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.

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