Monthly Archives: January 2014

La Vie en Rose

I heard her humming as I worked in the kitchen. I only caught snatches of the tune, as she danced around the house – always in motion, always so busy — and couldn’t quite put it all together. I followed the drifting melody into the classroom, where she’d finally lighted in her chair to read. Sprawled sideways, one leg flung over the arm of the chair, my little mini-Kev hummed absently as her thumb and finger rubbed the corner of each page, then turned it carefully.

I stood silent in the doorway and listened.

I smiled.

La Vie en Rose.

The life of rosy hues. Of beauty and love and hope.

She looked up and saw me.

“What’re you doing, Mama?” she asked curiously.

“Just listening to you, Little Bear. I like the song you’re humming.”

Her eyes sparkled. Her Daddy’s slow grin spread across her face.

“I heard it when you played that French CD,” she offered.

In a blatant cultural mashup, I’d had the sudden urge to listen to a CD of French songs while making scones earlier in the day. Kevin gave it to me one year for Valentine’s Day, and it seemed a good choice because I wanted something lilting, something to chase away the winter, something… joie de vivre.

Joy of living.

When he takes me in his arms
He speaks to me in a low voice,
I see life as if it were rose-tinted.
He whispers words to declare to me his love
Words of the everyday
And that does something to me

The hardest morning of my life was the day after Kevin died and I woke up to the devastating emptiness of life without him. I had his pillow, filled with my tears, and our daughter, filled with his spirit. But I didn’t have the life I’d had the day before, the life where every day had joy, the one where even moments of terrifying sadness were filtered through the love we shared and it always felt like everything would be okay…we would be okay. His whispers of love did something to me – he made me believe we would always find the joy in living.

He has entered into my heart
A piece of happiness
the cause of which I know full well.
It’s him for me, me for him in life
He said that to me, swore to me forever

In the days and months after, I struggled. I couldn’t find any joy in anything. I was too numb to feel, then when that wore off, the searing pain of being without him left me gasping and crying and screaming for him to come back. I felt nothing in-between – it was unfeeling coldness or agonizing loneliness.

And then one day, I woke up and my Bear giggled in her sleep and I felt that space in between. There is a place between the numbness and pain, I’ve found. A place of calm; not peace, really, but a place of stillness. There’s something like strength here, and something like hope. It’s a place to catch my breath…for just a moment, and I need that place sometimes because I need to breathe. When the grief bears down, I hold myself together with prayers and tears until I can crawl to the in-between for rest. The holidays, my girl’s birthday – getting through those without Kevin drained me of the energy I needed to keep on, to be in this new year without him. I treasure the in-between, because the other — the numbness and searing pain — they’re still here; I feel a version of them each day because I always miss him. But in the in-between, joy and hope rise a little higher than the grief and pain. They’ll be back, I know, because grief ebbs then crashes back in. But in the in-between, I can breathe. And I can laugh and dream and enjoy the enchantment that is my Bear. I can drift and wait and find pieces of joy and cope.

I can find joie de vivre. Joy of living.

And from the things that I sense,
Now I can feel within me
My heart that beats.

I feel it in my little girl’s humming of a most charming song, and the lilting pattern of her notes feels like bits of happy floating dreamily in the air.

I see it in the crystal vase of pink tulips sitting in the window, delicate petals bravely spreading out, hiding the dead winterscape of broken branches, broken dreams, offering beauty and healing.

Offering joy.

Joy of living.

She turned back to her book and I turned back to the dishes in the kitchen.

And we filled the in-between with the hum of life.

La vie en rose.

Message in a Cloud

“Mama?” she said thoughtfully, “do you think Daddy writes in the clouds?”

I watched her finger twirling in the air, spiraling in intricate lines with swirls and swoops.

“I mean,” she continued, “do you think he can use a special ink and write down everything that he wants to tell us on the cloud and then we can look up and see it in the sky?”

Her fingers danced, swaying among the dust motes drifting in the air. I tried to follow the pattern, decipher the stream of message she coded in the nothingness.

