Tag Archives: bereavement

Not the Same

I pulled the car door shut, then fumbled for my phone and dialed Kevin’s office. He picked up on the first ring.

“What’s up, Baby Doll? How’d your dentist appointment go? You can tell me.” His voice lowered dramatically. “Is it…,” he paused for effect, “…the ‘little c’?”

I couldn’t help it. I laughed.

Because, yes. Yes, it was. Lower-case c for cavity. I had my first cavity ever. It hit me hard, but I could count on Kevin to get me laughing about it. I endured several days of good-natured ribbing, especially when it was time to help Little Bear brush her teeth. “You better let Daddy do it, Beary,” he informed her very seriously. “I have perfect teeth, but Mama…well, you know, she’s got a cavity. Not sure we can trust her to keep your teeth heathy.” Then the two of them turned mock aghast faces at me before giggling their way down the hall to the bathroom.

Cancer versus cavity. We were probably the only ones who saw the humor in our “Big C” and “little c” joking, but that’s okay. We’d lived with cancer long enough by then to know how to find the funny in any situation.

And deep down, we knew.

It was not the same.

So many things are not the same these days. I wake up, cook, clean, laugh with the Bear, run her around to archery practice and piano lessons. We hang out on the deck, dangling our feet over the arms of a chair as we cozy up with a good book. We eat pizza and swing in the hammock. And Kevin’s not here to see any of it, to do any of it with us, and it’s getting harder to pretend he’s at work and he’ll be home later – my go-to coping method for most of this past year.

It’s not the same.

Not too long ago, in a fit of pique, someone threw some words at me. Seemingly careless, but designed to wound. Words that hit hard, and slashed deeply as they tore into me and bounced around the brokenness inside.

It’s time to stop feeling sorry for yourself.

I had no defense in that moment. It was only later, after I’d cried my eyes swollen in the dark of my room that I realized what that person didn’t know.

I don’t feel sorry for myself.

I feel sadness.

And that’s not the same.

I am sad. I am so sad, so much of the time. Within the normalcy of this new life I’m creating with my Little Bear, I miss Kevin. I miss my best friend. I miss the old life we had together with our beautiful daughter. I’m sad that he’s not here planning vacations with me, and eating all the crackers and putting the empty box back in the pantry. I’m sad that I’m sitting in his recliner watching television with a cat on my lap, instead of me sitting on Kevin’s lap, kissing him senseless after he’d finally returned from wherever he’d been for so long. I’m so very sad that my girl – who is the image of her Daddy – is growing up without him and will never be able to look at him and realize on her own how many connections they share.

I’m sad.

But I think many in our culture don’t understand this everlasting sadness or the enormity of grief. I think grief annoys some people, especially when it lasts beyond what they consider an acceptable timeframe. I think grief frightens many people, because they don’t know how to deal with such raw emotion; it makes them uncomfortable.

I talk about Kevin a lot; I cry about losing him a lot.

But I’m not having a pity party.

I’m grieving.

This is the biggest loss of my life, and of my daughter’s life. It hasn’t been that long and I expect we’ll be missing him in some way for the rest of our lives. And grief is so overwhelming, so all-consuming, I have to talk about him, and cry about him just to make some space inside me to keep feeling love and hope. When I share my thoughts and tears and memories and fears, I’m letting go of some of that grief and creating room inside my heart to keep living. I’m not asking for pity or attention; I’m asking people to help me hold a space to keep going. Because that’s what I’m supposed to do – what Kevin wants me to do, what my daughter needs me to do. Keep living, keep laughing, keep loving our girl, keep doing whatever I can to leave this world having done all the good I could.

Feeling sorry and feeling sad?

It’s not the same.

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Still Married…Still Grieving

As soon as he settled into his recliner and pushed PLAY on the remote, I grabbed a couple of pillows from the couch and laid down, making myself comfortable on the floor beside him. In a routine so familiar, so nearly choreographed, when he raised the footrest, I lifted one foot into his lap. Absently, his fingers curled around my foot and began massaging the arch. He eased the aches in my feet for a while, then I gradually made my way back to the couch and snuggled under a blanket throw. The television played on, flickering light and shadow across our faces, through trips to the kitchen for snacks, through idle comments about actors or events, and it was dark and quiet and comfortable in our cozy front room.

It was the two of us, in the little world we created. Not fancy…just full of love.

Later, he turned off the TV and we sat in the darkness, talking quietly. And he said, – as he always said – “Baby Doll, I’m so glad you married me. I like this better than dating.” And I laughed and agreed because I’d always hated dating, too. And Kevin and me? Well, we were not the kind of people you looked at and said, “Wow! I bet they have an active social life.” More like an active library card. But that’s okay. It’s part of what made us so perfect for each other. I think I knew even before our first date, through the months of working beside him, that he was the one for me. I’d never met anyone like him – and he said the same about me. It wasn’t a case of opposites attracting. It was a case of two pieces of one soul, separated and lost, wandering around looking for each other, and the moment of magic that happened when they joined.

