And if I have a kit, then no one will get cancer again.” She answered with her usual matter-of-factness, dismissing my puzzlement with a wave of her hand.

“Uh, yeah, but I’ve never seen a cancer-curing kit before. I don’t know…are you sure they make them? I mean, that’s sort of what chemo is for, right?”

“A kit works faster than chemo, Mama.” She was so solicitous of my obvious ignorance, so adamant in her certainty.

I had no words. Truthfully? I wanted a cancer-curing kit, too. I wanted Kevin to be healthy again, able to be fully present with us again. Not weakened and dragged down by the endless chemo, the endless poison, the endless…cancer.

So I shrugged and she danced, and we both wished for the impossible. A cancer-curing kit.

We didn’t get it.

Not the impossible and not the kit.

We prayed. We wished. We hoped. And Kevin fought longer and harder than anyone expected. But none of it was enough.

It’s Christmas now, and there’s been no more mention of the kit. But it’s not because she’s given up on the idea. Her whimsy and imagination and absolute certainty in how life should unfold wouldn’t allow it. No, she hasn’t given up on the idea of a kit; she just decided that she’d have to be the one to make it happen.

After an exhaustive discussion about cadavers, infectious disease, and vaccinations, she turned to me and earnestly said, “Mama, I am going to be the one to figure out how to stop cancer from ever growing. Not figure out what to do when it’s already in your body, but how to keep it from even getting there. I can do it. Do you believe me?”

You bet, little girl. I believe you.

It’s funny what we choose to believe in, even when everything in life conspires against our faith and shakes our confidence. Even when things are so hard that it feels impossible to keep going. But we do it. We keep going on; we keep believing, trusting. And right now, at Christmas, there is so much in which to believe, so much to open our hearts to. And I do believe. I believe in the spirit of Santa Claus, as we spread happiness and compassion to those around us. I believe our holy God sent His son as a baby to save this hurting world. I believe Kevin is alive and healthy in heaven and that someday I will be there with him for eternity.

And I absolutely believe in a little girl who is holding my hand and showing me every day there is still joy and hope and miracles and mystery to be found in this world. She believes in God and in herself and she is unwavering in her conviction that she can make a difference. She believes in possibilities, in wishes on stars and cancer-curing kits, and she wants me to, as well.

So because of her, in the midst of this Christmas season, in the midst of the hurt and grief and uncertainty, one prayer will be unceasing in my heart:

I believe.

Believe in what your heart is saying
Hear the melody that’s playing
There’s no time to waste
There’s so much to celebrate
Believe in what you feel inside
And give your dreams the wings to fly
You have everything you need
If you just believe

(Believe, Josh Groban)