Silence and we stared up, wondering.

She noticed my furrowed brow.

“Mama?” she prompted. I hadn’t answered her question yet.

“I don’t know, Beary. I wish he could,” I managed. Oh, how I wish he could. I wish he could send me a message, telling me he’s fine, telling me we’ll be fine.

A final flourish, a twist of her wrist, fingers flicking out a last loop and dash, and her arm fell to her side.

“Well, I think he can. I guess we’ll just have to watch for it.”

She decided quickly, content to settle in her mind that Daddy could, in fact, write a message on a cloud for her.

And it’s no stretch to imagine – from her deliciously wonderful point of view – that we can look to the clouds and see it written in dashes and daubs of angel ink, what he always told us, what he wants to tell us still:

I love my girls.

In her whimsy, she brings me hope – and it’s strong enough to push back the grief that crowds in and blocks my view of the clouds, blocks my view of God’s plan for this unexpected life. And even if I never see a message in the clouds, I can look at them stretched across the magnificence of heaven and know that joy is possible and love never dies.

I pause, then nod my head, hope taking hold. “I think maybe he could, Little Bear. Maybe Daddy can send us cloud messages.”

Delight sparkled in her eyes, and her fingers lifted again, stirring the air and tracing the clouds.

“It is God who heals”

I didn’t see his leap onto the kitchen table, but I heard the hollow thunk when the plastic cup tipped over, and the drip-drip-drip of my soda plinking to the floor.

“Really, Kev? You sent a cat that always wants to drink my Mountain Dew?” I spoke to the empty room, but I know he heard me.

I sighed. Chased the cat out of the kitchen. Debated whether to pop open another can and guard it more carefully this time.

And smiled.

Because only my husband would send us a furry, yellow, soda-drinking angel cat. Knowing we’d need to laugh and smile again. Knowing that grief couldn’t be all we felt every day – there had to be joy and hope and laughter and living, too.

There had to be a cat.

The cat showed up last spring, on Mother’s Day, actually. It was such a hard day; I didn’t feel like celebrating and we’d just got back from our first weekend away without Kevin – to the baseball game. I needed it all to be over because everything about that weekend made me miss Kevin so much. I was in the house talking with my sister when her daughter burst in through the back door.

“Aunt Christy? I’m supposed to tell you Beary found a little cat outside!”

It took a second for the words to sink in, then I jumped up and followed my niece back outside. There sat my daughter, with a gorgeous half-grown yellow cat sitting beside her. Little Bear was crooning in his ear, running her fingers through his fur. He sat there, patiently letting her squeal and squeeze. My breath caught for an instant because the cat looked exactly like the one I had when Kevin and I married – my beautiful Louisa May. Kev always joked that he knew better than to ask me to choose between him or my cat, but because of his allergies, she’d been relegated to the basement, a poor reward for her years at my side, but I didn’t have any other choice. I kept her comfortable and cared-for, but it wasn’t the same as the days when I was single and she was my purring confidante. She died of old age in 2008, and just a few months later, Kevin was diagnosed with cancer. Though dander allergies became the least of our problems, it didn’t make sense to add a new pet to the household when we were trying to figure out how to live with cancer.

But our little toddler Bear grew older and eventually, like all kids do, started clamoring for a pet. Specifically a cat, but that was out of the question. She took it in stride and we compromised on a hamster. Kevin wasn’t sure it would work, but he was willing to try for his little Bear. She’d been a trooper, getting dragged to doctor visits and hanging out during chemo weekends, absorbing all the disruption and uncertainty that living with cancer can bring. Fortunately, the little rodent didn’t bother him and we all got very attached to our furry friend.

But inside? Well, my girl and I both still secretly longed for a cat.

And now…

“Mama! Look! Daddy sent me a cat!!”

At the sound of my footsteps on the patio, the cat looked up and met my eyes. I reached out to pet him and he started purring. Loud rumbles of happiness rolled through him and he stretched and pushed his head into the palm of my hand, seeking out a scratch. I felt a bubble of something inside at his movement…joy?

