Monthly Archives: April 2014

This Pilgrim’s Progress

A road’s a kind of a holy thing.”

I slumped in Kevin’s recliner, stared at the first leaves falling to the ground outside, exhausted after another weekend of traveling. Of driving endless highways. Of remembering. And I wondered: Will I look back on this first, long, impossible summer without him and feel like I’ve dragged my girl all across the state, looking for him in all the places we used to go?

I can’t find him.

I need to find him.

I miss him.

There are no coincidences, at least not in my life, not where God’s concerned.

We stored the suitcases for a bit. Settled down to school. Opened up our books and, alongside my girl, the world opened for us. We traveled back, back, back into the past, into the Middle Ages, and read stories of barbarians sacking Rome, of Charlemagne and the Frankish kingdom, of Alfred the Great defeating the Vikings in England, the first Russians. This was history – what Kevin and I loved – and this was our girl, soaking up every enthralling word of it.

Autumn came and went, and between classes, there was more travelling, more desperate, lonely searching, weary pursuits to chase away the sadness. Finally, the icy blasts of an exceptionally frigid winter drove us inside, off the road. We cuddled close and sent our imaginations across the ocean to escape the bitter cold. Knights and peasants, Richard the Lionhearted, King John, the Magna Carta, Robin Hood, the Crusades, and pilgrimages.

And the words of those stories twisted and turned in my mind, then realization dawned, at a time when I was so low with grief, desperately needing the comfort of knowing that Kevin was somehow still with me.

It finally made sense. The long, sad summer, the travels, the constant need for motion, for searching – it wasn’t the restless, reckless wanderings of a grief-stricken widow and her young daughter.

It was a pilgrimage.

Like the medieval travelers, I journeyed to places of special significance – at least, to me — but not as proof of devotion to God or as penance. No, I traveled the roads, I think, because I needed to find God and remember Kevin. I was a traveler in a foreign land of grief, and more than anything, I needed to find some personal peace because it’s too hard; it’s just too hard to live without Kevin. I needed to petition for Him – for both of them – to stay with me; I’m so afraid of losing my way. I needed to find Him on this new road, in this life I never wanted. I needed to know He was still with me, and that Kevin was not far, either. I needed to know that a heart so shattered with pain still had enough pieces left to hold onto love and memories, enough beats left to sustain life and raise a beautiful little girl.

Each place we visited became a little chapel for my thoughts, a place to gather strength for all that lay ahead. A place where I could be quiet with my grief. Where I could be still with my daughter.

In each place, I saw God at work in my life, in my daughter’s life.

And I felt Kevin.

He was with us at the beach:

I stand in the gulf waters on spring break and help her jump waves. And her joy is infectious and the waves are no match for her happy determination to hurdle over them.

It makes me smile — just like Kevin wanted.

She is happy. She is living life – just like her Daddy wanted.

In the warm rays of the sun glowing down on us, I can feel him. His smile, his laugh, his shake of the head at our whimsical girl and her reckless abandonment to joy.

And at the Magic Kingdom:

As the week went on, we found our balance. We carried him with us, his spirit providing a comforting stability to our shaky emotions. Our memories of Daddy brought more laughter and fewer tears. Disney World is always evolving and we found new places to explore and we imagined he was with us, marveling at our grand adventures…We giggled and remembered and hugged him so tightly to us.

Splashing at the waterpark:

The two of us go places and we do things and I keep track of all our adventures and all the hilarity thinking I’ll share it with you because it seems impossible that you’re not in on the fun with us. We laughed today, baby, and we played in the sun and the water and I know that not one person guessed the giant hole in our broken life. But we knew it was there and that’s why we’re in this hotel room right now, clinging to each other, my tears trickling onto her sunburned head.

…It’s good to get out and remember that life is to be enjoyed, but for us, for now, we can only take that joy diluted, in small doses. We are going to be okay, baby. I promised you that.

And most definitely at a baseball game:

It’s not easy, being here without him. I cried, trailing my daughter through this city her Daddy and I loved to explore. But we did what he wanted. We made a fun family memory. Not the way he planned…but still. I should’ve known that the force of his love and God’s love would be enough to get my girl and me through this “first” – a weekend trip without Daddy.

And if I think about it, we weren’t without him. He’s with us everywhere, even at a ballgame, beaming at his Little Bear in her Yankees t-shirt. He surrounds her with love, settles into her memories and, with any luck, whispers the intricacies of the infield fly rule into her ear.

It feels impossible – living without Kevin. I love him so much. He was my best friend, keeper of my dreams and secrets. We shared it all, and now life is so lonely.

No wonder I search for him.

The road is a holy place.

The journeys? They were always pilgrimages. I just didn’t know it – but God did. This road I’m on? It’s hard and sad and there are floods of tears and mountains of grief and, honestly, most of the time, it feels like I’m not going to make it.

I miss him.

I love him.

And I’m grateful that this road into the unknown is a holy place, and I’m walking into places filled with God’s love and sheltering presence.