I have found the one my soul loves.”

It took me by surprise the other day when my friend mentioned that someone had asked her if I was dating anyone yet.

I shook my head because the question didn’t even make sense. Dating? Why would I be dating? I looked down at the diamond sparkling on my left hand. I’m still married…

I know my marriage vows said ‘til death do you part – but that’s the thing: I don’t feel parted from Kevin. I miss him and I desperately want to see him again, to hear his voice, to feel his arms around me again as we do a family group hug with the Bear – but I don’t feel parted from him. I feel just as married, just as much with Kevin, as I did that day in August almost eleven years ago when we promised everything to each other. My love for him, for everything that we had together – that didn’t just suddenly stop at 3:42 p.m. on that dark April day last year.

“Why would he ask that?” I sat puzzled in my friend’s kitchen.

Puzzled because there seems to be an assumption in our world that you only get a certain amount of time to grieve. A year seems to fit most people’s idea of an adequate amount of time. Yes, certainly after a year, the reasoning seems to be, one should be getting on with life again.

But here’s the thing: Grief is not on a timeline. It cannot be squeezed into some neat little box to make everyone else comfortable. It’s more complicated than that. The shock of Kevin’s death is past. I am “getting on with life” — I wake up every morning and do the things that need to be done. But the grieving? It’s still here; it doesn’t go away. Kevin’s death is still happening for me. There are good days and bad days, but I still cry every day. I pick up the phone to call or text him all the time. On the very worst days, in the moments when I can’t stop screaming in this half-life I’m in, the broken bits of my heart squeeze so painfully I feel like the shards will stab through and pierce me from the inside out. My life with him – the two of us together – doesn’t feel over. Maybe that’s because our vibrant little girl is still dancing around me, the image of her Daddy etched across her delicate features. She has his mannerisms and genetic traits and it doesn’t feel like he’s gone. We talk about him every day. She keeps the best part of him right here on Earth. We giggle about silly Daddyisms that have been engrained into our daily routine. His body is gone, but his spirit? It’s definitely alive and surrounding us with his gentle love. For us, some way, somehow, he’s still alive.

I love him.

And I’m still married to him.

Dating.

The thought chills me.

I had – have – great love in my life. The kind of love that doesn’t happen for everyone, and if my heart wasn’t already broken with missing him so much, it would ache for those who never experience a marriage like Kevin and I had. He is the love of my life – the kind of love that doesn’t just happen every day. I’m so proud that he chose me to spend his life with. And devastated that his life was so short.

Any expectation that I will suddenly just simply stop grieving for him now that he’s been gone from me for a year is just unrealistic. That’s not how it works, but it’s hard to know that from the outside looking in. It was so easy to get used to living with him – it’s impossible to get used to living without him.

I don’t know what God has planned for my life. I am trusting Him to reveal it in His perfect timing. I do know that right now, I miss my husband. A year has done nothing to change that.

Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”

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.

Jumping in the Waves

The sky was Sea Bubbles blue. I know because I’d just seen that shade in my daughter’s box of 64 washable markers. Bright blue. Exactly the color of blue a kid would reach for to color in the vast, vivid expanse that stretched above us. Beautiful, bright, Sea Bubbles blue.

And we stood in the gulf waters beneath that brilliant blue sky. The waves were high and frothy, remnants of the last night’s storm, and as the green water rolled toward us, gathering the energy to crash against us, I held her in front of me, my arms loosely looped around her body, under her arms. She faced out toward the gulf, ready for me to swing her up and over the white foam that dashed against us. It was a new game she’d invented – wave jumping – and while she had fun doing it on her own, with my added height, we could venture out further and take on the bigger waves. She squealed and shrieked with delight as I swung her body over the water; she kicked her feet, pretending to walk on the water, and shouted, “Again, Mama! Do it again!”

And she laughed and played in the never-ending roll of waves and she had no idea the salty droplets I tasted on my lips were not from the gulf splashing up in our game, but from the tears streaming down my face behind my oversized sunglasses. She couldn’t see me and the crash of the surf muffled my silent sobs.

We were here, in the ocean, playing on a gorgeous spring break afternoon…and Kevin wasn’t with us.

I cried because I miss him.

I miss the life we lived together, the love and fun we shared.

I cried because when I finally begged off from our wave jumping game and settled onto the beach, I watched her play in the water and she was so beautiful and vivacious and sparkling and when I turned to share a conspiratorial grin with him about how amazing our daughter is…he wasn’t there.

Through tears, I texted his sister because I needed someone to know how very much I missed him at that moment. She texted back immediately: “I know he’s watching over you guys and smiling. He’s proud of you for still having her live life and do the things that she enjoys and that makes him smile.”