And that was it. He was ours.

We named him Rafael – mostly for the wonderfully kind and entertaining Australian student we’d met at the Yankees game. But then I found out that, in Hebrew, the name means “It is God who heals” and I became convinced that my girl was right. The timing, the name? It was no coincidence: Daddy sent this cat.

He blended so seamlessly into our lives, twining around our legs while we studied, curling up on our laps while we watched TV, the three of us piled into Kevin’s recliner. Beary shouted with laughter when she “taught him a trick, Mama!” and I watched, shaking with silent merriment as she showed me how he followed her around when she had a treat bag in her hand.

“Daddy sent a boy cat, so we’re still two girls and one boy in the house, Mama,” she informed me one morning. And that made sense to me.

“Daddy sent Raffie so I could hold him for comfort, Mama,” she whispered to me another day. And that made sense, too.

Rafael definitely appointed himself as her protector. Sometimes, I found him at night, snuggled up at the end of her bed, instantly alert to any movement that might disturb her. And when grief sharpened my voice and my girl’s tender feelings fell hurt, he looked at me with reproachful topaz eyes and padded silently to her room, letting her tears soak his soft, golden coat. Much later, when she moved on, but I stayed trapped in guilt and shame, he leapt into my lap and purred and I imagined he said, “She’s forgiven you and I’ve forgiven you. Stop being so hard on yourself.” And we sat there in the dark, the two of us, and I felt a bubble of something inside…hope?

It is God who heals.

That’s an awesome promise. And He didn’t just promise it once, but over and over.

Weeping may remain for a night, but joy comes in the morning. (Psalm 30:5)

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you…Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27)

It is God who heals.

He knows my heart is shattered and He’s gathered up each shard and is gently putting it back together. He hears my sobs of loneliness, of missing Kevin with every breath I take, and He’s collected all my tears. He sits with me in the closet and stands with me at the grave.

It is God who heals.

I grab a dishtowel, wet it at the sink, and wipe up the sticky sweet soda from the floor. It might seem odd, but it makes perfect sense to me that part of God’s healing plan for me and the Bear is a deliciously soft, purr-happy cat with a taste for Mountain Dew.

And I know that last part was Kevin’s idea.

Just to see me smile.

Her Prayer

Dear God. Please help Mama not to miss Daddy so much…”

She handed me the prayer letter after Sunday School. Carefully formed letters tilted downhill across the pale blue page. I read it, hugged her to me, and shut my eyes tightly against the tears threatening to spill.

I bowed my head.

In humbleness, for the innocent request of my beautiful little girl.

In defeat, for my failure to shield the depth of my grief from her.

I’m trying so hard to keep it together. But nine months hasn’t changed anything. I miss him. And she sees that. I make daily schedules and carefully fill in the calendar squares with appointments. But just keeping on doesn’t always work and my heart is barely held together with tattered bandages of frayed hope and desperate prayers. I swallow the grief every day and I take out the trash and wave to the neighbor and the pain overflows and pushes against the cracks of my broken heart and it can’t take the building pressure and it’s too much.

Behind the closed bedroom door, deep in the closet, with his shoes on my left and his shirts hanging to my right, I scream and a pillow muffles the anguish of living without Kevin. I scream and I scream until my throat is raw and the ragged sobs are rough and hoarse and my cries unintelligible. And when the last empty cry echoes in the room, I crawl out of the closet and to our bed and fit myself into the hollow he left, desperate to feel him near me again. I close my tear-tired eyes and he’s there and the spicy scent of him surrounds me. He whispers, “Are you okay?” and I nod yes, then no, then choke out “I don’t know” and he pulls me close, comforting and sad, “Oh, Baby Doll.” His shirt is wet with my tears and they soak into his heart, but they’re not enchanted tears so he can’t come back to me. I miss him so much.

I wake up. In the early light of the new morning, she’s there, watching me, her Kevin-blue eyes gauging me. She sees the sadness, but she keeps looking for the living-ness. I feel lost, sometimes, but she needs me to really be here. To be with her. To love her and notice her and help her feel less lonely in our half-world.