Easter, or The Cat in the Window

I didn’t know if I’d take the photo or not. I didn’t know if I wanted a family Easter picture that Kevin wasn’t in. To see the empty space…

My girl woke up before the crack of dawn – the allure of a mega Easter egg and a basket of goodies too much to keep her in bed until a reasonable hour. I shuffled behind her in the dark as she raced from clue to clue, accumulating her Easter surprises. We ate a candy breakfast and dressed for church and I consciously reached for a pink sweater to coordinate with her new dress and jacket.

I hadn’t decided yet, but just in case…

We sang together, standing alone in the packed pew. Her clear, high voice rang out, joy on her face and Hallelujah on her lips.

“Where, o death, is now thy sting?”

The words hurt and the tears stung my eyes. Easter followed a little too closely on the heels of a hard week. I’m not ready yet to taunt death. I haven’t had enough time, though all I’ve for the last year, it seems, is time. Time to miss him. Time to cry out for him to come back. Too much time.

We prayed and greeted and my mind wandered as we sat and the choir sang an unfamiliar song. But suddenly, a phrase penetrated my thoughts. And I turned the words over in my mind, then scrambled for a paper and pen to write them down because I remembered that after dying comes life. How else could these lyrics, these words, be true?

“What other heart would let itself be broken every time ‘til He healed mine?”

I stared at the words. The threads of love stretching from that empty tomb wove in and out and began to stitch back together some of the gashes in my heart. Life is still in every beat.

Sunday School. Family dinner. Egg hunt with the cousins. Crack open the gaily colored plastic shells and candy spilled over the folds of her pink striped dress.

Happiness shone on my girl’s face because she understands it. Life goes on. We have the promise of heaven, and life goes on. Joy and hope and laughter and goodness and God caring for us and candy and celebration – it’s all still there, if I can just hang tight to that promise.

I’m not there. Not yet. Not all the way. It’s not easy to keep going. The year has been so hard, and I miss him so much. Life feels empty.

But I looked at her face, so open and smiling and her Kevin-blue eyes shine at me, partly because she’s hopped up on sugar and partly because she’s so full of delight that she glows.

I decided to do it.

“Hey, Beary! How about one family photo?”

I grabbed the tripod and went through the familiar motions of positioning it in the front garden. She sat patiently on the bench, waiting for me to set the timer and dash in beside her. We counted down – an Easter routine so familiar I didn’t have to remind her. Three. Two. One. Smile. If it doesn’t quite reach my eyes this year, that’s okay. Just hold to the promise.

I slid the camera card into my laptop to see the photo. An ache spread across my heart because Kevin’s supposed to be in this photo. And he’s not.

But then I saw it. In the background behind my girl’s sunny grin.

The cat.

Strategically positioned, posing for the family photo, with the grace and haughtiness only a cat can pull off.

He totally photobombed us.

I laughed out loud.

Well played, Kev! Good one. Your cat made me smile today, and I didn’t think I would. Thank you, my love, for that bit of heavenly humor, for reminding me that you’re always, always here. Your death still stings. It’s a part of life I’ll never get used to. But a song and a photobombing cat reminded me: Death doesn’t win…love does. I can laugh and I can cry and it’s okay to live with a broken heart. I love you, Kevster. Happy Easter.

Beautiful Bits of Life (2)

Some pieces of beauty and joy in this very hard week that I’ve spent remembering the events and emotions of last April 16, when Kevin died.

1) My daughter was enthralled with the idea of a “blood moon” so there was no way we were going to miss it. Armed with a Mountain Dew, I stood watch until the wee hours of the morning, when I woke her in time to witness the eclipse. We stood, bundled in winter coats, shivering under the vast black sky and watched the moon’s ivory face shade to a fiery brilliance. And I felt so small in that moment of indescribable beauty, but so aware of God’s majesty and perfect design.

2) A crisp stalk of roasted spring asparagus. The color was stunning and the taste so refreshing after a long cold winter with few interesting options for fresh vegetables.

3) A group of kids creating a “frog symphony”, mimicking native frog calls with finetooth combs, small pebbles, and their voices. So serious while being “conducted” by the conservation ranger, then smiles broke out on their faces as the adults making up the audience clapped wildly at the end of the performance. Learning about nature, and feeling pride in the knowledge; it was delightful to see them all so happy…and to hear my “little frog” in the backseat all the way home, practicing her calls.

The Hammock

I took a bite of my sandwich, absently staring out of the kitchen window at the early afternoon shadows crossing the back yard. A slight spring breeze rustled through the dry leaves – autumn stragglers still clinging to the branches – and gently rocked our hammock back and forth.

“Beary,” I whispered mysteriously to my daughter, “look at the hammock.” She sat across the table, crunching her yellow pepper sticks. At my soft tone, her crunching got quiet.

“What, Mama?” she asked, immediately craning her neck to look into the backyard. “What is it?”

“The hammock’s swinging, like someone’s in it.” My voice lowered dramatically. “But it’s empty.”

Her eyes sparkled with delight. My girl was always up for a good game of make-believe, and I knew I’d let her down lately, not keeping up with my part in her passion for pretend. I can barely keep the stuff of reality straight some days, much less gather the brain cells required to follow complicated imaginary storylines. But I needed something to escape the loneliness and this hint of mystery ignited her imagination. She was off.

