Monthly Archives: February 2014

Tuesdays

It’s been a hard month — really, a hard winter. The frigid temperatures outside were mild compared to the freezing numbness that paralyzed me over the last couple of months. Depression? Maybe. The enormity and permanence of being without Kevin settling in? Definitely.

I’m learning that grief ebbs and flows and sometimes the memories flood me and the words flow freely, and sometimes I need to sit with the thoughts for a while, and let them swirl about, before I try to pluck them from the air and fit them on the page. To give myself that time, and relieve myself of some self-imposed pressure I feel to get everything written down right this instant, I’m pulling myself in and forcing myself to be still and wait.

There are a handful of wonderful people who visit this space and share my story — the one I’m writing for my daughter. This is just a little note to say I’m changing my schedule and will just post on Tuesdays for now. I feel like God’s been telling me to slow down and breathe Him in. The right stories for my daughter will come at the right time.

The Button and the Balloon

“Hey, Mama, look! I used the Germ-X trick and now it’s ready.”

I glanced up from my lesson planner, smiling at her excitement and curious to see what “trick” worked this time. She was so proud of herself, I don’t think she noticed when the smile froze and didn’t quite reach my eyes.

She dangled it in front of me, and the weak winter sun, shining through the window, reflected off a shiny button and all I could see were blue letters spelling “Daddy” in her mini-Kev handwriting. I knew what button she had, though. The one I got at Disney World, on my last birthday. A brightly-colored birthday cake and big, bouncy letters “Happy Birthday!” trying to inject a little joy on that desolate day. The cast member at the resort had written my name on to the button, but in a little trick I picked up from my days as a substitute teacher, we’d swiped Germ-X across the Sharpie letters to clear the space and printed Bear’s name on her birthday last month.

And now it’s Kevin’s turn.

She’d been planning this from the moment I got the button in December. First it would be mine, then hers, then finally…Daddy’s. Three months, right in a row. Three birthdays, right in a row. Three names, right in a row. Mama, Beary. Daddy.

She chattered on.

“And here’s a balloon, Mama, to tie to the button. And then we’ll let it go, and it will float up to Daddy and he’ll have the button for his birthday!”

She handed me a limp blue balloon.

I took it.

I looked at her face, as shiny with happiness as the light blue-Sharpie scrawled birthday button she still clutched in her hand. I could almost see the birthday candles flickering in her sparkling eyes.

I looked at the balloon in my hand.

Limp.

Airless.

Deflated.

I know.

The waves of grief keep coming. Christmas, New Year’s, Little Bear’s birthday, Valentine’s Day. There’s been no break and the grief won’t let go. And I can’t stand up. I can’t even drop to my knees and crawl like I’m supposed to do. What you do when you can’t run from the waves fast enough is get on your knees and crawl.” But the ground keeps shifting under me and I can’t find anything solid to crawl on and I’m dragged under. There’s no air and there’s no Kevin and he was my air and it’s so hard to breathe without him.

My heart is not filled with light and joy. I’m limp. Airless. I can’t float.

My lungs swell to bursting with grief and I sink.

The next wave heaves the flotsam of my heart onto the calendar and it lies there, desperately gasping for breath, on the day, inked with appointments, stuffed with busy-ness, and a little heart doodled around the date.

Kevin’s birthday.

There’s no air.

I can’t.

But she can.

The name he loved most is scrawled across the button.

A rush of air fills my lungs.

She planned a feast for him. Pepperoni pizza and Dr. Pepper.

I inhale hope.

“And ice cream, Mama. Mint chocolate chip. And French silk pie, too…even though I only like the French silk part. Not the pie.”

The air is light and it is love and I gulp it in because I’m empty and heart-heavy and I need it to live.

“Daddy will LOVE this party SO MUCH, Mama!”

I take a breath. It still hurts. My throat is raw from screaming and my lungs tender to the gentle wisps of promise slowly swirling inside.

But she surrounds me with her air, her beautiful air, and all the particles of happy and hope and life and silly and love and squeals and giggles and…yes, joy – and it’s the sweetest air I’ve breathed in so long. Her Daddy’s spirit in her, breathing out to me.