It should make me smile, too, because he and I agreed: no matter what, we would absolutely not let our battle with cancer rob our daughter of her childhood. Kevin pushed himself to go places and do things with her, even when he was tired and worn down and sick from chemo. He wanted her to have happy memories of him, and I thank God every day that she does. And he would not want us to hole up in the house now, curtains drawn and lights off, mourning him. He trusted me to keep making her childhood special, to keep making happy memories.

So I do.

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.

She jumps the waves.

One after another.

And I think a little of her Daddy is in her, pushing me to jump, too. Jump when the waves of grief roll in and threaten to overwhelm. Jump high and reach for the little things – so many things – that still bring happy to our lives. Jump for the bright promises that remind me God’s in control and He has a plan for what the future will be for me and my girl.

Jump.

Grief and the Moped

I can still see him sprawled across the bed at our resort, looking up from the pile of tourist brochures with a huge grin on his face.

“Baby Doll, let’s go to Cozumel and rent a moped to tour the island!”

His excitement was contagious, and it did sound like it could be fun. Dangerous, maybe…but fun. He knew if he could win over my cautious side, he’d have me hooked.

I gave in. It was our honeymoon, after all – no better time to live a little.

The next day, we hopped the ferry and sailed over to Cozumel. Kevin was actually giddy. That’s the day I found out he had a little bit of thrill-seeker inside of him; it didn’t come out too often, but it was there that day. We slipped on our helmets and straddled the bright red moped. Kevin gripped the handlebars, a beaming grin on his face, and I hung on behind, a cautious smile on my lips. The rental agent advised us that there was a separate road for moped riders around the island – “a little safer,” he said, which made my heart beat a little quicker. Safer??

Once we cleared the city streets, we found the alternate road and sped to the other, less-touristy side of the island – thirty-five miles an hour seems surprisingly speedy when there’s nothing metal and protective between you and the road. We stopped and hung out on a few of the secluded beaches. It was so quiet and peaceful on that side of the island – almost like we were there all by ourselves. The waves rushed up to cool our feet in the hot, white sand, and the ocean breeze blew through our sweaty helmet hair before sweeping up to whisper to the palm trees. It really was pretty amazing.

Finally, though, it was time to return the moped, so we climbed on and headed back to the city side. I tried to snap a photo of us, riding the open road, but the speed and my shaky hand blurred the shot and the only thing visible in the photo was a blurry bit of my head peeking around Kevin’s helmet, my chin resting on his shoulder.

If I’d attempted a photo just a few minutes later, it would’ve shown a terrified look on my face. We accidentally merged onto the regular island highway and our tranquil moped adventure wasn’t so much fun anymore. No more quiet waves and ocean breezes – now we were surrounded by rattling trucks and shiny cars and tourism vans. And all those vehicles were going considerably faster than our sedate thirty-five miles per hour.

I remember Kevin’s hands tightened on the handles. I was screaming inside, but he was trying to stay calm. “Baby Doll, see if I can move over a lane,” he told me. “I see up there where we get back on our road, but I have to get over.” I looked. It was two lanes of fast-moving traffic away. I didn’t want to loosen my grip from his waist, but he needed me to help, so I carefully looked behind me. “Now!” I said, and he scooted into the next lane. “Now!” I said again, and we moved over again. A quick exit and we made it. The squeals and hums and honking horns of the main road screamed past us as Kevin pulled off and parked the moped.

I buried my head in his back. I could feel his heart thumping under my fingers, still tightly gripping his shirt. He reached up and patted my hand.

“Well,” he said.

“Yeah,” I replied.

I think about that moment sometimes – actually a lot, lately. I can still remember the feeling of humming along the sunny road, tucked securely behind Kevin. The tranquility of the beaches and the sparkling ocean. I also remember the sheer terror of being surrounded by the fast-moving traffic and not knowing if we were going to make it. I think I can remember that part so vividly, because it’s a lot like I feel right now. Life is moving so fast. The minutes and hours and day and weeks and months are speeding by and somehow, impossibly, adding up to a year. One full year that Kevin’s been gone from me. I’m screaming inside because it’s too fast, and I can’t stop it and I don’t know if I can make it back and find some kind of happiness. I don’t want to be alone in the middle of this life racing by, as it honks and swerves to avoid the slow-moving grief I travel with.

I keep looking for the off-ramp. The one where I can pull over and breathe for a moment. The one that circles me back, back, back to the quiet side of the island, back to my life with Kevin and the Bear. The one where life is slow and he is here and we are happy and there is joy.

I keep looking for it. I know it was here just a minute ago – that life was just in my fingertips, but I can’t find it now. I see the calendar, and the days marked off, and April is coming up too soon. I bury my head in my hands, and I can feel my breath shudder with the tears slipping through my broken heart.

“Well,” I say to myself.

“Yeah,” I reply.