“Maybe it’s someone invisible,” she cried out. Her brain raced furiously for more possibilities. “Or it’s a ghost. Or an angel!” She was gathering speed. “Maybe Daddy sent an angel to check on us, and it’s just hanging out in the hammock. Or maybe…” she paused, her voice slowing down, but her hands fluttered rapidly, betraying her excitement, “…maybe it’s DADDY! Only we can’t see him, but he sees us!” She finished triumphantly, waiting for my response.

My breath caught.

My eyes involuntarily darted to the empty hammock.

Hoping her make-believe was real.

It’s been almost a year. Three hundred sixty-five days. Eight thousand, seven hundred-sixty hours. Over half a million minutes.

The pain of missing him slices me as deeply today as it did the first morning I woke up without him.

A friend summed it up perfectly. “This sounds terrible,” she started, “but I look at you and wonder: how can you ever be normal again?” But it wasn’t terrible, I told her, because it’s true. Nothing about me or my life will ever be normal again. The person I loved most in this world died. Some stupid cancer grew in his body and took him away from me. We were deeply in love, but barely had ten years together. We held on as long as we could – but it wasn’t long enough. We tried to catch every minute, but there weren’t enough of them to hold all our plans and hopes and dreams.

And now? Well, now there are too many minutes, and they tick by silently, ceaselessly, and loneliness and grief circle the hours with them.

I am sad.

I miss him.

All the days and hours and minutes I’ve lived this past year have been a curious combination of joy and grief mingled. Joy because I have to keep going and he trusted me to take care of our daughter and she – the beautiful, delicate image of her Daddy – gives me so much to laugh about, gives me so much love and hope. Grief because I mourn him deeply, bone-deep, soul-deep, and I ache for his presence in this altered life.

There are those who say it gets easier, but they’re wrong.

It doesn’t get easier – I’m just getting used to it being hard.

It’s still hard to wake up and not reach for him in bed. It’s hard not to look at the afternoon clock and wait for the garage door to roll up and bring him inside. It’s hard to watch television, read a book, cook a pizza, and laugh with my daughter, knowing I can’t share any of that with him ever again. It’s hard to trust in God’s plan for a life I never wanted, without the man who was everything to me.

It’s been a year. And it’s still hard.

I look into her Kevin-blue eyes, glowing with anticipation.

I smile.

“That would be pretty awesome, Beary.”

This year has been hard, so I entered willingly into the world she created, the world where Daddy visits us from heaven and swings in the hammock, just hanging out near his girls. Anything to feel near to him again, to feel our family again. For one minute, to feel more of the ridiculously delicious love I’d known and less of the sting of grief-sharpened heart shards.

The breeze picked up for just a second, and dry leaves swirled on the barely-green grass, and the hammock dipped crazily.

“Oh! I hope Daddy didn’t fall out!”

She howled with glee.

Joy and grief mixed, and another minute ticked by.

Beautiful Bits of Life (1)

Some pieces of beauty I found this week; I’m glad I didn’t overlook them.

1) My daughter takes piano lessons, has for about a year now. I love that she fills the house with music because even though she always has a set lesson to practice, she also improvises beautifully and composes some of the most lovely pieces you’d ever want to hear. This week she was working on a version of “Ode to Joy” which was haunting in its simplicity. On Tuesday, she sat down at the piano and her teacher asked her to play the song. My girl played a bit of music — nothing that was on the page — then turned to her teacher and explained, “That was an introduction. It needed something more.” And I snorted, quietly shaking with laughter in the background, because, yeah, of course my daughter thinks that Beethoven needed a little help with his composition.

2) I’ve been bemoaning the fact that some recent spring storms have scattered small twigs and branches across the yard…twigs and branches that I will have to clean up, in addition to all the leftover leaves that have been blown down. I want to like yardwork…but I really don’t. But then, in the middle of our history lesson yesterday, I looked out the window and saw a blue jay, hopping from branch to branch with a bit of twig in its beak. It was using the bits to build or reinforce a nest, I guess. Something beautiful from something broken.

3) I’ve been cooking for so long now, I sometimes forget what a magical thing it is. To take simple ingredients and combine them and create something delicious to share — it’s a gift. And this week, I got to watch my daughter start unwrapping that gift. She’s always helped me in the kitchen (we used to joke to Kevin, “What’s better than one girl cooking for you?…TWO girls cooking for you!”) but she’s starting to explore cooking on her own. She asked me for some cookbooks to look at, so I handed her a couple of kid-friendly ones and sent her on her way. A few minutes later, she strode purposefully in the kitchen and began gathering a few things to make “Salad on a Stick” — some lettuce, cherry tomatoes, mozzarella chunks, and basil leaves, all skewered onto a toothpick. Her enthusiasm was contagious and her face glowed as she ate her masterpiece. What began as a truly boring lunch of tossed-together leftovers became something more when we shared the kitchen and created gifts of nourishment for each other.