Filling and floating and healing.

She planned a party because it’s what we always do, that hasn’t changed, and a button of love floats to her Daddy. I hear his voice, rumbling in my ear, “You don’t have to get me anything, Baby Doll. Who needs more than I’ve got right here?”

I can breathe.

photo

Simply Sick

After patting myself on the back last week for making it through the worst of winter without getting sick, it happened. Pride goeth before a fall and all that. We spent the weekend away, because we needed to, but driving back home on Saturday afternoon, I felt the beginnings of a head cold coming on — and it only got worse on Sunday. I’ve tried to grab sleep and rest where I can, but being sick as a single parent means I can’t close the bedroom door and crawl into bed, knowing that Kevin is more-or-less monitoring the Bear’s activities and keeping the house somewhat straightened. She’s a peach — I can’t complain — and has been so responsible when I have finally retreated to my room with an Alka-Seltzer. She joins me for a cup of hot tea, and completes her lessons quietly when I set the books out for her, and the blanket fort in the dining room…well, she’s having fun and we’ll fold it all away eventually. We’ll make it through, and it will be another chapter in our story, another milestone we’ve muddled through and figured out how to cope with…together.

The Frog on the Shelf

It began, as things so often do, with the first one.

The frog’s bobbling head caught my attention. I tapped it again with my finger and smiled as its head dipped and nodded obligingly, a small red heart dangling from its mouth and a golden yellow crown perched absurdly on its head. “My Prince Charming” the box read, and I knew I had to have it for my own Prince Charming, the man who’d so recently knelt down, sang me a song, and slipped a diamond on my finger.

I wrapped it and presented it to Kevin on our first Valentine’s Day together. And the note I attached promised there’d be a new frog every year until the shelf overflowed with the silly testaments of a love only found in fairy tales. He looked forward to it each year, waited eagerly for me to hand him the evidence of my love wrapped up in a tiny 3-inch green figurine. I searched each year for the perfect frog, and, to me, February didn’t mean heart-shaped candy boxes – it was frog-hunting season. Different shapes, different greens, different hearts and crowns and smiles. Same love, growing deeper with each whimsical addition to his collection.

Such a silly tradition, but perfect for the two of us. Happily ever after? You bet! we said.

I saw it on a display in the store in May, which struck me as odd. I don’t remember much about May; the swirling fog of grief shrouded me with its grey cloak, and only the brightest pieces of light could pierce the gloom. I remember a baseball game and a yellow cat. And I remember a brilliant flash of green caught my eye, and for a moment the haze lifted and I saw a bemused lime-green frog grinning at me, his golden crown jaunty on his head.

I stopped.

A frog prince? In May?

I reached for it slowly, almost afraid I’d imagined it and the frog would disappear and my hand would close around empty air, like it did every morning when I stretched my fingers to Kevin’s side of the bed. But the green ceramic was cool under my touch and I grasped it, cradled it in my left hand, the back of the frog clicking dully against my wedding bands.

I needed it.

It was perfect for his collection.

It was perfect to remind me.

Kevin had just died, and I was floundering because he was the best part of me. He was the man who learned with me, over the beauty and bruises of ten years, exactly what love – the real, messy, hard-sometimes-but-always-worth-it love – means. The man who pulled me close after the doctor told us there was less than a one percent chance we’d ever conceive, and then rained happy tears on my face when our miracle was born after months and months of fertility treatments. The man who looked at my stricken eyes when we heard the word cancer and fought day and night year after year after year to stay with me and our little girl. The man who murmured “Baby Doll, I love you” over and over, even as he slipped into unconsciousness and his body weakened and his breathing slowed and I counted the last beats of his great gentle heart with my head on his chest.

I’d buried his body, but his love? Our love? Never.

The frog reminded me.

That love is still with me, inside me, glowing through the shattered wreckage of my heart, pulsing with each beat, sustaining me when the sobs wrack my body hidden deep in the closet, and creasing my face with a smile when I remember his sly grin. That love is alive and screeching with laughter, chasing a cat through the rooms of the home we created.