I smile.

I reach out and tap her nose with my finger.

“You know what, Little Bear? I love you.”

She flings skinny arms around my neck and her laughter bubbles up and floats above us, higher and higher until it pops and sprays of joy and hope splash over us. She’s so beautiful. I am blessed.

After Kevin died, she worried that God doesn’t always answer prayers. But I told her He does. Every single one of them. The answer is not always yes. But He answers all of them: the ones that are screamed at Him, the ones that are whispered, and the wordless ones He hears only in the rhythm of a barely beating heart.

God answers prayers, I told her firmly.

So when the papers were passed out that morning, she didn’t need time to think. She grasped the pencil and grabbed God’s promise and in the middle of a noisy, crowded Sunday School class, she carefully scrawled out a few simple words and asked Him to comfort me.

Dear God. Please help Mama not to miss Daddy so much…”

I smooth the page and read her words over and over and I add my own words.

Help me to grieve, God, and help me to heal. Help me to be the mother she needs, one of love and gentle words, the mother who points to You in the middle of this broken life. Use her words to bandage my heart and seal Your peace inside. And when the joy feels too far away, help my beautiful little girl lead me to it, one step at a time.

Goodnight Moon

I showed her the options at the bookstore.

I wasn’t surprised when she immediately pointed to the stuffed bunny in the blue-striped pajamas and the book that went with it.

Goodnight Moon.

Of course.

“That’s my favorite book, Mama. Remember when Daddy read it to me?”

How could I forget? He read it to her nearly every single night before bed, even when her chubby fingers grew slender and long, and she’d outgrown the stiff thickness of its board covers. The familiar words were a lullaby, her Daddy’s deep voice reciting the sing-song rhyme, softly and slowly, soothing her to sleep for seven years.

And even before she was born and snuggled into footie pajamas, fresh-scrubbed and powder-scented from her bath, his voice lulled her with the gentle words.

We told her the story often and she likes to remind me: “Remember? Daddy read it to me while I kicked in your stomach, Mama! And then I stopped and went to sleep.”

And so she did.

I don’t know for sure, I can’t remember because it’s blurry and it happened so fast and we didn’t know the last time he read to her before bedtime was going to be the last time, but I can almost imagine that book was in his hands. She brought it to him faithfully; I always read a wide variety from her growing collection, but Daddy always read Goodnight Moon. I told her, “Beary, Daddy knows how to read other books, too” and her reply was always, “But I want him to read that one.”

And so he did. Over and over and over. Until the gentle words of the book and her Daddy’s voice became engrained in her memory. I believe if we could’ve known, if somehow we could have scripted the last bedtime ritual they shared, that’s the book she would have chosen for him to read. It was their book.

In the great green room
There was a telephone
And a red balloon
And a picture of –
The cow jumping over the moon

The edges of the book are rounded, worn smooth. Strips of clear packing tape hold the collapsing spine tightly, keeping the scurrying little mouse, who popped up all over the bunny’s room, firmly tucked in his place on the pages.

This book is loved.

But more importantly, this book reminds her that SHE is loved. She and I struggle some days, because we can’t get the hang of being a family of two. And I feel guilt that she’s growing up without him, and I feel like I should spend every minute with her – for all the minutes that he can’t – and that I should love her twice as much – though I couldn’t love her more than I already do – and the pressures of these unrealistic expectations is daunting and really all she needs is to feel safe and loved. I can do that; for all that I’m not doing right now, I am doing that. And even though Kevin’s not here, he’s still doing that, too – making her feel safe and loved. He’s so many places in our life, and he’s definitely in between the pages of the bright orange and green covers of her favorite bedtime book. When she holds it in her hands or reads it to her babies, I hope she hears him whisper, I love you.

So it didn’t surprise me that she immediately chose that book as a gift for her new cousin. Something that special, with the ability to create such treasured, lasting memories, the ability to be a tangible piece of love – that’s something my Bear wants to share.

Goodnight stars
Goodnight air
Goodnight noises everywhere