That love is a lime-green frog that I nestled gently in my bedside drawer, waiting to join the rest of them on the shelf on Valentine’s Day.

That love will go on forever, with a shelf full of golden-crowned frogs to prove it.

Him: Hey, would you, uh, love me the rest of my life?
Her: No. I’m gonna love you for the rest of mine.
(Phenomenom, 1996)

frogs

Happy Thoughts are Better

    It is the nightly custom of every good mother after her children are asleep to rummage in their minds and put things straight for next morning, repacking into their proper places the many articles that have wandered during the day. When you wake in the morning,…on the top, beautifully aired, are spread out your prettier thoughts, ready for you to put on.
    (Peter Pan, Chapter 1)

I sat on the edge of her bed, listening to the soft patter of the rain machine and the soothing melody of her angel music. My hand swept gently across her head, smoothing her hair back to the pillow, lifting, and repeating the motion over and over. In the dim glow of her night light, I saw her mouth turn up in a small smile, parting slightly as she exhaled a contented sigh.

“I like it when you tidy my mind, Mama,” she whispered. “Don’t forget the thoughts on that side, though,” and she motioned to her left, “if they don’t get tucked back far enough, there will be mischief tomorrow.”

I smiled and moved my hand over as she directed. Smooth, lift. Smooth, lift. The repetition was soothing for both of us, and especially helped calm my whirling dervish of a daughter. Her thoughts got caught in a loop, sometimes, and if those thoughts were especially worrisome, it wouldn’t take them long to upset her sleep.

I lost track of time in the cozy half-dark of her room. I startled when she spoke. “Your turn, Mama. I’ll smooth out your thoughts, now.”

Her little hands lifted and stroked through my hair. “I’m pushing them way to the back, Mama. I’ll put all the sad thoughts about Daddy way behind the happy ones and that will be better for you.” She chattered on quietly, hands smoothing across my head, as I sat there and let my beautiful Bear work peace into my head. I don’t ask how she knows I need it; even when I try to hide the grief…she knows.

A few more pats on my head, and I could tell the sandman was coming for my girl. She yawned and pulled me close for a never-let-you-go Bear hug. I wrapped my arms around her and rocked us slowly until she loosened her hold and snuggled back into her pillow, her Dora doll clutched tightly in her hand, rubbing the doll’s play-roughened hair against her cheek.

“G’night, Mama,” she murmured, slipping herself sideways in the bed and tugging the blanket higher.

I blew a kiss from the door, then closed it gently and started down the hall.
I didn’t make it far before a tear slid down my face. Then another because my girl had done it again. She recognized the clouds of grief swirling about me, but with a gentle gesture and words wise beyond her years, she blew them back. The sadness never goes away, but she nudges it back. Just a little. Just enough to let some joy and light streak through the darkness. Just enough to let some happy memories of her silly Daddy jostle and bump their way to the front of my mind.

And as I walked down the hall, in my mind, I heard echoes of her shrieks of glee as Kev plaintively cried, “Blankie on my back, Mama, blankie on my back!” A game only a two-year-old could invent and play with such delight before bed each night. A game only a doting Daddy would play with such animation, for as soon as he was “tucked” into bed by the little “mama”, he’d toss his blanket off and cry out his line in the script. I smiled and shook my head.

She knows that’s what I need to keep going: happy thoughts. Too many days in the dark and I lose the will to do anything. To cook, to clean, to read her a story or spin her around the front room. But when I think about the happy times, the crazy, filled-with-laughing-“Did-you-just-snort?!” times, I can make it through the day. And that’s the point, isn’t it? To make it through. To keep moving forward. To gently bind the broken bits of this life with ribbons of happiness so that the sharp edges of grief don’t poke so viciously, don’t prick the bubbles of joy my daughter laughingly blows into my life.

And she’s right. It’s better for me. It’s better for both of us.

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

She smoothed out my thoughts, tucked the sad ones gently away for a time, and spread out the prettier ones – and there are so many of them, of my wonderful Kev and my beautiful Bear.

And when morning comes, the prettier thoughts will be there, ready to guide me through the day.

And so will my girl.

And so will the joy.